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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

RoF's Women-Only Issue: Good or Bad?

Realms of Fantasy Magazine recently announced that in August of 2011 they will be releasing a special themed issue of the magazine called "Women in Fantasy." The idea is that every department will be dedicated to that theme in some way, and only women can submit.

I have mixed feelings about this:
  • Are they going to do a "Men in Fantasy" issue? If not, why? While I understand the impetus behind creating the issue, it also has the potential to do more harm than good if the RoF folks aren't careful. Yes, there should be more women writers in SF/F, but this is going one step farther by intentionally discriminating based on sex, without considering fairness; it could be seen as playing the payback game rather than doing anything for the community as a whole. This, to me, could be as divisive as all the other discussions begun and ended over the last year.
  • I don't think this is nearly as "revolutionary" as the title and the explanation seems to indicate. While there are not enough recognizable female figures in the speculative genres, this is far less true of fantasy than science fiction. Most of the problems with under-representation seem focused more on SF than F. If Analog or Asimov's were doing a similar thing, then not only would there be more of an uproar (for various reasons, many of them wrong), but such as issue would have a greater impact on the genre. Right now? I don't see this as being all that revolutionary when you consider that their primary genre (fantasy) is much more friendly to women than other genres (and no, I am not saying that F is perfect at all).
  • I agree with one of the commentators that the "Women in Fantasy" idea comes off very much like a stunt. I don't mind stunts, generally speaking, but when dealing with a clearly sensitive issue, this is problematic.
  • I fail to understand why this issue of RoF is "women only" when the theme is "Women in Fantasy." Is there an assumption that men can't properly address the topic? Are men assumed to be less adequate at writing female characters or talking about women figures in fantasy? I don't know. Maybe that's not what they are thinking, but these are things that pop into my head.
  • Generally speaking, I like the idea behind it. I think an issue dedicated to the discussion of women in fantasy (including fiction about women in fantasy worlds) is a fantastic idea. It could turn into something stunning, if done right.
Having said all of this, I'm both curious and put-off by RoF's "Women in Fantasy" issue. I hope it turns out well, but I think the potential for it to be regarded as something astonishing may be hampered by a failure to address the underlying problems of a gender-specific issue. We'll see how it turns out.

(Mike Brotherton offers his opinion here.)

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3 comments:

  1. Diversity is a good thing, undeniably. Should we be purposefully diversifying, or should we be choosing these stories strictly based on merit? Because merit is based on personal taste, and diversity is based on actual physical differences, I think it would be safer for a mag to diversify. If you look at RoF, it seems as if over half of their stories are by women anyway, and their stories generally aren't traditionally 'masculine.' The problem isn't with gender bias in fantasy, but SF. The cold hard fact is that their just aren't as many women in SF. This could be a socially constructed division, as women aren't generally pushed toward the sciences. This whole issue stems from that Mammoth antho of last year. I think that was totally blown out of proportion. It was one antho, one very specialized antho. I have read many 'mindblowing' SF stories by women, but I wasn't the editor. If blind judging is employed, like in the WotF contest for instance, and a gender bias is still found, should that stipulation be sacrificed for political correctness? This is one of those everlasting debates, I'm afraid.

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  2. I like the idea, but again think it's a stunt. This would work much better in Analog or Asimov's. I *don't* think they should do a Men in Fantasy, although there could be a chance they'd pull it off right (but I'm not convinced). If they did a Queer Fantasy or a Fantasy in Colour (Colour in Fantasy sounds like one of those colouring-in kids' books), that would be much better. This seems a little too 1980s.

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  3. Adam: Agreed, it's a huge debate, but in this case, the RoF folks might be missing a potent reality (the problem with gender and race seems more true of SF than F, if such problems exist in institutionalized form). I'm generally against artificially addressing such problems, because all you're doing is feeding the actual problem (which is either a personal preference for things that people of certain genders tend to write, or and actual sexist or racist viewpoint in your subconscious). This is something I'll be mentioning in a post coming up too.

    Adam Lowe: Agreed.

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