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Quotas in the ToC

I came across a post yesterday telling folks who complain about the lack of gender/racial/etc. balance in anthologies and ‘zines to shut the hell up.  The author has since removed the post and apologized, but the whole thing got me thinking and trying to understand where this reaction comes from.

So imagine you’re a reader, and you’re enjoying your copy of The Year in Zombies, Volume XCVIII, when someone goes online and complains that of the 20 stories in that anthology, only 2 were written by women, and 19 of the authors are white.  Others join in the now-familiar chorus of racism and sexism. But … you were enjoying the anthology! The editor picked good stories!

I can understand feeling defensive.  If you like the book, does that mean these people are accusing you of being racist or sexist?  It probably feels that way.  You might start to wonder what they want to do to fix the problem.  How many women writers would it take to make this book acceptable? How many writers of color have to be added to quiet the anger?

But then, who gets cut out of the book? Does appeasing the anger mean removing that awesome steampunk zombie tale from Whitey McHairychest? Would we lose that delightful alternate history squid zombie story from Paleface Manlyparts?  More importantly, would these great stories be excluded from the book purely based on the race or gender of the author?  Not cool, angry internet mob!  We want good stories, period.  Choosing stories based on race, gender, sexuality, and so on is bull!

I agree.  But I think the problem is that we’re already choosing stories based on these factors–that we’ve been doing it for decades.  When I complain about the latest Mammoth Manthology of Manly SF, I’m not saying I want a quota system to ensure equal representation.  I’m saying I’m tired of the quota that already exists–the one that seems to require a majority of white men in so many ToCs.

Yes, editors should pick the best stories. But if some editors are consistently choosing stories by mostly white and/or male authors, what does this mean? Should we assume that women and nonwhite authors just aren’t good writers? Or does it mean these editors are deliberately and maliciously trying to keep the White Man in power?

I don’t buy either explanation. Sure, there are sexist idiots out there, but I believe most editors choose stories they enjoy, based on what they’ve read.

Looking at my own reading growing up, I read mostly books by white authors. I never deliberately tried to exclude nonwhite writers from my bookshelves; I just read what I was exposed to, and what I enjoyed. Good books all, and if you asked me who my favorite authors were, I’d have given you a list of mostly white folks.

It takes deliberate effort to read outside your learned comfort zone. It takes zero effort to sit back and perpetuate the trend of a certain privileged minority of writers dominating the genre.

If you tell me editors can only buy the stories that are submitted, and only white men are submitting to you for your project, then I’ve got to ask why that is. Places like Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine have made conscious efforts to broaden their range of authors, and that’s paid off. Why do you think these other authors are avoiding you and your publication?

I don’t see anyone asking for quotas. Nobody’s saying good stories by white men should be excluded in order to allow minorities into the table of contents. I think the anger comes when good stories by those authors continue to be excluded because some editors don’t make the effort to look beyond work by white men.

Discussion welcome, as always.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 113 comments — Leave a comment )
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atheorist
Oct. 13th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)
Unless we have statistics on the slush pile, including quality as judged by identity-blind slush-pile, sex and race, we cannot conclude anything about where the observed asymmetry comes from.

It's possible (maybe not plausible, but possible) that the observed asymmetries in the published stores are mirrored by similar asymmetries in the slushpile.

