Writing in the Margins, or, Patriarch’s Day, Part 4

(Trigger warning: sexual bias, harassment, assault, misogyny.)


This is the fourth in a series of related posts on sexual abuse and harassment, misogyny, and the science fiction and fantasy community. I think it’s the last, for now.

The first post was here (“A Clockwork Clarion”).

The second was here (“My Childhood Sexual Assault”).

The third was here (“My Childhood Emotional Abuse”).

Let’s get straight to the point.

Did I Really Have to Put You Through All That Icky Abuse Stuff?

Yeah; sorry. I did. You can’t detect the larger pattern, nor understand its importance, until you take a close look at the details.

And before we go on, I’d like you to do three more things, if you are game. In order of priority:

Take the Selective Attention Test.

Watch this short TED Talk.

Take a gender- or race-based Implicit Association Test.

They all have relevance to the broader perspective of these posts.

The Broad(er) Perspective of these Posts

As I said in my Patriarchy Part 2 post, I see my life as a success. But patriarchy has exacted a major toll on me personally. The past three posts barely scrape the surface of the ways that sexist and misogynist attitudes have interfered with my ability to achieve everything I am capable of, as a writer, game designer, and engineer. Yes, I’m serious. At the risk of making your eyes glaze over, I could go on with more anecdotes. And on. And on.

I’ll resist the temptation, but it’s important to note that sexual assault, harassment, stereotyping, and gender bias have been so commonplace throughout my life as to become background noise*.

And I’m not alone. There is study after study showing that girls are taught that their voices and lives don’t matter, except as they pertain to making men’s lives better (see below for links). Women swim in a stew of disrespect and disregard, based on our gender. Our voices are muted. We are silenced. We are gagged and bound by the rules and roles patriarchy imposes on us.

As the recent #YesAllWomen/ #EachEveryWoman Twitter streams made clear, every woman has these stories. Every woman. Every. Single. One.

The Patriarchy in SFF

I am a firm believer in the Reader’s Bill of Rights. No reader should ever feel pressured to read a particular work, or author, or genre, simply because someone else thinks you should. The relationship between a reader and a work of fiction is, in my mind, a sacred space, and no particular work, nor type of work, should ever be pressed on anyone. I don’t care if you as an individual only read books by men, women, or any other set of personal criteria. That is your right as a reader.

But as a woman who mostly writes science fiction in the sciencie-techie-ish quadrant of the SFF landscape, I believe my own writing career has been hampered by unconscious bias within the publishing industry and on the part of readers, which has interfered with my ability to connect with people who would enjoy my works. (This is why I switched to a gender-neutral pseudonym a while back.)

Now, I can’t prove any of this, and I could be wrong. Climbing out of the midlist is hard for any writer, and my output has been slow (though I intend to change that, now that our circumstances have changed). But after a lifetime of contending with persistent bias in numerous areas of my life, I have developed a certain proficiency in catching the whiff of it. And that’s sure how it smells to me.

And again, I’m not the only one. There are so many studies showing that there is a persistent bias against women, as well as against people of color.

Women musicians fare better in auditions when they play behind a screen. The identical resume with a man’s name on top is more likely to be seen as exceptional than one with a woman’s. (Or a person of color’s.) Girls as young as three years old are interrupted and silenced by their fathers, far more than their brothers. Teachers told they are biased toward the boys in their class make a concerted effort to include girls, and convinced they have eliminated the bias, learn that they still call on boys the majority of the time.

The statistics bear this bias out in literature as well. VIDA, an organization supporting women in the literary arts, has done an annual count of reviews of women’s and men’s (and now trans people’s) works, with a focus on literary fiction. Though there has been some improvement since they first began, men’s works are still much more often reviewed than women’s works. Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons and Renay of Lady Business have done similar annual counts for SFF, and provide numbers that show a similar trend.

Reviews are a key way that buzz builds for a book. And by and large, men tend to read and review books only or mostly by men, where women, by and large, choose books by both men and women. The same thing happens for writers of color.

This unconscious bias on the part of men/whites makes it more difficult for audiences to discover the works of some seriously badass writers, whose works they would love, if those works only got the same boost they would if a man’s name were on the cover.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say women’s voices are systemically muted.

So What Do you Want Me To Do About All This?

Good question! Glad you asked.

What I want is for you to push past your embarrassment or discomfort, your understandable (but harmful) need to distance yourself from painful truths. I’m asking for you to stop counting the bouncing balls and see the gorilla hiding in plain sight.

