Jan. 5th, 2010

manifesta: (Dangerous)
Catherynne M. Valente on RoF's "all women-authors" issue to debut in August 2011:
"By definition, herding women authors into a single book or magazine and proclaiming it special for their appearance there is, well, segregation, and has an ugly implication that they won't be appearing in regular issues.
[...]
But brain, isn't this what we want? A high percentage of female authors in a table of contents? Well, 50% would be good. 40%, too. But creating Very Special Issues once in a 15 year run isn't the same as addressing the problem head on by understanding the psychology at play and changing the editorial paradigm. It's just a bone, thrown."
As always, bold emphasis mine.

On one hand, I can appreciate that women writers in a field still dominated by men are being recognized and showcased. An all-women's issue does benefit a disadvantaged group by placing and paying only women writers, whereas in a regular issue women writers would be lucky to get half the spots, if that. I particularly like their call for pieces that tackle, specifically, gender, feminism, and sexism:
"While being a woman submitting a fantasy piece to us is enough to get your manuscript considered for this issue, submissions dealing with gender, sexism, and other areas important to feminist speculative literature are particularly welcome."
On the other hand, in the same line of thought as Valente, I do wonder if this 'special' issue is not the celebration I perceive most women's mags to be, and more as a justification for present and future discrimination. It would be all to easy for RoF to put out this issue and then never again address gender within the context of sci/fi and publishing. A better system would be to ensure that more women writers are represented in every issue, not just one.

One commentor at the RoF blog said:
"I am totally for feminist articles and stories and art, but the idea of an all-woman issue is really distasteful and smacks of a stunt rather than inviting discourse on the issue of feminism and fantasy. It shows contempt for many male authors who write thoughtful female characters and it panders to a certain mindset that maintains that women authors are underrrepresented in fantasy. I don’t think that’s the case, and if you look at the fantasy bookshelves, women may be in the majority."
After reading RoF's guidelines, I'm not 100% in line with the notion that this is a stunt rather than an actual attempt at dissecting the intersectionality of gender and sci/fi--ask me again after I've read the stories chosen for the issue. I'm also disappointed with but not surprised at the oft-touted cry of "sexism!" any time a women-only space is established within a male-dominated sphere. Women authors are underrepresented in fantasy--though the number of women sci/fi authors is certainly growing, many of the books written by women that are shelved in the fantasy section are urban, historical, romantic fantasy or some derivative thereof. Epic, S&S, and high fantasies are still written primarily by men and/or feature male protagonists. And let's not pretend here that it's all about the authors; it's as much about the gender of the characters as anything. Publishing stories that are written by women but only feature male protagonists is effectively the same as a woman assuming a male pseudonym because they're less likely to get writing work otherwise. Women still operate in a male-dominated world, and sci/fi--both the process of publishing and the end product--reflect that.

Is the gap shrinking? Yes. Can the number of leading women protagonists in epic fantasy be summed up in a meager two pages worth of comments? Yes. Do we still see women in the refrigerator and Harry Potters instead of Harriets? Yes. Are women in sci/fi only visible when they're wearing leather, toting guns that they magically acquired out of thin air, and are reduced to their relationship(s) with other men? Yes. Have we made up for the past century's worth of fantasy works written by men for men that feature male protagonists? No. Hell no. And I'm tired of being told otherwise.

If this women-only issue knocks male supremacy down a notch, I'm all for it. If not, well, I'm willing to wait and see what happens before I pass too harsh a judgment.