Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Taking the Russ pledge

The fabulous Cheryl Morgan has written a blog post, Female Invisibility Bingo, about the post I did at the weekend about how women writers' sf gets disappeared. The comments are wonderful: smart and constructive.

And then there's this post in the Guardian, by David Barnett, "The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers." The comments devolve rapidly. Not for the faint of heart.

Between them they form a sterling demonstration of how the post frames the response. Also of different audiences producing different results.

To be clear, in this blog (and in life in general) I'm only interested in moving forward, in improving the visibility of women writers on the shelves and in the media, and securing that visibility for the future. I don't give a fig for assigning blame.

The single most important thing we (readers, writers, journalists, critics, publishers, editors, etc.) can do is talk about women writers whenever we talk about men. And if we honestly can't think of women 'good enough' to match those men, then we should wonder aloud (or in print) why that is so. If it's appropriate (it might not be, always) we should point to the historical bias that consistently reduces the stature of women's literature; we should point to Joanna Russ's How to Suppress Women's Writing, which is still the best book I've ever read on the subject. We should take the pledge to make a considerable and consistent effort to mention women's work which, consciously or unconsciously, has been suppressed. Call it the Russ Pledge. I like to think she would have approved.



  1. Some of my favourite authors are female, but I'm sure I could read more books by women. So I decided this morning that I'd make July a month in which I read only books written by women authors. I certainly have enough such books on my shelves to do it.

  2. The Guardian definitely has a different audience to my blog, but it is also the most left wing and pro-feminist national newspaper in the UK. I shudder to think what the comments would be like had that article appeared in the Daily Malice.

    I also think you are right that the Guardian article was fishing for exactly that sort of response. High profile web sites that are funded by advertising are all engaged in the desperate quest for eyeballs and anything they can do to stir up "controversy" is fair game.

  3. ian, cool. Happy reading!

    Cheryl, yep, hunting for eyeballs changes the game.

  4. How about this?

    The more reviewers, of course, the better...

  5. Nicola, I took the Russ Pledge a long time ago. :)

    To me it's an integral part of being a woman who has benefited so much from the terrific work by my fore-mothers and fathers.

    I also believe that it's important to widen this out to include other people who've been marginalised.

    And, by the way, I've encountered the exact same issue in the horror genre, the film industry and in the comic book industry. What's shocking is how similar all these arguments are to those detailed in How to Suppress Women's Writing.

    Two years ago women in the Horror industry started a Women in Horror Recognition Month ( February) to counter the problem of the 'invisibling' of women in the genre. What's great about it is that it was started by women and embraced by women (although, not all of them).

    I'd love for WiHM to become redundant eventually, but at the moment it remains necessary.

    From my observation social media has begun to revolutionise conversations about women. Women are using it to make changes. For instance last year's shaming of the New York Times over its review bias. That would not have happened if Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner had not started the dialogue via their twitter accounts.

    Women have to continue to stand up and speak out on these matters. And to be as inclusive as possible: to look beyond our own battles and horizons.

    Thank you for sparking this off with your blog post!

  6. We should take the pledge to make a considerable and consistent effort to mention women's work which, consciously or unconsciously, has been suppressed.

    I took the Russ Pledge about twenty-plus years ago - if not longer: but certainly for the past two or three decades, when asked "who is your favourite writer?", after I've done the usual hedge of "I don't have a favourite writer - I have favourite writers" I've then gone on to list women writers: I've promoted books by women writers, women's writing in SF in particular, and I've done it, quite consciously, because I was aware that books by women, science-fiction by women, tends to get invisibilised.

    Indeed, the apple of discord I threw at the Hugo Awards with such a resounding clang in 2009, was inspired by my belief in the Russ Pledge (great name).

    "Writers who would have been added had the amendment [my Apple of Discord] passed in 1998 and been ratified in 1999: Eleanor Arnason, Kage Baker, Judith Berman, Claire Brialey, Lois McMaster Bujold, Nancy Kress (three times), Ellen Klages, Margo Lanagan, Evelyn Leeper, Ursula K. LeGuin, Elizabeth Malarette, Maureen McHugh, Vonda N. McIntyre, Cheryl Morgan, M. Ricker, J. K. Rowling (twice), and Jo Walton."

  7. Nicola, I took the Russ Pledge in my heart since I first read Doris Lessing when I was 16. Recently I started to work with a publishing house in Brazil which is focused on YA fiction and is publishing mostly women, both from Brazil and from outside. (I'm currently translating Cherie Priest's BONESHAKER for them.) I take the Russ Pledge officially as of now. Thank you (and to Cheryl) for your wonderful insights, our talks, and, especially, your actions.

