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Sexism and Reviews and Anthologies - oldcharliebrown [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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Sexism and Reviews and Anthologies [Jan. 21st, 2010|08:31 am]
oldcharliebrown
This is a response to a message board discussion of this review. What's the number one rule with regards to reviews, generally? Don't respond to them. But then I guess it couldn't be helped, this time around, prompting all kinds of craziness, here. I'll quote only the best, though:

"This tired canard of editor bias has been addressed before, and recently, by first-rate editors such as Ellen Datlow, Gordon van Gelder et al. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of submissions to Panverse--at least 75%--came from male authors, and this editor is not about to enforce any kind of quota or positive discrimination to 'shield himself from accusations of sexism', as you put it. Stories are accepted solely on merit, and nothing else. To suggest otherwise only reflects the accuser's own bias and slavish belief in the bankrupt ideology of political correctness. "

The old "merit" excuse rears its ugly head . . . ignoring the fact that so many other variables do go into submissions.

"If the implication that publishers--any publisher--have a gender bias is given any credence, pretty soon editors may well start glancing at their acceptances or TOCs, and be tempted to lower the bar, imposing a quota to guard themselves or their house against allegations of bias."
 
Because attempting to make your anthology better, by outreaching, is seen as lowering the bar? WTF.
 
or

"The gender disparity in published SF isn't the result of bias in the editorial story selection process. The gender disparity exists because men, in general, are more disposed to enjoy reading SF than women, in general, are. More men than women enjoy reading SF, and thus more men than women write SF."

. . . and this is based on what evidence?

It isn't all bad, though:

"[Our] world [has] a long history of denying women's voices, even in this country. In light of this history, although I can't fault an editor for publishing "on par with the women who have submitted," there's still something rotten with society when the numbers can become so skewed. Also, some publications in [this] world do give the impression that they have to almost be going out of their way to exclude women. It happens. Such publications do cause questions to be raised and considering our history and the tenacity of culture to sustain itself, it's difficult in many of these cases to actually exclude sexual bias as a motivating factor. In regards to women and fantasy, that they may be making many inroads there is no accident.

and

"In light of this long history of silencing and dismissing women's voices we've had . . . coupled with a nontransparent submission system, are the words, "I also hope that subsequent issues feature at least some female authors. A 100% male author list suggests a bias, which I’m sure is subconscious, but it’s a statistical anomaly that makes me look askance at the impartiality of the editor," fighting words? To me, they're not."

They're certainly not fighting words, I'd have to agree. But they do give some food for thought, and the hope is that something is learned from all this.
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: j_cheney
2010-01-21 02:01 pm (UTC)
I have a novella scheduled to be in P2. ;o)
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[User Picture]From: oldcharliebrown
2010-01-21 02:15 pm (UTC)
I think Amy Sterling Casil is also in the second volume. I don't know who else is in it, though.
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[User Picture]From: j_cheney
2010-01-21 02:16 pm (UTC)
The editor wasn't planning on releasing the TOC quite yet... ;o)
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2010-01-21 03:03 pm (UTC)
Anonymous submissions is not a bad idea IMO. Tho I did have to laugh when the people thought Reggie was a man's name (an understandable mistake, but funny when they got it wrong.)
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[User Picture]From: m_danson
2010-01-21 05:17 pm (UTC)
Sometimes people have problems identifying my gender from my legal name too. It's happened often enough that I've gotten used to it.
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[User Picture]From: birdhousefrog
2010-01-21 03:12 pm (UTC)
Oh I very much doubt that there's any real support to 'men read more sf than women' and why that would affect who should write it or be published, as if males only read male writers and females only read female writers.

I've read sf over fantasy for most of my adult life. I read more fantasy as a girl, but I think that's because there was a lot of it in the children's section of the library (mostly written by men, btw) and when I was a teen, not that much had been published for adults yet.

I think this idea of 'lowering the bar' is BS, as you say. There are so many qualified stories by any gender.

Oz
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[User Picture]From: cucumberseed
2010-01-21 03:18 pm (UTC)

look on the bright side

If the first couple of pull quotes are true, then FM gets *all* the good subs by female authors.
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[User Picture]From: kelly_barnhill
2010-01-21 04:23 pm (UTC)

The only answer is blind readings

Ah. I love it when people throw out non-facts. Men read more sci-fi, my eye. How about citing a source on that one? Can't do it, can ya? Didn't think so.

