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.
August 27, 2013 @ 9:42 am
But there are an awful lot of ways to discriminate against people without being obvious about it.
That’s a takeaway from this post, today. It’s true, and lots of people fail to see it, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not.
August 27, 2013 @ 9:44 am
Speaking of whitewashed cover art, do you think Lena’s too pale on the cover of Codex Born? Her skin is always described in terms of tree bark (fitting for a dryad) so I pictured her as dark skinned. Have I been seeing her wrong in my head or was your cover a victim?
August 27, 2013 @ 9:50 am
“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.”
This is the one that gets me very often. What I mean is, there are often times I’m not at all interested in joining certain communities (sometimes because of my gender, sometimes other reasons). I don’t always take the time to understand why I’m uncomfortable, but if I don’t feel comfortable joining a community, I’m certainly not comfortable telling that community why. I’m just going to stay the hell away from them.
Jim C. Hines
August 27, 2013 @ 9:52 am
Lots of thoughts about Lena’s cover on a blog post at http://www.jimchines.com/2012/09/codex-born-cover/
Skin tone … that’s tricky. I tend to imagine her a little darker skinned, but I think in this case it’s a matter of that’s what the model looked like. The artist was told that Lena was Indian in appearance, and he found a model of Indian descent, which I’m grateful for.
Does that make sense?
August 27, 2013 @ 10:40 am
The big issue is, absolutely, that Fandom is hardly as welcoming to non-white people as it pretends (although it’s hard to tell from the results how much is our issue and how much is self-perpetuating whiteness). It’s very hard to deny this; it’s almost as hard to find good solutions given how hard it is to define the problem.
I don’t think the gender problem is as clear cut–but it’s not like we don’t -know- of gender problems in our community.
That said, it’s easy to misread a snapshot of a slice through time, when our society is itself moving so fast. [also, the pic does look a lot more white than it actually is, as the PoC in it are fairly light skinned]. 7 women chairs doesn’t sound like a lot surrounded by 24 male chairs — but given that the chairs represent a moving target going back to 1940, it implies that things have been substantially improving (which they have, kinda. 2003-2014, five of the con chairs have included a woman (including two co-chairs) — but 10 of them included or were men. http://www.smofinfo.com/LL/TheLongList.html).
Also, arguably, it’s color and gender-blindness that’s part of the problem. To an extent, being color-blind rules out some attempts at solutions to address color disparity (such as Con-or-Bust), and can make it easier to deny the problem. Similarly, attempts to be gender-blind don’t in any rule out cries of “we’re just picking the best person for the job”–and sometimes it’s right (sometimes, not so much).
August 27, 2013 @ 10:41 am
My own local/regional fandom (Boston/New England) tends to be pretty egalitarian on gender issues (Boskone, our traditional regional con, has had 20 female chairs, 22 male chairs and 9 couples co-chairing, while Boston Worldcons were chaired twice by men and twice by women) but I’ll admit that there aren’t that many people of color involved either at the con level and there are even fewer at the club level.
This certainly isn’t by design, and as someone who’s heavily involved in outreach for my club, I’d love to know how to encourage more people of all sorts to get involved.
Jim C. Hines
August 27, 2013 @ 10:46 am
What do you mean by “self-perpetuating whiteness”?
I definitely agree it’s hard to find any straightforward or simple solutions. It’s an incredibly complex problem, one that’s going to require a lot of work on a lot of different levels.
And it does sound like things have been improving somewhat in recent years. It’s awesome that we’ve seen more women as con chairs or co-chairs the past decade. I would love to see that kind of trend continue.
In terms of looking at a solution, why rule out things like Con-or-Bust? People tend to freak out that everything’s going to become quota-based when talking about this stuff, but I haven’t seen anyone suggesting that. Instead, why not do things like active outreach to other groups and communities, as well as continuing the hard work of looking inward to see what we’re doing to make SF/F a less welcoming space to others?
August 27, 2013 @ 11:07 am
Hi Jim, I’m one of the people who is in the photo and one of the people who was not overly happy with the context you set it in; although I’d really dissociate myself from the unhelpful responses you say you’ve been receiving. I think there are a couple of more nuanced points to make here.
