Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

A Brief and Profane Statement on the Russ Pledge (NSFW)

06.18.11
by Daniel Abraham

There’s always a problem for men advocating for women’s equality that we come across as something less than manly while doing so.  A woman I used to date had the solution of advocating for women in derogatory terms, as in “Ah, I say give the bitches equal pay.”

Though I rarely work blue, it seems to me that this is the occasion for it.  If you are offended by rude language or are a woman, you may stop reading now.  I’ll get back to a more genteel, open, and civil conversation next time.

Still here?

Okay, then, fellas.

Over on SF Signal, there’s a Mind Meld about the Russ Pledge.  Lesbian World Fantasy and Nebula award winner (what does the lesbian part have to do with it?  I don’t know, I just threw that in there) Nicola Griffith said:

“We should take the pledge to make a considerable and consistent effort to mention women’s work which, consciously or unconsciously, has been suppressed.”

And a bunch of guys got our panties all in a twist over it.  Quotas are evil.  The gender of an author doesn’t matter: the book stands or falls on its own merits.  Some of my best friends have pussies.  Whatever.

This is fucking undignified, guys.

If you look at what Griffith is asking, it’s got nothing to do with quotas.  We all know that books like The Dispossessed, China Mountain Zhang, Slow River, The Snow Queen, Cyteen, The Doomsday Book, Parable of the Sower and Beggars in Spain hold up on their own merits.  Dorris Lessing got the fucking Nobel Prize for Literature on the strength (at least in part) of her Canopus in Argos stuff.

When someone asks you to please keep these and other brilliant fucking novels in mind when you talk about science fiction, the only answer available to a gentleman is “Yes, of course.”  Because anything else makes you look like a cunt.

Back when I was in college, there was a column in Playboy by Asa Baber (yeah, I actually read some of the articles) talking about what to do when a woman says she doesn’t want sex.  It had scenarios from the end of a date where you bought her dinner to her having a change of heart while your cock is actually inside her.  The answer was *always* respect her wishes, be polite, drop it, and leave.  Always.  Anything else makes you at worst a rapist and at best a douchebag.  That’s just the way it is.

My point?  Sometimes, there’s just a right answer.

When someone — like Griffith, say — politely asks you to remember that some really good science fiction was written by a girl?  Saying “no” is a dick move.  That part where you go “I don’t pay attention to that kind of thing”?  Yeah, that doesn’t make you look smart.  You’re sexist.  We’re all sexist.  Own up to it.  We grew up in a sexist culture, and yes it fucks men over too in different ways, but that’s not the point here.

Point is she’s making a reasonable request in polite terms that we make an effort to remember that some of the brilliant work in science fiction was written by women.  That should be easy to do, because it’s true.  You don’t like taking pledges or oaths or whatever?  Good on you.  Internet’s full of them, and most of them you ignore.  Ignore this one too.  Getting huffy about how you shouldn’t have to makes you look like a douche.

Give the girls their fair share of the credit and move on.  And maybe give them equal pay.

 

EDIT: In a different venue, Ian down in the comments section suggested that I put up some links to the other places this is being discussed like the SF Signal Mind Meld, Cheryl Morgan’s piece on the SFWA site, and his own (and others) sfmistressworks stuff.  I’m also throwing in Judith Tarr’s Girl Cooties piece. Seemed like a good idea, so I did.

46 Responses »

  1. This “statement” of yours is brilliant. And needed to be said.

    Thank you. I am standing up and applauding. Thankfully there is no one in the room to give me strange looks.

  2. Well, I’m a girl and I kept reading.

    The thing I hate about this stuff is that I feel like the implication is there that I need additional consideration as a girl because I’m not good enough to work on the same playing field as everyone else. Bugs the crap out of me.

    I feel like this is being looked at all wrong. Sure the list was comprised of mostly male authors. But does that automatically mean that there some kind of bias against women going on? What if it only means that the audience is mostly male and they like books that appeal to their perspective?

    Women own so many genres in their own right. If you were to comprise a similar list of greatest romance novels, would there be any men on the list? If there were none would there be any outrage over that or would it be ignored because men don’t really read romances and no one cares?

