So, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST?

So, X-Men: Days of Future Past?

It’s sexist crap. I mean, sexist even by your ordinary Hollywood blockbuster standard, which is pretty sexist already. There are some female characters in the brave band of heroes at the end of the world (and why couldn’t we have the film about the band of heroes at the end of the world?)…

…and then there’s Mystique. Who is a fucking awesome, active, badass character –

– that the film treats as a combination of Macguffin/prize for the boys with their sad manpain.

C.C. Finlay says it best:

So the world is a better place because Mystique grows and changes as a person. And when we snap back to the future, we’ll get to see a glimpse of her and how she’s changed.

Hahaha! Sorry.

Just like Mystique only functions earlier in the story as a foil for Charles’ man-pain vs. Magneto’s man-pain, she’s completely absent from the denouement. Because her growth as a character is irrelevant to the rewards that the men-folks get for a job well done.


To make up for that, here’s Trudi Canavan talking about women and epic fantasy in Australia and New Zealand.

Kameron Hurley on context and pin-up calendars

Kameron Hurley, “Die Hard, Hetaera, and Problematic Pin-Ups: A Rant:”

Context is important when we choose to make a piece of art. Knowing and understanding how our piece of art will be read or viewed within the historical context of other pieces of art is vital to both understanding how others will read it and formulating the defense of our choice despite that context. As someone who wrote a very violent series of novels featuring a cast of characters who use Arabic words on occasion, I’m pretty familiar with the importance of this process.

Context, or lack, thereof, was one of the reasons I found the notion of the literary pin-up calendars the last few years really noxious and depressing. Because despite the many posts I would see from folks defending them (folks hopping in and feeling there was a need to defend them, before they’d even been made, spoke volumes right off the bat), and the fact that the latest one was, in fact, in support of Clarion, the project wasn’t going to escape being seen within the history of the pin-up. No matter how much everyone wished it.

And that’s what I saw. How those images have been used, by whom, and for what purpose.

Marrying one’s sofa

It seems the thought that there are persons writing, and enjoying, fiction, and wanting more fiction that reflects their own experiences, and it seems that the fact these persons do not fit certain Lowest Difficulty Setting persons’ idea of real, normal, or worthy-of-consideration people –

– well, it seems that certain persons find this worth excoriating.

ETA: Alex has some things to say on comments and civility, with which I agree in substance.

I’m with Alex Dally MacFarlane, on this one, but regardless, you are all cordially invited to the ceremony of betrothal between me and my armchair, which is presently being solemnised.


Less snarkily: I’m a queer person.

I’m still figuring out what that means for me in terms of gender identification, orientation, attraction. Perhaps I’ll never know what it means. In a culture which defines things and traits as masculine and feminine, am I a male person with a female body, or a female person who does male things and feels deeply uneasy with female social roles?

It is much easier not to think about it, and far, far easier not to talk about it. I’m comfortable with celibacy: who I am, who I’m attracted to, might be a much more pressing matter if I was drawn more strongly towards sexual relationships, or if I felt more strongly towards the sexual characteristics of my own body.

Or perhaps I’m more comfortable with celibacy precisely because it means I don’t have to think about what gender means to me personally, as opposed to what being perceived, and living, as a (butch) female person means for me socially.

(This is, I understand, the thing called coming out. Y’know, it’s kind of terrifying? I’m okay with being out about depression and anxiety, but coming out about this is making me shake.)

Science fiction and fantasy is one of the few places where it is possible to conceive of worlds from the ground up that don’t carry the same historical, cultural baggage of binary gender, of masculine and feminine as socially concrete. I was eighteen or nineteen before I realised it was possible for me, for women, to be attracted to both women and men;* several years older, before I got my head around the idea it could be more complicated than that, that the gender you were socially assigned, the role society pressured you to fill, wasn’t necessarily the same as the one inside your head. That the faces we show to the world are all social roles. All performances.

That we can perform differently. Be, differently.

The idea of gender-as-reified, of biology-as-destiny? I’m getting over it.

I don’t know what queerness means for me. I don’t know what their life experiences mean for other people. I don’t even know if I should be coming out and saying this: will it make trouble for me now? In the future?

Probably. I’ll burn that bridge when I get there.

But I do know that SFF is a genre that can, in its stories, show us different views of ourselves. Different ways, perhaps, to be. Maybe – who knows? – better ones.

Break the binary. Break the mould.


Also, me and my armchair? We’re practically married already.


