SF Mistressworks, privilege and sexism

  Image: The Guardian

I hadn’t intended to write about the whole Sad/rabid puppies nonsense, but two things have popped up this week that made me think about privilege and sexism in two different fandoms that are important to me.

Firstly, a male member of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) facebook group shared a list of the 100 Science Fiction Mistressworks put together by SF writer Ian Sales in response to Orion books’ SF Masterworks list, which originally had only 3 women authors out of its list of 73 books. Another member of the Facebook group took exception to the Mistressworks list- interestingly not contesting the existence of the Masterworks list-because he felt that gender has no part to play in the selection of books he reads. 

I have heard this argument many times. “Genius doesn’t know gender.” “If art is good enough, it will be recognised”. If you build it, they will come. But it doesn’t work like this. Funnily enough, SFF/ speculative fiction has recognised the lack of diversity in representation at cons and attempted to address it far more than literary festivals have. 

The problem here is that the default position in both music and literature is white, male, straight and cisgender. Anything or anyone deviating from that norm is often seen as the token- for example, comedy clubs not wanting more than one woman on a bill, or the names of Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree and Octavia Butler being cited as proof that women are not unread in SFF. 

But just look at the reviews of Tara Erraught’s appearance rather than her performance. And these all-too believable stories about sexism in the live music scene. And ongoing issues with sexual harassment of cosplayers at SF cons. Of course they reflect societal problems, but the  the real issue for me is this- both “I don’t see gender” and “women are mainly there for my viewing pleasure” are misogyny. Once you stop seeing women as having their own agency and purpose that are not about men then you are part of the ongoing repression of women. 

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