Why It Matters

The November/December 2014 issue of F&SF contains fiction by men and men alone. I brought this up on Twitter.

According to Tangent Online: The issue reacts to Internet intolerance of difference by gathering what the editor describes as “stories that deal with touchy themes or go beyond the bounds of Political Correctness.” In other words, the issue contains stories selected for their potential to offend. The issue reflects an editorial decision to present thought provoking subjects and perspectives in the full knowledge some of the stories have the potential to elicit negative responses.

The issue was also tackled by my writing group. One person therein asked: “Why does it matter what proportion of women a single market publishes?”

The question bothered me all day.  Each time I turned to the work I needed to be doing, I heard that question in my head.

Why does it matter?

The implication being that surely a single market couldn’t have such an impact, when there are loads of other publications, publishing women left and right, and let us not forget the hugeness of Women Destroying SF / Fantasy / Horror?

For me, F&SF was a cornerstone of my genre education. It was one of the big three, along with Asimov’s and Analog. Before there was online publishing, these three were largely what I read; these were the magazines that helped pre-writer me learn what the genre was all about. F&SF was THE magazine where I wanted to be published. A foundation for all that would come.

What has F&SF has contributed to the genre over the past year of publication? Maybe this issue is a outlier.

  • November/December 2014: 0 women, 9 men
  • September/October 2014: 2 women, 10 men
  • July/ August 2014: 7 women, 6 men (guest edited by C. C. Finlay)
  • May/June 2014: 3 women, 6 men
  • March/April 2014: 1 woman, 12 men
  • January/February 2014: 1 woman, 10 men
  • November/December 2013: 1 woman, 6 men

Over the past year, F&SF has published 15 stories by women, and 53 stories by men. Almost half of those stories by women came in one guest-edited issue. (Looking beyond a year, 1 to 3 stories by women per issue seems about standard.)

What does it imply about the genre? About this publication? If other magazines are publishing so many women, why is F&SF failing to? Maybe F&SF is no longer as relevant as it used to be? But F&SF remains front and center on many newsstands, Barnes & Noble to name but one.

As a woman and a writer, the numbers make me less inclined to send F&SF work to consider, seeing exactly how slim a margin there is to include work by women. (But that only feeds into the problem! you cry. Exactly and indeed.)

As a woman and an editor, this is dismaying, because we want a varied genre, don’t we? We want to welcome all voices and perspectives. We want to see ourselves in the world at large; as writers, we want to contribute and be heard. Don’t we?

I hope the answer remains that we do.

That’s why it matters.

5 thoughts on “Why It Matters

  1. Kate Jonez

    Like you, I am frustrated and disappointed to see yet another magazine with an all-male lineup. When doing a quick search for the list of editors for the magazine, I find a mix of male and female editors a few who are known for being aware and supportive of the issues involving inclusion women and people of color in genre publications. I’m not aware of everyone’s reputation, but there are no big red flags that say this is a male-dominated and misogynist publication.

    This makes me think that there may not be one simple easy-to-fix problem at work here. I’d be thrilled to see equitable gender balance in the magazines I love. And I’m very much in favor of pointing out editors who aren’t inclusive or who actively try to discourage women from submitting by their choice of sexist cover art or willingness to keep tired old tropes related to female characters alive.

    We could learn a lot from the magazine’s ratio of male to female submissions. It would be so much easier to be angry if the editors received tons of great work from women and decided to publish only men. I suspect that’s not the case. As a publisher (Omnium Gatherum) I constantly struggle to keep the balance. As of right now, if I relied solely on submissions, in 2015 I would publish only men. Protesting editor’s choices is only one part of what will make this problem go away. I am truly not advocating that women stop speaking up, but women also need to write more, submit more, and do a much better job of networking with each other so they have access to and knowledge about publishing opportunities.

    1. Ranylt

      I actively seek out writers and artists I like from underrepresented demographics, and invite them to submit to my mag, because, like many editors, I can’t rely on random submissions alone to get me the critical mass I need to create a more diverse TOC. Numbers still aren’t where I’d like them to be, but I’d be a very very white/cis/straight publication if I let the cards fall where they may on my end. The work comes from both ends; I understand about time constraints (boy, do I), but to help widen the stream, editors can’ t be any more passive than writers.

      (We’ve never had any shortage of female submittors, oddly enough.)

  2. Mishell Baker

    Honestly, anyone who uses the term “Political Correctness” sends up a huge red flag for me. That’s usually code for “an attempt to show respect for groups I have no respect for.”

    I know this only contributes to the problem, but after reading this, I won’t be submitting to F&SF until they change editors.

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