Friday, June 16, 2006

In Which I Am Dim-Witted As Usual

So Charles Coleman Finlay is calling for a hundred women to submit stories to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction on August 18th, to redress a perceived gender imbalance there. And, yes, people have already pointed out that it is a bit odd for a man who's regularly published in F&SF to be spearheading the protest about the fact that a class of people to whom he doesn't belong does not get published there all that much. (It's surprising to some people, but I went to Vassar, so I'm well acquainted with male-feminist Stockholm Syndrome.)

This is all a follow-up to the SFWA survey of short fiction in 2002, which found that the percentage of stories by women in the major magazines is, and has consistently been, less than would be expected from the percentage of women in fandom, the percentage of women in SFWA, and the percentages of major awards going to women. My preferred explanation -- that women are mostly too smart to write very much for the peanuts that the big skiffy magazines pay these days -- is pretty flippant, but may be partially true. (Women do not seem to have any trouble as a class getting novels published, for example.)

Unless I missed something, there's no obvious reason for this activism to focus on F&SF. But I'm exceptionally cynical, so I'll try to reconstruct the thinking of the Feminist SF Overmind:
Hm. Analog is the worst offender against women, and has the highest circulation, but Analog only publishes stories that True Feminists don't want to write or read anyway. So there's no point attacking them.

Asimov's has a somewhat better ratio, but it's still not what we want. Oops! Now it's edited by a woman. Can't pick on a woman.

F&SF is the third biggest magazine, has a lower percentage of stories by women than Asimov's, and it's edited entirely by men. They must be sexist!
(Any similarly to any human being's thought processes is highly unlikely.)

That's more-or-less a joke, but the laser-like focus on F&SF in the current iteration of this debate (at Finlay's LiveJournal, and spilling out other places) is quite noticeable, and strange. I would expect a flurry of market reports and comparisons, to see which SFF outlets are the most women-friendly (and -hostile), and perhaps plans to create or support 'zines edited by women. But, instead, the debate seems to be entirely about the personal tastes and idiosyncrasies of Gordon Van Gelder and John Joseph Adams. The debate itself is vaguely interesting to me (in a watching-other-people-fight kind of way), but I generally find that wanna-be writers take themselves about 300% too seriously.

I do wonder, in my usual contrary fashion, what effect the flooders expect to have. Let's work out the possible scenarios, shall we?

Are GVG and JJA more likely to:
  1. Say, "Gosh! We have a giant pile of stories by women! We previously thought all of this stuff had girl cooties, but now we love it! We'll buy all of these stories, and fill up the next seven issues of the magazine with only girls!!!"
  2. Read a lot of very similar stories and reject them that much faster, just to work the pile down.
  3. Feel guilty about the whole issue, and desperately search for a few stories that they think are mostly OK, and buy those -- half to encourage women to keep contributing and half to get the Secret Feminist Cabal to go bother Stan Schmidt for a while.
Or, in typical Mars vs. Venus fashion, am I looking for a man-explanation, when the woman-explanation is that this will make all of the submitters feel better about themselves, and that's all that matters? I'm confused.


Anonymous said...

If the story is good, shouldn’t it be about that and not a person’s genitalia? I think everyone is the SFF community should focus on writing good solid stories that people want to read, and worry less about who is writing them.

I know the beginnings of the genre are fuzzy, but many point to Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein" as the first definitive work that could be considered SF. From Connie Willis, to Andre Norton, and most recently, Susanna Clarke, SF is filled with wonderful works penned by women. One of the most celebrated writers in TV is D.C. Fontana, also a woman.

Writing is about telling stories. Who tells them is immaterial in the end. I think all works, whether short stories, novellas, novels, spec scripts, movies, and the like, should be judged on their quality, not on the sex of the creator.

Cheryl said...

I point out that some of us self-confessed feminists (Liz Williams, Paula Guran, myself) are wondering what all the fuss is about. I'm sure people are piling in to dump on poor Gordon, but I think that's more because the Blogosphere is full of people who will jump in and dump on anyone accused of political incorrectness, not because of any merits of the case.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about F&SF but ANALOG had at least one all-woman* author issue, in June of 1977. I remember it well, because the lead story was Joan Vinge's EYES OF AMBER and why the heck hasn't anyone done the complete short fiction of Joan Vinge, anyway?

I have no idea if they ever did that twice, although Bova said the issue made lots of money.

* I am pretty sure that in Canada, we'd stopped calling adult women "girls" at that point, even if they weren't entitled to full access to unemployment insurance until the 1980s.

Anonymous said...

Will each submission to F&SF have to come with an affadavit affirming the gender of the author?

Wonder what James Tiptree, jr would think of that?

Michael Walsh

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