Women of Futures Past, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch; a revised review with added acrid thoughts on Eric Leif Davin

women-of-futures-past

I bought this book because I thought there was an Andre Norton story in it that I hadn’t read as well as a few others, though it turned out later that I HAD read that Norton story and forgotten it. I didn’t mind seeing it again, though, as well as reading the stories that were new to me (which turned out to only be the Cadigan, the Kress and the Bujold). The stories themselves were uniformly excellent; though I was familiar with most of them, having read them in the Eighties and Nineties.

The preface, though, seemed – tendentious. Kristine Kathryn Rusch states the problem that women in the history of SF seem to be forgotten too quickly, even citing the fact that Locus once completely omitted her own tenure as the editor of F & SF when naming past editors, also that younger writers, including women, seem unaware of most of them. She states that the purpose of her anthology was to introduce the stories to younger readers who may not be aware that the stories and their writers existed. I was a little nonplussed at that at first. I’d read most of those stories in anthologies printed decades after they were first published, and didn’t think of them as ‘forgotten’ classics, but then I reminded myself I’m becoming a decrepit Old, and it’s surely a good thing to have a primer of these writers for the young who were not yet reading in the 80’s and 90’s.

I also didn’t have any objection to another of Rusch’s stated goals, to choose some of the stories in which men are the protagonists, and don’t deal exclusively with “women’s issues” because ‘feminist anthologies’ tended toward choosing stories which deal solely with such issues and have female protagonists. Given that another of Rusch’s stated goals was to choose writers who were ‘successful’ in having a larger following of fans but have been left out of the “so-called canon” (who called it a canon? Rusch doesn’t say) of accepted classic female writers, even though those omitted writers had a much larger following than the “canon” writers, I can’t blame her for choosing stories to have as broad an appeal as possible to increase potential sales.

What I do have a problem with, is her broad statement that “The idea that women are discriminated against in science fiction is ludicrous to me.”

Yes, it is certainly a problem that younger female writers feel that SF is hostile to women, and feel that the few female predecessors they know of are ‘the exception’, and that they are ignorant of many others. But I think to flatly state that their impression of discrimination is utterly false isn’t necessarily convincing…and the fact that she uses a series of straw men to ‘prove’ her argument doesn’t strengthen it.

“But the narrative in which there has been no female participation in SF, no women writing SF, in which women had to hide under pen names and initials because of being discriminated against…that narrative has triumphed over the truth.
That narrative is insulting. It’s demeaning. And it’s wrong.”

Sure, it’s insulting and demeaning and wrong. But I’m pretty sure no one – not even the young ignorant writers she rails against who believe in the laughable bogeyman of discrimination – believes that there has been NO female participation in SF. AFAIK, they only believe that women have been published less, and marginalized and forgotten more than their talent actually warrants.

As for pen names and initials…in Rusch’s introduction to C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau” (a story I love, BTW) Rusch tells us:

“And now, we ease into the mythbusting part of our anthology…Articles on discrimination against women in SF consistently cite Catherine Lucille Moore’s 1933 decision to use her initials as a byline as proof that she was afraid she would be discriminated against for her gender. Nothing could be further from the truth.” She then cites some biography to say (not in a quote from Moore) that “she used her initials because writing for the pulp magazines was a disreputable thing to do – for men and women – in the 1930’s, and she was afraid of losing her job in the depths of the Depression.”

This is pretty thin stuff. The fact that she wanted to protect her job does not logically exclude the possibility that she might ALSO have wanted her gender to be less obvious to publishers and readers. It becomes even thinner when you realize Rusch is well aware that Moore used many pseudonyms in her career – she even mentions it herself (“She was so prolific under many names, with Kuttner and on her own…”). But, oddly, Rusch omits to mention that most of those pen names – maybe ALL of them – were either asexual or masculine. Since I doubt such an eminent SF personage as Rusch was ignorant of that, I can only conclude she deliberately omitted it to strengthen her argument of ‘no discrimination in SF’.

