March 19, 2014
Had a bit of a rough day yesterday — the wind woke me up, I didn’t get enough sleep, the weather change made me super cranky, and I kind of muddled through it all. So it felt really great to sit on the sofa with a big knitting project I’ve started and watch some TV last night: Face Off and the Marvel Assembling the Avengers making-of special (with gigantic spoilers for the new Captain America movie!) were both on.
And I pondered a bit. This is going to be a rough post on a serious topic, and I apologize for that. It really needs some analysis, and I’m just going to throw it out there instead of doing that analysis.
Face Off: For the second week in a row, a man and woman were up for elimination, and the woman was eliminated. All the remaining contestants are men. It got me wondering about percentages over all: Over the six season, when a man and a woman are up for elimination, how often does the woman get eliminated, and is the percentage higher? Because I gotta say, it feels like it’s usually the woman who gets the boot and the show does indeed have a gender bias. On the other hand, I may just be paranoid. What I need to do is go through the recaps and actually crunch the numbers. In five seasons the show has had two women winners (Yay, Laura!), which is great from a gender parity perspective. But now we bump that to two women in six seasons… Like I said, I need to crunch some numbers on the show overall before I make any declarations.
Then we get to the Marvel special, which had a bunch of great interviews and confirmed my thinking that these guys really know what they’re doing. (That thing about how a superhero movie can also be a political thriller or a techno thriller or a space opera or some other story besides just a superhero story? Yes!!! That’s what I’m talking about!) But putting aside the actor and actress interviews, just taking all the creators, writers, directors, comics pros — I think there was exactly one woman, Maurissa Tancharoen, co-creator on Agents of SHIELD, who was on screen with her co-collaborator Jed Whedon.
Now, I love both these projects, and I’m pretty sure that none of the people behind these projects are sexist or would ever come out and say that women aren’t capable of doing big serious creative work. But what all this reveals to me are the systemic biases. And it just makes me sad, speaking as a woman in a creative industry — how discouraging, to look at fields that are so male dominated and think that the odds are stacked against women from the get-go.
A personal example: At this point in my career there aren’t too many short fiction markets or editors I haven’t placed stories with. But one market I’ve never sold to is The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, one of the more prestigious magazines in the field. I pretty much don’t even send them stories anymore, because why would I when there are a half a dozen great markets that love my work? Then this came out: a group of folks crunched the numbers and found that only 14% of F&SF’s content in 2013 was written by women. (Scroll down to see Sean Wallace’s tweet with the numbers. Contrast that 14% with Lightspeed’s 43%.) I saw that and thought: Oh, it’s not just me. It’s not just my writing. There’s a systemic bias that I would have to overcome to get accepted by that market.
It actually made me feel better. But that also means I’m even less inclined to send that market stories than I was before. I imagine a lot of women writers feel the same way, which means F&SF simply isn’t getting a lot of stories by women, which reinforces the pattern of not printing stories by women… You see how this works?
Systemic bias is easy to ignore. But it’s also something that once you see, it’s really hard to unsee.