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SFX forgets women in horror

fist of death
It's ironic that during Women in Horror Recognition Month I have to draw attention yet again to another major publication that has a blind spot when it comes to women in horror.

Five months ago I was irked when the British Fantasy Society published a collection of interviews of horror writers that omitted women. A minor Internet outrage ensued, which died down with the society's quick and honest apology. Naïvely, I thought maybe a lesson had been learned.

This month the British magazine SFX published a special edition devoted to Horror that overlooks women almost entirely.

In his opening words editor Ian Berriman says:
"You see, some people think horror is a limited one-dimensional genre, but I don't see it that way. Horror is a broad church. It encompasses everything from the classy chillers produced by Val Lewton through to the likes of Saw and Hostel. It comes in an almost infinite variety of forms, and I love nearly every single one of them."

Except those created by women, it seems.

There are 132 pages in the Horror edition, and a chunk of that consists of advertisements. There are a variety of features, from the usual "Top 20 Villains" (the only female is Sadako from The Ring), items about new movies, and specials like a piece on Spanish horror cinema, and an overview of the British horror anthologies: the Pan Book of Horror Stories series (at least in that article Fay Woolf's story "Slowly" gets a nod). Belgian filmmaker Hélène Cattet gets a deserved tip of the hat in the "Amer Time!" article about Amer, the film she co-directed with Bruno Forzani.

Actress Ingrid Pitt is the only woman in the magazine with any alone-time in the spotlight: half a page in the "My Life in Horror" section.

I doubt I would have noticed a bias in the SFX horror edition if it wasn't for the seven-page article "Horror's Hidden Treasures" smack in the centre of the magazine. That was when I realised women did not register on SFX's horror criteria.

In the article the magazine asked 34 directors, screenwriters and authors to name an obscure or under-rated cult horror that deserved better recognition.

Yup, you guessed it, not a single woman was asked for her opinion.

Of the 34 men interviewed, only one of them, Toby Whithouse, suggested a woman's work (Kit Whitfield's Bareback) as deserving attention.

I'm sure each of those individual men responded with his favourite, under-rated horror gem, and none of them were attempting to exclude women.

However, the overall picture presented to the reader is that women's work in horror does not rate with men, if they are aware of it at all.

What's embarrassing, unprofessional and shameful is that SFX - by dumb oversight or thoughtlessness - did not seek women's opinion for the article.

This does matter. SFX purports to be "The leading science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine", and this omission is indicative of a pervasive indifference toward women in the genre.


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 22nd, 2010 11:43 am (UTC)
Sadly, I'm not surprised. It's very poor, but somehow all too predictable. Sigh.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, this is predictable.

Unfortunately, this omission and covert silencing of women in horror is ensuring our low profile in the public. Any women who publishes horror should take serious note, because the trend will not reverse if nothing is done, and no one comments on it.

I mean, it's absurd! There are tons of terrific female authors in the field. Yet, time and again when it comes to awards, or articles, we are "forgotten". It's not getting any better.

If a major industry magazine can't even remember to contact one woman for an article in which 34 creators were asked for an opinion then we are effectively invisible.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
I completely agree. I hope SFX will take note.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
Any Chance you could write to them and ask them WHY?

Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
I know why it happened James. I suppose I could write to them and see if they'll even acknowledge the oversight, but I'm not holding my breath.

If you check the masthead of the magazine you'll notice that the entire editorial staff, all the reporters, and even the artists are all men. I'd guess they rang around their mates and asked for their opinion for the magazine, and that doesn't include any women. It's a causal disregard and lack of sensitivity to the issue, and clearly no one on the editorial team spotted the problem

And I didn't even go into some of the "horror gems" that were recommended. And people wonder why women don't get into writing horror...

It's a joke. It's atmosphere of the magazine was "this is a bloke's club", and they don't care what women think. You know why, because they think we're not a target market, and they also seem to think that we'll take whatever we're given and be happy with it.

I'm angry James. It's 2010, and this crap still happens. It's beyond farcical. And worst still, so many people don't care, and don't notice.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
Damn. I used to know someone on the staff but he's not there any more. Otherwise I'd have had words.

I notice that the Deputy Arts Editor is female.

I don't buy SFX -- the style of it has always been too blokey for my tastes. This is just an egregious instance of that. You can be sure I'll be informing them of it.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
There isn't a single woman involved in any part of the writing or art of the horror edition of the magazine - as I stated.

I never buy SFX normally, and only splashed out because it was a horror edition. And by splashed out I mean pay over the odds because it included a poster, a couple of badges and three very cool beer mats.

Pity about the (lack of) content.

