sexism

Spider-Butts

Some of you have already seen Milo Manara’s cover art for Spider-Woman #1, which generated a great deal of unhappiness across the internet. As io9 pointed out, she basically looks like she’s wearing body paint. One of many complaints raised was that a male superhero would never have been drawn like this.

Au contraire, says some dude on the internet, who heroically stood up to defy the “Social Police,” those “preachy, bloviating, pharisaic shit-heads,” and to explain why everyone who was upset about this cover was wrong, and it’s really a non-issue.

What his point seems to mostly come down to is the fact that J. Scott Campbell did a Spider-Man cover just like Manara’s, and you didn’t hear the Social Police converging on Tumblr for an outrage-fest then! Total double-standard and made-up non-controversy. So there!

Let’s take a look at both covers, shall we?

Spider-Butts

You can click to enlarge the comparison, and yes, there are some superficial similarities here in that…well, they’re both crawling. But where Spider-Man is clinging to a spherical mass of webbing and bad guys, Spider-Woman is perched on the edge of a rooftop, thrusting her ass at the city skyline for no particular reason.

There are some issues with Spider-Man’s artwork. For starters, what the heck is going on with his fingers? And his costume is almost as tight as Spider-Woman’s. You can see a few small wrinkles in his suit, which is a step up from hers, but they’re both wearing some serious butt-huggers.

Internet-dude’s whole rant sounds vaguely similar to the, “What about the Romance Covers?” response I got for pointing out the oversexualization of women on SF/F cover art.

So let’s take another look at these two covers.

Point 1: One of the basic rules of climbing is to keep your body/hips close to the wall. Or if you’re a superhero, to whatever surface you happen to be climbing. Which is exactly what Spider-Man is doing. He’s hugging his climbing surface. Spider-Woman, on the other hand…she’s not climbing. She’s posing.

Point 2: Look at how the two characters are drawn. Both are in skintight costumes. Spider-Man’s costume highlights his muscles. We’re seeing a physically strong character with extra finger joints. Spider-Woman, on the other hand, is drawn to highlight the curves of her body, sans muscle. It’s not about drawing a character who looks strong or powerful; it’s about drawing boner-bait for young teen boys.

Point 3: Even if both characters were equally sexualized (they aren’t), you have to consider the larger context. I have nothing against sexuality, or against characters being portrayed in sexual ways. But when we’re consistently reducing female characters to sexually appealing/inviting caricatures, regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate to the character or the story, then we have a problem. When women are being drawn time and again in ways that prioritize exaggerated sexuality at the expense of all else, we have a problem.

The problem here isn’t one cover. The problem is one more cover. One more woman reduced to a sexual object. One more woman portrayed in a way that de-emphasizes any strength she might have — because women can only be strong up to a certain point, and only if they’re also sexually submissive to the male reader/viewer.

Are there exceptions? Of course. Are guys sometimes sexualized? Absolutely. But don’t try to pretend that the sexualization of men occurs on the same scale as that of women, or that men are sexualized in ways that rob them of strength and agency the way women so often are.

Or to put it another way? Double standard my ass.

Related:

Are Racism, Sexism, Etc. Still a Problem These Days?

One of the challenges that comes up pretty regularly in conversations about diversity and inclusiveness in SF/F is, “Show me where someone has been told they can’t be a part of fandom because of their race/gender/sexuality/etc.”

The underlying assumptions seem to be that:

  1. There aren’t any such examples, and therefore–
  2. All of this talk about the need for diversity is a made-up problem blown completely out of proportion by a handful of oversensitive souls looking for something to be offended by and/or campaigning for Hugo awards.

I could point to examples of explicit attempts at exclusion, like “Its bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?” But what would that prove? Usually such examples just result in moving the goal posts. People will acknowledge that sure, there are a few cavemen and trolls out there, but go on to explain that most of SF/F is better than that, so why make such a big deal out of those rare and extreme outliers?

It’s true that I’ve rarely seen people explicitly, deliberately, and publicly saying, “Hey, we don’t want women in our genre” or “SF/F stories should only be about white heroes.” And that’s a good thing. Our society has finally reached the point that there can be serious social consequences for a convention that posted a “Whites only” sign at registration, or a publisher that said in their submission guidelines, “LGBT authors need not submit.”

The problem is that so many people think that’s all racism and sexism and homophobia and discrimination are — “Whites only” signs and lynchings and KKK rallies. As long as we don’t have any of those at a convention, what’s the problem? If an event doesn’t turn into Tailhook, then there’s nothing for women to complain about!

If that’s the foundation for your understanding of discrimination and inequality, then I can see how you’d be confused by ongoing conversations about the need to do better. I suspect this is why some people react to such conversations as if they’ve been personally attacked. When I point out that SF/F has a problem with inclusiveness, a fair number of people seem to hear, “The Genre Police are accusing me of being racist/sexist/homophobic/bigoted/etc, and that’s not true at all! Why, I love Martin Luther King, Junior, and I’ve never attended a KKK march!”

So let’s look at a few aspects of inequality and discrimination. Things that aren’t as blatant, and often aren’t deliberate or conscious at all … which makes them much easier to ignore, if you’re not one of the people being hurt. What follows are just a handful of the studies pointing out the larger, less obvious problems we continue to struggle with.

Blind Auditions and Sexism in Symphony Orchestras – “Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in American and European orchestras. Renowned conductors have asserted that female musicians have ‘smaller techniques,’ are more temperamental and are simply unsuitable for orchestras … Using data from the audition records, researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. The likelihood of a woman’s ultimate selection is increased several fold.”

