I haven’t had much time to comment on what’s been going on in response to Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg’s pretty goddamn horrifying column in the latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin – among other things I’ve been prepping a novel to go out to agents, yaaaaaay – but I’ve been following it, even if I haven’t been able to pull any coherent thoughts together that haven’t been articulated elsewhere by others way more better good at the articulating than me. But let me just go ahead and drop a link to Jim Hines’s fantastic link roundup post, which is worth looking through.
My favorite post on it so far, though I haven’t yet read all of them: “Old Men Yelling at Clouds.”
OK, you do understand that there’s a difference between saying ‘referencing her looks was unnecessary, and perhaps inappropriate given your evident obliviousness on the subject of sexism’, and ‘NOBODY IN THIS PUBLICATION SHOULD USE THE WORD BEAUTIFUL IT IS AN UNWORD AND BANNED FOREVER’, right? Nobody is censoring the word ‘beautiful’; we’re simply suggesting you needn’t have used it when you did. Similarly, if I say ‘stop threatening me with that knife’, I’m not saying ‘ban all knives’. I’m saying there’s an important contextual difference between chopping up carrots for dinner and my physical endangerment, and if that’s a distinction you’re either unwilling or unable to make, then I don’t want you anywhere near my kitchen.
I am really, really, really tired of people who are being called on their offensive levels of privilege interpreting that calling-out as “censorship” (Resnick and Malzberg then go on to actually fucking namedrop Stalin with the suggestion that this is how it all starts ARE WE SERIOUSLY FUCKING GOING THERE) but we sure do see it all the time, huh? And every time it gets said, it ends up meaning that we have to expend yet more time and energy actually explaining the definition of censorship to adults who can presumably read. It consistently blows my mind that we have to do this, but we do. They literally do not understand what it means. And they don’t understand, I think, because they don’t want to understand.
This is one of those things that I understand on an intellectual level but at a much deeper level I simply Do Not Get.
I teach introductory level college courses in sociology, and because of the angle at which I approach the material – all liberal angry feminist queer theorist social justicy – we have to cover the definition of “privilege” and we have to cover it very early on. One of the things I take care to explain to my students is that with privilege comes the delusion of being persecuted when your privilege is threatened. I give them the example of a classroom study – the citation for which I can’t find at the moment – wherein a teacher very carefully called on boys and girls an equal amount and gave them equal attention. And the boys perceived this as unfair.
It’s just the way the world is. It was working fine, why are all these ladypeople trying to change it? Why are they so angry?
Some people are choosing to leave SFWA over this. It’s not a sudden decision and I don’t think anyone is making it lightly; this isn’t a recent occurrence but has been a problem in the organization for a while now. I’m not leaving, but I feel nothing but respect and have nothing but support for the people who have to honor their consciences and their obligations to self-care in this way.
What I really think is the saddest and most infuriating part of the whole thing is that, as Rachel Swirsky and Mary Robinette Kowal have noted, it obscures the hard work of the many women inside the organization, work that often goes unacknowledged anyway. These Old White Men start yelling at clouds and suddenly that work doesn’t seem to count for anything. That’s not right. It’s not right on top of a whole pile of things that aren’t right.
When about the best that can be said for you is that at least you and people like you will die off soon, you might want to reexamine your life choices is all.
If you want something seriously uplifting and pump-your-fist-fuck-yeah, though, this is pretty damn good.
Because when we choose to write stories, it’s not just an individual story we’re telling. It’s theirs. And yours. And ours. We all exist together. It all happens here. It’s muddy and complex and often tragic and terrifying. But ignoring half of it, and pretending there’s only one way a woman lives or has ever lived – in relation to the men that surround her – is not a single act of erasure, but a political erasure.
Populating a world with men, with male heroes, male people, and their “women cattle and slaves” is a political act. You are making a conscious choice to erase half the world.
As storytellers, there are more interesting choices we can make.