Why? I’d guess because of something she said about another goal of the anthology: “I did not want the stories in this volume to have a political slant. This introduction and the introduction to the stories have a slant, because I’m trying to introduce the important women writers of science fiction to a generation who does not know they exist.”

To Rusch’s credit, I think her selected stories do not have an overt political slant. But the introductions – why do they require Rusch to pooh-pooh the idea that women in SF were ever discriminated against before she allows the reader to dig in to their goodness? Who is her intended audience of people who do not know women in SF ever existed, but need a spoonful of sugary reassurance that them feminists were full of it before downing what they anticipate to be the bitter medicine of a story by a woman? Do I hear the dulcet tones of puppywhistles in the air?

The rest of her proof of nondiscrimination is equally thin. She cites someone who made a careful count of all stories in SF magazines from 1926 to 1965 (a heroic work indeed) and found “at least” 233 women writers who published a total of 1055 stories in that time. Gosh wow! That’s a lot. And how many total stories and male writers of such, so that we can do the simple math ourselves and see whether the percentage of women is near the 50% we would expect if we accept Rusch’s premises that women have no specific handicap in writing sf AND that there is no discrimination against them in the field? Oddly enough, that number’s not there.

The most upsetting part of the introduction, to me, was Rusch’s treatment of Joanna Russ. To me, if you’re going to talk about the erasure of women from the SF field, you kind of HAVE to talk about Russ’ contribution regarding how to suppress women’s writing – whether you’re going to agree or vehemently disagree with her views. Rusch does neither. She only brings up Russ to dismiss her briefly: “In the 1970s, Joanna Russ doubly dismissed hearth-and-home stories in her analysis of the kinds of SF women tend to write. She called hearth-and-home stories either ‘galactic suburbia’ or ‘ladies magazine fiction’ which she defined as stories ‘in which the sweet, gentle, intuitive heroine solves an interstellar crisis by mending her slip or doing something equally domestic after her big heroic husband has failed.'”

Now, Russ is pretty clearly castigating writers like Mildred Clingerman, whose ladies-in-the-domestic-sphere stories do match Russ’ sarcastic description. Russ was no doubt wrong to dismiss such writers wholesale. But Rusch is wronger than Russ when she says this:

“Russ, as with many critics, often couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Clingerman’s fiction, for example, is extremely subversive and biting. Yes, her intuitive heroines solve problems in untraditional not-always-heroic ways and that is the point. Clingerman, [Shirley] Jackson, early Kit Reed, all focused on powerless people who managed the world much better than the powerful.”

Stop, Rusch! STOP RIGHT THERE!

Do you REALLY think that Joanna Russ was such an idiot that she described any of Shirley Jackson’s protagonists as “the sweet, gentle, intuitive heroine” who problem-solves the apocalypse with her sewing kit? Again, I can’t imagine that you do, and the picture of you straw-manning words of attack on Shirley Jackson into Russ’ mouth that she surely didn’t intend is distasteful to me.

Funnily enough, after defending Mildred Clingerman from Russ, Rusch – didn’t actually include any stories of Clingerman’s in her anthology. Though some of Clingerman’s stories are pretty good, I’d guess that despite all Rusch’s condemnation of Russ’ judgement, Rusch DID tacitly agree by omission that Clingerman’s works aren’t quite good enough to have withstood the test of time.

So, in conclusion – the set of stories themselves are an excellent introductory anthology to these writers. But Rusch’s editorializing is not a lot of value added to it.

