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Author Topic: Is Podcastle Sexist?  (Read 55680 times)

SFEley

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Reply #75 on: July 03, 2008, 05:38:57 AM
As to why posters keep referring to the stats on Escape Pod, the not so subtle point they are making is when the stories are all about men, this conversation does not happen. 
Just as an anal-retentive quibble:  this conversation DID and DOES happen all the time when there are male trends involved.  It's going to come up whenever anyone *feels* that something is unfair, and goes looking for numerical data to back up the feeling.  Steve even devoted an intro to the subject of finding minority voices in SF/F in one of the early EP episodes (if someone can recall offhand which one, that would be greatly appreciated; I thought he framed it eloquently and non-confrontationally).

You know, since reading the first few posts in this thread I've been half-tempted to make a topic in the "About Escape Pod" forum titled "Is Escape Pod Sexist?"  And essentially make these exact same arguments against myself -- including the 87% male narrator statistic that Ann so helpfully compiled.

I do think it's a really good point.  The main reason I'm not engaging in that sort of pointed self-satire is that I'm afraid too many people would miss the point or take it too seriously.  They might even try to defend me against myself, and then it would just get weird.

For the record, and in utter seriousness: I would answer "Yes."  The representation of stories by or about men on Escape Pod is too high.  It's unbalanced.  But I don't feel like a villain for it.  I feel like I'm doing what I can with the stories I can get.  More men send us stories than women.  More men are writing science fiction than women.  It's getting closer to parity all the time, but it's not there yet. 

Fact for you number crunchers:  When Scott Janssens was our slushpile editor, he kept statistics on the submissions, including author's gender (as best he could guess from names).  During the first 18 months or so of the podcast, something around 33% of the stories submitted to us were by women.  Of the stories we bought, if you ignore the large number of flash stories I acquired from Greg van Eekhout all at once, about 45% of the stories were by women.  So the ratio of women's sales was higher than the ratio of women's submissions.

You could jump to any number of conclusions from this one isolated fact, depending on your biases.  You could conclude that it's an interesting coincidence but not proof of anything.  You could conclude that women are better writers.  Or you could simply conclude that Steve Eley likes women.  (Actually I think that one's supportable.)

Regardless, it's still a minority.  EP was and is more testosterone-heavy than estrogen-heavy.  My intentions don't matter, and the slushpile doesn't matter.  What matters is the stories we present, and those stories represent men more than women.  By the criteria of this thread, Escape Pod is sexist.  Most major SF markets are sexist.  Science fiction as a genre is sexist.  I seriously do believe this.  It's come a hell of a long way in recent decades (the feedback on sexual attitudes in "Nightfall" was fascinating) but modern SF is still more of a boy's genre than a girl's genre.  I do feel like I'm doing what I can, and I'm not losing sleep about it -- except for writing this thread post -- but I think it's an objective truth.

Is modern fantasy more of a girl's genre than a boy's genre?  Maybe.  I think that's a defensible claim at least, though it's not as clear-cut.  But here's my take.  If it is...  Well, good for them.  I don't lose anything by that.  I'll still read it.  I like reading about women.  And if it gets more girls into reading fantasy, because they can identify with those authors and those protagonists, at least some of them will start reading SF too, and maybe writing it.  Or horror.  (I don't have any idea of Pseudo's numbers and don't want to touch that debate with a ten-foot shoggoth.)  Balance gets closer, and everybody wins. 

Meanwhile...  I look at my numbers, at that 87% male figure, and say "Yeah.  That's really too high.  Escape Pod is sexist."  And I look at this thread, where people are going nuts about...  What?  60% female representation, depending on which metric you're looking at?  And I have to wonder, what exactly is the problem?  It doesn't seem that off-balance to me.  Certainly not worth going nuts about if people aren't going nuts about Escape Pod.

