April 6th, 2009


The Battle Is Over!

Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes on the gender debate in speculative fiction and you'll be pleased to hear that there's nothing to complain about:

Recently, I participated in one of John DeNardo's Mind Meld columns for the SF Site because he posed the perennial question about whether SF discriminates against women, although he tried to pose the question in a new way for a new century by asking if gender bias played a role in SF.

My first reaction to the question was a heavy sigh. I wrote a long piece about the ways that gender bias no longer exists in SF. Then I read what everyone else wrote.

I learned a few things. First, the question came about because a couple of editors had produced anthologies in the same year with few or no female names on the table of contents. One of the editors defended himself on the site, by stating he had invited women into his anthology, but the women either missed the deadline or bowed out at the last minute, forcing him to go to writers of his acquaintance who worked quickly and weren't already invited into the anthology. As a result, he produced the accidental womanless TOC.

Every editor has similar problems. The all-fantastic issue with no well-known fantasy writers (how I suffered through that for one issue of F&SF), the science fiction anthology with only slipstream stories (no one ended up writing a hardcore SF story) and so on. Such things happen.

But a group of people got upset about the lack of gender equality in these anthologies and wrote letters of complaint. And the editors responded, first with apologies and then with making certain that their future anthologies had a more diverse tables of contents.

What amazed me was that the same group of people believed this to be evidence of gender bias in SF publishing. And as I poured through the names of the complainants on the site and on linked blogs, I realized that all of these people were much younger than I am.

These young writers stand on a platform built by the writers who came before them. That platform states that gender bias is a bad thing. And so these writers complained, were heard, and got an explanation and an apology, because the editors involved shared the belief that gender bias is a bad thing. The editors were embarrassed and promised never to do such a thing again.

But what the writers don't seem to realize is what the real gender discrimination fight was like. I have an inkling, because I'm part of a crossover generation. I came in after the battles were won, but not every person was comfortable with the victory. I got a lot of hate mail that first month I edited The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction because I was the first woman to take the job.


The pioneering women in SF went through a great deal, some of it overt and some of it subtle. No one has written the definitive history of this part of the genre and someone should. Most of the pioneering women—C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, and others—are gone now. But the next generation, the women who pushed the door open just a bit wider—women like Ursula K. Le Guin and Kate Wilhelm—are still with us, with great stories to tell. Someone just needs to interview them or ask them to write essays about their experiences.


It's science fiction's job to try to understand these platforms and see what they're building toward. But you can't do that job unless you understand the platforms of the past.

History teaches us the most about ourselves and our futures. With an understanding of what came before, we can't predict everything, but we can predict some things.

For example, I know that the arguments about gender bias in SF will eventually disappear. They're fewer and farther between now than they were when I came into the field, but they're not finished yet. (Although I think they should be. There are other things to argue about.)

Isn't that excellent?

Of course, you can trust Rusch completely. She was a journalist for ten years and researches these things utterly, as she tells me. That's unlike you people on the internet, especially you young women with your boob tubes and your thong bikinis and your fast cars. The youth of today, they just don't know how hard it was, back in the day.

You know, the strangest thing is, I don't even think the current gender debate is handled well. It bases itself on numbers, doesn't actually engage with female authors, and discuss the content of the work within the larger movements of the field. Just as a starter. So, technically, I'd actually be on the side of anyone who had a constructive argument against the last few gender debates--and when I mean constructive, I mean good, and when I mean good, I mean thoughtful and interesting--but this here, this is just ignoring that struggling for equality has a lot of different forms, and mutates itself from generation to generation, scene to scene.