You’re Excluding Stories By Straight, White, Cis Men? J’accuse! J’accuse!

You're Excluding Stories By Straight, White, Cis Men? J'accuse! J'accuse!

A year or so ago some dude (whose name I’ve forgotten) who writes reviews of SF/F books noticed that in the year or two (or longer) previous he had not read or reviewed any books by women. This caused him to pause and go: “Huh….” and noodle on in some surface way about how he really should make an effort to read more women.

I suggested that, since he was now aware of the issue, he should do something more “radical” and spend an entire year reading books by nothing but women.

“But I can’t do that!” book review dude exclaimed. “That would be tipping the scale too far. That would be BIAS. That would be excluding men for arbitrary reasons! That would be wrong![1]

I knew, of course, when I made the suggestion he wouldn’t accept it. Because it’s just too much of a hardship to read only women. He even said some shit about how he’d miss out on too many good books by limiting himself that way. There was not enough side-eye in the universe for that conversation.

If you’ve spent most of your adult life reading mostly men without consciously thinking about the fact that you mostly choose books written by men or mostly have books written by men recommended to you or shoved at you as Good, then a year of reading only women is not even enough to balance the scales.

Reading only women for a year takes some thought and effort. And if you do that, people hardly ever assume that it happened Just Because or On Accident or because you were Just Reading The Best Books Regardless Of The Identity Of The Author.

Unlike if you just happen to read only men for 10 years at a stretch.

Funny that.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

The first comment on my latest io9 post pointed out that all the stories I featured are by women, and asked if that was a coincidence. I’ve been running this column regularly since July 2014. It took until February 2015 for someone to notice that. Or, I should probably say, it took until now for someone to ask me about it.

A few hours later another dude came by to confront me about this in more detail. His comment is still “pending,” so it’s not initially visible when you look at the page.

In all seriousness, not trying to be a dick here, but you do seem to be purposefully excluding white men from these roundups, correct? I mean you post almost entirely women writers, and the small handful of male authors you do include are either AOC or queer authors. If you have a criteria other than quality to select or filter authors, then shouldn’t you state so somewhere in these posts? I mean at least be straight up about it. At this point there seem to be far more opportunities, in the short fiction marketplace at least, for authors of color/LGBT authors, since there are magazines who won’t accept submissions from white men altogether. And then you have magazines like Lightspeed who were recently only accepting submissions from LGBT authors for the “Queers Destroy Science Fiction” anthology. I guess I’m seeing a lot of editors/magazines making an effort to increase their magazine’s diversity, when it actually seems like there isn’t a bias against minority authors at all? If I’m wrong then please tell me how so. But if only certain types of people are eligible for these “Best Stories” posts, and if many magazines are refusing submissions from white or straight or male authors, while many others explicitly state they’re looking for diverse voices (Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Lightspeed, et al), then where exactly is the bias? Is it possible this preoccupation with identity politics has gone too far? I guess I’m just saying, if these “Best Stories” posts really mean “Best Stories By Women, LGBT, or AOC” then shouldn’t you say so?

I am certain that this person is not such a regular reader of my column that they know off the top of their heads the makeup of the authors featured. This person went back through all my posts and tallied this info up before coming back with his observations. And in the process assumed not that I just happen to like stories by women, people of color, and LGBT folks better than that of straight, white, cis men, but that I am actively excluding that last category and should be up front about it.

Funny that.

Sunil Patel, who reviews books for Lightspeed, recently tweeted:

Promoting diversity is about boosting underrepresented voices. It is about leveling the playing field. It is no coincidence that my book review column features no white male authors. They can have EVERYWHERE ELSE. Do I feel like I’m discriminating against white male authors? I kind of do. But I also know that women and POC are reviewed less. Those with privilege are getting by just fine on their own. We need to use what privilege we have to boost marginalized voices.

What I do in my column isn’t precisely reviewing. It’s more signal-boosting of the fiction I read that I liked or loved. That’s why it’s called “The Best Stories from…” and not “Stories out this week” or whatever. When I did this on my own I called it Favorite Fiction. It’s a link, an excerpt, and a short paragraph, maybe two, about what struck me about the story, why I liked or loved it, what elements I appreciated. I rarely do anything that looks like a full-on critical analysis–that’s not what the column is for. I also don’t include stories I don’t like in order to explain why I don’t like them.

Still though, I am very aware that my signal-boosting carries meaning. I’m also aware of which kinds of authors often get more boosts in what venues. That kind of thing matters to me.

I will say this plainly: If I read a story and I like it a lot, I would never not include it in my column based on the identity and background of the writer. Because the whole basis of this is what I read and liked.

I’ll also say this plainly: A reviewer who makes the choice to focus exclusively on marginalized voices is making a good choice. There are plenty of places for the privileged to get and gain attention. Making a space for everyone else is not bias, it’s a step towards balance.