    What about paranormal fiction? What would a “greatest” list look like in that genre? How would men be represented there?

    I feel like accusations of sexism, or racism are so offensive to people that they will bend over backwards to avoid them even when it’s not warranted.

    • The thing I hate about this stuff is that I feel like the implication is there that I need additional consideration as a girl because I’m not good enough to work on the same playing field as everyone else. Bugs the crap out of me.

      That’s not what I gear Griffith saying. In fact, I would go so far as to bet you a month’s paycheck that she’d say work by women is just as good as work by men. She’s asking for a single standard, not a double one.

      And lists like that never mean much. Past a certain level of technical skill, it’s all taste. Asking folks to consider whether works by women deserve to be on the next list is perfectly legitimate.

      • But by making an issue of men vs. women aren’t we playing the victim card a little? Sure there have been inequities in the past, but won’t this issue sort itself out over time as more and more women produce work in the genre?

        • No, I don’t think that’s playing the victim. “Remember to include the really great work done by women” isn’t the same as “protect and champion women so they can be included for the sake of inclusion.”

          I say that as a guy who has a pretty immediate hive-producing allergic reaction to people telling me I owe them something because they’re poor broken birds.

          As far as the issue sorting itself out over time? I think this is what that looks like.

    • I have to laugh with this reply as I am now seeing my first book is turning into something along the lines of a paranormal romance. Didn’t start that way, but that’s where it’s heading. When it’s done, hopefully it’ll get a fair look even though there’s a male author’s name attached.

      Always have felt merit based on ability/quality was most important.

      Seldom goes that way. 🙁

    • “The thing I hate about this stuff is that I feel like the implication is there that I need additional consideration as a girl because I’m not good enough to work on the same playing field as everyone else. ”

      It’s more that if idiots like myself don’t consciously make an effort to include girls, we’re too likely to ignore y’all altogether. I looked at my own reading last year and found out that in ten years, only slightly more than ten percent of the sf and fantasy books I read were written by women. Does anybody really think men outnumbered women ten to one in these genres, or that I didn’t miss out on a lot of good books because I was stuck in a rut of reading only male authors?

  3. This post made my day.

  4. I’m still considering the request that we all try to remember great works by minority writers that have been suppressed. Or was that foreign-language writers? Or was that gay and lesbian writers? I don’t think I’ve heard a request yet for remembering to mention suppressed great works by physically (or mentally) differently abled writers. When I make a list of my favorite works (or, for that matter, when I’m reading any fiction), I’m not considering the author’s age, sex, sexual orientation, skin color, birthplace, writing tools, style of dressing, or pets owned (well, ok, maybe I’ll buy a book because the author is known to do dog agility–but I won’t put it on my favorites list unless it really is a favorite). And it’s hard to even talk about women writers if you can’t think of women writers who fit the category that you’re discussing at the moment–same as if you can’t think of any male writers who fit the category. If the implication is that we don’t think of any women writers to talk about because no one ever talks about them–hmmmm, dunno, I don’t think I’m going to talk about any writer more simply because of their [fill in the blank]. But maybe I can say that because I’m a woman and not a guy. Poor suppressed guys.

    • And yet you like works by women and queers and brown folks. No one’s asking you — or anyone else — to talk about Karen Joy Fowler because she’s a woman. They’re asking you to talk about her (and Octavia Butler and Nicola Griffith and whoever else you like) because she’s damn good and gets overlooked.

      Y que?

      I’m a strong advocate of men’s rights. We are boned by the culture in some meaningful and significant ways. This isn’t one of them.

      • No one’s asking you — or anyone else — to talk about Karen Joy Fowler because she’s a woman. They’re asking you to talk about her (and Octavia Butler and Nicola Griffith and whoever else you like) because she’s damn good and gets overlooked.

        I’m confused. If this were the case then why have the Russ Pledge and its gender-specificity to begin with? Isn’t gender the basis of this discussion? Isn’t the argument that gender is the reason why they’re overlooked?

        As far as I can tell the Russ Pledge is exactly that we talk about Karen Joy Fowler because she’s a woman. If she were a man, and not on the list, her work wouldn’t be mentioned at all.