So if you're going to say that PodCastle has issues with gender balance, please do start with Escape Pod.  I mean it.  Protest.  Bitch about the stories you hear, and how they're not the ones you want to hear.  Many of you are doing it already, and I'm glad -- keep it up!  Just know that it won't create change automatically, because I'm still limited by what people are writing and sending.  So even better than protesting, try writing the story you'd like to hear and send it to us!  If EP's off-balance, write some hard SF with strong female characters.  If PodCastle's off-balance, write some solid fantasy with strong male characters.  Become the change you want, and if you're good at it, you'll change the world.  Even if you're not -- it feels pretty good to have written something. 

That's my take on the gender balances in these two podcasts.  One's off for sure; the other I'm not so sure about but I'm good with it if it is.  I'd go on at even more length, but having a penis diverts the blood flow from the brain when I think too much and I become easily fatigued.

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


Thaurismunths

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Reply #76 on: July 04, 2008, 12:05:24 AM
Just taking a moment to say that I have a really stunning and well crafted reply that is going to convince you all I'm right about everything I've ever said on these forums, forever... but it's a holiday weekend.

Seriously, it is a holiday weekend and I won't be posting any replies 'till Monday.
No, this isn't going to be dragged on forever. If it last past Wednesday (arbitrary date) I'll just declare it a wash and take any continuing discussion to private messages.

Have a happy Fourth of July everyone.

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Roney

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Reply #77 on: July 06, 2008, 12:02:23 AM
From the start of PC I was amazed at the enormous range of fantasy stories chosen by the editors. Every week I felt that the stories were very different in many ways, varying in setting, plot, characterization, initial conflict, style of narration and they all seemed unique in their own way and chosen for exactly that reason, I assume.

I wonder if this is part of the problem.  With a new podcast it's only natural for listeners to be looking out for similarities between the stories, so they can get a feel for the editorial policy and decide whether they want to continue listening.  The stories on PodCastle have been so varied, though, that it's difficult to discern any trends favouring a sub-genre or humour or adventure or unhappy endings or any of the things that can be used (meaningfully or otherwise) to classify stories.  But it's not in human nature to accept that something is random, and even if you're intellectually happy to say "PodCastle will throw something completely different at me every week", your brain is still likely to point out whatever patterns it can discern, whether that's in the length of the episodes, background noise in the audio, or the gender of the characters.  Even if none of these things makes any difference to the quality of the story.

FWIW, I don't think Thaurismunths is imagining patterns in static: from the limited data points we have so far, I think it's fair to say that PodCastle has run a greater proportion of stories by and/or about women than the F+SF genre average.  I don't think that this is a bad thing, and I certainly don't think that it makes PodCastle sexist, but it is the sort of thing that the human brain will notice when trying to identify what's distinctive about the podcast.

We'll never know, but I suspect that if there had been an obvious bias towards sword & sorcery tragedies, or urban fantasy satires, or modern fairy tales then after 13 weeks we'd be having a much less heated discussion about PodCastle's genre tastes -- even if the gender ratios on the stories had been exactly the same.



Thaurismunths

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Reply #78 on: July 08, 2008, 02:10:11 AM
I realized over the weekend that most of the trouble with this seem to be that this topic doesn't lend itself to on-line discussion. Not that text isn't an adequate media, but that the argument of sexism in this setting quickly becomes so convoluted, by fact and opinion, that it takes an essay to properly convey ones opinion.
Conversing by letter between two people is bulky and ponderous at the best of times (though it can be quite rewarding). Corresponding with thesis in an open forum seems nearly impossible. This thread, and many others, seems to be suffering from the same plague of  misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and misdirection. A common vector seems to be that everyone has a different lexicon. A great example would be that I said “sexist”, but some posters heard “feminist” or “chauvinist” instead. All three words are vaguely related and are commonly used together, but each has a specific meaning.
This is not a class or lecture on sexism, so expecting everyone to wait several days to read a multi-page essay on why I think I'm right seems presumptuous. And as much as I would like to take the time to write full thesis in reply to the ones I've been presented with, but I have other priorities in my life, as does everyone else.
I still feel there is, at the very least (and as I have said from the beginning), the appearance of inequality about the editorial practices of PodCastle, and I will try to keep up on my end of this conversation, even though it is has been reduced to a largely bullet pointed response.