Thank you, Mr. Wallace, for posting this (and thank you for your analysis too - it takes a brave man to analyze idiocy). That sexisim is perpetrated by willful ignorance is something that we all need to remind ourselves from time to time.

There was a related study put out recently by a Harvard grad student named Emily Sands on the pervasiveness of gender bias in the theater community. She tracked how theater professionals and awards administrators responded to plays when they believed the plays were written by men or women. The results were horrifying, but not all that surprising, alas. The same play would get high marks when it was believed to have been written by a man, and "not quite there" marks when it was believed to be written by a woman. There was a similar study conducted in the nineties looking at how conductors listened to auditions from men and women - leading some major orchestras to change their auditions policies, and have all new musicians performing their audition pieces behind a screen, so that gender perception doesn't mar the analysis of the music.

We look at the name of the author - be it male or female, western or non-western, and we make all kinds of assumptions as to the content of the story that will follow. The only way around it is to go with blind submissions - let the story stand on its own feet.
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[User Picture]From: jamiam
2010-01-21 05:48 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings

I've had this argument numerous times with numerous editors--including those at Strange Horizons--and I actually don't think the answer IS blind readings, necessarily.

I DO think blind readings would be an interesting experiment, and a necessary data point, and that we're doing ourselves a grave disservice by not conducting it... but author gender very often does come through in writing style. Starting with protagonist gender. So while I think blind reading should at least be tried, I suspect there will still be disparities between submitted and accepted gender ratios.

(But yes, those studies. There are similar ones in the sciences, showing extremely unobjective reactions of readers to the "quality of science" based on author gender.)
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2010-01-21 05:52 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings

Matching gender to style is notoriously tricky, and I think subject to confirmation bias: if you are told I'm male, you're less likely to think I "write like a woman" even if my protagonist is named Mary instead of Marty.

Also: "ineluctable masculinity"?
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2010-01-21 06:17 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings

Matching gender to style is tricky.

Matching individual to style is much less tricky, and individuals most often have known genders.

A blind slush pile isn't going to have thousands of individuals entirely unknown to editors who almost by definition read very widely and are well-acquainted with a large number of writers. This isn't hypothetical at all; lit contests of various sorts also have blind readings and editors can tell who is who based on style.



All of this leaves aside the rather obvious issue with blind readings for magazines over the long-term; people don't read just for stories that meet some criteria for quality, but read for personality, to keep up with this or that writer, etc.
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[User Picture]From: jamiam
2010-01-21 06:36 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings

And yet, despite the fact that I just parroted that same argument below, I would still very much like to see what a magazine run by blind reading actually DID look like...

Frankly, I could do with fewer bottom-of-the-trunk stories by Orson Scott Card and Charles de Lint. I think your average reader is savvy enough to KNOW they're being had in this respect, and to resent it.
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2010-01-21 06:47 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings

The Chizine short story contest is run blind; you can likely dig up at least some of those stories from past contests or wait for the magazine to run the next contest.

I guess I don't follow the magazines so closely after all—does Card still publish in them? The last stories I've seen of his have been in anthologies, where solicitation is the rule, or his own magazine.
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[User Picture]From: jamiam
2010-01-21 06:33 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings

I agree, especially on the confirmation bias, so it won't be 1 to 1. But I expect an editor presented with a blind pile of slush could do better than 50/50.
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[User Picture]From: jamiam
2010-01-21 05:52 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings

Also, the counterargument from the editors I've spoken with goes like this: "First of all, selling a magazine is about attracting readers' eyes, not about running a merit-based competition; blind reading limits an editor's ability to pick out the big names that attract those reading eyes. Second of all, as editors we LIVE for the pleasant surprise of being the first person to set eyes on the new Kelly Link or Ted Chiang or Favorite Author X story, and if you took that away and replaced it with a giant pile of undifferentiated slush, frankly, we might not care to be editors anymore."
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[User Picture]From: seawasp
2010-01-21 08:39 pm (UTC)

Re: The only answer is blind readings


I'd think that if you're a well-known author, you're automatically Not Slush. I certainly don't have to send my novel/proposals at Baen to the slush pile, and if you do in the magazines, well, that would be another potential cause of their death.

