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SFWA Sexism, part…?

July 2, 2013

Recently, I’ve come across a backlash to the backlash of women offended by the dialogue of Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg in the SFWA Bulletin.   A number of people, some of whom surprised me, are calling the responses “defensive” and “unprofessional”, and state how those two established writers don’t deserve it.

First off, I disagree.  The more the word “professional” is used to mean complacent, compliant, falsely polite, and protecting powerful people over victims, the more I want to go all Klingon and toss as much etiquette out the window as I can fit in my mouth.  Anger is no less professional than any other tool in a writer’s toolbox, and when it’s used to reveal societal mistreatment, it’s exactly what keeps the community honest.

Second, it’s not expressing that simple desire to go easy on Mr. Malzberg and Mr. Resnick that pisses me off.   Rather, it’s the asides that almost every person defending them seems to make about the offended women.  I’ve come to recognize a pattern.

-They start off by saying what “great guys” these two are.  Granted, I don’t know either of them from a hole in the wall, but this seems like the beginning of every bully defense ever.

-They follow by insulting the women who were offended, belittling what they felt, calling them anger addicts, sometimes more graphic names.

-They insult some of the men who stand up for them.   There’s one guy, a fairly prominent spec fic novelist, who’s been helping these women tell their story.   Someone who should know far, far better referred to him with a passage that included “the easiest way for a man to get a blowjob is to recite feminist cant”.    Someone else made a comment about wishing more men “had a sack” (i.e. participated in the bullying rather than standing up for the women).

I get that there are some honest, well meaning guys in the community who aren’t looking at all the angles and have the situation backwards.  They feel like Malzberg and Resnick are the bullied, and the women involved are the bullies.   To them, I say look a little closer at the balance of power and whose words have more influence over whom.   Even if you don’t think what these guys did is that big a deal, pretend you’re someone who does.  Pretend it really hurt you to the core and made you feel unwelcome and powerless.   Research the nuances of sexism and realize how certain comments may seem harmless to you, but it means a whole lot more to a lot of other people.   It’s not your place to judge how offended someone shouldn’t get at a comment that doesn’t apply to your situation.  (I admit I don’t always practice what I preach here, but I am trying to get better)

Let’s take an example closer to home.  I’m Jewish — only culturally, but Jewish all the same.  If someone did a professional column on me that was supposed to reflect my writing skills and instead focused on what awesome Matzoh Ball soup I make, or how cool my Jewish features look, I’d be pretty vexed, whether or not they meant to compliment me.

Next:  why am I making such a big deal about this, being a white guy with moderate life privileges?  Am I just sucking up?  Isn’t it none of my business? Not quite.

As I said, I’m not in the SFWA right now, but I have 2 out of 3 qualifying credits (unless they change the rules before my third sale), and I’ve thus been looking at the organization a lot more closely to see if it’s something I’d really want to join when the time comes.

Further, I may have no idea what being the victim of sexism and sexual harassment feels like, but I do know what it feels like to be bullied.  This happened to me a lot during my school and camp days, for various reasons.  I was quiet, overly sensitive, introspective, introverted, and moved a lot.   A socially deadly combo.   I was also kind of equal parts fearless and stupid.  More than once, when I was at the end of my rope, I slugged kids in the face who were much bigger than me, ignoring the consequences.  I don’t know what consequences posts like these will have for me, but I’m swinging the axe anyway.   Over and out.

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One Comment
  1. Helen permalink

    I couldn’t agree more with you. Like you, I don’t know either Mike Resnick or Barry Malzberg personally but I have read the offending columns – and they are offensive. I’m sure they weren’t intended to be but the correct response when it’s pointed out that you’ve offended many people is take your foot out of your mouth and say something like “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise. I’ll try to do better.” instead of adding to it. With that response this name-calling and mud-slinging would largely have been averted.

    As a woman I’m not surprised at the wave of attacks on the women who called Resnick and Malzberg on their behaviour and the men who have supported them. It’s what happens every time. These people – and not all are men – feel entitled to vent – and sadly much of what is said goes way beyond venting. Rape and death threats are not uncommon. The truth is they don’t want to learn or change. They are living in their own, little, entitled worlds where what they feel and think is more important than what anyone else experiences.

    But along with all this nastiness it’s posts like yours that can make a difference. We may not be able to change the most bigoted and fixated of these people but there will be some who have been caught up in the whole thing and who, when they see sensible, measured commentary, may start to question their belief system – and that is a very good thing.

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