This is the most important thing you can do to fight back against sexism in our field. If you do nothing else, do this. Stop making excuses for big name writers or editors or fans who harass or abuse women, youths, and children.

Yes, they’re your friends and colleagues and bosses. They’re your favorite writers. They’re editors or SMOFs who did well by you once–or more than once. They’re people you care about. Same here. So were my Clarion rape-skit buddies. So was my dad. So was my abuser.

It’s very painful to realize that someone you care about, or someone who has standing in your community or some measure of power over your life, could do something so awful. But it happens all the time.

Until we stop closing our eyes to the abuses, they’ll continue to happen. And that makes each of us complicit. I don’t want that, and I know you don’t either.

Badass SF Writers You May Have Missed Because of their Chromosomal Markers

The second way sexism harms women is unconscious bias. So the other thing you can do is to fight that bias, to unlearn the habit of tuning women out. It takes effort, but it’s worth it.

There has been a groundswell of attention lately to works by newer women writers. Read them.  Aliette de Bodard, N. K. JemisinAnn Leckie, Nicola Griffith, Kameron Hurley, Lauren BeukesSeanan McGuire. Amazing writers!

And there are also many terrific women or non-binary/genderqueer writers out there who have been writing for quite a while, whose works I also want to call out.

Check out Tricia Sullivan’s SF works, sometime. Or Nalo Hopkinson’s. Check out Linda Nagata, or Joan Slonczewski, for that matter. Or Melissa Scott, or Shariann Lewitt. Pat Cadigan. Malinda Lo. Sage Walker. Or Raphael Carter***.

Are you a science fiction lover? How many of these talented writers’ works have you read****?

If you haven’t, you are missing some terrific, mindblowing science fiction.

Just as no single hot day or severe storm can be directly attributed to climate change, no single writer’s success or failure can be attributed to gender, racial, ableist, or other bias. But just as climate change does cause more hotter days and more severe storms, unconscious bias stacks the deck in favor of the “norm:” fiction written (or thought to be written) by and about straight white men. Like loaded dice. It’s not a matter of blame; it’s a matter of fact.

Sure, we have a few cases of women and/or POC and/or LGBTQI folk whose works have achieved a high degree of commercial and critical success. This year’s Nebula ballot and wins are a stunning—and welcome—development. But when you look at the overall numbers, it’s clear that there is still that muting effect acting on women writers—as well as people of color, non-cis-straight folks, and others. In short, a diminished representation in the field by people other than straight white guys*****.

Women writers get pigeonholed. So do people of color. And others******.

Sometime I want to write a longer post about stereotyping as it pertains to women writers of SF (SF in particular; I believe woman fantasy writers suffer from a different—though overlapping—set of stereotypes) (short version: it’s tied to the masculinizing of math, science, and technology), but this post has gone on a long time already…

Meanwhile, I encourage you to read these posts by Athena Andreadis, who has important things to say on the role of women characters in science fiction and fantasy. (And btw, also a badass SF writer.)

Again, though, this is not about me or any specific woman. That’s the real point of these stories I’m sharing, and why they matter.

Look, I don’t want to make my SFF colleagues uncomfortable. Any more than I wanted to confront my attackers at Clarion. Or my sex abuser. Any more, for that matter, than my mother wanted to confront my father about his emotional abuse of us (and her).

But women exist in a social web larger than our individual lives. We—you, I, and everyone we ever come in contact with—are in the process of constructing our reality. All of us, together. Men are our fathers and brothers; for some of us, men are our partners, our lovers, our husbands. They are our sons. And they are our coworkers and bosses and employees and neighbors and friends. We feel loyalty to them,and love for them. Gratitude for all the good things they do.

But here’s the thing. The harm done to us is not undone by the good. We need to change the rules of how men treat women. It’s only fair. It’s only right.

We women can’t do all the work of unbinding and ungagging ourselves—of changing the weave of society—without men being willing to change, too. To stop hurting us. Even if society’s rules tells them it’s OK—in fact, necessary—to hurt us, to silence us, to ignore us as people, in order to be real men.

There is room for this change to happen, in our SFF community. Our social tapestry is huge and complex, and has plenty of room for more colors and flavors of yarn in the weave. The loom is big enough for all our hands to take part in the weaving.

So, yeah, I do have one more ask. Depending on your gender—

Dear Men:

The solution is not easy, but it is simple. Believe women.

Listen to us when we tell you we are knowledgeable about something. Don’t just assume we are not.