In other words, judges were significantly more likely to reject a candidate if they knew she was female, based on nothing but the candidate’s gender. But I’d bet you every one of those judges would insist they were only trying to choose the best musicians, and they would be highly affronted if you dared to suggest they were sexist. I trust folks can see the parallels to all-male “Best of” anthologies or male-dominated awards ballots, not to mention editors who insist “They’re only looking for the best stories!”

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care – “…a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.”

I’m not aware of any hospitals or doctor’s offices that post “Whites only” signs, and yet we’re consistently giving poorer health care to non-white patients based on their race. But I’m sure most of those doctors and nurses would take great offense at the suggestion that they were acting in a racist way. They’d probably insist that they’re colorblind, treating all patients equally.

Gender and the Perception of Knowledge in Political Discussion – “…both men and women perceive women to be less knowledgeable about politics and men to be more knowledgeable, regardless of the actual level of knowledge each discussion partner holds.” Oh look, it’s the Fake Geek Girl thing all over again. How many of those men and women do you think would believe their perceptions were being filtered through a sexist lens?

Experience and Perception of Racial Discrimination – “When asked how much discrimination still exists against Blacks, only 10% of Whites said ‘a lot,’ while 57% of Blacks said ‘a lot’ … sixty-seven percent of Blacks described encountering discrimination and prejudice when applying for jobs, 50% reported incidents during shopping or dining out, and many stated that it was a common occurrence to hear derogatory racial comments.”

In other words, those of us who aren’t on the receiving end of discrimination have a much easier time minimizing it or pretending it’s no longer a problem.

Perception of Conversational Dominance – “…men (and to a lesser degree, women) perceive women as talking more than men when women talk only 30% of the time.  This phenomenon is not limited to Spender’s academic seminar data or to CMC, but rather is a feature of mixed-sex conversation in public settings more generally.”

This phenomenon of distorted perception seems particularly relevant to complaints about non-white/non-male/non-straight/etc. characters and authors “taking over the genre.”

I’m sure someone will point out that none of these studies are directly or specifically about SF/F and fandom, and that’s obviously true. They are, however, about people — about people’s perceptions and actions and biases, many of which are unconscious. Last I checked, SF/F and fandom were made up of people. And we do this stuff too.

Just look at Malinda Lo’s research — she drew on multiple sources to research LGBT representation, and found that, “Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.” There are accounts of agents and editors asking authors to “straighten” characters. Multiple reports of sexual harassment at conventions and throughout our community. Whitewashed cover art. Racist nastiness toward cosplayers. Gender-specific threats. And so much more that I’m not going to link to, because I could be here all day, and you’re just as capable of using Google as I am.

Twenty years ago, I would have told you I was a nice guy, utterly free of bigotry or prejudice. I would have been wrong. I grew up in this culture. I absorbed a lot of messed-up ideas and assumptions. It took years for me to start to recognize those, and even longer to work on changing them. I’m still doing that work. I probably always will be. I don’t believe that makes me a supervillain. I believe it makes me human.

We’ve got to stop thinking that this is all about mustache-twirling villains in black hats. Look at those studies I linked above. The researchers didn’t collect a sample of wife-beating, gay-bashing Nazis for their studies. These weren’t evil, hateful vindictive supervillains. They were ordinary, random people, most of whom would probably be shocked to learn that they treated others in unequal ways. They were people who had grown up absorbing the discriminatory attitudes and assumptions of their culture.

Very few of these people self-identify as bigots. Very few think of themselves as racist or sexist or homophobic or discriminatory. But they’re part of the problem.

And those people who choose not to see it, because nobody’s burning crosses at conventions or actively campaigning to kick all the women out of SFWA? Who read stories of harassment and discrimination, but dismiss them as people looking for attention? Or make excuses for the perpetrators? Or refuse to believe these things happen without notarized video submitted in triplicate with at least fifty witness signatures? Or who decry the backlash against bigotry as “lynch mobs” and “witch hunts”?

They’re part of the problem too.

Fake Writer Girls!

By now, I assume most of you are familiar with the Fake Geek Girl phenomenon, in which women’s geek credentials are repeatedly challenged, because everyone knows girls don’t like geek stuff. (Isn’t that right, Big Bang Theory?) It gets even worse if the woman in question is traditionally attractive, because even if we acknowledge the possibility of the occasional female geek, we all know she has to be ugly and socially maladjusted, right? Fortunately, we have men who tirelessly volunteer their time to challenge and harass these wannabes.

Because do you know what would happen if we let Fake Geek Girls into the inner circle of geekdom? PURE, UNMITIGATED GIRL-COOTIES!

Well let me tell you, Fake Geek Girls have nothing on the Fake Writer Girls. You know the ones I mean. Those women who think they can write stories and books that are just as good and important and serious as the ones written by us men. It’s almost like they don’t even understand that their work is inherently inferior, because GIRLS!

One of the best ways to spot a Fake Writer Girl is by looking for Mary Sues, those unrealistically competent, know-it-all, oh-so-special characters who are the Best at Everything! They’re nothing but silly, estrogen-fueled wish fulfillment fantasies. Like a girl could ever be an active, competent character. Oh, those wacky Fake Writer Girls and their ridiculously super-special heroines. If only they could write realistic, heroic protagonists like Ender Wiggin, James Bond, Eragon, Lazarus Long, Clark Kent, Kvothe Kingkiller, Legolas…

And don’t get me started on how they’re ruining science fiction and fantasy with their romance cooties! Urban fantasy? Paranormal romance? Why don’t they care about the history of our genre? SF/F stories should be about spaceships! and swords! and fighting! and yes, the occasional hooking up, but only when it’s nubile young women throwing themselves at manly protagonists!