  8. Ian, count me in! I want to be a reviewer!

  9. John-Henri HolmbergJune 1, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    Nicola, I suspect you're talking to the already convinced here. I believe I can claim to have lived by the pledge since my active days in fandom; in 1976, I published the second Swedish fanzine to discuss feminism in sf; in 1982, with a friend, I wrote a book called (in Swedish) "Women in Science Fiction"; I believe I've been on every panel about feminism and gender at any Swedish sf convention in the last 35 years (and will be on the next one in a couple of weeks, when I'm GoH at this year's Eurocon); I did a 280-page "special issue" of my semiprozine featuring only work by Alice Sheldon and have otherwise in that magazine published the first work ever translated here by people like Timmel Duchamp, you and Kelley, Carolyn Gilman, Kameron Hurley, Ellen Klages, Judith Merril, C. L. Moore, Jennifer Pelland and quite a few others; and I do my damnedest to write about, talk about, and publish work by women. At the moment, I'm editing a line of feminist fiction for a Swedish publisher; so far, all the writers are, not surprisingly, women. (Actually, though, I admit that working on this project was alarming – many of the major feminist novels were published in Sweden, but what I had not realized was that virtually all of them are also out of print since twenty years – this is true for authors like Perkins Gilman, Alix Shulman, Marge Piercy, Rita Mae Brown, Zoë Fairbarns and most others once available here. Now they will be again.) This sounds self-serving. It's really not meant that way. With some persistence, I think single persons can make a difference. I've tried to do so, and I even believe I may have had some success; what I've done isn't particularly difficult or innovative, but someone had to do it. Others have done as much, or much more, in other fields.

  10. Splinister, yes, it would be so cool if all our mitigation efforts became unnecessary!

    Yonmei, I've been talking about this for (counts on fingers) 32 years. Sometimes I'm more focused about it than others. Right now, I'm focused. I am going to make a difference. You and Maura (Splinister) are already consciously making a difference. Let's merge efforts and sweep the world. As the Tiptree Council says: World domination!

    Fabio, you're welcome.

    John-Henri, yes. And the converted need encouragement, sometimes. This is a marathon. Think of this post (and others like it) as a comfort station: water, banana slices, cool cloth, encouragement to run through the pain. Thank you for all you do.

  11. Nicola:

    I have been pushing for recognition for women's literature for a long time online & IRL (although you have been talking about it for as long as I have been alive!). You've been an inspiration, along with Russ, and others. I'd recommend Dale Spender's _Women of Ideas: What Men Have Done to Them_ as a companion piece to _How to Suppress Women's Writing_, for instance. (It's the book Russ later referred to in _What Are We Fighting For?_ as even making *her* aghast at how things were worse than she thought.)

    I & a few other women started a feminist SF community on LJ nine years ago (though it hasn't been active in recent years, as our energies went different ways):
    & I've been blogging at the Feminist SF Blog.

    & I try to put my (little) money where my mouth is -- before Russ's speech this week, I'd scanned Hope Mirrlees's first novel some years back (it's more recently found a home on the web: ).

  12. Ide, I read the Dale Spender long ago. (Sadly I don't remember much about it.) I think I used to own a copy but it got left behind in one of my many moves. I seem to recall it had something startling about the cover, but I could be confusing it with something else.

    I'm aware of the various communities online but I'm most interested, now, in finding way to convince women to talk, not just to ourselves--we're good at that--but others out there. Turn outwards and speak. I'll be doing a blog post about that at some point.

    Thank you again for all you do.

  13. People reading this thread may be interested in "Pre-1923 Utopias and Science Fiction by Women:
    A Reading List of Online Editions" which I've just put up as a special collection at A Celebration of Women Writers I also list names and information about women writers at the site, so feel free to email suggestions of women & URLS to include in the database, to

  14. "I don't give a fig for assigning blame."

    "we should point to the historical bias that consistently reduces the stature of women's literature"

    Huh? What is that, if not assigning blame?

  15. Russ's book was published in 1983. It's probably time for a new book. Anyone?

  16. BuffySquirrel, sadly, nothing in Russ's book is out of date. It doesn't need to be redone.

  17. I took the pledge without realising it had a name :)

    I've read lots of SFF by women in the past, but after I blogged about visibility, I did a quick head count and realised that most of the books reviewed on my shiny new blog were by men. This was a not entirely unconscious bias - my recent reading has been focused on my immediate "competitors" in the historical/noir corner of fantasy, of which the best known examples are, somewhat inevitably, men (back to visibility again!). I immediately made a decision to redress the gender balance by picking out some female SFF from my TBR pile.

    Note that these are books I was already planning on reading, but they had dropped down the priority list for reasons only obliquely related to gender. It's also got me reading a lot more than I had been doing, because I'm reading for pleasure again rather than for "work"!

  18. Anne, I hope you enjoy all your choices. And if you do, that you talk about them!

  19. Just to note - there are a lot of people who consistently troll on the Guardian site. I never bother much with the comment threads, because of this. (Liz Williams)

  20. Liz, yes. It's like that way. But I think many of the comments on the original post 'what's your favourite sf?' were non-trollish, which is why I was so appalled at the disparity.