Before you speak to us, ask yourself, how would I say what I’m about to say, if this woman I’m speaking to were a man? Would I interrupt? Lecture? Mentally flag this man’s words as “babbling” or his anger as “bitchiness?” Figure that he has nothing to tell me that I’d be interested in, and turn away when he is in mid-sentence?

Share the stage. Respect our ideas. Even when we are young and cute and perky in your eyes, and the little brain is distracting you from our words and making you want to hump us. Even when we are old and wrinkled, hunched over, lame, ugly or fat, or when our skin is the wrong color, or we wear baggy clothes, and your lifetime of conditioning is telling you to shudder or avert your eyes or berate us for not dolling up to conform to your expectations.

Look past the surface. Hello! We are in here! Actual human beings! We see you. Do you see us?

Respect our bodies—keep your hands and eyes off. Believe us when we tell you we’re not interested in your critique of our looks. Believe us when we signal that we are not interested in a sexual interlude. Don’t assume you can get away with a little rub here, a little touch there, and we won’t notice. We notice. Dude, it’s assault, and it’s gross.

I’ve enjoyed many a good sexual romp in my day (and good news, for the younger crowd: it is in fact possible to have that kind of fun when you’re older too!), but there’s a time and place for it and guess what? It isn’t every-damn-where-and-when you feel like it, with whomever you want.

Women are watching. Every time you signal through intimidation or lurid or snide remarks that your needs and perspective matter more than one woman’s, other women notice. Do you really want to be That Guy, the one that everyone avoids, or warns each other away from, or rolls their eyes at, behind his back?

I get it; you got rejected a lot when you were younger. Maybe even still, by men higher up on the food chain than you (the patriarchy harms men, too). (Or even by women you trusted; patriarchy isn’t the only reason abuse happens.)

You may have been victimized when you were a child. And maybe you bought the stories, the ones in which the brave young (white, straight, cis, able) guy got the girl in the end. Or maybe you just figure it’s someone else’s turn to suffer, and you like finally being Large and In Charge. Whatever. It’s time to outgrow it.

If you’ve screwed up in the past, make amends to those you’ve hurt. Do better starting now. Trust me, it makes a difference. If you are an abuser or can’t stop yourself from harassing or harming women, get professional help. If you are around an abuser, or a situation that sets off red flags, step in. Physically interpose yourself. Ask her if she is OK. Don’t just turn a blind eye. (And don’t expect anything in return for your help.) It’s better to intervene and risk white-knighting than not to act.

Take in that women are the protagonists of our own stories, not supporting characters in yours. Really, take a big bite of that. The next time you look at a woman, imagine that you’re a bit player in her narrative. Chew on it, and swallow. Digest it.

Look at the world through her eyes. Would you like to be treated the way you treat her?

Dear Women:

If you are a woman who doesn’t see what the big deal is and wishes those “noisy angry broads” would just go away and stop making a fuss, I have a couple of words for you, too.

Anger is an appropriate response to abuse.

Maybe you’ve been really, really lucky, and have never encountered any unwanted sexual advances. Maybe you’ve never been leered at or cornered or grabbed at professional conferences, nor talked over or mansplained-to at length in your area of expertise, nor had your qualifications repeatedly called into doubt, nor been struck or groped or humiliated because of your gender.

I’m happy for you, seriously. I’m glad there are corners of the world where this sort of thing doesn’t happen.

But I know you are not an idiot, and unless you’ve spent your whole life alone on a space station, you have seen it happen to other women, or heard about it from them. Pretending otherwise in order to protect your standing as a mascot in the Kool Boyz Club isn’t cool.

(And if you haven’t seen it, get educated. I’m not a clairvoyant; I could be wrong… but it’s just possible you have a bad case of internalized misogyny and need to learn to believe women, too.)

Or perhaps you know good and well what misogyny is. You’ve been in the trenches for a long time. You’ve fought the hard fight for a long time, and have the battle scars to prove it. You’ve won some battles… lost some… had to compromise elsewhere, as we all have. Finally you’ve reached a place that works for you, but you’re just tired of the brouhaha. You’re thinking rocking the boat won’t make things better; it’ll make things worse.

I get it. I really do. We can’t all fight, all the time. But there was a time you struggled for recognition, too. You worked hard for your place in the sun, for respect, for a seat at the grown-ups’ table: a chance to be heard. Remember?

Why, then, are you complaining behind their backs about the young (and older) women speaking up, now? Or worse, to their faces. Don’t call them strident or shrill. Don’t tell them to grow thicker skins. Their skins are fine just as they are, and so are their voices. They’re beautiful, and clear, and strong.