It would be nice if these Fake Writer Girls could just stay in the romance section, because we all know romance isn’t a real genre. I mean, sure, romance makes up 55% of all fiction sales, but a real man wouldn’t be caught dead reading that stuff, so it doesn’t count. Besides, ALL ROMANCE NOVELS ARE JUST FORMULAIC, UNIMAGINATIVE HACKWORK! (On a totally unrelated note, I just remembered that I have to write a review of this awesome book I read last week. It’s just like Lord of the Rings, except instead of a ring, it’s a cursed dagger! Brilliantly original stuff.)

You might laugh, but Fake Writer Girls present a real threat to real writers like me, writers who write while also being guys. Just look at this report from VIDA that shows how lady writers are stealing review space from hard-working men! They took 33% of the book reviews in The Atlantic, 36% from Harpers, 26% from the London Review of Books, 19% from the New York Review of Books, and 34% from the New York Times. And they want to take even more review space away from real (i.e., male) authors! Why can’t they be happy getting slightly more than half of the reviews in Romantic Times and leave the rest to us? Why do they have to hurt men’s careers with their Fake Writer Girl Agendas?

Here are just a few known Fake Writer Girls, authors whose work you definitely should not immediately go check out and buy and read and tell all of your friends about.

Please feel free to suggest others in the comments. Because the more you know…

Known Fake Writer Girls

  • Jaime Lee Moyer – Wrote a perfectly good book about vengeful ghosts, then ruined it with relationships and romance!
  • Seanan McGuire – Prolific and popular. Stole multiple spots on the NYT Bestsellers List from deserving boy authors.
  • Nalo Hopkinson – Her first book was Brown Girl in the Ring. Yeah, right. Call me when you write Brown Alpha Male in the Ring, amirite?
  • Elizabeth Bear – Not only does she sneak relationship-cooties into her work, I’ve even seen her brag about doing it!
  • Laura Anne Gilman – Sure, she’s been an editor as well as a Nebula-nominated author, but she also wrote some books for Luna. Romance! Fake Writer Girl! Unclean!
  • Nnedi Okorafor – We all know she’s an award-winning novelist, but she’s also writing a Disney Fairies book. Need I say more?
  • Kameron Hurley – Not just a fake writer girl, but a militant fake writer girl who actively blogs about girl stuff like sexism in addition to writing books.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal – Her work has been described as Jane Austen with magic. That’s another dead giveaway right there. And if that’s not enough, she also plays with puppets!
  • Alethea Kontis – She’s doing fairy tale retellings. Hmph. Fairy tale books are only worth reading if they’re written by a man!
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts – That’s right, even Australia has Fake Writer Girls!!!
  • Amal El-Mohtar – Yep, Canada too!
  • J. V. Jones – Sure, she was writing grimdark fantasy decades ago, but do we really have to mention her when we talk about grimdark fantasy? Can’t we just talk about the men?

SF/F’s “Colorblindness” and “Genderblindness” in a Single Photo

From time to time, I get a sudden flurry of comments or emails or Tweets (or all of the above) that let me know someone has stumbled onto an old blog post or comment I made, and has decided to tell their friends how Wrong I am about … well, whatever they think I was talking about.

In this case, it’s a comment I made on Twitter two weeks ago, after coming across a photo taken by Kevin Standlee. The pic was captioned as “The annual gathering of past, current, and future Worldcon chairs held at Chicon 7, 2012.

It’s a wonderful picture, and it’s amazing to think of the history gathered together in that room. But as soon as I looked at it, I was struck by the following thought:

I hear people talk about how welcoming fandom is, how the SF/F community accepts everyone, and then I look at this snapshot of our history, and I’m struck by how overwhelmingly white it is, and how the men significantly outnumber the women.

As I said in my very next Tweet, I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the men and women who’ve volunteered to do a tremendous amount of work putting these conventions together. Yet I look at that picture, and … damn, you know?

From the sudden influx of outrage, I’m guessing someone stumbled onto my comment about 48 hours ago, and was Very Upset. Most Upset Indeed!

I’ve broken the incoming unhappiness into four categories, with my thoughts on each.

1. “What about your Best Fan Writer Hugo award that you TOTALLY STOLE with your campaigning, making that category even whiter and manlier than it was before, huh???”

I paraphrased slightly, but that’s basically the first email I saw in my inbox when I got up yesterday morning. I believe the appropriate Internet-style response is, U MAD, BRO? ;-)

(ETA: Which is not to say that the lack of diversity in the Best Fan Writer category is not a problem. It is, as I’ve talked about before.)

2. “Maybe women and people of color just don’t want to be Worldcon chairs.”

Similarly, another person talked about how PoC have more important things to worry about, and talked about the “logistics,” emphasizing that running a Worldcon required a lot of time and money.

Um … okay. Do I need to spell out the underlying assumptions about time and money here, or the racism that walks hand in hand with them?

This is also a variant of an argument we’ve heard again and again. “We’d publish more SF by women if more women would bother to submit.” “We’d love to have more non-white panelists, but they just don’t come to the convention.” “If people want to make the genre more diverse, then those people need to stop waiting for someone else to do the work; they should jump in and get involved and make it happen.”

While I’m sure this isn’t what people intend, what I hear in these arguments is that we’ve created a community that isn’t particularly welcoming to nonwhite and nonmale fans and readers and authors.[1. See also, "Fake Geek Girls," whitewashed cover art, sexist cover poses, the disproportionate number of white, male authors who get reviewed, and a whole host of other statistics and examples.] But working to change that community would be uncomfortable, so we’re not going to do it. We’re already here. Why should we care about making you feel welcome?

You say “those people” don’t want to be a part of this community. I ask why someone would put their time and effort and money and sweat into a community that doesn’t want them.

3. “You don’t understand how Worldcons work!”

Not as well as someone who’s actually run one, no. It would be arrogant as hell for me to claim otherwise.