        • No, if Karen Joy Fowler (or whoever) isn’t doing top quality work, they shouldn’t be celebrated.

          But if they are, then they should be, and when we’re putting together “best of” lists its worth paying a little attention to see that they are.

          • No, if Karen Joy Fowler (or whoever) isn’t doing top quality work, they shouldn’t be celebrated.

            No, no, no, no. You discuss all books by women sf writers, you correct the current imbalance in which sf writing by women does not appear on lists of “best” or “classic” or “great” sf, or does not get reviewed to the same level as sf by men, or is not reported on with the same frequency as sf by women.

            You do not celebrate only “top quality work” by women, because that is suppressing their writing in the same fashion as those sexists who argued against the Russ Pledge on that Mind Meld.

          • You do not celebrate only “top quality work” by women, because that is suppressing their writing in the same fashion as those sexists who argued against the Russ Pledge on that Mind Meld.

            Ah, you do if you’re making a best-of list, though right?

            I mean, sure, if the conversation is about best use of robots, include the women who make best use of robots. And if you’re talking about who wrote the worst or most mediocre books, include the worst and most mediocre books by women in the conversation. You’re right that the comment I made about celebrating the best works by women was a specific case where the context was the best science fiction.

            If you want to make a worst-of list, I’d hope we’d be equally inclusive in that context too.

          • As you soon as you start setting conditions on when you can discuss women’s writing, you suppress it. No conditions apply when discussing men’s writing – men’s writing is the default in genre discussion. And it shouldn’t be.

            So yes, apply a quota to your reading. If you read 6 books a month, then make 3 of them by women. It won’t injure you, the world will not end. And by making a conscious decision to read women’s writing, you bypass your unconscious biases, you render the conditions under which you would normally discuss women’s writing irrelevant.

            And once you’ve read those books by women writers, you talk about them.

          • Ian: I’m going to assume in a former life you were a political officer for the Soviet army circa 1943. If I ever needed help pushing a progressive cause I’d hire Gollum over you.

            JeffV

          • I’m sorry Jeff, did you have something to contribute to the debate?

          • Yes, Ian. Stop posturing and giving simplistic solutions. Your comments above sound mostly like bad satire. When we talk about best-of lists, we need to talk about the best books, making sure canon isn’t slanted toward old paradigms and ideas *in general*, which also affects whether women get better representation. When we talk about *coverage* generally then there’s an issue of how much mediocre stuff gets covered and by whom and what doesn’t. This may be a separate issue from what gets covered in, for example, major newspapers. Whether women have equal access to publishing opportunities is also where the idea of promoting mediocrity comes into play, because, let’s face it, most books are mediocre, by everyone.

            I’m going to pull back a moment here and assume you really are interested in practical and useful solutions that simultaneously build a sense of community and that don’t just constitute insider baseball within the subculture, that you know what nuance is and you know how complex all of these issues are, and how many moving parts they have. That you have a full understanding of how the parts of the publishing industry work, rather than just a vague generalized idea of it, and you understand how publicity works (for better or worse), marketing, etc. Because all of these things are important to know in creating fixes. But what it has seemed like is that you’re interested in ideologically driven posturing, possibly as the consequence of being a recent convert.

            Peace,

            JeffV

          • First, sarcastic sniping is not a useful contribution – hence my reply to your comment.

            Second, I am trying to encourage people to read more sf by women because once they start doing that, and those books enter the conversation, then it will have a knock-on effect on representation, reviews, publication, etc. I can’t help it if some people take exception to this.

            A recent convert? No. My present level of involvement is the result of series of things happening around the same time.

          • Ian–I’m taking exception to the scorched-earth “this way or no way” approach you take sometimes, an approach that creates either-or solutions that are antithetical to real progress. You can always ratchet it up to DefCon 10–this is the internet; another comment is always available. That’s all I’m saying. The real solutions are tough, not easy, and involve complex elements, creating community, understanding facts not tinged by ideology, and finding common ground. My sarcasm was directly in response to what seemed like ideological simplicity, not to the general idea of people thinking more about their reading habits. But it’s a lot different to get people to examine their reading habits–in a way that makes them feel good for doing it–than to say “you must read 3 books by men and 3 by women each week.” It’s also not about reading–it’s about *buying*.