The women speaking out all around us are calling bullshit on those who want them to quiet down, be submissive, pretend it’s OK that the deck is stacked against women in our industry and in our community. If you don’t have the energy or the nerve to support them publicly, then at least have the decency to respect their courage by not tearing them down.

What I Want Most of All

I am a writer because I’m a reader first, and you know what? I am a greedy reader. I want more. I want it all.

I’ve been a member of SFWA since 1987, when my first novel was published. The changes that have been happening in the organization are not just a good thing—they’re a great thing. One of the best things about the publishing industry is the variety of great stories we have access to.

We need MORE women writers. We need MORE people of color getting the recognition they deserve. We need queer folk, and disabled folk, and people who can tell stories with backgrounds and influences from other parts of the world, other parts of the human psyche. There is room for all our stories.

There is no way any one writer—or any one culture or gender—can possibly serve the needs of all readers. The more readers we have, the more we grow our field. Give in to your SFF story-loving gluttony! Diversifying our SFF offerings means that not only are our own reading choices expanded—but our reader base will broaden drastically, too, as more people see themselves represented in a genre loaded with cool ideas, mind-blowing adventures, and exciting stories. Imagine what it could be like!

Change is rarely comfortable. But our genre is the quintessential Literature of Change*******. On average, we are a very clever group of people who have come together because we like a mental challenge. We like the weird. We cross-examine six species of wild-ass shit from a dozen angles before breakfast. Each of us is drawn to the strange, the Other. Or we wouldn’t be here.

I don’t care what your politics are, or your gender, or your race. You feel it, too. We drink sense-of-wonder with our tea—we mix mindfuck in with our whisky. That’s what drew us to the literature of SFFH in the first place.

Isn’t that why we are all here? To peer into the darkness beyond the campfire—to stare the unknown in the face, in order to better comprehend our own humanity? To bridge the gap not just between worlds, but between minds?

Listen, then, to our strong, brave soothsayers, those who have come to join our circle of storytellers. They’ve been just there, right out there, at our campfire’s terminus: listening, reading, and seeking their chance to speak.

I say, welcome them into the light. Pull up a tree stump and offer them something to eat from the pot. Break bread and let them share their stories. You’re big. You’re strong. Your mind has room for vast wonders. Feast on the stories they have to offer. I guarantee you’ll be the better for it.

What say you?


Afterword:     This post focuses on sexism in my beloved field of science fiction and fantasy, but clear parallels exist with regard to other kinds of fail that also need our attention: racism, anti-gay phobia, anti-trans and other gender-identity phobias, fat phobia, ageism (at both ends), and disability, for starters. It’s all of a noxious whole.

As a mostly-straight, mostly-able white woman, I want to specifically call out and support those who seek to elevate these other important issues in the SFFH community as well.



*OK, you’re hardcore, following the footnotes; I respect that. I’ll regale you. It’s a bit of a squickfest, I warn you (iow, trigger warning for more instances of sexual harassment, stereotyping, and assault).

Let’s see… here’s a digressive sampling, picked at random.

1)   There was Robert, older brother of my best friend, about 5-6 years older than me and about twice as big, who talked me into playing a “game” with him in his bedroom, whereby he would lie on top of me, crushing me, while I tried to wiggle out from under him and get away. Yes, I noticed his boner. I had no idea what it was. (I was maybe 8 or 9 at the time. A third grader. Note: not a fun game.)

2)   I was maybe 16. The guy driving slowly alongside me in his car, as I walked to high school, was clearly jerking off, meanwhile asking me if I knew what an orgasm was, if my boyfriend ever finger-fucked me, and whether I liked it.

3)   There was my high school physics teacher in 10th grade, who told us all a bunch of nonsense over the course of the year, such as that girls in the sciences were destined to grow up to be the lab assistants and men the scientists, and, here’s a cute one, that women’s reflexes were slower than men’s.

He had a device he used to test our reflexes, and oops; mine were by far the fastest in the class—faster than what was supposed to be possible for untrained people. He kept retesting me, saying, “That can’t right! That’s impossible!” (Not to say I’m graceful—I’ve always been lightning-fast with the pratfalls…but still… dude, you keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means).

(He even went so far as to retest some of the others (most in the class were boys, and I had gone last), to make sure the instrument hadn’t failed in the interim.)

4)   I could tell you about the engineering project I was assigned to in college, in which I was handed the typing-up of the project (and only that) by the project lead, because “that was what I was most suited to.” (They scheduled meetings they didn’t tell me about to do the actual fun stuff, the design and construction work, and didn’t answer my calls till the work was complete.)

