Me, as a useful representative example

For those of you who haven’t been following this, and I’m glad you haven’t, here is an article from The Daily Dot for backstory.

The short form is that some people said some not nice things about me in a public space, and the story has been picked up as an example of sexism in part because one of the people saying those things works for my publisher. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has done a good analysis of the sexism in what’s going on, so I’m not going to rehash that. Instead I’m going to talk about how this affects me.

I feel weird about this.

I feel weird because it wasn’t news for me. For years, I’ve known that there was a segment of folks on that profoundly did not like me, and that they were saying unpleasant things about me.  I knew that a guy in contracts hated me. But I’d decided to ignore it because, honestly, he’s a professional and he did his job. The fact that he didn’t like me… Sad, but not career-damaging.

So, on a personal level when comments like these come to my attention, I just laugh and move on. I don’t waste my story-brain on constructing a narrative about how they’ve wronged me and what I can do about it. They are well within their rights to dislike me and to say so.


But then a ton of lovely people started emailing me about The Daily Dot article and telling me how sorry they were that I was getting all of this abuse. I was taking the day off the internet to spend with my husband. I do that once a week, because love. Anyway, point being that I usually leave my phone on, in case my parents need to reach me. It kept pinging.

So I told Rob I was going to go online for 45 minutes to see what was happening. I looked. Saw the article. Read the comments. Laughed.

Then I replied to the messages saying, “Honestly, I’m fine. Four years in office inured me to this so mostly I’m just laughing.”

And this is the part that I feel I should draw attention to — I was “mostly” laughing. I was also having mild stress reactions. Dry sweats, elevated heart rate. I was ready to shrug them off as, “Meh, doesn’t materially affect me. I’ve seen worse.”

Until someone pointed it out that I was basically saying, “I’m inured to being abused, because I was abused for years.” See… the things those folks are saying in that public forum? When I was in office, they would email that bile directly to me and because I was an officer, I could not chose to ignore it. I had to read every single one. And I had to reply politely to them. Strangely, sometimes I had trouble doing that, but a polite response was the one that was expected. Now? Being out of office for two years, I can say whatever the fuck I want, but most beautifully, I don’t have to read the emails.

So this is why I feel weird about writing about this. My impulse is to tell you all that I’m fine and that this has no material affect on my life. And that is true. But I also know that I am a useful representative sample of the abuse that happens to other women.

I know that there are a ton of women who have received similar messages — and can we stop pretending that sexism is happening because it’s SFWA? Sexism happens all the time. It’s visible in SFWA because people are actively fighting against it.

Too many places, too many women, get this sort of unwelcome attention and commentary about what they were wearing but no one does anything. It’s always, “Laugh about it” or “Just shrug it off,” or “Ignore it and he’ll go away.”

You see how well that last is working?

So, I really, truly am fine. But watch what happens to me now that I’m posting. Read the comments when they happen. Note the people who say that because I’m talking about the abuse, I must be begging for attention.

Take me as a useful representative example. And know that I am not an isolated case.

138 Responses

  1. Rick Moen

    Thank you for letting people know that these things are occurring. As a longtime fan and reader (but not SFWAn), and also as a homo sap who happens to bat for the XY team, I’m mortified that you should be the target of that juvenile venom. Nobody, and no SF author, and no SFWA officer, should have to put up with that sort of abuse.

    That women who speak out in public are indeed routinely subjected to these assaults is indeed unacceptable and long overdue for a franchised variant of Scalzi’s Mallet of Loving Correction.

    I don’t know if that helps, but you have that plus my good wishes and empathy.

    Best Regards,
    Rick Moen

  2. Jon O.

    I sucks that you have to deal with this at all, Mary. But I’m entirely certain that there are far more of us that love you, your work, and what you represent, than not.

    Too bad Jane and Vincent can’t help. 🙂

  3. Sean the Bookonaut

    This horrible situation reminded me that I hadn’t bought the Hardback version of Without a Summer. I might institute a policy of supporting women attacked in this fashion by buying more of their work. Thanks for your continued work both on the page and in the community.

