My very complicated reaction to issue 202 of the Bulletin
I am finally starting to surface from the OMG all of the deadlines hit at once. I’m not finished mind you, but things are spacing out enough that I can actually look at this website thingie I have.
I thought about blogging about the past couple of weeks, or what I’m up to and then… the issue 202 of the SFWA Bulletin came out.
To overly simplify it, for those who aren’t familiar, there’s an opinion column that is displays some problematic attitudes toward women. It comes on the heels of a previous issue, that had a milder but still problematic article, which came on the heels of one that had a chick in chainmail on the cover.
I have a very complicated reaction to this.
I look at it and am outraged by the column by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, but not actually because of the sexism inherent in it. That is so appalling that it slides over into farce for me. I know it’s an opinion piece and not representative of the organization as a whole. Being angry about their column is not a new state. But they have no power over women’s roles in SF, not the way things used to be.
But they do have the power to make an organization that I love look unwelcoming. They have the power to make people feel shut out.
And I’m furious, because they can undo all of the good that SFWA does.
And like it or not, people are right to be angry. The column is deeply offensive.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what happened. We have an editor — paid — who I think does not grok the problem. I mean, I can imagine her thinking that it would be good to have an issue about women, and Red Sonja was one of the first warrior women roles in fantasy, so a historic cover with her seems like a good choice. Except that it’s a chick in chainmail, and no accompanying text to talk about the choice. Without context, it fails. No… Even with context, that shouldn’t have been the cover. But I can see the trail of good intentions. I know how ideas fail when a person is trying to do something good.
Afterward, I think that she understood that there was a concern about sexism and made a good faith effort to address it by making changes, but the changes were slow because she doesn’t really get it. After the chainmail issue, she started seeking cover approval. Problem solved! Except that cured the symptom, not the underlying blind spot. The Barbie article came out. People were rightly outraged again. In response, she asked Jim Hines to come in to provide a counter voice and to talk about the cover issues. So I genuinely think she was trying.
I know that she asked Resnick and Malzberg to discuss the previous controversy, because she wanted to provoke a conversation.
This is where the failure to grok becomes most clear. There’s no way that column was going to provoke anything except outrage. I mean… yes, there’s a conversation, but this is not the conversation you were looking for.
She should have paid a kill fee and pulled the Resnick/Malzberg column.
Part of my complicated reaction is because I know what it’s like, sitting on the board. Every time you make a change in an organization like SFWA, it’s hard. It’s a volunteer board, composed of working writers, and you have limited time. The past two administrations were focused on the bylaws, reincorporating, and the website. The Bulletin needed an overhaul but was largely functional. Best of all, we didn’t have to pay attention to it, because it ran itself.
SFWA had bigger issues and was also dealing with outside stuff like the Google Book Settlement, the Vicinanza Agency, Dorchester, Night Shade, Random House. The things you want an writers’ organization for.
So, yeah, the fact that Malzberg and Resnick’s column can take all of the good work like that and GriefCom, and the Emergency Medical Fund, and contract reviews, and, and, and… and just eradicate it infuriates me. That fact that it makes all of SFWA seem unwelcoming and misogynist makes me do the whole gnashing teeth thing. I was heartened by the official SFWA Presidential apology for the issue. I’m glad that there’s a taskforce that’s going to do the Bulletin overhaul that needed to happen.
I just wish that we hadn’t driven people away to get there.
Because the thing is, SFWA does amazing stuff, all the time.
And this time we screwed up. Hell… I’m not even in office anymore, and I still feel like some asshole spilled something on my prom dress. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a little spot, that’s all anyone will see. It doesn’t matter how great the dress is, the stain still ruins it.
And I’m sitting here, trying to convince myself that I should go to the prom anyway.
Actually… as an analogy, that totally fails because the thing that really upsets me is that other people don’t feel welcome. And I want them to.