Numbers
-I didn't start the numbers, so don't blame me for the mess.
-My numbers are based of the same episodes as Rachel's, and I came up with a distinctly different trend (and supplied rational). So no, I don't see how the number support equality.
-Rachel volunteered her numbers, but didn't provide any context for them though I did ask. I don't understand how flash pieces and full length stories are equivalent.
-13 points aren't enough of a sample, but as 13 points make up 100% of the podcast, then they are what we have to work with.  Each “point” is statistically significant, even if they are with 7.4% each, because we are looking at the whole podcast.

Sexist
-Sexist means showing preference for something based on sex rather than on individual merits. Sexism is not the same as Feminism: raising the social standing of women to be equal with that of men. Sexism is not the same as Chauvinism: The belief that the group to which one belongs is superior to another group (and/or that one group is inferior). There seems to be a great deal of confusion between sexism and chauvinism in the thread.
-Allowing stories of female activism, female chauvinism, and apolitical stories, but not allowing male chauvinism is sexist (because the difference between male and female chauvinistic stories is gender).
-Whether or not PodCastle is sexist, an awful lot of people keep commenting along those lines. It's interesting to point to a study that says men are chauvinistic, but it isn't just men that notice this trend.

Other PodCasts
-Steve's never given me reason to think that his choice of stories has ever been based on gender. His transparency about the issue assuaged my concerns that he might be sexist. The stories on his podcast are, by his own admission, representative of the slush pile.

Perception
-Men in a feminism class feel that there are fewer of them than there were in reality. What answers did the women give? Were they counting men or women? How many women did the men say were in there?

Why Now?
No reason.
I wish I had a better answer than that, but I don't. Nothing has happened in my private life or work life to spur this. There was no story, intro, outtro, guest, miniature, or theme music that put me over the top. I picked up this trend after the first couple stories and as the podcast progressed I saw more and more that fit in to the trend. I chose last week because I'd put enough though in to it to be sure that I wasn't just making up things to argue about, and I didn't see the point in putting it off any longer.

The Trend
soo, my final conclusion?  There is a small element of feminism etc etc, but it is not the frontrunner of every story, and thus we cannot say that PodCastle is sexist.  This said, we cannot also say that PodCastle is not sexist.  There is a small element.  If you try (and its not really trying, its not hard to try to see this) you can see a great deal of feminist stories.
I think a more accurate description might be that it's more feminine.  Which, you know, would make sense as it's edited by Rachel and Ann.  I don't think there's any argument that the majority of the stories feature female protagonists thus far.  But that's not a big deal to me. 
And yes, PC is a bit more 'girly', but not exclusively!
...I'll stick my neck out at least far enough to say, I can see their point.  I don't feel strongly enough to threaten to leave (as Anarkey did over the PseudoPod story), but I have felt for a long time that PodCastle had a certain "air" about it.
Is there more female exposure (female voice talent, female authors, female protagonists) in PodCastle than in a typical short-story outlet? I think we can safely agree that there is; certainly there's more than in any other short-story media I currently subscribe to.
FWIW, I don't think Thaurismunths is imagining patterns in static: from the limited data points we have so far, I think it's fair to say that PodCastle has run a greater proportion of stories by and/or about women than the F+SF genre average.
-Sexism. Chauvinism. Feminism. Dwarfism. Call it what you will, but I'm not the only person to pick up on this. Perhaps we are all imagining it and are trying to tear down the walls of the castle, but the appearance of a trend, if not an actual trend, exists.

The origin may be political. It could be ignorance. It's very possibly coincidence, but my point in all of this is that I see this trend, others see this trend (however they choose to express it), the editors do not see this trend.

How do you fight a bully that can un-make history?


Liminal

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Reply #79 on: July 08, 2008, 03:11:36 AM
Sexist
-Sexist means showing preference for something based on sex rather than on individual merits. Sexism is not the same as Feminism: raising the social standing of women to be equal with that of men. Sexism is not the same as Chauvinism: The belief that the group to which one belongs is superior to another group (and/or that one group is inferior). There seems to be a great deal of confusion between sexism and chauvinism in the thread.
-Allowing stories of female activism, female chauvinism, and apolitical stories, but not allowing male chauvinism is sexist (because the difference between male and female chauvinistic stories is gender).
-Whether or not PodCastle is sexist, an awful lot of people keep commenting along those lines. It's interesting to point to a study that says men are chauvinistic, but it isn't just men that notice this trend.