    1. Paige Vest

      I heartily agree with this sentiment and plan to buy physical copies of all of Mary’s books, despite having a couple of them in ebook form. I feel that my monetary support will send a bigger message than my vocal support, though I’m certainly willing to provide vocal (ie, written!) support!

  4. Kuiper Belter

    Hi Mary,
    I’ve been meaning to read something of yours for a while but I finally bought one today specifically to show my support. You now have a new reader thanks to a combination of recommendations from Scalzi, and my wish to taunt the repulsive haters. I hope this works out well for you!

  5. keikomushi

    It would be awesome if people were a lot more kind and considerate of each other. Sadly, there are some that lack the empathy to realize that their comments can have a real affect on those around them. Words do have an impact regardless of the foolish old saying regarding sticks and stones. But along with the devastating effect that words can have, they can also offering something positive and constructive.

    Anyway, I would like to offer my support for you Mary and for the many women that are mistreated by cretins such as the chap mentioned in the article. You deserve better than this and I believe it is time again to push for higher standards of behaviour and thinking about gender within society. There must be ramifications for those that treat others poorly.

    Thanks for all of the awesome fiction!

  6. Saul K.

    From my perspective as a fifty year old man, I believe so much hatred comes from a fear that older people, males especially, are becoming obsolete. Not only fear, but a feeling that older men are being forced into a corner by a society of aggressive younger people who have no qualms telling the former to their faces that they are useless and must disappear. It might be a conspiracy-tinged paranoia akin to the rantings of far-right stallwarts Glenn Beck or Alex Jones. It may have some truth to it. I can’t say with any degree of certainty. However, I do believe that many of those older men who are lashing out believe their fears to be based in reality. They feel wounded and stuck in a corner. The only thing that makes sense for them to do is to strike out with claws or teeth, hoping against hope that they can scare off their attackers and live to see tomorrow.

    That said, I’ve come not to excuse this behavior nor bury it, just try to give my perspective on it. I’m a writer and producer although I don’t work in the genre or medium many of you do. As I get older, I notice that those around me get younger with the mix sliding to a less homogeneously male population. There is nothing good or bad about it in my world, it merely is a fact that I have to adapt to. Some younger people I get along with, some I don’t. Some women I get along with…well, actually, I get along with all of them. The fact is that I have strong enough feelings of self-worth and self-esteem to be able to do my job and to adapt to a changing environment.

    I suspect that many or all of the men who have lashed out at Mary Robinette Kowal suspect in their hearts that they don’t have what it takes to adapt. They may, I don’t know. But they don’t think they do. The sad part is that they’ve turned their complacency into a dogma worth defending. I suppose facing your fears and, FSM forbid, showing it, is less “manly” than piling up the barricades, waving the flag and singing patriotic songs.

    1. Stevie


      Unfortunately the problem runs deeper and wider than some 50 year old guys panicking about their ability to adapt in a changing world. My daughter is a medic, and some of her mentors are guys who are thirty years older than her, who have encouraged her from medical school onwards, and are delighted by her success. Indeed, last week a guy forty years older than her, at the very end of his career, took the time to tell her, after a day working together, that he felt really good knowing that he was leaving their specialisation in the safe hands of someone passionately committed to it.

      She gets a lot of crap from guys junior to her who don’t like the fact that she is senior; the usual mantra of ‘suck it up’ is unhelpful because, amongst a lot of other things, she leads the resuscitation team. If the patient is going to live then certain things have got to be done now; life, or death, depend on people following orders, and there simply isn’t time for some guy who thinks that Barbie is a good role model for women standing there, not following orders, because women aren’t supposed to issue orders.

