Before you seek to lynch me, let me clarify the title slightly. Not all female SF writers are bad and I work with a number of very talented ones. What I am wondering is, why do places like Escape Pod and others think they are so dreadful?
Jon Del Arroz has been doing some interesting investigative journalism and has discovered that the long running Science Fiction podcast Escape Pod has a policy of giving preference to female writers over male ones. There is also the phenomena of regular anthologies and magazine issues that are women authors only (or some other “minority”).
The question I have about all this is, Why? Are female writers of science fiction really so terribly unreadable that they can’t actually get published without needing to rely on someone taking pity on them? The long history of science fiction publishing would suggest otherwise with many female authors writing under male pseudonyms and have successful careers, not to mention the large number of female authors who do just fine without needing one. I’ve bought stories as editor of Sci Phi Journal and as editor of Astounding Frontiers. The last thing I care about when purchasing stories is the sex of the writer, all that matters is that the story is good.
Usually when I say things like this someone will articulate concepts like “structural oppression”, “unconscious misogyny” or some other political buzz phrase to excuse why they need to make excuses for bad female writing but I find this unconvincing. The reality that a woman can submit under an obviously male pseudonym means that the barrier doesn’t really exist, they can always bypass the gate keeper (if he exists) in such a fashion. Is there any research today that shows a large number of stories submitted to different magazines using different names of both sexes, that get accepted at different rates based on the sex of the author? I realise such research would be difficult to conduct because you can’t just submit the same story to the same editor with different pseudonyms and expect a useful result, but the same author (or group of authors) could easily submit under many different names, a large number of different stories, and then get some statistically useful results. At least then there would be evidence of this bias should it exist.
My guess is that they would discover that female writers get bought more often than male authors in certain markets and in other markets there would be no meaningful difference. They did a similar experiment in Australia where they degendered resumes and used voice disguising technology to conduct candidate interviews. In such environments the men did better than the women, and in a sexed environment they actually did worse. They ended up needing to discontinue the practice because it got the “wrong” answer.
So what is the answer? Should places like Escape Pod be giving women a helping hand when buying stories? Such a patronising practice is not going to do the women authors any real favours. A publishing credit with Escape Pod for a woman will now unavoidably seen as some sort of participation prize for a crappy author. Who can have any idea how good an female author is, if when she is published in Escape Pod the bar has been artificially lowered? Maybe she is a good writer but there is no way to tell because it isn’t a level playing field.
At Superversive Press, we have published the wonderful Dystopian story, The Product by Marina Fontaine. Why did we publish it? Because it is a great story of the struggle for freedom in a nightmare future. Read it today and see what a good lady SF writer looks like. Marina has no need of an artificial helping hand because she is talented and I would never want to suggest she was a lesser writer that needed such a leg up.
The real solution to the “problem” of “under representation” is not to lower the bar for crappy author but to encourage them to become better writers and to encourage them to persevere in the face of setbacks. Ladies if you want to succeed, then suck less and persevere more. It really is that simple.