View Full Version : Gender equality in Horror

The New Nonsense
10-09-2009, 03:45 PM
I'm sure many of you have heard about the recent backlash the British Fantasy Society has received for its book titled, In Conversation: A Writer's Perspective. Volume One: Horror. It includes 16 interviews with horror writers: Ramsey Campbell, Graham Joyce, Tom Piccirilli, Conrad Williams, Ray Garton, Joe R. Lansdale, Gary McMahon, Brian Keene, Mark Morris, Stephen Gallagher, Jeffrey Thomas, Greg F. Gifune, Peter Crowther, Tim Lebbon, Gary Fry, and Norman Partridge.
The problem is, every single one is male -- sort of a one-sided conversation, if you ask me. Not a single female Horror writer was represented. Naturally, it's not for the lack of female Horror writers, as the list is substantial.

To their credit, editor James Cooper and BFS chair Guy Adams have stepped up and apologized for their gross oversight saying it was, "disgustingly simple for a man not to notice these things, a blindness to the importance of correct gender representation that I feel embarrassed to have fallen into" -- Adams. They claim it was not intentional sexism, but rather an error that inexcusably went unnoticed.

In this particular case, considering the theme of the book, I feel it was essential to have mixed representation, and that most certainly includes women, at least in proportion to their numbers in the field (somewhere around 35-40%). That said; if this was just a regular Horror anthology, would it be essential to include women? Does non-inclusion automatically mean sexism? Women definitely have a significant place in Horror, that much is obvious, but they are still somewhat of a minority. Therefore, it's completely plausible that an anthology of randomly picked horror authors might occasionally be all men -- or the less likely chance of an unintentional all-women anthology. There are a lot of horror anthologies each year. So chance alone could create such a book. Bias aside, those are just the odds. Does the ratio of male/female in a book's table of contents always have to reflect the same ratio in writers? Now, this begs the question: Should a woman be included just because she's a woman? Or a man for that matter? To me that seems equally as bad; the person's gender is still taking center stage over the merit of their work.

You may have also noticed that the general style of the male authors listed in the aforementioned book tends to lean towards a more graphic representation of Horror, rather than, say, a more subtle/atmospheric style. This preference towards gore and "real world" horror (generally favoring killers over the supernatural) by the editor may have skewed the selection towards male authors. From my experience, many (but by no means all) women authors lean towards writing supernatural Horror. That's not to say women don't write graphic horror; Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse is one of the goriest non-supernatural things I've ever read.

Here's another way to look at it, to use an extreme example: If gender representation is so important, what about race? How many Horror writers of African descent do you see in Horror anthologies? I see very, very few, if any -- I'm not sure why that is. Should the editors have made it a point to find a few so that Horror writers of African descent are represented too, no matter how small of a minority? Would non-inclusion be racist on the part of editors, or is it simply working the numbers?

Here's an article on the story:


10-09-2009, 04:40 PM
With all this controversy going on about alleged sexism and other -isms in Horror fiction publication, perhaps the only way to try to avoid any prejudice whatsoever is - at least as an experiment - to do things the 'Nemonymous' or HarperCollins ANONthology ways.

I've also been thinking. I've not yet seen the James Cooper book, but, possibly, 16 male writers *could* honestly give more of a representative view of the 'male' and 'feminine' spirits than, say, 8 men and 8 women. Some men contain more of the 'feminine' spirit than some women.

10-09-2009, 04:41 PM
I think the only guideline for a horror story anthology should be the best stories that an editor can find regardless of the gender, race, or whatever else people can think up to call bias, based on the author. That said, the interview anthology does seem like an oversight - albeit not a deliberate one. I would love to read interviews with Caitlin Kiernan and Lisa Tuttle, for example.

Mr. D.
10-09-2009, 05:13 PM
I don't understand the oversight. I know for myself that if I compiled an anthology of any kind of literature it would be hard for me to ignore women writers. In an anthology of short fiction for example I would include something from Katherine Anne Porter, Isak Dinesen, Flannery O'Conner and Margaret Atwood without even thinking about it. And, for a second example, if I was compiling a drama collection I would include works by Angela Carter and Yasmina Reza as a matter of course. It would be the same with horror fiction. I would guess that the editor made a deliberate decision. Maybe he's one of those men who never reads anything written by a woman. There are a lot of men like that. Maybe someone should do a collection of the top women writers in the field as a kind of balance.

The New Nonsense
10-09-2009, 05:57 PM
Maybe he's one of those men who never reads anything written by a woman. There are a lot of men like that. Maybe someone should do a collection of the top women writers in the field as a kind of balance.

I have a cousin like that. He flat-out refuses to read anything written by women. He realizes that it's not really fair. He said, given past experiences, he's 10 times more likely to enjoy a book if was written by a man. He knows there are probably women out there writing thing's he'd like, but he doesn't have the time for hunting down a "needle in a haystack", whereas he can just pick up a random book by a male author and see it as a safe bet.