I do know the cons are run by volunteers. That different groups bid to host them, meaning there is no unified, unchanging Worldcon Committee. I know they’re a hell of a lot of hard work. I know the World Science Fiction Society constitution, rules, and meeting minutes are posted here, and go into a lot more detail about the rules of Worldcon and the Hugos.

I’ll happily admit that I haven’t read every page of those rules, and there are certainly people who know more about how Worldcons work. But then, I wasn’t commenting on the process. I was commenting on the results.

4. “Nobody is telling women and PoC that they can’t run Worldcon or attend conventions or be part of fandom, so your charges of sexism and racism are unfair and spurious.”

This is a very narrow understanding of what racism and sexism are about. It comes up a lot, the idea that real racism and sexism has to be explicit and intentional and blatant. Making blacks sit at the back of the bus is racist. Refusing to let women vote is sexist. But nobody’s saying or doing those things, so we’re not sexist or racist! Yay, us!

You’re right, I’m not personally aware of any recent examples of people explicitly refusing to let women and PoC participate in the convention-planning and conrunning process. [2. I'm not saying it doesn't or hasn't happened; only that I'm not aware.]

But there are an awful lot of ways to discriminate against people without being obvious about it. There are ways to hurt people without intending to do so, or even realizing you’ve hurt them. You can tell someone they aren’t welcome here without ever saying a harsh word.

If you’re not the one being hurt, it’s easy to miss it. If you’re not the one being made to feel unwelcome, you may not realize it’s happening at all. But if you only recognize two states of existence, Blatant Racism/Sexism vs. Everything’s Just Fine And Dandy, with nothing in between, then you’re not listening to the voices of a lot of people you’re claiming are welcome in our community. And your refusal to listen is perpetuating the problem.

That’s what colorblindness and genderblindness look like in this context. It doesn’t mean everyone is equally welcome in our community, because they’re not. It means looking at a photograph dominated by white men, and refusing to see anything problematic in our history. It means twisting one rhetorical knot after another to try to justify why this isn’t a real problem, or if it is, it’s not our problem.

It is our problem. It’s my problem and yours. And it’s a problem we’re never going to solve if we can’t get past this knee-jerk defensiveness at the mere suggestion that our community might not be perfect.

My ALA Talk on Sexism and Kick-Butt Heroines

This is my best reconstruction of the talk I gave at ALA on Sunday. I’m sure I’m forgetting bits, but this should give you the gist of things…

I was originally thinking about just doing a Q&A for this. I like the informal approach, and normally I’d probably be sitting on the edge of the stage chatting with you all. But as I was driving down to Chicago, I started thinking about various incidents that have come up recently, and I decided that if ALA was going to be kind enough to give me a platform and a microphone, maybe there was a better way for me to take advantage of that.

The past few months have been pretty intense in parts of the science fiction and fantasy community. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has been in the spotlight for a chain-mail bikini cover and a follow-up essay that dismissed complaints as the ravings of liberal fascist PC thought police. We have the former SFWA presidential candidate who accused a well-known black author of being an “ignorant half-savage.” Then last week, a well-known editor at one of the major SF/F publishing houses was outed for his history of sexual harassment.

The thing is, the blatant stuff is easy. It’s easy to focus on these instances of sexism and racism because they’re so obvious, and because they create a simple separation between us and them, between the heroes and the villains. But when we draw those lines, we tend to miss the larger picture.

These are systemic problems, not just individuals. They’re problems that show up in cover art, in award ballots, in which books get reviewed, in who shows up as the heroes in stories vs. the sidekicks, in token characters, and much more. In many cases, if not most, it’s an unconscious, unintentional problem.

So how do we respond to such a problem? Well, some of us choose to write long-winded rants online, or to contort ourselves into ridiculous cover poses. We can also speak up when we see these things happening, rather than turning away or accepting it because “it’s always been that way.” If you see someone who looks like they might be being harassed, say something. Offer them a casual escape from the conversation.

As a writer, I think one of our most powerful tools is our stories.

Take the story of the kick-butt heroine, a trope that’s become incredibly popular over the past decade or two. Now, I appreciate this trope — I’m a huge Buffy fan — and I’ve written this kind of character myself on multiple occasions. But there are ways in which it’s problematic. Sure, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the heroine physically whoop the harasser/abuser/etc. But when that’s the dominant story we’re sharing, aren’t we basically suggesting that it’s the women’s job to physically overpower and defeat their aggressors? As opposed to men learning to move beyond such behaviors, or to challenge such things when we see them?

The kick-but heroine is certainly one solution, but it’s one that puts responsibility on the victims, and by implication, puts the blame on those victims if for any reason they were unable to physically stop what’s essentially an ongoing culture of systemic sexism.

There are other stories and other characters we need to share. Stories that show men and women as equals. That show relationships built on respect. Stories that give us more than one token example per book of a strong female character. Stories that move away from narrowly defined roles.

And now is when I take a minute to talk about my own stuff. Lena Greenwood is my latest attempt to engage with the kick-butt heroine trope. She’s … well, without spoiling things, she’s also very problematic. In many ways, that was deliberate. But she’s not the only strong female in these books. You have Nidhi Shah, a psychiatrist with no magical abilities whatsoever. There’s Nicola Pallas, an autistic bard. Jeneta Aboderin is full of teenaged attitude, refusing to take crap from anyone. Not to mention the sarcastic bug-eating ex-librarian Deb DeGeorge. My hope is that each of these women has their own strengths and weaknesses, that they present different ways to be powerful.

I’m not saying kick-butt heroines are bad. Any time I talk about something like this, someone responds, “Why are you trying to censor us?” Just like with cover art — I’m not saying we should never have sexualized or semi-clad women (or men) on book covers. What I’m saying is that it would be awfully nice if we could broaden our portrayals.