Firstly, I think the people who run Worldcon (“the evil SMOFS” as they seem to be painted very often these days) are pretty sensitized because in the last couple of years an awful lot of criticism has come their way. Certainly I feel that the situation now is VERY different to when I was a Chair myself less than a decade ago (2005, specifically). Personally I’ve seen a lot of bandwagons assembling behind what often start as more informed comments – and by the second or third relay I see many people, who are often not Worldcon attendees and not well informed about the way the event is run, having their very negative perspectives reinforced. I see comments that assume the Hugos are some kind of juried award, and comments that suggest Worldcon/WSFS has an ongoing management team that actively decides who is “in” and who is “out”.
The people at the top of Worldcon are easy targets because their heads are above the parapet. And I think there are many (myself included) who feel that it’s rather unfair that so many people are now taking pot-shots on issues where we may echo the wider state of fandom, but we did not create it and have relatively little leverage on it.
Secondly: I think we need to be clear about whether you want to comment on the past, or the future. The photo includes many people from decades past so it is certainly not a snapshot of current trends; and the gender balance has improved over time (2009-2014 has a female chair and 3 female co-chairs for instance). I think we can recognize the history of fandom for what it is without using it as stick to beat the volunteers of the time with; just as we recognize the history of written genre fiction for what it is – mostly written by white guys – without feeling that we have to diminish the contributions of Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Heinlein or whoever. It is not a zero-sum game.
Thirdly: Worldcon is hard to run, and the people who end up at the top of the pyramid are generally people with lots of experience (chairing Regionals, being Worldcon Division Heads, etc) in previous years. It is not surprising that the photo looks as it does, when you look around at a typical convention committee … or at a typical convention membership. Just as the relatively lack of Hugo Nominations for PoC is not surprising when you look at the amount of work being published by PoC.
So I think it’s appropriate to highlight that fandom has an issue – an issue that grows out of an 80-year social heritage and which is not easily overcome. And to note that, not surprisingly, the demographic of our committees (up to Chairs) is going to reflect that of fandom, without any attempt to exclude or send the wrong signals. To go back to my first point, the concern here is simply that by choosing the photo and the original post that you did, you’ve added weight to a recent but relentless groundswell of negative views of conrunners and particularly Worldcon conrunners, that holds us responsible for things that we are simply symptomatic of – and which in most cases, we’re doing our best as volunteers to address.
It’s worth adding that professionally, I have long been taught that sustainable diversity also doesn’t come from tokenism (e.g. enforced selection and promotion to launch diverse people directly into the top tiers of management). It comes from fixing the problems at the base of the pyramid. Compared to 50 years ago, there are a lot more women at conventions; and surprise, surprise, more female division heads and now chairs. (LoneStarCon 3 for instance has a male chair; a Chair’s Staff comprising 2 men and 2 women; and 21 Divisional management staff comprising 13 men and 8 women. Not perfect but not bad IMO). We need to do the same with PoC as well as continuing to work on gender.
In summary: I share your concerns about diversity in fandom. Please just understand that the reaction is happening because your example highlighted a group that feels under siege right now as the scapegoat for problems not of their making.
August 27, 2013 @ 11:14 am
PS to highlight one example of why I refer to relentless negativity. You comment that “It’s a wonderful picture, and it’s amazing to think of the history gathered together in that room.” But that wasn’t the thought that you posted. And this is what I see all the time at present. There is a long queue of people (reminds me of the sign-up line in “Blazing Saddles” at times …) keen to foreground their criticisms, and the positive feedback is an afterthought or only mentioned later in the debate. That is extremely corrosive in a volunteer culture. If volunteers don’t feel appreciated, they stop volunteering.
Worldcon certainly has some issues to address. Is it so broken that it would be better killed off rather than being supported and encouraged to work on these issues? I don’t think so personally, but the message that comes back in from much of the Internet right now is that it should be consigned to history. When you’re putting 1000s of unpaid hours into making the event happen, that’s terminally demoralizing.
August 27, 2013 @ 11:16 am
Jim C. Hines
August 27, 2013 @ 11:22 am
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and also for all of the work you’ve done. I absolutely mean it when I talk about the respect and gratitude I feel for you and other volunteers. I know for a fact there’s no way I could pull off what you and your fellow con-chairs have done each year.
I don’t actually disagree with most of what you’re saying here. I don’t hold the individuals in that picture responsible for the racism and sexism in fandom as a whole. I don’t think I’ve suggested otherwise, though if I have, I apologize, as that certainly wasn’t the thought or intention.
