Examine Your Priorities

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. Fuck around and find out.
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July 13, 2015

Changed Priorities Ahead sign

https://twitter.com/merrittkopas/status/620633306674130944

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that all of Ernest Cline’s favorite books are by white men. After reading this review of his new book, Armada, it’s pretty clear he’s not writing for people like me. And that’s fine, not every book is for everybody.

(An aside: These two sentences say so, so, so much about gatekeeping and I really want to unpack them sometime soon:

Geek culture has long been preoccupied with trivia; the ability to recognize and make references to games, movies, and TV shows beloved within various “geeky” subcultures is often considered an in-group badge of honor, a signifier of credibility and even power. Armada is a book designed entirely around getting the reference—high-fiving the readers who recognize its shoutouts while leaving everyone else trapped behind a nerd-culture velvet rope of catchphrases and codes.

Back to my main thesis.)

But the thing is this: white men don’t require the support of women and persons of color to be successful in the field of science fiction and fantasy. But women and persons of color do need to support of white men to be successful and they often don’t get it.  I see it time and again: women writers and writers of color signal-boost widely. White male writers often do not. I haven’t been tracking this in detail (because who has that kind of time), but it’s definitely a pattern that I’ve noticed–and I’m not the only one.  Women tend to boost signals of both women and men about equally, men boost mostly other men. And it’s frustrating.

What’s also frustrating is to see a Twitter Q&A session in which someone asks a white male writer which contemporary science fiction writers he would recommend to a high school student and this is his answer:

https://twitter.com/andyweirauthor/status/620676396151496704

Of those six names, three of them are dead. The three living authors all have relatively new releases (I checked). And they’re all white and male. (There also seems to be a bit of backscratching going on, as Cline recced Weir in his list and vice versa, but whatever, that happens.)

E. Catherine Tobler decided to email Andy Weir and ask him about this. This is what happened:

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620700102018011140

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620700310818820096

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620701330210844673

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620702016344436737

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620703239617380352

So, you know. Some people have the privilege of being able to claim that they don’t have to pay attention to this stuff–and interestingly enough, when they don’t pay attention to it, they only recommend things by people who look exactly like they do.

This list also doesn’t make me happy (also I think of Butler as an SF writer, not a fantasy writer) because it generally reinforces the idea that men write science fiction and women write fantasy. It also implies that the books on the list are obscure and little known–which is certainly not the case for many of them.

Some women who have written science fiction:

Joan Vinge, C.J. Cherryh, Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, Lois McMaster Bujold, Nnedi Okorafor, Athena Andreadis, Aliette de Bodard, Pat Cadigan, Elizabeth Bear, Connie Willis, M.J. Locke, Rosemary Kirstein, Kage Baker, Diane Duane, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Elizabeth Moon, Jody Lynn Nye, Julie Czerneda, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Nicola Griffith, Ann Leckie, Karen Joy Fowler, Ursula K. LeGuin, E. Catherine Tobler, Margaret Atwood, James Tiptree, Jr.

…and many, many, many more. That was just off the top of my head.

I don’t know what to do about all this except to keep pointing it out when it happens.

So, hey, Andy Weir and Ernest Cline? Maybe you should diversify your reading a little bit? Maybe examine your priorities? Just a suggestion.

Edited to add these two items from S.L. Huang (another woman who writes science fiction):

https://twitter.com/sl_huang/status/620756114544685056

https://twitter.com/sl_huang/status/620756398872371200

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