The SFWA forms a committee

In the wake of recent raging sexism in the science-fiction writers community, the SFWA has convened a task force to address the issues. It has the potential to be a good response, or a strategy for procrastination…we’ll just have to wait and see. It looks like some good progressive people on the committee, at least. John Scalzi has stepped up and accepted responsibility, which is also encouraging.

Meanwhile, the response is getting hot. Rachael Acks unleashes the fury, and so does SL Huang. That last post includes complete scans of the 6-page dialog from Resnick and Malzberg that elicited the anger. It’s an amazing piece of work: Resnick/Malzberg first brag about the sexist work that they’ve done in the past with no complaints (from women editors, even) and then whine at length about how they’re being censored and crucified by liberal fascists (Malzberg favorably cites talk radio and Sean Hannity for that one). It’s a pathetic spectacle.

They aren’t being censored. They’re being criticized for saying stupid things.

Does this sound familiar? What is it with old white guys who get all this respect and recognition as leaders in their fields, who then wilt into self-pitying whines of “witchhunt!” at any bad press, no matter how mild?


  1. says

    Scalzi’s post is encouraging, there was no whining and the acceptance of responsibility with prompt action taken. That alone is incredibly refreshing, given what has become the standard response in such cases.

    Resnick’s immediate whine on page 1 includes:

    Never got busted, never got censored, never got castigated.

    which says it all, really. The asshole has managed to slither by, not called on his sexist crap (note that the above was mentioned in writing for the National Inquirer and various men’s magazines), and now that he has been, pitifully attempts to set the scene for persecution. Pathetic.

  2. lockout says

    I’ve just about had it with the sexist science-fiction writers BS crap. I mean, have you ever seen Star Wars.

  3. thepint says

    And look who’s popped up in E. Catherine Tobler’s excellent “Why I’m leaving you, SFWA” post, whining about how the fascist feminists are ruining scifi with all their girl cooties. He Who Shall Not Be Named is apparently still super peeved about not being SFWA president himself. Quelle surprise.

  4. maudell says

    It’s funny, I was just commenting on a blog post about this affair… linking the whole “Stalin and Mao would approve” schtick to our own “North Korea” comment.

    It’s kind of sadly hilarious how these people don’t see the inconsistency of telling critics of their dehumanization of women that they are overreacting to immediately follow by comparing them to mass murdering dictators. I’m sure the millions killed in Stalin’s purges would agree if they hadn’t died. [/sarcasm]

  5. says

    Is there actually anyone who HASN’T noticed the trend of male sci-fi writers becoming disturbingly skeevy as they get older?
    It’s a freaking theme, even.

  6. says


    As a longtime reader of SF who can remember enjoying the work of these writers, I sadly must agree with this tweet.

    Oh, I don’t know. It really isn’t a matter of them suddenly turning into blithering nincompoops so much as realizing that they have kept themselves frozen in time. Now that their privileged dinosaur attitudes have been called out, they’re engaging in a full defense of privilege. So, in a way, it’s a yes on the blithering nincompoop, but in another, no.

    I know how different attitudes and thinking was back in the ’60s, 70s and so on. People having seriously sexist attitudes and expressions back then, eh, I can easily forgive that, I had enough of them myself. Keeping yourself in that frame for all these years, though? Strikes me more as deliberately building a fortress around their precious privilege and refusing awareness at all costs. That takes effort.

  7. nutella says

    I read the whiny article reacting to criticism. Wow. Why do these clowns get six pages of space in the association’s magazine to bloviate about how mean everyone is to them?

    Major Godwin violation: They associate their critics with Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.

    And they spend a lot of time whining about Andrea Dworkin who I am quite sure is not one of their critics since she is not a member of SFWA and has been dead for 9 years.

    You’d think an organization of writers could get better writing for their magazine.

  8. says

    How can Scalzi do that?
    I mean, taking responsibility, apologize, and say “let’s do something”.
    Surely his balls dropped off…[/snark]
    And OMG, I read the article those two wrote
    Cue the libveral fascists, Andrea Dworkin, censorship and, of course a complete distortion of facts by claiming that people objected to a “female warrior”.
    They really, really long for the 1960’s when you could call a black man a n… and never had to deal with women in any other position than waitresses and secretaries whose butt you could slap…

  9. says

    @Martin Wagner, #2:

    You don’t have to be around for very long to notice people becoming nincompoops. You just have to start picking up on the ways they were nincompoops all along. When I was a child I read Norby the Mixed-Up Robot and its many sequels, by Isaac Asimov. Recently I saw the first book and one of the sequels for $0.50 apiece at a Friends Of The Library used book sale, and gleefully bought them, and discovered to my dismay that the only named female human character (Norby’s owner’s older brother’s girlfriend) is a sexist cardboard cutout of the “she-has-an-overinflated-job-title-and-lectures-us-all-on-feminism-but-she-is-really-only-concerned-with-looking-pretty-and-can’t-handle-anything-on-her-own” type, and is basically a glorified secretary and coffee-fetcher for another character. It really spoiled my memories of the whole thing. And I don’t consider myself particularly feminist, so this must have been pretty blatant all along.

