Are Straight Cis Women Being Erased from Science Fiction and Fantasy?

I recently came across a rather peculiar blog post that I’d like to discuss. It’s by author Lela E. Buis and it’s called “Are Women Being Erased from SFF?”

From the first paragraph, the writer makes it clear that she’s concerned about cis women being sidelined in favour of transgender people:

Since the change in administration in the US this year, I’m noticing what looks to be strong moves toward erasure of women as a separate sex and/or gender. For example, in the first 50 days of the Biden administration, the president signed an executive order removing any distinction between women and trans-women in sports, opening the doors for anyone who identifies as a woman, regardless of phenotype or testosterone level. The Equal Rights Amendment is back for ratification. And the Biden administration broadened International Women’s Day in the US this month to include LGBTQ and disabled persons. Move over gals. Presumably, these people have their finger on the larger trends.

She then moves on to the field of publishing, particularly science fiction publishing, and also accuses publishers of discriminating against white men (a can of worms I’ll leave unopened for now):

In publishing there’s been a fairly obvious discrimination against white men in recent years, justified as payback for all those decades when white men dominated the science fiction market. For a little while, it was a competitive advantage to be a woman science fiction writer, as progressive publishers opened the gates and searched for female talent to fill their bookshelves.

Next, she pulls the two topics together to build her main thesis — that straight, non-transgender women in SF/F are struggling to compete with transgender women (along with men, lesbians and people who identify as non-binary, apparently):

But now I’ve looked back at my most recent review of the Hugo Awards, and I suspect the market is closing down for women. In 2020, for example, about 50% of the Hugo finalists were LGBTQ and about 30% were men, which leaves only 20% of the spaces for writers who identify as cisgender straight women of any ethnicity. This strongly suggests that just being a woman, or even a woman of color, isn’t enough to get you published any more as a writer and that you need to look for intersectionalities to make yourself trendier and more attractive for a publisher.

There’s a quite remarkable assumption behind Lela Buis’ suggestion that “just being a woman, or even a woman of color, isn’t enough to get you published any more”. The implication is that at some point or another, being a woman (or at least a non-white woman) was enough to guarantee a spot in a publisher’s roster.

After bringing up various people from Elizabeth Warren to J. K. Rowling, the post reaches its conclusion:

So, where is this headed? Is the only successful writer of the future “other” ethnicity, LGBTIQ, disabled and nonbinary? Or is there a way to manufacture more intersectionalities?

When it comes to evidence, Lela Buis’ main exhibit is the most recent Hugo Award ballot. The assumption that the Hugos (or any other awards) are representative of which authors are or aren’t being published in the genre is itself questionable, as there are many female authors who have found popular success in SF/F but little or no recognition at the Hugos — Suzanne Collins, Stephenie Meyer and Sarah J. Maas, to name a few off the top of my head. Even leaving this aside, the post ignores what is surely the most relevant award at Worldcon for predicting the future of SF/F: the Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

The most recent Astounding winner was Rebecca. F. Kuang, the runners-up being Sam Hawke, Jenn Lyons, Nibedita Sen, Tasha Suri and Emily Tesh. All six of these people are women. None are transgender. One, Nibedita Sen, describes herself as queer in her author’s bio; but if the remaining five are anything other than heterosexual, they don’t seem to be making a show of it (indeed, three of the women specifically mention their husbands in their bios).

Another genre prize with a category for up-and-comers is the Bram Stoker Award, which has a section honouring debut horror novels. The five contenders on this year’s ballot are Ross Jeffrey, Polly Hall, Rachel Harrison, EV Knight and Kate Reed Petty. Leaving aside Mr. Jeffrey, we have four women; and once again, if any of them belong to sexual minority groups, they don’t appear to be discussing the matter in their public profiles.

So, using Lela Buis’ own metric — genre awards — there’s simply no reason to conclude that straight cis women are being “erased” from SF/F in favour of lesbians, bi women and trans people. Her post looks like an attempt to whip up a doomsday scenario out of nothing.

4 thoughts on “Are Straight Cis Women Being Erased from Science Fiction and Fantasy?”

    1. Lela’s begun — more and more — to write directly for Phantom, which explains how bizarre her posts are getting. They’re in a folie a deux, sadly.

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