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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Posts Tagged ‘realmsoffantasy’

More on Realms of Fantasy

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

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.

But.

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.

Realms of Fantasy: now for Ladies!

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

There’s been some reaction to Realms of Fantasy’s recent announcement of a women’s special issue in 2011. Celebrating women in fantasy, it will contain fiction and art entirely produced by women, and preference will be given to stories that engage with gender, sexism and um “other areas important to feminine speculative literature.” Across the internet, some women are welcoming the issue, while others are decrying it as an anachronistic way of dealing with a real problem (or indeed arguing that there is no need for it at all).

Sarah Monette posts on the issue here, with some very valid points. The comments are worth reading, too. Likewise, the comments on the Rof blog, which include Douglas Cohen explaining a bit more about how the issue came about – in a way far more sympathetic to me than the initial call for submission, which frankly rubbed me the wrong way with its patronising tone. Meanwhile, Cat Valente has an awesome post up that pretty much sums up the way I feel – that is, torn between responses.

Here’s the thing: I believe in affirmative action in the spec fic short fiction scene. I’ve gone back and forth on this one, but I do. I think the only way we’re going to get a better and more diverse mix of quality, interesting short fiction in the scene is by a) having and supporting the editors whose tastes automatically skew towards a diverse mix of authors and fictional themes, and b) challenging the best and most respected editors in the field to look beyond their automatic taste response to see the value in some stories other than those written by straight white men, or those which largely feature the problems, concerns and imaginary futures of straight white men.

Publishing is a meritocracy. But merit is subjective, and it is fluid. Editors who read “without considering matters or gender, race or author background” and yet consistently publish work which is about the default white male gaze do need to be challenged by their audience, if that audience has an interest in diversity in fiction. Sometimes affirmative action, of whatever kind, is necessary to help editors (not necessarily male editors) find value in stories that they might have missed out on otherwise – not because they are deliberately creating a culture of sexism (or racism, etc, let’s stick to sexism for now) but because their actions and to some extent their personal taste are unconsciously supporting said culture.

Which, you know, if you’re only interested in an (aging) readership of a certain kind of bloke, is just fine. Slap a label on the magazine which says ‘SF/Fantasy for Men’ and be done with it. (or just put a cover on it where a madeuppy woman has her boobs falling out of chain mail, this has a similar effect) Sure, you might lose some audience – both male and female readers – but at least you’re being honest about where your priorities are.

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