*I’m still convinced at an emotional level that it is somehow fundamentally wrong to like anyone sexually at all. The benefits of a Catholic education are numerous, so it’s said, but… yeah, that’s not really one of them.

Link of interest: Jaime Lee Moyer on Year’s Best lists

Jaime Lee Moyer, author of Delia’s Shadow, talks about a problem she’s been having with Year’s Best lists in the blogosphere:

I never expected to make any lists. I knew that going in.

What kills me is that so many women who should be on these lists? They aren’t there.

As in, taken strictly by appearances in year’s best lists–women didn’t publish much of anything last year.

Nada. Zero, zip. Nothing.

Which, as you know Roberta, is total bullshit. Women published some amazing novels last year.

Yet I’ve read list after list where five out of five best of the year books were written by men, or eight out of ten, or on a good list, seven out of ten were written by men. Thousands of books published by women every year, and list makers can’t find any for a YB list?

This is one of the cases where you should also read the comments.

Calling people on thoughtless sexist sh*t: Justin Landon on Patrick Rothfuss

So Patrick Rothfuss, on his Reddit Ask-Me-Anything, did this:

Let’s all talk about cup sizes. There’s nothing wrong with reducing a female person to her secondary sexual characteristics!

It passed unnoticed by many, unremarked-upon by most.

But Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review decided he would remark upon it:

By not objecting to the comment on Reddit, Rothfuss functionally condoned the behavior. By responding to it, and participating in the masturbatory exchange that followed, Rothfuss demonstrated a camaraderie with the concept that his female characters exist solely for the benefit of the male gaze. He is normalizing a culture in which men feel entitled to have access to “attractive” women, judge women’s worth on their “attractiveness”, and not consider women as anything other than objects for view/consumption. I think what bothers me most of all is that the science fiction and fantasy community has done nothing but rail against this kind of mentality for the past several years and yet one of its most successful [authors] is perfectly fine participating in it.

…If the Reddit question was the first example of Rothfuss doing something questionable as it relates to women, I would keep my mouth shut. But, for the past several years he has published a pin-up calendar for his Worldbuilders charity that depicts female characters from genre novels in alluring poses. He’s even got some high profile women authors to contribute their characters to the project. Why is the calendar problematic? Because the man is framed as the viewer, and the woman as the viewed. The calendar is celebrating science fiction and fantasy, and thus framing the woman as a passive recipient in the art excludes them from an active role in the making, creating, and consuming of the genres themselves. Of course, none of that is nearly as egregious at the comment that opened this post, but it points to a pattern of behavior. A pattern which none of the big dogs have deemed appropriate to call out.

I don’t want to talk about Rothfuss, or the shit that some Reddit-using Rothfuss fans are giving Landon for drawing attention to the fact that the SFF community’s big names don’t tend to call out their community-involved success stories for doing thoughtless shit/saying thoughtless crap in public. (It is a very human thing to not want to piss off your friends and colleagues. On the other hand, it can become a problem.)

No, I don’t want to talk about Rothfuss. I want to mention, instead, what it means to me to see a (cis) male person on the internet calling out an incident of thoughtless sexist speech, and doing so quite thoroughly.

Men get a lot of kudos for calling out sexism/misogyny. Part of the reason they do, I think, is because non-cis-male people have learned not to count on the support of men when it comes to how the (to use bell hooks’ phrase: white supremacist patriarchy) patriarchy screws them over. We expect them to dismiss us, to uphold a viewpoint that dismisses our lived experience as irrelevant, a hierarchy that devalues our participation.

When a guy comes out and proves by word and action that he’s listening – and using what he’s learned to go out and preach to the unconverted – and that he’s willing to take us seriously, that he’ll stand up and be counted in support, there’s an startling amount of relief associated with that. And that startlement – that lack of expectation – means he receives the kind of effusive thanks usually reserved for completely unexpected and really welcome costly gifts.

Because make no mistake, pushing back against damaging cultural norms is work that costs people who do it. In energy – emotional, physical, and intellectual – yes, but it can also cost them their sense of personal safety (see under: death threats, rape threats, bomb threats), sometimes their jobs, and sometimes their mental health.

The more support there is for this kind of work, the less, ultimately, it will cost us to do it. Men have the advantage that other men are more likely to listen to them and take them seriously than they are to people who aren’t cis men, which is part of those damaging cultural norms, but the more men there are walking the walk as well as talking the talk, the more men there will be who are willing to listen to the rest of us when one of us says, Actually, that’s a problem.

So to Justin: thank you. It is a lovely gift.

Now I’ll expect this kind of gift from you all the time.