5)   I had been so well trained in my mental deficits by the time I got into college that I believed I was only adequate at math, despite getting the second-highest score on the Calculus III core exam (the core exam is taken by all math students at a given university, to ensure everyone has attained proficiency before going on.)

This was a large university, and there were maybe 5,000 students who took the test. I got a 192/200, missing the highest score by only two points.  I also aced physics, physical chemistry, and differential equations (all math-intensive subjects). But I did not believe that I was good enough to pursue physics or computer science. All those people, the other voices, that had spent my life tearing me down were too loud in my head.

6)   I could tell you about my first engineering job, how my boss made me sit through lectures in his office about how as a woman I wasn’t capable of being a real engineer (including drawing crude sketches on the blackboard of a brain, with lines and arrows to illustrate how my brain was different from a man’s and didn’t have the right nodules to be good at math).

(And this was despite the fact that, two weeks in, as a brand-new engineer, straight out of school, I had already solved the primary chemical processing problem the team was struggling with.

((For the chemical nerds among you, they handed me a process that took 24 hours to produce a few quarts of 60% yield (which means 40% crap), using a large excess of toxic acid—and before I left for Clarion and Kenya, I had designed, built, and optimized a pilot plant that could produce the same quantity of 97.5% yield (meaning only 2.5% crap), with virtually no toxic acid excess. Oh, yeah, and all of that in eight minutes (or 180 times faster than the original version).

(For the curious non-chemical nerds, picture a device that takes in 10 pounds of straw, and spins it into gold. The lab version took a full day to spin 6 pounds of gold, mixed in with 4 pounds of leftover dirty straw, and spits out a side of 5 pounds of toxic sludge. My version took the same 10 pounds of straw, and took a mere eight minutes to spin nearly the full 10 pounds into pure gold, with only a few ounces of straw and a few ounces of toxic sludge left over. It was so effective it was only a shake or two away from being production capacity.

(If you aren’t a chemical nerd and want me to cut to the chase, suffice it to say I pwned it.

(Huh. All with a substandard set of girly-brain-nodules.)

7)   Or how about the young man sitting on the sidewalk near my car at a strip mall, once, staring at me as I exited the store. As I opened my car door I realized he had his dick out and was masturbating. He said, “Hey, come sit on this,” ejaculated, and got up and ran off. I was in my late 20s or early 30’s, maybe.

8)  I could tell you about the numerous times, during my five-year tenure as corporate vice president and environmental officer, I would attend meetings and have to wrest the conversation over when the people we were meeting with insisted on ignoring me and addressing all their questions and comments to my male employees.

I could talk about how, when I took maternity leave and cut back to part-time for 9 months after my first daughter was born, my bonus was slashed to almost nothing that year (less than 5% of my salary). Bonuses were normally about 25-30% of our salaried income. In other words, I received an overall 20-25% income drop, a “mommy tax,” versus what I would have seen, even at part-time. This was despite busting my chops to maintain high-quality work.

9)   This is not a single anecdote, but I could talk about all the times, during problem-solving sessions throughout my career, where I would provide the answer to a difficult technical issue, and the men in the room would look at me in surprise, as if a dog had stood up on its hind legs and talked.

“That’s amazing; how did you figure that out?” they’d ask. And after the meeting they’d go back to thinking of me as less capable, forgetting my contributions, until the next time it happened. Over and over and over. I couldn’t be technically exemplary. (Must have been those damn girly-brain-XX-nodules again, flaring up.)

(I’ve been fortunate to have some stalwart male mentors, in my day, though, and I am deeply grateful for their support and validation. (I’m looking at you, Chris Crawford#.) But see my related endnote, below##. (Yes, I know; it’s weird for footnotes to have endnotes. I warned you earlier about my Wincester Housian brain.))

10)  I could go on about the harassment that happened on the streets, subways, and even, yes, at cons—catcalls, stalking, exposing of genitals, grabbing or attempting to grab parts of my body—especially when I was younger.

11)  Then there’s the stuff that gets more common as you age. I was sitting in an airport, one time, getting some work done while waiting for a flight. I was maybe about 50 years old at the time.

A young man came up and asked how I liked my Mac. I said I loved it—I found the interface highly intuitive and easy to use. He said he found that reassuring, because I was just like his mother-in-law, who was about my age, and found using computers very confusing and challenging. (I must clearly have bought a Mac because I found Intel-based PCs with a Windows 7 operating system too challenging, being older and a woman. (“Math is hard!”))

