“Is science fiction sexist?” begins David Barnett’s latest volley in The Guardian against perceived discrimination in genre fiction.
His question’s inspired this time by the Guardian’s recent online poll to find readers’ favorite SF novels which reportedly got 500 responses, only 18 recommending work by women.
Who’s to blame for the disparity? Not the industry, says Barnett. Looking around, he sees women executives running publishing houses. Not the writers: women authors produce some of the top-selling books, obviously many readers appreciate their stories —
Which means, if we’re looking for a culprit, that suspicion must fall on the genre’s very active fanbase: as this Guardian poll suggests, if there is sexism in the SF world, it may well be a matter of representation by the readership. It’s difficult to legislate for equality in an online poll such as the Guardian’s: the results are what they are. With no shortage of women working in the industry, the question must be asked why the people who offer their opinions – be it in a survey, or by way of compiling a book or magazine supplement – are putting forward a demonstrably male bias.
Of course, the Guardian list is by turns marvelous and hideous. That Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness was named by seven people may not compensate for Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream having been named by anyone at all. Also, I would not have thought the universe contained as many as three people who feel Time Enough for Love is their favorite sf novel, much less that all of them would be released from the asylum long enough to respond to the Guardian’s poll. And Melville’s Moby Dick might be out of place here, though the proffered description camouflages the fact cleverly enough.
The Crotchety Old Fan also made these choice observations about the list in “Who Will Guard the Guardian?”
If you take the time to scroll down through it, you will find (in addition to the distinct lack of female authors) – several votes for the Bible, numerous authors and works that are more fantasy or horror than SF, tons of people who apparently can not spell their self-proclaimed favorite author’s name, multiple entries for the same work from the same poster…
Nevertheless, as part of the “active fanbase” I have to say my feelings were wounded by Barnett’s accusation of “sexism,” which is practically impossible to refute when it’s presented as yet another of these gender head-counting exercises, giving a veneer of objectivity to his essentially subjective political opinion.
I’m reminded that a few months ago when I argued here that Doomsday Book had been a worthier Hugo winner than the novel it tied, A Fire Upon the Deep, I received absolutely zero pats on the back for preferring the work by a woman. Indeed, several readers were frankly critical — Jo Walton said “I was absolutely astonished by this post” – though solely because they disagreed with my opinion of the two books’ relative literary merits. Which was exactly the grounds on which I expected a challenge. It’s the right basis for a difference of opinion between fans about their favorite stories.
One more question I have as a member of the “active fanbase” is why the Guardian invests so much effort at cultivating an audience interested in sf, then runs an article slagging the people who make an effort to participate on its site? Only because we’ll rush to read that too, I suppose.