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.

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77 thoughts on “My very complicated reaction to issue 202 of the Bulletin”

  1. I just joined as an associate member. Put it off for a while, but now I want to be a part of SFWA because a) of all the work you and the former and current members of the board and various sub-committees have done and b) because I want to make sure this bullshit doesn’t happen again by the time I’m an active member.

    1. Same here. I qualified as an active member back in 2011 when I sold my trilogy to Angry Robot (who publish in the US simultaneously with the UK), but at the time I didn’t see a huge point in joining a US organisation. However the recent kerfuffle reminded me of my long-held maxim, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”.

      Having followed Mary and John Scalzi and Jim Hines online, I know there are loads of people doing good work within the SFWA and fandom generally, and that a couple of old dinosaurs don’t speak for the entire organisation, so this weekend I filled in the application form and paid up. I need to sort out my qualifying paperwork before I’m an _active_ active member, but once done, I’ll be seeing if there’s anything I can do to contribute.

  2. I had this discussion with my critique group earlier this week because, to be honest, I could not finish reading the column. It sounded contrived and out right idiotic to me, so I didn’t bother. The thing is, Mary, we know that this sort of ridiculousness is not the end all, be all opinion of the majority of the organization. As long there are folks like you and Scalzi and Cat and, hell, me, to stand up against to say, “you know what? that’s crap,” then it can ONLY get better. So yes, I am pissed that this stupidity got published in the Bulletin, but this would in no way make me turn my back on SFWA. Don’t worry, your prom is lovely and your dress looks just fine.

  3. …and, by “bullshit,” I mean “allowing articles and artwork to be published that make other people feel unwelcome, belittled, and intimidated.”

  4. I’d just like to point out, regarding that cover image, the fact the problem is not that she’s wearing a chainmail (in which case she’d have most of her body covered), but that she’s wearing a “chainmail BIKINI”, which is a concept incredibly ridiculous and offensive in so many levels.

      1. I realize my comments will be unpopular, but…

        Is it really so much more absurd than so much of the other stuff that’s out there? I mean Conan fighting with only a loincloth? 100-year old vampires sleeping with 16-year old girls as a romance? Magic. The bible. Middle-age male characters who are not balding.

        Do you really want that we censor things just because they’re absurd? Because everything is absurd to someone. If no one had said anything about the cover, then it would have died away with no concern to anyone. After all, is not everyone entitled to their opinion, their likes and dislikes, even if you disagree with them? Instead, this particlular controversy wastes a lot of time and energy for no real benefit and leads to greater censorship.

        I’m all for developing diversity in writing, especially sci-fi, which can get locked into certain tropes. I think the genre can only benefit from more people with different backgrounds and interests being involved. But that needs to be done through developing new authors and fostering the interests of the new generation, male and female, not through censorship.

        Something else you might consider (although by no means a reason against diversity), awareness of female issues and increasing the number of female authors/readers in a genre does not guarentee higher quality or greater social equality of the work. It just changes the tropes to favour female fantasies (like in Twilight, Hunger Games and almost every other popular YA series, where readership is dominated by females. Not to mention the romance genre–I’m not the only one who considers it emotional p*rn).

        1. The difference between half nekkkid Conan the barbarian and half nekkid Conina the barbarienne – paraphrased from someone else’s take on this whole mess:

          Conan is wearing leather, he has no access to chain mail. Conina is wearing chain mail, it just isn’t actually protecting her. She’s half naked in the snow – how is that a smart move?

          Also – Conan is something guys want to be. Conina is something guys want to own. No one wants to be Conina.

        2. Tell that to the chainmail bikini cosplayers.

          The fact is neither outfit is practical. But if I had to fight in one, I’d take Red Sonja’s bikini over Conan’s diapers.

        3. Will, (and here I assume you are a man)

          You in a chain-mail bikini would probably be an effective costume as your opponents would be too busy laughing to actually put a a decent defense!

        4. Hey, I’m sure Conan and Red Sonja would agree with you–I’d go with a bunker in Colorado and a few IBMs if I was choosing what to be in when fighting.

          But seriously, chain mail protecting your loins and the most sensitive parts of your chest, or a fur diaper?

        5. There is censorship and there is criticism. There is all the difference in the world between a top-down thought police and a the members of a representative body saying “you have failed to represent us; this is not who we choose to be.”

          It isn’t the chain mail bikini, it’s the attitudes *that actually harm real people* that it represents.

          Two things you might consider: have you actually read any female-authored sci-fi books lately? Because I don’t think you could make these comments if you had, knowing what’s out there.
          And: the day you, metaphorically speaking, go out to fight a real battle in a world that thinks you should be wearing a chain mail bikini while you do it, your view of the validity of those viewpoints changes. Trust women on this one, because most of us have had that day and a thousand like it besides.

