Once More, With Feeling: Intersectionality

Once More, With Feeling: Intersectionality

Or: why the Male Only Table of Contents issue is about both Gender and Race

So over on Marguerite’s blog editor Mike Ashley of the Mammoth Book of White Men Fail Mindbowing SF explains that the stories he was looking for, those that blew his mind with science, aren’t usually written by women, and therefore that’s why he couldn’t find any to include. Women are writing about people, you see, not necessarily science. Whatever. But, as I pointed out there, even if this was a valid excuse for an all-male TOC, that does not explain the lack of POC. A white male friend then pinged me, privately, to say: but isn’t that confusing the issue? Are you criticising him for having only men or no POC? And the answer is: both. And, not surprisingly, the two issues are intertwined.

To wit: when anthologies like this hit the Internets and we look at the TOC it’s very easy to notice that there are no women. It is therefore very easy to comment on and get angry about this fact. It is also easy for editors to come along and address only this exclusion, usually by saying “I didn’t pay attention to the bylines” and “women don’t write the kind of stories I was looking for” or “I don’t want to include them just as tokens”. Because at that point editors can pass it off as taste, and not even one based on gender, but on types of fiction.

But.

When one notices that these anthologies also don’t include any writers of color, either male or female, that complicates the issue, doesn’t it? It’s no longer just about whether men write these kinds of stories and women don’t. Because men of color write science fiction, too. Are we then going to even begin to say that they write more about people and not about science? Of course not. Stupid people are more likely to whip out, “But their stories are about race and only black people care about race!” Those people are wrong on both counts.

The same mindset is at work in both cases. It’s not “women/POC don’t write the kind of stories I was looking for,” it’s: I only like/read/understand/connect to/care for stories about white, male concerns.

That is a problem. Because SF, be it mammoth or mindblowing or sciencey, is not just about white, male concerns. And any anthology of SF or fantasy or horror that essentially posits the white male concerns as representative, normal, baseline, or default is an anthology made of fail. Because that is not what the genre is right now. Maybe 20 years ago. Hell, maybe 10 years ago. But not now. Not in the future.

As I said at Readercon, the future of this genre is women, people of color, people of different classes, people outside of the default American culture, people outside of America, period. When people ignore or suppress or marginalize this truth, be it intentionally or through laziness of mind, as appears to be the case here, you are In The Wrong in every way imaginable.

Understood?

Comments

  1. says

    “So over on Marguerite’s blog editor Mike Ashley of the Mammoth Book of White Men Fail Mindbowing SF explains that the stories he was looking for, those that blew his mind with science, aren’t usually written by women, and therefore that’s why he couldn’t find any to include. ”

    This is bullshit. James Tiptree blew everyone’s mind on the fucking science. I’m pretty sure Michael Swanwick, whose fucking kick-ass story “Mother Grasshopper” was included, has noted “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” as being this incredibly trippy exploration of science that he found amazing. And I think he noted that in… oh, where was it? Oh. Right, his introduction to Tiptree’s anthology.

    Also, I totally see where “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death” is about people instead of science, except for the lack of characters.

    Octavia, my heart, it turns out that there’s nothing scientific in “Blood Child,” and please, whatever you do, put “Speech Sounds” away. Connie! What have you been writing? Certainly it hasn’t been science fiction for which you win your awards, or at least not science fiction with trippy science. And Nancy Kress, really, how tainted your work is, with so many characters running about the place, being all charactery and characteresque and characteristic. Pat Murphy may be interrogating the boundary between animal in human using science in “Rachel in Love,” but this is basically irrelevant, because girl cooties. I’m sorry, I mean characters.

    The scarily weird biology in Eleanor Arnason’s “Knapsack Poems” and Vonda McIntyre’s “Little Faces” is not plausible enough, I presume. At least, not plausible when contrasted with living on a world-sized grasshopper, which is extremely plausible.

    Samuel Delany has never written anything weird either, but that’s probably because he’s black.

