Last night I saw the most recent anonymized culling of quotes from a science fiction and fantasy forum populated by some of the genre’s malcontents. The occasion of this particular outbreak is (long story short) a petition by a non-member of SFWA on the topic of the potential future actions of a non-existent review board with which the yet-to-be-hired editor of the SFWA Bulletin might some day have to work. I would tell you what the petitioners were asking for if I knew, but the petition itself is a bit of a “First Amendment”, “bikinis”, “tyranny” mess. The people who signed the petition don’t seem to agree what the point of it was in their statements elsewhere, merely that it’s very important and there are some bad people around. Also, as it protested something that wasn’t happening, it’s moot.
I will note, however, that as the associate president of a non-profit organization, I have a tiny bit of experience on this. We’re currently working to hire a new volunteer editor for our monthly newsletter. Not only will this person work closely with an editorial board, but for the first couple of months of their tenure, they’ll be sharing content-acquisition duties with the board so they can get a feel for the priorities of the organization. We’re currently deciding between two very good candidates, neither of whom has expressed anything other than eagerness over the arrangement.
But this isn’t about the petition. This is about the responses to the petition and to the news that the petition wasn’t met with joy and gratitude. You see, when I looked at those quotes last night, I noticed that many of them centered around one woman, Mary Robinette Kowal. (Full disclosure: Mary is a good friend of good friends of mine. I’ve met her in passing at a couple of cons and been part of a couple of email chains she was also part of. I also happen to like her style.)
Following Mary and the petition kerfuffle both on Twitter, I knew Mary hadn’t gotten that involved in it. Some work to get all the facts. A certain amount of time spent reminding people that this petition was something launched against SFWA, not by it. She retweeted some snark, but she added next to none of her own. She also retweeted people linking to non-hyperbolic, if implacable, posts like this one. Over on Facebook, she shared what is easily the most sympathetic post about the whole thing. But on the forum, Mary was the face of evil and the orchestrator of all the…oh.
That was when it clicked. Somebody had a case of Watson Derangement Syndrome, except that Rebecca Watson wasn’t the center of the delusion. Mary was. And everything they were saying sounded so damned familiar.
Yesterday, I saw a link to the actual forum thread. The similarities continued to mount. So, with apologies to Joanna Russ over the fact that I’m doing far less work than she did, here’s how you go about suppressing the women who are doing that terribly inconvenient writing.
Pick a Successful, High-Profile Woman
Being elected to the SFWA board made Mary Robinette Kowal a triple threat. She was already an award-winning puppeteer before she started writing fantasy. When she did pick start writing, she won the Campbell award for best new writer. Then she served as SFWA’s secretary and vice president over a period of change and growth.
Rebecca Watson already ran a very popular blog network, worked on Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, and was in demand as a speaker in June 2011 when she quietly said on a video, “Guys, don’t do that.” The conversations that led from “Elevatorgate” have changed the landscape of the atheist and skeptic movements.
Why choose someone high profile? Two reasons: It will make what you do next slightly more plausible, and if you can topple a woman at the top, you will have demonstrated a considerable amount of power.
Reduce Everyone Else to Her Agents
Sean P. Fodera [all links go to the page on which the excerpt appears; wouldn't want anything to be out of context]
Article 6020, Wed 12 Feb 2014 02:00:42p
A minority cabal has been in power in SFWA since M. Robinette-Kowal was elected to the Board. Now it’s just her minions worshiping at her agenda.
Article 6062, Wed 12 Feb 2014 04:24:25p
I don’t know about minions, sycophants, or lackies, but as far as I know, a puppeteer always has puppets… (Sorry. I. Could. Not. Resist.)
Article 6126, Thu 13 Feb 2014 08:47:19a
I find they don’t know how to -think- for themselves. They can only parrot what they see on their favorite social media.
This not being true only of the Young.
Article 6160, Thu 13 Feb 2014 12:45:18p
The groupmind can come up with original thinking, but the practice of groupthink doesn’t manage it.
