The women fandom doesn’t see

Foz Meadows aks, if we’re so annoyed at how mainstream media portrays nerds and fandom, why do we do the same when it comes to determining who is the real geek:

Whenever mainstream culture stereotypes geekdom as a bunch of greasy, cheeto-stained white guys in sweat pants mouthbreathing in the basement of their parents’ house, we bristle collectively, because we know it’s unfair and inaccurate – a caricature some forty years out of date. But when we ourselves make assumptions about what the “average geek” looks like, we still tend to picture some variant of this same guy, with his Boba Fett statues and Kirk v Picard t-shirt, and treat him, if not as a yardstick, then as genesis: the archetypal Patient Zero who first spread the disease of dorkness to his likeminded fellows. We think of women and POC as interlopers, latecomers, erasing the history of their participation in fandom in a bid to reassure a particular resentful, insecure cluster of white men that, even if they’re not the only fans around, they’re still the most important, because they were here first: that men like them were solely responsible, not just for fandom as a concept, but for all those geeky fields – like computing, video games, movies, science fiction and fantasy – with which it’s now associated.

To be honest, I should be the last to complain about this, as being a fat, bearded and ponytailed speccy bastard I’ve certainly profited from this image, being taken far more seriously at work or in fandom than I’ve sometimes deserved, just for looking the part. And I’ve certainly been guilty of assuming that fandom is mostly white and male, even when I should and did know better.

It’s a trap that Joanna Russ warned us about already, in How To Suppress Women’s Writing. If women, if people of colour, keep on being seen as new to fandom, even by those who welcome them to it, they never quite become part of fandom, regardless of how long they’ve objectively been a part of it. It’s that constant surprise that women are reading science fiction, playing games, writing fanfic, the privileging of supposedly masculine hobbies (videogames, roleplaying) over female ones (cosplay, fanfic) and the rewriting of history that excludes or minimises those who aren’t white men. Half the time it’s not even done consciously, just a reflection of the culture fandom moves in.

The struggle to make fandom as a whole more inclusive, more welcoming, might therefore (temporarily?) make those women and/or people of colour already in fandom feel less included as well as empower them, if the focus in such struggles remains on the novelty of having such exotic creatures in fandom. Or alternatively, if the onus remains on women, on people of colour or LGBT people to prove that they belong in fandom, have history in fandom. What we (white men) need to do is not just welcome, but embed everybody else’s history in our own, to take the Russ pledge: The single most important thing we (readers, writers, journalists, critics, publishers, editors, etc.) can do is talk about women writers whenever we talk about men.

Because we have been here before as fandom, in the sixties and seventies and we did try and be inclusive, be more welcoming. But what happened was that we got the “women in comics” panels, but then those became all any woman was invited to appear on. We need to move beyond feminism 101 and inclusion 101. How to do that? I’m not sure, but I still believe voluntary quotas are part of the answer.

Dressing queer in the office

Carolyn Wysinger writes about fitting in with the office dress code when you’re queer while still staying true to yourself:

As fate would have it, my first week on the call-center floor fell on a weekend, which is a casual dress period. I made friends as soon as I hit the floor because c’mon, who doesn’t love me?! The very next day I came in and did all the dapper bois proud. Black slacks, white dress shirt with a pink/black/white silk tie. Hair freshly twisted up with my shades on. And yes I turned many heads. I walked in and saw all the women in the office look over to watch me walk down the aisle. I got to my group and nobody said a word. And then finally one of the women supervisors said “Ooh I like your tie.” And so my journey as the first boi in began.

Of course, the image she puts forward here immediately reminds me of:

That kind of gender separated dress code — or even having an explicit dress code — is somewhat less common in the Netherlands and you see as many women professionals in what y’all would call pant suits as in skirts. The other uniform, common to women in non-representative roles are the slightly too short white leggings, which seems to be the fuck you, I dress for comfort symbol of the (older) Dutch woman. It’s ubiqitous enough and annoys enough people that it has had facebook campaigns launched against it.

The Old Iron Dream

It’s sad that something like this is still necessary and that the more sordid history of science fiction fandom isn’t better known, but David Forbes’ proposal for a long indepth article on this history is very timely, considering recent events:

Sci-fi’s popular history doesn’t mention John Campbell’s belief that race riots were caused by “genetic barbarians” or Robert Heinlein’s fondness for robber barons and military rule. It remembers Larry Niven’s creative alien worlds, not his advocacy of lying to immigrants to deny them healthcare. Jerry Pournelle is widely hailed as the dean of military sci-fi, his sympathies for fascists like Franco and Pinochet forgotten.

Rather than harmless eccentrics, the doyennes of the sci-fi far right advise the federal government, occupy important posts, head think-tanks and shape policy to this day. They’ve played a major role in creating an environment that, as shown in the case of Beale, can still make sci-fi hostile territory for women and people of color. Despite decades of courageous critical backlash within the genre, much of this impact and history remains unexposed.

