Tuesday, January 5, 2010

No boys allowed

Realms of Fantasy magazine has announced a plan to publish an all-women issue. I'm not going to comment on whether I feel that this is a good idea or not, mainly because I'm still formulating my own thoughts about that subject. But I can say, as a writer, that while I would consider it an honor to be published in Realms of Fantasy, a great magazine that has published a number of talented authors whose work I admire, I would not submit a piece for consideration in the women-only issue.

I've already seen comments on blogs that are suggesting that RoF will be "forced" to accept "subpar" stories for this issue because there just aren't enough women writing for the editorial board to be able to fill even a single issue with good work by women. And yes, this sort of idiocy and ignorance pisses me off a great deal, and is perhaps part of the reason that RoF feels the need to publish this special issue. But here's the thing: there's always going to be a story that someone doesn't like. And that's fine in a regular magazine. It happens. But here, that story becomes not just a piece of fiction that didn't work for that reader, but a symbol of the fact that not enough women can write well, and so the editors were "forced" to accept that story just to fill their page count. And if that story were mine - well, I can handle the idea of people critiquing my work in public. I can't handle the idea of watching them say that it was my work that let down the side.

And here's the other thing: I would always wonder if I would have sold that story under "normal" circumstances, or if it had just been chosen because I have a nice pair of matching chromosomes. And yes, that's my flaw, a gap in my confidence, and yes, maybe that need to wonder is again part of why RoF feels the need to publish this special issue, but I can't escape it.


  1. I completely agree with you! It's like women's only poker tournaments, one wonders why they feel the need. You can understand women's running competitions, men simply run faster. But writing, poker, gaming - there's no reason to treat women as having special needs and not being able to compete on a level playing field.

  2. Hi Julia,

    The editors of Realms of Fantasy do give an explanation of their motivation behind creating this issue, and - to their great credit - it does not appear to have arisen out of a mistaken belief that women can't compete. And the sad thing is that, while the field of speculative fiction is full of amazingly talented women - Kelly Link, Nalo Hopkinson, Elizabeth Bear, Susanna Clarke, Catherynne M. Valente, Elizabeth Hand, Ursula K. LeGuin, Robin McKinley - and those are just a few - many people still have the perception that women are less. I honestly don't know how to fix this. I do know that the one thing I can do is to continue to write as well as I can, and to strive to improve. Then, hopefully, more people will agree with us.

  3. I understand and respect your opinion, hon. You shouldn't do anything that would make you uncomfortable. However, I want to tell you why I disagree.

    Some douchebag somewhere always be talking patently absurd bullshit about any spec fic writer who is not a straight white male, and I refuse to let that affect me, my writing, my reading, my habits in any way. If I act in a way informed by the douchebags, then I feel like I'm lending them legitimacy. Instead believe the appropriate response is to laugh at the ignorance and idiocy, then use my righteous anger as fuel to be **that much more kick ass**.

    (Long day; I'm feeling very profane.)

    (Also, I mean that **kick ass** fairly literally. Do you read xkcd? There's a running bit where the great computer nerds are also highly skilled ninjas ready to bust out with nunchucks or samurai swords as the occasion calls for.

    I imagine writers the same way.)

    Also, if this helps -- you believe that there are more than enough quality women writers to fill an issue of RoF, right? And these women are every bit as good as the poor oppressed (cry-me-a-river) men? If that's the case, there's no way in which your hypothetical submission, or mine, or any other story would somehow be filler.

    I will say that the little "no boys allowed" frame to the announcement was... a failure in execution at least. There was a whiff of awkward self-consciousness about it.

    That said, do you think any issue or anthology celebrating spec fic written by people of color would have to be somehow padded out? An issue or anthology celebrating spec fic by women wouldn't be either.

    You don't have to reply to me, I'd just like you to think about it.

  4. Thanks for your thoughts, dear. And they do give me something to think about. Because you're exactly right - I would never assume that a spec fic anthology by writers of color, or queer writers or etcetera would need to be padded. And if I read a story there, or in an all-women anthology somewhere, and the story didn't work for me, *I* would never assume that the story had been chosen because it was padding, I would just think that the story didn't work for me.

    Still, I can't make myself feel comfortable about submitting to this. (Even though if I had a story *chosen* for an all-women anthology I'd be excited. I recognize this is internally inconsistent.) I dunno, maybe it was the infelicity of the wording of the call for submissions, but I just can't shake the feeling of awkward here.

  5. I guess I would have the same problem with an all male, all black, all queer, all shorter than 5'4" issue of a magazine. It's defining the writing by the writer, and defining the writer by only of one aspect of their character. I just can't agree that it's something we should be encouraging.

    Really enjoying reading your blog, btw :-)

  6. Julia - "Defining the writing by the writer" - exactly. And I think, at the heart of it, that's why this bothers me as something that is being specifically requested. I don't define myself as a writer in only one way, and don't want only one personal characteristic to be the defining aspect of my writing.

    I still haven't quite worked out why this bothers me in the initial submission stage, and completely wouldn't in a reprint anthology. Maybe because reprint anthologies are so often "Best of" and that label erases the idea that these groups are "special" and need the playing field evened in order to compete.

    And I'm so glad you're enjoying reading the blog. I really enjoy writing the entries, and I love getting to know you all in the comments.