Sleeps With Monsters: Thinking About Reading, Writing, and Radicalisation

Over at Tor.com – and I’ve been very slack about linking to my posts there consistently – I’m joined by two fellow reviewers for a conversation:

RENAY: “It’s not just me and my biases, my internalized habits of valuing men’s voices more, but the industry culture itself doing a pretty effective job with marketing… Where we gets our recommendations matters.”

STEFAN: “I ended up peering at my stack of potentially-to-be-reviewed books for that month and realizing that I had about 15 titles by male authors waiting for me, and 2 by female authors. That’s not me requesting certain books or discarding others; it’s just a basic sample of what I was getting in the mail.”

Kev McVeigh is starting a new column over at the SF Gateway Blog

One which means to focus on marginalised authors.

One more thing about SFF in the 21st century is that it is, and arguably always was, a global phenomenon. Just as we need to keep talking about women in SFF, so too we need to keep talking about LGBT and other Queer writers and characters, about people of colour in SFF, and about non-Anglo, European and colonial settings. From The Attic is only one venue for this, and hopefully not a voice in the wilderness.

I do hope McVeigh and Gollancz/the SF Gateway Blog will make it easier to tell

– the author of the post
– the fact that it’s part of series, and
– where the rest of the series may be found

going forward, though. The SF Gateway Blog’s tag archives are a thing of utter hideousness to navigate.

Sleeps With Monsters: Reading, Writing, Radicalisation

Live at Tor.com:

I didn’t set out to stop reading work by men. And I haven’t, entirely. But writing Sleeps With Monsters has, slowly but surely, altered the way I choose my reading material, and altered the way I respond to many forms of entertainment across a variety of media. When the good people here at Tor.com were brilliant/mad enough to invite me to write a column on feministy things, I had no idea how utterly it would change my reading habits.

Sarah Silverwood’s The Nowhere Chronicles: A Biased Reponse to Textual Bias

A new post over at Tor.com:

Prejudice can be loud or obvious, and it can be quiet, unmarked, part of the sea in which we swim. Silverwood’s Nowhere Chronicles uphold a biased view of the world, which is to say: they’re bloody sexist.

I read these books and wrote this many months back, in June. I don’t go looking for things to be angry about. In fact, I don’t really like being angry: combining rage and (self-)righteousness is a thing that makes me uncomfortable.

But. Thoughtless, all-but-invisible (because part of background assumptions) bias is a thing that really gets my goat. I hate it in myself. I hate it in the world. I hate it in books. I expect more. I expect better.

Complex systems

It’s an Irish summer and the sun is actually shining. I should be working on my thesis or one of the ten thousand things I’m behind on.

(Like reviews. Hi, difficulty focusing! How nice you should come visit…)

Instead, I’m taking a little time to mention something that I came across via Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons.

Tor UK has an open submissions policy. Editor Julie Crisp ran the numbers on genders submitting to their slushpile. In Sexism In Genre Publishing: A Publisher’s Perspective, she brings the numbers out into the light and finds that her slushpile ratio is 32:68 F:M overall, 22:78 F:M with science fiction specifically, and calls for more women to submit their work.

Leaving aside the discussions from short fiction markets which suggest that while men submit more work overall, women submit work of better quality – what good is a post that points out the disparity in subs? Renay (of LadyBusiness) calls it “a reductive, shallow look at the issues regarding gender parity and representation in genre.”

She says, “[The post seeks] to distance itself from the external criticism of the community which would hold it accountable for the decisions which have led to the low numbers of submissions from women. Instead of taking a forward-looking path to solving the problem of low submission, publicly posting the numbers to ask “How can we do better? What are the cultural and social issues that might be influencing women’s reluctance to submit? How can we reach out more and welcome women writers? How can we better support them once they’re here?”, Julie Crisp used the numbers to say, “Not it!” and complain about the blame being laid at her door.”

In the comments to the original post, Sophia McDougall writes

What is so hard about battling sexism in publishing is its so nebulous and fluid, you often cannot point to one deliberate, malicious decision and say “this is where it all went wrong.” This also means there is not one single decisive thing you can do to fix it. You’re right to say it’s not “clear-cut”. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, or that the problem is just that women aren’t interested. As the industry stands, women have good REASONS not to be interested! I know this is something that people at the publishing end can’t just wave a magic wand and fix. I know you can’t publish what you don’t receive. But publishers do have a part to play, and that has to include recognising the complexity and scale of what’s going on.

