Reframing and Punching Down

Or, you know, more tilting at windmills.

I’ve been watching the discussion around the Hugo/Ross fiasco for most of the last week.  I was offline when much of the backlash started earlier this week but once articles in the mainstream media started appearing I found myself getting angrier and angrier.  I started to feel like my mood was stuck on “angry shrill bitch,” to be honest.

There have been a lot of fantastic posts about this.  Here are links to a few:

Then there were some other posts that I found to be less than fantastic. Many of them boil down to “chill out and settle down, be nice”.

There have been a number of articles in the mainstream media–mostly British outlets–but the one I want to concentrate on is this one: Jonathan Ross and the Hugo awards: why was he forced out by science fiction’s self-appointed gatekeepers?

That essay, dear readers, was written by Hayley Campbell, Neil Gaiman’s goddaughter.  This is not disclosed anywhere in the article.  And yet it is a critical piece of information, as that informs the way Campbell has framed her essay.

Read that article carefully. Read exactly who is allowed to have a voice in that article, who is quoted, and who is given a name.  Read who is reduced to a mob, to an irrationally shrill group of bullies.

Now think about who has access to mainstream media outlets. Think about who has the connections. Think about the pre-packaged “toxic Twitter” meme that this story has, oh so neatly, been shaped to fit.

Are you angry yet?  Because you should be.

This entire conversation has been reframed to cast Jonathan Ross as the victim here.  I have looked for the abuse that was supposedly directed at Ross and his family and, like this commenter, I have been unable to find any.

Instead, the story is that Seanan McGuire is a bully for speaking to her own fears in this situation and not even tagging Jonathan Ross or his family (note: dragging someone’s family into this sort of thing is seriously Not On; people’s personal lives are just that: personal).  Instead the story is that a bunch of people–mostly women–bullied a celebrity into resigning a hosting gig that he was being nice enough to do for free.

And I am furious.

I am furious that there is the appearance of Jonathan Ross is using his access to the media to punch down onto a group of people who have historically been made to feel unwelcome in fandom–from the procurement of butts for Isaac Asimov to pinch on stage to Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis during the Hugo ceremony and through the discussion and controversy around other harassment at conventions and the SFWA Bulletin.

This is yet another way that voices are marginalized. People who are afraid of being hurt again are being told that they’re overreacting. That they need to be kind and generous and give people a chance.

When I was younger, I was often told by my father that I was difficult and hard to get along with because I was too outspoken. That I needed to be nicer and listen to other people and that I’d eventually get a chance to speak.  You know what I discovered?  That if I followed that advice, my chance to speak never came.  And this feels very much like that.  For me, that is no longer an option.

The only way we can change our culture is by speaking up when we can.

As for Jonathan Ross and his wounded ego?

sound of music fucks

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Jesus fucking Christ, Loncon3. This is why we can’t have nice things. (cache)

I don’t even know what else to say.  After all the discussions over the last year (and more) we’ve had about sexism, racism, and harassment in fandom, you–the Chairs, Steve Cooper and Alice Lawson–have decided that a man who was suspended from the BBC and who has, essentially, made a career out of punching down is the perfect person to host the Hugo Award ceremonies.

This basically says everything:

Seriously, what the actual fucking FUCK, Loncon3? Was everyone else you asked already booked for the evening? Was Jonathan Ross the literal best you could do?

You took people’s labor–Farah Mendlesohn’s in particular–and waited until they were so invested that they couldn’t completely walk away. You waited until after people bought memberships before the deadline for the Hugo nomination period. And this is what you do with all the goodwill you’ve accumulated over the last year by promising that this year’s Worldcon would be different?  You’ve pissed it away because the chance to have an actual celebrity host the Hugos was too good to pass up.

I don’t even. I just don’t.

Update. And Ross has withdrawn.



Update 2. Mendlesohn has taken her original post down.


Sure, taking a few seconds to be respectful toward someone about something they care about doesn't sound hard. But if you talk to hundreds of people every day and they all start expecting that same consideration, it could potentially add up to MINUTES wasted. And for WHAT?

A bit of pointed commentary from XKCD.