      I would love to think that the battles that my generation fought had won the war, but I know it didn’t. I would love to think that all we have to do is outlive the dinosaurs, but I know it isn’t. We have to keep fighting because otherwise we will never get past the point where it’s not only possible but acceptable to dismiss someone as an un person…

      1. Micah Ackerman

        I don’t think it’s either honestly. I think the issue is getting worse not better as, Stevie said. I am a younger Horror/Sci-Fi writer and I’ve seen more and more stories lately about grotesque things happening to scantily clad women. The whole torture porn mentality can’t help, but encourage younger writers that it’s OKAY to make women into pieces of meat. I see it more in Sci-Fi and Horror than in any other genre.

        If you’re going to write these things and promote them, stories and pictures where women are just props, then how can you possibly respect a woman who has just written something that kicks your ass and doesn’t need that stuff to do it?

        I think it’s something that is ingrained in the culture of the genre and if anything it’s more prevalent than it’s ever been. It needs to stop and the only way it will stop is if authors like Mary step forward against it.

        Authors like Mary and authors like me, who are young and trying to make a name in this hard business… Hell all the authors who feel this way. The only way to make permanent change is to start with the generation that’s moving in.

        Just my opinion
        Micah Ackerman

        1. chepaitis

          Micah, don’t discount the ornery mood of those who have been in the field a while, shouting for change until we’re hoarse. We also keep fighting the good fight, supporting sisters, daughters, and friend.

        2. Micah Ackerman

          I didn’t intend to suggest that their weren’t experienced authors fighting the good fight. My post was more about the fact that there are many newer authors who are also part of the problem. Yes there are both good and bad stewards of the genre that are older, but the sexism I am seeing the most of comes from the newer supposedly “groundbreaking” authors. I think that’s where the biggest change needs to occur. While i think that the SFWA does need to make significant changes, I think authors need to change long before they reach SFWA eligibility.

          Thanks for responding.


        3. chepaitis

          Okay. I didn’t get that the first time around, which may have more to do with my brain than anything else. Fiction writers spend way too much time off world. But that’s interesting. Any idea how to create change in that population?

        4. Micah Ackerman

          I wish I knew, but I’m having a great sci-fi writer (who happens to be a woman) do a guest post about it on my blog coming up soon.

          If anyone else would like to blog about that go to the above address, I’m starting a round table discussion about it. I would like anyone who has something to say post.

          Hopefully we can begin to change the landscape one writer and reader at a time.


        5. Stevie


          I have no doubt that many of the people seeking to put Mary into what they imagine to be her place do so because they have a fixed and deeply conservative worldview which encourages them to believe that they are, instead, radical thinkers fearlessly pointing the inevitable way forward to homo super sapiens who do, obviously, look just like them.

          The reason it is so prevalent in the SF genre is, I think, that it provides such ample camouflage for that fixed worldview; after all, they say, how can we be mired in the past when our hero is tinkering with the warp drive in another galaxy? Nowadays, mainstream literature does require a more than token effort to present women as people, not props, which in itself is going to push people who simply can’t hack that into a genre which has traditionally regarded women as, at best, a method of generating sales by placing pictures of them on book covers.

          So, I’m glad that you are bucking the trend, but not hugely surprised by the trend; it’s only by being honest about what is happening that we can hope to change things. Otherwise it’s same old, same old…

  7. Lee Carlson

    I will be 70 this summer, and have experienced sexism in my workplaces, and in my life. For years, I did nothing, but now, I have finally found my voice and my courage to challenge sexist remarks, when they are said. And I can’t tell you how satisfying, and gratifying it is to hear (and see) the speaker back down, because a feisty old woman no longer cares what he thinks about women, and tells him to keep his outdated opinions to himself! I am sorry hateful remarks are still being said, and that you had to go through this. On another subject, I loved your comment about the intermittently open mike! May I repeat that on my Facebook page? It describes the situation perfectly. Meanwhile, stop “mildly” stressing-he’s a jerk, and deserves to be paraded naked in front of jeering women! Wonder how he would like that?

