This is going to come as a tremendous shock to people, particularly my wife and children, but I am not, in fact, perfect.
When I write about things like sexism, racism, bullying, homophobia, etc. in SF/F circles or society in general, I do it because I believe it’s important. But I also do it because it’s personal, both because so many people I love and care about are directly affected by these things, and because — having grown up in this society — I’m still working on my own assumptions and behaviors.
I came across a blog post discussing the Hugo nominations. (I’m trying to avoid these discussions, because they do bad things to my brain, but that’s a mess for another post.) In this one, someone was pointing out that for the past six years, the Best Fan Writer category has had only a single female nominee each year (or in 2007, no women at all).
As I read, that privileged, sexist crap I complain about came crashing through my head. My brain was a bingo card of dumbassery.
- Wait, is she saying I only got on the ballot because I’m a guy?
- People shouldn’t vote based on gender. It should be about the writing!
- Why oh why has fandom declared War on Penises?
Okay, I’m exaggerating with that last one. The point is, my initial, gut-level response was to take it personally, and to go through some of the same reactions that piss me off when I see or hear them from others.
You know what? They piss me off when they come from me, too. Because the poster is absolutely right. There are brilliant, powerful, amazing women writing out there, and it speaks ill of us that we’re not recognizing more of them.
Nobody’s saying I only got on the ballot because I’m a guy. I don’t believe anyone looked at their Hugo ballot and said, “Well, I like Cat Valente, but Jim Hines has a Y chromosome, so I’m nominating him instead. Go Team Penis!”[1. It’s been correctly pointed out in the comments that having a penis or Y chromosome does not equal being a guy, and vice versa. It’s not that simple or straightforward.]
But does the fact that I’m a guy give me an advantage? Yeah, it does. I have more freedom to write whatever I like, with less fear of backlash. I’m given more respect and authority when I write, I’m taken more seriously.
That’s not a comfortable thing for me to acknowledge. I want to believe that everything I’ve achieved has come 100% from my own inherent awesomeness … but it just ain’t so.
This doesn’t change the fact that I’m a good writer. (That’s right, I said fact! My ego blows raspberries at the haters!) It doesn’t change how honored I feel to be on that ballot. It doesn’t diminish the things I’ve achieved. What it does is start to acknowledge the reality of the context in which I’ve achieved those things, the advantages I’ve been given.
None of us are perfect, and most of us have absorbed ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that we need to work on. It’s hard, sometimes painful work to dig up and examine those beliefs, and to start to change our behaviors.
But it’s important work. And it’s work I hope and expect to be doing until the day I die.