August 9th, 2018

Snoopy

Discrimination and the Ice Cream Backlash

I was making decent progress on the book tonight, when I made the mistake of checking social media. I quickly got caught up reading a complaint by a self-identified older white male author, talking about how his demographic is discriminated against in the genre.

Some of his comments were anecdotal, and not statistically meaningful. I pointed out the 2017 #BlackSpecFic Report from Fireside Magazine, which showed that black authors are still underrepresented in SF/F — though there’s been some improvement over the past several years.

One claim was that white men can’t even get on the Hugo ballot anymore, let alone win. So I pointed out that 2/6 authors on the Best Novel ballot this year are, in fact, white men.

But while it’s demonstrably false to say white men can’t get on the ballot, it’s true that last year’s winners were almost entirely women. I mean, with the exception of Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and several winners who identify as genderqueer. But if you limit it to just the prose categories, then yes — not one man among the winners.

This is pointed to as proof of discrimination. Voters are deciding not based on the quality of the story, but the identity of the author. Because Statistics!

Now, nobody I’ve spoken to has talked about voting for someone because of their race or gender or sexuality. They’re voting for books and stories they love. Maybe you don’t love the stories that won, but I’ve seen people squeeing about the books when they come out. I see how excitedly they’re talking about these stories and sharing them and telling everyone to go read them. That love is real — even if you don’t personally share it.

“But if people aren’t discriminating, why aren’t we seeing the same love for stories written by white men?”

I mean, the current NYT #1 bestsellers are all by men, most-or-all of them white. But let’s stick with just the Hugo awards. Doesn’t the lack of men prove discrimination against us?

Stand back, everyone — I’m going to try metaphor!

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Imagine you like ice cream. But for your whole life, all you’ve been able to get is vanilla.

Don’t get me wrong — I like vanilla ice cream. There’s nothing wrong with it. I love it in root beer floats or ice cream sundaes or with apple pie or whatever. It’s good stuff.

Then one day, the shops finally start putting out other flavors. Strawberry! Mint chocolate chip! Mackinaw fudge ripple!

After a lifetime of vanilla, what are you going to get?

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SF/F has been dominated by white male authors for so long. In many ways, it still is. Is it any wonder people have gotten a little tired of the vanilla? That they’re excited about stories written from other perspectives, other cultural backgrounds, with other characters and settings and worldbuilding and default assumptions?

“But authors aren’t ice cream, and white men can write other perspectives and backgrounds and characters too!”

First of all, you’re wrong. I know for a fact that Pat Rothfuss is actually twelve pints of Rocky Road held together with hard-shell chocolate.

And you’re right, white men can write other perspectives, backgrounds, characters, etc. But a lot of the time, they choose not to. And a lot of the time when they do, it’s done…poorly. You get men writing women thinking about how their breasts boob boobily, bosoming in zero gravity.

Even when authors take the time to listen and do the research, there’s a difference between writing based on research and writing based on real, lived experience.

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It’s not that people hate vanilla ice cream. It’s that we’re finally seeing some push for other flavors, and people are excited about it. Their homes are stuffed with vanilla, and they’re trying to get some variety in their freezers.

Can you blame them?

Don’t worry, the grocery stores still stock plenty of vanilla. Lots of people still enjoy it. But it’s not the only option on the shelf anymore. We have 32 flavors and then some.

As for older white men no longer being wanted or welcomed in the genre? Well, it’s only a single anecdata point, but this 44-year-old white dude has felt nothing but welcome here. I’m all for working to make the genre more broadly welcoming to all.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.