I won't be buying it again.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 07:41 pm (UTC)
Sorry. I evidently misread you or failed to grasp that the editorial staff were different.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
Well learning has only occurred when behavoirs have changed.
Informing people that there is a problem, why there is a problem, how to fix the problem and how to find a solution is vital to any change.

SFX, has always welcomed readers comment, and I suggest you write to them.

I am pretty sure that there are many female readers of SFX and also I am pretty sure many male readers are genuinely interested in whats available, regardless of gender.

You are right to be annoyed, all I am saying is that you focus some of that energy and annoyance where it is due.

and ask a saliant question of the editorial team.

Feb. 22nd, 2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
James, point taken, and I've emailed them.

I am weary of this battle you know. I can't believe I have to point it out.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 11:44 pm (UTC)
Of course you have to, and need to point it out.

Unfortunatley, its pretty obvious to me at least, that you see things others would miss, as they take things for granted.

Don't be weary. Wel, try not to feel weary, if you are tired, you are tured, I hope that from the battle, some common sense will have been learnt in one corner, and onwards the war shall continue.

Its a good war, no one gets hurt, its valid and fair and it will hopefully improve the genre we like.


Feb. 23rd, 2010 02:47 am (UTC)

You don't expect any better from SFX, do you?
Feb. 24th, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC)
Hi, came here from the Guardian article. I really hope this gets somewhere and they issue an apology, but in the UK I think everyone is afraid of annoying SFX mag. Then again, maybe it just hasn't hit the blogs yet.

I'm going in my capacity as an editor to WHC and Eastercon and I think we'll have a lot to say to each other, can I buy you a pint?

Don't usually associate my LJ (which I've had since I was about 15) and my work in the industry, but friending you seems worth blowing my (okay, somewhat limited) cover.
Feb. 24th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
Yes, I've seen the Guardian post, and I've a good idea what I can expect from the comments. The usual tack is to ignore the message and attack the messenger.

This journal is cross-posted from my web site (, so you can always use that site if you're prefer not to post here.

I really do not enjoy bringing up this matter. Equally, someone has to say something.

I'm not being over-dramatic, or asking for anything outrageous. What I want is that women get a fair representation.

Sure, I'm always on for a drink at a convention. :) I'll be attending both.
Feb. 25th, 2010 12:06 pm (UTC)
Ah! Didn't see that blog, the Guardian post linked to LJ.

No, nobody enjoys it, but it's got to be pointed out. Really glad you noticed! I hadn't bought that edition, and now I won't be buying it!

I am really surprised the story hasn't been picked up in more places. It sounds as though everyone is scared of Future Publishing and their PR team. In fact, one woman I know who works in PR thinks that the Guardian blogger, Dave Barnett, might be getting told off by his superiors for this.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 25th, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
LOL. Yeah, we were speculating by e-mail this morning.
Feb. 25th, 2010 05:56 pm (UTC)
All too common, all too depressing
Is It Something in the Water? Or: Me Tarzan, You Ape
Mar. 2nd, 2010 12:38 pm (UTC)
Re: All too common, all too depressing
Athena, thanks for the link to the piece which is well written, and oh so familiar.

I'm glad you mentioned Tiptree. I've been thinking of her story "The Women Men Don't See" a lot during the past week or so. In fact, I've been thinking it should just have been called "Men don't see Women". ;)

Did you see editor Ian Berriman's response to my concerns here?

His list of excuses and his some-of-my-best-friends-are-women-and-they-think-I'm-okay tactics are so textbook it will make you laugh (and then want to weep).
Mar. 2nd, 2010 03:12 pm (UTC)
Re: All too common, all too depressing
Maura, I'm glad you enjoyed the article! Feel free to browse the blog and leave footprints if you like.

I saw Berriman's response. It manages to hit all the low notes of that particular aria: educate me, my Significant Other is a feminist, we tried hard, it's not our fault our address book doesn't contain women... and my response was like yours. First I wanted to laugh, then to weep. Here's a related piece, which will evoke similar reactions:

Storytelling, Empathy and the Whiny Solipsist’s Disingenuous Angst

Tiptree's The Women Men Don't See has also been on my mind, for a different reason: the pending law in Utah, which proposes to imprison women who have miscarriages. Specifically this part:

"Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like — like that smoke. We'll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You'll see."
Mar. 2nd, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Re: All too common, all too depressing
When I was 18 I read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and it terrified me because I didn't think it was much a of a stretch to imagine that future. I've always felt that women are just one step away from having their few rights yanked away from them. It's made me careful to examine any signs of this happening.

The Utah situation is abhorrent. I read a comparison between it and what Ceauşescu did in Romania - and that is a truly a horror story.