Sexism is pervasive in the culture, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of it occurs before stories get written, rather than only in the last step.
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
Possible indeed, even probable, but I'd refer you to the paragraph near the end that says, "If you tell me editors can only buy the stories that are submitted, and only white men are submitting to you for your project, then I’ve got to ask why that is. Places like Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine have made conscious efforts to broaden their range of authors, and that’s paid off. Why do you think these other authors are avoiding you and your publication?"
(no subject) - atheorist - Oct. 13th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
michaeldthomas
Oct. 13th, 2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that my reading has been dictated by my wife going to WisCon each year in order to ask authors for their archives. It means that I've spent a lot of the last few years reading SF/F by women and people of color. What I've discovered is that these are some of the most important authors working today (Bear, Link, Valente, Monette, Emshwiller, Durham, Buckell, K. Smith, Sedia, Rickert, Kowal, Chiang, McHugh, Bull, K. Baker, Okorafor, and so many more). If an editor isn't including their work in an anthology, that editor is missing some of the best stuff out there.
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
I still need to pick up some of Nnedi's work, dang it. I keep hearing such wonderful things about her writing, and she's great in person as well.
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reannon
Oct. 13th, 2009 02:42 pm (UTC)
I think it has to do with protagonists. A nonwhite or female author is more likely to have a nonwhite or female protagonist, and the vast majority of editors are white males. I don't think it's an intentional thing, trying to keep out nonwhite or female authors. I think that to a large extent, a man has a harder time relating to a female protagonist, no matter how well-written. And if it doesn't speak to him, he thinks it won't speak to his readers, which would be fair except then he limits his readership solely to people Just Like Him. The cycle perpetuates.

Some think that the solution, then, is for there to be more nonwhite and female editors. Yeah, that would be nice, but only on a surface level; we're replacing one set of unconscious prejudices with another. I think then the prejudice is somewhat alleviated - women are very used to reading and relating to male protagonists because, after all, that's usually what we were stuck with until relatively recently. :) Still, it's a surface solution.

I think it will take a big step in our inner evolution for this particular problem to be solved, something that allows us to relate to people very different from ourselves, before we see balance in the ToC. Assholes like Mr. AntiFeminist don't help, of course, but neither do quotas that breed resentment.

Of course, I could be talking out of my ass. :)
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
It's definitely a systemic issue, and I agree that you can't point to any one cause. But I do think part of an editor's job is to consciously try to break out of that mindset, in order to reach a broader audience. A wider variety among editors certainly wouldn't hurt.

(FWIW, both of the top editors at DAW are female.)
(no subject) - tchernabyelo - Oct. 13th, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacithydra - Oct. 14th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nihilistic_kid - Oct. 14th, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
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tsubaki_ny
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
Do you ever get the feeling that guys like this don't actually know any women? (Or maybe just think they do, but have never spoken to the women around them?)

I can't tell you how many times this argument has popped up, the "Women like schmoop and only schmoop! And men hate anything to do with people, they only want bots and lasers!"

Altogether too often the perception of a work changes entirely based solely on the name on the cover. It's just... DUMB. All right, I'm ranting now, I should stop.
(no subject) - socchan - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - celestineangel - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - b_writes - Oct. 18th, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - georgmi - Oct. 13th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
pabba
Oct. 13th, 2009 02:56 pm (UTC)
The original post was deleted? Weeeeeeeeak.

(I already read it, but I dunno...)
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
I have mixed feelings. I appreciated the apology, and it felt more genuine than a lot of online apologies. I can understand the cringing feeling of wanting to delete a post, but I also kind of wish he'd let it stand.
(no subject) - rosefox - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
beccastareyes
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. (This is going with the video about how to tell someone they did something racist as 'guidelines for talking to good people with misplaced outrage'). Sometimes I feel like the anti-feminist/anti-PC/what have you movements have internalized that it is bad to be racist or misogynist etc., but that just means they get defensive when you try to tell them 'I'm sure you're a good person, but your essay sounds X-ist, and you might want to reexamine these points'. Some of them are probably just hopeless cases, but some are probably just operating under unexamined assumptions, as in your example above.
deep_bluze
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
This is starting to sound silly to me
I understand watching yourself not to be racist or sexist, but I do not understand anyone's desire to quantify or classify people by this. If you don't enjoy a writer's work, move on - plenty of other writers. Do you now have to put every book or story you plan to read to some litmus test first, or are you your own person and able to judge the work by your own principles and standards?

This is the sort of thing that irritates me more than any other. The right of an author to work within boundaries they find comfortable is part of free speech and expression, and (of course) so is the right of the public to complain that said writer doesn't meet some arbitrary head-count or standard for political correctness. What is missing in the equation is any middle ground that will ever satisfy both sides. What's next, labels on books warning that there might not be enough women who can kick men's asses inside the covers?

