You Asked; I Answered

roflbotSo I got home from a weekend away and a surprising number of you have requested my thoughts on the SFWA petition, the forum re-posts, the libel suits, and the general wash of buffoonery that I missed while I was off the grid. I’ve read through the petition and here’s my takeaway:

“We miss the days when we could say whatever we wanted and people laughed and put up with it because we were elite and powerful and nobody dared object.”

I’ve read through the forum commentary as well. First, to be honest, I dropped from SFWA years ago, mostly because I found the secret forums to be awful to read. So many authors I had admired proved to have feet of clay, saying heinous things with apparent lack of remorse and complete equanimity. Given the way my own work was consistently marginalized, I decided the organization had little to offer other than dated attitudes and offensive remarks. I haven’t regretted letting my membership lapse. I haven’t missed finding barbs from people whose work I used to enjoy. That which was posted was about what I saw when I was a member, weighted by an inexplicable prejudice against youth and new ideas. Heavens forfend that people should treat one another with respect Period. That runs the gamut of race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, creed, etc. The people who shout the loudest against “political correctness” basically just want the old guard freedom to say horrendous things and to marginalize someone else without being made to feel bad for it. They cry censorship without having any real clue what the first amendment entails. Hint: it doesn’t apply to private organizations.

But anyone who’s stunned that the words they posted inside the secret clubhouse made it to the outside world? I suspect that person doesn’t understand the nature of the internet.

I’m not sure if this is the reaction you were looking for, dear readers, but for certain parties, this is business as usual. They dig and dig, never realizing they’re excavating their own graves with vitriol and bitterness, never acknowledging that their lack of relevance contributes to declining sales. Not all dinosaurs will become extinct in a catastrophic event. Some will just keep shouting into vacuum, puzzled as to why fewer and fewer people care about their message. Don’t we realize How Very Important They Are? Why, in the Old Days… Oh, right. In space, nobody can hear you whine.

And I’m out.

The follow-up: on privilege.

So it’s a month later. The mail volume has finally slowed down, which is good, because I have a book to write. I’m glad I’m no longer getting hate mail, though possibly it’s because I’ve set up a pretty comprehensive set of filters. I’m not looking in the trash to check. At this point, I have some things to talk about, mostly behaviors that people may not even realize are an -ism. (An -ism is where you are actively part of the problem).

1) “I know people of your group who never had this happen.”
Your experience / observation (or those of your acquaintances) does not define the universal truth. If I have never seen a pumpkin in real life, does that mean pumpkins don’t exist? Of course not. Your argument is silly, so shut up.

2) “I know him, and he’s actually a really nice guy.”
Then our experiences differ. Maybe he’s only nice to people he perceives as belonging to his same social subset. Maybe he thinks you could be useful to him in some fashion. Regardless of “niceness”, that’s not an excuse (or a defense) for bad behavior.

3) “I’m sure they didn’t intend to make you feel bad.”
Intent doesn’t govern injury. It’s possible to offer sincere apologies for things you didn’t realize were hurtful, after the fact. But at the time of this writing, only one of the parties involved in the many incidents I wrote about has contacted me. Therefore, I can only surmise that the guilty parties don’t think they did anything wrong and that I’m (insert classic derailing argument here).

4) “You’re too emotional / sensitive / search for reasons to be offended.”
This is a classic. With any of these statements, the blame is deflected. The offending party is not responsible or liable for outcomes resulting from his behavior! This is patently a ridiculous allegation. But if you say something like this, you’re part of the problem. No, I’m not kidding.

5) “You’re alienating supporters by using foul language / being so angry.”
Really? You said / typed that with a straight face? This is generally insisted upon by those who don’t really care about an issue; they just don’t want to be guilted about it either. People who can flounce away from a discussion just because their feathers were ruffled? Guess what? That’s privilege. I can’t walk away from being a woman. I’m a woman, no matter what I do or how I do it.

There are more derailing tactics; you may not be aware that you’re using them. Why? Maybe because you don’t want to admit you have a bias. There’s a more comprehensive list here.

I’ve heard all of the above, sometimes by people who thought they were posting / sending me a supportive message. Guess what? In the past, I’ve made the mistake of saying some of those things–about other issues. Then someone smacked me on the nose and said, “Look, you’re being a privileged asshole.” And she was right. The first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging that there is one. When people say, “Oh, I’m (color / gender / religion/ creed) blind, I don’t see what the big deal is,” I narrow my eyes at them. Because claiming that and having it be true? Are two wildly different things. When people say that, they are refusing to acknowledge that the world is a fucked up place that badly needs sorting out.

So don’t be part of the problem, okay? Don’t be an -ism.

This week in SF

So this week, two notable things happened. First, two dinosaurs went on a rampage.
dino
Granted, that didn’t happen this week, technically, but this is when the backlash occurred, first for the initial column that ran in the SFWA bulletin, and then there was the rebuttal, bemoaning the spate of anonymous complaints. dino2

I’m not anonymous. And I don’t think any of this is okay. This post is going to be anecdotal… because it needs to be. I’ve held my silence when I probably shouldn’t have. But I was in the minority, a woman writing SF, and I was afraid of career backlash. I was afraid of being excluded or losing opportunities if I didn’t play nice.

I don’t care about that anymore. If this means I don’t get into anthos or invited to parties, I don’t give a fuck. I care more about doing the right thing, about speaking out, so maybe other women who have had these experiences will do the same. If enough of us gather the courage to say, “Hey, look, this is NOT ALL RIGHT,” maybe the world will change. And if not, well, at least I stood up. I spoke. I didn’t sit quiet as a victim of sexism and let it happen.