  8. Patrick Nielsen Hayden

    There’s a great deal of wisdom in this post, but I’d like to underline what is to me one of the most interesting points Mary makes, which is that despite her healthy and grounded confidence in herself, despite the fact that she’s surrounded by people who respect her and care about her, despite the fact that she knows perfectly well that she doesn’t deserve this kind of crap…

    “And this is the part that I feel I should draw attention to — I was ‘mostly’ laughing. I was also having mild stress reactions. Dry sweats, elevated heart rate.”

    Which is pretty much what happens to anyone who gets trashed online, no matter how much social capital they have, no matter how confident they are, no matter how just their position or how illogical the person doing the trashing.

    And this is why telling people to “rise above it” or “don’t feed the trolls” or “walk away” isn’t good enough.

    Trashing people online causes actual damage, and if an individual gets trashed enough, that damage won’t heal. The justice and logic of the situation doesn’t matter. If you take a gun and shoot someone in the head, they’ll probably die, no matter how much they do or don’t deserve to. Likewise, if you subject someone to enough verbal abuse in front of the potentially-infinite audience of the internet, you will cause injuries that don’t heal. This is an objective physical fact, and we can’t fix it or get around it by being smarter or more deserving.

    I don’t have a solution, but any conversation about dealing with this sort of thing has got to take this fact on board. And yes, women online get 1000% more of this than men do. Even women as capable, poised, and successful as MRK. What does that suggest? At the very least, it suggests that the next time anyone feels the urge to respond to something like this with glib comments like “don’t feed the trolls,” they should probably STFU. And think for a few more seconds. And then say something else.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      Thank you, Patrick. Yes. That’s exactly why I thought that offering myself as an example would be useful. I remember bringing up the vitriol while I was in office and being told by multiple people that it was “part of the price” of being in office and that if I “couldn’t stand the heat” then I shouldn’t be in the job. I’ll say that it is heartening to see a change in the responses.

      On the other hand, we’re in a relatively protected space right now.

  9. nicoleandmaggie

    Wanted to post this on the Scalzi page because I’m a horrible fangirl who can’t talk to authors directly about their work (no problem talking to other famous people, just get squee in front of amazing authors), but I can pretend he’s not still asleep and I’m posting on Whatever instead.

    Both Maggie and I LOVE your books and buy them in hardcover because we can’t wait for paperback (and Kindle isn’t quite right for them). You’re not only someone that we’ve heard of, you’re someone whose books we pre-order from Amazon. (And we both have correction bookmarks.)

    So, um… squee!

      1. kennedybrandt

        Heck, I think I heard of Mary about seven years before I heard about some of these detractors. I’m pretty sure I’ll remember her name (and work) long after I’ve forgotten theirs.

  10. Cassie

    I honestly don’t even know what to say in this situation, except that you have my complete support. I love your books, and will continue promoting them to the best of my ability. And even though I’m no longer your publicist, I still claim you as one of “my” authors, because I’m proud to have worked with you.

  11. Alan Wexelblat

    This is kind of an odd response because although I’m an SF reader I’m not a fan of your writing. I’m sure it’s fine, but it’s not my kind of thing. Also, I’m your basic white male sort. Observe my large stack of privilege.

    The reason I’m writing is that I want you to know that there are those among us who are not your friends or your fans and can still recognize and call BULLSHIT when we see it. Harassment, sexist and otherwise, is real. It’s bullshit. Sexism and old-boy-knows-best-ism is real. It’s bullshit.

    I don’t know you, don’t read you, and that doesn’t matter. What’s being done to you is bullshit and it needs to stop. I’m glad that, like PNH said above, you have friends and fans who will support you. But I want to live in a world where people will call “stop the bullshit” every time they see it, not only when it’s directed at friends or people they like. So I’m writing to say I’m trying to be the kind of person I want in this other world.

  12. Eileen Gunn

    Mary, I have stayed out of this week’s contretemps and last week’s. I have no room left on my outrage meter for these people, whose bitterness is both legendary and pathetic. The total irrationality of Sean Fodera’s attack on you is proof that they deserve our pity, perhaps, but not our attention.