        6. @ERose Just a thought here, but consider other bulletin covers near #200. #198, a half naked humanoid baby (no complaints about child exploitation?). # 201 a cloaked guy working through what seems to be a laser security field (absurd! that’s the most useless outfit you could use in that case).

          What I’m trying to get at is that, while women’s issues often remain very real (I obviously haven’t experienced them personally), it’s also easy to get offended by very minor things. I’ve witnessed this constantly from university on–people getting offended by minor issues in pictures. If I chose, I could work myself into a frenzy over romance covers. Why are men always buff and usually half-naked? Why no balding middle-ages guys? Why, for that matter, is it socially acceptable for a woman to see a man’s nipples in public, but men can’t see women’s nipples?

          Witness the craziness of the 2004 superbowl half-time show (yes, you know the one, the infamous ‘wardrobe malfunction’). Of course, most of the world just laughed at US prudishness, but you have to admit that calling a barely glimpsed, tassled, female nipple obscene or disgusting, or even expoitation, as many did, while two men danced topless right beside her for the entire show is just hypocritical.

          Moving on, I’ve personally read a number of female sci-fi authors recently: Justina Robson, Lauren Beukes, Jaine Fenn, Francis Knight, currently Stephanie Saulter, and yes, even Suzanne Collins’s famous series (considering I only manage 1 book/month, that’s not bad). Some are escapism, some deal with serious issues, and some have overused tropes… what was the point here?

          As for stereotypes and social acceptance, I think I can compete with you there. 1) I’m an ex-research scientist. Do you know what it’s like to leave a profession like that and suddenly have everyone you know treat you like you lost 50 IQ points? 2) I’m a stay-at-home dad who’s rebuilding my career. So I do have experience with ‘the expectaions’ and the ‘how come you let your wife do all the work’ glances, and the ‘what kind of man are you, slacker’ views. And constantly figuring how to explain what you do for a living, because it’s not okay to be a stay-at-home parent anymore, especially if you’re a man.

          It’s not only women that experience ‘issues’.

          So, when there’s a ‘serious’ Mills and Boon book with a cover of a fat, balding, middle-aged, middle class guy being swooned at by the young heroine, I’ll consider complaining about the exploitation represented by pictures of generic fantasy women (the operative word in this phrase, by the way, is ‘fantasy’).

        7. More absurd than the covers of a lot of books on the shelves? No. But shouldn’t the SFWA official publication be held to a higher standard than mass-market book covers?

        8. Now step back and take a good long look at what you just said and the assumptions from which it derives.

          If I were a writer, I’d avoid you like the plague. Wouldn’t want to think I’d offended you with all my silly little fantasy romance novels that apparently I am genetically programmed to write.

        9. P.S. There *are* middle-aged guys who are not balding. My little girl’s father is one. He’s 43. Her coach, who’s a year or two younger, still has most (if not all) of his hair too.

        10. Since when is volunteering for a game where you have to murder 11 other teens to protect your sister from having to do so a “female fantasy”??

  5. I started to read the article while at BEA and had to put it down because I couldn’t let loose with That Kind of Language in public.

    What really annoys me is that this isn’t a surprise – anyone who has been even glancing at that column knew that it was problematic, well before the most recent article. And now, yes, SFWA is being tarred with that brush, both by (former) members and outsiders.

    The Board did react swiftly and properly (if a little too late), and we can and will get better, just as we’re working on other aspects that have been problematic in the past. I just wish there had been a push to install oversight _before_ we had to deal with this. Because clearly there were enough warning signs to warrant it.

    1. I agree and really, that’s on me as much as the current board, because I was on the board and had four years to address it.

      And you know what? I was a coward about it because I had things I wanted to get done, and didn’t want to rock the boat by pissing either of them off.

  6. I just signed up to volunteer. Realized I should have offered earlier, it takes little bits from lots of people to make an organization run well, and people like you have been working overtime while I’ve not helped.
    Hoping good comes from all this – we are lucky to have sfwa.

  7. I understand what you’re saying, Mary, but the real issue here is that this is merely a continuation of an attitude that has been present for DECADES. My wife was refused membership over a decade ago because the person in charge of memberships apparently decided that because she was a woman she needn’t apply to SFWA. Months later she received an official apology from the president of SFWA for the way her situation had been handled (after several high-profile author and publisher friends of ours got involved). She wasn’t interested in joining and regards SFWA as simply another “old boys’ club” that had not yet gotten the memo about this being the 20th century and not the 19th. Based on comments I’ve heard from other female members of SFWA, that seems to be a fair judgement.