The Old Iron Dream will drag this history out of the shadows, showing how sci-fi’s far-right has shaped not just its genre, but the larger culture and politics of America. It’s a turbulent, often horrifying story, ranging from coup plots and smear campaigns to shilling for Reagan’s weapons boondoggles and denying climate change.

The title is of course a reference to Norman Spinrad’s satirical novel The Iron Dream, aka “what if Adolf Hitler had become a pulp science fiction writer, then this would’ve been the novel he’d write”, written in the 1970ties as a rebuke to a particular toxic part of sf fandom.

Women writers Wednesday — blogging edition

Part something in an irregular series.

So yeah, today I would like to spotlight some of the female bloggers I started reading in the past of couple of weeks, partially thanks to the whole ongoing SFWA kerfuffle. Everytime we’ve had an outbreak of sexism in science fiction fandom it also has brought new female voices to the foreground and this time hasn’t been any different.

Natalie Luhrs has been one of the most sensible voices during the SFWA controversy, as well as with the more recent Loncon Jonathan Ross fiasco. Beyond that, she also has a great ability to find interesting and thoughtful links.

S. L. Huang like Luhrs has been a voice of reason during the recent sexism scandals, is a new writer whose first book will be published this year and who keeps writing great posts on the same subjects I would’ve written about, but she does it better.

Susan Abernethy writes about history and her blog is a treasure trove of posts about well known and not so well known parts of history, especially British history.

Loretta Chase & Isabella Bradford also write about history, both in their dayjobs as bestselling writers of historical romances and on their blog. They seem to have a real affinity for the Georgian era, but roam wide and far and have a knack of finding links to other interesting blogs — like Susan Abernethy’s above.

N. K. Jemisin on the SFWA petition

N. K. Jemisin on that SFWA petition:

Oh, and — people who signed that petition: you want to know the real reason why you’re getting so much disrespect from the rest of the genre right now? It’s because you and your friends keep pulling shit like this while the rest of us are just trying to keep the lights on and put food on the table. It’s like Republicans passing bill after bill to fuck up reproductive health rights while the economy’s in the toilet; what the hell does this have to do with anything that matters? You got yours. You’re still getting it. You had every advantage in your favor, and you used the hell out of it. Good on you. But stop pitching shitfits just because the rest of us want a piece of the pie — the pie all of us helped to create — too.

Human slaves in an insect nation!

The SFWA, the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, sort of a union for sf&f writers, was in a spot of bother last summer, as some of its members turned out to be a little bit sexist and racist and worse, they were being sexist and racist in official SFWA publications. Credit to the organisation though, they did attempt to clear their house, getting rid of the biggest bigot and starting a consultation process to see what could be done to prevent further unpleasantness. (For a good overview of last year’s events as well as what’s happening now, S. L. Huang’s timeline is invaluable.)

Things went quiet for a long time, until last week, when it emerged that One Dave Truesdale, supposedly a bigshot in sf reviewing circles, found all the changes in how the SFWA would handle its publications censorship and a danger to the first amendament and all that good stuff and started a petition. This sadly got quite a few elderly, big name sf writers’ signatures, some of which (Robert Silverberg, C. J. Cherryh) I’m more than disappointed in seeing add their support to this nonsense; others not so much.

All of this renewed attention seems to have given the bigoted part of SFWA and their supporters elsewhere renewed vigour, as they gather to complainabout a lack of respect and how hard it is to be a white man these days, calling their critics insects:

“The problem is that the ‘vocal minority’ of insects who make up the new generation of writers don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular. Maybe it is a good thing that SFWA keeps them locked up. The newer members who Scalzi et al. brought in are an embarrassment to the genre.

In one of the funniest developments so far this prompted John Scalzi, together with Mary Robinette Kowal and Ursula “honey badger” Vernon to create the Insect Army to “swarm to make science fiction and fantasy awesome” and hospitable for everybody, even people who aren’t white or male. (And which of course immediately put Bill Bailey’s classic song, as featured above, in my head.)

But the best commentary I’ve read so far came from the Crime and the Forces of Evil blog, on what’s being lost:

And that leads to the sad part, the fundamental misunderstanding of the world part. The part wherein lives the idea that all these people they’re excluding won’t keep creating, somewhere else. The part where it’s still 1978, and you have the Big 3 Magazines, and the paperback publishers, and that’s all that matters. The part where supposed futurists so fundamentally fail to understand the modern world that they think someone can sue the entire Internet for libel. The part where they think it’s possible to keep that gate.

In this it seems, part of science fiction fandom are no different from the aging audience of FOX news and other rightwing fearmongers, aware that the world as they knew it and their place in it is gone, that the privileges they enjoyed just for being white, for being male, are slowly disappearing and that actually few people care anymore about their opinions, except when it hurts or hinders others.