But as you note, the makeup of the individuals in that photo does echo the diversity issues we’re seeing in fandom as a whole. We see it elsewhere, too — book covers, “Best of” anthologies, and as someone pointed out, even in the history of our award winners and nominees. I’ve talked about those facets before as well.
Pointing out that a “Best SF” anthology includes stories only by white men isn’t a slam on the authors who wrote those stories, nor does it mean their stories are undeserving. But it does point out a larger problem.
I also agree that we’re looking at a historical snapshot, and that we’ve started to see some changes in more recent years, which is great. But I also think — and it sounds like you agree — there’s a lot of work left to do. And it’s harder to do that work when people insist that fandom is wonderful and welcoming and colorblind and accepting of everyone, because you and I both know it’s not.
You said you’re doing your best as volunteers to address these issues. Do you mind if I ask what kind of things you’re doing?
Jim C. Hines
August 27, 2013 @ 11:25 am
I posted two Tweets. The first is the one that got brought up on the SMOFs listserv. The second, posted within seconds of the first, was the sentiment you quoted here (though I don’t recall the exact words).
I would be depressed as hell to see Worldcon go away, and I hope that doesn’t happen. But I’m curious, did that second Tweet get brought up on the listserv, or did whoever raised the issue choose to only talk about the first?
August 27, 2013 @ 11:55 am
Hi Jim, in terms of your final question: I actually was speaking there to a broader sweep of issues than just diversity. Hot buttons in recent years have included diversity in committees, on program (e.g. “panel parity”), issues around universal access, and a whole spectrum of issues around treatment of women, from objectivization and the Fake Geek Girl discussion to harassment policies and code of conduct.
Some common elements I see here are that (a) many of these things are not specific to the fannish side of the genre (witness recent SFWA discussions and your own exploits around cover art) and (b) many are also not specific to SF fandom vs. other social networks. What this says to me is that these are not simple issues and that a failure to address them isn’t due to collective laziness or blindness (although I don’t claim for a moment that those problems don’t exist at the individual level).
It is of course right that the people who run any event should be willing to be held to account. My experience is simply that conrunners are invariably not professionals in areas such as diversity and inclusion, people development, conflict resolution, creating safe spaces, and so on.
And we need to remember that – and that often these people are trying their best to deal with issues that they are not well prepared or trained for – when assessing their performance.
In terms of diversity; I wish I could say there were concrete initiatives to point at in terms of Worldcon, but I think we’re struggling to do more than token things (donating the odd membership to Con or Bust is welcome, but it’s a couple of people in an audience of 1000s).
August 27, 2013 @ 11:56 am
Both (and this blog) have been quoted on the SMOFS list.
Jim C. Hines
August 27, 2013 @ 11:57 am
Oh, good. Thank you!
August 27, 2013 @ 12:19 pm
Re self-perpetuating whiteness: This is the kind of thing that Con-or-Bust is most useful for, IMO — one of the reasons fandom is as white as it is is that PoC look at at fandom, see a ton of white faces, and go “this community isn’t for me”, then leave. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I don’t have any issue with Con-or-Bust and think it’s probably a good idea (mostly for the above reason) — but it’s pretty much the exact opposite of color-blindness; focusing on color as a positive quality that you should target in order to improve things — rather than focusing on methods of ruling color out as a factor [such as blind auditions, something that isn’t really practical in most aspects of fandom]. Active outreach -and- fixing the things that we’re doing wrong, -and- putting anti-harassment policies in place and enforcing them to make our communities more welcoming in general are all necessary to move things to a better place.
Of course, one issue we can’t directly influence as fandom [except where we can] is moving SF — the thing we’re a fandom of — to be more inclusive and diverse. It’s been happening, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
August 27, 2013 @ 12:57 pm
“Fandom” isn’t something that has a head. Even just Worldcon isn’t — the head for this year may well have no authority at all over anything at Worldcon next year. And that collection of Worldcon chairs goes back quite a few decades; it’s not largely about “now”. One of the things that’s remarkable about the history of Worldcons is how *early* there were women running them. And your tweets are being read as criticizing the people currently running Worldcon for not fixing the problem. That never ends well, especially just before Worldcon when the stress level is at its peak (among those working on it).
Fandom has made huge strides towards gender balance since I’ve been involved (I started in 1972) — but it’s been because women got more interested in SF and learned about fandom and started showing up. It’s not something we did anything to cause, although as a het male who was, in my early days in fandom, a single adolescent, it was very welcome. It’s largely attributed to Star Trek.
