Annihilating Sexism One Conversation At A Time

Ah, sexism, you rear your ugly head. It ruins my day. It really does. I’ve got enough disability discrimination ruining my days, already.

I’d love to close my eyes and cover my ears and go la-la-la and surround myself in an egalitarian bubble of intelligent nice people, but then the nasty monsters might expand to the size of trucks and grow tentacles while I’m not looking and then we’d have to start killing people. No, we can’t kill people. I don’t like the talk about killing old white(-haired) men who are sexist. I mean, that’s not very nice, is it.

So I did my duty. I read a bit about SFWA bulletins and looked at the controversial issue #200 cover and read the stuff about who looked great in swimsuits. And I thought, isn’t this all very sad. Writing should be about writing. I know it’s not that simple. But I wish it was. I want the good writing to be read, whether its mine or his or hers or what.

We all love science fiction. Let’s write it and read it and play nicely together. (I’m not saying we can ignore sexism. We need to deal with it, form a plan to improve the situation, and implement it. I want to minimise my time on it though, because I could be working on a story, fuck it.)

In my limited experience (four Australian conventions including Aussiecon, Continuum and Conflux) and plenty of online interactions and critique grouping, the boys and girls of speculative fiction play very nicely together. I have never been harshly criticised as a writer. I see many wonderful women writers who are adored by our community and who have done so much good work in both writing and community building.

Admittedly, I’ve only had one horror SF story published and nothing I’d call pure SF. But the majority of editors who’ve published my horror and speculative fiction are male, and that  says to me that male gatekeepers in Australia are perfectly happy to publish female writers. And the professional speculative fiction writers seem to be half female. Not sure.

I think it’s important to celebrate the unity of our community in Australia. I so often see men supporting women writers. And vice versa. It’s awesome.

I think we also need to commit to continuing to develop a nurturing environment and strong community bonds for both male and female writers. I’d hate to see the antagonistic mess spread because the community is angry about comments some men made.

Personally, I’ve experienced two instances of inappropriate comments of a sexual nature at conventions. I dealt with both, and only one violently. (I’ve changed that wording from sexual harassment.)

One guy seemed to have no idea that what he’d said was offensive until I told him and then he was sorry. I hope that we can still be friends, because this is what conquering sexism is about; continually negotiating what is acceptable conversation and conduct.

And I hope in writing this I’m not scaring guys off joking around with me. Because you can rest assured that if you annoy me, I’ll let you know.

I’m happy to forgive minor sexisms. When we’re inebriated the limits of what is acceptable get blurry. The line between funny and offensive is subjective. And the better friends that you are, and the less publically humiliating a joke is, the more acceptable it is, to me.

And I’m not perfect. Hell, I was laughing at a photo of tiny penis last night. How awful is that. I feel genuinely bad about it, but sometimes these things happen.

Further, I know a young man who was sexually harassed at Aussiecon by a woman. He didn’t call it that, but she was making insistent approaches that he wasn’t interested in and made him uncomfortable. So sexism isn’t just going one way.

So it’s about fostering a culture where everyone is safe and valued, I guess. Where our writing has a fair chance.

Finally, to back up my view of, “If we have to think about sexism, let’s be outcome focused and make it productive,” here are my thoughts on how to expand SF opportunities for female writers:

Publishers:

  • Piggyback female SF first chapters on the end of male-authored books.
  • Don’t give up on female SF authors, even if you’ve found some hard to sell. I’m sure there are plenty of male authors who were hard to sell, too.
  • Produce anthologies to give new writers a chance.

Writers:

  • Keep writing, keep marketing, explore your own channels of publishing.
  • Controversial, I know, and pandering to the system, but: use a gender neutral name like Robin Hobb or Pat Murphy. This is the coup d’etat approach to conquering SF sexism. You like my writing? I’m a woman, take that!
  • Male and female authors support each other publicly and model mutual respect.
  • Avoid stereotypes in characters and be conscious of how you represent women and men throughout your body of work.
  • Allow quieter voices the space to be heard on panels. This isn’t a problem I’ve had, I’ve shouted about expanding vaginas where necessary, but not everyone is happy to make themselves heard. Also, audience members who can’t hear, try to avoid, “I can’t hear ya, love.” “Sorry/excuse me, I can’t hear you,” is much better.

Readers:

  • Buy and read SF by women.
  • Write reviews.
  • Ask for more of what you like from publishers.

Most of that is already happening,  I guess.

I’m happy to say all the men I’ve met through Australian fandom (old, young, middle-aged) have been respectful, welcoming, and happy to impart advice and hang out. And every time I hear a male author commending a woman’s work, I’m chuffed. And I think those men are confident in who they are, as humans and as writers.

Eugh. This blog might be a bit of a mess. I just wanted to get this crap out of my head so I can do some real writing.

I feel grateful to have met so many wonderful friends through writing. To all my speculative fiction tribe: I love you, rock on.

Helen

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