  10. rq says

    I “like” how they did “research” by going to the Romance section of a bookstore and looking at the covers. Because, you know, the whole point of Science Fiction is Romance, therefore if a naked male torso doesn’t get complaints from Romance readers, then obviously the objectification of women in Science Fiction is totally ok because Men are Oppressed Too, and anyway, it’s not like it happens anywhere else.
    Oh, and he mentions the original female warrior, with picture, as if a female warrior depicted years ago makes any future depiction ok. Well, she looked pretty decently covered up to me, without the (now-standard) bikini armour and bare legs (although I can’t be sure about the legs, they weren’t in the picture) and without obligatory twisty-twisted sexualized pose. I actually liked it.

  11. chrisho-stuart says

    What struck me is the stark contrast between reaction of the organizations (CFI and SFWA) to actually try to deal with the problem — and to acknowledge it is a problem that needs to be considered. No matter what they end up doing, SFWA was quick to acknowledge that many of their members were upset, and to confirm that all those members are important.

  12. says

    I hope that Deep Rifts similar to our own begin in the science fiction community as well as others (gaming, comic books). Please, let the sexist underbelly get exposed. Let these regressives spew their bile. Show us who they are so that they can either mend their harmful ways (by understanding the nature of their actions) or they can start walking.
    Onboard with equality, Overboard with slime.

  13. eidolon says

    If you consider the growth and development of SF, especially in the 40’s and 50’s, the genre reflects the the prevailing attitudes of the day. For Pohl Anderson, women were useful sex accessories and literally coffee getters. I recall reading somewhere a statement from Asimov that the quality of a meeting was to be judged by the number of pinch-able female asses. There were female writers writing under male pseudonyms – James Tiptree and C.J. Cherryth to name a couple because there was no way they were going to get their work published as wimmin.

    Finally, there is this from Ben Bova in 1980 illustrating how little had changed…
    “Neither as writers nor as readers have you raised the level of science fiction a notch. Women have written a lot of books about dragons and unicorns, but damned few about future worlds in which adult problems are addressed.”

    So this problem is nothing new. What IS new is that there is real push-back and awareness that it IS a problem..

  14. says

    Already there are those appalled at the kerfuffle. ‘If only you’d said it was objectionable without being so condemnatory,’ wrote one Pecksniff on E. Catherine Tobler’s blog.

  15. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    But scifi is such a progressive genre

    I’m growing to hate nerd shit

  16. says

    In an old anthology of his SF stories Isaac Asimov included one which was a send up of those 1950’s stories featuring tentacled bodice ripping aliens. The plot line was an alien who was assigned to report on us primitive earthlings. He was from a species that reproduced by fission, (none of that messy sex stuff). He had learned his facts by reading Playboy thinly disguised under the pseudonym “Recreation Lad” and the same trashy SF stories. He tried to demonstrate his findings by kidnapping a man and women and encouraging them to mate much to their protests and the disgust of his audience of superiors. The humans refused to co-operate and the aliens ended up writing off their plans for world conquest and released them. In the original ending the two strangers went their separate ways. Asimov’s female editor amended the ending by having the couple check into the nearest hotel. The aliens last words as his ship warped into hyperdrive were “Wait look at what they are doing now”.

  17. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says


    Not to be rude but mind spelling out your point?

  18. throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says


    Not to be rude but mind spelling out your point?

    I’m hoping it’s an observation that no matter how physically attractive someone is, no matter how much each of them want to have sex with the other under other circumstances, being forced to have sex is still rape and is something that every human would protest against. At least that’s the way I’m choosing to read the ending of the story. Sounds like a very astute editor.

  19. throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says

    What I’m hoping it’s NOT about is how this one time a woman decided to end a book with two people having sex therefore no woman ever gets to complain about irrelevant remarks about someone’s appearance… It’s like the romance novel cover argument except it’s only one anecdote this time and is still quite as irrelevant as the other. I mean, that would be something incredibly daft to posit as an argument pro-sexism.

  20. smhll says

    Finally, there is this from Ben Bova in 1980 illustrating how little had changed…
    “Neither as writers nor as readers have you raised the level of science fiction a notch. Women have written a lot of books about dragons and unicorns, but damned few about future worlds in which adult problems are addressed.”

