Oh, and — people who signed that petition: you want to know the real reason why you’re getting so much disrespect from the rest of the genre right now? It’s because you and your friends keep pulling shit like this while the rest of us are just trying to keep the lights on and put food on the table. It’s like Republicans passing bill after bill to fuck up reproductive health rights while the economy’s in the toilet; what the hell does this have to do with anything that matters? You got yours. You’re still getting it. You had every advantage in your favor, and you used the hell out of it. Good on you. But stop pitching shitfits just because the rest of us want a piece of the pie — the pie all of us helped to create — too.
The SFWA, the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, sort of a union for sf&f writers, was in a spot of bother last summer, as some of its members turned out to be a little bit sexist and racist and worse, they were being sexist and racist in official SFWA publications. Credit to the organisation though, they did attempt to clear their house, getting rid of the biggest bigot and starting a consultation process to see what could be done to prevent further unpleasantness. (For a good overview of last year’s events as well as what’s happening now, S. L. Huang’s timeline is invaluable.)
Things went quiet for a long time, until last week, when it emerged that One Dave Truesdale, supposedly a bigshot in sf reviewing circles, found all the changes in how the SFWA would handle its publications censorship and a danger to the first amendament and all that good stuff and started a petition. This sadly got quite a few elderly, big name sf writers’ signatures, some of which (Robert Silverberg, C. J. Cherryh) I’m more than disappointed in seeing add their support to this nonsense; others not so much.
“The problem is that the ‘vocal minority’ of insects who make up the new generation of writers don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular. Maybe it is a good thing that SFWA keeps them locked up. The newer members who Scalzi et al. brought in are an embarrassment to the genre.
In one of the funniest developments so far this prompted John Scalzi, together with Mary Robinette Kowal and Ursula “honey badger” Vernon to create the Insect Army to “swarm to make science fiction and fantasy awesome” and hospitable for everybody, even people who aren’t white or male. (And which of course immediately put Bill Bailey’s classic song, as featured above, in my head.)
But the best commentary I’ve read so far came from the Crime and the Forces of Evil blog, on what’s being lost:
And that leads to the sad part, the fundamental misunderstanding of the world part. The part wherein lives the idea that all these people they’re excluding won’t keep creating, somewhere else. The part where it’s still 1978, and you have the Big 3 Magazines, and the paperback publishers, and that’s all that matters. The part where supposed futurists so fundamentally fail to understand the modern world that they think someone can sue the entire Internet for libel. The part where they think it’s possible to keep that gate.
In this it seems, part of science fiction fandom are no different from the aging audience of FOX news and other rightwing fearmongers, aware that the world as they knew it and their place in it is gone, that the privileges they enjoyed just for being white, for being male, are slowly disappearing and that actually few people care anymore about their opinions, except when it hurts or hinders others.
I asked him on Twitter what his favorite books by female authors were for the year, and to his surprise, he realized he hadn’t read any female authors in 2013. Nor, it turns out, had he read any female authors in 2012. (Octavia Butler made his best-of list in 2011.)
“In my defense,” Chris tweeted when a couple followers made author suggestions, “it’s more coincidence than ailment that needs a remedy.”
Then, I asked him if I could blog about this, because…
It’s a remarkable oversight, to exclude a whole gender from your reading without even noticing and that for two years in a row. However, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Christopher, as it happened to me to. In 2010 I discovered that only ten percent of the fantasy and science fiction I’d read in the past decade had been written by women. Now I knew I read more blokes than women, but it was a real shock to discover how lobsided the ratios were. I wasn’t the only one; in my little corner of the science fiction internet quite a few people came to the same sort of conclusion and attempted to do something about it.
it’s more coincidence than ailment that needs a remedy.
Again, I can sympathise. I never set out to exclude women from my reading, or to read only male writers; it just happened that way. Because I was just following my reading instincts, read whatever seemed interesting or from authors I already knew and trusted, my reading was channeled into a mostly blokeish channel. Clearly something had to change if I wanted to be more inclusive in my reading. If I thought this was important enough, I couldn’t keep up with the same habits. If Christopher feels the same way, if he thinks this important too, there is one thing that he can do to fix his reading.