I’ll wrap this up with a few recommendations of authors who, in my opinion, do this stuff well. Karen Lord is a fairly new author, but her first book blew me away, in part for Lord’s choice to step away from the well-trod tropes. Elizabeth Bear is another. Saladin Ahmed, who just won the Locus Award for his debut novel, presented us with an Arabic-based fantasy and an old, heavyset, somewhat grouchy man as the protagonist. Tobias Buckell. Nnedi Okorafor. Seanan McGuire. These are just a few of the authors working to move beyond the tropes.

And that’s my time. Thank you all for giving me the chance to talk about this with you.

#SFWApro

Signal Boosting

Sexism:

Slut Shaming and Concern Trolling in Geek Culture – “The discomfort came from a constant stream of microaggressions. A constant flow of women leaning in and stage whispering in mock-concern about how short my skirt was. A constant flow of men grilling me about whether I had watched the series, and trying to trip me up on trivia.”

Rape Survivor Sues over “False” Accusation – One more example of our society’s eagerness to see women as liars, making up false accusations of rape. The police refused to believe D.M. had been raped, despite physical evidence, and instead ended up charging her with filing a false claim. Her rapist was arrested three years later.

Kickstarting/Fundraising:

Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Science Fiction Authors – I’ve wanted to attend this for a while, and haven’t gotten to it. Sadly, Launch Pad has lost their NASA and NSF funding, so they’re looking to raise the money to continue the program.

A Knight in the Silk Purse: Tales of the Emerald Serpent 2 – Volume two of a shared-world anthology that includes folks like Julie Czerneda, Howard Tayler, Lynn Flewelling, Martha Wells, and many more.

Clarion Write-a-thon: The Clarion SF/F writing workshop is looking for authors to join their write-a-thon.

Miscellaneous Awesomeness:

N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum Guest of Honor Speech – As next year’s GoH, I have one year to prepare a speech that lives up to the one Jemisin gave this year. I…don’t think that’s going to be enough time.

Delia’s Shadow ARC Contest – Author Jaime Lee Moyer is giving away ARCs of her book Delia’s Shadow [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. I gave a blurb for this one: “Moyer creates a hauntingly real San Francisco, full of characters you can’t wait to get to know better. Except for the killer, of course. He’s just disturbing as heck. Delia’s Shadow is an engaging debut novel, one that cost me a good night’s sleep.”

Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Sexism Mess

Jim has a comprehensive roundup of links relating to the SFWA thing/Jim is only linking to people who agree with him.

I never claimed to be doing a comprehensive list of links. As I stated up front, I was responding to the claim that protests and complaints were being done anonymously. There are posts I agree with that I didn’t link to, and posts I’m less comfortable with that I did include.

I have no objection to people linking to that post, but please don’t describe it as a full or comprehensive list of responses to this mess.

Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg are good people who have helped a tremendous number of people.

I don’t think I’ve seen anyone claim that Resnick and Malzberg are evil, or that they’ve never done anything positive. Nobody’s one-dimensional. So yes, I’m sure they’ve both done many good things in their lives. But I also think they messed up this time.

I believe I’ve done good things in my life, but I don’t expect people to give me a pass when I screw up. (And believe me, I still screw up a lot.)

Scalzi’s apology was weak!

I’ve seen a range of opinions on John Scalzi’s statement. Personally, I thought it was pretty good. Sure it wasn’t perfect, and there are certainly valid criticisms to be made.

That said, based on the statement as well as 1) knowing John personally and 2) his history of working against sexism and discrimination, I’m taking it at face value as a genuine apology and promise to do better. And maybe that’s where the history of positive work comes into play. Not that I think we should ignore it when Scalzi messes up. But when he offers an apology and says he’s going to work to try to fix this, I’m inclined to believe him.

All this attention is just making SFWA look bad.

You’re right. In the short term, SFWA has definitely taken a black eye. In the long term, I’m hopeful that the result will be a better organization. And I have trouble buying the idea that the real problem isn’t the sexism, but people pointing out and criticizing the sexism.

What about all of the good work SFWA does?

As Mary Robinette Kowal said:

“I still feel like some asshole spilled something on my prom dress. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a little spot, that’s all anyone will see. It doesn’t matter how great the dress is, the stain still ruins it.”

I was at BEA last week, where Jaym Gates and Laura Anne Gilman worked incredibly hard to set up and the SFWA booth where I and other members were able to sign and meet folks. It was awesome, and it’s one of a thousand things SFWA does that I’m grateful for.

I don’t think those things should be used to derail the current conversation. I do think they’re part of a conversation that should happen, and as a member of SFWA, I’m making a note to try to have that conversation in the future, to post more about why I stay with and believe in the work the organization does.

All those age-related insults flying around? Not cool, man!

I agree. While I think some of the “dinosaur” comments are meant to refer to old/outdated attitudes, there have also been some direct shots at old people. There are plenty of older people speaking out quite strongly against sexism, just as there are young folks being sexist asshats.

It’s a witch hunt! It’s a liberal-fascist crusade! It’s a lynch mob!

It’s over-the-top hyperbole!

One of the people you linked to used the phrase “right-thinking.” Doesn’t that prove it’s not hyperbole, and liberals really are the thought police?

One of the people — out of sixty-plus that I’ve linked to so far — used that phrase.  And you know what? I’m not comfortable with that word choice either. I do agree with a lot of the other things said in that post.

I also find it interesting when people latch on to one phrase in one post, generalize it to an entire group, and then use that as an excuse to dismiss or stop listening to that group as a whole. That’s some weak and lazy-ass thinking, regardless of which “side” you believe you’re on.

Shouldn’t you be writing instead of wasting your energy on this?