While I was at Boskone this past weekend, I was sent a link to excerpts from a public newsgroup at–I tweeted it out and then pretty much wandered off to do convention type stuff. It was a very fun convention. I mostly did bar con, which was definitely the right choice for me this time around.

Got on the train Sunday afternoon and discovered, well.  Discovered that the postings to the newsgroup were suddenly very, very public.  People were talking. Which is a good thing.

I know a lot of people have been reading through the sff.sfwa newsgroup over the past few days, specifically the “Culture Wars” thread started by William Barton.  People unfamiliar with the history of SFWA are noticing how clubby, condescending, and downright nasty the newsgroup can be.  This is what some long-time members–and former members–want. They don’t want a professional writers’ organization; they want a club for (a certain subset of) writers.

A lot of the commentary over the last week has been interesting, enlightening, and occasionally infuriating.  I’ve been thinking a lot about voices and who is allowed to have them.  Liz Bourke pointed me at this wonderful essay by Mary Beard in which she talks about classical ideas about whose voices are encouraged and listened to and how the emphasis on male voices persists to this day. This article about how young women use upspeak and baby talk is also quite interesting and relevant.

It’s fascinating to see how this entire conversation has progressed and how the rhetorical techniques Joanna Russ wrote about in How to Suppress Women’s Writing are still used today to suppress and erase women.

One thing that’s happened to me is the the intimation that since I am relatively unknown that I have no standing to speak about these issues. The thing is this: everyone has to start somewhere and the insistence on credentials is a way to suppress voices.  I haven’t been getting a lot of push back, but what I have gotten has centered on this fact and a fair bit of the overall commentary generally doesn’t even acknowledge that this is a site run by one person (those of you who have acknowledged that: thank you).

The thing is this: the whole conversation isn’t just about one disgruntled man’s long held grudge against Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about a culture which has systematically privileged the voices of a subset of the population over all the other voices.

Putting the focus on a handful of high profile people in our community shifts the conversation from one about systemic issues to one about an individual’s grudge about something that happened years ago. It’s difficult to talk about systemic issues without using individual examples, and yet.

I know it’s easier to focus on individual examples instead of the big picture because trying to change those systems is so incredibly daunting.  As Beard pointed out in her essay, the idea that women shouldn’t speak in public goes back thousands of years. We have a lot of work to do.

So I’ve gone ahead and done something that I’ve been meaning to do for well over a year now: I’ve joined SFWA as an affiliate member. What can I do to help?

P.S. Jerry Pournelle, this is called sexual harassment.

Oh Dear: SFWA Bulletin Petition

David Truesdale has written and circulated a petition (this was received directly from David Truesdale)–and gotten a number of SFWA members to sign it.

That, however, was not what was originally circulating.  This is.  And this is what I’ll be responding to below.

It’s full of appeals to the sanctity of the First Amendment–which, as a private organization, SFWA doesn’t need to abide by–and a whacking great heap of sexism and racism, too.  I don’t understand why some people are constantly conflating their desire to say anything they want, wherever they want, with private organizations’ right to moderate spaces that they own.

Enjoy some excerpts:

The essence of the situation is that a writers’ organization, of all groups, should not be establishing a committee to determine what is “unacceptable” or “inappropriate” or “offensive” in some contribution to one of its publications. SFWA should be the front line of defense for First Amendment issues, and not make itself part of the problem.

If one takes that argument to its logical conclusion, then why have an editor at all? Let’s just publish whatever gets sent in!  Also, again: SFWA is a private organization and the First Amendment doesn’t apply.  Just like this space is a not-the-government and I get to make the rules about who gets to talk here and who doesn’t.

The cover of the 200th issue of the Bulletin was part and parcel of the furor that has led to its suspension. Cries of “sexism,” portraying women as “sex objects,” and other like phrases reached the ears of the President and will now become part of the “review process” overseen by the new editor, “volunteers and an advisory board” and the President himself. Covers like the one shown here are not new. They have graced the covers of countless magazine and book covers for many decades. So have magazine and book covers featuring handsome, ripped and rugged males in various stages of dress, depending on the story and what the publisher hopes will appeal to his readership in order to advance sales. Yet there are those who object strenuously to a sexy female (scantily clad or otherwise) on the cover of anything, and always somewhere in the mix of reasons, primary among them is that women are being portrayed as sex objects and that such covers are blatantly sexist and therefore are to be avoided, or removed, or are otherwise to be castigated and held up to ridicule and scorn.