…maybe SFF isn’t worse, maybe it’s better, because at least it knows and cares that it has a problem and is trying to change. Even though it is sometimes painful.

But I feel this piece will be taken as granting SFF permission to care less.

Sexism is complex and visible disparities are the result of many intersecting factors. Showing the numbers is useful. But if one wants to change the disparity one cannot sit back and wait for better numbers to magically appear. Just because one asks nicely.

Addressing complex systems takes work.

I’ve never seen UK editions of Elizabeth Bear’s science fiction. Catherine Asaro. Kristine Smith’s Jani Killian novels. Chris Moriarty’s Spin novels. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden books. Hell, Karen Traviss. The time is ripe for some UK publisher to make an investment in an SFF “21st Millennium Classics” line, acquiring UK rights to SF novels published in the first decade of the new century, and putting an equal proportion of male and female authors in the line-up. If women in the UK don’t see science fiction by women on the shelves, published by UK publishers, they’re hardly going to see the point in submitting to UK publishers themselves.

If there was an easy fix, we would have stopped talking about this years ago. Constant, mindful engagement across multiple avenues of approach: that’s the only solution.

And that takes a very long time.

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, Sexism and Systemic Failure. Part IV.

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.


I want to reiterate that while I find the actions of Jo Fletcher Books in this matter ill-advised, I in no way believe they were ill-intentioned. Any organisation can be blindsided by an associate whose opinions don’t represent said organisation. And naturally a publisher with a writer under contract needs to consider their working relationship to said writer in their responses to criticism.

That said, swinging the hammer of “On the right to freedom of speech” towards critics of Rees’ article and JFB’s decision to run it is far, far less than ideal a response.

In the last month, “freedom of speech” has been seized upon as a cri de coeur in the face of criticism in the SFF genre community. The response of Resnick and Malzburg to legitimate criticism was not to say, “Hey, you might have a point, we’ll think about it,” or even, “I think you’re wrong, but we’ll have to agree to disagree,” but to talk about “censorship” and “liberal fascism.” Likewise, calls to expel Theodore Beale from SFWA for, essentially, bringing the organisation into disrepute, were met with but you can’t punish him for exercising his freedom of speech!

(The right to freedom of speech is not the right to a platform, or to a megaphone. Nor is it freedom from the consequence of speech – which can be criticism, in the form of more speech.)

The SFF community and associated conversations are very familiar with the idea of freedom of speech. At the moment, they’re also very familiar with its use as a complaint in the face of criticism: But he has the right to say such things!

No one is saying otherwise. What people are saying is that some opinions are inappropriate for sharing in professional fora, and that it is inappropriate for professional organisations to give them platforms. Racist and sexist opinions are among those inappropriate opinions.

That “freedom of speech” is seen both as a defence against critical speech and as an unmitigated good thing is a systemic failure in our community to which, however unwittingly, JFB’s public response to criticism of Rod Rees’ post in part contributes.

Jo Fletcher is a busy person. She makes sure we’re aware of this in “On the right to freedom of speech“:

Today I should be editing the last 35 pages of David Hair’s magnificent epic Scarlet Tides, so it can make its Autumn publication date . . . but instead, I’m taking that valuable time to discuss something that’s even more important

and:

I expect some of you are wondering why I am breaking into valuable editing time to discuss freedom of speech – and on a Saturday morning at that!

This is a somewhat inflammatory way to begin a post responding to critical comment. Many of the people who responded to Rod Rees’ opinions as expressed are busy individuals themselves, who spent some of their own valuable time and energy in answering the problematic elements of his assertions.*

Jo Fletcher distances herself from Rod Rees’ opinions as expressed:

When I offer the blog to our wonderful writers, I don’t tell them what they can – or can’t – write about. They’re grown-ups, after all, and I must depend upon them to use good judgement.

…Would I have written Rod’s blog? Frankly, I don’t think I would have.

She defends – although as far as I can tell, no one is actually attacking – his right to offer such opinions:

Do I defend Rod’s right to his own opinion?

Damn straight I do.

Missing from the post is the thing I hoped for most: an acknowledgement that Rees’ opinions as expressed may not have been professionally appropriate, and whether humorously or provocatively meant or otherwise, how he phrased them insulted his writer colleagues who are women.**

Ultimately, Jo Fletcher Books is responsible for all the content posted to their blog. A statement of regret for the insult given to colleagues would not have been inappropriate. It would’ve gone a long way towards reducing the sense of affront.


If you don’t agree with Rod, I absolutely defend your right to disagree!

