Friday, May 23, 2008

Women writers in SF/F...why aren't they taken seriously?

Great op-ed about this topic in today Guardian UK.


Just_Me said...

They aren't taken seriously because they don't generally shoot people for not paying attention to them. If necassary I will remedy this problem when I finally finish editing stabs editing and find an agent.

As a courtesy to my future agent I will use a paint gun and not something that could be construed as lethal force.

And now, I'll go read the article like a good girl :o)

Just_Me said...

Okay- read the article.... JKR is not my favorite author of all time. I know she appeals to people but I freely admit I've bashed JKR (and her editor) before. It has nothing to do with her gender. I just honestly don't care for the way she writes.

But some of the other authors listed I love. Cavanan and Pierce in particular, I think I have all their books and highly recommend them. People who don't appreciate their skills and story-telling talent should be approached with caution.

Why are female authors dissed? My guess (with no scientific evidence to back this up) is that the literary world is stilld ragging its heels into the 21st century. Thirty years ago women wore dresses and worked as secretaries or teachers, if they worked at all. And women were expected to write romance like Jane Austen. Now women are CEO's and running for president, but the cave-men males of the old-boys-club with their literary pretensions still expect women to write romance... like Jane Austen.

Let them complain. JKR, despite everything negative said about her, is a wealthy and happy woman. She published the books she wanted to and she is a household name, unlike the repressed young man who shredded her in his paper.

The average reader is not a literary critic. The average reader DOES NOT care who the author is. The average reader grabs a book because it has a cool cover, checks the back, might check the first few pages, and will remeber the main characters name and plot line when they go looking for the next book.

JS Bangs said...

My reaction before reading the article was, "They aren't?" I mean, SFF authors have a hard time getting taken seriously at all, and the JKR backlash isn't much different from, say, the Tolkein backlash.

Now having read the article, I don't think that the author makes much of a case that JKR is being maligned for being a woman. All of the quotes given reference her bad writing, not her femininity. Not even obliquely. Really, all the author does is cherry-pick a few male authors who are recognized, and a few female authors who aren't recognized but should be. That doesn't prove anything.

There may be a bias against female SFF writers, but the article in question hardly demonstrates it.

katey said...

There's a very serious bias against female SFF writers-- they may sell, but that doesn't mean they're taken seriously by the larger population, and historically they haven't been. While this article could've used a little more scholarly approach to its proof, it brings up a good, valid point. It's an editorial, that's what they do, give their opinion.

I've seen men who read Piers Anthony (the biggest misogynist-- maybe not in real life, I don't know the guy, but as a writer-- I've ever had the misfortune to experience) dismiss amazing women writers like Marion Zimmer Bradley just like that. "Too much goddess crap", "she's just writing about sex!", "Lancelot wasn't gay!" (here's a hint silly guys: read Malory. MZB didn't invent that. It's a well-discussed issue in Arthurian Studies, man.)

Not all men, of course, not even by a long shot. But as I say, this IS a valid point. Thanks for the link, I enjoyed it!

Morgan Dempsey said...

I would leave a comment, but JS Bangs said exactly what I wanted to say, every point, and with far more eloquence than I would have managed.

So, ditto to that :)

Arachne Jericho said...

Just because the sexism isn't mind-blowingly obvious doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

If science-fiction/fantasy is chock-full of female authors, why do we hear about the guys and rarely about the women?

Is it because "the women are just generally weaker, and men are just stronger writers"?

I don't think so. But that's the argument people in the literary establishment make, basically.

There were so many reasons to drop out of literature in college, I have a hard time remembering which ones pushed me into software engineering.

Anonymous said...

Ah, these criticisms of women SF/F authors so often rear their ugly heads, not that the ivory tower-literati such as Howard Bloom, haven't leveled such pedantic attacks on male authors as well, such as Stephen King. It's a much an attack on the populist as the feminine.

Speaking from the trenches as a bookseller who runs the SF/F and horror sections of a huge brick- and-mortar, I can say without hesitation that the number of women buying SF/F has expanded exponentially over the past ten years, as has the number of men discovering that much of the best SF/F today is being written by women. The number of immensely gifted female writers breaking out of obscurity and commanding the best-seller lists has more than trippled. The people whose opinions matter most, the readers, surely recognize how many brilliant female writeres there are in SF/F, and give them due appreciation.

