Vector, Blind Submissions, and Gender Balance

A slew of commentary, mostly thought-provoking, has come out of Paul Cornell’s declaration yesterday that he would, as a panelist at a convention, actively work towards achieving gender parity on panels he’s on, even if it required taking himself off of the panel. It’s a lovely gesture, but there are all sorts of complications in the details of implementing it and what it requires of women participating in genre.

One of these complications is that, on average, women are less likely to volunteer to be put on panels in the first place.

I can’t speak to panel volunteers, but I can speak to those who volunteer for Vector.  The majority of articles which appear in Vector are commissioned. That means that I ask for them, or, more specifically, talk people into writing them.

A minority of the articles are blind submissions, already-written articles which are sent to Vector on the chance that it’s a suitable home for them. It often is. Vector isn’t that high profile, so it doesn’t receive all that many blind submissions – perhaps eight or so last year.

Every last blind submission I have received – and even, in addition to those, all the articles proposed, unwritten, without prior contact – were all sent or proposed by men.

This was my first year editing the magazine, so I can’t say if this is a necessarily a longer-term trend. I can say that this is consistent with what’s been reported by larger convention organizers, that men are more likely to put themselves forward, rather than waiting for an invitation.

Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the blind submissions just as much as I appreciate all the people, regardless of gender, who have been willing to write for Vector by request. They all go into making the magazine’s features what they are. And some particular men may be in need of active recruitment, just as some particular women readily volunteer.

Part of the challenge of those working to improve the gender balance of participants, regardless of medium, can be in needing to be more pro-active in recruiting women, and the limited evidence of the blind submissions I’ve received is consistent with that tendency.

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4 Responses to “Vector, Blind Submissions, and Gender Balance”

  1. jazzy Says:

    As far as I’m concerned any organisation that engages in so called “positive discrimination”
    is automatically invalid. I’d even go so far as to criminalise the practice.
    It’s not a “nice gesture,” it’s self agrandisation of the slimiest kind.

    Incidently – after editing a magazine myself for 3-4 years I discovered 90% of fiction submitted was
    sent by women (most of whom shouldn’t have been allowed near a keyboard) and 100%
    of all technical material was sent by men (or at least male names on the mss)

    The simple truth is men and women are neither equal nor identical and never will be. They are
    just different. (allowing for bell curve fluctuations of course)

    never mind “gender balance” – the task is to produce the best magazine and nothing else. If that
    excludes every single woman on the planet – then so be it.

  2. Simon Morden Says:

    At the risk of painting a target on myself…

    Jazzy, I fundamentally disagree. Positive discrimination means different things to different people – to you, I suspect, it’s the suggestion that quality is compromised because submissions aren’t rated by quality, but by other (gender/race) criteria. To me, it’s the suggestion that a magazine such as Vector is known to be open to, actively encourages the participation of, and will accept unsolicited submissions from, women and ethnic minorities.

    I used to edit the BSFA’s Focus for 4-5 years. To my lasting regret, I didn’t go out of my way to solicit fiction/non-fiction from other than the usual suspects – so my regular columnists were men, and my friendship with people like Juliet McKenna (who I regularly hit for articles – she’s very good, Shana) was almost incidental. I could have, and should have, done better at welcoming other voices.

    Because – and this is the point – the best magazine will, perforce, include women. If you argue that ‘men and women are neither equal nor identical and never will be’, how can a magazine that only includes male voices be ‘best’? That simply doesn’t make any sense.

  3. jazzy Says:

    Simon
    4 years editing is long and hard work so I can only respect your views – however:
    You seem to be under the illusion that men and women must be included in equal measure in every
    social activity for it to be any good. I put it to you that that’s absurd.

    The best “content” is the only thing that matters in publishing. Nothing else. Regeardless of the gender of the creator,
    What you suggest is the disease our entire country suffers.
    Pandering to the lowest common denominator should never be acceptable.
    And that is what possitive discrimination of any sort guarantees.

    I will fight long and hard alongside you for equal opportunity. But possitive discrimination
    IS discrimination. And I’ll have none of it. Anywhere, anytime, in any sphere.

    If women are interested in SF they will include themselves. Unless you are suggesting
    there is a barrier to women? In which case I’m all for removing it on the same grounds
    I state above.
    If the work of even those women who include themselves is not judged to be of the same
    or better standard than male contributors then you do not include it unless you have blank paper.
    By definition – the reverse applies.

    Positive discrimination is an insult to your contributors both male AND female and to your
    readers who pay for content, not author gender.

  4. Simon Morden Says:

    Jazzy, you’ve stacked your argument with enough straw men as to be a fire hazard. Nowhere have I advocated “men and women must be included in equal measure in every social activity”. And your somewhat hyperbolic language (“disease”, “pandering”) doesn’t help.

    It’s not me who’s suggesting that there is a barrier to women in SF. It’s women who write, and read, SF who are suggesting that. I’ve looked at the statistics – panels, contributors, reviewers, reviews – and yes, they’re right. I think that an attitude that suggests a publication is the best it can even “If that excludes every single woman on the planet” is right up there with the problem, and not with the solution.

    And all I’m proposing (as is Shana) is that editors actively encourage submissions from voices not traditionally heard. And being a woman is not to belong to a minority. You really do need to listen to the arguments from the other side: http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2011/women-and-science-fiction-%E2%80%93-are-you-a-misogynist/ (hope that link works) has links to some of the background.


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