Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America [SFWA (affectionately referred to as “Siffwa” in conversation )] has gone through a bit of a maelstrom. It started with cover art depicting a woman chain mail bikini and article some felt showed a lack of respect for women writers and editors both of which drew ire. To top that, in the next issue, it was suggested that Barbie remains a role model and popular because “she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.” In the following issue, two authors railed at the backlash.
In the infamous SFWA Bulletin #202, SF writers Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg’s article irritated many more female and evolved male members and writers. They called those who criticized their Barbie remark “liberal fascists,” and, in the words of novelist and blogger SL Huang, accused “people who called out sexism of demanding ‘censorship’ and suppression.’ They label such criticism ‘thought control,’ they dismiss their critics as stupid and cowardly, and they imply that people objecting to their statements is tantamount to pushing a freedom silencing dystopia a la Stalin and Mao.” Huang continued reminding the embroiled authors that an important element of Free Speech is that “The right to free speech does not equal the right to a platform. They can have all the freedom of speech they want, but that is in no way equivalent to having the professional publication of a professional organization as their playground [for] bullying the members of that organization who don’t agree with them.”
Further reaction to the Resnick/Malzberg piece has included at least one resignation from SWFA, a torrent of outraged acid, and not a few four letter words. The other day, I was directed to another blog called “Sexism, the current SFWA kerfuffle, and ‘lady authors'” by novelist, singer, and songwriter Seanan McGuire. Not known for pulling her punches, McGuire starts the essay, “in the latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin there was an article essentially saying (among many other problematic things) that if I say that ta[l]king about my gender as if it somehow makes me an alien creature makes me uncomfortable, I am censoring and oppressing you, rather than just asking that you, you know, stop doing that shit if you want my good feeling and respect.”
She references Jim C. Hines’ “Roundup of Some ‘Anonymous Protesters’ (#SFWA Bulletin [Twitter] Links), a litany of disgruntled readers and authors outraged by the notion that a revered organization such as SFWA would allow the article, let alone not comment on the inappropriate use of the Gender Card. One of the most intriguing comments came from Ursula Vernon’s blog (called “Bark Like a Fish, Dammit”): SFWA – Housebreaking a Puppy or Abusive Relationship? which Huang summarized: “compares the SFWA’s continued, repeated offenses to an abusive relationship. Because you don’t just let people get away with that shit; you walk out.”
On June 02, 2013, the organization’s president author John Scalzi issued a statement averring that, though he was on an airplane finishing up a book tour when the spam hit the fish, he researched the situation carefully and created a task force to examine the article and previous incidents at which others had bridled, calling into question the Bulletin’s misogyny. First and foremost, he, as president and overseer of all things SFWA, took personal responsibility for the fact that the article appeared.
He was very supportive of the Bulletin’s editor Jean Rabe, who, he wrote, had taken “over the Bulletin at a problematic time in the publication’s history, got it back onto a regular schedule and otherwise righted what was a foundering ship. When previous concerns about sexism regarding the Bulletin were aired, specifically the cover of issue #2oo, Ms. Rabe listened, understood and was responsive to them and solicited work relevant to the concern, in the hope of furthering discussion. She has always acted in good faith for the organization, and I have valued and continue to value her dedication.”
He went on to say that he was advised that two articles would appear on the cover, the Resnick/Malzberg and one by Hines. However, he wrote: “It’s possible if I had more closely read the article I might have alerted Ms. Rabe to portions that might be an issue. She might then have had the opportunity to take those concerns back to Mr. Resnick and Mr. Malzberg, who I have no reason to believe would not have taken editorial direction.
Scalzi’s summation was eloquent: “To all our members, I say: You are welcome, you are valued, you are needed.” We
need you, and your voice and your willingness to make yourself heard when you feel that we are not the organization we can be. Be part of us, and help us be the organization you need us to be – that all science fiction and fantasy writers need us to be, and can be proud to be a member of.”
I applaud the authors who stood up to say “no more” and Scalzi’s willingness to act and his determination to bring inclusivity to SFWA (even though I had minor problems with some of his statement). Still, the specter of Default to the Male continues to recur and is particularly outraging when it appears to be institutionalized. Both Scalzi and Resnick made an interesting point about the relativity of apologies and insults: the impact hinges on the target’s sensibilities.