In 2007, I sold my first book, Grimspace. It says it’s SF on the spine. I believe it to be SF, though it’s certainly written differently. I write in first person, present tense, and the protagonist is a woman with a woman’s thoughts, feelings, and sexual desires. But the book(s) take place in a rich, well-built science fiction world. There’s FTL travel and lots of planets to explore and aliens. Sounds like SF, right? Apparently not. And that’s the dismissive, occasionally scornful attitude I’ve received since 2008 when I made my first appearance as a professional in the SFF fandom.

At that con, I watched a respected male SF author get sloppy drunk and make women uncomfortable, fans and writers alike. I was one of them. I watched a respected SF writer break an elderly female fan’s heart by refusing to spend a minute talking with her. He was everything brusque, self-important, and rude. I consoled her afterward. I had a respected SF writer call me “girlie” and demand that I get him a coffee, before the panel we were on TOGETHER. When he realized I was not, in fact, his coffee girl, he didn’t apologize. And once we got into the panel, he refused to let me (or anyone else) speak. He interrupted me. He talked over me. He responded to questions that the audience asked me, when they asked me, by name, and he wouldn’t respond to the moderator, who was also female.

The panel was supposed to be about pseudonyms but he made it about how sad it was that the glory days were over. Point in fact, his wife participated more in the panel, by shouting out suggestions on what old stories he should tell next. If the panel had been called, “WHAT SF WAS LIKE IN 1969”, that would’ve been fine, I suppose, and I wouldn’t have been sitting there, feeling embarrassed, powerless, and ashamed, as I wasn’t born at that time.

I went home from that con feeling very sad and ashamed, because my colleagues had treated me like nothing, even though my book, Grimspace, sold out. There were over fifty copies in stock at BAMM, and I signed every last one of them. In fact, by the time my “formal” signing came along–with Sherrilyn Kenyon–they had none of my books left on the shelf. That was pretty cool. But despite good sales, I still felt bad.

Maybe it was a fluke, I thought. So I was excited when I found out I had been put on a SF panel at Comic-Con. I went, full of excitement and anticipation. But once I got there, I found more of the same. The moderator checked the pronunciation of the names of all male guests. (They were all male except me.) She did not ask me–and she got it wrong. Then in introducing me? She called me “the token female”. None of the male panelists objected; they were fine with it, apparently, and I was too new and scared to stand up for myself in a room full of men who were ex-military, who were actual rocket scientists, or worked for NASA. I wish I had. But I let them diminish me. I let it happen. I had a broken mic during the panel and nobody bothered to replace or fix it. The writer sharing his with me frequently took it away from me, or wouldn’t hand it over when I wished to speak. The male guests were dismissive and scornful of my work and my comments. I have seldom been so belittled or ashamed. By my peers. Why? My only difference is that I’m a woman and I’m writing SF the way I enjoy it. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, I thought. Maybe the audience didn’t notice. I was, frankly, on the verge of tears.

But then, David Brin, who was in the audience, came up to me. He shook my hand and said, “I liked what you had to say.”

The subtext I took from that was this: “Hey, sorry. Not all male SF writers are like this.”

So yeah. The audience noticed. I had slightly better experiences at WorldCon and ArmadilloCon, but I suspect it wasn’t as bad because I was roaming around with Sharon Shinn, who has more power and cachet than I had at that time. But I still encountered more than my share of fans, who dismissed my work. At that point, I was disheartened, and I stopped attending SFF cons entirely. I decided I’d rather spend my travel money otherwise. To quote my wonderful friend, Lauren Dane, “If I want to feel bad about myself, I’ll go swimsuit shopping.” My professional work shouldn’t be impacted by my gender, my appearance, my religion, my sexuality, my skin tone, or any other factor. The fact that it is? Makes me so very sad. I’ve had readers and writers stare at my rack instead of my face while “teaching” me how to suck eggs.

I’ve been fighting this battle for five years now.

And now, here’s the second thing: I’ve been made aware of a post (that I’m not linking to)  from a guy who is swinging at me again. Why? Because I’m getting my girl cooties all over his SF. He implies I’m incapable of grasping sophisticated SF references due to my gender–that I don’t actually write SF because it has women, sex, and feelings in it. I’m so tired and disheartened right now. The one bright spot was my experience at KeyCon in Canada, where I was not only made to feel welcome but valued. Not a single soul at the con questioned my credentials or my quality of fiction, due to what I don’t have in my pants.

But I’m still here. I’m still writing. You cannot shut me up. I will NOT SIT DOWN. I will not stand quietly by anymore. I am a woman. I write SF. And it’s not acceptable to treat me as anything less than an equal. I won’t stand for it. And I won’t get your fucking coffee.

—– ETA:

So this post has been up for a few hours now. It’s gotten some reads. And the hate mail has begun. Warning: some of them are fairly horrible & may be triggering.

Email 1:

“Dear Ann:

Quit your bitching. Obviously your work is drek or you couldn’t crank it out so fast. Who cares what anyone calls the crap you write? So fuck off and stop whining about equality. Shit is equal to shit.”

Email 2:

“Your such a cunt. You need a good cocking. That would give you something else to think about.”

Email 3:

“Its bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?”

Email 4:

“You think you write SF? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. SF is about important issues and there is no filth. The men on those panels were right not to let you talk if this is the stupid shit you have to say.”

(All errors made by OP.)