    This might seem unfair to you, and unfair to what SFWA is trying to do, but based on what I’ve seen and heard, that is the judgement I have to give.

    1. Beyond being appalled at your story, I can’t speak to what happened over a decade ago. That wouldn’t have happened on my watch. And for the last five years we’ve been actively working to make SFWA a more welcoming and inclusive community.

      Clearly there is more work to be done, but it’s no longer just an old boys club.

      1. I have trouble believing it ever happened, to be honest, since SFWA has had female officers for more than thirty years — how could any person in charge of memberships think women were any less than qualified when Marta Randall and Jane Yolen had been president?

        (Probably others, too, and Catherine Asaro was president this century, but those are the ones I remember off the top of my head from when I was a member.)

        For that matter, for most of the last couple of decades the person in charge of memberships was Jane Jewell, who most certainly knew women were welcome.

        There have certainly been plenty of screw-ups over membership applications — my own was delayed for a year because Somtow Sucharitkul’s cat peed on it back in 1982 — but I have trouble believing the applicant’s sex was ever the cause of one.

        (Note that I am not now a member of SFWA; I resigned in 2006 or thereabouts and have no intention of rejoining.)

      2. I appreciate what you’re doing, but when things like this latest SFWA Bulletin happen involving long-time and respected members come up, it’s had to believe “it’s no longer just an old boys club.”

        As for my wife, she joined RWA (Romance Writer’s of America) and has a great time at the monthly chapter meetings here in NH where they have a different expert speaker every meeting (i.e., Elaine Isaak talking about “mistakes I made so you don’t have to”) so that she regrets missing any meeting. In addition, they have online “continuing education” courses on subjects like “making the weather a character in your story” “making scenes that take place in restaurants seem more realistic (sounds, scents, sensations, what a real working kitchen is like)” “how to edit your work” and other topics like that.

        Perhaps THAT’S what’s needed — local chapter meetings on a monthly basis where the local SFWA members can get together more than once every yearly convention or so.

        1. RWA has many, many more members than SFWA, and far more money.

          When I was president of HWA we tried organizing local chapters. Most of them fizzled fairly quickly; I guess you need to have either a budget or dedicated volunteers to keep them going.

          When I was in Novelists Inc. we organized a local chapter, unofficially, but the lunch meetings gradually decreased from biweekly to monthly to quarterly to annual to I don’t remember when the last one was. (I dropped out of Novelists Inc. but kept attending the lunches, since they were unofficial.) You need to get such things to a certain critical mass. RWA has enough members to do that; other groups don’t seem to.

          (Last I checked, which was many years ago now, RWA had four times SFWA’s membership, which in turn had three times HWA’s. Don’t remember where Ninc fell.)

          As for “it’s hard to believe ‘it’s no longer just an old boys club,’” “just” is an important word there. I won’t say there’s no old boys club in SFWA, but that isn’t all it is, by any stretch of the imagination. I wouldn’t be certain it even has a majority-male membership anymore.

        2. “RWA had four times SFWA’s membership,” so instead of having 30-40 people at a meeting you would have only 8-10. As I said, my wife finds the RWA meetings interesting and fun and regrets missing them. On the other hand I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a SFWA member say how much s/he hated going to the SFWA meeting because they were all business (as in things a business would have a meeting on–finances, elections of officers, etc.) and nothing on writing and SF-related information that a WRITER would want to hear.

          The local RWA divides their meetings into a morning/afternoon split: The business part is in the morning; the lectures, talking about new books, huckstering, and other activities are in the afternoon.

          Besides, if there’s enough local interest to keep a local SF club going why isn’t there enough to keep a local SFWA going? Perhaps if local SFWA chapters worked at being more WRITER informative and less business-oriented, they might be more successful.

          On a national note, if SFWA started supporting online classes they would see their membership jump! Who wouldn’t be willing to take a $50 ten-session online course on how to write a convincing action scene from someone like Chuck Gannon? (limited to 10 or 15 people) Especially if it was limited to members only!

        3. RWA admits unpublished writers. SFWA doesn’t. The assumption in SFWA is therefore that the members don’t need writing advice; they already know how to write. (I am aware this may not be a valid assumption.)

          That’s also why there aren’t enough members most places to hold monthly meetings. Here in the Washington area there are maybe, I dunno, a dozen published SF/F authors in the area, and several of us simply aren’t interested in getting together regularly. (Some of us, me for one, are not in SFWA.)

          SF authors go to fan-run conventions for their social gatherings; those conventions were around for more than twenty years before SFWA was. Romance conventions, on the other hand, are relatively scarce and only happened after RWA was established, so RWA has always had a large social element.

