Saturday, August 8, 2009

But of Course, There's No Sexism in the Genre

It seems horror writer Bev Vincent writes like a girl.

Vincent was invited to submit a story to an anthology. The editor asked for some edits and they worked back and forth for a while, and finally both were satisfied with the story, which had a male protagonist. The whole book was polished up and sent to the publisher.

The publisher decided, for whatever reason, to send the antho to an unnamed but supposedly well respected editor within the genre for review and comment. This editor bled all over Vincent's story, with comments such as the following:

"It’s quite a challenge for a writer of one sex to explore writing from the perspective of the opposite sex. Bev Vincent has not done a convincing job."


"The story seems far too personal, introspective and emotional for a man . . . It is hard to imagine a fellow from a place like [the setting] uttering the following line." The editor then provides three sentences from my story as examples. He or she continues, "And I can’t think of many guys from [setting] who call home every Sunday afternoon to talk to their family" [Emphasis his or hers]. Another brilliant insight: "Most men don’t think deeply about the dewy greenness of nature." The ultimate conclusion: "She [sic] needs to write more convincing [sic] from a man’s perspective."

This would be outrageous and sexist in any event. What makes it also hilarious, in a bitter way, is that Bev Vincent is a man. He says:

I’ve heard female writers talk about gender bias in the industry before, but it’s always been an abstract concept to me. Not something I’ve ever experienced. Oh, sure, people often think I’m female based on my name—it’s a common enough mistake, which I’ve had to deal with all my life. I like to tell the story about how I was almost assigned to the women’s dorm at university. However, I’ve never before had an editor criticize my writing based on a false assumption concerning my gender. Or make blatantly biased statements about the male perspective.

And that last bit is why this is an issue of concern to men as well as women, even men who don't have first names which sound feminine. Here's an editor who's trying to control how male characters are portrayed, trying to put limits on what a male character can do or say and what he can or can't be interested in or concerned about. Here's an editor who thinks a male character can't be introspective.

The WTF is powerful with this one, Obi-Wan. [eyeroll]

Then just to ice the cake, the original antho editor -- who'd been perfectly happy with the story when the book was submitted to the publisher -- completely caved and told Vincent to make the changes called for by the anonymous consulting editor. Vincent refused to gut his story or completely reconceive his character to please some anonymous idiot (my words, not his) and pulled his story from the book.

See what Vincent has to say about it, and some commentary by Nick Mamatas with an interesting (and even more outrageous -- wow, I used to like Poul Anderson) context.

Thanks to Avalon's Willow for the links, and yet more commentary and context.



Charles Gramlich said...

I can believe it. I'm going to check out the links for more discussion. wow, is right.

Angie said...

Charles -- I think the fact that this isn't really shocking is what's most depressing.