manifesta: (Battle Eyeliner)

A new SF anthology is coming out titled "Before They Were Giants." Of the 15 contributing authors, only 1 is a woman.

[ profile] cassiphone's periodic table of SF women:

"One of the most frustrating responses I heard to the ‘Before they were Giants’ discussion, itself the latest in a long line of TOC rows, was the kneejerk “but there just aren’t as many women who are giants in the field.”

"[...] Because of course there were women. And it’s time to stop and think about the fact that the majority of authors considered “giants” in the history of field are male. Is it really because their books were better? Because what they were saying was more important? Because more people were talking about them, critiquing them, being influenced by them? Are we absolutely certain that none of those things could have been affected by societal pressures other than the pure “quality” of the text?"
The editor of the anthology responded here. (Also indicates that nonwhite and LGBTQ authors were not considered.)

[ profile] strangedave on the lack of female representation in SF anthologies. Apparently and a few others have been criticized for criticizing the lack of diversity.
"And we are still having this conversation in the SF field after at least 35 years. If just politely helping people become aware of the issue worked, we wouldn't still be talking about it. And yet, it keeps happening, again and again. People are still putting together anthologies without even thinking about gender as an issue — and the only way to make them think about the issue is to make sure it isn't thought of as just a nicety, just another thing to try and improve that fellow editors will give you hints about (like font choice, or cover layout), but rather as something that is a major mistake if you get it wrong, something that will attract not mild criticism but anger. Anger is entirely appropriate. No one should expect not to get publicly called on their big mistakes, rather we should all endeavour not to make them, and learn to handle them gracefully when we do (as, to his credit, Sutter largely has)."

When fail is put on the interwebs, I consider it free game. If it's relatively isolated incident that doesn't impact a ton of people, I might contact the author(s) privately or on their own site and address the issue there. But this is an anthology that we're talking about; it's going to be on physical bookshelves and it's going to impact people who will never run across the discussions that are happening right now on the internet. That anthology is not going to come with a disclaimer that apologizes for its silencing of nonwhite, LGBTQ, and female SF writers. And so if the only option availiable is to discuss its inherent privilege all over the internet, then that's what I intend to do.

For additional reading: A partial podcast transcript about the debacle.

manifesta: (Mischief Managed)

Old news, but I thought that if I hadn't come across these until recently, then others might not have either.

N.K Jemisin on book covers and race. For context, the two covers of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms--the preliminary one that features a POC and the final version that does not--can be seen together here (scroll down).

"Because I’d seen that preliminary cover, I knew the publisher had been willing to put a brown woman on my book. My fears were allayed at that point — such that when my editor said she was removing the character for aesthetic reasons, I believed her. But given the pervasiveness of whitewashing in the industry, I do wonder what readers are going to think when they see my book, read that the character is brown, maybe see my author photo and realize I’m brown, and then see there’s no character on the front. Will that feed into the notion that PoC on book covers don’t sell? And I can’t help wondering what might’ve happened if they’d kept my protag on the cover, aesthetic considerations aside. Even if the publisher had been willing to run with it, would the buyers at the chain stores accept it? Would retailers take one look and shove it in the African American Interest section? Would SF reviewers pay any attention to it? Like I said, this is a pervasive thing."
Jemisin also posted a three-part series on writing characters of color: part 1, part 2, & part 3.

From part 2:
"Personally, I prefer Rowling’s method of dealing with it. She didn’t label the white characters white, or the black characters black, or the Asian characters Asian, etc. She drops broad hints about all of them, from culturally-distinct surnames like Patil and Chang and Granger, to culturally-associated styles and foods (braids, sari, Harry’s love of the quintessentially-British treacle tarts), to more subtle cues like Dean’s football preferences. But she does this equally for the white characters and the characters of color. No group is treated as “normal,” or by exclusion/emphasis “abnormal”."
manifesta: (An's Fury)
Potential trigger warning for discussions regarding sexual assault/rape culture. Though I think it might be mostly in the links.

A week or so ago, [personal profile] kaigou wrote an incredibly powerful post in reaction to discourse occuring within the rape culture/YA debate. The post is currently frozen, but I still recommend reading it.

"What's the message in there? That to write a story where a girl stands up against the rape culture is only possible and believable if it's not in our world, and not in our present day? That we need to wait twenty years -- or be on another planet altogether -- before it'd be okay for a young girl to tell a guy where to get off and have her demands be respected?

