sexismWriters can hardly have missed the recent spat at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America about sexist attitudes, statements, and behavior at that organization, and in the broader community of cosplay, fan conventions, and general genre buffs.

Now, a female publishing professional has taken up the gauntlet. Writing in the Tor Books Blog from Tor UK, Julie Crisp, Tor UK editorial director (pictured at right), has addressed the issue ‘Sexism in Genre Publishing: A Publisher’s Perspective’ in terms that have already provoked irritated counterpoints from some other genre fiction editors.

“In the last few years I have seen numerous articles deploring the lack of female SFF writers, in science fiction in particular,” Crisp protests. “The blame always comes back to the publisher’s doorstep.”

Citing her own UK peers, she counters that “90% of the genre imprints here are actually run by women,” and then turns to the manuscripts received under Tor UK’s open submissions policy since end January. “Out of 503 submissions—only 32% have been from female writers,” she notes, providing a detailed breakdown to substantiate this:

Crisp then goes on to say:

“Tor UK is still quite a compact list—we normally only take on three or four debut authors each year, if that. Of the four authors Bella and I have taken on this year—two of them are women. So here’s the thing. As a female editor it would be great to support female authors and get more of them on the list. BUT they will be judged exactly the same way as every script that comes into our in-boxes. Not by gender, but how well they write, how engaging the story is, how well-rounded the characters are, how much we love it.”

One writer and editorial professional who’s name I’ll spare to avoid another flame war, though, was not impressed. He pointed to his own very vigorous list development, soliciting and cultivating writers constantly as well as commissioning works and developing books in-house.

In other words, publishing execs are not bound by the slushpile: they can build their own. And if they want to go against the bias of their genre when developing writers, without descending into affirmative-action commissioning, they are quite at liberty to do so.

And just to show why such a policy might be needed, here are some highlights from the SWFA controversy, which has even developed its own timeline.

 In April, writer C. J. Henderson publishes a piece in the SWFA Bulletin praising Barbie as a role model for young girls, “because she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should,” and comparing her favorably to the Bratz girls who “dress like tramps and whores.”

• In May, writers Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg used their regular SWFA Bulletin column to berate the critics of this and previous Bulletin articles and editorial decisions as “liberal fascists,” freely comparing them to Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. Jean Rabe, the (female) editor of the Bulletin, resigned. Women bloggers who complained received anonymous rape and death threats.

• Later that month, SWFA member Theodore Beale, a.k.a. Vox Day, used an SWFA hashtag to distribute his response to a speech by a fellow SWFA member, N. K. Jemisin, in which, among other choice statements, he defends U.S. state self-defense laws “which have been put in place to let whites defend themselves by shooting people, like her, who are savages engaged in attacking white people.”

As of today, he is still running blog postings defending his stance within the SWFA, while also running attacks on diversity and multiculturalism in “Mogadishu on the Mississippi”:

“We were in Rome with some friends from Minneapolis and they commented on how they were surprised to see fewer Africans and Muslims in Rome than in Minneapolis. Of course, the Romans recall what eventually happens in every multicultural society.”

Meanwhile, out in the wider con and fan community, further controversy erupted over reporting sexual harassment at conventions, when James Frenkel, another Tor editor in the U.S., was outed for exactly this. And also, we have this. And this. And this. And this.

“It makes you rather nervous to even voice an opinion in case a lynch mob appears,” remarks Crisp. Well, perhaps not a lynch mob, but the occasional quiet attitude adjustment might not go amiss?


  1. Be careful about assuming that an author with a male name is actually a man. Someone in romance writing once told me that some popular female-named romance writers are actually men. It’s likely that the same is true in reverse for scifi.

    The nasty/stupid remarks attributed to some with the SWFA mean little, even if you don’t suspect they’re simply trying to draw attention to themselves. Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist, is probably right in her new book, Men on Strike. Our society, our laws, our educational systems etc. tilt very heavily anti-male.

    Women, for instance, can avoid all the burdens of motherhood by abortion or adoption. Men, even if the woman lied and claimed to be on birth control, can’t get out of being stuck with 18-plus years of child support. Nine months of pregnancy won’t wreck your life. Decades of child support certainly will.

    Personally, I find this whining about sexism tiresome. Today, as never before in human history, it’s possible for a writer to bypass the gatekeepers. If you hit a roadblock, write, publish, and promote that book yourself or work through friends. And look at the various bestseller lists. There are about as many women as men.

    Quit being a victim/whiner/loser–those three attitudes seem to go together. if some males (I don’t say men) at SFWA are jerks, then avoid them and encourage others to do likewise. That’s certainly what I do with men and women who insult or irritate me., although that seems thankfully rare.

    –Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children and Teens with Cancer (out soon)

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