Thursday, June 9, 2011

Feminist SF conversations worth reading

Three interesting posts this weeks about feminist sf. I count all three women as my friends. I'm going to link and cut-and-paste but not offer too much editorial input mainly because, frankly, typing really hurts right now.

First, here's Timmi Duchamp over at Aqueduct:

Over at Torque Control, Niall Harrison has posted transcript of a BBC Woman's Hour segment that I (and perhaps others) have been having a difficult time trying to access, featuring a discussion by Gwyneth Jones, Karen Traviss, and Farah Mendlesohn about their take on the current situation of women writers and readers in science fiction. The discussion opens with Gwyneth voicing her regret at not having adopted a male pseudonym from the beginning of her career. I can understand that regret, since--providing she either disguised her physical appearnce or chose not to have a public life as a writer, which is, to say the least, difficult these days, given how important a public face is for selling one's work--she'd have been taken more seriously than she is now. (Arguably, she's taken more seriously than just about any other woman science fiction writer today than Ursula K. Le Guin. But she is also, I think, regretting the effect of the female name on her sales.

You should read the transcript. It is the foundation on which Gwyneth was building in her Guardian podcast the other day. (Plus, it's pretty damn interesting: it illuminates the state of British SF from the very different perspectives of two working writers.)

Then, in the same forum, Gwyneth Jones responds:’s a shame if all sf books that feature a few female characters, having female lifes, are labelled feminist, & therefore marked as unreadable by large swathes of the general sf reading public. I have been worried about being part of that effect.

I'm in an awkward position in relation to the debate about the parlous state of "female sf writers" in the UK (where the situation really is bad, by the way. According to Torque Control, which I take to be reliable, only Trisha Sullivan and Justina Robson currently have mainstream publishing contracts). The trouble is, I believe that the “problem” the fans are are worrying over is largely of their own making. We get what we celebrate, says Dean Kamon (inventor and science populariser). I don't know much about the man, but that sounds right. UKSF fandom has not celebrated female writers. Sf’s highly active fanbase says “it’s the publishers” but I don’t believe that. I’m sure genre publishers and editors have an agenda, and they probably favour traditional male-ordered sf, but they’re not fanatics. They follow the money. If the sf community had been getting excited about women writers, if sf novels by women had been anticipated, talked about, discussed, on an enthusiastic scale, the wider sf reading public would have taken notice, the publishers would have been seeing interesting sales figures and they’d have reacted positively.

It hasn’t happened.

Do read it. Gwyneth is always interesting. And she's very sharp.

And then Cheryl Morgan responds to Gwyneth, on Cheryl's Mewsings:

First wave feminism was the Suffragettes. That’s fairly clear. Second wave feminism was the movement that started in the 60s and 70s. In theory it was about equal rights for women in all areas of life. In practice it was sometimes more about equal rights for middle class white women, and occasionally about the rights of middle class white lesbian separatists. Sheila Jeffreys is a good example of how things can go so very badly wrong.

Third wave feminism, as I understand it, grew out of a cross-fertilization between feminism and the civil rights movement. Basically feminists realized that discrimination against women was just a small part of a much wider social problem. They also got the idea that working together with other groups on the bottom of the social ladder: people of color, the poor, LGBT people, the disabled and so on, would strengthen their position, not weaken it.

Third wave feminism, then, is not just about the “Battle of the Sexes”, it is about human rights. I’ll quite happily label a post about the rights of gay men “feminist”. But not everyone would. If you still see feminism as simply a matter of “men v women” then you may well see some of my posts as “seeing sexism where none exists” (as I and others have been accused of recently).

This is all thought-provoking stuff. I find I don't much care for 'wave' labelling. It was different in both countries (I've lived a long time in both) and even within regions of those countries. And then in other countries (e.g. France and the Netherlands, and Australia and New Zealand). Feminism is evolving. Some of us stick at the place we're comfortable. Some of us are never entirely comfortable. Some of us keep changing. Some of us just muddle along doing our best.

The point for me is that we all do have to keep trying, and talking, and figuring it out. And forgiving each other when we put our feet in our mouths. (Or when what we say gets misrepresented and/or taken out of context.)

I've just finished an interview with BBC Radio 4, which will be a two-part documentary about sf and the exploration of gender roles. I was ill. The interviewer I was expecting didn't show up. There were technical problems. Much of what I say will be edited and presented out of order. (I'm not complaining; that's how good multi-interviewee radio works.) What it sounds as though I'm saying to those who eventually listen to the documentary will most probably not much resemble what I was trying to convey. But we do our best. We muddle along. And meanwhile we try to learn from each other.

And the point is, after all, to talk about women writers as often as we can. Anyone got anyone they'd like to mention today?

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