I’ve been doing both. 17K words on Unbound so far. Poor Isaac is having a rough time of it. And you know what? Since it’s my energy, I figure I can spend it on things I believe are important.

Why is everyone making such a big deal out of a silly cover or a bad Barbie analogy or a couple of writers describing women as attractive? Aren’t there real problems to worry about?

Interesting how often I see men trying to proclaim what is and isn’t a real problem when it comes to sexism…

Anyway, I can’t speak for everyone. For myself, I see these incidents as things that could perhaps be brushed off if they happened in isolation. But as many of the responses have pointed out, they aren’t isolated incidents. They’re part of a larger pattern of sexist behavior, and that pattern needs to stop.

It’s the death of a thousand paper cuts.

Have you gotten any hate mail about this?

I know some women have received truly nasty hate mail for expressing their comments and opinions, but the worst I’ve experienced so far is someone blocking me on Facebook. Weird. I wonder what the difference could be…

Don’t you get tired of this?

Yes.

Roundup of Some “Anonymous Protesters” (#SFWA Bulletin Links)

“Our Warrior Woman protesters and enemies of the adjective (who unlike Ms. Dworkin will not identify themselves) fall into the category of what Right Wing radio talkers call “liberal fascists,” and I cannot disagree…” -Barry Malzberg

The latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin went out last week while I was at BEA, including both my article about cover art and treating women as people, and the Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues, arguing against censorship and suppression. I’m not going to rehash the points I made in my own piece, but one of the many fascinating things I found in the Dialogues was the idea that the people complaining were somehow anonymous cowards sniping from the shadows.

“Anonymous.” You keep using that word…

I’ve rounded up some of the people talking about the problematic aspects of the last few issues of the Bulletin. I won’t talk about the pages and pages of discussion from the SFWA Discussion Forums, but there have been a significant number of complaints there–all of which have people’s names attached. And then you have posts and commentary like these:

Added 6/3/2013:

  • Mary Robinette Kowal: My Very Complicated Reaction to Issue 202 of the Bulletin. “I’m furious, because they can undo all of the good that SFWA does. And like it or not, people are right to be angry. The column is deeply offensive.”
  • Kate Milford: Kerfluffle Watch, SFWA Edition: Call Your Detractors Liberal Fascists, Lose the Argument. “…I had learned this much: the authors consider that either those who objected to the cover and dialogue in Issue 200 are at best stupid and at worst censorious.”
  • Alma Alexander: The Issue 202 Controversy. “This might involve biting the bullet, calling one tradition’s tenure in the Bulletin a day, and dropping the Malzberg/Resnick conversations … It might even be time to start letting the WOMEN have a turn at having a Conversation.”
  • Lilith Saintcrow: I Hope Gandhi is Right. “…this sort of shit makes me so. damn. tired.”
  • Tracy Cembor: Genre Drama. “Writers should be respected as partners in the process, and writers should treat one another as professionals and equals.”
  • Ferrett Steinmetz: Achievement Unlocked: Women’s Rights Advocate. “You’ve got more work to do.   You’ve got to see that calling them ‘lady editors’ is actually diminishing them, that women in chainmail bikinis may be a long tradition but so are grinning Negro lawn jockeys…”
  • Steven Saus: What to Do About Sexism In Our Official Publications. “This is a matter of being professional and treating all sf/f authors professionally.”
  • Benjamin Rosenbaum: Dear Barry & Mike. “Please cut it out. You’re better than that. Act like the men you want to be.”
  • Kelly McCullough: “For the record, the sexist dippery in the recent SFWA bulletin makes this male author & SFWA member very unhappy. Not OK Resnick & Malzberg.
  • K. Tempest Bradford: Demanding the Best. “What needs to happen is that the all of people who belong to and run SFWA need to demand the best of their community. Demand that sexism no longer be treated lightly, that it be called out and put down and not tolerated.”
  • Shiloh Walker: I’m no Barbie. “Being a woman very often means you’re going to be insulted, ignored, condescended, treated as insignificant, devalued, viewed as an object, and the list goes on and on and on…we get so blind to the shit that comes our way at times.  Maybe the problem is that we carried on with quiet dignity for too long.”
  • Harry Connolly: SFWA Bulletin and Sexism in the Genre. “Speech has consequences. Speech sways the opinion of others, and maybe–just maybe–that might have an effect on your life. Resnick has that power; he’s going to have to get used to the idea that others have it, too.”
  • Juliette Wade: This Feminist’s Thoughts on SFWA and Cultural Change. “…they were performing a culture that is sorely out of date, and I’m sure they realize that because they are defending their right to do so. Fine (though the context was inappropriate, and I’ll address that below), but they deserve the heat they are getting in response to those ideas.”
  • Stina Leicht: Feminist Monday. “This whole thing has been building up for three issues which is why there’s so much noise being made over it … And sadly, this controversy is just the tip of the misogyny iceberg.”
  • Amy McLane. Attack of the Liberal Fascists. “It is bad enough to read old men rating the hotness levels of various writers and editors and then getting indignant about being called out on it. It is gross, but you can almost sort of see how those two have gotten to the point of thinking that they’ve earned the right to be gross…”
  • Andrea Phillips: Barbie’s Quiet Dignity and Progress. “And that’s just one more drop in what seems like a never-ending stream of sexism.”
  • Selma Wolfe: Choose to be Better. “The men that endlessly defend their own sexism could choose not to defend it. They could choose to focus on women’s opinions, rather than their appearances.”
  • T. M. Thomas. SFWA in the News. “And it’s why I think, perhaps deluded and defensive and not malicious at first, why the dinosaurs of the SFWA need to offer immediate apologies and stop trying to make themselves the victims of the piece.”
  • Lindsey Bieda. “‘Hey, this thing you are doing is shitty’ is not censorship and free speech does not mean freedom from consequences or criticism.
  • Jeaniene Frost: SFWA – Not Today. “I’m glad Scalzi agrees these are legitimate concerns that affect all SFWA members/associates and isn’t falling for the ‘but it’s just whining from a few liberal fascists!’ defense, but I also heave a weary sigh of agreement with author Jenny Truman’s Tweet: ‘Why, @sfwa, do you need a task force to determine if your own members should be given professional respect within your own publication?’”
  • Matt Yaeger: Space Sexism. “If you can’t defend yourself without wrapping it up in an irrelevant conclusion that people who disagree with you must be censorship Nazis (hows that for loaded terms?) then you’ve already lost your position.”
  • Karina Cooper: Damned If You Do(n’t). “We live in a world where men are judged by the quality and quantity of their bodies of work, and women are judged by their bodies; where men are called writers, authors, artists and creatives, and women are called lady writers and authoresses and ‘beauty pageant beautiful’.”