A pantheon of three--Lessing, LeGuin, and Atwood? What about some of the brilliant, socially conscious writing of Elizabeth Moon with her painful/moving account of autism? What about Marion Zimmer Bradley's Authorian revisions, Mercedes Lackey breaking down gender and sexual stereotypes, Anne McCaffrey's reinvention of the dragon mythos, Elizabeth Bear's stunningly literate steampunk contributions? Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series--a vicious, sexually charged feat of world building, and exploration of power dynamics between women and men?

Recently a friend who was deployed in this God-awful war introduced me to C.S. Friedman's "Cold Fire Trilogy." Christ that woman soared right to the top of my pantheon! Incredible, epic-story telling, dark and free of fantasy cliches, with environmental and gender themes and a universe where black and white dissolve into grey moral ambiguities. She eclipses George R.R. Martin. Read her and you won't help but be able to take her seriously. And why didn't the writer of the U.K. article think to mention Octavia Butler?

Just my two cents--
Rob (R.J. Crowther Jr.)

Elissa M said...

I don't read enough critics' reviews to know if female authors are being dissed or not. At least we no longer have to change our names to Andre (or other male monikers) just to get published. So there's been progress. Speculative fiction as a whole tends to be sneered upon by "literary" types. I don't have time to stress over whether or not my gender will affect critics.

Anonymous said...

Female writers aren't taken seriously. Forget the "in SF/F" part. Female writers seem to actually garner more respect in SF/F than in literary circles, at least if you look at awards. (And, anecdotally, the number of men who only read men seems to me to be higher amongst literary readers than amongst sf/f readers). This is a problem regardless of genre.

I did a run-down of awards when this came up at the Poets & Writers Speakeasy just about exactly a year ago - here are the results I got at the time:

Children's: In the past 25 years, women have won the Newbury Medal 16 times (Susan Patron 1, Lynne Rae Perkins 1, Cynthia Kadohata 1, Kate DiCamillo 1, Linda Sue Park 1, Karen Hesse 1, E. L. Konigsburg 1, Karen Cushman 1, Sharon Creech 1, Lois Lowry 2, Cynthia Rylant 1, Patricia Maclachlin 1, Robin McKinley 1, Beverly Cleary 1, Cynthia Voigt 1) vs 9 for men (of 25). 16/25 = 64%

Mystery: In the past 25 years, women have won the Edgar Award 8 times (S. J. Rosen 1, Jan Burke 1, Mary Willis Walker 1, Minette Walters 1, Margaret Maron 1, Julie Smith 1, Barbara Vine 1, L. R. Wright 1) vs 17 for men (of 25). 8/25 = 32%

Science fiction/fantasy: In the past 25 years, women have won the Hugo (for novel; I'm ignoring the other categories) 11 times (Susannah Clarke 1, Lois McMaster Bujold 4, Connie Willis 2, J.K. Rowling 1, C. J. Cherryh 2, Joan D. Vinge 1) vs 15 for men (of 26 - one year there was a tie). In the past 25 years, women have won the Nebula (for novel) 11 times (Lois McMaster Bujold 2, Elizabeth Moon 1, Catherine Asaro 1, Octavia Butler 1, Vonda N. Mcintyre 1, Nicola Griffith 1, Connie Willis 1, Ursula K. Leguin 1, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough 1, Pat Murphy 1) vs 14 for men (of 25). 22/51 = 43%

Literary: In the past 25 years, women have won the PEN/Faulkner Award 4 times (Sabina Murray 1, Ann Patchett 1, Gina Berriault 1, E. Annie Proulx 1) vs 21 for men (of 25). In the past 25 years, women have won the Pulitzer 9 times (Geraldine Brooks 1, Marilynne Robinson 1, Carol Shields 1, E. Annie Proulx 1, Jane Smiley 1, Anne Tyler 1, Toni Morrison 1, Alison Lurie 1, Alice Walker 1) vs 16 for men (of 25). (Interesting none of these women won more than once; several of the men did, which suggests something about career longevity.) 13/50 = 26%

Marry said...

really nice, thanks for sharing..