A bunch of important names in speculative fiction (although I like how Hal Duncan submits that “SF” and “Science fiction” and “genre” fiction no longer are good labels and says we should use labels like “indie fiction” or “strange fiction”)discuss the issue of gender imbalance in fiction publishing over at SF Signal.

I think the answer to this question is fairly complicated, myself. I imagine one can’t make sweeping generalizations about “SF fiction” because of the differences between online and print mags, short and long fiction, science fiction and fantasy, old and new guard, etc. etc.

But the thing that resonated the most with me was something Elizabeth Bear said. (which shouldn’t suprise me because no matter how overwrought I sometimes find her characters to be, I can’t ever put her fiction down, and I find her blog to be informative and practical and entertaining)

“…As a short fiction editor myself, it’s my subjective experience that more men tend to submit more frequently than women do, which is probably due to a complex of reasons–women who have been socialized not to put themselves forward, lack of confidence in the importance of their work, greater responsibility for housework and childcare. However, it’s also my subjective impression that in general, the least polished slush from women is of higher quality than the least polished slush from men. (The top of the range, of course, is equivalent for either gender.)”

Let me just say that I…ahem…agree about the least polished slush thing. But what struck me was that she is the only one (I think the only one, I kind of skimmed so maybe I’m wrong) who put forth some of the reasons underlying the gender imbalance that often don’t get addressed in discussions.

1. Women are socialized not to put themselves forward.

2. Women often have greater responsibility for housework and childcare.

Let’s look at number 1. This doesn’t mean we don’t submit, but may mean women submit to less highly visible venues, or that we may stop submitting a story after a fewer number of rejects, or not step up to editors at a con and shake their hand, or a thousand small things that add up to a big thing.

It constantly amazes me when I see an editor expound about crazy letters they get from people who were rejected from their magazine. Letters like “you fail as an editor and how dare you turn down my awesome writing.” You can bet crazy people like that aren’t usually women. 🙂

Now for 2. I think everyone can figure out that having greater responsibility= less time for writing. What people may not guess is that having greater responsibilitly means that even when we have a little time we might use for writing, its a battle agaisnt guilt and self-image to use that time for writing.

How can I not be using the time to hand make dinner? Or clean the shower curtain? Or make a playdate? Or read an extra twenty minutes to my children?

And, having greater responsibility means not as much ability to just take off and go to cons or writer’s retreats or other fun social and networking events.

Not that we don’t. Just that its harder, I think.