Some of the most vociferous (though certainly not the most virulent) of antisemitism I’ve encountered came from Jews. Moreover, what has now become known as the “N word” can be safely said among peers, but if used by someone outside the circle, it’s the strongest and most offensive of slams. One of the Tweets suggested that those who don’t get the uproar over the SFWA bulletin article, “should read it replacing words meaning ‘female’ with words meaning ‘black.'”
Three days later after his released statement, Scalzi announced Rabe’s resignation, citing her for excellence in her job beginning when she was hired as the journal’s business manager and continuing through her promotion to editor. He wished her well in all of her pursuits. He did not give the slightest hint of the process that led to her leaving, but one can as easily imagine subtle mollification in corporate Male Default as it is to imagine Female assertiveness or even a set of less flattering pictures of Female and Male responses.
In August of last year, Columbia Pictures released “Hope Springs”, a feature examining the declining marriage of a middle-aged couple, who not only sleep in separate rooms, but barely speak at all. Wishing to go back to a time when they had a sensual, more communicative relationship, the wife asks her spouse to join her in marriage counseling. His initial response is that she must be nuts if she can’t see how appropriate their long term relationship is.
While many films over the years have illustrated this phenomenon, they’ve usually taken for granted the validity of his statement. Not to speak ill of beloved icons, I’m not quite sure how to take “I Love Lucy” given that the basic premise of the humor was that a wife strove not to be defined only by her marriage. Not that the men in that show were any saner. It’s just that, as a vehicle for Lucille Ball’s extraordinary comic talent, when the husband didn’t get his way right off the bat, she suffered for her efforts.
While this incident spotlights a plethora of problems that go beyond women’s issues, whether it’s in the home where a male standard of sanity prevails or in the work place, where “the period instability of women,” as the “first” ever female Supreme Court Justice called it in the film “First Monday in October,” has given society license to presume that a woman’s assertive stance is prima facie evidence of gender-wide insanity.
If in 2013, sexists and racists still don’t know what true equality is, we really need to get our work into the spotlight and banish the Male Default.
You can read the Resnick/Malzberg article for yourself by following these links:
The new Bethlem Hospital, designed by Robert Hooke, 1676. It is a corruption of the name Bethlehem that gave us the word “bedlam.”
 The Science Fiction Writers of America has some rather stiff membership requirements having to do with the number of publications an author needs to join.
 SL Huang’s [b]log line reads: “Because the world doesn’t have enough snarky mathematician gunslingers” and one can expect the blog entries to live up to that statement.
Seanan McGuire, American author and filker, has published eleven urban fantasies, (Chimes at Midnight, due in North America from DAW Books on September 3rd, 2013), seven essays and nonfiction works, and innumerable short stories and poems all under her own name. As Mira Grant, she has five medical thrillers (the most recent Parasite [Book one of the Parasitism trilogy] due from Orbit North America, November 2013).
Jim C. Hines is known for novels about goblins (Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero, Goblin War), his newest novel Codex Born is due out in August.
John Scalzi: published mostly in fiction, his newest book, The Human Division is the most recent in his series of The Old Man’s War Novels. His other novels include Fuzzy Nation, Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas. He’s also published Novellas, Novelettes and Short Story Chapbooks and been collected in a series of anthologies.
SWFA Bulletin 202
Barry Malzberg is an award winning novelist
Mike Resnick is the author of 68 published novels and a frequent guest at Science Fiction conventions.
Jean Rabe is a prolific Fantasy writer whose fiction include the multi-volume Dragonlance Series, and many stand alone novels. Her work can also be seen as editor of anthologies and in Dungeons & Dragon modules.
The couple is played by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones Lee Jones. It couldn’t be bad if it tried. Steve Carel as the marriage counselor. Written by Vanessa Taylor. Directed by David Frankel
Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley. It’s been pointed out that Arnaz, a producer of the series, was Cuban, which would have affected his view of women, marital norms, and by extension his comedy sense.
And we won’t dwell on “Gaslight” (Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotten), which has also found its way into professional jargon.