(At the time, incidentally, I was working on an experimental interactive storytelling software, coding a storyworld (sort of like a computer game. Yes, I was actually coding when he interrupted me. (I’ve done computer game design for a living, too, in my checkered past)).

(For those who are curious—CAUTION, potentially boring info dump ahead: a large part of my engineering work has been computing- and data-management intensive. I started out programming for PDP11s, then moved to mainframes, Osbornes, and through a whole variety of Intel, Linux, and Apple-based hardware over the years. As for OS’s, I am or have been proficient in CP/M, Linux, Android, the Microsoft Windows series, OSX, and iOS. As for coding, I wrote my first program in Basic as a teen, and went on to code professionally and/or academically in FORTRAN, dBase IV, FoxBase, FoxPRO, INFO, Parallax, HTML, Access, and Storytron/SWAT, as well as some heavy-duty Excel programming with a dab of VBA, and have dabbled in JavaScript…

(A digression, for grins… I started out in college with a slide rule; those were very cool. Everyone should learn how to use a slide rule, just in case civilization crashes. You never know when you’ll need to calculate the rate of consumption of your food and water stores, or figure out how long it would take to circumnavigate a lake. Heh heh.

(And I wrote my first real programs on punch cards and played Star Trek computer games on printout paper while I waited for them to compile, and haunted the local video arcades to drop a ton of quarters on Alien Invaders, Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man, Galaxian/Galaga, and Asteroids. Yes, it’s true; I’m a paleo-nerd. (Hangs head, scuffs toe, grins slyly.) ((I was of the TI tribe, when the first hand-helds came out, though I learned HP as a “second language.” You?)

(I’m not saying I’m a hardcore coder. My point here is not that I’m a Googler-grade uber-techie-programmer-high-priestess; it’s that I’m also not a confused, math-phobic, technophobic granny, as that man at the airport seemed to think. (No—I’m Techno-Granny! That’s my new superhero identity >:-D )

((And furthermore, even people who hate math, who don’t use computers for a living, and/or don’t particularly enjoy technical subjects, are actual human beings, who have lots of insights to offer the world and deserve respect. Math- and tech-heavy subjects have been infected with the patriarchy virus and added to the purportedly-only-male-brains wheelhouse, in our culture (though not others)…there’s a whole other deep rant there I’ll take on someday)).

12)  A male friend of mine and I were driving in a car at night once, and I asked him to lock the doors. (He was driving and as a passenger, I could lock my own door but didn’t have control over the back seat doors. He did.) He looked at me quizzically and asked why. I said I didn’t feel safe with the back doors unlocked and he couldn’t understand why. Gee, I wonder why I felt unsafe with the doors unlocked?

13)  More generic stuff: men interrupting and talking over me, men explaining subjects in condescending detail about which I knew more than they did, not letting me get a word in edgewise; men using their size and louder voices to intimidate me. It’s only gotten worse, since I had children, and especially once I became post-menopausal. To be an older woman is to be treated in the public sphere like a used tissue.

I’ve learned how to assert myself, on panels and in meetings, and so on, but I don’t feel comfortable about it. It makes me feel “bossy” and uncooperative (there’s a whole ‘nother post I need to do there someday). There have been times I’ve done it clumsily, in part due to my own anxiety about the stereotype of shrill bossy noisy women.

But uncooperative is better than silent.

A final couple of endnotes to this footnote-

#It was Chris Crawford, above all else, who enabled me to gain confidence in my own cognitive abilities. He is one of the most fiercely brilliant minds I have ever encountered, and an intellectual authority in a deeply male-centered field, known for its widespread misogyny. And from day one, he treated me with obvious respect for my own intellectual capabilities.

He helped me improve my confidence in my ability to analyze and express myself in debate; he challenged my ideas and changed his own mind in response to my challenges, gave me ruthlessly evenhanded critique and accepted mine, in a long-running intellectual and emotionally rich friendship. Our collaboration on Storytronics is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, and he is one of my best friends. I’ll always be indebted to him. Thanks, Chris.

##As I mentioned in #9 above, plenty of men in the world don’t do all the terrible things to women I’ve described in these posts. And there are more men than ever now who are doing their share to change things. I’m deeply grateful to the men who are helping us elevate these issues in people’s minds. But as we keep pointing out, it doesn’t take all men dominating all women to create an atmosphere in which women are afraid (and with good reason!), less sure of themselves, less willing to speak up, and less willing and able to contribute.