He should set himself quotas.
Because quotas work.
Good intentions and a vague will to change aren’t enough, you need something you can measure, preferably in public so you can hold yourself accountable for your choices. You don’t necessarily need to keep these quotas up forever of course, just as long as it takes to change your outdated reading habits. Otherwise it’s just too easy to slip back into them, or to let fear of the unknown chase you back to safer grounds.
Of course, some people might think it unfair on the hypothetical male authors who miss out on your reading attention, but considering there are well over a 1,000 books of genre interest published each year, you should feel guilty already no matter who you chose to read…
The other fear you might have is that of missing out on reading the people everbody else is reading, but this is also something that’s deeply gender unbalanced. Male authors get a disproportionate share of fandom and media attention, so a grassroots attempt to change this is long overdue anyway. It’s this what’s at the heart of the Russ Pledge Nicola Griffith came up with a few years ago, to not just read more women, but also pay more attention to women, the necesssity of which is proven by the simple fact that even a well connected, well read person like Christopher DeFillippis can go two years without reading women and not even realise it.
Finally, as Anil Dash found out in a different context when he made the decision last year to only retweet women, the rewards of being more gender inclusive can be immediate:
For me, for my experience, it’s better. I feel happier about the time I spend on Twitter, and it’s made me try to be more thoughtful, and more disciplined with other things I do in my time online.
Personally, I found something similar when I made the decision to prioritise female authors over male. I discovered authors I’d never would’ve noticed otherwise, as well as authors writing the kind of books I didn’t get from the ones I was already reading. My sf reading has become richer and more rewarding.
So, give it a go. You never know, you might like it.
And if you don’t know where to start or whom to read? That’s what Sf Mistressworks is for.
Science fiction fandom doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to providing safe spaces, so it’s heartening to hear about when a convention gets it right. When twistpeach got harassed, the Arisia concon took her complaints seriously and made sure her harasser was banned (which, it turned out, he was already) and once it became clear that this wasn’t a one-off incident, other cons were warned about him and several followed Arisia’s lead and banned him too. Twistpeach credits Arisia for having created a place in which she felt secure enough to come forward:
I was confident that I was in a safe place, surrounded by people who I could rely upon to back me up. No one will fail to support my right to exist unmolested in space and time, displacing the room for entitled jerks to have free reign. So I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone. And yes. I have a right to be here.
I have these things because of activists against rape culture, movements against harassment at conventions in general, Arisia’s policy and personnel particularly, feminism, supportive friends, and a culture that has been significantly altered by them. I am so grateful that somebody told me that I have a right to be here. My community supports that right and it is because of them that I have the conviction to stand up for myself. Thank you to all of you who have made me strong enough to be a warrior.
All of this is excellent news, to see that sf conventions can get it right, that anti harassment policies can and do work and that problem individuals can be identified and do have to take the responsibility for their actions. In an ideal world this shouldn’t have been remarkable or newsworthy, but publicising such positive outcomes help both to restore confidence in sf fandom to clean up its own house as well as make clear fandom doesn’t tolerate harassment. Kudos to Twistpeach as well for being confident enough to write about her experiences so honestly.
No hand-wringing or tut-tutting about reading widely or behaving with dignity or integrity or what have you is going to end the practice of brash, confident people telling other people, often and obnoxiously, to vote for them. But, crucially, the hand-wringing and tut-tutting does have an effect: it discourages the people who already feel silenced and uncomfortable from ever talking about or taking pride in their achievements.
You cannot with one breath say that you wish more women were recognized for their work, and then say in the next that you think less of people who make others aware of their work. You cannot trust that somehow, magically, the systems that suppress the voices of women, people of colour, disabled people, queer people, trans people, will of their own accord stop doing that when award season rolls around in order to suddenly make you aware of their work. You MUST recognize the fact that the only way to counter silence is to encourage speech and make room for it to be heard.
To be honest the self promotion of writers like John Scalzi has always annoyed me, all that relentless hyping and huckstering doesn’t fit the fandom I grew up with. Yet Amal El-Mohtar has a point here. Not everybody’s voice is equal in fandom and some people need to shout twice as loud to get their voice heard. And if nobody else does it, you have to do it yourself. Mohtar’s post is where it clicked for me how complaining about self promotion and crass commercialism can be privilege talking, especially in the context of the Hugo Awards.
