Publishing Agender

Look, I was fairly sure that a couple of years ago I explained to somebody the exact final answer to the male/female debate, in clear and unarguable terms. I didn’t keep a copy of the email though.

Despite this, some people are still arguing about it. And as I am a human still, living among you all, I sometimes have to read and think about these issues too.

In particular, Ian “Mondy” Mond wrote a blog postage wherein he added up numbers. The culmination of all this was that apparently women are now given awards in even greater numbers than they were in the days when they were oppressed! Good for them.

Ian “Mond” Mond attributes this graphic to the rise of Alisa’s Twelve Planets Press and its associated womanly pursuits.

There is no doubt some truth to this, and kudos has to go to Alisa for not only manipulating the Ditmar results in an underhanded manner, but also, occasionally, also working quite hard and getting genuinely deserved results. When we talk about gender in this country in regard to publishing, I would argue that there are a number of baseline concepts that we take for granted now that we didn’t before, and that is at least partly attributable to the work of Alisa, Tansy and their coaterie, the work they’ve done in creating awareness and conversation around gender imbalances.

I would also say that Alisa has managed to harness and focus an energy which has been developing for a while, prior to TPP coming along. I would hazard a guess that it began in the growth of fantasy as a genre in the nineties, for which Harper Collins deserve some credit. To the best of my knowledge (I wasn’t a regular con-goer at the time) this led to an increase in the number of female fans attending cons, and a subsequent increase in new writers of the female variety.

The “small press explosion” as it was known to its friends in the early “zeroties” saw a large increase in the number of local women writers, and a lot of the publications around that time have a much more gender-equal contents page than what we saw prior to that time. I think people like Cat Sparks, ASIM, the CSFG and others all helped to provide this impetus in their publications. To my mind, Alisa and TPP have always been a high-end kind of publisher, less interested in grass roots encouragement and more interested in publishing the top notch material, and I think it was good timing that Alisa turned up on the scene around about the time a lot of the writers who emerged during the small press boom were really starting to develop.

All of which is not to play down the influence of Twelfth Planet and Alisa, so much as to say that nothing happens in a vacuum. Except for dustmites dancing and playing the dust mite-bagpipes, of course.

Alan Baxter, over at Ian “The Mond” Mond’s blog, notes that the percentages of award nominations have now skewed substantially toward women writers, and asks whether we are not seeing a new inequality. And clearly, it is true that the scene at the moment has become somewhat female-author-dominated. Of course, equally clearly, as Alisa points out on her own “Blog”, three years of numbers skewed toward women does not necessarily bespeak a broader inequality the way that twenty or thirty years of awards skewed toward men does.

Perhaps women are just writing better stuff right now. (or is that the personal taste argument – “I just buy the stories I like” – reversed? see why this stuff is so hard?)

Should we feel sorry for men who feel threatened by the new status quo? Well, I am sure most people would say “no”. I am quite happy to share my sympathy and empathy with people in that situation, personally, as I have always found that arguing against feeling for somebody else to be a somewhat graceless thing to do. But does my sympathy or empathy mean that I think the current imbalance is a bad thing? Absolutely not. On the contrary, it’s an excellent thing, for both our scene and for our society as a whole.

Does it mean that we now have gender equality? Well, I think that would be a preposterously over simplistic reduction of the situation. I don’t doubt that many inequalities continue to exist, and that we will have to remain vigilant. It is worth celebrating, however, small victories.

Where does that leave me, as a male writer, of sorts, in the current state? Is it threatening to me to face this kind of statistical force? I asked myself that question, trying to see where people like Alan (who I don’t mean to single out, as I think his arguments are probably held by a lot of other writers, both male and occasionally female) are coming from.

I don’t find it threatening to think that I might not get nominated for Ditmars, but that may be purely due to the good fortune of not having written anything of the slightest merit.

As a male writer, as part of the scene at the moment, I guess I do find it somewhat alienating. Whereas in the early 2000s, we were all running around saying “yay for us, for we are all Australian, and we shall support each other!”, in the second decade this national pride seems to have become replaced largely by gender identity, and the enthusiasm is all directed at women and their work. Is that threatening to a male writer? I don’t know if threatening is the right word, but I do miss feeling like part of the centre of things. I do feel less like I belong, as part of the small press subculture. And as I’m not the sort of male to go off into the woods with other men and wear animal skins and reclaim my masculinity, I don’t really feel any sense of belonging in place of that.

Does any of that matter? Not compared to the broader issues and the good work being done, no.

Should people feel sympathy for me? Well obviously they should, for I am after all the protagonist, the central character. Would I like to undo the new imbalance, restore men to their rightful heirdom? No, I wouldn’t. Would I like to believe that I can still have a career as an author and people will still read my work even though I don’t sit within this framework? Well obviously. Does that mean I wish the framework wasn’t there? No.

You get the picture.

Look, I don’t have time right now to answer every single gender-related question that might come up, so I’ll simply say briefly that the answers are: Yes, no, sometimes, last week, yes, we don’t know, the person on the left was correct, and never.

I hope that clears things up.

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One Response to Publishing Agender

  1. crankynick says:

    I don’t agree with everything in this post, or everything you say about the spec fic community – but i have to say that this is one of the most honest things I’ve read in a long, long time.

    You’re right – it’s a difficult thing to realise that being the centre of the world is no longer your due.

    I think the real tragedy is, though, that exactly that thinking is what has underpinned some of the nastiness that has surrounded the spec fic scene over the last few years, but the people who have been propagating it haven’t been nearly as capable of being honest about it as you have been here.

    (and just so there’s no possibility of accusations of passive aggressiveness and therefore hypocrisy – I’m talking about you, Alan Baxter, and those mates of yours that I’ve named elsewhere on a couple of occasions)

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