anghara (anghara) wrote,

The Issue 202 Controversy (and everything that came before, and comes after...)

So by this stage everyone knows about the SFWA bulletin issue 202 and the "conversation" between Mahlberg and Resnick and all that came after... no? I suggest you go and read Jim Hines's summary to catch up, he has done a sterling job of putting it all together.

Okay? Okay.

So here's the thing.

1) SF covers. From the GOlden Age on down, books that were classified as "science ficiton" had covers that featured (a) a rocket ship (the earlier versions were just missile-shaped projectiles with cool fins at the bottom, the later versions were darker and grittier and much much bigger - apparently size does matter - and more menacing); (b) a woman whose main role seemed to be to show BOOBS (tightly upholstered into skin-tight catsuits, or falling out of said catsuit or some variety of space-chain-mail-bikini or Slave Leia garb); or both. The audiences for said books were apparently warmongering fratboys who wanted moar guns and moar cleavage. Because you know. It's all about the chase, in the end, and can we shoot something while we're chasing it...? The more thoughtful and philosophical novels which ALSO fell under the SF umbrella were often... camouflaged into those colours so that the "correct" audiences would buy them.

I have to confess (bad feminist! no cookie!) that I had grown somewhat inured to this, as far as covers went. In one sense I had simply stopped *paying attention* to covers because as often as not what was depicted on them was more the Marketing Department's vision of "THIS SELLS!" than anything to do with the story inside. So when a copy of SFWA bulleting turned up with a Warrior Babe posing in skimpy "armour" and suggestive positioning... I kind of glanced past it, and away.

For this, I am sorry. Maybe I should have paid more attention.


(2) THAT COLUMN. If I have followed the saga correctly the Mahlberg/Resnick conversation about which the storm has gathered was an attempt by the Bulletin's editor to "address the issue of THAT cover" - and addressed that issue in precisely the same way that a can full of gasoline addressed the issue of a conflagration.

Again, I have to make a confession. I get my Bulletins, and I skim them for things of interest - and to be PERFECTLY honest, I have stopped seeing the point of the Mahlberg/Resnick "conversations" a long time ago. If I glance at them, that's saying a lot; more often than not I simply flip the page past the two old blowhards pontificating at one another in the corner of the office party and leave them to it. There hasn't been much there to catch and hold my interest for some considerable time. This may have been one of those things which sounded like a wonderful idea, and may have started out as such, but which has been a dead horse being beaten to disintegration for a considerable period of time.

SFWA may be a place where SFF writers - ALL SFF writers - can gather and find a platform to say something that is important to them - but honestly, and I think the current situation underlines this, it may be time for the Mahlberg/Resnick conversations to be retired in favour of something that is a little more... apropos... to the current membership. How about having some COnversations between some younger writers? People more in touch with today's marketplace and issues? No, I am NOT (before anyone jumps on that bandwaggon) advocating censoring anything. I'm saying that every feature has its day and the Bulletin "conversations" may have outlived its sell-by date.

(3) SFWA and misogyny - I've read some stories that came out of the woodwork from this particular incident, and cringed - and there are alas other stories from well before this incident that are still circulating (controversies that come to mind are the Readercon debacle, the infamous Ellison Grope on stage and in full view of fandom, add your own as you want...)

I haven't personally been at the receiving end of things much worse than being patronised on panels. On one occasion a particular male panelist with whom I no longer willingly share panels at any con reaching over to "tidy up" by pushing my hair off my shoulder and familiarly picking at a piece of lint or something that had offended his eye - at the time I was so taken aback that I said nothing (we were on a panel in public and it would hve been ME who would have made a scene) but I have to say that I felt a whole lot of very unpleasant things at the time and in the aftermath. Another time I was told to "calm my little self down" during a facebook discussion, as though the (perfectly valid and calm) points I was making were rendered completely irrelevant by the fact that I was just a female who didn't know any better and I should have known how to address my male superiors with the requisite deference (an attitude which, I was left under no misapprehension about this, I should go away and duly cultivate before I returned to the forum). (Just as a FYI I refused to sit down and shut up and the person in question simply BANNED ME from the discussion, rather than address my points in any way...)

But. BUT.

I have seen it happen.

As many times as I have had wonderful panels with both male and female colleagues in varying distribution (one panel I was on, with the subject matter of POV in fantasy, consisted of five female panelists and a solitary male - who did make a point of making sure the audience registered this fact, but then became a constructive and eloquent panelist who really added to the panel instead of either whining about his being the "token male" or else trying to exert his god-given male superiority over the "harem" panel he had been dealt) I've seen panels where women have been slighted or silenced or patronised, with their ideas dismissed as irrelevant or silly. I've seen a conversation between a (female) scientist - and SF writer - with an advanced graduate degree in her discipline and a younger (male) writer with no credentials other than a good imagination, and I've seen that male treat that female as though she were a grade-schooler in knee socks and hair ribbons and he was the headmaster.

I've seen it stalking the halls, this attitude, and it is NOT a pretty one - and despite the papering over of cracks, despite the often heartfelt efforts to shore up and rebuild, things like THAT column pop right back up like a poisonous mushroom and back we all are where we started.

What's to be done? At this point John Scalzi's apology and the appointment of the Task Force to look into the whole BUlletin matter are both steps in the right direction. But until the women can wake up and find themselves to be respected as colleagues instead of marginalised as "lady writers" and "lady editors" with all that those sobriquets imply - until we can stand up and know that we won't be marginalised or dismissed, or have paternalistic male co-panelists picking lint off our shoulders as if we were their toddler granddaughters and in public and with impunity - well, we have a long way to go.

I think that the Bulletin's editor may have stoked this fire - I think that anyone who had read that article, that "conversation", might have anticipated the reaction that it would have received. I'm far from calling this a "firing offense" but I'm saying that at the very least the focus of the BUlletin under its current editorship should be re-evaluated at this point. And this might involve biting the bullet, calling one tradition's tenure in the Bulletin a day, and dropping the Malzberg/Resnick conversations in favour of something new.

It might even be time to start letting the WOMEN have a turn at having a Conversation.

I'm just saying.

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