So Fabio Fernandes put together a Mind Meld on SF Signal about the Russ Pledge and invited a bunch of very reasonable people and myself to contribute. It prompted a lively comment thread. Many of the comments contained the following “mansplaining” gems:
1. You have the numbers wrong – it wasn’t 4% of the books in the Guardian poll were by women, it’s closer to 12%.
And this is acceptable? According to Niall Harrison’s survey at Strange Horizons, 41.7% of books received by Locus were by women; in the UK, it was 37%. It’s not gender parity, but neither is it around 12%. Books by women sf writers are under-represented. Fact. Stop arguing about numbers and do something about it.
2. Why should I impose quotas on my reading?
Because if you’re part of the problem which results in that 12%, then you need to change your reading habits. You have an unconscious bias. You need to make a conscious effort to break that bias. And if that means imposing a quota on the genders of the authors you read, then that’s what you need to do.
3. A book stands on its own merit.
Right. So you have this magical ability to determine exactly how good every book ever published is, then? You can just look at a book and know it’s going to be good. Maybe that’s because you have a bias towards books by male writers and find them more enjoyable because they confirm your prejudices. Maybe you need to change that bias, and next choose to read a book by a woman writer. Who knows, it might “stand on its own merit” too.
4. I don’t care about the gender of an author.
Of course, you don’t; that’s why there’s an imbalance in the first place, that’s why women writers are under-represented. The fact that you don’t care just means you’ve never taken the trouble to think about your bias. So start thinking about it.
5. Writing by women is at least as good as writing by men.
I know you’re trying to be helpful, but… Writing by women is as good as writing by men. There’s no “at least” in it.
6. What about other under-represented minorities?
Women aren’t a minority – in the US in 2009, there were 155.6 million females and 151.4 million males; in England, 25.2 million females and 23.9 million males (2001 census figures). Women are a majority. Except when it comes to talking about science fiction books. This is not acceptable.
Clearly something needs to be done. Being reasonable is not a solution – all that does is perpetuate the unfairness. And, to be honest, I don’t even understand why people would argue against something that is blatantly unfair. Being asked to take the Russ Pledge does not infringe your human rights, it is not asking you to do something that will cost you money, or may lead to injury. It is asking you to make a conscious choice in one particular aspect of your life. It is asking you to question your own biases. It is asking you to stop being a sexist. And, be honest, how is sexism defensible?
Sadly, this appears to be a situation that few actually care about, or are willing to do something about. After an initial burst of enthusiasm, the hits on SF Mistressworks are now a third of what they were, even though I’ve been posting at least one review a day since the blog started. Most people, it seems, would sooner look at a photograph of John Scalzi’s new car (which is not a slur on John Scalzi himself).
At the beginning of the year, I decided my 2011 reading challenge would be to read, and blog about, a sf novel by a women writer each month. And I’ve been doing that. But next month, I’m going to do more: in July, I will only read books written by women, irrespective of genre. I already have a dozen titles picked out. One of them will be God’s War by Kameron Hurley – because last week on Twitter, Niall Harrison raved about the book and a number of us were persuaded to buy copies. The book was already on my radar – as any sf novel based on Arab culture would be, given my background; and one day, perhaps, I would have got round to buying and reading it. But Niall’s comments were enough to convince to buy a copy there and then. That’s the way this sort of thing should work – for books by women writers just as often as for books by male writers. And yes, I will post something here about God’s War here when I’ve finished reading it.
And, incidentally, I’m still looking for more reviews for the SF Mistressworks blog.