Back in April, I wrote here about the Sad Puppies campaign to essentially make the Hugo Awards all about cishetero white men. Much to the relief of many fans, the Sad Puppies campaign went down in flames this weekend as absolutely none of the authors supported by it were awarded anything. Even in categories where Sad Puppies candidates filled the entire ballot, voters preferred instead to give “No Award” in those categories this year.
One interesting after-effect of this was that in several write-ups relaying the award ceremony and some of the background behind this year’s in particular, there remains a less overt, but still significant, skewing of history. Rose Fox caught this in a Wired article that’s been circulating: “But in recent years, as sci-fi has expanded to include storytellers who are women, gays and lesbians, and people of color…”
That statement suggests there were nothing but cishetero white men writing science fiction up until maybe the past decade or so. As if women, homosexuals, and people of color suddenly decided that it was okay to write science fiction now that it was the 21st century. This flatly ignores that people like Black activist W. E. B. Du Bois were writing science fiction as early as 1920. This ignores that Betty Curtis, mother of one of the founders of comics fandom Maggie Thompson, was a science fiction author and was nominated for a Hugo in 1969. This ignores that Arthur C. Clarke, who actually won Hugo Awards in 1956, 1974, and 1980, was gay.
Why is this note-worthy? Why does a slight omission matter? Couldn’t that be chalked up to a simple lack of research on the part of the Wired author?
The problem is that if you ignore that these people were there, struggling to get recognized, struggling to work through a system that was designed to keep them out, then you’re not only ignoring their contributions, but you’re invalidating the oppression that they had to fight through to get what recognition they could.
Samuel Delany, gay author. Nominated for Hugos in 1966, 1967, 1968, 1977. Winner in 1967 and 1968.
Octavia Butler, female Black author. Won Hugos in 1984 and 1985.
Joanna Russ, female author. Three nominations, winner in 1982.
Ursula K. Le Guin, female author. Winner in 1969, 1974, and 1976.
Those are just within the Hugos and I could go on.
Make no mistake: the field has always been, and continues to be, dominated by cishetero white men. But the point is that women and minorities have been working and trying to get recognition in the field for essentially as long as there’s been a science fiction field in the first place. And they have been struggling for the vast majority of that time, because there was a system in place that made it extraordinarily difficult for women and minorities to make headway at all, much less be recognized for it. The Sad Puppies campaign was pretty blatant in their attempts to continue a system of white privelege, but it’s a system that been in place for so long that others who might want to help are dismissive without even realizing it.