Tough Times for Beset Manhood

Oct 10, 20:38 by IROSF
Thread for the discussion of "Tough Times for Beset Manhood," and gender issues in science fiction.

The article is here.
Oct 11, 12:07 by David Bratman
It's a well-known phenomenon that dominant groups becry their total disappearance whenever they stop being totally dominant. Studies of racial shift in American neighborhoods have, I believe, revealed that whites start complaining that the blacks are taking over when the black population exceeds about 10%.

However, the original complaint cited in the article (Joe Schembrie) isn't about all current SF, but about somebody's (Dozois's?) best of the year anthology.

Similarly, I can't tell if the critique of The SF Hall of Fame for having only 1 1/2 women in it is a critique of the book itself, or a critique of the pre-1965 field which the book fairly accurately reflects. (One note: the article says "voted such by the members of SFWA in 1968, the most recent story is from 1963," but any implied criticism for not having more recent stories should be negated by the book's eligibility period, which ended in 1964, the idea being to honor stories pre-dating the Nebulas, whose eligibility began with 1965.)
Oct 11, 17:14 by Mike Brotherton
I blogged about issues involving women, science, and science fiction last spring here --

While sf is diverse these days, certain areas, like hard sf, are not written by women in significant numbers. There isn't an editorial bias against them, they just don't write it much for whatever reasons. There are similarities in science itself. Some fields, like astronomy, are coming along and approaching 50/50, but some fields, like physics, are still struggling for 10%.

My first novel Star Dragon, which was well reviewed in general, got some interesting takes. The Publisher's Weekly review had a feminist slant, and blew some relatively small parts of the novel into big issues (and ignored the fact that the female lead can outbox the male lead by a good margin). The review praised the book for being optimistic, and an heir to the old-fashioned golden age fiction with a generation X feel.

Star Dragon was also nominated for the John W. Campbell award for best novel, and I googled a blog entry ( where a female writer took great issue with the percentage of female writers among the finalists that year (6/15)...well, she decided to add in the previous year since 6/15 didn't look so small.

Anyway, I don't know what all this means today. Things evolve, and change, and no one understands everything going on. But everyone's got an opinion. Women can write great science fiction, including hard science fiction, and we probably haven't achieved the potential of the field until the award ratios are closer to 50/50.
Oct 11, 17:40 by Bluejack
I would be careful about blanked statements like this:

While sf is diverse these days, certain areas, like hard sf, are not written by women in significant numbers. There isn't an editorial bias against them, they just don't write it much for whatever reasons.

It may true, but it slides a little too easy off the keyboard, if you know what I mean. In the first place, these numbers are hard to come by without access to editorial slush piles. Some studies have been attempted that demonstrate that across the genre as a whole, although absolute publication numbers have improved for women as a group, there is still a significant discrepancy in favor of male writers percentagewise.

Mind you, I take those numbers with a grain of salt, too: Personally, I don't think anyone has good data. I don't think anyone understands what a reasonable margin of error would be in a study like this. And I am certain nobody understands the deeper dynamics in the primal decision making process of editors.

Beyond the numbers, though, I agree with you Mike.

Things evolve, and change, and no one understands everything going on.

It doesn't get any truer than that. In general, I think most of the changes I see are for the better, and I look forward to understanding the things that continue to elude me today.
Oct 11, 22:23 by Mike Brotherton
Bluejack, I am careful about the things I say on this topic, because I've been attacked by the ignorant too many times in the past. I go into a little bit more detail in the blog entry I cite. It does seem to be true. There was an article (SFWA Bulletin a few years ago) where someone interviewed most of the major sf/f magazine editors and got some hard numbers. The editors are equally likely, within the statistical uncertainties, to buy from men or women, but they get more stories from men.

This is the only fair accounting of the numbers I've seen. Too many less than thoughtful people have looked at the absolute publication numbers and cried foul. Analog, for instance, publishes a lot more male writers than female writes. They also definitely get a lot more male writers submtiting more stories to them, which is often overlooked. I think it's terribly unfair to claim any discrimation at all without having a clue about the submission numbers, especially when the only thing I've seen published on the topic rules against discrimination.