This makes me wonder: Are there still women writers using only their first initial to disguise their gender so that men (like my cousin) will give them a chance?

I think Des has a good observation. Trying to be "equal" also makes gender assumptions about one's style. To use my former analogy, Poppy Z. Brite has often said she is "a gay man trapped in a woman's body". So does that mean she writes from the perspective of a man or a woman? It sounds like a man's. So would she not count as a "female" contributor? Many writers, both male and female, aren't exactly representative of their gender's style.

Julian Karswell
10-09-2009, 06:07 PM
It's a storm in a teacup, and when it erupted a few weeks ago, I made the following points:

1. The editors concerned immediately apologised in a very sincere way, even though the vast majority of horror writers are men.

2. I thought that some female authors (minor ones, it has to be said) sensed an opportunity to profit from the omission, and sought to blow the issue out of all proportion.

3. Racism is actually of far greater concern. The horror world is dominated by white middle classe writers.

The vast majority of the general public associate horror with young white people either watching serial killer films or reading stodgy Stephen King syle novels about disturbed psychotics with supernatural powers. A few academics are aware that it is a deeper, richer genre with a fine and long pedigree - but alas, a pedigree that is by definition elitist and white.

Most female horror writers have strayed into the realms of fantasy and romance; few have remained as dedicated to the gritty, visceral or psychologically-disturbing as their male counterparts. This has certainly led to the public's perception that women write novels like Frankenstein, Harry Potter and Twilight whereas men create Dracula, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and Hellraiser. Little wonder that the editors of the book concerned selected writers who were male without thinking about the wider political issues; it's an easy trap to sleepwalk into.

Yes, there were many important female authors of ghost and horror stories, but their work was very often sexless and bloodless, with one or two notable exceptions (Edith Nesbit and Marjorie Bowen did not shy away from portraying women in a powerful sexual light). In contrast male horror writers have always gilded their work with a darker, harder sexual edge, whether it be in terms of subversive sexual content (for example, Arthur Machen and Bram Stoker), or graphic violence (for example, M.G. Lewis and W.C. Morrow). So in some respects, male horror has always been more horrific.

But as I say, I think it's an opportunistic storm in a teacup. The mainstream media are always looking for an angle on subjects they don't really understand, and they opted for the sexism one, presumably because they don't know what colour the contributors are, and it was easy to spot the all-male line-up. Besides, the genre is actually quite well-represented by homosexuals, with even heterosexual authors pouring scorn on homophobes, yet that 'good news' story never gets mentioned. Instead whenever the mainstream media does condescend to comment on the horror genre, they trot out tired cliches about sexism and gratuitous violence, counter-balanced by shallow praise for M.R. James every Christmas, because he's the one 'classy' ghost story writer they've heard of, having seen a couple of his dramas on BBC4.

Oh, save us from the prejudiced and lazy attentions of the ignorant and angle-hungry mainstream journalists, for they know not what they see.

10-09-2009, 10:12 PM
Maybe he's one of those men who never reads anything written by a woman. There are a lot of men like that. Maybe someone should do a collection of the top women writers in the field as a kind of balance.This makes me wonder: Are there still women writers using only their first initial to disguise their gender so that men (like my cousin) will give them a chance?
Great timing. I will soon be posting a Quirk Classic written partially by C. L. Moore. Legend has it that Henry Kuttner wrote fan letters to Moore in the 1930s, believing the author to be male. Catherine L. Moore and Henry Kuttner later married. They wrote science fiction classics together under the legendary byline of Lewis Padgett, among several others. :cool:

Mr. D.
10-12-2009, 05:04 PM
One of my favorite writers was James Tipptree, Jr. Because of her hard edge and highly sexualized subject matter everyone in the Science Fiction community thought that she was a man. She did write that way that we assume that men write, so she got away with it for a while. Maybe Alice Sheldon won't have even gotten published! In truth, being a man I tend to identify with male writers more than women writers, but that's just natural But, I've seen every movie starring Joan Crawford and Bette Davis (some of them 5 or 6 times) and have enjoyed the works of most of the top women writers. I don't enjoy the average novel by most male writers. I simply like good writing.

Julian Karswell
10-12-2009, 05:16 PM
Anais Nin is one of my favourite authors. I would equate the best of her work alongside anything by a male writer. And I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie's superb novels. Along with Dorothy Sayers, they were trailblazers in terms of 'golden age' detective fiction. I've dipped into R Austin Freeman, Dickson Carr and many others from that era but in my opinion Christie and Sayers are the benchmarks.

Nin could have made an excellent author of supernatural horror. Christie dabbled but only in a gentle, half-hearted way; and Sayers' editorship of several horror anthologies is well known.


10-12-2009, 05:21 PM
My favourite writer of all time is Elizabeth Bowen.
I am Elizabeth Bowen here:
http://www.myspace.com/elizabeth_bowen :)