Footnotes

  1. I am paraphrasing.[]

Comments

  1. says

    They never even try to compromise, either, like say one female-authored book for every male-authored book. I’ve never seen any response beyond the total reactionary “BUT BIAS!!!111”

  2. Nico says

    It May be an incorrect assumption, however it felt as though, in the anecdote you started off with, the reviewer was more concerned with offering criticism of entirely female authors might appear sexist to his audience, especially if he did naught but that for a year.

  3. says

    You know, you’re shooting at the wrong guy.
    You want to encourage and gently educate the guys who notice that kind of thing. He is (or was) part-way on your side already.
    The guys to shoot at are the ones who don’t even notice or who “know” that women can’t write.

  4. Jesse the K says

    She’s not “shooting” at anyone, she’s recommending stories. Why bring a penetrating weapon to a literary discussion?

  5. says

    I have never read your blog before, but it came up as a suggestion on facebook and I thought: Hell yeah, someone after my own heart! lol
    I made the decision when I was about 12 and first starting to read everything I could get my hands on to limit myself to female authors and certain genres. Why? Because they were the only books that interested me. Because usually female authors write about female heroines, and that’s what I really wanted to read about. Women who kick ass and don’t take no for an answer!
    I eventually grew up and realized that I actually was being biases against men, so I tried to read some, but… Well… let’s just say that I found them boring or unbelievable. Worse, I hate reading about women main character written by men because I think that they come across as very masculine or shallow. I also happen to think that female writers can’t truly write fully fleshed out male main characters, because it’s just hard to get into the opposite gender’s head for an entire book unless you are trans, shrugs. (I am often accused of making my male characters too feminine simply because I try to make them intelligent, compassionate, and willing to compromise…)
    That said, there actually is one writer I read that breaks all my rules. After falling in love with the anime Slayers, I decided to read all the graphic novels and lightnovels written by a japanese man named Hajime Kanzaka. In the novels, Lina really does come across as more masculine than she does in the anime, but I love her anyway, lol!
    So anyway, my point in all of this is that I have been doing this since I was 12 and cannot imagine any reader who wouldn’t naturally choose to gravitate towards authors who write the type of stories and characters they want to read. Maybe it’s wrong, shrugs. All I can say is that when I write, I assume that my audience will be largely female and am always surprised when I have a man write to me and tell me how much he enjoyed my writing. It pushes me to be more balanced when I write, and I feel ashamed that I tend to avoid books written by men.
    That said, I have tried, and I honestly just cannot get into most stories written by men… unless they are gay :-)
    Have a happy day and keep on reading whatever you like!

  6. says

    I took part in the “read only books by women in 2014” trend that made the rounds on blogs last year and I got this same reaction from people. “you’re discriminating against men”, enough people said it in a joking way that it still really annoyed me. I am really happy that I did it and honestly read a lot of books that I ended up loving that I might not have otherwise.

  7. says

    I don’t understand the comment about being biased against White men. White men don’t need me to go to bat or defend them. For every book by a White man that I skip, I’m pretty sure that someone will pick up the slack and read or review one of their books. I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to miss me reading them.

    Okay, yeah, I do read a lot of books by White men, but I’ve been mixing it up since I started reading. I never gave this any thought because I get bored reading the same kind of stuff over and over, so I made a choice to seek out marginal voices. I like Doritos too, but I don’t prefer a steady diet of them and when I stop eating them, the brand isn’t going to be hurt by that. There will be plenty of people to eat Doritos in my place.

    These people act as if it’s some zero sum game or a new law. All we’re really saying is hey, you might want to introduce some fresh fruits and vegetables into your steady diet of meatloaf.

  8. says

    I’m so with you on this. I’ve been reading almost exclusively women for over 20 years. I wrote a similar piece about it on my blog, calling it “A Personal Manifesto.” Way back in the day I was an English major and I read all the dead white guys I’ll ever need. Give me a woman’s perspective.

  9. ERose says

    Comments like that one are the type that I put in the “understand what’s going on, but come on,” category.
    Doing my own pushes to increase bookshelf diversity I learned that I overestimate the percentage of my reading that comes from AOC precisely because they are an exception. The percentage of my reading that comes from known white men or women is almost double what I estimated.
    This stuff also reminds me of that study done about male-female participation in college classes where professors whose recorded class discussions showed they gave equal time to both genders self-reported as favoring women. Where you’re used to hearing only one kind of voice, the default for other kinds becomes silence and any noise sounds like a lot.
    It’s a pretty basic psychological principle. If you can’t engage in enough critical thinking to realize you might need to correct for that tendency, I really don’t feel bad not taking you seriously.
    I mean, Lightspeed Magazine had one “queers” issue. How many this same year have they had that where the percentages were even close to even?
    Plus, it doesn’t remotely follow that you’re reading or promoting subpar fiction if you aren’t including SWM, especially if this is a claim made by someone who doesn’t see the issue with ignoring more diverse voices. If that’s you, you’re basically saying that SWM write the “good work” so you miss most of it if you don’t read them. So much nope. Sure efforts to promote diversity will probably result in some of the more middling quality SWM falling by the wayside as better work by other voices. As a reader, I don’t mind. I’m building a bookshelf, not a charity.