I'm a scientist, and I respect data, and a reasonable interpretation of it. It's unfair to propogate myths of being discriminated against when it doesn't seem to be true. I don't believe Ellen Datlow or Gardner Dozois or Stanley Schmidt or any professional editor would turn down quality stories that would help their sales.

There's an awful PC aura about such topics. You, warning me to be careful, for instance, about even saying something that seems to be true based on available data. These things HAVE to be talked about, or they grow and fester into damaging myths, and people inside and outside the field start to believe it.

Just because it's complex doesn't mean we shouldn't discuss it, analyze it, and try to understand it. The discrepency in the absolute publication numbers indicates something is going on, and identifying the wrong cause will make the discrepency worse, not better.

Personally I think the problem lies primarily in the culture of science that makes it less appealling to more women in general than men. I say this as someone who had a female PhD advisor, currently has female graduate students, and has a female editor. This is a hypothesis, and surely not the only cause even if it is a primary one.

I don't think entertaining the notion that the current sf/f editors are gender-biased without good evidence for it is a great hypothesis, or the most healthy one to discuss first. There are bad/beginning writers who all too eagerly look for excuses they don't sell rather than face the fact that they need to write better stories.

The bottom line, to me, is that professional editors buy good stories when they come accross their desk.

Oct 11, 22:57 by Mike Brotherton
And just to be crystal clear, there may be all sorts of subtle and not so subtle discrimination (from individuals and society as a whole) that still tend to push women away from the hard sciences and hard science fiction, and some of this will be part of the "culture of science" I mention above. A lack of role models alone in great numbers is an issue. I just really don't think we have any clear or overt discrimination from the professional sf/f editors working today. It isn't editorial feedback leading to different submission rates.
Oct 12, 00:17 by Bluejack
There's an awful PC aura about such topics. You, warning me to be careful, for instance, about even saying something that seems to be true based on available data. These things HAVE to be talked about, or they grow and fester into damaging myths, and people inside and outside the field start to believe it.

Well, the only data I've seen contradicts the data you reference, which I haven't seen; Gordon Van Gelder has admitted that the stats on his slush pile suggest that he unconsciously discriminates against women to a small but significant degree. I don't think GVG is exactly a swaggering sexist, so it's a telling point.

I'm not saying I trust the data I've seen for all the reasons I specified above, but at least I've seen it.

I'm not trying to be PC, I'm trying to point out the lack of reliable data; and in the absence of reliable data *any* claim is suspect.

*Obviously* absolute numbers are meaningless. But I'm not sure that any of the proportional numbers are meaningful. Not unless there are hard tallies over time. And you know: not all names on a slush pile can be definitively classified.

When *anyone* makes any assertion about the presence or the absence of discrimination on the part of editors, I am going to say the same thing. Show me the numbers. Explain the methodology behind this data.

And I'm not trying to be the PC police either. Lord! Look at my own reviews this month. Only one review of a story by a woman. I review the stories about which I think I have something at least mildly interesting to say. If I reviewed only stories by men, every month, would that make me a sexist? Not necessarily: it would demonstrate that I only have something to say about stories written by men. Which would not be a very high recommendation for me as a reviewer, but it doesn't necessarily mean I should be shackled and taken off for reeducation, either.

(Although if they served gingersnaps at the reeducation camp, I might be up for it.)
Oct 12, 06:17 by Jay Lake
I will say that Polyphony, which is a market with a conscious (but not mandatory) policy of publishing a gender balance of authors, runs about 60/10/30 in the slush pile.

60 = writers with identifiably male names
10 = writers with ambiguous names or initials only
30 = writers with identifiably female names

We do make an actual count, by the way, and we report those stats to a couple of people who make a point out of studying this question in detail.

Warning: What follows is pure speculation, not data or testable hypothesis.

Mind you, Polyphony is not Analog. I don't think our readership or our submitting pool has a significant self-selecting gender bias, and still we are significantly tilted. Historically, across five volumes, I think we've published M:F in a ratio of about 55:45, which means to some degree we are discriminating against *men*, assuming generally similar statistical distribution of quality among the manuscript universe.

