contribution by women in recent horror anthologies
On the Black Static web site today regular columnist Peter Tennant has analysed the contribution by women to horror anthologies over the past year.
I thought it might be instructive to look at how women writers are represented in the current crop of anthologies, using the thirteen anthologies I reviewed in #19, Lovecraft Unbound from #18, and three others that are waiting in the TBR pile (Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas, End of the Line edited by Jonathan Oliver and More Stories from The Twilight Zone edited by Carol Serling).
Of course, this is too sparse a sampling to draw any hard and fast conclusions, and we have no figures to put the results into context (e.g. how many women are writing horror fiction, and how many of those that do are submitting regularly), but it does suggest various trends.
The entire article is worth reading so you can examine the breakdown by anthology.
Peter notices that recent American and Canadian collections feature more women authors than the UK ones, which were bottom of the league in terms of representation except for The Bitten Word edited by Ian Whates, in which 59% of the contributors were women.
The inescapable fact is that women usually submit less to horror markets. Based on my experience with the Campaign for Real Fear there is a mental hurdle for some women writers to jump in order to consider writing for the horror genre. Some of it is personal taste, some of it is a perception that horror is a ‘boy’s club’ that is disinterested in women’s input (whether this is true or not, the belief lingers) and some of it is cultural and conditioned and thus difficult to shift. With active encouragement it’s my belief that the numbers of women writing horror fiction will increase.
I’m sure the question will be asked, why do we have to go to this effort? My response is that I’m equally interested in reading good horror writing by women and men, but that requires an extra welcome to women to write in this genre. It also means making it clear that we want to hear from other voices from other backgrounds too.
Ultimately, I believe diversity is healthy and brings with it a robust dynamic that can result in new and exciting stories. I would like to see more of it in all forms of writing – comic books, novels, screenwriting, computer games, short stories, etc.
Finally, when women are interested in writing for horror they tend to be devoted, passionate and involved in the genre. They are not invisible, and are easy to find. They deserve equal treatment in regards to critical attention and promotion as their male peers.
Visibility is key. Women need to see that other women have succeeded in the careers to which they aspire.
More women in the genre also breaks down stereotypes about the kinds of horror fiction women write. Without making any absolute value judgments (and I’m not), my own personal tastes in reading and writing do not run to broody or sparkly vampires or the subgenre of urban fantasy, so it’s frustrating when people assume that because I am a woman, that must be what I write. Compare that to the crime and mystery genre–I’ve no idea what real hard numbers are for women writers but there certainly doesn’t seem to be a sense that if you meet a woman who works in the genre, you can immediately jump to conclusions about precisely what kind of work she does.
Thinking about it, while women have staged a bit of a takeover of crime in the past two decades they have always had a presence, and in particular they had a very famous and visible role model: Agatha Christie. I think that does make a difference with people consider entering a profession, especially women. I think women have a reputation in crime as being fearless and edgy. I don’t read much of it myself, but there are loads of famous women writers in the genre.
I read widely, so I’ve sampled a lot of what’s termed paranormal romance and urban fantasy, and much of it is very dark. Is it strictly horror? Well, we’re back to definitions of genre, and I’m always weary when I hear people draw boundaries around the genre. This is always done with an agenda of exclusion. And what a surprise, women tend to be in the excluded zones.
I’ve heard that some urban fantasy in particular can be very dark, and I find that interesting, because I think there’s a perception that it is “softer” and thus more suitable for women than “straight horror.” What I find especially frustrating about that is that I’ve read plenty of fiction by male horror writers which reinforces a conservative, middle-class, family-oriented worldview–I would go so far as to say sometimes even sentimental–but there is no equal perception as a result that men lack the requisite “edginess.” It’s as though women must go an extra step to prove their credentials to be tough enough and dark enough and badassed enough (whatever all that means) to write horror.
I read a fair bit of crime and mystery (actually, my tastes in that field are a lot broader than my horror tastes, come to think of it) and I love that I can find women writing just all kinds of stuff, from nice little cozy mysteries to pitch-black noir.
There is a temptation, I think, for women to prove themselves to the hardcore horror crowd by writing a vicious, evisceration scene into every story or novel, because that’s ‘hard’ horror.
By writing in this fashion, if it’s just to justify themselves, women have already lost. Because on some level they’re admitting that they must prove themselves worthy to participate in the genre. They are starting on a belief that their work is inherently inferior because of its differences, and they could bend it certain directions artificially.
Women have every right to write whatever horror they like. We need more different horror, not more of the same. If only more women would use their unique voices to tell scary stories – and I include myself in this piece of advice because I am not immune to cultural pressures.
Always, always, always in this debate hard=masculine soft=feminine. And of course, soft=weak=bad. This binary thinking is hardly new, and is around in other genres too, such as the hard sf v soft sf debate in science fiction circles.
Statistics show that men are less likely to read books by women, less likely to see movies made by women, and less interested in identifying with women. Women, on the other hand, will consume books and films by men and can identify with a male as a protagonist in a film no problem. Not surprising since male stories are historically valourised.
There are a lot of deep-seated cultural problems at the root of all of this about the perception of women’s cultural worth.
Much of this is completely unconscious in men and women, but it is learned early and sticks fast.
Women should worry less about pleasing everyone but themselves (a common problem). We constitute the biggest segment of the market when it comes to audiences for books and films. We need to remember that our desires are equally relevant.
To do this we have to unlearn a lot of received behaviour. And that is not simple, and it takes work.
I know as I have struggled with this myself.
‘Lovecraft Unbound’ is a pretty excellent anthology. As well as being great horror, out of ‘Cthulhu Unbound’, ‘Shadows Over Baker St’ and other Lovecraftian anthologies, it’s top of the pile.
Attention needs to be paid to YA writing, where writers like Kelly Link and Margo Lanagan are producing genuinely disturbing horror fiction. Roughly half of women aged 18 to 24 are reading books classified as YA. Where are all the women horror writers? They might be writing YA. It’s where the money is and unlike in adult fiction, often the best YA stylists are also the biggest sellers, and there’s a lot more happening in YA than sparkly vampires.
Generally, I find when you start to look around you will find plenty of women writing horror, but they are just not as well-known as their male compatriots or they are in other sub-genres that are not considered horror.
There’s a lot of horror YA writing. But that’s not ‘real’ horror, right? 😉
D’oh! *shakes fist*
It’s quite validating to see Kelly Link, Margo Lanagan and Holly Black popping up in ‘Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror’ anthology you just blogged about. It’s nice to see YA writing being recognised as the vibrant storytelling it is.
Congrats on having Vic included!
I’m humbled to be among such great writers, many of whom have worked in multiple genres.