Let’s refresh our memory about that cover, shall we?

It would be one thing if this cover had any sort of relationship to the contents of the Bulletin, but it didn’t. It’s a badly done painting of a not that sexy, mostly naked warrior at severe risk of frostbite. And the Resnick/Malzberg column was about how hot some lady editors were in their bathing suits and nary a mention of their facility with a red pen.  Objectifying and dehumanizing. No wonder people objected.

And if the next two issues hadn’t been a doubling down on said objectification and dehumanization, people would have let it pass.  It was the fact that there were three issues in a row that were full of sexist and racist nonsense that caused the uproar–and rightly so in my opinion.

Then Truesdale embarks upon a long digression on how ogling objects of desire is something that everyone does (well, not exactly everyone) and how it should be completely okay.  You know what? Not in a professional context–which the SFWA Bulletin is. The SFWA Bulletin should be about publishing and writing speculative fiction in an increasingly volatile marketplace, not about the good old days when the female editors were smokin’ hot in a swimsuit and didn’t let themselves be offended by red-blooded American male approval. Or, at least, didn’t let on that they were offended.

Ladies these days.  Just don’t know anything about quiet dignity.

Then–oh then.  Truesdale hauls out the very best part: he has a black friend!  A black lesbian friend! Who is never named but who nonetheless goes on to agree with and bless every single one of Truesdale’s arguments.  If this friend exists, I feel sorry for them, as they’ve been reduced down to their racial and sexual identities. 

I want to emphasize that I am not trying to shut people up who hold deep feelings about their views on sexism (or any other topic). What I object to and find odious is that certain folks, in their self-righteousness, want their views to override all others, silencing them, and now they have a President in their hip pocket who is willing and able to do their bidding. Their views should be open for discussion—and print in the Bulletin—just like the views others hold on any variety of important subjects, but not to the exclusion of any opposing (and just as deeply felt) view or mode of expression from anyone else. That approach is the inclusivity and diversity you’re looking for.

SFWA members don’t pay their $90 annual dues to be told what to think or how they should express themselves in the pages of the Bulletin, nor do they want their own thoughts (through their articles or columns) to be deemed “acceptable” or “right thinking,” or adhering to some jumped-up (always subject to change at whim) PC style manual by some hootenanny “advisory board”” of boot lickers.

Okay, then. Again: I wasn’t aware that the Bulletin was supposed to be a free-for-all, where anyone can say anything.  I thought it was a professionally edited magazine for professional writers that is supposed to have content that is of use to the specific audience.  I don’t think six pages of Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg going on about the good old days is really very useful to the membership; I read some magazines that have personal essays in them and they’re usually one or two pages, at most.  Six pages is a lot of real estate for reminiscing about how awesome it was to be a writer 30 years ago.  

Far from an editor, this person will be nothing more than a slave, dragging his bundle of copy to the mansion from the field, where the “review process,” and some proposed “volunteer and advisory board,” and the President himself will be making the real “editing” decisions. You gather the cotton, we’ll spin it into what we think looks good for us.

Yep. He went there.

Ultimately, though, Truesdale’s argument is thoroughly dishonest.  He’s trying to get people riled up over someone editing the publication and he’s doing so in an incredibly offensive and gross manner.  He’s claiming that this is a free speech issue when it isn’t. SFWA is not the government. They can’t stop you from saying whatever damn fool thing you want. All they can do is stop you from saying it in their publication.

Luckily for you all, Sunny Moraine has written a handy guide explaining what the First Amendment means.  

C.C. Finlay makes the point more eloquently than I can as well.

So hey: Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

EDIT 4:30 PM: I was provided a copy of the first (unedited) version with additional signatures.  You can find it here.  This version was being sent out via email by David Truesdale as late February 8.