Of course, I expect it to be well-reasoned, well-written, with good grammar, spell-checked and properly punctuated . . .

I’m not the only person who finds a statement like that, in the face of criticism, to imply that disagreements to date have not been, “well-reasoned, well-written, with good grammar, spell-checked and properly punctuated.”***

It’s not a good point to close on, I guess is what I’m saying. It doesn’t demonstrate real engagement with the criticisms which have been made. It’s not the response of someone used to engaging with direct criticism on the internet. A good faith effort requires some acknowledgement of one’s critics’ points, even to say, “We can’t agree, and further conversation won’t prove fruitful,” or, “Company policy is such, although we may revisit it in future.” (“This was infelicitous or erroneous, but we will strive to do better,” is a good sentiment to have in the good faith toolbox, too.)

The internet means communication happens faster and reaches more people than ever before. Problematic shit receives more attention, and more critical attention, than ever.

And “free speech,” when that speech has offensive implications, and when deployed by the privileged against the less privileged – as it was in Rod Rees’ case – can contribute to a hostile or offensive environment.

Me, I’m invested in having a genre community, and a genre conversation, that welcomes a diverse range of voices, and a diverse range of good books. That doesn’t alienate women needlessly – or people of different colours or creeds, sizes or shapes, genders or abilities.

I expect more. I expect better.


All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

We all try, and try again. We can all fail better. Going by increments towards a less hostile world, a more welcoming community.

To Jo Fletcher Books, I say:

Next time, I beseech you. Fail better.


*As for me, I’ve spent at least six hours on this that could’ve been thesis time, or reviewing time, or actual eating/sleeping/exercise time, but since I receive less than eighteen grand a year this year, most of it from the government, I’m not sure anyone but me considers my time valuable.

**As a reader, I felt insulted also – but the direct insult was given to female writers, with the challenge to the viscerality of their work.

***Here, the cranky person may point out that apart from the punctuation, Rees’ article meets few of those criteria. Reduction ad adsurdum, anyone? The reductio, or argumentum, ad absurdum could hardly be more absurd…

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, Sexism and Systemic Failure. Part III.

Part I. Part II.


We broke off yesterday with the conclusion that Rod Rees was either clueless or deliberately trolling. But what about his publisher, Jo Fletcher Books?


It is important, I think, that we absolve JFB of malice. When a publisher gives a writer access to a platform to promote said writer’s newest novel, whether or not that publisher agrees with their writer’s opinions, I believe the general assumption is that the writer will do their best avoid doing something that will bring the publisher’s platform into disrepute. Busy editors and PR persons should be forgiven for cursorily glancing at the first paragraph or not even reading it at all before cuing it up.

(I’m not saying this is best practice. But it’s an imperfect world, and I sincerely doubt any publishing imprint is over-provided with available staff-hours.)

In fact, Jo Fletcher Books is an imprint I’ve been watching with interest. They’ve published two debut SF novels by women just this year – Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns and Naomi Foyle’s Seoul Survivors – along with Karen Lord’s second novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Looking into Waterstones in Liverpool yesterday brought home to me just how much UK shelfspace in SFF – particularly in SF and in epic fantasy – is dominated by male names, and I confess to nursing a small, quiet hope that JFB’s decision to bring SF debuts by women on board this year might help to start evening things out.

That’s partly why I’m so disappointed by their response to criticism of the Rod Rees article, and their choice to run said article on their imprint’s official blog.

Let me take a minute here to articulate my own feelings about that article. Foz Meadows, I think, put it best: “my entire brain explode[d] in a symphony of What The Actual Fuck in D Minor.” It is remarkably – remarkably! – alienating and off-putting to read that how to write successful female characters is, instead, how to write a caricature of a male-gaze-constructed, gender-essentialist, Mirror Universe image of a woman. My anger was vast. My disgust was vaster. My weariness at Not More Of This Bullshit Haven’t We Had Enough? reached gargantuan proportions and turned after contemplation to even more rage.

What is published on an organisation’s website is assumed, rightly or wrongly, to have the imprimatur of that organisation. Someone approved this as appropriate, or failed to disapprove of it enough to discourage its publication there. I thought to myself that if Jo Fletcher Books was willing to accept this on their public face, they mustn’t want my money.

They must want me to go away weary and disgusted, to patronise publishers whose blogs show forth less extreme alienating gender-essentialist male-gaze nonsense.

Despite my warm fuzzy feelings towards them for debuting Saulter and Foyle. Despite my warm fuzzy feelings about Karen Lord’s work. Despite my hopes that maybe they’d bring Tricia Sullivan’s next SF book out, or the next brilliant debut SFF novel by a woman I’d never heard of.