            I would like fewer crusaders and more people willing to put aside rhetoric and roll up their sleeves and do the hard work on a strategic, not tactical level. (Case in point: Timmi Duchamp founding a press.) Responding to ephemeral polls on the internet is tactical. Changes in buying habits and in perceptions of what sells and doesn’t is strategic. Identifying specific problem areas, problem centers, and creating level playing fields, filtering out anecdotal evidence that isn’t useful, celebrating editors/publishers that do great work, examining the role the commercialization of fiction has in all of this–this is all stuff that needs to be done and is the hard work. And in all of it not coming in with an overlay of ideology and our minds made up about the data. Because if we do, nothing will be solved.

            Anyway, I retract my sarcasm because Cheryl Morgan vouches for you. It is also entirely true that it’s better to meet someone in person before you read them online. Here’s to a beer at some point. Ping me sometime and maybe there’s some synergy in projects.

            JeffV

          • Jeff,

            I have honestly no idea how to respond to that at the moment. I’m going to have to give it a couple of days – perhaps then I’ll think of the right way to phrase my response.

            As for actually doing something… Well, I did start the sf mistressworks meme – though I got a little bit of it wrong, and I’d been hoping some better-informed people would validate it first. But then it escaped. At least, it got the debate going. And now there’s the SF Mistressworks blog. Much as I’d like to start my own press, I have neither the money nor the time at present. If I won the National Lottery, I’d certainly do it. Though I’d have to start buying a ticket first…

  5. Did you just fucking compare rape to not mentioning female SF authors in a list ? Of course you fucking didn’t … but you are a good enough writer to know that it would come across as that.

    I haven’t participated in the discussion occuring otherplace(s). But being one of the six people who has “The Price Of Spring” in standalone hardcover, I vainly presume to treat this blog as a conversation between you and the other five – and hence will (poorly) attempt a profanity ridden response.

    A bunch of guys didn’t get their “panties in a twist” over being asked to consider women’s work – well some assholes probably did, but you probably recognize that there is no point blogging to them – most of the responses were pissed off at how this thing was developed. Imagine, opening up a Guardian page one fine day and writing that Orwell is your favorite author – and then the next day finding that three articles have come up stating ever so subtly, that you are a misogynist pig. After confirming that people ain’t taking a piss at the poor participants of the poll, you open up the final results, and see that the articles are indeed correct.

    Almost. It’s not 18 women in sea of 500 male authors (1:24). It’s about 20 women mentioned along with 120 odd male authors (1:7 ratio). Thats pretty effing bad in itself, aint it ? Well, duh. But then you see that the old grandmasters pretty much rule the roost – no Ryman, no Trigillis, no Ted Chiang either. Perhaps the Guardian readers (those who polled) don’t intersect with the current SF community ? Naah, sexism trumps rock.

    Incidentally, did you vote in that damn poll Daniel ? Or Nicole ? Why is Nancy Kress, who you mention, one of the most brilliant authors I have ever, read not there then ? Probably because you didn’t vote. Me neither.

    Granted the moronic poll was just a trigger, for a pent up outburst of (justified) opinions of how great works by women were/are ignored. But it was targeted at the wrong demographic – one that is fast becoming genuinely unconcerned with the sex of the author. The Booker has never had a majority of female writer nominations ! And more than the scatter shot like nature of the blogs, what was more irritating was the framing of the message.

    You are bloody (running out of profanities here …) correct about one thing – if someone says – “We should take the pledge to make a considerable and consistent effort to mention women’s work which, consciously or unconsciously, has been suppressed.” – the only acceptable response is to say “Yes, of course.”. But you neglect the part where tis said “And if we honestly can’t think of women ‘good enough’ to match those men, then we should wonder aloud (or in print) why that is so”. Seriously, in a poll ? You forget or are unaware of how the muthafucking poll effectively, albeit unintentionally, worked as entrapment. And no one likes being told they were the jailors in the experiment. Especially when they weren’t. And the experiment was faulty.

