Poking my nose in

I’ve been following the activism of Maura McHugh / with interest and sympathy, but I think I now need to de-lurk and do so in practice – sparked by her correspondence with SFX here (a long read but worth it).

In a sense I am poking my nose in here, because I have bought perhaps two issues of SFX in the last ten years and am not really a horror fan; I have heard of very few of the men and women creative artists mentioned in the discussion. On the other hand I am a man who enjoys the genre (defined at its widest); and I would like to be counted as someone who is outraged at this sort of sexism in one of the genre’s leading publications. I was also dismayed by several rhetorical deficiencies in Ian Berriman’s response to Maura McHugh, sufficiently so to catalogue them below the cut.

Berriman: As methods of criticism go, I think that totting up the numbers of contributors or interviewees by category is very reductive, and not a reliable barometer of the politics, aims, or knowledge of the people involved.

On the contrary. Good hard numbers give you data that cannot be denied. The conclusions to be drawn can be debated, but 0 women out of 34 is still 0 however many times you count them.

Berriman: you don’t seem to consider that the features in the finished magazine might not have been the only ones we attempted to produce.

And why should any reader consider that? Literally all we can judge is the final product; readers and critics have absolutely no obligation to consider what the editor might have thought about including. Back in my political days, we had a saying that “If it’s not in the paper, it didn’t happen!” Likewise, if it’s not in the printed copy, it simply doesn’t exist, regardless of what we may know or speculate about editorial intent.

McHugh: I was stunned by the “Horror’s Hidden Treasures” piece. You found the time [my emphasis] to query 34 men for their opinions, but neglected to ask even one woman to recommend an under-rated gem in the horror field.

Berriman: Your second assumption is that we didn’t even consider approaching any women for the Hidden Treasures piece (you suggest they “do not register on SFX’s horror criteria”). Actually there were several women on my mental “wish list” of possible contributors that, in the end, we didn’t contact, basically for reasons of time. [my emphasis]

Note how Berriman challenges an accusation which was not actually made (“didn’t even consider”) – and then refutes it very badly; in the end “we thought about it but couldn’t be bothered to do it” is in some ways a worse excuse than “we made a policy decision not to do it”. McHugh’s actual accusation, that Berriman could not find the time to ask a single woman to contribute to the feature, is completely verified by Berriman’s response (he has a confused coda about emails going astray which rather proves the point).

Berriman’s response is devalued still further when he quotes two anonymous female friends who assure us that he is a nice guy who was just doing his job.

Berriman’s sexism is no doubt unconscious, but we are all conscious beings, so that is a poor excuse. He could learn from Guy Adams, who was similarly called out by McHugh over a horror anthology a few months back, and issued an unreserved apology:

It is disgustingly simple for a man not to notice these things, a blindness to the importance of correct gender representation that I feel embarrassed to have fallen into.

Short of not making the mistake in the first place, that is the only ‘explanation’ that will do, admitting that you screwed up and undertaking to try harder; not telling us that your lady friends think you’re a good egg, not fantasising about the thing you were going to publish but didn’t, and not whining about people daring to count what is in your output. It has been a long time since I bought a copy of SFX, and I think it will be a long time before I buy another one.

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1 Response to Poking my nose in

  1. sierra_le_oli says:

    Argh, I hate “we’ll never know”!

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