Jaime Lee Moyer: Midnight Secrets and Lies
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We all know what they did to witches

Ah spring, that silly season of award lists, recommended reading lists, and erasure. Time for my annual blog post, for lo, nothing ever changes.

Erasure is such an ugly word, with all its connotations of non-existence, of wiping out accomplishments and work and history. At times an ugly word is exactly the right word. Erasure is so much more than “forgetting” to add women (including QUILTBAG and minority women) to a list, or not being able to think of any women who’ve written even a single worthy book.

And let it be said that I don’t buy the chorus of baffled–and totally disingenuous–cries of “but I don’t understand why you’re angry.”

Bullshit. You do understand. Every single one of you. And that in a nutshell is why I’m angry, and why so many women writers are angry.

Women understand. Erasure is nothing new for us.

Marion Langhorne Howard Brickwedde (1909-1997) with Ferdinand G. Brickwedde (1903-1989)
This photograph of Marion Langhorne Howard Brickwedde (1909-1997) with Ferdinand G. Brickwedde (1903-1989) was published with the caption: “Dr. F. G. Brickwedde and his wife with the apparatus for making heavy water.” Marion Brickwedde earned a B.S. in chemistry (1929) and M.S. in physics (1930) from the University of Georgia. During her career, she taught physics at George Washington University and Pennsylvania State University, and was on the research staffs of the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Pictured with her husband, those accomplishments vanished.

Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978)

Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (1907-1978) is considered one of the first female Native American archaeologists. The caption to this photograph said that Bertha Pallan was an “expedition secretary” who was demonstrating “the difference in size of early type [small] and large type atlatl darts from Gypsum Cave.” Bertha Pallan’s knowledge and field experience vanishes by labeling her a secretary and not an archaeologist.

Ruby Hirose

Biochemist and bacteriologist Ruby Hirose researched serums and antitoxins at the William S. Merrell Laboratories. The original caption for this photo read: “Dr. R. Hirose, American-born Japanese girl scientist on the research staff of the Wm. S. Merrell biological laboratories” I can’t even believe the dismissive and racist “Japanese girl scientist” label stuck on Dr. Hirose.

How many of you have heard of Jacqueline Cochran? She was the first woman to break the sound barrier.

Or Katharine Dexter McCormick? She was a U.S. biologist, suffragist, philanthropist, and funded most of the research necessary to develop the first birth control pill.

Margaret Harwood directed the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island, and ran its female-founded and female-run nonprofit science education institute.

Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling was a prize-winning motorcycle racer and aeronautical engineer.

Maud Slye was a pathologist and noted cancer researcher She was also a prolific published poet.

Mary Roberts Rinehart, is considered to have invented the “Had-I-But-Known” school of mystery writing. She also created a costumed supercriminal called “the Bat”, who was cited by Bob Kane as one of the inspirations for his “Batman.”

I could name hundreds of women scientists, mathematicians, artists, activists, pilots, and writers who accomplished amazing things, and wrote amazing books, during their lifetimes. And for every one of these women, whose lives aren’t close to ancient history, you have to dig into historical newspaper and Smithsonian archives to find mentions of them. Sometimes you have to dig deep.

This isn’t counting the thousands of photographs I found doing novel research where women’s names, their identity and history, has been erased. These women are only remembered as wife of Mr. Whatever, or listed as wife and daughter of Senator Importance. They don’t exist as individuals, as people.

Which brings me back to women genre writers. Given the surface evidence, we don’t exist either. Other than one or two names that appear again and again, we don’t make recommended lists, award lists, year’s best lists, or most anticipated upcoming books lists.

And I’ll tell you, each and every time I see lists, or blog posts, written by other women who list nothing but books by white men? I don’t even know what to call that feeling.

The erasure of women is built into the system, from the marketing level on down. Our work is considered lesser and slight, but if you do write anything with any meaning or depth, then you’re boring. The message from people who should be our peers is stay in your place, and don’t try to play in the boys’ sandbox. Women don’t write “real” SF or epic fantasy, or even real fantasy–whatever that is.