    Sure, VS Naipul says he can recognize that he can recognize a female author by reading a paragraph. Felicia Day’s review contains a snippet – “I suspect that MLN Hanover is a guy by the way he writes.” You find opinions like this everywhere. You have to choose which people do you wish to converse what with. A blog, perhaps unfortunately, comes across as a personal letter to the reader from the writer. And so categorical statements meant for a certain section, to which a response should be universal “Yes, of course”, are greeted by the fucked response you are seeing now.

    TL;DR; An online poll doesn’t give any idea of how a community is behaving. Castigating, or even “reminding” a community of how to behave based on afore mentioned poll will provoke disproportionate reactions from certain people. Which in turn provokes profanity ridden blog posts. Which in turn results in moronic comments by morons (yours truly).

    PS; I admired the way the way used sexist abuse – panties in a bunch, cunt etc – to drive home the point that we all are sexist. Clever dat. I unfortunately ran out of steam midway in my attempt at profanity. My apologies.

    • Yeah, I didn’t vote in (or know about) the Guardian poll, and really I don’t read the pledge as a call to redo that poll or anything. Like you said, it was more the occasion for the conversation than the point of it.

      Granted the moronic poll was just a trigger, for a pent up outburst of (justified) opinions of how great works by women were/are ignored. But it was targeted at the wrong demographic – one that is fast becoming genuinely unconcerned with the sex of the author. The Booker has never had a majority of female writer nominations !

      Yeah, talking your allies out of being your allies is always a problem with stuff like this. I remember there was one time there was big kerfluffle about whether a local coffee shop was sufficiently rigorous about its free trade coffee while the Dunkin Donuts down the road which made got a free pass. It’s always easier to talk to folks who will listen.

      I was raised a leftist liberal feminist, and I’m guessing I heard more about how oppressive and awful men are to women when I was growing up than your average right-wing conservative to whom the argument might have been more revelatory. That’s just the way of the world.

      And still, we in our little genre village isn’t going to take any damage from it.

      I admired the way the way used sexist abuse – panties in a bunch, cunt etc – to drive home the point that we all are sexist.

      It’s kind of my first dip into conceptual humor. It’s hard stuff.

      • * Have sobered up and won’t leave a blog post on another’s website.

        >> I remember there was one time there was big kerfluffle about whether a local coffee shop …
        ಠ_ಠ

        >> And still, we in our little genre village isn’t going to take any damage from it.
        Agreed.

        – Would pay money to read a humorous book written by you. Methinks satire would suit your style.

  6. Daniel, in case you haven’t seen this post from March that is totally relevant to the conversation:

    http://www.strangehorizons.com/blog/2011/03/the_sf_count.shtml

  7. Daniel, I am sorry to say this, but I have become rather apathetic to these requests (in general, not talking about your requests). I absolutely LOVE that you get fired up about these issues. She has an understandable grievance, and had a reasonable request. I on the other hand can’t get myself excited. I kind of want to just say “Join the club. Life is not fair…do you know anyone who has it easy? Sorry, you are just going to have to work a bit harder than someone else to get the same recognition.”

    It’s a crappy attitude, I know. But playing around on the internet, I see these requests far too often to get all fired up every time.

    Thanks for posting the article, it helped me become a bit more self-aware. (if not get me back to my former empathetic self).

  8. Hmmm, something about the tone, and the use of carefully chosen offensive language, makes me question the sincerity here Daniel.
    It’s like you’re saying, Here I Am, Privileged Male, and I can say these things to keep the girlies quiet, no big deal. And if that’s not your intent, it may be you have missed the point somewhere.

    And Mavis, its really strange how many people seem to care enough to say loudly that they don’t care.
    The ‘she’ in ‘she may have a genuine grievance’ by the way is not one individual, but thousands of women writers, even more women readers, and a growing number of men who reject the myths that ‘women don’t write SF’ that ‘men don’t read women’, that ‘women’s writing is trivial’, etc. That she is a lot of us asking you to pause and wonder why you as a lover of SF books are being restricted in choice because publishers reviewers bookstores and fans still subscribe to outdated fallacious theories about women and SF.

