Outrage in the sexism community

Outrage? What is the sexism community outraged about now? About people complaining about sexism, of course; what else? Stalin!! Mao!!!

It’s the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Bulletin that’s in the hot seat this time. SF and Fantasy are proudly active branches of the sexism community, as we all know, along with gaming and computer science and “skepticism” among others.

A growing chorus of science fiction authors have been speaking out about sexism in the genre after much-criticised recent editions of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s (SFWA) magazine, Bulletin, which featured a woman in a chainmail bikini on the cover and the claim that Barbie is a role model because she “maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should“.

A row has been brewing for two weeks over the Bulletin, which also ran a column referring to “lady writers” and “lady editors”, describing them as “beauty pageant beautiful” or a “knock out”.

The columnists, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, responded to claims that their descriptions were sexist in another bulletin, where they wrote that “all we did was appear in a magazine with a warrior woman on the cover, and mention that a woman who edited a science fiction magazine 65 years ago was beautiful. If they get away with censoring that, can you imagine what comes next? I’m pretty sure Joe Stalin could imagine it … Even Chairman Mao could imagine it.”

Jason Sanford is glad the Bulletin published the response by Resnick and Malzberg.

Wait. What? I’m okay with Resnick and Malzberg saying there’s no problem with how women are depicted in SF artwork? What kind of sick SFWA liberal fascist joke is this?

I raise that last question because in the dialogue Malzberg calls people troubled by these types of sexist covers “SFWA liberal fascists.” Resnick and Malzberg then talk at length how the campaign to raise awareness on how women are depicted in SF/F art is nothing more than thought-control and censorship.

Now, I think Resnick and Malzberg are taking the issue a bit personally because in the previous issue of the Bulletin they discussed female genre editors, and took flack for commenting on the looks of one of the editors. I also know that they are trying to stir the pot on this issue—hell, they basically admit as much toward the end of their discussion (right before they say this type of thought-control and censorship leads us straight into a world full of Joseph Stalins and Chairman Maos).

How familiar that sounds, doesn’t it. In my circles that’s known as “doing a Shermer.” It’s funny how often my circle has occasion to use that phrase. Well not funny, exactly. Pathetic, is more like it.

However, that doesn’t mean Resnick and Malzberg’s essay didn’t piss me off. And the reason for said urine-anger is simple—they throw around the words “thought-control” and “censorship” merely because they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable for their beliefs.

News flash: Feeling heat for your ideas is not censorship. Having to defend your beliefs when challenged is not thought-control.

Precisely. Michael Shermer please note. Also all the other vanity-outraged egomaniacs who’ve done a Shermer in the past few months.

Back to the Guardian story.

The issues provoked blistering attacks from authors online, with some going so far as to withdraw their membership of the organisation.

“I loved so many things about you – but your apparent willingness to overlook constant and continued sexism in your own publication and ranks I do not love,” wrote E Catherine Tobler, who later said she received a “flood of hate mail” for her comments. “People have told me I never should have joined SFWA if this is what I wanted from it. That I was wrong to try to make it conform to me and my ideals. They have told me not to let the door hit my perky ass on the way out. (You see what they did there?)” she wrote.

That too is familiar. “Get out of my movement.” Yep.

The bestselling author Ann Aguirre spoke out about sexism in science fiction on a wider basis, of how she has been treated by male writers when at conventions – “I had a respected SF writer call me ‘girlie’ and demand that I get him a coffee, before the panel we were on TOGETHER,” she wrote on her blog – and of the “dismissive, occasionally scornful attitude” she has found as a woman writing science fiction.

“I’ve held my silence when I probably shouldn’t have. But I was in the minority, a woman writing SF, and I was afraid of career backlash. I was afraid of being excluded or losing opportunities if I didn’t play nice,” wrote Aguirre.

“I don’t care about that any more. If this means I don’t get into anthos [anthologies] or invited to parties, I don’t give a fuck. I care more about doing the right thing, about speaking out, so maybe other women who have had these experiences will do the same. If enough of us gather the courage to say, ‘Hey, look, this is NOT ALL RIGHT,’ maybe the world will change.”

Like Tobler, her post provoked hate mail, which she added to her blog…

Again! Recognition!