So I reached out to the publisher to ask if they had any comment on the matter, because it would be unfair to not ask.

In email, Jo Fletcher disclaimed any right to censor her authors. She went on to say that she fully believed that women were just as suited writing fiction for adults as anyone else. “[A]ctually, I don’t for a moment think Rod Rees believes this either; as I said, he’s putting forward a theory for discussion.

“It’s also very true that in the UK at least there has been a lot of criticism of the lack of female SF writers – SF as opposed to fantasy – and obviously, I’m doing my own bit to help fill that void, with three new female SF writers already on the list: Stephanie Saulter, Naomi Foyle and Karen Lord. Personally, I’ve never let the sex of an author influence my publishing decisions – a good book is a good book – but it does depress me to see so few female writers of SF in my submission pile. I could suggest some reasons fewer are drawn to SF than to fantasy, but that would be purely my own opinion, not actual fact.”

The article, she reaffirms, is purely Rod Rees’ own opinion. But she does see one upside: “[A]t least it’s got people talking.”*


That was Jo Fletcher Books’ response to me by email. It was a much better response than I’d hoped to receive.

But “On the right to freedom of speech,” JFB’s response to the public, posted on their blog, is much worse. A bizarre tactical error in the ongoing conversation, it appears to try to make the issue into one of freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and this is the “systemic failure” I’ve had in the title from the start. That’s what I’ll be talking about in the next post.


*I uphold Jo Fletcher’s right to view this as an upside. Me, I’m a little tired of needing to push back against opinions such as Rees’.

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, Sexism, and Systemic Failure. Part II.

Part I.


I thought I was pretty clued up on feminism.

…I belong to a writers’ group which recently perused the opening 10,000 words of a novella I’ve written called ‘Invent-10n’. It’s a near-future story that features a rather feisty twenty-year-old singer with a penchant for jive talk called Jenni-Fur. I thought I’d rendered her as a tough, take-no-prisoners sort of rebel but it seemed that some of her dialogue offended the two female members of the group.

Using the argot of 2030s Britain, Jenni-Fur described herself as ‘a lush thrush with a tight tush’, which was thought to be both unrealistic and borderline ‘pornographic’.

Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.


[H]ere we are again: sexual harassment, SFWA, marginalizing of women writers, the VIDA count…women in genre is the issue of the day. And what is happening at Jo Fletcher Books and with Rod Rees is, in my opinion, nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the outrage and frustration that so many women in this field are feeling.

Tricia Sullivan, June 28, 2013.


The month of June 2013 saw sexism (and bigotry in several forms) bubble to the surface of the SFF genre conversation. Not fictional sexism, but the real-life kind: the Resnick/Malzburg dialogues (liberal fascism! censorship!) were followed by repugnant white supremacist and ex-SFWA presidential candidate Vox Day’s vile rhetorical attack on award-winning author N.K. Jemisin. And then we were faced with the news that Elise Matthesen had made the first formal report against Tor editor James Frenkel, long rumoured to be a man with whom one should avoid getting into an elevator.


I am fed up by the level of sexism and racism in our community and am increasingly of the opinion that remaining silent on the matter provides aid and comfort to those who don’t deserve it.

Hugo-Award-winning author Charles Stross

Though the column argues that Rees is a good writer of female characters, nothing in it bolsters that claim.

– Sherwood Smith (Inda, Coronets and Steel) and writing partner Rachel Manija Brown (All the Fishes Come Home to Roost).


Rees’ article comes at a time when the attitudes of men (and of women) in the SFF community towards women, and particularly the attitudes of male writers and editors, have been highlighted, and not to their advantage.

Nor to ours. Regressive attitudes and willful ignorance make communities unwelcoming and unsafe. And it is not to anyone’s advantage to let harassment, belittlement, and lack of empathy proliferate unchallenged.

And Rees is one of the willfully ignorant, unable or unwilling to make the leap of empathy to seeing women as whole human beings, courageous and persevering in all kinds of adversity, capable of life and hope and change in even the most restricted of circumstances. Rees, you see, sees certain periods of history and certain places as antithetical to women: by which I can only conclude he means in direct and unequivocal opposition to the existence of female-bodied persons.

For example when you put female characters in settings (especially historical ones) which are antithetical to women it becomes difficult to shape a character which is sympathetic to that setting without violating… feminist norms.
Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.