As I said in my Patriarchy Part 3 post, oppression is simply civilization-scale bullying. And that was the point of #YesAllWomen. We women don’t need reminders to be more confident, assertive, and willing to take risks. What we need is less harassment, rape, rape threats, domestic violence, murder attempts, condescension, ridicule, and belittling.

(And you know what hurts, even more than men perpetuating sexist stereotypes and bad-mouthing women? Women doing it, or supporting men who do.)


***I’m focusing here on some of my favorite writers who (a) are women/ non-male/genderqueer and/or non-binary, and (b) have been writing science fiction for (c) at least 15- 20 years, and (d) who I believe should be read more widely (much much MUCH).

Of course, there are many others, both veteran and newer writers, women and men, who may write elsewhere on the SFF spectrum than the sciency or “hardish” quadrant, whose works I strongly recommend. Jo Walton, for example, is currently tearing up the SFF landscape with the most awe-inspiring meme-slayage lately (My Real Children is amazing. And just wait till you get a crack at The Just City. Oh, my Greek meddling gods). Athena Andreadis’s The Other Half of the Sky is a rocking space-opera anthology chock full o’ compelling stories with women leads. Highly recommended.

That’s without even mentioning some of the incredible SF, fantasy and other literature-of-the-weird writers out there, right now. Just for starters, check out Kate Elliott, N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Nicola Griffith, Emma Bull, Martha Wells, Chris Moriarty, Madeleine RobinsMelinda SnodgrassMichaela RoessnerEileen GunnPat Murphy. Elizabeth Lynn. Wow. Just wow.


****I have no idea what their sales figures are, but I guarantee you, they should all be higher.


*****Did you flinch? Look, this is nothing personal. I quite fancy straight white guys. I even married one. The point is, the SFFH sandbox is big enough for everyone. We’re just asking you to share the play-space. The field as a whole will be better for it, and so will you.


******Nora Jemisin has some very important things to say about the marginalization of people of color in SFF, and her essays on the subject are very much worth reading. At one point she called for a reconciliation in our field, though she later felt we aren’t ready. I personally think we need an intervention.


*******Fred Pohl said so, so it has to be true. (OK, I know he wasn’t the only one who said it, and perhaps he wasn’t even the first. But his was the first place I encountered it, and he was a fab writer and cool guy, so I’m linking him. If you have an earlier reference, I’m happy to update this link and attribute an earlier source.)


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About MJL

I write science fiction and sling other memes on the side. Drop a line in comments!
This entry was posted in Feminism, NSFW, Race, Science Fiction, Society, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Writing in the Margins, or, Patriarch’s Day, Part 4

  1. Dear Laura, these entries are harrowing but necessary in showing misogyny as a toxic gas in the atmosphere we breathe. Thank you for naming mothers, sisters, partners, daughters — and for highlighting my own contributions so prominently.

  2. Catherine says:

    Thank you for writing this post too. You are really carrying the beacon here.

  3. Tasha Turner says:

    What a series of post. Each one hit me in a different way. This one ties it all together. Really well said.

  4. Paul Weimer says:

    Thank you for writing this. Its tough to read, tough to look at, but as you say, we have to look at the damned Gorilla.

  5. MJL says:

    I really appreciate you all weighing in. Effecting change on this scale is definitely both a marathon, and the work of many hands.

  6. cavyherd says:

    “OK, you’re hardcore”

    Wow! I’m hardcore. Cool!

  7. I’m linking to this series tomorrow in our news roundup – thanks for them (they’ll be appearing along with some interesting articles on developments in STEM and other related stuff).

  8. cecilykane says:

    Thanks for posting, especially that bit about women being the protagonists in their own stories rather than supporting characters in men’s. I’ve had so many problems in geekdom relating to that discrepancy that it isn’t funny. A guy in college, now a fantasy author, who decided I was to play the love interest in his plot and when I wasn’t into it broke into my email and livejournal accounts and spread the information he found therein all over our social group. A boyfriend — the DM in another social group — that, once I dumped him, had his guy friends harass and intimidate me on campus, break into my apartment, etc. The number of stories I have like that is beyond reckoning. These posts made me realize that what underpins it all isn’t my profound lack of social intelligence, but sexism.

  9. cecilykane says:

    Oh, and women authors whose works I adore and who haven’t been mentioned yet: Caitlin R. Kiernan, Alma Alexander, Mary Doria Russell, Sarah Lotz, Veronica Schanoes, Catherynne M. Valente, Genevieve Valentine, and Karen Lord — to name a few. Most of those I discovered in the last six months, as I made a pledge to read and review novels by women this year. It took effort to find them at first — because it’s absolutely correct that women’s writing doesn’t get the same recognition and exposure that men’s does — but once I found sources it was like a DELUGE. My TBR pile is enormous. Like, it outweighs me. I think it’s achieved sentience?