"[...] Yes, science fiction and fantasy have their place. I'd be one of the last to argue otherwise. But in this context, in this genre, the contemporary has a power that cannot be defeated by "what it'd be like in thirty years" or "what it'd be like if we were all blue and living on Pluto" -- it can only be defeated, I've come to believe, by showing our next generation of women that the things they deal with, here and now, can be changed, should be changed, and that we -- the generation who went before, who now produces the works that these younger women read -- are aware of what they face, and we are using our own experiences to give them paths to follow, to lead them out of that goddamn cage of the rape culture, and that yes, as a matter of fact, that we do not believe that the only path to true love is to accept the stalker-rapist, that we call that as bullshit and are here to help them see there is a better life -- a better world! -- possible."  

In the post [personal profile] kaigou temporarily sets aside scifi-fantasy in favor of exploring the power of the contemporary (possibly also paranormal) YA (i.e. "this context") and demands why women and girls are only allowed to set boundaries and experience agency within scifi/fi but not contemporary YA. I think this raises some interesting questions, and I'd like to expand on it a little further. Note that I'm not setting contemporary YA and scifi/fantasy in opposition with one another, painting one as bad and the other as free of problematic portrayals of women; rather, I'm following the basic premise that women in scifi/fantasy are able to experience more agency (however layered or illusory) than their counterparts in contemporary YA due to fundamental beliefs about  women's lives in contemporary society that don't seem to apply to AUs.

I think it's a given to say that the contemporary holds a certain power of immediacy that scifi/fantasy doesn't, and I think this is significant in understanding why issues such as the perpetuation of rape culture become so prevalent across a single contemporary genre. I've said before that books often reflect the underlying beliefs of society, and while this holds true for scifi/fantasy as much as it does contemporary YA, by introducing the element of the fantastic we also introduce the possibility that not everything is the same as in the real world. Part of the reason scifi/fantasy, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance hold my attention from a meta-analytical perspective is precisely because of this possibility; it is also why I think they are incredibly powerful tools, particularly given their popularity and success, that could potentially shed light on systemic beliefs and counter them in an unrealistic context with realistic results.

That said, I think this exposes the inherent cognitive error that does set contemporary YA and scifi/fantasy in opposition: that scifi/fantasy should or does completely fill in the gaps left in between the reality of oppression and the fantasy of freedom. By this I mean the idea that if scifi/fantasy's role is to explore alternate possibilities, then contemporary YA's job is to reflect current realities. An alternate approach to the latter, and one I'm loosely basing on [personal profile] kaigou's above statement, is that contemporary YA's job is not only to reflect current realities but to also create a model for improvement.

This isn't to say that contemporary YA shouldn't tackle issues such as rape as a reality of many women's lives. But it is to say that the repetitive tropes that place girls and women in positions of vulnerability and their boyfriends in positions of power, without raising any questions about this arrangement in the text and thus subliminally advocating its acceptance does harm.* The defense that women are dealing with these issues in real life is not a reason to portray unhealthy relationships as healthy nor the women themselves as helpless victims too oblivious to recognize the violence in their own relationships.

From Bitch Magazine, in an article on why contemporary intersectional feminism isn't necessarily anti-racist,** which may seem off-topic, but I do believe the basic idea applies here, too:
"I mostly think this because my method of measuring where feminism is at isn't coming from the "oh, well it's better than it was before" place or the "oh, we need to understand that the second-wavers were women of their time" starting point. My measurement says that things have been really fucked up, are still really fucked up, but most importantly that I don't have to keep swallowing the pill of "understanding" why they remain that way in many instances."
Bold emphasis mine.

Part of the reason that many YA books are currently a vehicle for the perpetuation of rape culture is not just because the portrayal of relationships are riddled with socially accepted violence but also because we as a society have swallowed the defense of "this is the way things are." It is certainly pertinent to reflect "the way things are," but it is equally important to do so with an awareness and respect toward the people being impacted and to take a stance, implicitly or explicitly through the text, that does not in any way condone the behavior. 

*In accordance with my idea that genre books are the "dark mirror" to our reality--reflecting negative yet prevalent societal norms in a subtle manner--it follows that if stereotypical or negative portrayls of people, particularly marginalized groups, in scifi/fantasy books can have a dentrimental psychological impact on readers, then so, too, can contemporary YA. However I would suggest that the lag time between the absorption of the messages we receive and their solidification in our unconscious is greatly reduced (i.e. the amount of consistent messages need not be so high) due to the inherent relateability of contemporary/YA books. The messages are more powerful because they are all that more obvious. (And by obvious I refer to the connection between the realistic setting and the negative portrayal, not their subtlety as a function of privilege.)

**See how I slipped that in there? Read it. It's important, too.

Reposted because the original timestamp backdated it. Sorry if you're seeing this twice on your reading pages.