Awards, Holidays and Gender Issues

The Australian National SF ("Ditmar") Awards were presented at the National SF Convention, held in Perth over the Easter long weekend just gone. The Awards are an internationally-recognised Australian equivalent of the Hugos, and acknowledge achievement in the calendar year prior to that in which they're presented. The results were as follows: Best Long Fiction - Greg Egan's novel Quarantine (Legend); Best Short Fiction - Greg Egan's story "Closer" (Eidolon Issue 9); Best Artwork - Nick Stathopoulos' cover of Terry Dowling's collection Blue Tyson (Aphelion Publications); Best Periodical - Eidolon (Eidolon Publications); Best Fan (non-professional) Writer - Robin Pen, for "Critical Embuggerance" (Eidolon Issues 710); William Atheling Jr. Award for Criticism and Review - Sean McMullen for "Australian SF Art Turns 50" (Eidolon Issue 7). We'd like to congratulate all the winners and the nominees, and thank those who've supported us and voted for us. It's great to be appreciated. Incidentally, Leigh Edmond's article later in the issue was originally presented as a Research Paper at the Convention. We published Leigh's paper from the fifteenth WA State SF Convention (1990) in the very first issue of Eidolon.

There won't be a fourth issue of Eidolon in 1993; the editorial committee are all going to the US and Europe for between three and four months. Essentially, this is just to forewarn you not to expect any quick responses during the months of September through December; although the mail will be dealt with, no editorial decision-making can take place. We're working on a number of ideas for the first issue of 1994 (perhaps even a double issue 14/15), but more of that in Issue 13.

In this issue's Letters Column, Sean Williams notes the paucity of contributions from women published in Issue 11. At first I accepted his rejoinder that "this isn't the norm for Eidolon", confident in my belief that yes, women contributed a sizeable proportion of the magazine, and I decided to work out the exact percentages for a bit of self-congratulation in this Editorial. Instead, on close examination, I discovered all was not as I imagined. (The figures that follow all refer to genre short fiction unless stated otherwise.)

Sean McMullen's astounding bibliography of Australian genre fiction allowed me to determine that in the period from 1985 to 1992, Australian women represented 32% of this country's published writers, and wrote 29% of the stories published. During the short history of Eidolon (1990-1993, including this issue), women accounted for 23% of those submitting and wrote 21% of the stories submitted. Disturbingly, women account for only 15% of the fiction we actually published (nine out of sixty two). That wiped the smug grin off my face! And the figures for Aurealis (a genre quarterly out of Melbourne) allowed me no solace in the thought that perhaps, since 1990, Australian women had submitted significantly less locally than their male counterparts, because in its ten-issue history, 26% of Aurealis' short fiction has been written by women. (Our artwork record is a lot better, I'm happy to say, but the short fiction situation remains.)

What's the story? Is Eidolon's (all-male) committee sub-consciously biased against SF written by women? That seems very unlikely; we pay little attention to the name on a manuscript while we're evaluating it. Perhaps we're biased against the kind of fiction women are submitting. That's a tough call, but given it's almost universally accepted these days that, on the whole, the fiction written by men and that by women cannot be distinguished by content alone, I dismiss that possibility too. The famous case of "James Tiptree Jr." should be enough to convince even the most ardent believer in "gender-styles" that men and women, on average, write similar prose, and certainly write prose of equal quality. Allowing that relatively few women write genre fiction (I'm sure there's a whole article in there), I've personally read and enjoyed the work of many Australian women. I'll allow that perhaps there's a little subject-matter bias (few women seem to write "hard-SF" for instance: I blame our education system), but it's almost certainly negated by a conscious recognition of the need to avoid bias and evaluate with scrupulous objectivity. (Many's the time I've said of a submission "well written: not to my taste, but our readers will appreciate it.") This leads almost inescapably to the conclusion that we're seeing higher-quality submissions from men than we are from women, not because women write less well, but because, for some reason, many women are submitting their best work elsewhere.

Sean's bibliography shows that 44% of stories by women published between 1985 and 1992 were in periodicals or anthologies/collections which appeared (from the names listed) to have been edited by women, while women seemed to represent only about 25% of all editors listed. Do women, then, publish proportionately more fiction by other women than do men? Apparently. Is this unreasonable or unjustified? Certainly not. In our society a gender-bias undeniably exists; in almost every sphere of the arts, women are regarded by a significant number of men as artistically less important than members of their own sex. After all, comes the cry, where are the great female painters, composers, poets, novelists? It's a Catch-22 situation that has kept opportunities for women to develop their artistic abilities to a minimum throughout history, and only now are affirmative action, education reform and the work of the feminist movement beginning to make an impact, allowing women the access to facilities, publicity and critical credibility they need to develop and display their talents. Still, we've a long way to go, and women are justifiably wary of the ignorant, chauvinistic males that still dominate the arts in our society; to quote a letter we received in 1991: "I just assumed that being a woman . . . meant that I would have a poor chance of acceptance." Given they're likely to be treated far less partially by the average female editor than by the average male, is it surprising that more women choose female editors? And therefore, seeing the better work from them, are not female editors more likely to publish work by women?

Thus, I imagine the best work of our fine female writers is going elsewhere; not just to publications and publishing houses with female editors, but to the mainstream "literary" magazines where women might reasonably expect an enlightened and impartial reception, to "women only" anthologies and to large-circulation "women's magazines", where the editors are unlikely to maintain a bias, under pressure from their readership. Level of payment must also be a factor (Aurealis pays a lot more than Eidolon, for example); if one is going to brave the possibility of gender-bias, at least the potential reward for success should be a reasonable one. Why risk unfair rejection for a pittance?

All I can do is say "Hey! We're not like that!", and hope. We'd love to publish more work by women, but I doubt anyone would thank us for lowering standards to achieve that (affirmative action in story selection? Hmm.) Australian women are writing fine fiction; the publication figures show that. Sadly, less of it is coming our way than we would like and, while I think I understand why, it hurts. I'm not naive enough to believe this editorial will make much difference. Perhaps if the WA Arts Department smiles on our latest grant application, a serious rate of payment might help. In any case, we're very proud of the work by women we've published to date - it has garnered considerable praise - and hope to publish a lot more in the future.

Jeremy G Byrne

Originally appeared pp. 4-5, Eidolon 12, April 1993.
Copyright © 1993 Eidolon Publications.