Thursday, September 11, 2008

Buying a Book Because the Author is a Woman

At the now-obligatory panel on diversity issues in SF at ArmadilloCon a couple of weeks ago, Debbie Smith said, "I don't want people to buy my work just because I'm a woman." To which I responded from the audience, "I don't want people to not buy my work because I'm a woman, either."

-- Quote from a post by Nancy Jane Moore

Debbie Smith's line fascinates me. Why shouldn't people buy a book because the author is a woman? What is wrong with this? And why should an author ever object to selling a book? I can imagine someone buying one of my books by mistake -- thinking Ring of Swords is military SF or generic fantasy, for example -- and then being disappointed. Too bad. I have still made a sale. If an editor buys a book or story of mine for reasons that strike me as nuts, it's still a sale, though I may worry about how the story is going to be presented.

I am more concerned that someone might not buy something of mine for whatever reason.

Smith is taking the line about how sex and color should not matter, and everyone should be taken on their own merits -- said merits not including their gender or color or life experiences or who they are as people -- and applying it without thinking.

Do I read books by women authors, because they are women? You bet. Do I read books by Nalo and Nnedi, because they are women and come from cultures different than mine? Yes and yes.

I read books by other women because they often deal with issues that interest me because I am a woman. Women's issues, you might call these. I read books by people who are not like me, because I may learn something new.

Will I finish a badly written or boring story by anyone, because of the person's sex or color? Not likely, though I might stay with a book longer if it was about unfamiliar experiences.

The argument about essential merit is dangerous, because it mostly used by people opposed to affirmative action, who ignore the breaks that this society gives to men, white people, educated people and people of comfortable means. It's especially dangerous when applied to writers, because you cannot separate a writer from his or her history and experience. Shakespeare is a great writer. He is also a great male, white, middle class, English writer of the late 16th century. His art is rooted in his life, and his life is rooted in a specific place and time.

One of the things you buy with a book is a specific life experience: a Chinese scholar in the 16th century, a Russian aristocrat in the 19th century, a Japanese court lady, an English parson's daughter, a former riverboat pilot, a black civil rights activist...

Anyway, Smith's remark strikes me as weird on many levels.

Most likely I am overreacting.


Eileen Gunn said...

Tap-tap-tap. Is this thing on? May I say something in complete privacy about Sarah Palin?

Just kidding: this is a test. My previous post of 9/11 has not shown up.

Cat Rambo said...

Try reposting your comment, Eileen. I do not see it in the unmoderated comments.

Eileen Gunn said...

Alas, Cat, I did not save it. If the Interwebs are a series of tubes, then I guess it's gone down them.

A previous message I posted in another topic here didn't show up for about ten days, so maybe it's stuck in the super-collider or something.

If it keeps earth from being swallowed up by a black hole, it will have been worth it, I suppose....

Cat Rambo said...

Thank you for saving us ALL, Eileen. :)