Diversity in SFF
I began my writing career writing Regency romances, in large part because the local writing group was affiliated with the Romance Writers of America. As a romance author, a genre written primarily by women for women, among the first lessons I learned was that I should expect my work to be dismissed and denigrated. There were articles and workshops teaching us to defend the value of our work, how to respond when people asked when we were going to write a real book or why we wasted our time on those trashy novels. At one point RWA even funded a poster campaign showing men reading romance novels, as if we needed male validation to prove that our books mattered.
I could spend all day long talking about how much research went into our books, or that crafting an emotionally satisfying happily ever ending was just as hard as tying up the loose ends of a murder mystery. I could quote statistics on sales, print runs and market share, but in the end none of that mattered. We were women writing for women, so could therefore be dismissed. Even by other women, who when complimenting my success often felt obliged to point out that they didn't read those kinds of books.
When I made the transition to writing fantasy, in some ways things became easier. DEVLIN'S LUCK came out just as the first LotR movie hit the screens, so it was easy to tell people what I did--I wrote books like that. I finally had geek cred among my day job colleagues in I/T. But it didn't take long to hear the same undertone that I'd heard before. Women wrote fantasy because they were incapable of writing hard SF. A gender neutral pen name was the key to success. I should expect to meet male readers who would proudly proclaim that they would never read one of my books because the spine said Patricia not Patrick. And that even favorable reviews might feel obliged to point out my gender as if this was a tremendous handicap that I'd somehow overcome in order to write a good book.
But I knew women who wrote every flavor of SFF and did it well. My bookshelves were filled with their works. It seemed obvious to me that it was only a matter of time before perceptions began to match reality. Instead, over a decade later, we're still fighting the same battles for recognition. Is it any wonder we're angry, frustrated and exhausted?
And that's just the writing side of my life. In the day job that pays for mortgage, internet, health care and the retirement fund, a quarter century after I graduated from an engineering school with a degree in Computer Science, I find that little has changed. At a time when I'd expected gender parity, we're still discussing how to attract and retain women in technology fields, and all the obstacles to their success.
The discussions going on are useful, and they've raised a host of issues that I was only peripherally aware of. But at the same time, they are draining. Every time someone makes what I think is a reasonable statement only to then be jumped on by yahoos, it makes me angry and depressed. There's something to be said for the good old days, pre-interwebs, when you only ran into these jerks at conventions and booksignings, and they weren't invited into your (virtual) home 24x7.
I applaud those who are carrying the dialogue forward, and who are giving thought into how to craft solutions. But don't be surprised if I'm a bit scarce. I've run out of spoons.