I was intending to end the piece there, but thoughts kept gnawing me about it, and I eventually ended up posting further in File 770. These thoughts are presented here in (slightly) more organized form:
What the numbers KKR cited can prove is this, and only this: some women were writing SF between 1926 and 1965. Whether those women were writing SF among SF writers in any percentage close to the 50% of the population they demographically represent, or whether they were were something like a 1% drop in the bucket, we don’t know. If it were close to 50%, or even 40 or 30% – well, it wouldn’t be proof of nondiscrimination in the SF field, but it would be evidence in its favor, IMO. If it were 1% or thereabouts? Not proof of discrimination – but evidence. But KKR does not provide those percentages.
Which would be fine if the only aim KKR had with her anthology was to prove to ignorant young folks (apparently mostly women, in KKR’s view) that, yes, there really were women who wrote SFF between 1926 and 1965 – good SFF, too. I find it hard to believe that there are too many young women who think that absolutely NO women ever wrote SF in the past (except KKR, apparently, since they were talking to her and according to KKR they did evince some awareness that she was an SF writer). But the well of human ignorance is bottomless and I’m fully prepared to believe in the existence of such hypothetical dunces. If KKR’s mission statement was solely to educate these poor benighted souls, as well as the undoubtedly much larger proportion of the young who are aware that women DID write SF but no longer have the information to know about the great foremothers of the field, I don’t think I or anyone else would have a problem with that.
What sticks in my craw and raises my hackles and does other things to portions of anatomy I probably don’t possess is (as I said) her statement that “The idea that women are discriminated against in science fiction is ludicrous to me.” Also her statement that “I was coming to realize that today’s young female writers had no idea that they weren’t storming the barricades – that there were no barricades and had never been any in SF -” (my bolding).
Seriously? She knows for a fact that since 1926 there has been no discrimination? What she writes there is contradicted even within her own preface and story introductions. Later in her book, in her introduction to Andre Norton’s story, KKR briefly mentions that she changed her name legally from Alice to Andre mainly because “she wanted to write boys adventure fiction, and in 1934, she believed it would be easier to sell to that market if she had a male name. She did not become a science fiction writer for nearly twenty years after the 1934 publication of her first novel.”

Sooo – by 1953 or so there was for sure no discrimination problem in SF, so Andre Norton just continued to use the name out of unnecessary habit? Citation needed. Checking Wikipedia, I find Andre Norton’s first SF publication happened in 1947 – The People of the Crater. Now Wikipedia is not that reliable, but Google Books seems to back it up completely – including the fact that Norton published it under the male pseudonym Andrew North. Apparently Norton was still concerned that a male pseudonym was necessary – even for the SF field. Would KKR say that Norton’s concerns were “ludicrous”?

KKR even describes the process in her preface, noting that Damon Knight published an anthology of SF of the Thirties without one woman, that Greenberg and Olander had two women out of 21 in their anthology of the Fifties, that Silverberg had one of 18 in his anthology for the same decade, that Malzberg and Pronzini had 0 out of ten for theirs. She mentions that even a best-of collection from 1993 had only 7 out of 23 women, and among those only one of the 2 female Hugo winners for that year.

She goes on to say, “Discrimination? Oh, probably not. Probably something called unconscious bias or second-generation discrimination. The person who has unconscious bias, unlike a hardcore bigot, will prefer someone who looks like them to someone who doesn’t.”

Er… how does KKR square this with her blithe pronunciation that the very concept of discrimination in SF is ‘ludicrous’? Regardless of whether the discrimination is motivated by conscious mustache-twirling bigotry, subconscious patronizing and dismissal or unconscious bias, the end result to the aspiring female writer still means being often discarded from the slush pile, being forgotten from the anthology, eventually falling out of print.

It’s okay to say that a large proportion of your potential readers hold a belief that you think is wrong, if you’ve got the data to back it up and a convincing way of presenting it. To say that the belief of a large proportion of your potential readers is ludicrous is, IMO, gratuitously insulting. Even being insulting is not entirely out of bounds – but you’d BETTER have the data and be absolutely convincing with it to justify the insult. KKR, IMO, does not.

She may have some doublethink going on regarding discrimination, as when she says, regarding the reasons for the best stories being forgotten, “The young writers, particularly female writers, immediately assumed discrimination. Since I know most of the editors and publishers in the science fiction field, I never assumed discrimination.” (Did she know their unconsciousnesses as well as their consciousnesses?)