          Different organizations.

        4. Based on comments made by established authors such as Harlan Ellison, ALL authors could use a little improvement. So, thinking “members don’t need writing advice” is simply wrong. No writer can keep up with ALL the advances science and research, no writer is an expert in ALL aspects of writing (read the critical reviews of Larry Niven’s lack of characterizations in his novels).

          And maybe SFWA SHOULD allow non-authors to join, that might alleviate the problem of not enough members for local chapters (i.e., RWA has four times the membership SFWA; RWA has thriving local chapters with interesting speakers and acitivites and SFWA doesn’t).

        5. The difference between SFWA and RWA is very interesting. I am a beginning writer when it comes to SF, but I’ve been writing for about 10 years.

          Two of the reasons I planned to join SFWA is, in fact, for meeting people and for writing tips. It seems taht there are no writing workshops for members, and the meetings are for the birds.

          Two more reasons not to pay up to join 🙁
          So what are the actual benefits?

  8. Speaking as an international unable to qualify for membership, I think the SFWA is acting appropriately. Watching from afar Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg have to lift their game, practise some empathy or find another avenue to pen their views.

    If two professional writers can’t modify their language so it won’t be offensive to half the membership and the scene well, maybe we need different professionals.

  9. John’s apology was very important. SFWA needed the president to step up, take responsibility and make a commitment to organizational change. He did that, as I would expect him to do.

    But this post is just as important. John does have responsibility under the bylaws, and as the titular head of the group, but there was also an organizational failure below him. The editor for an official publication of a professional writers’ group can’t be asleep at the switch for three straight issues.

    I know enough of the people involved with SFWA that I know there is a large group committed to moving it into the late 20th century and, eventually, the 21st. I know what that it is like – the same battle is happening in my group, and we’re working against 105 years of tradition and under a bigger spotlight.

    It isn’t easy, but it is definitely worth it. It’s good to know that, if I ever do get to SFWA eligibility, people like you and John and Jim and dozens more will have already been fighting the good fight.

  10. Thank you for this post, Mary. As an indie writer who _can’t_ join SFWA because I haven’t sold to advance-paying markets, I am at least somewhat comforted to see the people currently in charge (i.e., Scalzi) trying to do the right thing. And persons such as yourself who have been in charge within the organization, also trying to do the right thing.

  11. Thanks for this, Mary.

    I’ve been targeting my short story submissions in a way to be able to qualify for SFWA, and this whole thing took me aback. Thanks for talking about the broader situation in a coherent way. And good that people like Scalzi recognize that this sort of thing is broken and not OK.

    1. I have also been targeting my shorts to qualify, and if nothing else I am grateful to SFWA for posting the list of magazines looking for SF shorts. I hadn’t even heard of some of these until I looked over the list.

      Effie, what are the reasons you want to join? What benefits do you get for the membership fee? This is not snark – I genuinely want to know, since I am considering paying that same fee.

      1. Elizabeth Moon

        Griefcom is probably the single biggest reason I joined: Griefcom has an enviable record of holding publishers to account when they renege on contracts and the writer and/or agent have not been able to shift the publisher. I have not so far needed Griefcom, but I came very close at one time. Sometimes the threat of Griefcom is enough to make a publisher stick to the contract.

        Emergency Medical Fund. From early on, SFWA provided loans to writers with critical medical needs. The EMF takes donations and holds charity auctions at several conventions a year. (Writers, as you probably know, have a heck of a time getting medical insurance.)

        Emergency Legal Fund. SFWA provides loans to writers who need assistance in dealing with certain legal tangles relating to writing.

        Writer Beware (which didn’t exist when I first joined): Writer Beware offers not just SFWAns but all writers information about scam agents and publishers and has provided data to law enforcement for successful prosecution of a few such.

        Copyright issues: When the Author’s Guild was first capitulating to Google on Google’s rights grab (by digitizing works without permission), it was SFWA who filed papers with the court that led to the first settlement being thrown out. Since Google had digitized all of my books as “orphans” (despite their all being in print and for sale) and I had to spend almost a week fighting Google’s laborious “opt out” process, I was delighted that SFWA’s presentations were (along with others) sufficient for Judge Chen to come down on the side of copyright law and a writer’s right to control the copying and distribution of that writer’s work.

        SFWA continues to be a front-runner in defense of copyright in the face of corporate invasion of copyright (and will be doing that again this summer as Congress considers altering copyright law. I’m on that committee.) I support my family with writing: copyright is a matter of bread, butter, housing, and the electricity bill. (It is for any writer who is now, or hopes to be, supporting themselves with writing.) Anything that threatens copyright directly threatens my income–and thus my ability to provide for my family. Google, Amazon, and other companies view “content” as valuable and will do anything to claim a reason it should be free to them. (The French government passed a law allowing digitization and reuse of everything published in France without compensation of the author–where some of my books are also published–and I learned about that from SFWA.)

