Seanan McGuire (seanan_mcguire) wrote,
Seanan McGuire

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Sexism, the current SFWA kerfuffle, and "lady authors."

All right, here are the basics: in the latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin there was an article essentially saying (among many other problematic things) that if I say that taking about my gender as if it somehow makes me an alien creature makes me uncomfortable, I am censoring and oppressing you, rather than just asking that you, you know, stop doing that shit if you want my good feeling and respect. jimhines has collected links to a wide range of responses and rebuttals. You don't need to read them all, but they're still a good, overwhelmingly unhappy view of a bad situation. I recommend reading at least a few of them, because it'll help you understand what's going on, although for many people, the important points are:

1. This article came after several instances of sexism in the Bulletin.
2. The Bulletin is the official publication of SFWA*, which makes it look like organizationally condoned sexism.
3. It's 2013, for fuck's sake.

One of the things that Resnick and Malzberg, as the authors of the piece in question, objected to was that people were unhappy that they were defining their peers as "lady authors/editors" and "gorgeous." These are, after all, factual definitions! A female peer is a lady peer. A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman. Don't women like being told that they're beautiful? Aren't we supposed to be precise when we talk about people? And to this I say sure, except that your precision is unequal and belittling. "Bob is my peer, Jane is my lady peer" creates two classes where two classes do not belong, and humans are primates, we're creatures of status and position. Give us two things and we'll always start trying to figure out which is superior to the other. Right or left? Up or down? Peer or lady peer? What's more, adding a qualifier creates the impression that the second class is somehow an aberration. "There were a hundred of us at the convention, ninety-nine peers and one rare lady peer."

No. Fuck no. "Bob and Jane are my peers." Much better.

As for the appearance thing...yeah, people often like to be told when they look good. But women in our modern world are frequently valued according to appearance to such a degree that it eclipses all else. "Jane was a hell of a science fiction writer...but more importantly, she was gorgeous according to a very narrow and largely male-defined standard of conventional beauty." All Jane's accomplishments, everything she ever did as a person, matter less than the fact that she got good genes during character generation. You don't think that burns? You don't think that's insulting? "Bob knew how to tell a good story, and he did it while packing an impressively sinuous trouser snake." What, is that insulting? How is it more insulting than "Jane could really fill out a swimsuit"? It's the same thing. If my breasts define my value to the community, you'd better be prepared to hold up your balls for the same level of inspection—and trust me, this is not sexy funtimes inspection, this is "drape 'em in Spandex and brace yourself for a lot of critique that frankly doesn't have a goddamn thing to do with how well you write, or what kind of human being you are." Don't like this idea, gentlemen of the world? Well, neither do the ladies.

It's very telling that you'll get people saying, again, "author and lady author are just true facts," but then getting angry when you say that fine, if they want divisions, it needs to be "male and female author." No! Male is the default the norm the baseline of human experience! How dare you imply anything different!

I, and roughly fifty percent of the world's population, would like to beg to differ. It's just that women get forced to understand men if we want to enjoy media and tell stories, while men are allowed to treat women as these weird extraterrestrial creatures who can never be comprehended, but must be fought. It's like we're somehow the opposing army in an alien invasion story, here to be battled, defeated, and tamed, but never acknowledged as fully human.

Does that seem like a lot to get out of the phrase "lady author"? It kinda is. But that's what happens when the background radiation of your entire life is a combination of "men are normal, human, wonderful, admirable, talented, worth aspiring to," and "bitches be crazy."

Am I disappointed that these sentiments were published in the official Bulletin of the organization to which I belong? Damn straight. It shows an essential lack of kindness on the part of the authors, who felt that their right to call me a "lady author" and comment on my appearance mattered more than my right to be comfortable and welcomed in an organization that charges me annual dues that are the same regardless of gender. Maybe if I got a discount for allowing people to belittle and other me? Only then I would never have joined, because fuck that noise.

At the same time, SFWA is a wonderful organization that has done and is doing a great deal to help authors, and moves are being taken to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future. My membership is up for renewal at the end of this month, and I'm renewing, because change comes from both without and within. I am an author. I am a woman. I am not going to shut up and slink away because I feel unheard; if anything, I'm going to get louder, and make them hear me. (Please note that I absolutely respect the women who are choosing not to renew their memberships; voting with your dollars is a time-honored tradition. But everyone reacts differently. For them, this is a principled stance. For me, it would be a retreat. I am the Official SFWA Stabber, and nobody is making me retreat.)

One of the big points of the Resnick/Malzberg article was "anonymous complaints." Fine, then: I am not anonymous. My name is Seanan McGuire. You can look me up.

(*The Science Fiction Writers of America.)
Tags: contemplation, cranky blonde is cranky, don't be dumb

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