There are a lot of glass houses out there, should people be standing in front of them to throw meaningless stones at work they probably don't care about one way or another? I don't think so.

I write about whatever characters happen to come along in my books...there are men, women, different races - but not because I planned it that way, because those are the people I see populating the story when I imagine it. Any attempt to skew that to meet someone else's standard would be false, would feel wrong, and would leave me with a sort of empty feeling in the pit of my stomaach...

To be clear here, I've never been accused of any of the above. There are plenty of strong women in my books (This is My Blood would certainly be a good example) and I think I handle characters of all types equally...I just don't count them to make sure I have a mix that will make someone else happy.

My two and a half cents...

DNW
akiko
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Re: This is starting to sound silly to me
The post is about published stories by people other than (straight) white guys in anthologies, not about writing 'whatever characters present themselves.'

Of course, the systemic publication problem that books by black authors are considered to be less interesting to the "general market" (aka white men, and periodically white women) or that "women's fiction" won't appeal to the broader market underlies the entire issue.

(Also? It's great that you include a variety of races without consciously intending to. I don't know anything about your books at all, so don't consider this an indictment of them, or even necessarily related to them. However, planning distant future SF and not considering (for example) the fact that China and India comprise half the world's population and show no signs of stopping, and not having any people of Chinese or Indian descent in your far future SF world is disingenuous. I'm just tired of reading far future SF populated by white men, and a handful of white women.)
Re: This is starting to sound silly to me - (Anonymous) - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: This is starting to sound silly to me - akiko - Oct. 13th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: This is starting to sound silly to me - cissa - Oct. 15th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: This is starting to sound silly to me - tsubaki_ny - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
snapes_angel
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
An editor can only choose from submitted stories. You do not necessarily know the race or even gender of an author, based on name alone. Michael Learned springs to mind, though I have also seen men named Shawn, which I learned was the feminine spelling of Shaun, when I was growing up.

I don't think stories should be set on a quota of so many stories from white, Hispanic, etcetera, but on the quality of the fiction presented, and editor/reader appeal. If you're going to do a specific femme-thology, then by all means, approach those women authors that you know about. Same goes for a conscious man-thology. Those have been done before, mostly the femme-thologies, because of a perceived inequality between the sexes as to submitted, quality fiction that adheres to a publication's submissions guidelines.

Also, stories cannot be considered for publication if they are a. unwritten, and b. unsubmitted. I think that energy would be better spent on encouraging submission by women authors by those people who instead spend it yelling at other people for not publishing women authors.

Ha.

jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:06 pm (UTC)
I can't see the embedded video - can you give me a quick synopsis of what I'd be looking at if not for firewall issues?
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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c_smudge
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
Very nice and thought provoking. Also, I like your pseudonyms. haha.
jhetley
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
You have a multitude of different questions here. As a "white male", I can't write the female- or POC-author stories that are the object of this controversy. Likewise, I'm not an editor or publisher, so I can't select the same missing stories for publication. One reason this kind of discussion sets my teeth on edge is that it seems to be asking me to act on something where I have next to no power.

I know the world contains female editors, but the majority of them seem to live in the novel end of the business. I can't judge color or ethnicity from names and have met few editors in person, so I have no idea where the statistics break on that.

Perhaps the overall answer is a larger proportion of female or POC editors in short-story publishing, either magazine or anthology. I doubt if you will get far by claiming that Ellen Datlow (grabbing an editor name out of the aether) is prejudiced against females in the business . . .
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
I don't think I'm asking you (generic you, here) for anything. My frustration this time around was mostly with the reactions when people bring up the lack of diversity with a certain publication, the immediate cry of quotas and "Shouldn't editors judge by the quality of the story alone?"