In atheo-skepticism, we have the continual conflation of Rebecca and Atheism+. Forget that Atheism+ is Jen McCreight’s brainchild. Forget that Rebecca said at the time that it wasn’t her preferred means of dealing with the problem, that she’d rather start from humanism. No, when Atheism+ was the big bogeyman, people kept complaining to Rebecca about it. But that’s just one example. For more, try this.
We also have “FtBullies”. How does that tie to Rebecca? Well, if you understand that Skepchick is part of Freethought Blogs, even though it isn’t part of Freethought Blogs, and you understand that the “bullies” in question are all of Freethought Blogs or whatever portion of the bloggers are actively talking about feminism today plus Rebecca or any commenter on Skepchick or Freethought Blogs who says something disagreeable (feminist, anti-racist, etc.)–well, if you understand all that, explain it to me. The point is that the responsibility for whatever group of people you find objectionable at the moment can be laid at Rebecca’s feet under a name that doesn’t apply to her.
Why subsume all the people who agree (even somewhat) with your target woman under that woman? In addition to keeping the size of your problem under control, this keeps anyone else involved from being seen as a leader in their own right or even someone who honestly holds the position they do. If all the feminist evil emanates from one person, your work is easy. Just undermine and discredit that one person, and you can be assured that all that aberrant behavior will cease. You’ll be allowed to return to your rightful place as whatever it is that you actually do. Or did. Or claimed. This also helps you continue to attribute criticisms made by other people to her.
Minimize Her Work
Raymond Feist [included for context only]
Article 6025, Wed 12 Feb 2014 02:15:29p
M. Robinette-Kowal? I suspect I may regret this question, but who? I know I don’t follow the field the way I used to, but who is she and why does she have minions?
Lawrence Watt-Evans [included for context only]
Article 6033, Wed 12 Feb 2014 02:36:34p
Mary Robinette Kowal. (No hyphen.) She’s a fairly successful writer, won the Campbell and a couple of Hugos.
Sean P. Fodera
Article 6035, Wed 12 Feb 2014 02:49:17p
Honestly, no one you should have heard of, and no one you should concern yourself with. I have other words for her, but they wouldn’t be PC.
Article 6037, Wed 12 Feb 2014 03:06:24p
Sean, you flatter her.
Article 6067, Wed 12 Feb 2014 04:32:33p
This is where I usually point out how a) easy to win Hugos are, and b) how little they stand for. As a Hugo winner, you know all that LWE. As a Hugo finalist (for “Acts of Conscience”) I know something about the numbers involved. I got on the Hugo ballot because I was nominated by 24 people out of 7,000+ qualified to nominate. The winner that year, a favorite son of the convention state, received 350 votes out of 7,000+ qualified to vote. It beats me how anyone would think such an award counts for much of anything. Jerry Pournelle is right: only sales figures matter. Funny how most people keep those secret.
Article 6069, Wed 12 Feb 2014 04:37:47p
Pretty much. One voter told me he voted for my story because it had the best title, since he hadn’t read any of the nominees. I suspect he wasn’t the only one.
But Mary’s books do apparently sell reasonably well.
Article 6074, Wed 12 Feb 2014 04:46:44p
I’d have to see her numbers, and also be told the current average numbers for her publisher, and for category SF/F in general. Apparently just doesn’t tell us anything.
Article 6079, Wed 12 Feb 2014 04:52:51p
“Apparently” in that I see them in stores, and Tor continues to publish her. Though her Amazon ranks aren’t very impressive.
Article 6137, Thu 13 Feb 2014 11:01:35a
Unless the publishing world has changed dramatically since I walked away from it 5 years ago, I can name any number of “successful” writers who continued to be published by a given publisher because they are personal favorites of one or more editors, or because they have special personal attributes that support the publisher or editors’ personal politics. I know a couple of writers whose entire careers are based on such “credentialing.” There’s a long history of this in hard SF (we can all name one completely talentless scientist who got a career based entirely on his scientific career, for example), but it gradually spread. I’d have to see verifiable numbers.
