Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Stop Erasing Women’s Presence in SFF

This is going to be an angry column.

So, I don’t know if any of you remember that National Review article complaining about the Bechdel Test and comparing the representation of women in movies to cowboys. I won’t link to it. You can find it if you want to, but it doesn’t really deserve the air. I will, however, include Genevieve Valentine’s tweet (below) with a screencap of some of this rank nonsense.

In the course of complaining that women complain too much about not being represented, the author also erases the current flourishing crop of authors WHO AREN’T MEN writing science fiction and fantasy.

My language may get a little heated. Fair warning.

This kind of erasure is old hat. This article came in the same week that Vice, tweeting about the potential television development of award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor’s award-winning novel Who Fears Death, couldn’t even be bothered to use her name in the tweet. (They in fact appeared to have deliberately cropped it out on the book cover, too.)

Let’s get real, people. We constantly face the need to push back against the perpetual rewriting of literary history. (And indeed of history in general.) People are forever “forgetting” the achievements and even the existence of black women and queer women, people of colour and trans people, disabled people and nonbinary people and people who are all these things at once. (The author of that ridiculous National Review article ignored the existence of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, both written by white women who present as cis and straight.) It is really difficult to do your job while also all the time having to resist being rendered invisible, being written out.

I don’t follow best-of lists the way I used to, but Twitter user Sandstone has a thread on her worries for the future of discoverability for writers who aren’t men. Spoiler: without constant pushback, there’s probably going to continue to be a problem. It’s a self-reinforcing issue, a feedback cycle. It takes work to break.

My entire critical career, it feels, has been pushing back against the erasure of women’s voices and women’s work. And while I’m really glad to be writing Sleeps With Monsters for, keeping on top of all the new books published by people who aren’t men—while also trying to keep the history of women in SFF in mind—is more than any single human can manage.

This erasure shit is old, guys, and I’m thirty-one years old and already tired of it.

What can we do about this? (Assuming you care, and you’ve read this far, so I hope you do.) Look, you know, I don’t actually know how to make change happen on a larger, cultural scale. All I’ve got are the things I’ve been doing all along: reading women, pushing back against erasure as much as possible, valuing women’s voices and the voices of nonbinary people too.

It’s a long slow slog, full of people who keep trying to tell you that this doesn’t matter—that women’s voices of all sorts are valued equally with men’s, that it’s about talent when they don’t make best-of lists rather than a dozen and a half social and cultural reasons to do with bias—and it hurts. It hurts to always worry that you’re not doing enough, that you can’t keep up. It hurts to know that this shit keeps happening.

If only women wrote really awesome science fiction and fantasy novels that could be adapted for film and television! If only.

There are a dozen, two dozen, half a hundred, novels that I’d love to see adapted that wouldn’t pose significant stylistic or technical problems with the adaptation. KB Wagers’ Behind the Throne and April Daniels’ Dreadnought, Ruthanna Emrys’s Winter Tide and Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory, Cassandra Khaw’s Food of the Gods or Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra, Hillary Monahan’s Snake Eyes, Ellen Kushner’s Serial Box multi-author serial Tremontaine or Robyn Bennis’ The Guns Above—and these are just the most recent possibilities that immediately spring to mind. There are so many. Not counting the ones already in some kind of development, like Okorafor’s, or V.E. Schwab’s.

There’s a deep bench here, is what I’m saying. Stop pretending that we can’t field a team.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign


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