Today I learned about the Russ Pledge from this week’s SF Signal Mind Meld post, which addressed the importance of it in science fiction today. In case you don’t know what it is, it was proposed by Nicola Griffith and it’s a very simple idea – it simply means making an effort to talk about female writers and their work. The name comes from Joanna Russ, who wrote the book How to Suppress Women’s Writing. This has been a hot topic of late, and has also lead to the inception of the SF Mistressworks site.
I wanted to write about my personal experience with this because I actually took this pledge before it had a name, and it is something I strongly believe in. I had thought maybe it was becoming less of an issue than when I first decided to make an effort to find and talk about women writers of fantasy and science fiction, but these posts, along with the ones that inspired them and a recent post on Freda Warrington’s blog about her research for an Eastercon panel, are making me rethink that theory. It may just be that the sites I now tend to pay attention to are the ones that do discuss books by women quite often. Or maybe it really is getting better, but we’re just still not there yet.
Back in the days before I ever even had a blog, I remember a conversation coming up somewhere online that got me thinking about this. I don’t remember much about it at this point other than it mentioning female authors of fantasy and science fiction – and I realized I couldn’t think of many at all off the top of my head. So I asked John if he could think of any, and he also couldn’t think of many. We could think of Nancy Kress, one of John’s favorite authors whose Beggars trilogy I’d also read on his recommendation, and Robin Hobb, whose books we had both read. I remember wondering if there just weren’t that many women writing fantasy and science fiction.
Later, when I actually did start my blog and was just reviewing every book I read, I came to a realization that most of these books were written by men. At this point, I was solely reading books I bought myself because I heard they were good, and it seemed like a lot of the fantasy and science fiction books being talked about were written by men. It made me pay more attention to recommendations for books by women, and I did find out there are a LOT of women writing fantasy and science fiction. I just had to work a little harder to find them because their books didn’t seem to be talked about as much. I made it a personal mission to read and review some of these books to do my own small part to try to bring awareness to some of these authors and have discovered so many wonderful writers along the way. These include the following (some of which I really need to read more by since there are a few on this list I’ve only read one book by!):
- Sarah Monette
- Elizabeth Bear
- Freda Warrington
- Catherynne Valente
- Catherine Asaro
- Joan D. Vinge
- N. K. Jemisin
- Lane Robins
- Barbara Hambly
- C. S. Friedman
- Ekaterina Sedia
- Storm Constantine
- Vera Nazarian
- Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
- Lyda Morehouse
- Jacqueline Carey
That’s just a few of them – there are so many more with lots more on my list of authors to read a book by!
It’s something I like to try to do in general, talking about books/authors that I’m not seeing discussed as much. That doesn’t mean I only read books by female authors and never, ever read popular books (sorry, all, but when A Dance With Dragons is finally out I’m reading it as soon as possible and I’ll be talking about it right along with the rest of the world!). But often when trying to decide which book to review next out of a few books I want to read I make my decision based on just how much I’ve seen the book being discussed – and pick the book I haven’t seen reviewed very much. Sometimes I select a pool of books to choose from specifically because I haven’t seen any of them talked about much.
That’s my view on it, and that’s why I think that this is a real issue. I noticed it myself and in my own reading habits when I tended to just read the books it seemed I was hearing about the most. I don’t think the pledge means trying to read a certain ratio of books written by both genders or getting all worked up about making a formula for reading a certain number of books by women. It simply means being aware of the issue and doing what you can to make a difference just by reading and discussing at least some books written by women. That’s the only way the cycle of women’s books seeming invisible will be broken – by more people reading them and recommending them so more people read them.