Ie, it's not that simple. But we all knew that.

FWIW, my comments about Polyphony are purely my own and are not an official statement by Wheatland Press.
Oct 12, 07:41 by Darja Clarke
What seems to be going on is that science fiction has expanded and become more inclusive, and certain readers resent that.

I agree, and I think there are even more facets to it. The Golden Age story is a product of early to mid-twentieth century notions of (white) manhood—the need for exploration, to assert the self through “conquering” new lands, etc.—these motifs confirm culture’s visions of what it meant “to be a man” at that time. Golden Age SF reflected and reinforced what being a man was about, and it molded how men perceived their own experiences.

As the publishing landscape becomes more inclusive, the kinds of stories told are changing—it’s not just stories that reflect (white) men’s lives anymore. Stories told by women of color, white women, and men of color change all that, as Jay and Ruth have said.

But another change has been that notions of what it means to be a man are changing. To some folks, what’s so frightening about the loss of Golden Age SF is not just that those kinds of stories are gone—it’s that that vision of manhood isn’t current any more. It’s a loss not just of that kind of story, but a way of men understanding or envisioning themselves “as a certain kind of man” that is being lost.

In response to mbrother, one thing to keep in mind is that these kinds of “men’s” stories are the norm against which other kinds of stories have been evaluated historically. The vast majority of editors certainly don’t intend to discriminate against women writers, but that is not to say they are not influenced by ideas of what a story should include, or what an “interesting” or “compelling” story might be about—notions that have been formulated and molded by a history of (white) men’s fiction.

--Darja Malcolm-Clarke
Oct 12, 08:28 by James Pfundstein
Nestvold and Lake wrote (in part) of Weinbaum's "A Martian Odyssey":
it has a strong resemblance to the ultimate male romance, the Western, complete with a shootout at the end of the story

I don't see how the fact that the hero fires a gun towards the end of a story makes the story like a Western. Guns are fired in lots of stories, and indeed many (if not all) of them are written by men, but they're not all Westerns. Nor do I remember a Western where the shootout is resolved by the arrival of a rocketship. (Of course, we could say: the rocketship = the US cavalry. But then we could say: Tweel = Harding, and claim that the whole thing is an allegory of the Teapot Dome scandal. You have to draw the line on this sort of thing somewhere.)

The story's real roots are in a kind of fiction even more alien to the modern reader than Westerns: pulp fiction of exotic adventure and lost races. This doesn't have much application to gender studies, but might to ethnic studies (since we're talking about whiteness as well as maleness here).

I was surprised that the writers didn't talk about the "Dream Beast"-- that episode contains the most interesting and explicit female sexual imagery in the story (and it reappears in the sequel "Valley of Dreams"-- paging Dr, Freud; Dr. Freud to the faculty lounge, stat). It would have disrupted the rather simplistic course of their argument, but that wouldn't necessarily have been a bad thing.

One female writer active in the 1950s (when Hugos were being handed out) who made it to the grave untainted by any trace of a major sf/f award was Leigh Brackett. She was writing a type of genre fiction which was marginalized by the groups who gave out awards. Were these types of fiction outlets more receptive to women authors, or was Brackett as much a standout in her field as C.L. Moore was in hers? It would be interesting to know the answer to this, but the structure of the article's argument keeps Nestvold and Lake from even asking the question.

Oct 13, 19:10 by Robert Waters
Hello all. I've read both the Nestvold/Lake article and the response to it on Tangent Online by Dave Truesdale, and I frankly wish that the agrument was not about whether or not our genre is being "metrosexualized" or "feminized" or whatever, but is "science fiction" at risk of being destroyed by "fantasy"? These days, I can barely find a good science fiction novel between all the 10-volume fantasy epics packed onto the shelves. What's happened to science fiction? Indeed, there are still sf novels being written, but come on, it doesn't take a PHD to see that SF is the forgotten step-child of the new millenium.