August 27, 2013 @ 1:12 pm
“… conrunners are invariably not professionals in areas such as diversity and inclusion, people development, conflict resolution, creating safe spaces, and so on.”
Nevertheless, when you are in charge of organizing a large event that’s open to the public, those things (as well as many others–ADA requirements, room occupancy limits, finance and accounting, emergency procedures) become, at least in part, your responsibility, and it’s necessary either to educate yourself, or to hire or recruit people who know how to handle them.
Fortunately, since large public events go on all the time, there are a good many people out there who know how to do these things.
August 27, 2013 @ 1:22 pm
I think that’s a little simplistic. Worldcons do invariably draw on internal and external expertise from specialists, but you’re still talking about a very large organization (300 staff, not counting on-the-day volunteers) in which that expertise is spread very thin. In addition it’s a virtual organization where it’s pretty hard to do any real training, plus budget is limited so hiring isn’t generally an option.
Jim C. Hines
August 27, 2013 @ 1:57 pm
I agree with a lot of what you’re saying in your first paragraph. And yes, if that’s how people are reading the Tweets, then I can’t imagine the conversation would go well at all.
Having talked to and listened to many women in fandom, I’m not sure about the huge strides you describe. I believe there’s been progress, but there are still tremendous problems to be overcome. And yes, historically speaking, improvements like that sometimes come not because the “in group” does anything to change things, but because others fight against discrimination and refuse to be silenced or excluded.
Which is, in my opinion, a tremendous shame, and why I’d love to see more of us actively working to make fandom a more welcoming space.
(Edited for clarity)
August 27, 2013 @ 2:16 pm
I *think*, maybe, that what’s happened is that the real world has caught up with fandom, and arguably passed it. And maybe we’re seeing some of the backlash against feminism that the real world is experiencing, too, making the whole topic more contentious.
If we’re doing things to be unwelcoming specifically to women, we certainly need to stomp those. And we nearly certainly are; we’re too tightly tied to tech in general and our society at large to be immune to their general tendencies. (I put one of the early convention anti-harrassment policies in place at Minicon in 1992–but its descendents haven’t been carried through to today.) I’m solidly for finding and working to stomp that kind of barriers to entry.
On the other hand, my knees twitch every time people cite simple statistics as evidence of discrimination. And I know women who hate affirmative action with a fiery passion because they have been victimized by it all their lives (being regarded as not a real whatever until they prove they’re *better* than everybody else). It’s an easier argument to find the numbers for; but it doesn’t tell anybody how to actually behave better.
August 27, 2013 @ 3:52 pm
Can I just say I’m pleased to know Dave Kyle and his red blazer are still with us? I love him. He’s an Old White Man who’s gracious to everyone.
August 27, 2013 @ 4:04 pm
David – and Jim –
I don’t know that there’s much more of an actual backlash against feminism than there ever has been – in fandom or in the real world. It think it’s more along the lines of those few who have objected to the idea all along are emboldened to voice their objections more stridently, given the example of right wing media pundits who encourage them.
Oh the other hand, the sexual harassment issue is more of an education process. There are some really good articles and blogs out in the internet that speak to it far batter than I ever could. I think much harassment is done out of ignorance – men that I know and I would never judge to be sexist do not have the consciousness that women are constantly on guard and virtually must be to protect themselves.
Do I want this situation to continue for the next generations? No. So I prefer that we work on education and awareness. I can speak to that because I have experienced it.
I am far less able to prescribe a course to correct behaviors that may be keeping PoC from joining the convention community. Not the con-running community – that’s step 2. Step 1 is increasing our appeal as a community as a whole.
People don’t join fandom to work on Cons. They join fandom and then they are drawn to work on cons.
How do we increase our appeal? Especially since we are, by definition, a consortium of small groups rather than one large one, with shifting boundaries from year to year.
You may have pointed out a problem, but it is not a problem that has gone unnoticed by the con-running community in general.
Our question is, how do we fix it?
August 27, 2013 @ 4:15 pm
It’s certainly possible that the changes I see are caused by my path through life, which takes me through different sets of people, rather than the “average” people changing. But I’ve been running into young, smart, women who reject the term “feminist” quite firmly and quite knowledgeably a lot more in the last decade.