You have to be the most thick skinned, stubborn, and determined person who has ever lived to stick with this. At times you have to nurse that tiny flicker of anger into a roaring bonfire and hold it close. Anger is a survival skill for women writers. Anger can lend you strength.

Luckily, women are good at surviving and holding each other together. We’ve had more than enough practice while dealing with attempts to wipe us off the publishing record. Most of that ongoing support happens in the background, where no one but other women can see. Much as I’d like that to change now, today, even in 2016 it’s still the wiser move to go slow.

Because if women writers are too public about supporting each other, or network too much where others can see, they tend to be viewed as conspiring to bring down all the men. Words like equal shares of marketing budgets, fairness on award lists, and balance in numbers of reviews are interpreted as “Mine, mine! All of publishing belongs to meeeeee!”

That unleashes all kinds of hell falling on women’s heads, again from people who are supposed to be our peers. Anger can keep you strong, but it can also level major cities.

One would almost think women writers were witches, with the ability to erase men’s accomplishments and deny them a career.

And we all know what they did to witches. They cursed them with the need to write.

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5 Comments

  1. Kathryn Allen
    Posted February 16, 2016 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    With the latest thing at SF Signal – after so many years of writers being annoyed by all male lists it’s difficult to accept anyone involved with the community at all can claim not to realise that there is a problem. And hard to understand why SF Signal would chose as a new contributor a man whose blog is a big screaming warning that he’d write something like this (which is poorly written for reasons other than omitting women but omitting women is the bigger issue).

    • stillnotbored
      Posted February 16, 2016 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

      What puzzles me most is that John has gone out of his way, so often, to help so many women authors. But yeah, I don’t get it at all.

  2. Kaherine
    Posted February 20, 2016 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I love the photos you’ve used to make your point. This isn’t getting any better, unfortunately. For all of the talk, I still see this going on in science. Women also do a lot of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to service as well…the most unrewarded part of academia.

    I’ve given up reading the “most recommended” lists. Most of what is recommended is not what I enjoy most. I am clearly not their target demographic. Alas, I still enjoy fantasy and SF, but it is hard to find the kind that I most enjoy reading. When I have the time, I dig around in the book store for women authors to read, but as bookstores, especially the independent ones disappear, it gets harder to find variety, much less those books that aren’t being pushed by publishers or the “lists”.

    • stillnotbored
      Posted February 20, 2016 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t heard from you in so long! I’m thrilled you left a comment.

      I rarely find anything via recommended lists. Most of the new books and writers I find from other writers on Twitter, or on book blogs. Many women are posting lists of new books and books they recommend on their blogs, both to counter the male dominated most recommended lists, and to help other women find good books.

      Some books I can think of off the top of my head I think you might like:

      Updraft by Fran Wilde. I loved this book. Unique worldbuilding and excellent characters. First in a 3 book series. Book two is out in September.

      Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith I fell into Radiant and ripped through it. I can’t give a good summary without spoiling the plot, but this was such a good book. Book one in a three book series. Book two and three are already out. Book two was even better.

      The Lady Trent’s Memoirs series by Marie Brennan. A young woman defies societal norms to become a naturalist, travel the world, and study dragons. A Natural History of Dragons, Voyage of the Basilisk, Sea of Serpents, and I think one more coming. I loved these too.

      Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace Wasp, a young woman, is the current archivist. She has one job, find ghosts and record the ghost’s history. That is the simple summary, but the book is so much more complicated. Wasp gives a ghost back the most precious thing he’d ever had, and lost, and in the process discovers who she really is. Great book.

      Silver On The Road by Laura Ann Gilman This one is sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to have vacation. Every friend I have who has read this raved about it.

      Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson Book one of a new series for Rae. She kicks ass as usual. :)

      Did you read Bear’s Eternal Sky series? You would love those books. And her latest book, Karen Memory is also awesome.

      Black Wolves by Kate Elliot, Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato–that should keep you busy for at least a week. 😉

  3. Kaherine
    Posted February 21, 2016 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    That’s a great list! I’ve read Kate Elliot and Jodi’s book (of course!) The others I’ll have to check out when summer rolls around. That’s about the only time I have to read for pleasure anymore.

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