  2. Marguerite Reed says

    I guess I was so pleased that he said something that I didn’t follow up where I should’ve. I *am* troubled by his assertion that his perception of SF stories by women are about people, life, blah blah. To be honest, I cannot think of any examples to refute this.

    I am still disturbed by his familiarity with the genre and yet his apparent non-consideration of the current issues.

  3. Cija says

    When one notices that these anthologies also don’t include any writers of color, either male or female, that complicates the issue, doesn’t it?

    Does it? I mean: it is beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse[1] to suggest that writers of color are only interested in or capable of writing about Feelings, not Things and Ideas, but it is clearly not out of bounds to suggest that about women–indeed, some people (some women) say that shit about women writers when they’re trying to praise them. So I don’t think it complicates things at all; rather, it clarifies them and simplifies them extremely. It lets us know exactly what we’re looking at. It takes away an excuse.

    [1] when I say that it is outside the bounds of acceptable discourse, I do not mean for a second to imply that people aren’t actually that racist, in public, all the time–obviously they are. But it seems less likely to be philosophically accepted as a value-neutral description of differing literary priorities (because it’s so obviously not, and yet people get so easily suckered into taking it as one when it’s put as ‘women are like THIS, but men are like THAT, what are you going to do, ha ha ha.’)

    (I am not suggesting that SF discourse is in general any better on race than on gender or anything like that!–this is just one thing that sticks out to me. Of course, I will be proved wrong if nobody hesitates to slap on the same excuse and explain how people of color just care about human interaction and can’t be bothered to get their heads around mind-blowing science, because it bores them.)

  4. says

    i can. Connie Willis. Even the Queen comes to mind — it’s all about biology, medicine, and MENSTRUATION. Nancy Kress has written a ton of stories about how technology and biological manipulation affects both individuals and society. Mountain to Mohammed, the one about the genetically-enhanced dancers, Beggars in Spain, Mother, Are You Dancing? Nisi Shawl has some stories about science and technology in her collection and published elsewhere. Octavia Butler. Nalo Hopkinson. OMG THE LIST IT GROWS.

  5. Cija says

    Um. So it is!

    sorry, my mind is still blown by Mike Ashley’s explanation of what women’s stories are like. I guess I am too busy having feelings to keep my ideas straight.

  6. Delux says

    Yet and still these same people will sit around and wonder aloud why fewer people are reading what they write and publish…

  7. says

    One note – gender of author can usually (but not always – Andre Norton, C J Cherryh, James Tiptree Jr) be determined from the name, so is easily identifiable when looking down a TOC.

    Race is another matter entirely. Growing up in the UK, I read Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler without having the remotest clue about their race. I read stories at Beneath Ceaseless Skies or Fantasy Magazine or even Every Day Fiction and I don’t know the race of the author unless it’s explicitly mentioned in the bio. Yes, on the one hand, I could be guilty of the standard white assumption that “everyone else is white like me unless they tell me otherwise”, but on the other hand it’s easier for race to be “transparent”, in that sense, than it is for gender.

  8. says

    I’m kind of confused about why he said he didn’t want to make women feel like they were tokens right before he revealed that he asked two women to contribute new stories.

  9. says

    It seems to me that if he is familiar with the genre, he is reading with inherent biases that make him incredibly untrustworthy as an editor. It seems to me from my reading of the TOC and of his comment that he only wants his mind blown in fairly safe ways.

    Because a lot of what make people like Tiptree and Butler (and others) mind-blowing is that they did not write the same-old unchallenging push-sensa-wonda-button stuff I got so bored of in SF.

    Having said that, though, does his response hit anyone else’s “Women are nurturing and just not good at science” triggers?

  10. says

    I call bullshit. I looked at the TOC for 4 other of his anthologies. *ALL* of the ones I looked at were severely lacking in female authors. The best had 5 of like 12 to 15 contributors being female. These weren’t for themes as narrow (not that it’s very narrow) as “mind-blowing SF”.