    Mashing up two different people’s posts, I “love” (scoff at) the notion that not enough pinchable asses in the room is an adult problem. (But, presumably, falling in love, having kids, and staying up all night tending a sick dragon are not adult concerns. For values of adult equaling ‘narrow male role’.)

  21. One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login says

    I am very impressed by Scalzi’s response. It is a model of alert, proactive, constructive leadership at work. The sincere and unambiguous apology; the dismissal of side-issues and the single focus on the health of the organization (“When members believe that they or other members are belittled or minimized by our official publications, that’s a problem”); the immediate move to change things; the finish on a nice oratorical high note (“help us be the organization you need us to be”).

    This is how you want an organization’s leader to act. And it stands in sharp contrast to the not-pologies and defensiveness from skeptical organizations over the past year-plus.

  22. says

    eidolon #16: In 1980, sadly Bova’s quote was largely true, even if Bova couldn’t see that it was sexist attitudes and editorial practices that made the women writers who would be contributing those kinds of stories to the field feel unwelcome, and not the notion that possessing ladyparts confers an ability to write only escapist fluff. A lot changed when some of the field’s most respected editors who happened to be women, like Ellen Datlow and Shawna McCarthy, rose to prominence.

  23. Skatje Myers says

    This is a fantastic point-by-point response to the 6-page article, with excerpts for the lazy who don’t feel like reading the whole six pages.

  24. Chaos Engineer says

    About the point of #19. The short story was a two-pronged satire: First on how human sexuality would seem bizarre to an alien observer, and second on how inaccurately human sexuality is described in men’s magazines of the 1950’s (and later).

    The story was publishable as it was…but the editor understood that a good comic short story needs a punchline at the end, and Asimov hadn’t come up with one. She fixed the problem by adding a standard “Twilight Zone”-style ironic twist ending.

    The lesson to be learned is that every writer can benefit from having a good editor.

  25. says

    @ ing & throwaway

    The Asimov story. “What is This Thing Called Love?” AKA “Playboy and the Slime God.” FWIW, I remember it, and the sex act (which is undescribed but heavily implied) at the end of the story is consensual. I haven’t a clue what Gary’s point was, but I can clear that much up, at least.

  26. rachelswirsky says

    eidolon is correct when writing:

    So this problem is nothing new. What IS new is that there is real push-back and awareness that it IS a problem..

    If you talk to older women who’ve attended conventions for a long time, you’ll get a lot of stories of non-consensual acts including sexual assault, dating far back. Asimov apparently did a fair amount.

    The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbelestier is a starting point for some of that history.

  27. rachelswirsky says

    Martin Wagner argues:

    In 1980, sadly Bova’s quote was largely true

    Trivial counter-examples:

    The Left-Hand of Darkness, 1969
    The Female Man, 1975
    Woman on the Edge of Time, 1976
    Patternmaster, 1976
    Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines, 1974 & 1978

    There are oceans more, of course. That’s where I get without actually taking time to think about it.

  28. says

    I heard on Stephanie Miller just a little while ago that Jerry Lewis is still bloviating with his “women can’t be funny” shtick.

    Just like the racism oozing out of the carpets since Mr. Obama was elected, these are all actually signs of progress. For the last thirty years, American society was mostly papering over all its human rights issues, content to believe that sexism and racism had been “solved”. All of this was always there, but now we’re allowed to notice it. And condemn the shit out of it.

  29. says

    Yes, maxdevlin, this! I’ve been so heartened by the recent pushback on racism & sexism – for the previous couple of decades it was not supposed to be mentioned. Finally we’re tackling it instead of just sweeping it under the rug. Yes!

  30. says

    Wow, that article is a cornucopia of all the usual bullshit.

    Unironic use of right-wing terminology and conspiracy theory notions as if they actually existed. Check. The usual misreading of Andrea Dworkin (her point was rather pointedly about how sexist men view all sex as rape, based on their constant defenses of rape as sex and their views of consensual sex as an act of power in defeating a woman “resisting” it) being attributed to all feminists ever. Check check. The use of examples of evangelical attempts at genuine censorship (attacking anyone who acknowledges that unapproved topics or people exist and trying to get them to never talk about it) with liberals criticizing attempts to silence or dismiss minority groups. Check check check.

    And then we’ve got the baby’s first magician trick with the chainmail bikini picture. As if the rather sensible, non-objectified, natural, and fierce depiction of a warrior woman with chainmail was at all the same thing as the Boris Vallejo-inspired porn actress tracings barely contained in three inches of chainmail total. Or the conflation with objectification with all sexuality (because obviously people taking objection to constantly being referred to as a class of bouncing sex puppets in real life and in fiction is equivalent to removing the balls of all men everywhere and denying them the ability to ever get a hard-on).