Jim C. Hines
August 27, 2013 @ 4:22 pm
Given the multiple layers of the problem, I suspect fixing it is going to require work on many, many layers. Awareness and education are important, as you noted. Simply getting people in positions of power to acknowledge the problems (which I believe is happening). Increasing diversity in the characters we create. Working to reduce sexism and racism in our stories, artwork, etc. Active outreach, inviting people to conventions and fandom and such. People like Paul Cornell or John Scalzi making public statements about refusing to participate on panels/conventions that don’t take certain steps toward inclusiveness and safety.
I think acknowledging and talking about the problems is a good first step, but you’re right that it’s only a first step.
August 27, 2013 @ 4:23 pm
Traditional SF/F fandom attracted -people- attracted to techie-shiny-whatif-novelty stuff. The gates to entry involved–still involve-cultural roles and allowances.
But getting back to “what has this got to do with running SF/F conventions?
There’s a logic chain:
It is rare that someone who does not read SF/F is going to wind up going to a non-media SF/F convention. As for media stuff, how many recent SF/F films pass the Bechdel test?! There may be one or two names female characters with major roles. But, they in the current movies, are NOT The Lead character. In Pacific Rim, the lead is male. There are two named female characters. One of them does not survive. The other is the female lead, who of course winds up paired to the male lead. There’s the Avengers–fails the Bechdel Test, and at one point when the gender ratio was worse than ten to one male to famale in people on the set… (I was counting…) The original comic book, has a less unequal ratio, of the makeup of the Avengers, and in the 1970s and 1980s, there are sometimes more than two women on the team at the same time…. Look at the Hugo nominated films, one of them passes the Bechdel test I think. As for the others, Bruce Willis movie, is not quite -entirely- male. And what about the short form BDP nominess. Dr Who, you gotta be kidding me, I thought it was sexist crap the first episoe I ever saw, decades ago!
Anyway, the TV and film role models of common culture SF/F sometimes rise above token female, or token black female–note that the original Star Trek series, had more women in the creew, than Enterprise did, and the original series was in the day of no women on the Supreme Court, no women on ships, no female pilots allowed in major airline cockpits, etc!
But I digress, again. Getting back to the original focus, to be a female SF/F reader, one must get past the cultural values populations who are STILL declaring that women don’t belong in math and science and engineering and interested in it…. Paranormal romance, is shelved over in romance, and there are women, including ones of color–Stephanie Burke, Camille Anthony, the late L. A. Banks, and others–who write paranormal romance and/or futuristic romance, and go to romance conventions and some of them go to Dragoncon. Some of them even go to e.g. Philcon and Balticon. But there are women and girls brainwashed into staying away from the SF/F section because “it’s about technology and not -people-!”
Of the women I’ve known who are POC who go to SF/F conventions, more of them are writers than convention runners, and there are at least two POC women I know who are ex-convention runners–and so are their housemates who are Caucasian, their defection was due to being fed up with dealing with working on conventions, in which they were hardly alone, it was issues which are colorblind ones.
People who don’t go to convention, don’t work on conventions. People who prefer going to romance conventions which overwhelmingly are majority female, have the same limitations of time and budget that everyone else does–and romance conventions charge up to $500 for registration fees! And they’re not going to have to get past any cultural gating preconceptions that say, “SF conventions are full of science geeks with manners like Sheldon’s in The Big Bang!” They get to be an majority female environments, where everyone is a romance reader of some sort, even when some of the readers and writers explicitly are not fans of paranormal, fantasy, and/or futuristic settings.
And therefore, those women are, in a choice, going to be going to Authors After Dark, Romance Writers of America, Romantic Times, or other romance conventions with significant SF/F/paranormal content in the programming and in the authors who go, and less likely to be going to the World Science Fiction Convention, and especially not chairing Worldcons.
August 27, 2013 @ 4:45 pm
Slight emendation to the above–reasons why people stop working on conventions also include issues of such things as time and money and effort available. Working on conventions takes a lot of time and energy, which compete with other activities.
August 27, 2013 @ 7:18 pm
I’d also note that unless Japanese and Native American (Cherokee-Ojibwe, to be precise) are also “white,” (which I fear to a fair number of people is the case) then that photo is not as exclusively-“white” as some people commenting on it seem to think it was.
I’m reminded of the people who have looked at the entire history of Worldcon and said, “See, nearly all of them have been in the USA!” and who look at me funny when I said, “True, if you go back that far. Try looking at the last 25 years instead.” (Although I also remember someone who looked as too short a range of dates and assumed that Worldcons were required to be outside the USA every other year, which also isn’t the case, although it briefly was in the early 1970s.)