Rebecca Watson is blogger with a degree in communications. That stuff about running a successful blog network that covers five subject areas in four languages? Forget about that. Forget that she’s enough in demand as a speaker to have a rider with conditions like minimum female representation among speakers for events. Forget her being part of one of the top skeptical podcasts. She’s a blogger without a degree in science.
Why work so hard to reduce the importance of your target’s accomplishments? It makes it ever so much easier to suggest she’s an interloper with no right to influence your group. Besides, you’ve got decades of examples of other people minimizing women’s work to help you on your way. This will also help you later, when you paint your target as merely “jealous” of her betters.
Portray Any Issue That Happened on Her Watch as Global Incompetence
Sean P. Fodera
Article 6035, Wed 12 Feb 2014 02:49:17p
I told her I wouldn’t allow anything I’d written to be posted there as long as I didn’t have access (as well as long as Cory Doctorow’s “testimonial” was still on the home page). She gave me a lot of excuses about how I’d had my chance to influence the site, but hadn’t bothered to visit it. I pointed out that I had visited the public areas, and had sent her my comments, but couldn’t visit the private areas because she had repeatedly ignored my requests for a working user account (others posting here had the same issues with access).
I think “incompetent” is as polite as I can be.
Sean P. Fodera
Article 6039, Wed 12 Feb 2014 03:26:19p
For the record, I’m very embarrassed that I’ve not managed to turn the other cheek and put that behind me, but SFWA and my contributions to it MEANT SOMETHING to me, and her incompetence and arrogance forced me to give that up. I’d go to confession, but the monsignor would know I wasn’t sincere.
Sean P. Fodera
Article 6157, Thu 13 Feb 2014 12:42:07p
Myself, Jane Yolen, Jerry Pournelle and others on sff.net were clearly not held in good standing when the new site went live because our requests for working logins went unanswered. It goes back to the petite-tyrant who set up the new forums. It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear William indicate that access hasn’t gotten any easier in five years.
I’m just going to let Rebecca cover this one herself, with “It’s Okay to Make Mistakes, Even About Galileo“.
Why point to your target woman’s mistakes, even months or years after the fact? Because everyone does everything perfectly except for those terrible women who are reaching beyond their competence. Besides, you wouldn’t want anyone focusing on what they did accomplish, would you?
Simultaneously Attribute Her Mistakes to Malice
Note: I have no idea who was responsible for log-in issues at SFWA. I see nothing in Mary’s bio to suggest she has a tech background and would, thus, be able to fix these problems herself. A less Mary-focused explanation of the problem is given here.
Sean P. Fodera
Article 6192, Thu 13 Feb 2014 01:58:03p
There was a very purposeful effort by MRK to keep out certain people who were very active on sff.net. Despite having it pointed out to her multiple times that she was keeping out former presidents and committee chairs, nothing was done to fix non-working credentials. Jane told me after I’d left that she still didn’t have working credentials on the new site, but that was OK because it gave her time to write more.
Then, of course, we have a talk by Rebecca in which the scope of some statements wasn’t clear enough for the whole audience, and that became “science denialism“.
Why attribute behavior to malice? Come on. Do good geniuses get any minions?
Discount Her Feminism If She Disagrees with Any Woman
Article 6051, Wed 12 Feb 2014 03:59:57p
Yes, the Bulletin editor was the first and most unfair victim.
Article 6056, Wed 12 Feb 2014 04:10:53p
Public shaming of a woman. Which apparently only counts for some women.
Article 6109, Wed 12 Feb 2014 08:55:15p
It was a public shaming, regardless. By people who claim to be advocates for women. Except for actual individual women.
Article 6110, Wed 12 Feb 2014 08:55:13p
And that, Lois, is one of the things that bothered ne the most about the whole thing. They just didn’t GET IT.
Article 6113, Wed 12 Feb 2014 09:24:00p
And those women are labelled “phenomenal buttheads,” “bigots,” and “sexist pigs.”