-Sexism. Chauvinism. Feminism. Dwarfism. Call it what you will, but I'm not the only person to pick up on this. Perhaps we are all imagining it and are trying to tear down the walls of the castle, but the appearance of a trend, if not an actual trend, exists.

The origin may be political. It could be ignorance. It's very possibly coincidence, but my point in all of this is that I see this trend, others see this trend (however they choose to express it), the editors do not see this trend.

You have not once demonstrated, nor can you, that Podcastle is deliberately publishing stories that are less "good" than others because of gender issues. Because in order to do so, you would need to see all stories in the slush pile. You say that you trust Steve's assessment of his own editorial judgment. I can't help but feel that, throughout this entire discussion, we come down to the fact that you simply do not trust the editorial staff of Podcastle to do a similarly professional job. You created this thread with an inflammatory charge of sexism, and while I agree that some responses may have mistakenly attributed other concepts such as feminism and chauvinism, it is not a case of "call it what you will." You called it sexism and I think it's only fair that we discuss the matter using that term. I would also point out, that the term is not "simply" a case of showing preference based on gender, but by your own choice of definitions from Wikipedia, indicates systems of oppression. You claim that the origin of this sexist trend might be a product of politics or of ignorance, and I can't help but to mirror that thought back at you. The assertion that PodCastle is "sexist" may be political or it could be ignorance. It's very possibly coincidence that you have named this trend with a loaded and aggressive word that was pretty much guaranteed to generate emotional and visceral reactions amongst the community instead of asking the editors, in good faith, if they were aware of what you perceived as a trend.

Why is this thus? What is the reason for this thusness? - Artemus Ward


Liminal

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Reply #80 on: July 08, 2008, 03:21:30 AM

And if PodCastle is going to have a flavor, I'd like to see it listed on the label.
I've been stung more than once buying something with walnuts only to find out it's full of cashews.


I think the label is pretty darn clear:

Quote
Is PodCastle feminist in outlook?

Looking over the thread with slightly more rested eyes, I'm wondering if this is the crux of the question?

Yes. PodCastle is and will be feminist in outlook. We will not be publishing material we find offensively sexist, nor will we be publishing material we find offensively racist.

I don't find this to be the same thing as being anti-male. Refusing to publish anti-woman stories is not the same thing as being anti-male. Similarly, refusing to publish racist stories is not the same thing as being anti-white.

While being feminist and anti-racist in outlook (as well as many other things), PodCastle will not simply be picking up any story that happens to feature feminist themes. We get a good many of these pieces, and most of them -- like most of everything else -- are badly written. The stories that have come up here as being questioned for their quality are stories that Steve selected, which is a bit odd to me for various reasons, but should at least establish that they were not chosen by me simply because of their message despite 'inferior writing.'

Selecting stories that are actively feminist is not a priority in the editorial selection. I do not go out and read things with the intent of selecting stories that support "a feminist agenda." However, I'll qualify this by saying that the only story in this line-up that I think is even remotely under the "active feminist" label is "Run of the Fiery Horse."

I, for one, trust Rachel and the editorial staff of PodCastle to serve up exactly what they say they are going to serve up.

Why is this thus? What is the reason for this thusness? - Artemus Ward


SFEley

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Reply #81 on: July 08, 2008, 04:14:09 AM
You claim that the origin of this sexist trend might be a product of politics or of ignorance, and I can't help but to mirror that thought back at you. The assertion that PodCastle is "sexist" may be political or it could be ignorance.

.....Aaaaaaaaand the thread is locked.

Any questions or criticisms of my choice to do so, please address to me directly.  The vitriol's not going down, and really, we're going in circles now anyway.  Everyone's had plenty of time to make their opinions known, and I can't imagine that any new information or perspective is going to come forward now that's going to change anybody's opinion.

Thanks for taking the time, everyone.  It's been...something. 

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine