for the feminist writers

This is mostly aimed at those reading my journal who participate, professionally or non-professionally, in the sf/f writing community. Over at the SFWA LJ community there’s a post discussing sexism and racism in SFWA, and a little way down into the comments, I’m having a dicussion with a few other people about the problems that exist in the community, if not in SFWA as an organization. It’s the kind of thing where I would very much appreciate input from other writerly-types with a background in feminism, especially because of a thought I just posted there. Having noted that “I’ve been to cons where fellow con-goers discreetly warn young female attendees about which (older male) writers to stay away from,” I said the following to Karina:

If I were more of a confrontational person, I might really like the notion that we stop passing this stuff around sotto voce, and put up a public list somewhere online. The shitstorm that would set off would be unbelievable, but on the other hand, keeping it discreet makes it our (young women’s) problem to deal with, rather than theirs (the old and not-so-old men’s).

I’d never thought of it that way before, but I think it might be true. And it also says a lot about the ways in which women aren’t supposed to be confrontational; I really can’t fathom actually following through on that idea, since I can imagine the damage it would do to my social reputation in the field.

If you’ve got a dog in this fight, please, come on over and offer your views. The SFWA community is open to all and sundry.

0 Responses to “for the feminist writers”

  1. unforth

    Well, I don’t have much a background in feminism (and tend to frown on all manner of -isms) but I think that’s a really good point and a pretty accurate way of putting it. The problem with a forum like that, though, is that it can become a forum for private grievances to take a public and damaging form. Sadly, it is common people to make up accusations like that for various reasons (my father was accused of sexual harassment by a woman that he passed over for promotion, for example, and though the charges were dropped because it was unfounded, it still damages a person’s reputation) …so yeah. There are always problems with doing things like that. So while it’s a pity, I fear it’s how it has to be.

    A part of me is wondering if there are similar whispers among the men about women to avoid because they are users. 🙂

  2. mastergode

    <chuckles> I just had an argument about this in my livejournal like, two weeks ago. This post, followed by this post, and then finally this post. It’s alot of reading, and I don’t expect you to read it all.

    Basically, it was about what is and isn’t okay, as far as racism is concerned. Personally, I could sum up my views by saying that it’s possible to go too far in one’s disdain for racism and end up contributing to the problem, rather than helping it. I believe that it’s also a mistake to make the problem overly academic and separate it from the people who are affected by it. There’s more to it, but that’s the gist. 😉

  3. d_aulnoy

    Hmm … I’m not a SFWA member, or, for that matter, eligible to become one, insofar as I’m aware (fiction only, right?), or I’d be on this like white on rice ….

    … but as a member of sf-dom in general, it is a huge issue: just reading over the various Willis/Ellis reactions illustrated it pretty nicely. Half the reactions were “no big deal”, half were “why didn’t *she* do anything? if she didn’t do anything, it must be okay …”, and half (yes, I know my math is bad) were general condemnation/handwringing. Now, knowing jack-all about SFWAn bylaws, I have no idea if this is even possible … but using the Real World model, there’s no way to make a public list without coming in for legal action. On the other hand, if SCFWA were to start enforcing a basic code of behavior along the lines of, “Grope/harass a fellow attendee, have your membership revoked or suspended for a set period of time” … that might have a nice trickle-down effect, not only on outright harassment, but also on the mentality that continues to justify it. It’s not much, but it’s a beginning.

    • Marie Brennan

      You can still be on it like white on rice; anybody can chime in. I’d love to see you do so.

    • delkytlar

      Not to go off topic, but a SFWA code-of-conduct would have had no bearing on the Willis/Ellison situation. SFWA exists to help people with issues involved in their professional writing careers, not to enforce particular moral codes. (Realize that there actually are segments of fandom and the writing community that think there ought to MORE public touching and “free love”. Not everyone at the event was squicked by it, just a vocal majority.)

      1) Neither Connie nor Harlan were representing SFWA when the incident happened.

      2) The WorldCon and Hugo Ceremony are not SFWA events, therefor SFWA has no authority to attempt to control what happens there.

      3) SFWA membership is akin to belonging to a political party, or church, or business group. Every action of every member does not and should not reflect on the organization as a whole. That’s what’s causing most of the nonsense going on in the SFWA LJ community. People honing in on a single member’s words, and ignoring (or recasting) SFWA’s actual activities and positions.

      Calling for SFWA to slap a member down, sanction him or revoke his membership for something he did outside of any connection to SFWA would be like saying that the person should also be kicked out of the Democratic party, his church or the local Kiwanis for the same action. The offense has nothing to do with the affiliation.

      I do not pretend to know what the solution to this problem is. Look at the Willis/Ellison situation. It was witnessed by 100s of people. It was documented in at least one video recording. You’ll still get people swearing it was one way, others that is was another way, and others that it never happened. This was an exception; a public groping. As someone noted in this discussion, these things tend to happen without witnesses. How can you ever get consensus enough that so-and-so belongs on some published list? How can you ever be sure that you are not spreading a false rumor or abetting someone’s personal grudge?

      I hesitate to post the following, because it’s not something I like to discuss, and it will probably distress me for the rest of the day, but it bears directly on the subject of dissemination of stories. I’ll spare us all the details, but the situation is applicable. Some years ago, I was accused of doing something unsavory in a public place, with lots of people all around me, including my wife (who, if you know her, would have walked out the door and never looked back if I’d actually done said thing. We love each other a great deal, but she has no tolerance for this sort of thing). The claim was made by a spiteful someone who was not actually in the same room with us when the so-called incident occurred. The people who were there all vouched for me, and declared that I did no such thing. Should be end of story, yes? Well, it’s wasn’t. The story circulated among a group of people, most of whom I no longer see or socialize with (not over this incident, just because our lives have gone in different directions). Yet, to this day, there are still people who ask me if “that story” was true. Stupid people, for the most part, but even in the face of overwhelming evidence, some things stick.

      Would my name wind up on some public genre list if the actual story was spread here? I don’t know. I do know I’d sue the ancestral home out from under anyone who put me on such a list! Sorry, I said this would distress me and it has, so I’m going to leave off here with the warning that good people can be badly hurt by wrong-meaning or misinformed people. It’s not better to create new victims on the other side of the issue to protect the original victims.

      • Marie Brennan

        I totally grok the problems with a public list. The idea came into my head simply because of a sudden epiphany that, by passing the names around secretly, we were taking on the burden of dealing with somebody else’s inappropriate behavior, instead of making them deal with it — which they should have to.

        As I said to Jim Hines over on the SFWA group, I don’t think this is something SFWA should deal with, but I absolutely think it’s something SFWAns need to deal with. The change needs to happen on a cultural level, not a policy one, because you can’t affect this well through policy.

  4. bakkhos

    I know I don’t have a professional reputation to damage yet, but I’d support a list like that in a heartbeat.

    • Marie Brennan

      People have very legitimately pointed out the libel/slander potential, and also the risk of incidents being invented out of personal animosity. A public list wouldn’t work. But there are other ways of making it not our problem, but theirs.

      • Anonymous

        Legally, written statements are only considered libel when they are false.

        Though I would be interested in learning about the other ways we might approch this problem.


        • Marie Brennan

          It would still open up a can of worms nobody wants to tackle: how do you prove the claim is true or false, when half the things we’re talking about would have no witnesses? I don’t know that anybody in this situation has the money to take anybody else to court, even if they thought that was a good idea, but it would be a mess of epic proportions.

      • akashiver

        I ditto the notion of holding the organization that sponsers said conference responsible for revoking or suspending memberships… otherwise, we’re still merely complaining about the situation. Complaining about it in a public forum, perhaps, but complaining nonetheless.

  5. ninja_turbo

    I dove in on the topic, in response to one of your comments.

    Not knowing much about SFWA, I feel like having the community might be a very powerful tool for the writing community to have large-scale discussions and address these kinds of issues. We’ll see what comes of it in the more-than-very-short-term.

    • Marie Brennan

      I expect the momentum will die off eventually, but at the present time it looks like the community is generating a lot of energetic discussion about some important topics.

  6. fallenrose

    Hm. Interesting. I agree that the list isn’t doable, but it should be brought up publicly, without naming names, and I think that punishments for inappropriate behavior need to be promptly pursued.
    That said, I’m not a writer, and I didn’t read the discussion, but kudos for bringing up. Try to keep it from being forgotten.

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