If you want to read more women, try quotas

E. Catherine Tobler noticed that her friend Christopher DeFilippis’s top five books from 2013 didn’t contain any woman writers and asked him about it. It turned out he hadn’t read any female writers in two years:

I asked him on Twitter what his favorite books by female authors were for the year, and to his surprise, he realized he hadn’t read any female authors in 2013. Nor, it turns out, had he read any female authors in 2012. (Octavia Butler made his best-of list in 2011.)

“In my defense,” Chris tweeted when a couple followers made author suggestions, “it’s more coincidence than ailment that needs a remedy.”

Then, I asked him if I could blog about this, because…

Two years.

It’s a remarkable oversight, to exclude a whole gender from your reading without even noticing and that for two years in a row. However, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Christopher, as it happened to me to. In 2010 I discovered that only ten percent of the fantasy and science fiction I’d read in the past decade had been written by women. Now I knew I read more blokes than women, but it was a real shock to discover how lobsided the ratios were. I wasn’t the only one; in my little corner of the science fiction internet quite a few people came to the same sort of conclusion and attempted to do something about it.

it’s more coincidence than ailment that needs a remedy.

Again, I can sympathise. I never set out to exclude women from my reading, or to read only male writers; it just happened that way. Because I was just following my reading instincts, read whatever seemed interesting or from authors I already knew and trusted, my reading was channeled into a mostly blokeish channel. Clearly something had to change if I wanted to be more inclusive in my reading. If I thought this was important enough, I couldn’t keep up with the same habits. If Christopher feels the same way, if he thinks this important too, there is one thing that he can do to fix his reading.

He should set himself quotas.

Because quotas work.

Good intentions and a vague will to change aren’t enough, you need something you can measure, preferably in public so you can hold yourself accountable for your choices. You don’t necessarily need to keep these quotas up forever of course, just as long as it takes to change your outdated reading habits. Otherwise it’s just too easy to slip back into them, or to let fear of the unknown chase you back to safer grounds.

Of course, some people might think it unfair on the hypothetical male authors who miss out on your reading attention, but considering there are well over a 1,000 books of genre interest published each year, you should feel guilty already no matter who you chose to read…

The other fear you might have is that of missing out on reading the people everbody else is reading, but this is also something that’s deeply gender unbalanced. Male authors get a disproportionate share of fandom and media attention, so a grassroots attempt to change this is long overdue anyway. It’s this what’s at the heart of the Russ Pledge Nicola Griffith came up with a few years ago, to not just read more women, but also pay more attention to women, the necesssity of which is proven by the simple fact that even a well connected, well read person like Christopher DeFillippis can go two years without reading women and not even realise it.

Finally, as Anil Dash found out in a different context when he made the decision last year to only retweet women, the rewards of being more gender inclusive can be immediate:

For me, for my experience, it’s better. I feel happier about the time I spend on Twitter, and it’s made me try to be more thoughtful, and more disciplined with other things I do in my time online.

Personally, I found something similar when I made the decision to prioritise female authors over male. I discovered authors I’d never would’ve noticed otherwise, as well as authors writing the kind of books I didn’t get from the ones I was already reading. My sf reading has become richer and more rewarding.

So, give it a go. You never know, you might like it.

And if you don’t know where to start or whom to read? That’s what Sf Mistressworks is for.

No one will fail to support my right to exist unmolested

Science fiction fandom doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to providing safe spaces, so it’s heartening to hear about when a convention gets it right. When twistpeach got harassed, the Arisia concon took her complaints seriously and made sure her harasser was banned (which, it turned out, he was already) and once it became clear that this wasn’t a one-off incident, other cons were warned about him and several followed Arisia’s lead and banned him too. Twistpeach credits Arisia for having created a place in which she felt secure enough to come forward:

I was confident that I was in a safe place, surrounded by people who I could rely upon to back me up. No one will fail to support my right to exist unmolested in space and time, displacing the room for entitled jerks to have free reign. So I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone. And yes. I have a right to be here.

I have these things because of activists against rape culture, movements against harassment at conventions in general, Arisia’s policy and personnel particularly, feminism, supportive friends, and a culture that has been significantly altered by them. I am so grateful that somebody told me that I have a right to be here. My community supports that right and it is because of them that I have the conviction to stand up for myself. Thank you to all of you who have made me strong enough to be a warrior.

All of this is excellent news, to see that sf conventions can get it right, that anti harassment policies can and do work and that problem individuals can be identified and do have to take the responsibility for their actions. In an ideal world this shouldn’t have been remarkable or newsworthy, but publicising such positive outcomes help both to restore confidence in sf fandom to clean up its own house as well as make clear fandom doesn’t tolerate harassment. Kudos to Twistpeach as well for being confident enough to write about her experiences so honestly.