A few times over the life of her career, Rebecca has strongly disagreed with a woman who criticized her. This is one of the more recent. Apparently, calling someone who tweets about you and your friends and colleagues several times a day–while you ignore her–“obsessed” is invoking the anti-feminist “all women are crazy” meme. Other times, the mere presence of the criticism is enough.
Why make a big deal out of her or her minion-bullies criticizing a woman? Some people still don’t understand that feminism is a political movement with the goal of equal treatment of men and women on a legal and societal basis. This aids in that confusion while emphasizing the fact that some women agree with you. Also, noting that one woman said something “mean” about another plays off the trope that all this political stuff is just interpersonal jealousy.
Call Her a Mean Girl
Article 6313, Fri 14 Feb 2014 01:28:33p
She’s an actress marketing herself, and she’ll use whatever. Now she’s letting the Mean Girl show.
She’s dealing with a doctrinaire crowd? Expect her to be more feminist than thou. Or humanist.
This is why she was so clever not to name the Rabid Weasels — aside from wanting to avoid claims of libel.
And she’s feeding off this controversy.
I’ll just leave this here.
Why a mean girl? Because when men talk about their situations, it’s politics. When women do it, it’s catty gossip. And no one likes a gossip. Except Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
Discount Her Feminism If She Appears in Less Than a Burqa
Sean P. Fodera
Article 6299, Fri 14 Feb 2014 11:42:57a
It just occurred to me that MRK seems to be deeply involved in this whole anti-sexism matter. I remember seeing her posing with Hines and Scalzi on one of their very scary cover parodies, and I know she chimed in with a snipe at the petition signers on the Radish thread.
I find it very funny and ironic that she would jump on this bandwagon. For a long time, her website featured an array of photos of her in a diaphanous white outfit, posing on a beach. No metal bikinis or such, but they were not innocuous writer headshots either. One of them, with her recumbent on the sand with legs exposed, made her somewhat attractive. I also recall she’s fond of wearing tight-fitting gowns and plunging necklines when she attends cons and award ceremonies. [The pictures in question are here. --SZ]
I’ll have to add “phony” to “incompetent” and “arrogant” in the mental tags I’ve assigned her.
Did you know that Rebecca Watson appeared in a pin-up calendar? If this fact has somehow escaped your attention, be ignorant no more. This means she can no longer speak to sexualization or objectification with any authority, even though she does, with respect to her pin-up calendars, no less.
Why talk about what your target woman wears? There are still some people who can’t seem to tell the difference between sex and assault, sex and degradation, sex and objectification, sex and unprofessionalism. If you point out that your target allows the world to understand that she probably has sex and enjoys it, you can call her a hypocrite for objecting to all sorts of social ills.
Add Some Direct Sexual Harassment
Article 6361, Sun 16 Feb 2014 10:43:44a
I’m disappointed Neosunlight chose not to include my challenge for Ms. Kowal to star in a gender-flipped rendition of my book *Dark Sky Legion* (Bantam, 1992). A person ought to have the courage of their convictions.
[ETA: Owlmirror helpfully points out in the comment that I haven't given people any good way to tell what Barton is suggesting. Here's the cover art in question.]
Here’s a little sample of what Rebecca’s received. The link is safe for work, but links from it aren’t necessarily.
Why make things all about her body? Well, it’s FUN, amirite? Also, it reminds her that no matter what she does, you don’t see her as a real person, just a bag of meat that might be attractive to you.
Accuse Her of Profiting From Your Abuse
Article 6375, Sun 16 Feb 2014 02:23:40p
I TOLD you she was feeding off of this. Now, if Ms. Romano had wanted to be a journalist, not an ideologue, she’d have e-mailed some of us.
Do the words “professional victim” mean anything to anyone out there in atheo-skeptic land? Yeah, I thought they did.
Why accuse your target of profiting? It makes any recognition of your abuse to be attention-seeking behavior, not to be encouraged. Don’t worry. She already knows that.
So there you go. Just a few quick steps to making all those pain-in-the-ass feminists into non-people and non-problems. Unless it backfires, but that would never happen, would it?