In what is rapidly turning into a meandering multi-part discussion of the Fireside report and the reaction of assorted Puppies to it.
In between my last post on the topic and working on the response to Larry Correia’s Puppysplaining, I popped over to Mad Genius Club to see if anybody there had anything to say.
As it happens Cedar Sanderson has an interesting post on sexism in publishing which touches on some similar issues and then overtly links to Larry Correia’s post. I’m not saying Cedar’s post doesn’t make some of the same errors as Larry’s or Brad’s but it is infinitely less annoying because she doesn’t adopt that I’m-going-to-tell-you-all-what-to-think style of Larry and Brad.
There are two elements I want to pick out because I think they are interesting:
- Firstly, she suggests (and I’ll assume for the sake of argument that she is correct) that many agents and editors in publishing are women. Cedar asks “Can women be biased against women? Why not?”
- Secondly, she echoes a sentiment that we will see from Larry – that indie and self-publishing cuts out the gatekeepers and hence problem solved.
Cedar wonders if the first issue is explained by reverse sexism but let’s apply Ockham’s razor again: sexism is probably best explained by sexism and racism is probably best explained by racism. The conceptual problem that we keep seeing from Puppy quarters is that those two terms tend to be interpreted in only one way i.e. sexism is seen as something a sexist does and a sexist has to be some sort of overt misogynist, while racism is seen as something a racist does and a racist has to be some sort of cartoonish KKK supporter.
In reality, neither is the case. Both sexism and racism are perpetuated by nice people, who try to be good and may even hold quite progressive views. And for exhibit A we have good old Brad Torgersen – a man who I am sure doesn’t regard himself as a racist.
See, here’s the thing. The market always wins. Always. Doesn’t matter how brave or bold your posturing may be. If your book, or your movie, or your album, doesn’t have enough “there” there, you can hang a million virtue-signals on the thing — dress it up like a damned social justice christmas tree — and the audience is going to give you a big, whopping, “Meh.” And it’s not because the audience is secretly homophobic or misogynistic or racist. It’s because the audience is tired of being sermonized, and cannot be commanded to vote (with its collective wallet) for something it doesn’t want to vote for.
Now there is nothing semantically racist or sexist in anything he said there. Yet it pretty much explains Cedar’s question of how there can be so much apparent sexism when women are at least at one stage of the gatekeeping. Brad hits the thumb squarely on the head while aiming for the nail. Most industries are risk averse and publishing and entertainment are no different – one reason why there are so many sequels at your movie theatre. The pressure on employees in an industry is also to be risk averse. As nobody knows what the magic ingredients to popularity are (or they keep changing or both) that means superficial or cosmetic qualities are often (and unconsciously) used as proxies. That makes this ‘market wins’ attitude both dulling (i.e. we keep getting crappy tired movies following the same nutty-nugget formula) but also RESISTANT TO SOCIAL CHANGE. Note, when I say resistant to social change, I don’t mean resistant to changes that will happen in the future but resistant to changes that have already happened or are happening.
The market simply doesn’t know best because of a classic failing condition for markets: poor information. Gatekeepers relying on sticking with worked in the past and also factoring in the prejudices they believe their audience have. The latter is particularly pernicious and includes examples as the pinkification and gender segmentation of toys.
So yes, publishing can be institutionally sexist even if the industry employs a lot of women and it can be institutionally racist even if it employs lots of people who would be horrified to be thought of as racist. There is a word for it: bias. Bias doesn’t need to be conscious or deliberate but it is something that requires a conscious effort to fix.
Cedar’s second point is fine as far as it goes. Self-publishing/indie publishing can remove one set of gatekeepers. However, the idea that the problem is therefore solved is laughable. Sure self-publishing means even my imaginary self-deluded cat can publish a book but nobody at Mad Genius would suggest for a second that simply getting it published is the only obstacle.
Writing in the first place is an obstacle. Imagining that a writer is something you can be is an obstacle (again look at the many good articles at Mad Genius on this). However, getting read by people is also an obstacle. Promotion is an obstacle and getting noticed is an obstacle. The gatekeepers in these areas don’t have the kind of quasi-monopolistic power that editors at a big publisher do but they exist nonetheless. Don’t believe me? Then just think about how much the people at Mad Genius have wailed and railed and complained about Worldcon voters over the past couple of years – and Worldcon voters are just a tiny section of fandom with limited power and no single set of opinions.
Yes, the monopolies of big publishing are not what they were but that is only a fraction of the story. Indie and self-publishing solve some problems but it amounts to swapping some hard barriers to many more softer (and more porous) barriers with the same issues.