Added 6/4/2013:

Added 6/5/2013:

  • Liz Argall: Thank you for Your Disappointment. “It’s like other sexist fiascoes that have happened elsewhere. Even if you believe men will always pinch bottoms in elevators, it’s still more useful to be appalled and talk about it.”
  • Terra LeMay: “I’m not sure I’ll have time to write a longer post about SFWA, but count me among those members disappointed by the recent Bulletin issues.
  • Cora Buhlert: Revenge of the Girl Cooties. “Sorry, but people saying ‘This is kind of sexist’ is not censorship, sorry.”
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts: Why It’s Important. “…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.”
  • Eric Zawadski: That SFWA Thing. “There is a commonly-held Internet fallacy that any negative response to your opinions is a form of censorship, and this article is thick with it.”
  • Catherine Shaffer: Just Because You’re Not Offended Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Offensive. “Other people being offended by things I am not actually generates useful conversations and improves the world for us all.”
  • Kat Goodwin: You Be Ladies Now, Ya Hear! “And voices like Resnick, Malzberg and Henderson are not ignored, nor evil, nor do they have nothing to contribute as members and authors to the field. But because their viewpoints on women are so exclusionary, they can’t be the main voices speaking for the Bulletin or SFWA…”
  • Stephanie Leary: The SFWA Bulletin. “…the very fact that Ad Week picked up on the story illustrates why SFWA’s teacup tempest is a big deal: the Bulletin is one of the primary ways the organization presents itself to the public.”
  • Larry Kollar: Writing Wibbles. “I find this head-desking incredible. I’m a middle-aged whitebread dude, and I have my issues, but I fracking try to do better.”

Added 6/6/2013:

One final related link, from Laura Resnick. Thoughts from a Different Resnick.

This is just a sampling, and includes SFWA members, past SFWA officers, at least one three Hugo award winners, editors, aspiring writers, experienced writers, bestselling writers, and more. There’s a lot more out there.

Facts II: Reality Strikes Back

This is a follow-up to my Facts Are Cool post, which was a follow-up to John Scalzi’s post on the SWM Setting in the Game of Life. Because sometimes blogging is all recursive and meta and stuff.

My post generated a fair amount of discussion, much of it thoughtful, some of it not so much. My favorite is the individual who tried to argue that the whole post was despicable because trying to attach morality to skin color (which isn’t what anyone was doing) caused the holocaust. Yeah, that comment got banhammered into next week. But there were other comments and arguments I wanted to respond to.

Don’t your facts show that straight/white/male culture is superior? Well, no. The facts are what they are. How you interpret those facts is another matter. You could try to use them to make an argument that straight white men are somehow superior to other groups, but I think that would be a poor argument.

For example, the fact that LGBT youth are up to seven times more likely to attempt suicide — if you think that’s because straight kids are inherently stronger than LGBT kids, as opposed to being due to bullying, threats, and hatred specifically directed at LGBT kids, then you’ve got your blinders on. Likewise, it’s rather absurd to argue that blacks receive longer jail sentences than whites for the same crimes, with the same criminal history and backgrounds, because whites are somehow superior.

Statistics and facts aren’t the be all and end all of the discussion. They’re one part of the discussion. However, it looks to me like the facts tend to support Scalzi’s argument about SWM being an easier setting, at least in my society.

Race is irrelevant. It’s all about class! Nobody said class wasn’t important. The fact that race, gender, and sexual orientation are all factors in the challenges people face (or don’t have to face) doesn’t mean they’re the only factors. Disability. Geography. Education. Lots of things intersect. Life is messy.

Asians have lower dropout rates and are more likely to earn a degree in four years. Shouldn’t we be talking about Asian privilege? The studies I cited showed that Asian/Pacific Islanders had slightly lower dropout rates (by .4%) and were slightly more likely to earn a degree in four years (by 3.5%). Of course, I also pointed out that Asian Americans were more likely to live in poverty (by 3.1%) and were severely underrepresented in Congress. Why the differences? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m going to repeat my previous point: a lot of things intersect. While racism against Asian Americans is still going strong, it’s not the only factor.

I don’t actually know what all of those factors are, but it’s something I plan to read up on and try to understand better.

By focusing on these things, you’re perpetuating the problem! We should be blind to race, gender, orientation, etc! You know what perpetuates a problem? Silence. Not talking about it. Turning our backs, plugging our ears, and pretending it doesn’t exist. As for ignoring race, gender, orientation … there’s a much larger conversation here, but in brief, these things are part of who we are. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is a good thing, and I’d rather celebrate diversity than ignore it.

Finally, please read this post by Michelle Sagara: Please don’t tell me how I should feel oppressed, thanks. It’s powerful, and addresses a lot of the things that came up during the discussions, things like intersectionality and individual vs. shared experience.