    • Hey Kev.

      Yeah I tried to explain the conceptual joke up in the first graph. It’s my first time with that kind of humor, and if it needs more explanation, it may need some work.

      • If it needs more explanation it’s not going to be a good joke. Think about it.

        And think about this: why the “joke?” Why was this an occasion to “work blue?” Why discuss this issue in terms of panties, pussies, Playboy, cocks, cunts, fucking, and douches? Just because the subject is women’s writing?

        This isn’t just an experiment in tone that went wrong. This isn’t just a bit of fun that’s in poor taste. It is pretense. It is a false front on a very old-fashioned, pretentious and patronizing male perspective toward women.

    • Okay, back out of the car. Can talk more.

      That she is a lot of us asking you to pause and wonder why you as a lover of SF books are being restricted in choice because publishers reviewers bookstores and fans still subscribe to outdated fallacious theories about women and SF.

      And yet that sense of outrage fatigue is something that comes up over and over, and — speaking as the fella who started off the moral hectoring on this one — hectoring people on moral issues can be counterproductive. See also axe’s stuff on targeting and demographics.

      I don’t have a good answer for that. My opinions on how much and what kind of action on my part is rational isn’t a straightforward calculation.

      • I love Joanna Russ’ fiction writing as well as her political writing, and I am glad to “take the pledge” now.

        Because of economics, I had to take a “Russ Pledge” of my own in 1981. I asked my neighborhood book seller why there wasn’t more sci-fi published by women, and was schooled about the difficulties women faced getting published in that genre, including having to write under male pseudonyms. I earned just enough as a waitress to buy one new paperback book with each paycheck, so I decided that though I would read all kinds of sci fi and fantasy no matter the gender of the authors, I would only purchase sci-fi and fantasy by women.

        I would buy used books by men and borrowed sci-fi and fantasy books by male authors, but I wanted to use my limited resources to support women authors.

        Because of my “pledge” I have a great collection of fantasy and science fiction works by women, including many works which became out of print (2 copies left of Female Man! Eat your heart out!).

        Though I started adding male writers to my collection about 15 years ago (now that my collection is limited by the ridiculous number of books I own). I recommend far more books by female writers than male, as I still seek out female writers.

      • “The fella who started the moral hectoring” certainly wasnt you, sir. It wasn’t me earlier this year, nor Ian Sales who has at least tried to act out the Russ Pledge rather than make weak ambiguous jokes. It wasn’t Nicola Griffith or Tricia Sullivan or Judith Tarr who have all written powerfully on the subject. It might even predate Joanna Russ or Susan Wood, but one things for sure, it isn’t your credit to take.
        I gave you benefit of the doubt that your joke was just clumsily executed, but your response to this being pointed out suggests otherwise. This was the wrong subject to adopt a supposedly humorous tone that you don’t use elsewhere. It makes it different, it makes it seem like you’re mocking the Russ Pledge and not serious.

  9. This is an awesome post! Thank you so much for writing it AND for working blue. I found it both forceful and thoughtful. Yay!

    We need more people trying to understand and rail against the subtleties of discrimination, no matter who is being discriminated against. And we need people who are both “victims” and “the majority” speaking out in lots of ways to get all that institutionalized discrimination out of the closet.

    Thanks again. You rock!

  10. Jeff V, at least Ian Sales has actually tried to put the Russ Pledge into action, and provided a forum for others. Maybe you could POP over to http://sfmistressworks.Wordpress.com and offer reviews yourself? Or is snide remarks from the sideline your idea of positive action?

  11. Thanks, Daniel! There’s a time for splitting hairs, and a time for being a human being; i.e., a mensch.

  12. *wanders in from a link, gives a fist bump* Fuck yeah! Women being offended by bad language pssshhhhh please.

Trackbacks

  1. A Quick Linkdump about Gender, Marriage and Smurfs | Cora Buhlert
  2. Linkage & Book Talk
  3. June 20, 2011 Links and Plugs : Hobbies and Rides

Leave a Response