Are tentacles a guy thing? Gender bias in Lovecraftian horror fiction
February 27, 2014 | 6:45 pm
Following the recent high-profile spats over gender bias in science fiction and horror, the distinct and highly peculiar sub-genre of Lovecraftian horror has developed a case of its own. One inheritor of the legacy of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, U.S.-born Irish fantasy and horror writer Maura McHugh, cited in her blog a recent comment in the Lovecraft Eternal Facebook group where one horror editor asked: “Is appreciation of Lovecraft and the Mythos a Guy Thing, like The Three Stooges?” Her observation on the remark was:
Within genre circles (sf/f/h) there are some debates that keep rising from the grave, like brain-lusting zombies. You chase the brutes about, slice off their heads, throw them back into the pit, and tamp the soil down hard upon their twitching limbs. Yet, they keep digging their way out of the earth. This is particularly tiresome if the debate is centred around – say – the ability of an entire gender. Since we are 50% of the world’s population, it should be no surprise that women come from lots of different backgrounds, which makes it difficult to make definitive pronouncements about the abilities/interests/desires of such a large group of people. One thing I can state with certainty: we really don’t appreciate it when someone implies that we don’t like a particular subject when there are plenty of examples of women both liking, and creating, said subject.
And so on for considerably longer. Fellow Lovecraftian horror writer and editor Wendy N. Wagner, gave me her view of the editor’s Facebook comment, which she described as: “an incredibly gauche thing to say.” And, she continued:
I also found it to be terribly revealing. I think that there is an incredible struggle for women writers to be visible, no matter what genre or subgenre they’re working in. The Lovecraftian community is crammed full of small press publishers and self-published writers working hard to promote their work; it’s very tight-knit and it’s very dependent on word of mouth within the community. I see a lot of reviews of Lovecraftian fiction and short films, but I don’t see a lot of reviews of works by women. So I think that what [the editor] said is truly symptomatic of a much deeper sickness than just whether or not women are writing Lovecraftian fiction.
There are lots of reasons why women’s writing gets overlooked, but I think that the lack of review space and shelf space is the biggest issue. I don’t know if the creation of all-women’s publications is necessarily a solution, but I do know that it will briefly raise these writers’ visibility and it will put their work in the hands of reviewers and reprint editors.
I just read How to Suppress Women’s Writing, by Joanna Russ, which was written 1983. That book is 21 years old, and it describes the same exact problems that we’re facing today in genre fiction. Over and over again, women fight to get published and they fight to get awards and they fight to get their works on the shelves, and over and over again, they fade away while the men’s work of their generation lingers on. But I like to think that each year we make up a little ground. I refuse to believe that my stuff is going to stay invisible or be utterly forgotten.
Do bear in mind that both McHugh and Wagner are both supporting all-women genre anthologies. On the other hand, remarks like the one quoted above could be taken as 100 percent proving their case. And many obviously agree. The special all-women edition of Lightspeed Magazine, “Women Destroy Science Fiction,” that Wagner has been working on (as non-fiction editor) went so far past its Kickstarter goal of $5000, raising over ten times that amount in fact, that the project has now been expanded into further issues to destroy the horror and fantasy genres as well. With all this destruction going around, maybe even Great Cthulhu could start to feel some competition.