        Writers’ rights vis a vis publishers. SFWA has taken on the big publishers from time to time, most recently in dealing with very bad contract offers to new/unknown writers by several large publishers. Public shaming can work, and this time it did. SFWA members published by the publishers SFWA is criticizing are vulnerable to retaliation…but stand firm. We understand what’s at stake and do not want to see new writers victimized.

        Naturally, these actions on behalf of SFWA members also benefit non-members…paying it forward is part of the ethos, at least in these areas.

        On the informal side, SFWA members collectively share information about what’s going on in the industry. Yes, it’s now easier for non-members to access industry information–there are groups of SF writers who do the same. I’m a member of several online groups of writers in this genre who are not all (but some are) SFWA members. I find that usually SFWA alerts me to critical information faster. Most of my writer-friends are members of SFWA. While there are people in the organization I do not personally like (and not everyone in the organization likes me), and though there are changes I hope to see (and have worked toward), I’m in for the long haul.

  12. FWIW, as a newish writer, SFWA membership is still something I aspire to and consider an important goal. And, that has a great deal to do with the work over the past few years to make it a more relevant organisation that acknowledges a diverse world, and the initiatives I have seen to help writers on a practical level.

    I am an employee and member of a very large welfare and charitable organisation that has had some major public relations issues, so I know from experience how hurtful it is when the actions of a few drown out the hard work and sacrifice of the many. It makes you wonder if it is worth it, and can be very disillusioning and disheartening. The answer is, yes it is worth it. Just ask the people whose lives you have made better.

  13. Thanks for this. Much sympathy — this must be exhausting, far more for you in the trenches than for us on the sidelines.

    Upthread you said:

    And you know what? I was a coward about it because I had things I wanted to get done, and didn’t want to rock the boat by pissing either of them off.

    I just wanted to say, I get that. More than I’m willing to describe online, I get it. Sometimes you pick your damn battles, and it sucks, but you have to if you want to get anything done.

    And you’re not a coward for doing so. Please don’t ever think that you are.

  14. You’re thoroughly entitled to be angry about how this debacle has distracted from all the good progress SFWA has made. The response by SFWA’s leaders was swift and appropriate, and while that may not placate all members who were offended by the Bulletin articles, I truly hope that many of them will return once the task force’s work is complete.

    SFWA does a whole heckuva lot more than publish a news magazine, which is why I’d like to urge you not to be too mad at yourself for not speaking up sooner. Overhauling a publication is no small task, and I can see how, compared to the creative ways publishers are coming up with to cut writers an even smaller piece of the publishing profit pie, the Bulletin might not have seemed like a huge priority.

    I think this is one of those stains that will come out after a good wash. So the prom might not be all that much fun, but you’ll get a chance to wear that dress again in all its glory.

  15. This was helpful to me. I’m not a published writer, so I’m not really acquainted with what the SFWA does, and reading about all the controversy this week had pretty much convinced me that I wouldn’t want to join if/when I became eligible. Thanks for letting me know that the organization has good things going for it and isn’t just a good ol’ boys club that would prefer the girls keep out.

  16. “It doesn’t matter if it’s just a little spot, that’s all anyone will see.”

    And isn’t that the sad truth. It is one of the many things that bothers me about media in general in our society. It is so much more “sexy”, as I heard a local news anchor say recently, to run with the bad news, the scandal, the stain. And even when it is little (which this is not in terms of what it does but is in comparison to all the good you point out that SFWA has done) it is still the thing people notice and remember and talk about. Where are all the articles from writers and bloggers and the like talking at length about all those good things? They don’t exist, or at least not at the same level, because we as a society lean towards the scandal. It is sad.

    That isn’t to say these recent issues with the Bulletin shouldn’t be written about extensively. They should. It is important, especially in hearing from those who have been offended, ostracized, and ill-used by the more recent articles, cover image, etc. It can teach us so much about where we need to change and how that change can be enacted.

    It would, however, be nice to see this coupled with the good news, the positive changes, the successes, so that in the end people–from the average lay SFF fan to the professional in the SFF field–would not just see, and remember, the stain.

  17. Mary, you’ve been amazing for SFWA. I think you sum up the issues really well here, and offer some insight that many people should find very welcome. I agree with your assessment of how difficult and complicated this is, but I want to express my support for you and for the organization as a whole. Thank you for writing this, and for all your hard work. It’s not going unnoticed, and not being erased.