#

And now, a few more facts. Because as we know, facts are cool.

A study of orchestra auditions found that “blind” auditions, with no way of identifying the gender of the musician, led to a 50% increase of a woman advancing through the preliminary rounds, and increased severalfold the chances of a woman being selected in the final round. To phrase it another way, when the people in charge knew the sex of the musician, they were more likely to favor men over women than when they had to judge by skill alone. (Orchestrating Impartiality. 2000.)

Black offenders spent a longer time in prison awaiting parole compared with white offenders, and the racial and ethnic differences are maintained net of legal and individual demographic and community characteristics.” Note: because the study was restricted to young men, the authors can’t say whether or not the results generalize to female prisoners. (The Role of Race and Ethnicity in Parole Decisions. 2008.)

In 29 states, it’s legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation. (The article refers to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As of today, that act has not been passed.) (The Rights of Gay Employees. 2009.)

“The majority (73%) of family violence victims were female. Females were 84% of spouse abuse victims and 86% of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. While about three-fourths of the victims of family violence were female, about three-fourths of the persons who committed family violence were male.” (Family Violence Statistics from the U. S. Dept. of Justice. 2005.)

A study of how race is portrayed on prime-time TV for ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox found that “significantly more Latino (18%) and African American (9%) characters were portrayed as immoral compared to white (2%) characters … [and] significantly more Latino (18%) and black (9%) characters were viewed as despicable television characters, rather than admired ones, compared to white (3%) characters.” (The Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television. 2010.)

Looking at the world of books, Kate Hart did an in-depth study of YA book covers in 2011. 90% featured a white character. 1.4% featured a Latino/Latina character. 1.4% featured an Asian character. 1.2% featured a black character. 10% featured a character of ambiguous race/ethnicity. Compare that to the census numbers from my previous post: “In the total [U.S.] population, whites make up 66.0%, Hispanics are 15.1%, Blacks are 12.8%, APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) are 5.1%, and AIAN (American Indians and Alaskan Natives) are 1.2%.” (Uncovering YA Covers 2011.)

Facts are Cool

After reading John Scalzi’s post on SWM being the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life, and then reading the 800+ comments, I figured I’d join the crowd who decided to write a response. So I’ve dug up some information for those commenters who seemed to completely lose their minds…

I’ve done my best to find reliable, objective sources for all of the following information. Like Scalzi’s post, the following is focused on the United States, though the trends certainly aren’t exclusive to the U.S.

[B]lack males receive [prison] sentences that are approximately 10% longer than comparable white males with those at the top of the sentencing distribution facing even larger disparities.” -Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences, 2012.

The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings was 77.0 for full-time, year-round workers in 2009 … African American women earned on average only 61.9 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Hispanic women earned only 52.9 cents for each dollar earned by white men.” -The Gender Wage Gap: 2009.

Poverty rates in 2009, from Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (2009).

  • For non-Hispanic Whites: 9.4%
  • For Asians: 12.5%
  • For Blacks: 25.3%

Hate Crimes in 2010, from the U. S. Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics.

  • Race: 69.8% were motivated by anti-black bias, compared to 18.2% that stemmed from anti-white bias.
  • Religion: 65.4% were anti-Jewish and 13.2% were anti-Islamic.

At birth, the average life expectancy of a white baby in the United States is four years longer than the average life expectancy of a black baby. -U. S. Census Bureau, Life Expectancy by Sex, Age, and Race: 2008.

30.4% of Hispanics, 17% of blacks, and 9.9% of whites do not have health insurance.” -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States has been raped in her lifetime (18.3%) … Approximately 1 in 71 men in the United States (1.4%) reported having been raped in his lifetime.” -National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).

Nearly 1 in 2 women (44.6%) and 1 in 5 men (22.2%) experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.” -National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth “are nearly one and a half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide.” -Suicide Risk and Prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (2008).

39.3% of white first-time, full-time college students complete a degree within four years, compared to 20.4% of black students, 26.4% of Hispanic students, 42.8% of Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 18.8% for Native American students. -National Center for Education Statistics (2010).

The event dropout rate for white high school students in 2007-2008 was 2.8%, compared to 6.7% for black students, 6.0% for Hispanic, 2.4% for Asian/Pacific Islander, and 7.3% for Native American students. -National Center for Education Statistics.

U.S. population vs. representation in Congress. “In the total population, whites make up 66.0%, Hispanics are 15.1%, Blacks are 12.8%, APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) are 5.1%, and AIAN (American Indians and Alaskan Natives) are 1.2%. In Congress, whites make up 85.8%, Hispanics are 5.8%, Blacks are 7.5%, APIA are 1.7%, and AIAN are 0.2%. Men are 49% of the total population, while women are 51%. In Congress, men are 82% and women are 18%.” -Ragini Kathail, Race, Gender, and the US Congress (2009).

There are only four openly gay/lesbian members of Congress (0.7%). -Congress gets 4th openly gay member (2011).

#

I could go on, but this seems like enough to present a glimpse of the playing field.

Now, if you say, “I don’t care about race/gender/orientation. I only look at the individual!” these are some of the things you’re looking away from.

If you say, “Why are you attacking straight white men?” then let me reiterate that I’m presenting facts and research. Are you suggesting that reality is attacking straight white men?

If you say, “But I’m a SWM and my life wasn’t easy,” I’ll tell you to take Remedial Logic. Nobody here or in Scalzi’s original post suggested otherwise.

If you say, “Women have it easier because they can use sex!” I’ll probably just ban you for being an idiot.

If you ask, “Well what do you want me to do about it?” then I’ll say I want you to be aware. I want you to recognize the problems. I want you to take some responsibility — not for historical injustices you weren’t personally a part of — but for trying to make this country better for everyone.