Critical vs. Criticism (And Misogyny in SF)

Not all reviews have to be critical. Of course they have to be critical, but they don’t have to criticize. And it’s too bad that so many reviewers out there seem to think that in order to demonstrate their own intelligence they have to tear apart the work they’re reviewing as much as possible. I’ve seen this over and over as a trend in reviewing – surprising because just a few years ago I remember a number of people ’round the blogs complaining that people were only publishing laudatory reviews because of career-advancement worries. Or some such.

Still, a good review is not about whether laudatory or laden with criticism, it’s about a critical response to the work. And so many people seem to think that because they share a root the only way to be critical is to criticize.

I’m writing this because yesterday while cleaning out my RSS reader, I came across and was excited about a new blog: SF Mistressworks. I’m a total science fiction nerd, and the misogyny and sexism that abounds in most nerd subcultures is particularly terrible in science fiction. So of course I was really excited about a blog devoted to the science fiction work by women. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be much more than a bunch of guys ganging up and tearing apart science fiction works by women. They even do the thing that the Guardian Book Review article in which it was mentioned takes issue with, deciding that these works don’t qualify as science fiction.

My reader pulls the latest 11 articles, and so I read all of them, and all of them were rather unimaginative tear-downs of novels (some of which I’ve read, some of which I haven’t) by women. The reviews were all written by men (to be fair, several were written by the man who runs the site) which seems to be a huge problem in concept. Of course, it’s a submission-based site, and we know that there are less women submitting reviews, etc. But that’s because of the institutionalized misogyny, and something that (as the amazing folks at VIDA lit have pointed out for literature and which definitely applies more broadly into the genres) a responsible editor has the ability to actively overcome by seeking out work by women not just complaining that women don’t submit. (Or worse yet, and this happens a lot, complaining that women’s work just isn’t as good.)

What a shame, but perhaps an opportunity for the site to reexamine its commitments and strategy, and perhaps even better a demonstration of a void in which another group could work.

One comment

  1. Jeff

    Just caught this post in my RSS reader. I don’t read SF, so as an outsider, I wondered if the minority of women writers work within a literature whose tropes were established by the majority, namely men? If so, do you think that sci-fi conventions are masculinised, and that women have the difficulty of either adapting to them or replacing them? I hasten to add that I’m not entirely sure how a masculinisation (or even feminisation) might manifest itself. So, to throw out suggestions: male tropes based around guns, wars, silent-type heroes who have difficulty bonding or trusting, ordinary guys accidentally endowed with extraordinary powers; (less or unestablished in sci-fi) female tropes of slice-of-life sisterly bonding through tragedy, dilemmas around children, searches for genuine identity and so on.

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