Blind slush for unknowns, that makes sense. Or you could have the stuff sorted into "Known names, any of these will help sell" and "newbies", and then have someone else read and do the selections without the name information. The known names would of course have a known Male:Female ratio, and you could then (over a fairly large number of magazines, to get a reasonable significance likelihood) determine if things changed.
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[User Picture]From: nihilistic_kid
2010-01-21 04:24 pm (UTC)
It is funny that the reviewer didn't check before declaring every writer in the book to be male, but "Dario" of Panverse is 100% wannabe from his own submission guidelines:

The quality bar for this spot will be kept high, but we're particularly open to stories which you really believe in but the pro-level magazines turned down: give us a try.

High-quality (semipro to pro) work

It's funny that he talks about a high bar and then explicitly talks about wanting "semipro" stories and the leavings of "pro-level" magazines.

Whenever I see guidelines that use this sort of lingo, I'm turned off. If you're not aiming to provide the best work of a particular aesthetic with your project, you're just a fanboy wannabe.

Edited at 2010-01-21 04:27 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2010-01-21 05:27 pm (UTC)
Had a look at his guidelines and about one thing I am puzzled - the hell with female representation, do they or do they not pay any money?
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[User Picture]From: rachel_swirsky
2010-01-21 07:36 pm (UTC)
I think they pay a small amount.
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[User Picture]From: ideealisme
2010-01-21 07:40 pm (UTC)
Ah, I see, thank you! I get annoyed when they don't say one way or the other on a website.
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[User Picture]From: silviamg
2010-01-21 05:31 pm (UTC)
"Stories are accepted solely on merit, and nothing else"

So marketing has nothing to do in the mix? Name recognition for example? Or target audience? Or variety of themes and stories to produce a cohesive whole? Sigh, sigh, sigh.

Sometimes you don't get the mix of stories you want for an issue. Quick solution: solicit! At Innsmouth Free Press we did a call for a multiethnic issue and we got a ton of stories set in Latin America so we had to tell writers at one point to stop with Latin America and send other stuff because we didn't want to do a special issue just on Latin America. We also didn't get any stories with African characters/mythology. Knowing this, we solicited a story from Charles R. Saunders who happens to write lots of stories and novels with an African setting and characters.

Et voila! And we are, I might add, a micro zine.
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[User Picture]From: southernweirdo
2010-01-22 08:30 pm (UTC)
I agree. Solicitation is great.

Also utilizing the internet to its full potential. Instead of just noting your submission guidelines in the traditional genre places, think outside the box a little and visit other message boards/communities where you may be able to create some diversity. I did this with SFW starting by posting a call for submissions on Tempest's ABW blog when she asked for magazines open to diversity. By the end, that little project became much more diverse than it was in the beginning, especially for a publication that handled such a niche regional subgenre. If you let people know you're party's open to everyone, they'll come...

You don't have to sacrifice quality. You don't have to fall into the traps of tokenism. You don't have to do blind submissions. You just may have to work to get the word out and do some actual footwork. Once that submission pile has diversity, so will your publication. Problem solved.

Sylvia, you're doing a great job with Innsmouth Free Press, by the way. I enjoy it.
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[User Picture]From: rachel_swirsky
2010-01-21 07:39 pm (UTC)
i thought one of the site's example stories was female-authored.

however their current one seems to be by the editor?... hmm.

since there are only 5 stories in the toc, in addition to the fact that it's a low-paying start-up, i fail to be overly concerned. this may be because i had glancing familiarity with the concept of the project before it came out.

the editors should be putting head to desk right now, though. those commenters are doing them no favors.

Edited at 2010-01-21 07:42 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: rachel_swirsky
2010-01-21 08:11 pm (UTC)
Concern upgraded, market and editor switched to ignore.
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[User Picture]From: rachel_swirsky
2010-01-21 09:56 pm (UTC)
it seems extremely important to note that there is a woman in the toc, reggie lutz. if anyone else did what i did (i.e. read the review itself and then the highlights from the asimov's forum), then they may have missed this.
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