Rees goes on to imply that women are unsuited to writing “visceral” fiction for adults.

It seems to be a fixture at the SF conventions I’ve attended to have a panel discussion debating why there are so few women writing in the adult SF and fantasy genres. Could it be that the success of female writers in YA fantasy fiction is in part attributable to their young female characters being better able to adhere to this [the “feminist”] template of the ideal female? Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype [of an active woman with agency] doesn’t work and hence struggle.


So. Women should stick to writing for children, because it’s less challenging, is that the implication? Less visceral? Rees has obviously never read Elizabeth Wein or Scott Westerfeld.

Karen Healey (The Shattering, When We Wake) finds YA fiction, “as visceral as it gets – racism, suicide, sexuality, love, death, grief and joy are not topics marked ADULTS ONLY,” and pointed out the works of Alaya Dawn Johnson and Sheri L. Smith as treating with particularly visceral events and themes.

According to Sarah Rees Brennan (The Demon’s Lexicon, Unspoken), people are far more likely to hold female characters to impossible standards – “and that’s a product of sexism. Generalising or denigrating YA, a genre which has a lot of female writers and a lot of female protagonists, tends to be a product of sexism as well.”

Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown say they find so many things wrong with Rees’ piece that they don’t have time to call out every single one – but the thing that leaps out at them most, they say, is his claim that women are too smart to be “foolishly” brave. “The actual implication is that an entire segment of human experience and motivation is solely male. In short, he is saying that only men are heroic.”

Charles Stross disagrees with everything Rod Rees says about writing across gender. “Rod Rees’ world view, as he expresses it, appears to be so heavily informed by black and white stereotypes that there is no room in it for shades of grey. All men are ‘this’, all women are ‘that’. All behavior is dictated by assigned gender roles, and gender roles are deterministically nailed to the physical sex of the protagonist. (He also seems unable to distinguish between biological sex and performative gender.)” He adds, “For a lot of men the social conditioning to treat women as different is so strong that they can’t recognize the essential points of similarity that exist: they’re effectively unable to look beyond the gender gap.”

Men with this problem, Stross says, don’t relate to women as people, but rather as either aliens or objects. “Theory of mind, the ability to project consciousness and intentionality on them and model them as ordinary people doesn’t seem to pertain… [and] men who don’t see women as people feel free to chastise women who behave in a manner incompatible with their preconceptions.”


The takeaway from all this is that Rees is, at best, clueless; at worst, deliberately trolling.

But what about Jo Fletcher Books?

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, SFF, Sexism, and Systemic Failure. Part I.

On June 25, 2013, Jo Fletcher Books (the SFF/H imprint of Quercus Books) published an article by Rod Rees on their blog, “Can Male Authors Successfully Write Female Characters.” The article struck me as egregiously offensive, and I contacted the publisher for comment for an article on it soon after it had been brought to my attention. (By Niall Harrison, who said – and I quote – “I feel kind of mean doing this.”)

On June 29, 2013, Jo Fletcher Books published a response by the imprint’s managing editor, Jo Fletcher, to criticism and conversation arising from the Rod Rees article, “On the Right To Freedom of Speech.”

At some point before late on June 30, 2013, both of these articles disappeared from the website, as reported by Natalie of Radish Reviews and reacted to by Foz Meadows. (“A Note on Post Deletions.”)

At this point in time (July 02, 2013) it seems both posts are again available to the wider web, as I’m able to click through to them from the JFB blog. (Rod Rees’ article now comes complete with a disclaimer that opinions aren’t those of the publishing house, which was originally lacking.) But if they should happen to disappear once more, Radish Reviews has been kind enough to host the screenshots in the linked post.

That’s the basic timeline of events. You may be asking yourself why they’re important.

I’m writing a piece on the subject of how well (or badly) male writers create/describe/cope with/handle female characters
Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.

…[M]y entire brain explode[d] in a symphony of What The Actual Fuck in D Minor.
Foz Meadows, June 26, 2013

Since I’m traveling about today, I’m writing this in bite-sized pieces. Now that I’ve outlined the events as they took place, let’s dig a little bit into why they’re worth talking about.

In Part II.

The morning after, Mr Earbrass was conscious but very little more.

The conference is over. This conference, that is, and a very interesting conference it was, indeed.

I will blog about it, as promised. But for today, while my brains are in the process of growing back from the onslaught of shiny interesting new people and thoughts, I think I’ll just round up the links my tabs have accumulated from a weekend with very little chance to participate in the internet.

Via Jim C. Hines, Elise Matthesen gives the low-down on how to report sexual harassment.

