Hard times for women in genre fiction
February 19, 2014 | 12:25 pm
I need hardly mention that the position of women in science fiction has been all over the media lately, with sexist behavior at and around the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) thrust into the media spotlight and bringing the whole genre into deep disrepute. Unfortunately, it seems that science fiction isn’t the only genre to get lucky this way. Recently, the fifth annual Women in Horror Month, “Celebrating Women In The Horror Industry,” has been running, and a certain Scott Lefebvre decided to take public exception to the choice of logo, in the following terms: “do you seriously think that a sideways vagina dentata with a huge clitoris is a great logo for your feminist horror movement? I’ve read the feminist horror film theory and criticism have you? If that’s not a vagina dentata, then a knife plunging into a female victim isn’t a substitute metal male penis being used out of impotence frustration. Stay classy ladies.”
And so on, and on. Other (unsurprisingly, male) posters then took up the thread, with enlightened insights like: “You are aware that female lips most likely evolved to mimic labia – and the reason that women paint them red is because it makes them look sexually aroused, right?” The whole thread goes on for longer than I have the tolerance to follow, but it’s all here for your delectation.
Needless to say, some women horror writers took just a little exception to this. Not only for the frankly unbelievable comments on display, but also for what it suggested about the genre they are writing in, and their chances of progressing in it. As Chris Meadows already noted in his coverage of the SWFA affair, Sean Fodera is an editor at Macmillan, and his attitudes, not to mention his personal attacks on Mary Robinette Kowal, have every chance of affecting his selection policy. And Scott Lefebvre apparently is in a position to influence the reception and acceptance of women writers in horror. According to his Facebook page, he is involved in the Lovecraftian con NecronomiCon Providence and The Arkham Film Society. And while he complains that “WIHM just seems about self-promotion,” he seems to have done a wonderful job of demonstrating – unwittingly – exactly why it should exist.
For some more context, here is one woman writer, Theodora Goss, quoted, with permission, on her reaction to the SWFA debacle: “The Babe in Chainmail cover was just embarrassing. Seriously? For the publication of a professional organization of writers? … the recent attacks on the lovely and quite wonderful Mary Robinette Kowal by an industry professional who works for her own publisher are sickening. If you know anything about the publishing industry, you know that statistically, most readers are women. If you can’t handle having to deal with women, if you can’t deal with them in a polite, rational way, get out of the industry. It’s the wrong place for you.”
For anyone needing hard evidence of how the presence of some people inside the genre fiction community affects writing choices, here it is. And here’s an external perspective from outside the genre and writer community entirely: AdWeek, condemning the antics at the SWFA as symptomatic of “a juvenile boys’ club obsessed with cleavage and crossbows.”
Sad to say, two genres I write in and love have now been publicly tainted. Thanks, guys.