    As Patrick said, however, the fact that they are crazy does not mean that they can’t do harm, rather like the guy who walked down Mass. Ave. yesterday in Cambridge, punching people in the head. By assaulting you, they batter not only you, but every other woman who acts effectively, who speaks her mind, and who displays poise under attack. The fact that some of these people are women only increases the potential damage they can inflict.

    The Oxford historian Mary Beard puts this kind of vicious suppression of the public voice of women in historical perspective, in a Valentine’s Day post in the London Review of Books: Sean Fodera’s vicious attack harks back directly to language used 2000 years ago to control women’s discourse.

    I am very sorry you are still a target for these people, but I thank you for continuing to display grace and courage while under fire.


  13. cranapia

    I’m sure many other people have said this, but thank you for being a wonderful woman & PoC who doesn’t take geek sexism and racism lying down. Everyone who insists that bigotry is a lifestyle choice NOT a law of nature makes life that little bit better for everyone.

      1. cranapia

        Thanks for the correction – because facts are awesome things, but real mindful allies are awesome too. Sadly, all this bovine excrement is another reminder of all the stuff I never, EVER get subjected to online, simply because I’m a man — and a standing challenge to use that position of male privilege for being an ally not part of the problem.

  14. chepaitis

    Mary, I know you’re not an isolated case. I so understand the nature of sexism these days, and how we’re supposed to ignore it. Listen, when I published my first novel with ACE, I was asked to use my initials to hide that I’m female. Specifically to hide that, by a female editor. And I was at the Nebula awards where the grand master said, and this is verbatim, “My favorite character had the advantage of having a tail, and the most luscious pair of tits I’ve ever seen.” I was the only one who was really ticked off about this. So I get it, big time. And right now, I’m engaged in a legal battle in a teaching community about a man from the SF community who has a history of behaving inappropriately with young women, which I protested to no avail. I also get the anxiety that occurs, even when we’re telling ourselves that we’re big strong girls. Yeah. All that. If you need someone to have your back, I’ve got it. If you need someone to jump up and down and shout with you, I’ll shout. I’ve been waiting for this fight to come around for a long time, because it’s a good one, for a worthy cause, with our eyes on the prize. I was just waiting for someone else to hear the call.

  15. irenevartanoff

    I am sorry this happened to you. We women are still always wrong, aren’t we? We’re just too…female. That’s it, isn’t it? Too female. And if there’s any hint we actually LIKE being female and take joy in our femininity, then we must be sluts who are “asking for it.” Sigh. I am “asking for” a break from all this male hostility. Is that too much to ask? Just stop criticizing and dissing and insulting us, guys. We have as much right to walk this planet as you do. Heads held high.

  16. Howard Andrew Jones

    I was sorry to learn this was happening. I was naive enough to believed I was living in a world where this sort of nonsense was on the wane. Our generation and those coming up behind us should know better.

    Personal attacks have no place in policy discussion.

    And besides, you’re a wonderful human being and deserve better.

    I’d strive for more profundity, but I’m racing for a deadline.

    My best as always,

  17. Brian Pettera

    Thank you for replying. Nothing will change if people keep “not replying.” That’s what the bullies and haters want. Their goal is to make you overreact or shutup, either suits their purpose. Keep fighting the good fight and we’ll keep getting your back.

  18. BelligerentGnu

    I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus and state that I consider you awesome, Mary, and that that listserv conversation inspires in me the same sort of stunned puzzlement as meeting an adult who insists that “2 + 2 = 5, but the bankers don’t want you to realize it.”

  19. Gav (Reads)

    I’m always at a loss when amazing, positive, helpful people (I love Writing Excuses so much) get attacked. And what does the hater get from it? The SFF community has so many wonderful people in it and hearing you speak, reading your tweets and generally having you around has so many positives. And I hope the that all the pushback shows that we need more people like you and less like them.

    Thanks for hanging out in SFF-dom.

  20. LeAnn S.

    Reading stuff like that makes me want to do something unladylike, but Mary’s example won out, so I found an alternative. I found, with a Google search and two clicks, Macmillan’s online Code of Conduct document. I believe in polite requests: I have pointed out where the online conversation that started this is stored, that it seems to violate their published CoC, and they may not want Mr. Fodera as the (vocal) voice of their corporation. High ground retained.

