Sexism is Not About Your Ego

I linked yesterday to Tempest’s post about the disproportionate number of scantily-clad females on Realms of Fantasy’s covers, and the mermaid gracing the new issue of the relaunched ‘zine.  Last night, Doug Cohen posted a response.

Doug is the new art director for Realms, as well as being the long time editorial assistant for the magazine.  I’ve worked with him a few times, and he struck me as a generally nice guy, one who cared a lot about the magazine and was always willing to go the extra mile, reading and commenting on my stories even when they were getting an automatic pass up to the editor.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the nicest guys who fail the hardest when it comes to discussions of sexism, racism, and so on.  “I’m a nice guy!  How dare you call me sexist!”  [Insert image of face-melting fury at the injustice of such a horrific accusation here.]  We then get to hear all about how these accusations are utter nonsense, and don’t you dare judge me, and the accuser is unfair and angry and mean.

You know what?  I don’t give a damn about the Doug/Tempest show.  Nor, at the moment, do I care whether Doug is a nice guy.  I care about whether a magazine I love is going to continue using covers like the one to the right.  (From June 06 and my second publication in Realms.)

Doug talks about how much he cares about the magazine, how hard he’s worked, and so on.  He explains that Shawna and Warren both approved the mermaid cover.  (We can’t blame Doug, because other people signed off on it.)  This isn’t about Doug, damn it.  It’s about a trend, one which he himself acknowledges:

[D]uring the Sovereign Media years, quite a number of them featured chicks in chain mail – make that hot chicks in chain mail – make that big breasted hot chicks in chain mail – with armor that often revealed far more than it covered …  It irked a number a writers to no end.  Guess what?  It irked Shawna too, but she had no control over the artwork, so whacha gonna do but grit your teeth and endure?  Did it irk me too, some of you might be wondering?  Yes, but not as much.  By the time I joined RoF in May of 2005, the magazine was in the midst of shifting away from these covers….

There are people, myself included, who have been watching to see how Realms would move forward under new management and whether this trend would change.  To see whether Realms would continue the boobs and chainmail cliches.   We got one out of two.

Doug defends the cover of the current issue by saying, in part:

…last time I checked, mermaids tend to shun clothes.  And last time I checked, the chicks in chainmail covers are far more offensive than this.  And last time I checked, nudity does occur in artwork. 

All true.  All utterly missing the point.  The logic simply doesn’t work.  It’s like saying “Black criminals do occur in real life, so it’s okay if we make most/all of my black characters into gangsters and thugs” or “My neighbor is far more violent when he beats his wife, so it’s all right that I slap mine around a bit, because I’m not that bad!”

Please note: pointing to someone else’s offensive behavior does not excuse your own, even if that other person’s behavior was worse than yours.

I’m tired of the excuses.  I remember a professor of mine talking about how he was allowed to write ditzy blondes, darn it all, because some blondes are ditzes!  (Some blondes are also rocket scientists.  Somehow those characters didn’t seem to make it into his fiction.)

The mermaid is better than a lot of Realms’ old covers, though it doesn’t fill me with confidence.  By itself, it’s not a bad cover.  The artwork doesn’t do anything for me personally, but if I saw it as a single issue in isolation, it wouldn’t necessarily make me cringe.  Taken as one of many covers with a disproportionate emphasis on partially clothed women, on the other hand?  Taken as the first cover of the newly relaunched magazine? That makes me uncomfortable.

But not as uncomfortable as Doug’s response as the official Art Director for the magazine.  Like so many men responding to issues of sexism, Doug’s post seems to come back to two points: “I’m a nice guy!”  and “How dare you judge me?”

I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of seeing so many discussions of sexism devolve into The Festival of the Hurt Ego.  I’m tired of my genre worshipping at the Altar of the Big Breasts.  I’m tired of the excuses and the minimizing and the chest thumping.

I like Doug, but based on this, I don’t trust that he understands why this is a problem, or that he cares enough to consciously address it.

I hope I’m wrong.