STAY SAFE: You get to choose what to do, because you’re the only one who knows your situation and what risks you will and won’t take. If not reporting is what you need to do, that’s what you get to do, and if anybody gives you trouble about making that choice to stay safe, you can sic me on them.

Leah Bobet on Science Fiction. Sexual Harassment. Missing Stairs.

I tire of our collective cowardice. A community that does not have your back is no damn community at all.

Maria Dahvana Headley with But He Didn’t Know He Was Hijacking Your Ship:

And if you question how bad it would have to be to make me feel upset? Know that I used to be a pirate negotiator in the maritime industry.

The pirates in the maritime industry were generally a great deal more polite than the creeps in the SFF world. They stuck to terms.

In the SFF world, the nasty that happens is as follows: ‘He was confused,’ rather than “HE JUST TRIED TO HIJACK YOUR SHIP.’

But I’m here to tell you, people have regularly tried to hijack my ship, and then protested that my real problem was a bad ship and bad weather, rather than dudes trying to board me.

Tansy Rayner Roberts on Sexual Harassment at SF Conventions:

Are we actually making progress here? Or have I just filtered my internet too completely?

…I also think that Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai) tweeted a very important message in relationship to the subject:

“If this summer seems relentless where talk of harrassment in SF is concerned? Recognize that’s because it IS relentless.”

Natalie at Radish Reviews with Harassment and the Back Channel:

I am so very tired of hearing stories about how things were back in the good old days. When convention organizers were procuring asses for Isaac Asimov to pinch and women were leaving conventions because their shapely bottoms were patted while out in public. When Randall Garrett felt that it was appropriate to greet women with “I’m Randall Garrett. Let’s fuck.” Hell, as recently as 2006, Harlan Ellison felt that grabbing Connie Willis’s breast onstage at the Hugo Awards was an okay thing to do (this goes to the video, may be upsetting to watch if you haven’t seen it before, edited to fix date per comment). But hey, why can’t we all just get along? (screencap of Google cache, comments missing) Why so negative?

Reports are shining a light on the inner workings of some of SFWA’s older racists, with Speculative Friction publishing screencaps.

“Black ghetto characters” are appropriate for Steven Barnes, says Jerry Pournelle.

Women Unsuited To Writing Fiction For Adults, Struggle, Says Author Rod Rees.

Women Unsuited To Writing Fiction For Adults, Struggle, Says Author Rod Rees.

Tuesday June 26, 2013

Rod Rees, author of the infamous Demi-Monde series (where untethered breasts jiggle across an alternate reality landscape, and the cult of nuJus worship the Book of Profits in the face of Vampire Fascism), today made a stunning attempt to rebut criticism of his ability to write, and especially to write female characters. Living with women, Rees claims, gives him special knowledge of the female mind. “What I discovered is that like all quasi-religions, Feminism has its zealots: so much so that I found it damned difficult to make [my alternate reality “feminism”] more extreme than the world envisaged by the out-there radical-feminists,” says Rees.

He went on to say: “I thought I was pretty clued up on feminism… It seems to be a fixture at the SF conventions I’ve attended to have a panel discussion debating why there are so few women writing in the adult SF and fantasy genres… Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype [Ed – of women who don’t exist purely for the male gaze and male consumption] doesn’t work and hence struggle. Just a thought.”

Rees’ UK publisher and host for this rebuttal, Jo Fletcher Books, could not be reached for comment at this time.

Author and critic Foz Meadows responds to Rees’ “utter gobsmacking cluelessness.”

Tune in for further updates as they happen.

Inaugural Missing The Point Award – What Does This Comment Even Mean?

Coming from a location in Kingston-Upon-Hull, UK – says the IP address – comes a comment on Realism, (Male) Rape and Epic Fantasy I’ve kept in the “pending” bin. A comment that wins our very first “Missing The Point” award!

“Almost” only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades…

Wow. Hats off to you. You’ve somehow managed to make men being raped into something that shows how awful men are.
I mean, good show, that is some impressive logic to take a horrifying account of male rape through to a line of questioning that reads: “Come on, you bastards! Write more about torn anuses! Stop attacking the women! I won’t be happy until I see you (in literature) rectally bleed!”

My dear readers, I appeal to you: what does this comment even mean? Have I really expressed myself so poorly, in pointing out the horrors and the prevalence of sexual violence, that someone may honestly interpret it as advocating for more literary representations of sexual violence, instead of better ones?

I cast myself upon your good graces for an answer to this question.