Thu, 02 June 2011 be part of the solution

It’s no surprise to any of my regular readers that I’ve considered myself a feminist from the moment I understood what it meant. Most importantly, I have always stated that fact without embarrassment or the need for a self-deprecating modifier (‘but I like men!’, ‘but I never burned a bra!’, etc. etc.).

Yet, for me it comes with a responsibility. I always remember that it’s due to the legacy of action by past feminists that I enjoy the right to vote, as well as a raft of anti-discrimination legislation. It’s up to succeeding generations of women to continue their mission for equality and fair treatment for everyone (irrespective of gender, sexuality, race etc).

How to Suppress Women's WritingLast weekend science fiction writer Nicola Griffith wrote a blog post: A Shocking UK sf ‘Favourites’ score: Men 500, women 18. This was about an online survey the UK newspaper The Guardian carried out in which fans voted on their favourite sf books. Clearly, those who participated in this survey did not remember women’s work when it came time to vote for their favourites.

The old arguments to explain this were trotted out: women haven’t always written science fiction, men read more science fiction than women, perhaps more men responded to the survey. Whatever the reasons one fact remains: women’s work is not valued as highly as men’s.

Unfortunately, this is not a new situation. Nicola points to Joanna Russ’s seminal text on the issue, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (1983), which details how women’s writing is ignored, devalued, undermined or has its legitimacy denied on a regular basis. It contributes to the notion – expressed openly by some even today – that women just don’t write as well as men, whatever the genre.

It’s nonsense of course, but these myths don’t disappear overnight. They require consistent, constant effort to overturn. In my opinion we won’t see radical change until we instigate a fundamental review of how we educate children. On that score Sweden is leading the world (read Equality Starts in Pre-School).

Cheryl Morgan added a blog post on the subject: Female Invisibility Bingo, an astute discussion of the issue with observations on the backlash that Nicola’s post created in some corners.

David Barnett at The Guardian then wrote a piece on The incredible shrinking presence of women SF writers, which examines the issue, but the comments on the article are depressing.

Both Nicola and Cheryl point to the fact that action is required. Specifically action by women. This is not to say that we don’t want men to contribute. The crazy fact is that often men’s opinions on feminist issues are given more significance. As if it is revolutionary for a man to believe in feminist principals, but it also goes back to the fact that – consciously or unconsciously – men’s opinions are considered more authoritative. So, yes, everyone is welcome to work for change on this subject.

For instance, last year Ian Sales put together a list of science fiction novels written by women that would be worthy of a  SF Mistressworks series. In response to Nicola and Cheryl’s call for action he has established the SF Mistressworks Blog. The idea is for people to volunteer to write reviews of the titles on this list – or for other sf novels written by women. There is also another list compiled by Kev McVeigh that has 150+ women sf writers on it. If you have more suggestion please add them there. Ian has also put together a useful list of the science fiction titles put out by The Women’s Press, as well as a compilation of science fiction novels published by women in the 21st century.

Nicola also wrote another blog post called Taking the Russ Pledge, in which she asks:

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.

This issue doesn’t exist just in science fiction. I’ve personally discussed the bias in the horror genre, the film industry and the comic book industry. It is endemic to our culture. So, whatever your interest, be it sports, art, literature, cinema, carpentry, etc. take time to find out who are the women working in that area, and pay attention to them. It doesn’t mean you have to like everything a woman does. But if you like women’s work then review it and promote it.

Women can be unconsciously biased against women’s work too. We should not be surprised by this fact, we are all part of the same culture. But once we notice it – once the unconscious becomes conscious – it is imperative that we do something about it.

I’ve been consistently reading more women’s work in the genres I enjoy and I’ve discovered a wealth of excellent material. I make an effort to promote it as often as I promote men’s work.

To quote Gandhi: “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

And I’ll finish with Simone de Beauvoir: “Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

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