The truth is that science fiction fandom, certainly that part of it that is defined by e.g. the Hugo Awards, still isn’t as welcoming and diverse as it should be, while the world of science fiction as a whole is much much larger than encompassed by the Worldcon/Hugo Award tradition. I’ve long held that the Hugos have lost much of their relevancy because they’re stuck with a voting audience no longer representative of science fiction as a whole. If left alone, these will keep voting for the same sort of writers they always vote for. Efforts to promote new and underrepresented writers therefore should be lauded, not scoffed at.
But if you were in favor of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement and the bus boycott, even though a lot of other people got hurt, then there should be no issue with the much milder boycott of Ender’s Game. Tor Books is being left untouched. The studio’s other films are being left untouched. The movie theaters showing the film are being left untouched. This boycott is the caress of a pudgy little newborn baby hand against the cheek of hatred.
That’s part of why boycotts are necessarily collective. It’s a way of saying, “Look how many people you have annoyed. Would you really like to annoy us further?” Just think of all the pudgy little baby hands, reaching for your eyes…
The quality of the movie doesn’t matter. Nor does whether or not it would hurt other people if you boycott the movie. The latter is a confusion that also crops up with strikes a lot, as you always get the handwringing that innocent bystanders are disadvantaged by e.g. a railway strike. That’s the whole point. Strikes or boycotts should hurt or they’re pointless. The only thing that should matter is whether or not hurt Orson Scott Card’s ability to wage war on gay people by hurting him finacially.
But what this all really proved is that the Saints Row games are just much better. Yes, the game play is largely the same, but it doesn’t take itself so seriously as “art”. More importantly, in Saints Row you can play as whoever you want to be and it doesn’t matter for how the game treats you. You don’t need to be a gross man who swears a lot and commits crime; you can be a gross woman who swears a lot and commits crime.
So the whole idea of the fake geek girl, that there are women who pretend to be geekish but are only doing it to be popular (!?), is one of the more moronic inventions of contemporary fandom. It’s the snobbishness of the smallminded, those who think life is an endless high school struggle between the cool kids and the chess club and are now recoiling in horror as the mundanes invade their domains. Hence you get all these sort of tests, almost exclusively aimed at women, to prove that somebody isn’t a real geek, for not knowning such essential things as who the first captain of the Enterprise was in some hideous real life version of the Eltingville comic-book-science-fiction-fantasy-horror and role playing club trivia-off.
Thomas and his friends live on Sodor and spend their days toiling endlessly, “shunting trucks and hauling freight.” (Shunting, by the way, sounds like a great Urban Dictionary term for silent fucking—”We shunted while his parents slept next door!”) The engines are only happy when they are being “Really Useful,” which suggests to me that they have been brainwashed by fearsome tuxedoed railway overlord Sir Topham Hatt to accept the bonds of slavery without question. These poor engines have never known freedom, and so the very idea of it is alien to them. The whole story could have served as an allegory for life under the Russian czars before the rise of the Bolsheviks. But I bet the Rev wasn’t that subtle. I bet he was just a man who thought trains were bitches.
On the whole though the show has an useful message for all kids: shut up, you’re not special, do as you are told. If you don’t we’ll brick you up in an abandoned railway tunnel:
Thomas the Tank Engine: propaganda to get kids used to the awful conditions of the UK railways, or just to get them used to being happy cogs in the capitalist machine?
Back in the late eighties/early nineties, before the internet, when we had to rely on the local videostore to supply us with anime, Bubblegum Crisis was one of the first series to be widely available, through good, old Manga Video. I sort of knew something about anime, through scraps in American comics zines, but it wasn’t until Manga Video got going in the early nineties, that we got a regular supply of anime videos. Bubblegum Crisis, Akira, Appleseed, Dominion Tank Police, Wicked City: that first wave of videos was very cyberpunk influenced and they provided a vision of the future that was just around the corner for us, slightly too young to have seen Blade Runner at the cinema or have read Neuromancer and Schismatrix when new.