Women in SF, redux


Tricia Sullivan, and Liz Williams on Women in SF, and the Solaris Rising controversy . Well worth a look. I’ve been really crazy busy, and sort of missed most of this one… But let me add my voice to the fact that I don’t think it’s fair to blame Ian (who’s a great bloke) for the lack of female representation in the previous Solaris books (in which he had no part at all). The Solaris Rising TOC (4 women authors out of 16-17 stories) doesn’t strike me as particularly horrifyingly sexist either–there’s just no way you can guarantee you’ll have 50-50% female representation in anthologies, both because of the sample (less women writing SF for a variety of complex reasons), and because of the way things shake out (as an anthologist, you can try invite 50-50% men-women, but you can’t even be sure the responses will be balanced).

Which isn’t to say there’s no problem with the genre in the UK (and indeed, with the genre in general). I think we can all agree there is one. But I don’t think specifically blaming Ian is the right strategy.

If I may borrow Tricia’s words for a moment:

I want to see change but I don’t want to work in a climate where individual people are at risk of being brought to ground, cornered and shamed for issues that arise out of a much more nebulous problem in society–and in this case, in the peculiarities of the SFF scene in Britain. I don’t think editors in Britain are chauvanist pigs. I’ve worked with several book editors in this country and have never had a whiff of old-school sexism from any of them. Do we live in a sexist culture? Yes, absolutely. Fucking yes.

Because of this and for other reasons it seems to be impossible to precisely identify the problem in SF in this country. I’ve said again and again in personal conversation that I believe it is systemic. I don’t think it’s merely a case of mistakenly attacking the branches instead of the root of the problem (as I’ve seen the attacks on Ian described) because it’s not a rooted sort of problem. I suspect the whole ecological cycle is messed up and I doubt there is any one action or plane of action that will ameliorate it. As I said to Juliet McKenna at the AGM: the whole is dumber than the sum of its parts. And I think it would be good to address this on all levels but perhaps only in small ways in some situations because sometimes that is all you can do for the moment. The main thing is to keep it going and move it forward. The scene didn’t get like this in a day and it’s not going to be fixed in sweeping strokes.


  1. Thanks for saying this, Aliette. And I hope your crazy busy doesn’t go on endlessly. I don’t know how you do it.

  2. Aw, thanks, Tricia!
    I don’t know how I do it either… (to be honest, I haven’t written a word of fiction since Eastercon, which might explain a lot of it… It’s only recently that I started writing again, and I’m battling the sinking feeling that I’m badly out of practise and writing a disastrous story…)

  3. In France we have more men than women in anthology for a simply reason : there is no enough femal writers in SF and fantasy. In my own anthology, Arcanes, i’ve only three women on 21 writers. I hope make better with the next one.

  4. Fabien: I strongly suspect it’s the same in the UK, though you could argue it’s a self-perpetuating problem (women don’t feel welcome in SF because they mostly see men’s stories being published–which can be very different in focus than what interests a lot of women–and therefore they don’t write…) Hence my “sample size” comment; it does play a large role. As Tricia said, it’s a complex problem, and I don’t think name-calling and finger-pointing is going to solve it…
    (and I do think people making efforts to include women writers should be subtly encouraged, not shouted at because they haven’t done enough–otherwise they’re just going to get discouraged. But then again, I lack experience in the matter…)

  5. Aliette, I know that feeling of battle–don’t give in to it. Maybe the piece is more challenging than you thought it would be, OK. Give it hell anyway 😀 (easy to say, I know, but I am cheering on the sidelines)

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