    But I think the worst bit is how they use “lady” as an adjective for writers, publishers, and editors. I don’t know if it’s the modern connotations of the word or how they use it, but every time they use it, it just bristles with complete and utter condescension. Like the way you humor your cat when it’s doing something vaguely person-like. There didn’t seem to be any respect for these producers of great science fiction as people. Instead, they were always “lady” Xs and there was always an unspoken idea that that was firmly removed from “actual” Xs. And that impression was not at all helped by the many MANY times they randomly threw some woman’s name in front of them as if merely having a shield with a female name was supposed to serve as a universal “get out of jail free” card for vile sexism.

    I mean, for fuck’s sake, how many times did they try and deflect any self-acknowledgment by randomly pointing to some woman whose been vaguely in the same ballpark as something vaguely similar and then act as if that is somehow an excuse for acting like complete pigs? I lost count after a while.

    And overall, the whole thing serves as one more whining “I’m being oppressed and censored” screed from A) people clearly not at all being censored, B) people who don’t understand what being oppressed and censored feels like, and C) people who are actively trying to encourage the censoring and oppression of a minority group while crying about censorship.

    Once more we have overprivileged white men pontificating in a very illustrious platform about how they never get to speak, in a context where they’ve been the only ones really being given an equivalent platform to speak, usually about a tiny speck where women are agitating to be heard for once in their lives on an issue in which teh menz have been the dominant conversation on the issue for awhile.

    Minority groups speaking up and using their free speech and calling someone an asshole and saying that shit like this has real effects that make real people feel like shit is not taking away someone else’s right to speak. And arguing that it does actually reveals the absurdity of the argument. Because in a world where someone else speaking on their own behalf is so uncommon that merely being exposed to it FEELS like having your right to speak stripped away, you are acknowledging that the world that exists is one in which those voices are CENSORED. Because otherwise, how could that argument be made in anything approaching good faith?

    And overall, it just makes me want to expose these fuckwads to real oppression and censorship. If they felt a situation where they would never have been given a position like they have had because “what could a white man know about sci-fi”, where they were fired from day jobs no matter how competent they were because no one wanted to admit having a white man on staff, where any of the million things that affect real marginalized groups happened to them? Where their voices and concerns were always attacked and harassed and treated like the hysterical rantings of an inhuman monster no matter how kind and gentle they tried to be?

    Then they would know just how fucked up their false equivalence bullshit is.

    And how thankful they have been to grow up in a world where women thinking you are a sexist asshole just because you were a condescending sexist asshole is the worst thing they’ll ever face in their personal or professional lives.

  31. says

    Also in the posts is proof that it’s important to keep calling out these fuckers as often as we can, though they will do their damnedest to make us feel like unfair, censoring, delusional harpies for doing it (which is totally not as bad as being mildly criticized, doncha know).

    Cause, every one of these shit opuses has a section where they cite all the times that similar actions have gone without statement as somehow proof that no one is ever allowed to take objection. In short, because others have swallowed their tongues and let them slide because the consequences for speaking out for oneself when one is an oppressed class are steep, therefore any time we can’t take it anymore and let them have it must be made-up nonsense, because why else would we have let them get away with it in the past.

    If they so demand, then fine, let us let them have it at every opportunity, swallowing nothing with grace out of bigoted ideas of “manners”. Let them understand in great detail the massive amount of privilege they have benefited from and why it is so critical that they grow the fuck up already.

  32. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I think folks are being too harsh on Asimov here.

    I recall reading at least one essay by Isaac Asimov where he defended feminism and another where he admits he doesn’t write female characters well because of his personal history and lack of contact with them in his formative early years.

    He was a product of his times and experiences as are we all. His works likewise reflect the time and culture that we used to have.

    He’s also written a few of stories from a female perspective with the women portrayed sympathetically. Eg. ‘Hostess’, ‘My Son the Physicist’ and of course all the short stories featuring Susan Calvin, expert roboticist who always outsmarted her male colleagues.)

    I strongly suggest you read Aimov’s essay ‘Women in Science Fiction’ – which can be found in his anthology ‘Gold’ possibly among other places – where he explains that there were two good reasons one social dealing with the culture of the time including censorship and and one personal dealing with his own lack of experience why his early SF featured few women characters.

  33. says


    a man who viewed sexual assault as a funny hobby

    …but, but, he was a product of his times, you can’t blame him for that! And pinching someone’s butt, well, that’s hardly rape, is it? After all, guys slap each other on the ass all the time, and they aren’t whining that they were sexually assaulted! Yes, you are hysterical about this. Really.

    Just thought I’d get that out of the way for all the mansplainers who are sputtering right now.