Or maybe she’s aware that proclaiming that it’s ludicrous to believe that there could possibly be or ever have been discrimination in SF is insulting and likely to outrage, and she’s less interested in soberly substantiating a controversial claim than in generating publicity for clicks and giggles. Whether that’s what she’s doing or not, it might actually increase sales. I suspect that any lost sales that my review (for example) might cause would be more than offset in some circles by the word that some horrid SJW gave KKR’s book a bad review. I’d rather not believe that’s what KKR is doing, though.

Some significant anecdata in favor of the possibility of discrimination was even apportioned by KKR herself in the book, as I mentioned above (reporting that no woman’s story was published in anthology of the 30’s sf, not even C. L. Moore’s landmark “Shambleau”, women showing up in token numbers or none in other historical and even near-contemporary SF anthologies), but she handwaves this off as “Probably something called unconscious bias or second-generation discrimination” which apparently doesn’t count as real discrimination – thinking so would be ludicrous! (sorry, that still annoys me).

On that note, I looked through the book again (yes, I am getting obsessed, for some it’s the moon landing ‘hoax’, for me it’s this book). I was wondering about this line:
“Articles on discrimination against women in SF consistently cite Catherine Lucille Moore’s 1933 decision to use her initials as a byline as proof that she was afraid she would be discriminated against for her gender. Nothing could be further from the truth.” (my bold).

KKR makes this sound like a flat proclamation of fact, but she then paraphrases some source that says C. L. Moore said she only used initials to keep her employer from finding out about her writing for the pulps, NOT for any other reason (like to conceal her gender). KKR, however, does NOT quote C. L. Moore saying this. I wondered why, wondered if what C. L. Moore said might be open to interpretation. KKR gives her source as Eric Leif Davin, Partners in Wonder, P. 114, which – huzzah! – turned out to be free on Google Books.

“Why did C. L. Moore use initials? Most knowledgeable fans have known the true reason for many years. Far from any desire to conceal her gender from the fantasy and science fiction world where absolutely no one cared [my bold], the reason was purely mundane; to protect her job. Moore worked at a bank, said Marion Zimmer Bradley, and “C. L. Moore told me once that she had adopted initials because had she published her first story…under her own name, she might have lost her job as a bank teller. In 1933, the depths of the Depression, Ms. Moore was the only working member of her family and the sole support of her aging parents; she did not want to risk her livelihood on the uncertain business of fiction writing.”

That’s all? So we have MZB’s memory of a reason Moore gave for using initials that does not include either an avowal that it was her only reason or a denial that gender was a factor. I attempted to find the source for MZB’s quote, but it was inaccesible online. Stymied, I found myself gazing at the statistician’s bold statement that in the SFF world of 1933, absolutely no one cared about C. L. Moore’s gender. I wondered helplessly what numbers he could be privy to that he could so confidently claim that in the world of 1933 SFF not one single person cared that C. L. Moore was female. Davin’s words came after much verbiage apparently intended to prove that all SFF fans and professionals knew C. L. Moore was a woman pretty much immediately at the start of her career and none had a problem with it:

“Obviously, it was quickly and widely known in the fantasy and science fiction communities that the popular “C. L. Moore” was a woman – and it mattered not in the least.”

Er…bullshit? A widely known story about Moore is that she met her husband Hank Kuttner when, as an established SF writer in his own right, thus presumably a knowledgeable member of the SFF community, he wrote a fan letter to Mr. C. L. Moore – in 1936. That is, three years after her landmark tale “Shambleau” was published to acclaim, followed by “Black Thirst”, “The Bright Illusion”, and “Black God’s Kiss” (the debut of Jirel of Joiry, the prototype Warrior Princess) all of which were highly praised and good enough to end up in the “Best of C.L. Moore” volume I own. Even after the renown of these great stories, a prominent member of the SFF community did NOT know that the talented C.L. Moore was a woman, AND assumed that the gender-neutral name of course belonged to a man.