    I frequently hear the fiction that women just don’t write SF/F and that’s why most people’s reading is so male-dominated. Rank BS, that is. Systemic bias is keeping it from reaching people, that’s all.

  10. MJL says:

    Wow, Cecily, yes! On both counts. It’s so weird, when you realize your boyfriend is trying to get you to adhere to his script for you. Um, no….

    And yes yes yes on the systemic bias. So many great women writers out there just aren’t finding their readership. When I sat down to make my list, I kept finding more names I wanted to include. Once I get dug out from under and am blogging more frequently, I want to have a regular review column of writers whose works I love, with a focus on women and POC.

    I know exactly what you mean; my TBR is approaching the singularity, too. I feel your pain! Too many shiny objects on the intarweb, damn it.

  11. MJL says:

    Thanks, much, Steve! I appreciate the boostage.

  12. cecilykane says:

    Yeah, and when going off-script, the rapidity with which one may transform from love interest to villainess can give you whiplash. I do not miss my twenties, that’s for sure.

    I’m looking forward to reading that column! I’m focusing on diversity of setting at the moment. Once you look for it, there’s so much. Even just women’s debut novels of the last year or so, off the top of my head: there’s Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride, Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road, Laline Paull’s The Bees… So much exciting stuff happening in genre right now.

  13. MJL says:

    I’ll definitely be looking for those books, Cecily. Thanks for the recommendations.

  14. Greg says:

    FORTRAN? there’s a flashback. Asteroids, YAY! Sounds like you made out way better in calculus than me. We had a woman intern at our company recently and she was scary smart. After she left, I gave her the best recommendation I could on LinkedIn and told my boss we should offer her a job. Unfortunately, she already had something lined up at a bigger company. Talent is talent, and I don’t care what vehicle they’re walking around in.

    I would say I’m not so sure about that Implicit Bias Test. First time through, it said I had a strong “automatic preference for African American compared to European American”. That seemed odd. Took it again and said I had a slight preference for European American. Took it again, said I moderately preferred European American. Again, said I had a moderate preference for African American. And again, I had a slight preference for European American. Seemed to go all over the map. Either the test is questionable or I’m doing it wrong.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • MJL says:

      Hey, Greg, great to see your phosphors!

      I LOVED calculus. It was hard as hell to crack open conceptually, but once I got it, it gave me so much power in terms of being able to model systems. I really should have gone on to do graduate work in simulations of physical systems–but I didn’t know what the heck I wanted back then. I sometimes wish I could send earlier-me a telegram. 🙂

      Not sure what was going on with the IAT for you. When I take it, I get a pretty consistent result. I’m curious if others have the varying results you got or not?

      Did you also take the selective attention test? What were your results there?

  15. Greg says:

    In the decade(s) since I got my degree, I haven’t needed to use calculus once. It would be something I’d like to (re)learn… someday. The telegram to my earlier-me would probably have been about more important personal issues that occurred when I was in grade school and high school.

    I took the Selective Attention test. (rot13) Zl pbhag bs onfxrgonyy cnffrf jnf bss ol bar orpnhfr V fnj gur tbevyyn naq jrag vagb “jung gur uryy?” zbqr sbe n frpbaq. (/rot13)

  16. MJL says:

    Ha, interesting! Thanks for sharing your results. (rot13) Gur svefg gvzr V gbbx gur grfg, V tbg gur pbhag evtug ohg pbzcyrgryl zvffrq gur tbevyyn qhqr! V unq gb jngpu vg ntnva gb pbaivapr zlfrys ur jnf ernyyl gurer… ohg pbhyqa’g qb gur pbhag naq cnl nggragvba gb uvz. (/rot13)

  17. Jim J says:

    Men’s brains are often broken.

    My elderly mother was distressed to hear about a (straight) acquaintance whose business partner was gay and was hitting on him incessantly. I reminded her that some men harass women. She seemed to get that.

    Man-on-woman harassment is an everyday thing, and she could comprehend it.

    I read Up Against It a couple of years ago. It is memorable to the point that I NEED a sequel. Please!

  18. MJL says:

    Hi, Jim, thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words about Up Against it. A sequel is in the works! 🙂

    That’s a great anecdote about your mom, and I’m glad you were able to help her understand. It’s the harassment itself that’s wrong, regardless of who does it, to whom.

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