Monday, 4 July 2011

Online vilification

There’s been a lot of online discussion about Ian Whates’ slightly unfortunate article on Putting the Gender in Genre. The narrative being constructed is that Ian has been unjustly vilified and is coming under intense personal attack. That seems odd to me: what he's written has been criticised, but as far as I can see most of the personal attacks are all heading in the other direction, at the poor saps who dared to say anything.

A few comments collated from the web: “a witch-hunt”, “absolute idiots”, “complete idiots”, “deliberately antagonistic”, “hyper-ventilating zealots”, “I wish these guys ... would just STFU”, “I’m half ready to dismiss it as trolling”, “making-shit-up-to-‘prove’-your-point”, “mud-slinging”, “nasty, unnecessary, bitchy”, “nasty”, “how spiteful some people can be”, “people are being vile”, “pseudo-egalitarians”, “purposeful spite”, “ridiculous and nasty”, “silly and embarrassing”, “some people just enjoy spitting bile on the internet”, “someone’s sad little vendetta”, “spitting dummies out of prams”, “strident participants”, “they did make themselves look stupid”, “this is far into the land of internet idiocy”, “this kind of nonsense”, “unpleasant, mildly bullying, and a bit of an ass online”, “(lack of) thought process”.

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone say anything quite that rude and personal about Ian! And why would they! He’s not a terrible sexist, he isn't evil, he just isn’t, as Tricia Sullivan (one of the contributors to the anthology being discussed) observed, “up-to-speed” on the issues: “This is an area with a lot of 101-level issues still floating around, and unfortunately Ian’s recent guest post throws in some remarks that I would consider not-up-to-speed. … This discussion has come a long way in the last year or so online, and I get the impression that Ian may not have kept up with it as well as some who are posting here.”

I’m not even going to pretend I’m up to speed on these issues either. Put me on the spot and I’m sure I’d get myself into an even worse mess than Ian has!

But editors – and their sometimes over-enthusiastic defenders – shouldn't treat questions about the gender balance of their publications as a dreadful impertinence or a personal attack. Rather, they should expect them as the inevitable consequence of publishing a book with very few female contributors. It should be a question they are well prepared to answer, because they should have been thinking about it from the moment the contents page began to take shape.


  1. I wasn't aware that there was such an imbalance, but it does seem quite shocking that there is. Wonder what the cause is? Can't just be the natue of the genre as I don't think this is an issue in the US. Are we talking hard SF here? Perhaps that's the problem?

  2. I think it's lots of little factors at each stage of the publishing process - their cumulative effect can be huge.

    I've started to keep track of the stuff that gets submitted to us for review, and it's running at 80% from men at the moment. And 92% of story submissions to TQF this year have been from men...