  18. Mary – much though you (and I) would like to fix all of the world’s problems, we can’t. So, we have to pick our battles. Sometimes picking a battle means that the one you didn’t pick gets away from you.

    At any rate, now that the old battles are won (or at least in the process of being won) it looks like SFWA can move to a new battle.

  19. Super interesting.

    I’m a guy that does some romance writing, and this got me thinking. If the Romance Writers of America published a bulletin with a half naked guy on it, should I as a male writer have a problem with it?

    I struggle with it. I have gone to romance writers conferences, where I was one of a handful of guys in a room with a hundred women. It definitely feels awkward.

    I’m not sure what the right answer is besides asking people to try to treat people well.

    1. RWA HAS published mags with half-naked guys on them. I’ve seen them. No one’s complained, so far as I know.

      The difference there, though, is that RWA is about romance, which is at least partly about sexual attraction. SFWA’s genre doesn’t have sex as an essential element, and its audience is not 90% one sex. (Yes, I know men read/write romance, but the vast majority of the readership is female.)

      When I was active in Novelists Inc. I was often the only male around; also, way back when my kids were little, I was in a neighborhood babysitting coop where I was ALWAYS the only male. It felt a bit awkward at first, but I got used to it quickly and came to enjoy it — except on those occasions (and they did happen) when everyone would want me to take charge, or at least give my opinion, because I was A Man.

      I suspect that now, twenty-five years later, there’d be a whole lot less of that.

      Anyway, SFWA has had female members all along — only a few in the early days, but the numbers grew quickly. They’re a large part of the membership, and a large part of the people who run SFWA. It’s not the inverse of RWA.

      I don’t want to read patronizing crap from superannuated jerks, but I kind of like seeing sexy women on covers, and I’d much rather add half-naked men than lose the half-naked women. On the other hand, I think they’re far more appropriate on fiction than on the Bulletin, and chainmail bikinis are inherently stupid anywhere.

      1. Great points.

        This whole conversation got me thinking about two movies. Blast From the Past and Kate and Leopold.

        In Blast From the Past, we have this very appropriate quote:

        Troy: I know, I mean I thought a “gentleman” was somebody that owned horses. But it turns out, his short and simple definition of a lady or a gentleman is, someone who always tries to make sure the people around him or her are as comfortable as possible.

        I think this is what every organization should try to do for all its members.

        In Kate and Leopold, I’m reminded of the awkward conversation between Kate and Leopold at the beginning of the movie.

        A WOMAN of science?

        Hard to believe?

        But a woman’s brain cannot obtain
        enough knowledge to posses a truly
        scientific mind.

        (jotting this down)
        Interesting. Nevertheless, we’ve
        come a long way baby.

        It find it funny that I have to go back to a romantic comedy about a guy that comes from the past to find a conversation that reminds me of the SFWA editorial. They come across sounding like Leopold did when he first arrived. It’s absurd.

        Of course, before all this craziness happened, the organization was doing a lot of great things for writers, so I hope we can get past this. I just recommend they watch Kate and Leopold:)

      2. I’m very curious as to what magazine you’re referring to. I have received the RWA’s official organization magazine for years now, and their covers never have anyone in any type of nude or semi-nude state. They’re generally pictures of people reading generic books or cityscapes from stock photos. It’s possible they did have nude men in the past, but clearly they decided that was wrong for a professional magazine.

        I also want to point out that half-naked guy =/= half-naked woman. That’s false equivalency in our unequal society. For instance, a shirtless woman walking down the street will not be treated the same as a shirtless man walking down the street.

        1. I haven’t seen RWA’s mags since the mid-1990s, so it would have been before that. The guy in question was Fabio.

          I should probably have used the singular rather than the plural, though, as I really only remember the one. And I really hope this wasn’t my memory playing tricks on me and confusing RWA’s mag with something else, such as Romantic Times; I don’t THINK it was.

          I also realize, in retrospect, that it being so far back does mean it’s probably irrelevant to the present discussion.

          As for “half-naked,” the woman on the Bulletin cover was wearing slightly more than a bikini, she wasn’t topless, so I think it’s a reasonable equivalence.

        2. Elizabeth Moon

          Oh, Lawrence…either you’re very young and innocent, or you’re deliberately poking the girls to see if they’ll shriek.

          I’m going to assume you’re an adult, however, in which case you know perfectly well that a topless man and a topless woman are not perceived the same in society (or by law enforcement.) A partly clothed woman on the cover of a book mean something different than a partly clothed man.