Things are better than they once were. That doesn’t mean the past doesn’t exist, just that things change slowly.
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August 28, 2013 @ 6:22 am
[…] as ever, Hines chose not to quote the content of those emails but to summarise and mock them in a post on his blog that ends with these wise […]
August 28, 2013 @ 1:44 pm
“a virtual organization where it’s pretty hard to do any real training, plus budget is limited…”: I am grateful for those who give of their time, certainly. But good intentions, being stretched too thin, and/or getting oneself in over one’s head do not defenestrate responsibility.
August 28, 2013 @ 2:02 pm
Does that mean that you are volunteering to help, or to provide money for training?
If so, I am sure we can find people for you to talk to.
Jim C. Hines
August 28, 2013 @ 2:43 pm
Like ConFigures, I very much appreciate those who give their time and money. But your question seems to suggest that doing so is a prerequisite to offering opinions or feedback, which is something I strongly disagree with.
Apologies if I’m reading too much into your comment.
August 28, 2013 @ 4:36 pm
Jim, there is a rule or guideline for several concoms I’ve worked on that says, in it’s mildest form, that one should not publicly criticize how a volunteer did their job unless you 1) are their supervisor or manager on the concom or 2)are willing to contribute in some way to making the situation better / closer to your standards. The strongest form of the rule says that any criticism deemed too forceful by the concom as a whole will be treated as the speaker volunteering to do that job for the next convention.
I suspect that AnnR was speaking from her experience in a concom that used a similar rule. That said, this blog is not a concom meeting, and you set the rules for discussions here.
You originally expressed a temperately phrased but critical observation about our shared community, followed closely by an expression of appreciation for the things those volunteers have done to build that community. ConFigures did something similar, and both comments were about SF conventions / WorldCons in general rather than criticisms of the work or behavior of any individual volunteer.
Being volunteer-run might explains wh it is sometimes harder for SF/F conventions (vs. events planned and executed by paid professionals) to fully deliver on their intentions for excellent content and logistics, inclusion and outreach. But it doesn’t eliminate our responsibility to try.
My experience is that WorldCons are run by amateurs, in the fine old sense of “lovers of the subject”. And while I like it that way, it doesn’t mean we get a pass on any of the issues that have been raised. Nor do I think Colin (quoted by ConFigures) was trying to claim an exemption for WorldCon or SF cons in general from current standards of good behavior. Just acknowledging that ducating and alerting the whole population volunteer conrunners may take substantial time and effort by lots of people.
August 29, 2013 @ 6:06 am
I have tried to be clear in my comments; if I have not done so, I apologize. At no point have I said that Worldcons get an exemption or should not receive reasonable feedback. What I AM saying is that there’s going to be a better environment if we all remember the nature of the event and the way it is run. If people decide to hold Worldcon to the standards and expectations that they would hold a corporate with deep resources and full-time staff, and come out with hostility when those standards are not met, rather than giving the benefit of the doubt and recognizing that when it’s all volunteers working in their spare time, then the relationship between the conrunners and the critics is going to be become increasingly destructive. This is a clear trend that I’ve seen in the last few years that I did not see before. I don’t think Worldcon will die overnight because there’s still a good number of people who want to run one; but I do think that (a) many good workers are deciding it’s no longer worth the hassle and (b) the dialogue is being damaged. I see it all the time on SMOFS now where instead of engaging with the criticisms, many list members are just putting up the barricades because they feel that there’s a lot of people out there who are willing to criticize at a moment’s notice but not to praise the many things that are done well, or to make a serious commitment to helping out.
Jim C. Hines
August 29, 2013 @ 9:32 am
To be clear, my comment above was in response to AnnR’s implication (at least as I read it) that if you’re not volunteering or offering money, you’re not allowed to criticize. I believe that’s what Anna was following up on as well.
I haven’t seen anything in your comments or emails to suggest that Worldcon should be immune from critique, and as I noted, I’ve very much appreciated your contributions to the discussion.
Another facet of the problem you’re describing is, I think, the tendency for people to remember and respond and share the negative more than the positive. I linked to the disability/accessibility page for the London Worldcon a short time ago, because I thought it was a wonderful and positive thing. That got a few retweets, but didn’t get picked up the way my comment on the Worldcon chairs photo did — both by people who agreed with me and by the SMOFs list.
I’d love to see the positive spread as well as the negative, but I don’t currently have a solution, unfortunately.