I definitely think it's a multilayered problem, and a broader range of editors could certainly help. (Like you, I don't have the statistics on that, though.)
It's not so much quotas - deep_bluze - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: It's not so much quotas - leahbobet - Oct. 13th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: It's not so much quotas - marycatelli - Oct. 13th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: It's not so much quotas - beccastareyes - Oct. 13th, 2009 07:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rosefox - Oct. 13th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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kylecassidy
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
i recall reading, years ago, an article arguing that jesus was black, based on a description of his hair and learned that the bible never says, overtly, what color he is. people just assume based on what they bring with them. i wonder how many f/sf books have characters whose complection is never described, somewhere along the lines an artist is hired who makes a decision, i imagine the bulk of f&sf novels could be sold with multiple covers depicting the characters to be a wide variety of ethnicicites.
jhetley
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
Even when an ethnicity is specified, the cover often dodges. My DRAGON'S TEETH cover is a young Native American woman depicted rather white . . .
semiramis
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
I remember by the time I was eleven years old, I felt that if I ever wanted to be a writer, I had to find a white-sounding penname. (Never mind gender; I knew female writers could be popular--my grade school years saw the first blossoming of J. K. Rowling's success, after all--but all of them were white.) Now--ten years on--I am kind of boggled that I knew that at such a young age, and had even said as much at the time, but had no idea of the larger issues surrounding all of it--all I saw then was a pigeonhole that I didn't want to fill.

My career interests have shifted since, and I'm pretty happy where I am now; but sometimes I wonder if that particular hurdle was the one that made it simply too much to pursue that childhood dream.

...[puts away tiny violin]

POINT BEING. It's hard to pin blame on a specific part of the process for this kind of thing--it's an institutionalized problem, so the attrition rate for the non-preferred groups is going to be higher at every step of the process, regardless of visibility level. ToC ratios is a fairly visible one, but there are other things going on as well--things that both support and are supported by the more visible signs of the larger problem. Change in the visible signs is much more likely to cause change on all levels, of course--after all, visibility is the first major criterion for norm-setting, which is in turn requisite for perpetuating a global change. There are those who do have greater power to affect these things, but it's just so easy to protect the status quo through inaction or inattention, even so.
snapes_angel
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
As women, we're accustomed to suspending disbelief to place ourselves into a masculine viewpoint for male protagonists. It's not all that different from another alien PoV, as in speculative fiction. I've also seen guys write with girl./women protagonists, to their credit (lack of sleep prevents me from citing specific examples right now, but I know I've read them).

I never saw the post in question, of course: but the inequity in distribution of women writers with men writers seems to me to be a cry for a quota-specific system which, in the long run, would harm the profession and discourage many professional and semi-professional authors, of both genders. Some people thrive from the atmosphere, and others have performance anxiety.

And now, I think it's nap time. ^_^ TTFN!
tsubaki_ny
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
Wow.
There are commentors (the sexist transhumanist one) on that list gleefully talking about breeding people like me into extinction. Why do I keep getting sucked into comment threads?

All this on a forum about ostensible relaxing entertainment. What does it take to be that threatened?
jimhines
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow.
Ugh. I didn't even make it through the whole article, and the comments are usually worse.

I keep having to remind myself that freedom of speech does not obligate me to read or listen to that kind of bullshit.
Re: Wow. - tsubaki_ny - Oct. 13th, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
janni
Oct. 13th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
This discussion keeps reminding me of how in the classical music field, the number of women in orchestras went up significantly when they went to blind auditions -- with the player behind a curtain. Though it didn't work until they also, I believe, went to floors on which one couldn't hear footsteps -- specifically, the high-heeled shoes -- of the musicians.

I bet every one of those who listened to auditions would have told you either that they were unbiased, and that they were just choosing the best musicians, and that if those musicians happened to be men, there was nothing they could do about it.

So when I hear the same claim about fiction (the best stories just happen to be written by men, over and over again) I'm understandably a bit dubious that it's that simple.
tsubaki_ny
Oct. 13th, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
This... is an incredibly powerful anecdote. Do you have links to writings on this test? I want to spread it to the world!!!
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