The Women Women Don’t See

Posted October 10, 2016 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has apparently brought out a new SF/F anthology of women writers, focusing on older and classic SF, called Women of Futures Past. Apart from the idea that Lois McMaster Bujold and Connie Willis count as past writers, this is pretty laudable: most people in science fiction fandom are aware of the pushback against female writers which resulted in anthologies like Women Destroy Science Fiction. Witness Christie Yant’s editorial for that book:

The summer of 2013 was a rough one for women in science fiction. Every few weeks there was a new reminder that to a certain subset of the field, we’re not welcome here. There were multiple articles returning to the tired accusation that women (still) aren’t writing “real” SF; disputes about the way the field is represented by vintage cheesecake art on the cover of a professional trade publication; the glib admonition that if we are to succeed, we should be more like Barbie, in her “quiet dignity.”

Gah. But reading the introduction of Rusch’s anthology, written by Rusch herself, there’s a rather odd assertion. Ready?

The idea that women are discriminated against in science fiction is ludicrous to me.

There’s a special sense of cognitive dissonance arising from the fact that the very same introduction goes on to give example after example of discrimination, minimisation and ignorance. As discussed in this thread starting with Rachel Swirsky’s tweet, it seems in a way that there’s a sense of grievance about modern women in SF/F fandom not knowing about the women who came before them. Never mind “The Women Men Don’t See” or the “Women Fen Don’t See”; the complaint seems to be about the women women do not see.

I think it probably is true that women in SF/F fandom today don’t know about all the women who came before them, and those women deserve to be celebrated — though there’s not a single name in the TOC of Rusch’s book I don’t recognise. Her introduction does add somewhat to that, speaking about female editors, which is great.

But if there’s an issue that women now aren’t aware of women who wrote before them, it’s not that they’re not interested, it’s not that they’re not looking for it — and it’s not that the writers Rusch is including have actually been forgotten, because they were definitely the safe picks. Ursula Le Guin, really? She’s amazing, but hardly invisible.

Talking about the struggle for female writers to be taken seriously in SF/F fandom now is not to say that there weren’t women before now, and I think plenty of the current crop of female writers and editors would agree that a light needs to be shone on the invisible female writers who came before. I’m not convinced Rusch’s book is doing it, and I’m not convinced by her assertion that she has seen little discrimination in science fiction fandom. It seems to me that it’s a bit like the Dark Ages: things happened (women wrote books), but we don’t know what they were (who they were), because the records are sparse. And that definitely is due to discrimination, like it or not.

We can but work on it. Personally, I’d love to check out some of these forgotten award winners Rusch mentions — any recommendations on where and how to start for a broke, freelance keyboard monkey?

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