Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek
benpeek

Diversity Questions

At two in the morning, Tom (ataxi) left a bunch of questions relating to promoting gender in writing, and today, I answered them and they go on and on, and I reckon that is my blog post for today.

So, here's my response and Tom's questions:


In your opinion, to what extent does the correlation of gender to the production of works satisfying particular aesthetic preferences or genre conventions modulate the ethical correctness of selecting works based on the expression of that preference, or on their adherence to those conventions?

If I understand that question correctly, what you're asking is do I think that work is being picked because it is a good piece, or because it is a genre piece written by a woman or man, and how often is that nudged in favour of genre over the actual work?

Personally, I reckon it's probably not that often. There are editors and publishers with agendas, be they positive or negative, and I would not say that it doesn't happen. But given the amount of writers that there are, and the sheer diversity to chose from in a publishing schedule, or book of short fiction, I would probably say that for the most part the ethical side does not influence choices hugely.

That's for good and bad, mind you. Some people will say it does need to be more, others less, and I can see both sides of it.

In some sub-genres there's a vast preponderance of (for example) either male or female writers, and the readership and writership within the communities around these sub-genres often seems to be a strongly gendered ghetto. Two examples: paranormal romance, traditional sword and sorcery. Is that something that it's important to challenge? Why?

Same reason it is important to challenge such ghettos in every walk of life, really: so that people are free to do what they wish without a glass ceiling. While it may be strongly thought that paranormal romance is another word for chick lit, and sword and sorcery is boys stuff, they are simply genre forms, and not born as either a male or female domain, and people from both genders do enjoy reading it, and having writers of both genders helps break down the walls and barriers and cliches that exist in each genre.

In short, I think it creates better fiction. Diversity always does, in my opinion.

Could it be the case that the varying tendency of fiction (and particularly sf) to challenge or console its readers is an important - possibly the most important - axis of aesthetic distinction, and that therefore dogmatic insistence on particular levels of challenge or consolation is itself often a fairly tedious form of harassment across the boundaries of aesthetic micro-communities?

Yeah, it isn't without its moments. The recent Bitch drama in which Margo Lanagan's TENDER MORSELS was featured was a border line harassment of the site, I thought. It bought it upon itself by not reading the book in question, of course, and for then deciding to censor it rather than letting young women think for themselves, so they got what they deserved, in the grand scheme of things.

But, there was something that bordered on bullying in the way that hordes of young adult authors swept down on the site to correct them for their error. Authors demanding to have their books pulled off the list, authors telling Bitch they were wrong, and the such--the impartiality of the authors was never questioned, nor did anyone seem to suggest that authors should not band together, ride into an electronic town, and beat up people because they did something they didn't agree with (no matter if they deserved it).

So, it exists, yeah, that harassment. Often, what is done for a good cause can be done in a less than admirable way, but it's always the risk when people are passionate about an issue, such as with the above mentioned example. It also ignores the fact that, for most readers, these events are pretty much uninteresting, and what they care about is the work at the end--which, really, is what the authors care about, and if they were not arguing, were not constantly pushing for change, would probably result in a scene full of work created by people who didn't give a shit.

And that would result in bad work.

Could it be reasonable to tacitly accept that a new collection, or a new venue for the reproduction of written work is likely to dramatically favour one demographic and even appreciate the related uniformity of the presumed reference points of the works themselves, and the distinction that brings the collection itself in relation to those that are more eclectic?

Sure.

But, in the case of gender, it is worth remembering that this favourtism has long existed, and has long favoured male writers. They call it the Old Boys Club for a reason, after all, and after such long a time, new venues that pop up with the same bias get unacceptable, especially given the diversity of the authors out there.

Can such a micro-readership's consensus aesthetic with respect to literary works, that need not be explicitly actualised in any questionable wider social expression justifiably be used as a basis for ethical judgement? Would the efforts expended exerting this ethical judgement for the perceived social dividend actually do more good if expended in some other venue, in some other way?

So, in other words, you shouldn't bother if it doesn't have a broader justification?

Nah.

I mean, you want things to change, they have to begin in your own home, so to say. Chaning small pockets of the world is, eventually, how you change larger parts of it--but mostly, you have to fight where you stand first, before you take it out onto the street.
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