Aguirre has since told Publishers Weekly that while she “didn’t post the worst, scariest or ugliest hate mail I received … at this point, the positive feedback exponentially outweighs the hateful microcosm, and I’m so glad I did this.

“I’ve gotten an overwhelming number of emails, thanking me for being brave because now this woman has the courage to tell her own story or to stand up for herself and demand better treatment. A number of those emails brought me to tears, and if I helped strengthen the sisterhood and made other women feel better, then it was all worth it. I’m so proud to know so many courageous, creative women. The positive I see coming from this is that we’ve broken through the wall of silence, where it’s better to swallow our shame and outrage. If we’re united in our determination to demand equality and respect, the situation must improve,” she said.

And that, too, is familiar. I, too, get that a lot. I too hear from women who tell me I help them have the courage to stick around, speak up, not hide, not quit.

It’s all the same thing. None of it is the least bit original or surprising. It might as well be scripted.




  1. says

    Yes, that’s good. For a start, he gets that it’s about belittling – which is very damn important. It’s just normal to belittle women, and that’s a big fucking problem. When people don’t even get that – progress becomes impossible.

  2. says

    I read the second Resnick and Malzberg piece after seeing some twitter chat and it was such ho hum conventional, 1987 syndicated op-ed level litany of the usual complaints about not being able to BREATHE anymore lest you offend someone jeez I couldn’t believe that any editor, even if they were sympathetic, would hand over SIX (6!) pages of their mag to it.

  3. musubk says

    Have you noticed that the same people who will instantly call out ‘Godwin’s Law’ when someone mentions Hitler have no problem with comparisons to Stalin or Mao? I think it’s because they just accept ‘Godwin’s Law’ as part of being a skeptic, but they don’t actually think about what it means. It’s cargo cult skepticism.

  4. deoridhe says

    Since someone mentioned it after the WIS conference, I keep thinking about the Science Fiction sexism incidents in terms of mattering – how all of this reinforces that who matters in Science Fiction (and atheism, and politics, and everything) is the men, and the women don’t MATTER. Aguirre’s post in particular highlighted a lot of times when she was made to feel like she didn’t matter, and how negatively it affected her feeling like she belonged to the Science Fiction community.

  5. smhll says

    Somebody point Ron Lindsey to Scalzi’s post…

    There’s a little bit of happy irony in this suggestion (about Scalzi’s good response to the SFWA situation). Because when Ron L. gave three links for examples of feminists saying “shut up and listen” one of the three links was to THIS post in Scalzi’s blog, inspired by a comment on a previous Scalzi post. (I’d like people who are concerned about the alleged “shut up and listen” meme to read the thread.)


  6. says

    News flash: Feeling heat for your ideas is not censorship. Having to defend your beliefs when challenged is not thought-control.

    And there are how many atheist articles telling religion and its accommodationist defenders the exact same fucking thing? Holy fuck, it’s like the skeptical community has…some sort of ideological blinders on.

    musubk #4:

    Have you noticed that the same people who will instantly call out ‘Godwin’s Law’ when someone mentions Hitler have no problem with comparisons to Stalin or Mao?

    On the contrary, I see lots of people who like to act as though Hitler, Stalin and Mao being 1) comparable in terms of their murderous, dictatorial, fascist regimes devoted absolutely to their own betterment by proxy of “the good of the State'” and 2) leaders of parties that called themselves socialist/communist in some way means that they’re all leftists and representative of what happens if radical leftists come to power. (I remember seeing a talk where Shermer did this, even putting the three side by side and using them as examples of a “leviathan state” that is ostensibly radical-left in nature)

    Except, if you actually ask a radical leftist (like me), they’ll probably definitively class all three of those as right-wing by virtue of the fact that they were dictators.

    …of course, the Right has never been known for its consistency, accuracy or honesty. in fact, it is well-known for being dishonest and attempting to conceal said dishonesty.

  7. chrislawson says

    Setar, I think it’s somewhat disingenuous to call Mao and Stalin right-wing because they were dictators. That’s a kind of No True Leftist fallacy. The way I deal with this is to recognise that left-vs.-right is a poorly defined political axis that is only loosely aligned with the axis that I care most about, which is liberalism vs. authoritarianism. That way I get to slam Stalin and Mao for being vicious authoritarians without losing arguments at the get-go by pretending they were right wing.

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