Festival if Ideas – Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy Event

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending a Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy panel hosted by Festival of Ideas at Foyles in Bristol. Panelists were:

They talked about among other things

  • the writers we can’t stop reading
  • the writers and artists you need to know about
  • the struggles of the women in sff who came before us
  • what we can all do to support the new generations of sff women

Festival of Ideas intend to make the recording of the event available in due course, so I will refrain from giving a blow-by-blow account of what was said. Instead I will concentrate on my impressions.

I felt there was a too much of looking back over the subject and too little of the dealing with women SFF writers in the here and now or the future. Yes, it is good to look at how women got to where they are now so the subject can be carried forward. But it seemed to me there was a lot of of hiding in the safety of historical facts.

The other thing that worried me was how often we had repeat mentions of the same women authors. Again, with someone like Mary Shelley or Ursula LeGuin you would expect that, but it was too often. It backs up my belief we have had and continue to suffer from lack of high profile women SFF writers.

What I found interesting was the high proportion of the mentioned women SFF writers who wrote about the subjects they had significant academic qualifications in. It was almost as if the SFF genre required women to be highly qualified before they were allowed to be published in the genre. When asked about women science fiction writers who had degrees in science, the panel named three, very few in number compared with previous lists they came up with. Could this be why there are so few hard-science based women science fiction writers compared to fantasy writers?

It was suggested that men read and write SFF for escapism from normal day to day worldly affairs. Women on the other hand tend to deal with raw issues that require future world realism.

The other issue that came up was the assumption many people make that if you are a woman SFF writer then you must be doing YA. That to put it politely is insulting because of the assumption that women SFF writers cannot write adult novels with the emotional nuance or complexity of people interaction required by adults.

As to what should be done to help future women SFF writers? Nobody seemed to know the answer to that. But Cheryl did point to the essay by Juliette McKenna in the Gender Identity and Sexuality in Fantasy and Science Fiction published by Luna Press in 2017. It does not make happy reading for women SFF writers who want to be published.

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