Kari Sperring (la_marquise_de_) wrote,
Kari Sperring
la_marquise_de_

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Collateral damage

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who has commented, and is still commenting, on my piece yesterday about sfnal futures and women. I'm reading. I'm nodding and thinking. I'm finding it hard to reply, but I am listening.

A number of people have asked what has been going on with me, that I wrote this (and my long twitter rant, which you can find storified here: https://storify.com/KariSperring/calling-out-the-men-who)
It's this. Lately, I've been feeling like all I am is collateral damage. I seem to have been fighting to be allowed to exist, to be a person and not just a thing, almost my entire life. It's exhausting and draining and endless and I never seem to make any lasting gains. Indeed, as I age, the amount of space I'm permitted to occupy gets smaller and smaller and my sense of existence is shrinking.

And it's not just me. On all sides I see other people facing the same thing. I see brilliant women writers like dancinghorse (Judith Tarr) and scifiwritir (Carole McDonnell) dismissed from the narrative of fantasy and sf because they're older, or because their books have fallen out of print, or some variation and combination of those, because genre history continues to belong to men. I see the same thing happening to QUILTBAG writers and writers of colour and writers with disabilities. On all sides there are wonderful initiatives like the Geekfest Nine Worlds, anthologies and projects promoting the work of writers who are not white westerners, anthologies of queer fiction, blog series on ableism and othering in sf. I love all of this. It's a step forward.

But what I'm also seeing is that in almost all of these, there's a group that's consistently left behind. I'm seeing collateral damage.
I'm seeing older women -- whether women of colour or white women, lesbian, bi or straight, trans or cis forgotten, or only considered relevant once they're dead or long out of print and the limelight (if they ever had any share of the latter to begin with). I'm seeing women writers who debut later -- and women writers, along with writers of colour and writers with disabilities often face additional challenges which mean that they are more likely to debut later -- being written off with no or few reviews, dismissed unread as predictable.
It's the pattern we seem unable to see when we fight for change. It's the pattern we just reproduce without thinking -- and then excuse, usually on the grounds that we -- that insidious, apparently collective sff 'we' which masquerades as all of us but all too often means only those with more privilege -- that we need to attract more new blood, more 'young fans'.
I have never once heard or seen anyone suggest that 'young fans' won't want to see established older male writers. Every single convention, including 9 Worlds, has its roster of established male pros over 40. Whenever I hear this line about attracting the young, my heart sinks. Not because I don't want to see new people in fandom -- of course I do.
Because the people who are asked to stand aside, the people whose work is deemed of little or no interest, are almost entirely older women. The older men go sailing merrily on.
Now, older men of colour are also victims in this: I would never deny that. It infuriates me that our genre is still talking about Robert E Howard but never mentions Charles Saunders, who wrote and is still writing some of the best swords-and-sorcery out there.

What it comes to is this: most women who are now over about 40 have been told their whole lives to be good, to keep their heads down, to keep on working away quietly and to wait their turn. And now, within sff, at the point when their male contemporaries are celebrated, these same women are being told, No, it's too late for you, you don't matter enough; that space is needed. Get out of the way.

We're collateral damage. If we debut later, we may well find ourselves declared over, irrelevant, not worth reading even before the print is dry on our 1st book. If we've been in the industry for years, we find ourselves forgotten or dismissed and our innovations and talents and insights attributed to others (all too often male others).
I've been making a rough list of writers who were big names in the 80s, male and female, and looking at where they are now. The biggest women writers of that period, in my memory, anyway, were Barbara Hambly, R A McAvoy, C J Cherryh, Katherine Kurtz, Judith Tarr, Julian May, Mary Gentle, Lois MacMaster Bujold, Tanith Lee, and Connie Willis.
Only three of those women are still being published regularly by major publishers (and one of those -- Cherryh -- is largely ignored). Most of the others are still writing, but in other genres, for small presses, or via kickstarter.
The big name men, though. Guy Gavriel Kay, David Brin, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Michael Swanwick, George R R Martin, Samuel R Delany, Charles de Lint....
They're pretty much all still there. They're famous, their books get inches of review space, they're talked about and promoted and cited as influences.
Now, I'm not saying there aren't male writers who have fallen out of contract or seem to be being unjustly neglected. Gary Kilworth springs to mind, along with Graham Dunstan Martin (whose work I love) and the great, great Walter Jon Williams, who does not get the recognition he deserves.
On every side, I see people telling most of those women I listed to step aside. (The exceptions are Bujold and Willis.) I see their books go unreviewed. I see their influence marginalised. Those are some wonderful, wonderful writers, writers you should be reading. There are more established women writers than LeGuin (great though she is). They deserve to be celebrated, too. They deserve their place in genre. So does Charles Saunders.
They deserve better than to be pushed aside while their male peers sail merrily on.

Women over 40, whatever our colour, our sexuality, our ability should not just be Collateral damage.

I call foul.

Edited to add: this isn't about expecting younger women to step aside, either. It suits our patriarchal culture to try and play the dis-privileged off against each other and to pretend that there's only enough space for a few. This isn't about women gaining at the expense of other women. This is about a system that builds in barriers for everyone who doesn't conform to that straight, white, able-bodied, male norm.
Tags: sff, women, women writers
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