          On the old Doc Savage covers, Doc’s torn shirt revealed bulging muscles and showed him as the very active hero of the story. Genre military fiction and sometimes military SF used a lot of the muscley guy in torn-shirt-showing-muscles.

          A torn shirt or blouse on a woman on the cover shows her to be a sex object (and, except in romance novels, not the hero of the story.) But also–anything other then full street clothing (in whatever era) shows a woman on the cover to be a sex object. A low-cut blouse, a zipper open to show cleavage, spike heels, a short skirt…all say “sex object.” (If she’s waving a gun, she might be an urban fantasy hero. Maybe.)

          I suspect you know this. I suspect you’re playing a game. Quit. This is a serious topic.

        3. It’s not a matter of having more or less clothes on; a woman walking down the street in a bra won’t get treated the same as a shirtless man. Heck, a woman completely covered from neck to knees is still more likely to be objectified than a shirtless man. That’s where the false equivalency comes in. The objectification of women is tied to sexism and a long history of oppression; the objectification of men is not, and when it comes to the romance world, the objectification of men is more a result of women being told that to desire or lust is something that only men do.

          I’d prefer to live in a world where all things were equal in this, but we don’t. That’s what we need to be cognizant of.

        4. Elizabeth, you know me. You know I’m not young and innocent.

          I’m not playing a game, either, though. It’s more that I was going off on an irrelevant tangent.

          I’m quite aware that a Doc Savage torn-shirt cover is not equivalent to a chainmail bikini. I am not so certain about some Fabio romance covers, nor am I convinced that “the objectification of men is more a result of women being told that to desire or lust is something that only men do.” I think both sexes are entirely capable of objectifying the other for their own enjoyment, regardless of socialization.

          I also realize that this doesn’t make anything equal, that the near-universal objectification and sexualization of women is a real problem.

          I was replying to Brian’s asking how he would react to RWA using a sexualized-male cover by observing that they had indeed published at least one such cover. I had that magazine lying on my desk for a couple of years, back when, so I remembered it immediately when I read his comment. I don’t claim it’s relevant; it’s not.

          I do think a flowing-hair bare-chested Fabio is more or less equivalent to Red Sonja in a chainmail bikini as far as being intended to be sexually provocative; I don’t think that remotely justifies SFWA’s use of such a cover.

          You’re welcome to look on this as meaningless hair-splitting, if you like, because it pretty much is; I’m not interested in arguing any substantive issues here, as there are plenty of people here more competent to do so, and with more at stake.

          I’m only posting here at all because I sympathized with Mary’s post. I’ll happily withdraw if I’m unwelcome.

        5. That depends on where you live, in Vermont it is legal to do that and it happens (and not just at Gay Pride parades and such, but I’ve seen women shopping in Brattleborough VT shirtless. New York is another state where going shirtless is legal, although some don’t seem to understand that.

    2. Heh – If the guy was mostly naked, would it be a woman’s ideal guy-bod or a man’s ideal guy-bod? They’re not the same thing 😉

  20. Unfortunately, your fears are not unfounded, Mary. Reading about what happened has put me off of ever joining this organization. I only want to write good stories that people like to read, and hopefully one day earn a full time living from my efforts. It seems to me that getting involved in bickering about nonsense such as this only gets in the way of that.

    1. SFWA had, last I heard, about 1,500 members. 90% of them aren’t involved in this bickering, but are indeed attending to the business of writing.

      1. That is a very good thing. Hopefully this situation can be resolved to everyone’s mutual satisfaction so we can all move on to bigger and better things.

  21. I’ve been a member of SFWA since the publication of my first novel back in 1997, and I’m not going anywhere. I joined because I wanted to belong to a guild of writers who understand and appreciate the kind of work I do, and because I, in turn, wanted to express my appreciation for their work. I joined because united we can do tremendous good for our field and our profession.

    Yes, the collected idiocy of Resnick and Malzberg as expressed in Issue 202 is a black eye for the organization. They have been given a platform for far too long, and it needs to be taken way from them. That’s not censorship; it’s merely recognition that their antiquated views are no longer relevant to the business or to our body. But in the long run, they cannot undo the good that you and others have done, nor can they change the basic truth that SFWA is good for speculative fiction.

  22. Elizabeth Moon

    I’m just back from turning in a book at the 11th hour and then attending a big anime convention in Dallas, so I haven’t yet plumbed the depths of Resnick & Malzberg’s latest or all the immediate reaction. However, some of the comments I’ve seen in some of the older venues make it clear that the war we fought back in the 1980s and early ’90s when the Old Guard first got its knickers in a knot about women in SF/F (and when their cry was “women only write fantasy” and “too many female fantasy writers”) has not been even halfway won. (I should mention that _not_ every “old” male member of SFWA when I joined was in fact an Old Guard sort who didn’t want women in the men’s clubhouse.)