  11. Julia says

    It hit my “women are emotional/men are logical” and “women just aren’t interested in math/aren’t good at it because they like dolls and stuff” I SEE YOU LARRY SUMMERS.

  12. Dave Creek says

    Found this post late, but have to comment. If women don’t write mindblowing SF, how come my favorite SF adventure writers currently are CJ Cherryh, Sandra McDonald, and Lois McMaster Bujold?

    And why can’t SF have both science and great characterization? I like stories that do a lot of heavy lifting.

  13. Veronica says

    See, if I were that editor, and I found out that my definition of “mind-blowing” did not include women (or indeed, any non-white people at all), I would consider the fault to be with my perception of what is mind-blowing, not with the non-white non-male writers.

  14. says

    But those stories are about human biology which is clearly non-extreme girly science (especially “Even the Queen”). Some of those stories are too mundane for what Ashley wanted – looking at the book’s table of contents, he seems to have focused on the weird and surreal.

    But “Bloodchild” and “Little Faces” and “Love is the Plan, The Plan is Death” would all fit as well as Sturgeon’s bio-horror “The Girl Had Guts”, except that they have those icky parts about relationships. Joan Slonczewski’s “Microbe” would have fit the bill, though.

  15. says

    the future of this genre is women, people of color, people of different classes, people outside of the default American culture, people outside of America, period. When people ignore or suppress or marginalize this truth, be it intentionally or through laziness of mind, as appears to be the case here, you are In The Wrong in every way imaginable.

    I’m gonna go with the now of this genre being that too.

  16. Marguerite Reed says

    I loved Little Faces. Loved it. But that’s got girl-cooties all over it, as well as SEX.

  17. says

    Probably minor, but I was so impressed by your comments that I and a friend were all:

    “This chick Tempest has replied! Lo, but she is pwning him! GO!”

    “Hey, she has replied again!”

    And then we discovered we could read your stuff elsewhere. What can I say, I am not very widely read, really. In recent years I have actually almost stopped my childhood obsession with fantasy and science fiction entirely because of the gratuitous and horrid nastiness towards women (my awareness of racial issues lags sadly behind, but I am slowly catching up). I cannot cope with reading another George R. Martin detailed description of rape-as-character-development-for-people-with-ladybits, frankly.

    But having discovered you are an author and blogger and I can enjoy more of your prose, I am quite happy! So even though Paul Di Filippo was ruining my mid afternoon cuppa, it turned out not so bad (for me) after all.

  18. says

    And I just realized that I was looking at the ToC of the wrong Mammoth Book of Extreme SF. Apparently the 2006 edition was also all dudes except Pat Cadigan.

  19. Julia Su. says

    I’m disturbed by his unfamiliarity with the genre. Because if he’s telling the truth about not being racist or sexist, that means he really thinks that various obscure white guys are writing more representatively mind-blowing science fiction than Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Samuel Delany, S.P. Somtow, C.J. Cherryh, etc., etc., etc.

    How could he miss these giant marquee names?

  20. Julia Su. says

    Nancy Kress has been writing a lot about non-bio technology lately, so that doesn’t even hold water.

  21. Julia Su. says

    It’s an endless Dunning-Kruger Effect echo chamber. Mike Ashley has, in effect, told various members of the old boy network that they’re better than Cherryh, Delany, Kress, McMaster Bujold, Butler, Somtow, Chiang, Willis, et al.

    And they’re too stupid, or too in denial, to realize that they’re the beneficiaries of prejudice, not the most meritorious candidates.

  22. says

    I thought Leah Bobet was in that book, too? I feel like I own it/ thought about owning it at one point because of a Tim Pratt story?

  23. says

    Nope, no Leah, at least in tgus edition. There is a “B. Vallance”, who could be a woman I guess – his/her story was originally published in 1909 and so obviously hasn’t written anything recently.