This one didn’t turn into a proper internet flamewar, which is absolutely a good thing. I’ve been interested in a lot of the discussion surrounding the RoF special women’s issue (there’s quite a lot of buzz at Jim Hines’ journal though a lot of it saddens me, particularly the “reverse sexism” brigade), and it’s particularly worth noting that very few people have a single reaction to this discussion – many are torn between different reactions. It’s been thought provoking, at least!
Updated responses both from Doug Cohen and from the art columnist who first suggested the showcase of women in fantasy art (a very different theme to ‘fantasy art by women,’ both of which are quite interesting) suggest that everyone involved in this issue had completely genuine intentions, and I have to say the special issue sounds a lot more awesome post-clarification.
There is a reason why words matter, and why tone matters. There is a reason why the initial response was as mixed as it was. A large part of that comes down to bad PR, and dodgy wording in the submission guidelines. It comes down to the person who is the public face of the magazine (on the internet, anyway) presenting the issue in such a hamfisted way that they wasted the opportunity to promote something which might actually be kind of cool.
It’s about not understanding that making a big deal of having an all-female TOC could invite cynicism or scrutiny. It’s about presenting the guidelines in a jokey way, with the implication that in order for this magazine to promote women, something has to be taken away from men (The first thing interested writers should know is that for this issue the sign on the proverbial door says “girl writers only.” Sorry gents.). It’s about how the use of patronising language (ladies, of course) can only hurt your cause, and challenge your credibility as an editor apparently interested in publishing female stories.
It’s about that male gaze again.
A showcase of the history women in fantasy art, paired with NF looking at women in folklore, and female-authored stories thrown in for good measure? That’s something I can get behind. Phrased like that, it might actually (almost) be enough to make me reconsider Realms of Fantasy as a publication of interest, after years of being disappointed by much of its content. If only they’d led with that! An announcement of submission guidelines should not require a flurry of clarifications and re-clarifications and justifications and apologies for causing offence. If other publishers/editors can take a lesson from this incident, let it not be that women writers are ungrateful when bones are thrown in their general direction.
Let the lesson be this: jokey attitude in submission guidelines? Rarely a good idea. Like it or not, big budget or operating out of your garage, when you set submission guidelines, you are in a position of power & privilege over the people who might be thinking of submitting to you, and taking that lightly is a fast way to offend people, especially when you are attempting to pre-select your work from a limited group of people whether your discrimination is based on age, gender, cultural background, etc. There will always be those offended by being excluded and those offended by being included, not to mention those who choose to be offended even though it doesn’t affect them one way or another. None of these things are the end of the world as long as you stay respectful to all parties. It’s not a good time to be trying to wit it up.
Sometimes it’s not about your intent, or even about what you say, but the way that you say it.