August 30, 2013 @ 4:04 pm
I do not take any offense from your comments at all. And you know, we don’t have the solutions, either.
We have heard the criticism, not just from you, but from ourselves in the past years.
My point is, after several people make the same critical statements multiple times, piling on more of the same is not very useful, and only serves to incite a backlash.
Anna is absolutely right, I come from the tradition that says, if you want to change something badly enough, you will at least contribute to making the change happen. That is not just in convention fandom, that happens in all volunteer organizations.
We don’t need more criticism, we need some constructive criticism here. We need someone to suggest how things can be changed instead of just saying that we need to change things.
Something practical, that can be done by a volunteer organization with limited funds.
These don’t have to be large initiatives, even the first steps will start the process. So, small steps will help.
Sometimes the very discussion of these issues or ways to change things brings out some comments that may not reflect most people’s thinking on a topic, or comments may be test balloons to see how other people react. That kind of discussion often advances the conversation and enlightens folks who may not immediately get the point.
That’s the kind of thing that happens on the SMOFs list. But far less and less of that conversation will happen going forward, because the list that was designed to be closed is now being put out in the public eye.
How will that advance the conversation, when every comment is scrutinized and publicized by those who were not part of the exchange?
People deserve to have private conversations. That’s one of the items Colin is referring to, and I agree.
Jim C. Hines
August 30, 2013 @ 4:21 pm
I agree that people deserve to have private conversations. When someone posted from the SFWA newsgroups to a public Tumblr feed, I found that … troubling, to say the least. Even though it exposed some horrific attitudes. I’m still conflicted over that.
I don’t know what happens on the SMOFs list. People have offered to forward what’s been said about me (and what I suspect will be said about me after today), and I’ve asked then not to. I don’t *want* to know.
But that also means that if you’re already sharing the criticism among yourselves, I have no way of knowing that. If the concom for WorldCon 2014 has already talked about inclusivity and diversity and all of that, that’s great!
One hopefully-constructive criticism in that case would be to have them publicize more of what they’re doing, like the accessibility policy I talked about in an earlier comment. Have the conversations behind closed doors if necessary, but share the results of those conversations.
It sounds like there are problems going on here that I don’t really know about, like leaks in the SMOFs list or the ongoing Us vs. Them siege mentality.
At the same time, when I ask a question about a sign and point out that this could be a problem — especially when other people are talking about feeling unwelcome, or being actively yelled at by a self-identified SMOF — painting me as one of “Them” and getting pissed off at me for asking the question seems like it’s only going to reinforce the very mentality folks are protesting.
I’d love to give a constructive comment like “Hey, maybe you should take those signs down,” but I wanted to know the story behind them first. Maybe they were part of a con thing and everyone at WC was in on the joke.
Ugh. Sorry for going off on a tangent. Still feeling raw on that front.
Anyway, thank you for your comment. I’ve actually been talking to Colin about a potentially positive step, and am hoping to see what we can do there after he recovers from the con.
Jim C. Hines » Us vs. Them vs. Grow the Hell Up
September 1, 2013 @ 2:11 pm
[…] I’m still not entirely sure what the hell happened last week. I know it started when someone forwarded a comment I made on Twitter a few weeks back to the SMOFs listserv. I talked about that some here. […]
September 1, 2013 @ 4:03 pm
So here’s the aspect that I don’t see explicitly called out in the discussion, and I apologize if I missed it: These chairs go back to 1940. The earliest Worldcon represented which had a female chair was 1980. If you only count from that point forward, there are 8 women and a Japanese man pictured, out of 25 chairs, if I counted right. There was a pretty big gap between 1980 and the next time a woman who was present for this picture chaired a Worldcon; if we omit 1980 as an outlier, it’s 7 women and a Japanese man out of 17 present — nearly half.
I haven’t sat down with the Long List of all past and seated Worldcons to run a similar analysis, but I suspect the results would be similar. Yes, fandom, like society in general, has had diversity problems in the past. No, those problems are not 100% resolved. But could there maybe be some acknowledgement that progress has been made and continues to occur? That’s what I’m not seeing.
Jim C. Hines
September 1, 2013 @ 4:30 pm
I know it’s been pointed out in some places, but I’ve been trying to have this conversation here, on LJ, on Twitter, and in email, so I’m afraid I can’t point to exactly where. Regardless, nothing wrong with pointing it out again.