  21. xcziel

    Excellent post. You’re handling the teacup tempest with grace and poise. The fact that these gentlemen (they do seem to all be male, from what I can tell) reacted so poorly to having their discussion post aired in an even more public forum just illustrates the lack of self-reflection that they’ve been allowed to get away with due to their gender. In our society, men have generally been gifted with the capability to ignore other’s perceptions of their appearance or actions. These guys aren’t thinking about how their conversation may sound to anyone who isn’t like them. They don’t care. As a rule, they don’t think about it. As your own experience indicates, women don’t have that option. They must ~always~ care about what others think of them. It’s interesting to see the hand-wringing when the shoe is on the other foot. Especially if the hand-wringing is both visibly and agressively entitled – and that brings me to a small point I’d like to make.

    I am a bookseller. A big part of my job is finding and recommending titles or authors for my customers. I am not a writer. I do read the Daily Dot on occasion, and an aquaintance of mine pointed me to a number of articles and posts (including this one) on the topic of sexism in SF writing. After a read through the threads I was both incensed and depressed. The fact that this issue within the SFWA (and the science fiction writing community in general) has come to my attention at all is a bad sign for the ‘Old Guard’ who are attempting to bar the door against progress in the name of the Good Old Days. And this is why.

    Because I am also a woman. And – surprise! – so are many, many of my colleagues. We are the ones who can make sure that a customer picks up a new book or series and gives it a chance. And by acting out their entitlement in public forums, to the extent that a groundswell of comment has reached the attention of those not directly involved, these authors/commenters have made certain that I will never be able to comfortably recommend their work to anyone and still keep a clear conscience.

    I wonder if they understand that the ‘insects’ they are so casual about offending number not only the members of their own organization and the science fiction writing community as a whole, but also includes those on the periphery – female editors, reviewers, booksellers, merchandisers, etc. It is possible to alienate the very people who can be the most useful in launching (or elongating) a successful writing career, and these writers have definitely done so in my case. Feist, Resnick, et al. have ensured that I have no incentive to volunteer their titles to new readers, or shortlist into the store extra backlist titles, or add their works to prominent merchandise displays in any other situation than an instance of publisher-paid placement.

    What I wish I could say to the ‘Old Guard’ is: Word of mouth can make or break a book title – be careful whom you belittle and condescend to, gentlemen. Some of us may not be able to say anything to your faces, but we remember your names.

  22. fuzznose

    Just because people refuse to believe that something is happening doesn’t discount the fact that it is. Look at the amount of cyber-bullying that goes on over the internet. It’s so easy to be a troll and say whatever you want because you’re behind that firewall and whatever your screen name is, it gives you a sense of “protection” or a shield of invisibility. I’ve been a victim of bullying, not only as a child, but as an adult. It’s unpleasant, and especially so when NOBODY else does a thing to correct the bully’s behavior. I removed myself from that last situation, but it really still bothers me to this day, 18 months later, that people allowed it to happen. This was face-to-face, not behind some firewall.
    I’ve come to the conclusion that most bullies are insecure people at best, making the most strident remarks to build up their own self-image, while tearing down someone else’s. The thought that anyone could be better than they are must be excruciating for them, so they decide everyone else must suffer, as well. I don’t see where it really hurts anyone to say, “Hey, that’s a nice job. It isn’t what I expected, but it’s still very nice.” or to compliment someone on the way they look, or a presentation they’ve made, or whatever the heck it is that they’ve accomplished. For crying out loud, we’re responsible for our own accomplishments, and I think anyone who tries to tear you down for what they perceive as being some vague threat to their ego needs some serious application of Scalzi’s “Mallet of Loving Correction”, possibly in multiple doses over an extended period of time until they finally figure it out for themselves.
    Best wishes to you, Mary. I hope we can find a solution to this.

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