Herein lies the problem, I think. Some in the field may get the impression that SF is being softened simply because they just don't see it anymore on the shelves. This, I think, is the problem worth railing against.
Oct 14, 01:32 by Bluejack
Excellent point.
Oct 14, 01:57 by Bluejack
BTW: Dave's article at Tangent Online is here and the thread devoted to Dave's response is here.
Oct 16, 11:38 by Mike Brotherton
Bluejack, here is the 2002 article, by Sue Linville:

Data from Gordon van Gelder is included. If there is any gender bias from the editors, it is TINY compared to the effects of an imbalance in submission rates.

If Gordon is very slightly more likely to buy a story from a male author than a female author, and he has enough statistics to show that the difference is significant, that's good for him to learn and understand, but it was not evident in 2002. There didn't seem to be any bias at all based on the data he provided for the article. He published 27.5% stories by women, and got between 25 and 30% submissions from women (some names were ambiguous as to gender). Such a tiny bias, if it's even real (a few percent at most, and Gordon needs to understand sampling statistics to determine the significance level), is completely swamped by the disparity in submission rates.

The data suggest you're wrong, at least about this particular corner of the issues involved in the Truesdale and Nestvold/Lake articles. Editorial gender bias does not create the large excess of male authors appearing in genre magazines. The numbers show that clearly. Sorry I didn't find this link for my first post.

This is a really important point to understand, because it helps reveal what's going on so that it can be addressed. I'll quote the end of Linville's article:

Be it discouragement, time constraints or other obstacles, the under-representation of women in the short fiction market hurts us all. Readers miss the unique insights that women bring to fiction.

Women writers receive fewer reminders that it is possible to sell their work to major markets. Editors and publishers fail to connect fully with the larger audience of women. In 1995, Pamela Sargent wrote, in her introduction to Women of Wonder The Contemporary Years: “Women have unquestionably made advances. It remains to be seen whether these advances are subtle and pervasive, but not yet easily discerned, or instead ambiguous.” Hopefully, the data and anecdotal evidence presented in this article provides at least a glimpse of an answer.

Women have worked diligently for fifty years to achieve parity in the SF & Fantasy short fiction markets. Progress has been made and progress can continue to be made.

The future of women in SF & Fantasy is carried in every woman’s intellect and imagination and her willingness to persist. If women are to achieve true parity in this field, they must encourage their work, finish their work, submit their work, and persist in marketing their work.

It seems likely that publication success is due less to external than internal factors.

Oct 17, 20:28 by Allan Rosewarne
I'm not sure why, but the Lake and Nestvold essay reminds me alot of a Charles Platt essay called Rape of science fiction written 1989 in Science fiction eye. In this essay Mr. Platt accuses a group of authors, including Pat Murphy, Vonda McIntyre, and some others of turning science fiction into nothing but 'soft' science fiction. Additionally, Platt places blame for poor taste in selecting stories on Judy-Lynn Del Rey and the Del Rey fantasy series books.

So whenever I read comments about the feminization of SF, I always recall Mr. Platt's old, tired and hackneyed essay.
Oct 19, 21:37 by Dave Truesdale
"So whenever I read comments about the feminization of SF, I always recall Mr. Platt's old, tired and hackneyed essay."

Your view of it doesn't support or negate the facts of his assertion or theory. Is is true? Is it false? What did Charles mean by the "feminization" of SF? Within his definition (whatever it was), did he support it with facts? Depending on what his definition of "feminization" was, is this a good or bad thing for what separates those things that make SF different from what, and how, the mainstream deals with certain issues?

Just thinking out loud. ;-)

Oct 20, 18:29 by Dan Goodman
"The Golden Age of science fiction is twelve" is what Pete Graham originally said. Or at least, that's the way I saw it in fanprint a few decades ago. (Ironically, those fanzines were mostly published by people who, if they're still around, lament the decline of fanzines.)

On guns and masculinity: In at least one pulp genre, the hero didn't use a gun to win. Ever. And did win, against armed villains at least some of the time.

Among the pulps devoted to fiction about various sports, there was at least one about boxing. Naturally, the hero had to use his boxing skills to win.

Louis L'Amour wrote some of these stories. It was disconcerting to run across them in a collection which also included Western short stories.

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