The story of how Moore and Kuttner met is well known to anyone with any significant knowledge of Moore. It is no recent SJW fabrication; a token search on Google Books shows it goes back to at least 1962 (in Amazing Stories). Since I can’t imagine a man so obviously versed in SFF as Davin is NOT aware of it, I assume he deliberately omitted it because it undermines his preferred sweeping conclusion…a depressingly familiar tactic.

Shaken, I search for more on Moore in Davin’s work, and find an explanation why she and other writers ONLY adopted male pseudonyms, as well as a denunciation by Davin on the ridiculous notion that any woman in SFF history ever used a male pseudonym to avoid discrimination. (Davin, Partners in Wonder, P. 99)

“..it is impossible to find any evidence of the practice – anywhere. This widespread allegation is a complete fiction!” (His italics, my bold). Davin tells us that two whole men used female pseudonyms to publish SFF stories, therefore it’s ridiculous to suppose there could be any bias against women in SFF publishing. This drops from mere special pleading into the depths of the sublimely goofy with this explanation of Moore and other women’s male pseudonyms:

“…none were deliberate attempts to conceal gender identities from the science fiction community…this happened because wives collaborated with their husbands – and the resulting co-authored stories by spouses appeared under a single male pseudonym.”

Why of course! That’s the only explanation! When a man and woman get married they become one flesh, and that flesh must naturally display ONLY a penis, never the least public hint of a possible vagina! What could that possibly have to do with gender discrimination, concealment or sexism?

What was Davin’s basis for his sweeping declaration that it is impossible to find evidence anywhere of a woman using a male pseudonym in SFF? His survey of 288 stories published between 1926-1949. When I read those dates I started to twitch. What about Andre Norton? Who has said she took a male pseudonym to avoid discrimination? Who published her first short work of SFF in 1947 under the male pseudonym Andrew North?! I had thought Davin heroic for risking lumbago and postnasal drip in counting stories through countless crumbling pulp magazines to gather a complete index of invaluable hard facts. Is he unreliable even in that?

I search for Norton in his book. I find this (page 154), in a chapter which begins by implying that Tiptree was unjustifiably paranoid for believing in the “myth” that she needed a male pseudonym to be taken seriously in SFF. He goes on, “Sheldon kept up this subterfuge till her gender was accidentally revealed in 1977. Given the number of women who were being nominated for and winning Hugos by that time, it is difficult to believe there was any real need for such secrecy. Indeed, Andre Norton, another woman who published under a male pen name, (which has also been frequently cited as another explicit example of discrimination), explicitly said as much. Speaking in the 1970s she stated that, while there might have been a need for male pseudonyms earlier in the field, “This is not true today, of course.”

My blood pressure rises. And because I have learned distrust, I grimly fetch Andre Norton’s complete quote from its source (More Women of Wonder, p. xxviii):

“When I entered the field I was writing for boys, and since women were not welcomed, I chose a pen name which could be either masculine or feminine. This is not true today, of course. But I still find vestiges of disparagement – mainly, oddly enough, among other writers. Most of them, however, do accept one on an equal basis. I find more prejudice against me as the writer of “young people’s” stories now than against the fact that I am a woman.”

So…Andre Norton was saying in the 1970’s, with an illustrious SFF career of 20 years standing, that she STILL saw “vestiges” of disparagement against her as a woman – just less than previously and less often than she was disparaged as a writer for children. And you, Professor Davin, saw that quote and deliberately cut that part out. And you did it so you could use the remnant to DARE try to throw shade at TIPTREE to imply that she was a deluded ninny for believing that there might be sexism in SFF. You miserable dissembling motherfucker.

…I really have to stop this, I’ve sprained my chiasma with so much eye-rolling. I think I can safely say that Google Books is an invaluable tool for deciding not to buy a book after looking at a few pages (especially a book as thick with WTFuckery as Davin’s). Also that KKR’s praise of Davin as a source seems a tad…disproportionate.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s