Manufactured Outrage and Choosing to be Offended

Over the weekend, I had another clueless dude try to give me crap for “working so hard to manufacture outrage,” and for always “choosing to be offended.” It’s a tired and unoriginal refrain, but I’m going to try to do something a little different this time. I’m going to agree with clueless dude, at least to an extent. Because he’s right. For me, a great deal of the things I write about, and the fact that I’m upset by some of what I see in the SF/F community, these are choices.

A few of the things I’ve chosen to be offended about lately…

  • Big name authors publicly mocking and belittling people for asking for representation in SF/F.
  • The rewriting of history to present last year’s SFWA Bulletin mess as being about a single cover as opposed to an ongoing problem, one that culminated with two big name authors using the Bulletin as a platform to accuse those who disagree with them of being “liberal fascists” and anonymous cowards.
  • A major convention belittling concerns about sexual harassment and refusing to implement a policy … and then minimizing and belittling the experience of multiple individuals who reported being sexually harassed at that convention.
  • The backlash against a Hugo host being transformed into a factually incorrect narrative that rakes an individual woman over the coals in major media outlets for the crime of expressing her fear and anger.

Generally, when folks recycle the accusation that people are looking for things to be offended by, the word “offended” is used as a minimizing tactic. It suggests overly fragile and sensitive individuals with bruised feelings. A more accurate choice would be “pissed off,” “hurt,” or “sick of this crap.” Kameron Hurley uses the term “rage” when explaining that the anger doesn’t come from a minor, isolated incident.

The thing is, most of these incidents don’t hurt me directly. Representation in SF/F? As a straight, white, American male, I’m incredibly overrepresented in my genre. Conventions that don’t take steps to reduce sexual harassment? I’ve been harassed a total of once in more than a decade of congoing, and it’s not something I’m particularly worried about happening to me again. The threats, hatred, and vitriol aimed at women online and in the real world? Hey, it’s not coming toward me, so who cares?

When you’re not the one being hurt, you might not even notice the problem. You might decide it’s all blown out of proportion. Or maybe you admit that yeah, there might be a problem here, but you blow it off because the solution would inconvenience you in some way, or make you uncomfortable.

When you see someone saying they’re hurt or afraid, you can choose to mock that person. You can choose to ignore their concerns. You can choose to blow them off by saying they’re manufacturing outrage and looking for reasons to be offended, as if pain and anger and fear are just another hobby, like collecting spores, molds, and fungus. You can choose to ignore the evidence, to disbelieve the repeated stories of ongoing harassment and the countless people speaking out about specific incidents that make them feel unwelcome and unwanted in your community. You can choose to interpret anger as “bullying,” and calls for inclusion as “political correctness run wild.”

You could also choose to listen. You can choose to believe that when someone says, “Hey, this is hurting me,” they’re telling the truth. You can look around at how racially homogenous most conventions are and believe the people telling you why they feel unwelcome, instead of dismissing it as a coincidence or making up falsehoods about how “those people” just don’t read or don’t care about SF/F. You can recognize that just because a problem might not directly affect you, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.

You’re right. I choose to be offended angry. I see people talking about how finding someone like them in a SF/F story literally saved their life. And then I see people responding with mockery and derision to calls for broader representation. I see people who have traditionally been ignored and silenced raising their voices to speak about their experiences, only to have those experiences dismissed as “butthurt” by those who haven’t had to live through them.

When I choose to be angry, and to speak out about things, it’s because I see people hurting.

No, that’s not quite right. It’s because I see the that the things we’re doing are hurting people. That pain isn’t imaginary. It’s not a cover to try to take over the genre and control everyone else, as one commenter suggested. It’s real. And I’ve got to believe that if more people could get over their discomfort and defensiveness and just listen, they might see it too. They might even be able to help solve some of the problems.

Basically, when people talk about something that’s hurting them, you can choose to care. Or you can choose not to.