I’m coming in late to discuss this particular issue on the blog, for one fairly specific reason – as a member of the SFWA and an incoming Board member (I don’t officially step up to my position as overseas regional director until July but it’s hovering there on the horizon), I’ve been spending a lot of time on the private member forums, discussing the issue, reading member comments and joining in the plan for ‘where to go from here’ as far as making constructive change to the SFWA publications. I’m also trying to figure out in my own head the delicate balance of ‘conflict of interest’ as far as me personally making any kind of public contribution to the discussion. Which is, I imagine, something I’m going to have to get used to.
For those of you just joining us on this one, you can probably catch up on the SFWA Bulletin topic by looking at this link post from Jim Hines (and whoa, he’s been updating that one, so many links, a very useful page to direct anyone to who thinks that the anger about this issue belongs to a ‘minority’), the column under discussion scanned here, and especially Foz Meadows on “Old Men Yelling at Clouds” – a breakdown explaining exactly what was wrong with the Resnick/Malzberg column, point by point, so no one else has to.
The SFWA’s official response (so far) includes an announcement of a task force to address problems with the Bulletin, and the President, John Scalzi, taking responsibility for (but not in any way defending or excusing) the recent issue.
If anyone is wondering, by the way, why a whole task force might be necessary, I would direct you to Mari Ness’ excellent breakdown on the many ways in which The Bulletin hasn’t been meeting its own stated mission, let alone the needs of the SFWA membership. There’s a lot of work to be done here, and it’s far too much to put on the shoulders of a single person.
So, that’s the background.
It’s not news that there is still sexism lingering in publishing/writing communities, both of the overt and insidious variety (and indeed, of the deliberate as well as the accidental, which can both be damaging) and that the long-standing tradition of turning a blind eye to the behaviour or old-fashioned opinions of some professionals because of their past work is coming around to bite us. Because, that word ‘professional’ means something else now, in most workplaces. It comes with a different set of behavioural expectations and responsibilities than it did even a decade ago, let alone several decades.
But what I have found especially interesting (and heartening) this week, in the wake of this issue being discussed so robustly, is how many people have taken the opportunity to write posts extending the issue of sexism in the SF community further, beyond this one instance. Which is important, to demonstrate that it’s never about this one thing. Sexism is never an isolated incident – as soon as we treat it that way, as an outlier rather than a symptom of society – then all it takes is one well-chosen excuse and the matter will be brushed under the carpet.
But this is why it matters that a professional industry journal should not publish a piece, even a deliberately backwards-looking opinion piece, which belittles and patronises women:
Because women often hold back from speaking up publicly about issues that affect and distress them, out of fear that their peers will not support them, and their professional image will suffer. Despite the fact that the things they are hesitant to speak about (like being ignored or shouted down at conventions) are ALSO damaging to their professional image.
Because when women speak up in public, they are often told to shut up in the most revolting language. I don’t mean language like ‘that thing you said was demeaning and disrespectful.’ Pornographic, degrading and violent language.
Because all these things have been happening for a very, very long time, and we should be done with it by now. The fact that we’re not done with it is something of a shock, all over again, every time. Sometimes it feels like a betrayal, sometimes an embarrassment, often both.
I think the most important, positive and critical piece I have read on this whole big mess in the last week is this one, from K Tempest Bradford: Demanding the Best.
Thank you to everyone who has been speaking up this week and making your voice heard. It feels like our community is a better and more supportive environment in which to do this than ever before (yes, despite the despicable hate mail), and that is because SO MANY people are standing up together, saying ‘this isn’t okay’ and helping to take responsibility for making things better into the future. And while it often bugs me to see men given brownie points for saying the same things women have been saying for years, I think that the crowd of supportive voices from male peers saying ‘sexism in our industry is not okay,’ commenting and linking and endorsing the posts by women, has been crucial because it shows, hey, this isn’t just a gender thing, or a ‘lady writer’ thing. It affects all of us.
We as a community deserve better, and we as a community CAN work to do better. To be more inclusive, more respectful of everyone (where ‘respect’ does not mean turning a blind eye to bad behaviour or destructive attitudes), and more vocal at supporting those who need it.
Check out Adweek’s recentcoverage to see how in incident like this damages not only the reputation of the SFWA but science fiction/fantasy as an entire genre. Yep. That’s how the world sees us. There’s more work to do.