There’s been an extensive discussion at Torque Control over the last week about the paucity of women currently being published in British science fiction. I want to do my bit to continue that conversation, and I’ll take as my starting point the magazine that popped through my letterbox a couple of days ago.
Black Static is a horror magazine rather than a science fiction one, but the issues of under-representation/lack of visibility of female writers in the genre are much the same. Black Static can usually be relied upon to highlight the work of female writers; indeed, in its last couple of issues, the magazine has published the twenty short-shorts selected by Christopher Fowler and Maura McHugh for their Campaign for Real Fear, and thirteen of those stories were by women.
In that context, it’s particularly disappointing to note that the current issue contains five stories, all of which are by men. Now, I used to think this didn’t matter with individual issues of magazines (see, for example, my review of Jupiter XXIV, where I don’t mention the all-male line-up) – anthologies, yes, because they make an individual statement; but I was less concerned when it came to issues of magazine, because they could be viewed in the wider context of the magazine’s complete run.
These days, however, I am inclined to think differently: any list of writers or stories makes a statement; to exclude women from a list is to imply that they don’t write that sort of fiction – which is an impression I would never want to encourage. It’s vital for readers, authors, editors, and publishers alike to keep an eye out for things like this, to prevent them from happening, and not let them go unremarked when they do slip through the net.
Going back to the current issue of Black Static, there’s an interview with horror editor Stephen Jones which touches on the subject of female writers in the genre. One of Jones’s comments is another sentiment with which I would have agreed readily at one time, though now I have reservations – that the quality of the story is of paramount importance, rather than its author’s gender (or what-have-you).
I could agree with this wholeheartedly if the playing-field were level, but the playing-field is not level. Historically, more men have been published than women, and the effects of that filter down. I’ve never selected books on the basis of an author’s gender, but my book collection is still weighted heavily towards male authors, and that’s because there have always been proportionately more books by men around from which I could choose.
I’m well aware that the coverage on this blog is also weighted towards male writers, a situation with which I’m not happy. Whilst I may not be able to remove that bias entirely, what I can do is to make sure that I’m looking for and drawing attention to the work of female writers, of whatever genre. I’d urge others to do the same.