And I agree that we do seem to be making some progress, and that’s awesome! Colin emailed to mention that the 2014 NASFiC and the 2015 Worldcon bids that won today both have female con chairs.
At the same time, while that shows improvements in gender representation, Worldcon still seems to fall pretty heavily white-US. Not 100%, but I think a lot of people would love to see more of the “World” in Worldcon.
So yeah, agreement on the progress, but also on the fact that there’s a lot of work left to do.
Thanks for commenting!
Jim C. Hines
September 1, 2013 @ 4:33 pm
Jim C. Hines
September 1, 2013 @ 4:35 pm
And my personal perception, for what it’s worth, is that you’re right, and things *are* better than they once were. I think that’s worth acknowledging, but I also think it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that we’ve got a lot of work left to do, too. And that talking about the problems isn’t a personal attack or an Us vs. Them thing.
September 2, 2013 @ 1:36 pm
And one post-1980 female Worldcon chair missed that particular photo, too.
September 2, 2013 @ 1:38 pm
Partly it’s that this picture was a bit of nostalgia, bringing up fond memories of thousands of hours of previous volunteer work. To have it suddenly turned into a club used to beat Worldcon runners with pissed a whole bunch of people off.
Jim C. Hines
September 3, 2013 @ 8:34 am
“To have it suddenly turned into a club used to beat Worldcon runners with…”
That seems like a mischaracterization to me. We’ve got to be able to distinguish between “Hey, fandom has some problems” and “Conrunners suck!!!”
As I’ve said repeatedly, I think it’s a great photo. But I also think it’s symptomatic of a problem in our community. Is it a problem that’s slowly getting better? I think and hope so. Is it a problem exclusive to fandom? Of course not.
But it’s frustrating when pointing out that problem gets characterized as “Jim’s anti-SMOF,” which I hear was the message being passed around at WorldCon, or that I’m just bullying conrunners.
Was I tactless or thoughtless in how I originally tried to make that point on Twitter? Did I toss vinegar into people’s nostalgia and good feelings? Very possibly. But I don’t think that’s the same as trying to beat up or bully conrunners.
Yet more Worldcon and Hugo Reactions | Cora Buhlert
September 15, 2013 @ 10:45 pm
[…] in reference to this photo of overwhelmingly male and white Worldcon chairs posted by Jim Hines and plenty of others. Personally, my reaction to the photo was “Wow, there are are more women […]
September 17, 2013 @ 1:27 am
Jim I went and had a look at the long list of worldcons which start in 1939 at a time when to be Jewish was to be a visible minority. So look at the list and notice the number of Jewish names. Also look at the list and notice that the first female Worldcon chair is noted science fiction author Julian May at Chicago in 1952. She is followed by many other female worldcon chairs and co-chairs. So with gender the issue is why don’t more female worldcon chairs go to worldcon these days.
P.S. Best Fan Writer Hugo winners are usually regarded as SMOF’s.
September 19, 2013 @ 1:08 pm
I have a copy of the Noreascon 3 Memory Book in front of me. Yes, the chair was male. However, go down one level to the Division Heads:
Hynes ’89 Division–Fred Isaacs & Peggy Rae Pavlat (who is a former Worldcon chair)
Program Division–Priscilla Olsen & Ben Yalow
Extravaganza Division–Jill Eastlake & Ellen Franklin
Services Division–Jim & Laurie Mann
Facilities Division–Donald Eastlake
WSFS & Art Show Division–George Flynn
Note that the Division heads, half were female, half were male. Go to the pictures of committee and the teardown crew, again, it’s roughly half and half.
September 19, 2013 @ 1:29 pm
Some of the past Worldcon chairs, including at least one woman, don’t go because they’re dead….
But, I think a better metric would be looking down into the committee and staff levels, and seeing what the distribution is at the lower levels. There are lot of woman who’ve been division heads, who don’t necessaril -want- to be Worldcon chairs (there are men, too, who’ve been division heads, who don’t want to be chairs. At least one Worldcon bid which won, the running joke was “You could be the chair…” and the general response was a horrified “No, not -me-!”)
Yes, the percentages of persons with African ancestry, Hispanic surnames, east Asian and southeast Asia and south central Asian ancestry tends to be significantly lower for US Worldcons than the general US public distribution, and those with native American ancestry one can’t generally casually tell, as Kevin Standlee noted. But, the percentage of women, is a lot higher than the picure of former Worldcon chairs that you saw.