    I’d like to think the Old Guard will die off before I do, but the problem as I see it is not just in SFWA but worldwide: the advances feminism made in the ’60s and ’70s have come under heavier and heavier attack, politically and socially, across national boundaries. Religious extremism (in multiple religions) has had a very bad effect, and has been taken up by politicians who know that religions deliver voters. Blatant sexism has also shown up in atheist organizations and in the British Socialist Workers Party. So it’s not unique to SFWA, though it’s certainly in SFWA as well.

    Because of the international prevalence of sexism at all levels, it’s not just SFWA’s Old Guard we have to deal with, but those younger male SFWA members (who will probably outlive me) who–for reasons of either religion or the pure form of sexism, have no desire to see women as fully human–as deserving equal respect. They are the ones who will continue to whine about censorship and wave the threat of rebellion against PCness. They’re making just as sneering, just as condescending comments about women as the Old Guard. We cannot afford to think that because the Old Guard will croak in the next 20 years, that the New Guard won’t replace them with the same sexist bilge.

    I was startled, when I joined, by the amount of sexism (including sexual harassment and even assaults) demonstrated by some of the male members–and that was in…um…1986, I think it was. I told myself that for men born 15-20 years before me, that may have been just normal and “they didn’t mean anything by it.” But of course they DID mean something by it. They meant that SFWA was their space–their private domain–and women were welcome only if the men could continue to do and say whatever they wanted. Decorative women–compliant women—were OK. Same as in the outside world, women who weren’t compliant, who didn’t defer just because some guy was a guy–or who weren’t decorative–were seen as a problem to be ridiculed, swatted down, sneered at and about. A few got grudging respect (but never complete, the same given to a major male writer.)

    Nonetheless, I think SFWA is a worthwhile organization–I’m still a member, after over a quarter century, and have no intention of leaving. I’ve been involved, in a number of quiet backstage ways, with issues I think important (copyright issues, mostly.) Not going into that history (this isn’t about me; it’s about sexism in the organization and how that affects its ability to do the things it’s supposed to be doing.) I want to see the overt sexism dealt with so it’s obvious SFWA is what it actually is–an organization that works for its writer members and for the benefit of its core genre.

    1. Hello, Elizabeth Moon
      Thanks for writing here – and thanks for writing so manly awesome books, you’re one of the reasons I wrote (crappy) SciFi stories in my history notebook in school. 🙂

      I’m really weirded out by this whole fuss – it seems an awful lot like “you’re a girl? you must be the secretary, go take notes or get me some coffee.” There’s so much of that everywhere, but I thought it was going away. Now it seems like its all coming back. Sigh.

      1. Elizabeth Moon

        It’s been coming back for a couple of decades. About the time the guys who thought it was a silly idea anyway to let women try for jobs they’d been locked out of discovered that women were actually being hired for those jobs and not quitting in the first two weeks.

        Yes, it’s depressing. Turn the depression into anger (men do this all the time) and use it to shove back against the pressure.

    2. “…those younger male SFWA members (who will probably outlive me) who–for reasons of either religion or the pure form of sexism, have no desire to see women as fully human–as deserving equal respect. They are the ones who will continue to whine about censorship and wave the threat of rebellion against PCness. They’re making just as sneering, just as condescending comments about women as the Old Guard.”

      Would one of these younger people be the…gentleman whom John Scalzi refers to as the RSHD? If there are more like him in the SFWA, I’m depressed.

      1. Elizabeth Moon

        ludomancer, I have no idea who John Scalzi is referring to. I’ve spent the last two months in deadline hell and difficult LifeStuff, so I didn’t know about any of this until I came home from A-Kon. With a tiny bit of leisure in which to participate.

        I know there are men in SFWA with no respect for women. I know there are men in SFWA with considerable respect for women. I know who I would, if I were as rude as the men with no respect for women, use my considerable Marine Corps-acquired vocabulary on, but I can annoy them (it turns out) by being excessively formal.

        1. Nothing makes a bigot madder than failing to get an emotional reaction to a provocative statement they have made. Continue responding rationally and politely and you will drive them away when they see they can’t make you as irrationally upset as they are.

        2. What you’ve been doing sounds far more important than following online drama.

          The aforementioned RSHD ran for SFWA president in the last election, if that helps.

  23. Two data points I would love to know regarding this controversy:

    1. How many women are in SFWA?

    2. Did Jean Rabe have the power to kill an on-going column without going to a higher-up? According to Scalzi’s public account, she submitted the column to him, as publisher, and, knowing it was controversial, he approved it.

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