Old Posts–Bias in Editorial Decisions
So, way back in 2011 I was on a panel at Wiscon called “Reading with a Squint.” It was about gender bias in editorial decisions. At the time I was still editing GigaNotoSaurus, and the issue was one I’d been chewing over for a while. I had lots of thinky thoughts about it, but in the way of panels, not all of my chewing or my thinky thoughts got expressed. So I came home and wrote a big honking long post, which I then divided into seven parts.
I was recently talking with a friend and realized they hadn’t read any of it, because they hadn’t known me then. I did have a WordPress blog at the time, but I didn’t always remember to crosspost (and didn’t have any widgets that would do it for me) and it was really an afterthought–I was mostly centered on LJ at the time. So these are all on LJ. I should probably import them over some time.
But for now, I’m going to link to them, because I still think there’s stuff worth chewing over.
When I first heard about the infamous 4’33” I was in high school. The piece was described to me as “four and a half minutes of silence.” Another phrase that featured in the description was “total bullshit.”
Which as it happens is also a pretty accurate way to describe calling 4’33” “silence.” Because that’s absolutely not what it is. But if you haven’t heard any of the conversation the piece is part of, don’t have any of the context, that’s certainly the way it seems.
4’33” is (among other things) part of John Cage’s contribution to an ongoing discussion, a conversation that began with the question, “What is music?” It’s a question that seems incredibly simple and obvious when you first ask it, but then when you think about it your obvious answer falls apart. Music has this and that and the other characteristics–this other thing has those but you don’t call it music. Why not? Well, then, music also has….but this other thing also has, or this thing you say is obviously music doesn’t have something you just said was necessary…
So, at Wiscon, in the “Reading with a Squint” panel, I made the assertion (as I frequently do–regular readers of this LJ will have heard it before) that the gender ratio of slush shouldn’t actually be the same as the ratio of its corresponding ToC. That is, 70/30 male/female in slush might not actually translate to 70/30 in the ToC, all other things being equal.
I also want to say something about representation. When I was a wee little Ann, I was dazzled by the color red. It was, in fact, my favorite color. And so, when I was given a copy of that enduring classic Ann Likes Red, I was thrilled. It was as though the author had seen into my very soul! And written a book about me.**
I lucked out. My name was Ann, my favorite color was red. Maybe I still would have liked the book if those things weren’t true–the amazon reviews suggest that it was an excellent book for beginning readers and was beloved by more than just us Anns. Still, I had that extra joy, of seeing myself in the story.
You all know this story, right? And Mary Anne Mohanraj mentioned it during the panel itself. But I’m going to tell it again.
Symphony orchestras–the big ones, the world-class ones–have no percentage in excluding excellent musicians. They want the best, and that’s where their interests lie. No one was ever saying “Well, we’ll take Bill even though Jane is a little better, because Jane has girl cooties.”
Still, for years and years, there were very few women in the big orchestras. The folks who made the decisions said–very honestly–that they weren’t trying to exclude women, it just turned out that women didn’t play quite as well as men. It was sad, but that was reality. They only wanted the very best.
Do women write different stories, or do we see them as different like hearing their music as thinner or lesser? I don’t know the answer. Certainly some women write different sorts of stories. Certainly many women’s lives are very, very different from most men’s. At Wiscon, in the bar, a male writer who had been the stay-at-home parent for his family said (I paraphrase), “I realized, things that were supposed to be how women are were really how it is when you’re the person home with the kids all day.” Yep. You get a very different view of the world like that.
You know, sometimes it seems like we’re all at the SFF party, all talking, moving from one bunch of friends to the next. There are a bunch of people over by the table with a tray full of apples–they call it “The Fruit Tray” actually, and if you ask them they’ll tell you this party is all about the great fruit you can have and they point to that tray full of apples–anyway, there are men and women hanging out by the apple tray. And whenever someone unfamiliar with the party asks, “So what’s that party like?” someone points to that tray of apples with the people crowded around it.
It’s no use saying that an editor just wants good stories. Every editor wants good stories. Every editor has constraints on the kinds of good stories she wants–a stated mission or target for her zine, the tastes of an established audience, demands of advertisers or publishers, and so on. Every editor wants something much more specific than just “good stories.”