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Women in Fantasy - WFC 2011

(I will post a fuller report on my trip to San Diego in due course but I wanted to add my tuppence to this particular debate)

Kate Elliot has posted about the panel she was on at the World Fantasy Convention- 'The Crystal Ceiling'. She references an equally pertinent post by Shewood Smith. You can also find an audio file of the discussion here, thanks to Charles Tan.Scroll down a bit to find it, among links to much other good and important stuff.

So, go and read and listen, I'll wait, No problem.

Good stuff, isn't it? Okay, here's my addendum. In that discussion, I explained that I have been discussing the lack of proportionate representation with editors, agents and anthologists recently and they all report endemic under-submission by women writers. But doing workshops and seminars, I see plenty of women writers out there. Why are they not submitting in equal proportion to the men? What can we do to encourage them?

On the way out of the hall, an American lady whose name I alas failed to catch, caught up with me. She's an academic, a scientist, and had been recently involved in investigating why young women scientists are under represented in the professional journals. The same thing was found - women were simply not putting themselves forward because - and here's the really interesting bit - they were holding their own work up to a much higher standard than the men, demanding much more of themselves/their results before they would even consider publication.

That reminds me of a chat I've had with several anthologists, notably Colin Harvey, who said outright that while he got fewer submissions from women, those he did get were of a higher standard overall, and thus a far higher proportion of those submissions would be good enough to make the final cut, compared to the submissions from men.

Mentioning this to a US editor with twenty plus years in the business at WFC, she pursed her lips and nodded and commented that of the 90% of any publisher's slush pile that is truly unreadable, she would say 99% of that comes from men.

That made me think of my own experiences critiquing aspiring writers, notably at the Winchester Writers' Conference. That's where I met Anne Lyle whose work was already good enough that my first reaction to reading her submission was to start thinking which agents and editors she should be contacting.

Another of those submissions came from a male writer. First off, I'd asked for 5000 words to assess before these consultations - he sent 25000 and was visibly displeased to learn that I hadn't read the whole chunk, when we actually met. Since his (really not very good) SF-techno-thriller was all to do with computer games, virtual reality and nanotechnology, I asked about his background in those particular fields. Oh, he didn't have any direct knowledge or experience but that didn't matter. He could just make it up. (Yeah, right, like oh, for eg., Charles Stross does NOT).

Now this chap was a particularly egregious example of the aspiring writer who approaches a published author with their manuscript and the clear expectation born of a sense of entitlement, that reading even a sample of their genius work will instantly convince said published author to hand over the coded password/golden key/secret handshake that will secure them a book deal and untold wealth. These types are the exception and most aspiring male writers I've met are as committed to pefecting their craft and learning the business as honestly and humbly you might wish. I have also met female writers with this same arrogant sense of entitlement. BUT over this past decade or so, my experience overall has been that the correlation between male/unjustifiedly confident in their writing and female/unduly self-critical generally holds true.

So again, I ask, what can we do to encourage/mentor/support hopeful women writers?

(And at the same time, as Chaz Brenchley sapiently observed when we were chatting later in the week, what can we do to convince men to hold themselves to a higher standard before submitting? The answer is certainly not to increase the percentage of women among the 90% of unreadable slush.)

(One final and mostly unrelated aside - when the (vexed) topic of 'Twilight' came up, Charlaine Harris offered her opinion that it's not a story about love, it's a story about obsession. That's the single most interesting thing I've heard anyone say about that saga, and the ONLY thing I've heard that prompts any interest in me reading it.)


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
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Nov. 4th, 2011 07:28 am (UTC)
Oh, I would love to have been there for that conversation with your grandmother!
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Nov. 4th, 2011 08:06 am (UTC)
Hmm, I think there might be an interesting research project there: is the Dunning–Kruger effect sex-linked?
Nov. 4th, 2011 09:11 am (UTC)
Harris is right. It's a remarkable study of obsession and addiction, and I found the first two books fascinating. (The 3rd and 4th were too soapy for me, alas, but Twilight itself is pretty good in terms of depicting that awful teen hunger for attention and self-recognition, and I enjoyed it.)
We struggled with this in history, too -- loud, over-confident young men pushing themselves forward while more gifted young women wrapped their ideas in diffidence and 'oh I expect I'm wrong' and so forth. I have no solutions, other than a suspicion that this starts very young, when we teach girls to be good and to hang back and self-doubt, while praising boys for confidence and attention-seeking.
Short of setting up a mentor scheme through the SoA (or SFWA?) I don't know where I'd start.
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Nov. 4th, 2011 03:43 pm (UTC)
We have elements of that, but it tends to be couched in the 'nice girls don't' mode. Still very undermining. I haven't noticed that music trend, but it sounds very disturbing.
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Nov. 4th, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
Standards -- whose? Who sets them, who likes them, who keeps them in place?

We all do, ultimately, when we buy into the male definitions of what's interesting. One example would be prioritizing physical action over character development. Or what happens out of doors to what happens inside a room or house. Kate, didn't you have an English teacher once who announced that no real literature could take place indoors?

(He rather ignored Proust and James with that, just for starters . . .)

But despite all the stats about women buying more fiction books than men, editors still would rather buy a heavy action-oriented book over a character and world-building story. And that includes women editors.
Nov. 4th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
Somehow the sales to men outrank the sales to women, maybe, in their minds. I am speculating here.
Nov. 5th, 2011 03:01 am (UTC)
I made a comment that Twilight sounded like it was more about obsession than love when I first heard a summary of what it was about.

Nothing on earth will persuade me to read those books: VAMPIRES DO NOT SPARKLE!!

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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