I re-read Tiptree's story not too long ago and nodded my head along to that paragraph. Imagine, that was written over 30 years ago and that observation is still relevant.

Your "Storytelling, Empathy and the Whiny Solipsist's Disingenuous Angst" is great analysis. (Love the stamping baby boy statue!) Well done. I'll be keeping an eye on your blog. :)
Mar. 2nd, 2010 11:56 am (UTC)
This may be of interest to you:

Sadly, the contemporary horror genre fails to acknowledge the huge debt it owes to female C19th horror writers such as Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Jane Webb (The Mummy), Mrs J H Riddell (Weird Stories etc), Florence Marryat, Rhoda Broughton, M E Braddon, Edith Nesbit.....really, the list is endless. Then of course there's Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' which spoofs the gothic horror novel, as well as Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights', which has strong supernatural content.

Alas the BFS President is a male horror writer whose work has often been sexist in the James Herbert / Clive Barker mould (a role he holds for life, like the Pope). Indeed, this message received zero responses from the members of his message board, so disinterested in the issue are horror fans (the huge majority of which are female).

Quite understandably, few women are attracted to the horror field, as with gangster movies. Those that are have to be feisty and assertive and demand equal opportunities (which is itself less than satisfactory because those that do are often poor writers).

Susan Hill, Fay Weldon and Ruth Rendell should be more outspoken about this issue. To quote Delia Smith at Norwich Football Ground, "Where are you!??!"

Mar. 2nd, 2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
I did a MA in 19th century supernatural fiction some time ago and am deeply aware of the debt the horror field owes to women. As usual, their contribution is usually ignored or devalued over time. So much so that an editor of a genre magazine in 2010 doesn't even understand that women have been working in the field for hundreds of years.

Yes, I think women do need to be more vocal about this. I'm also aware that speaking up on matters like this is more difficult for some women, plus a lot of people (men and women) don't think there's a problem.

Women learn very early - quite unconsciously - that when they raise an issue like this they will be responded to in a variety of ways, including being made fun of, being patronised, and being attacked. Rarely are their concerns taken seriously. I have a lot of time for the BFS for their prompt and honest response to forgetting about women last year.

Still, we've a lot way yet to go as this issue with SFX demonstrates. I assume you're read the editor's response here?

If anyone doubted there was a problem with the magazine and its attitude to women, then Ian's response shows that at chez SFX (their horror division anyway) women don't register as particularly relevant since the magazine thinks that there aren't even that many female horror creators, and women horror fans aren't really that common!
Mar. 2nd, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
Hey - impressive academic qualifications! It's great to meet somebody with such expert grounding. Your criticisms are all the more valid because of that.

I was saddened when Julia Briggs died; not only was she an excellent speaker on the subject for various BBC documentaries, but her reference book NIGHT VISITORS is an extremely readable book. I like the way she groups aspects of the genre together.

Last year I passed on a unique scrapbook compiled by Jane Webb [authoress of 'The Mummy!'] to Sheffield Hallam University. Not for the first time, the academics I dealt with were all female, where the genre of weird fiction is better represented than on the frontline i.e. in actually writing horror fiction, where things are far tougher for women.

Women are expected to write juvenile fiction along the Harry Potter / Worst Witch line, or else romantic vampire novels. I would quite happily see all the male writers of low brow sadistic horror ('horror porn' as it should be known) swept away to make way for talented new female writers. I fully endorse eroticism in weird fiction - subtle, clever, genuinely sensual eroticism - but only when tackled by talented writers.

Elizabeth Jane Howard is no mean writer of stylish weird fiction but it's a pity that few other women with similar talents dip their toes into the horror genre. One authoress I can highly recommend, however, is the horribly neglected Phyllis Paul, whose cause has long been championned by the scholar Dr Glen Cavaliero, author of the reference book THE SUPERNATURAL AND ENGLISH FICTION. Glen switched me on to Paul about ten years ago and I find her work astonishingly powerful. The supernatural elements are highly ambiguous; in style she is like Robert Aickman and Walter de la Mare; but it's the disturbing psychological undercurrents which snakes through her work that makes it so terrifying. She was highly thought of in the 1950s / 60s, securing adulatory praise from the likes of Jane Howard.

I can't help wondering if she would have fallen into such obscurity had she been a man!


PS. At the risk of appearing to promote myself, I have a collection of 'higbrow' horror stories appearing soon which feature many positive female characters (and neither are they degraded or sexualised, as all-too-often happens in contemporary horror fiction).

I also specialise in selling obscure and valuable C19th superntural fiction, though this is more by way of turning over my own collection than a business. This is an article that the book listing agency Biblio commissioned me to write on the subject:

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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