I’ll just lay it out. I’m a coward. I’m an angry feminist and the latest bullshit with members of SFWA trying to silence people who stand up against sexism and racism makes me very angry. But I’m also a coward. I’m not good at arguing and I don’t thrive on debate. I feared the letters, the rape threats, the abuse. I have been apologizing to the women who came before me, and fought before me. I felt that I would have made a shitty suffragette, I’d be something closer to a suffrascooter. But I kept silent.
I’m finally done. I had an epiphany this morning and decided to finally talk about it. And I’m going to do it in the spirit of Jim Henson’s The Labyrinth. Also taking a bit of creative license, since the movie wasn’t about racism and sexism.
But it was about power.
SO! This is young Mur, learning about SFF, learning what the Hugo was. Wanting to be part of it, before I even knew what fandom was, what conventions were. I had the dream.
After all, science fiction and fantasy is the genre of inclusiveness, right? The genre of the ostracized nerds, and since we know what it’s like to be ostracized, we welcome anyone!
I was even feeling good about the state of the genre. In the past few years, more women and more people of color were making the ballots. People like Paul Cornell started to fight for gender parity on convention panels, giving up their seat to a woman in the same industry who was not invited.
But then, of course, the problems started with an unapologetic racist misogynist ran for president of SFWA. He lost in a landslide but still got 46 votes. I’m stunned that 46 (well, 45, I guess, since he probably voted for himself) people felt a giant step toward bigotry was the best way to go for the professional organization.
During this time, the SFWA Bulletin ran three questionable issues. One allowed two men to talk about “lady writers and editors,” reminiscing about which ones were hot. Then the cover of the Bulletin ran a chainmail bikini woman on the cover.* Then the two men responded to the criticisms of their first column by running another column about censoring feminist liberal nazis.
People have said it before, and better than I have, but
- Free speech means the government can’t censor you. A magazine editor, a blog owner, a forum moderator, certainly has say over what goes on/in their medium. People who consume such media have the right to call you out on your offensive positions.
- Free speech doesn’t mean people can’t call you out for being a bigot or asshole. Just as you had the free speech to say that women should be like Barbie, I have the free speech to call you a dick.
*(Yeah, I know chainmail bikini is a staple in fantasy – well, fantasy from the 1970s – and is still considered pretty sexist. The deal is, when/if a book comes out with that cover, I have the choice not to buy it, voting with my dollars. With the Bulletin, my dues are going toward this. I’ve already paid for it, like it or not.)
So as women started standing up for this, the attacks came (a lot of awesome men stood up too, and as I understand it, are not getting abused as much, but they are called things like “pinkshirts” and “gamma bunnies” which John Scalzi has embraced totally). Their opinions didn’t matter because they weren’t as well published as others. Or they shouldn’t come in trying to change an organization that was doing just fine before they arrived, thank you very much. And I started to feel
Then NK Jemisin gave an amazing GoH speech at an Australian con, and posted her speech online. Said loser of the SFWA presidency went on a horrific rant that was blatantly racist and sexist. Then he abused the SFWA Twitter account by releasing his blog post over the official twitter account, sending his racist vomit to all who are interested in SFWA writers. Amal El-Mohtar called for his removal from the organization. Now the same old guard are digging in their heels.
Amid this all, I’m watching this and hating the whole thing.
And as I think about how I wanted my career to go, in the terms of being a pro and getting involved with the community, I felt
Through it all, I’m constantly amazed by the violent reaction to the idea that you should not treat people badly. (And that you have the right to decide what “badly” is – when a whole group of people are calling you out for bigotry, the obvious result doesn’t seem to be “nuh uh!”) I don’t think it’s that much that I be treated fairly, not “othered” by the term “lady” as Seanan McGuire puts it here, and not having my opinions judged by my plumbing. But apparently women not wanting to be harassed at a convention, not suggested to be Barbie, not calling people of color “savages,” and not crying about your right to be a bigoted asshole with no one calling you on it is
I was despairing. I was seeing women and men with much better debate skills bang their heads on this wall, feeling I could never help them, that I would get in the way. And, frankly, I was afraid. I still am. But you know, here comes the epiphany I had this morning:
Their silencing tactics are the oldest trick in the book. And it was working on me. Calling names, threatening, telling people their voice simply doesn’t matter. It’s the bully tactic, the puffing up of feathers, toddlers screaming in a tantrum, that they are using.
Can they actually hurt me? Maybe. There is a reason we are fighting – to feel safe at conventions, to be respected as equals, to have our work judged based on the work and not our race, gender, sexuality, or any of the other reasons people dismiss us. But the weapons against us are becoming increasingly primitive. Mean emails? Nasty names? Threats? SMOFs won’t invite me as a guest to conventions? Those tactics are the wail of a dying breed, the last resorts of people desperate for things not to change, as the change is about to roll over them. If we really didn’t matter, they wouldn’t notice us. They notice. And they’re scared. There are an awful lot of us who believe that people shouldn’t be bigots.
And the bigots have no power over us. As long as we keep fighting for what is right.