Gender Balance in Genre Fiction

The fine fellows over at SFSignal have held another Mind Meld, where they ask writers and editors and other luminariesin the field (bright and dim) our considered opinion. This time the topic was “gender balance in genre writing: is it an issue and what to do about it if it is.”

Here is the link.

The spread of opinion was, as always on divisive issues, wide.

My own advice for a solution for the inequality between the sexes, if that indeed is a problem caused by human malice, and if that is indeed a problem worth fretting over, was to cultivate a philosophical attitude, patience and forbearance, or else to write under a pen name. I doubt this will be the most popular response. In an age when thin-skinned whining is regarded as a moral good, stoicism is regarded as unethical.

I note with interest the assumptions made in certain responses that are not addressed. Some respondents simply assumed (or, to be precise, did not take the time and trouble to write down whatever their justification might be) that fulfilling a quota of male to female writers was in and of itself desirable, independent of the quality of stories written, and independent of the number of writers of either sex who happened to be in the available talent pool. Some of the answerers just seemed to assume, as a matter of crusade, that it was harmful to have fewer women writers in some anthologies or publication lists , no matter what.

I don’t get it. I just don’t get quota thinking. How is LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS a better book or a worse one if Ursula K. LeGuin is shelved next to Keith Laumer ( a male writer) as opposed to, say, Tanith Lee (a female writer)?  If there are more Laumer books published in 1969, and more Lee books published in 1996, what change, if any does this really have on the adventures of Genly Ai and Estravan on planet Winter?

The best comment came, as one might expect, from the sparkling Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When I became the first female editor of F&SF, I received a LOT of hate mail immediately-because of my gender [sic]. One letter said I could not edit because I lacked a penis. I kid you not. I later asked Gardner Dozois about this letter-if there was an editing trick I had somehow missed-and he graphically explained to me how the penis could be helpful in editing, but of course, he was joking. The writer of the letter was not.


I also should like to discover the name and lady of the fellow who wrote this letter to Mrs. Rusch. I should like to drub him for addressing a lady in such a varlet’s fashion.

You see, being a masculinist (I am the male version of a feminist, and so we must coin a dumb name for it) I firmly believe the sexes are different and merit being treated differently; but the cost of joining so unpopular a stance is that, once you say that men should act manly, you are obligated to act like a Man.

I do not mean a Turkish or Arabic or Chinese ideal of manhood, mind you, nor do I mean a pagan ideal. I am talking about chivalry. I mean a man acts like a gentleman, or better yet like a prince, and should never print such an unprintable letter to a lady. If you are not willing, gentlemen, to treat the distaff sex better, then you have no business being a chauvinist for masculinity: far better for you to be a sexless egalitarian than to be a punk.

Note the paradox. If male chauvinists like me really want to be male chauvinists, we have to be male chivilrists as well, in which case we cannot treat womanhood with other than courtesy and fearful reverence. The creature who wrote Mrs. Rausch might have a penis, but he is not what I would call a man.

Now, there are those of you who might say that merely by calling Mrs. Rausch “Missus.” instead of “Miz”, I overstep the bounds of chivalry. I cannot answer you, for my scorn is too great: we are done with allowing a sense of courtesy to be perverted into a sense of political correctness. (We know courtesy has nothing to do with the Progressives, and the Progressives have nothing to do with courtesy.)