Dave Truesdale Explains It All

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. Fuck around and find out.
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June 3, 2014

Well, then.

All of us shrill, divisive, ungrateful square peggers have, apparently, been lying and creating division because Dave Truesdale, a white man, has never once encountered a “smidgeon [sic] of racism or sexism at a convention, whether it be a local or regional con, a worldcon, a World Fantasy convention, a Campbell/Sturgeon awards banquet, or a Nebula Awards weekend.” Except for that one time he was at WisCon and was told that he couldn’t be a part of what I can only assume was a panel intended as safer space for women.

arya lmfao

image courtesy of E. Catherine Tobler

Ahem.

Okay, the reviews of the actual short stories in the special Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed are pretty solid so I’m not going to take issue with them–they are what they are and they’re about the quality one would expect from Tangent Online.  Instead, I want to look at the way the non-fiction was treated as well as Dave Truesdale’s self-serving, sanctimonious, and wrong wrong wrong editorial.

“She didn’t write it.”

So, first up, the “reviews” of editor Christie Yant’s editorial. Two men, two women–because Truesdale thinks this is fair. Isn’t it interesting that the reviews by Martha Burns and Cyd Athens  treat the material fairly and with generosity while the two men do their very best to dismiss and minimize Yant’s perspective.  Clancy Weeks goes so far to say that she is mistaken in what point she was making and then decides that only men can provide a solid definition of science fiction–Campbell, Sturgeon, and Robinson. He also throws out that old canard that it’s mostly men who consume this type of fiction, so it’s on the ladies to submit more. Ryan Holmes? He just doesn’t think we should be so negative.

Sigh.

“She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.”

Then there are the “reviews” of the non-fiction which are, well, barely reviews. And I’m actually really annoyed by that because it feels really disrespectful to treat the non-fiction as less important than the stories and to not bother even reviewing all of the essays.

Essays are dismissed as being not substantive enough, too personal, too angry. Filler. Inane. Reviewers are dismissive of multiple essayists’ lived experience–men were the audience, so of course the protagonists were male; [the essayist] is “clearly unhappy” and looking at things from the wrong angle. The essayists were even reading the wrong books. Generalizations that people write books that they want to read and that as long as the story is good, who wrote it doesn’t matter.  I suspect that if you feel this way you generally tend to find people like yourself in your reading material.

I’m not saying that all the reviews had to be positive because that would be silly–but the negative criticism reads as almost excessively personal in a way that the positive doesn’t.  A lighter touch, editorially, would have been appreciated.

“She wrote it, BUT…”

Finally, Dave Truesdale’s editorial.

In the first sentence he declares the very idea of the issue to be “absurd” and furthermore minimizes every single thing that helped lead to this special issue in the first place.

Here’s a dozen links which are, I hope, illustrative of the problem.

So that’s your context for Dave Truesdale’s editorial. Keep in mind that it took me about 15 minutes to pull all those links together into one place. Keep in mind that there’s a lot more where that came from. And a lot more that hasn’t been made public because women who speak openly about these things are very often not believed or blames.

Against that context, then:

Yes, science-fiction in its earliest days and for decades was written for the most part by men and for a young male audience. The SF genre pulp magazines found they were publishing material that happened to appeal most strongly to a young male audience, and they continued to do so because it made their magazines profitable (in most cases; many went belly up quickly). But it did not in any way discourage anyone else – people of color, different ethnicities, or the female sex (or those with different sexual orientations) –from joining the party.

Because the lack of representation in and of itself is not discouraging.  Because only male people were reading SF genre pulp magazines. (Despite the facts not bearing that assumption out.)

Truesdale then goes on this extended ramble about pulp fiction in general and cites the fact that there was only ever one female writer published in Black Mask, so this means that detective fiction is totally more sexist than science fiction.  I have two names for you, Dave Truesdale: Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie.

He then asks that since the primary readers of the love and romance pulps were women and that there were a whole lot of them, “Were these random titles and over a hundred more sexist because the stories within their pages were written expressly with women in mind—regardless of who wrote them?”

Maybe the idea that women only want to read about love and romance is sexist–did you ever think about that? For even half a second? Or were you too damn busy reading “The Angel in the House” for the hundredth time?

Then we get to mark off the “product of their time” square on our bingo cards and aren’t we all just thrilled about that?

Onwards! Truesdale then excavates a 38 year old interview with Leigh Brackett and holds it up as the authority around whether or not there was sexism in science fiction in those old timey days. Truesdale decides that there wasn’t because Leigh Brackett told him she didn’t experience any. Just because one woman didn’t experience sexism in her field doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  By using Brackett in this way, Truesdale effectively tokenizes her–and then dismisses her entirely as being anecdotal–as he dismisses the essays in this issue of Lightspeed.

These first-hand accounts by a number of women SF writers who have been in the field for many decades in some cases, or are relative newcomers, profess to knowing of no personal discrimination aimed their way. So why is this not put forth and heralded to the outer world at large as an example of the diversity and an all inclusive atmosphere to be found within the SF community, rather than the loud voices—of the usual suspects, I regrettably hasten to add—who are ready at a moment’s notice to place a glaring spotlight on the relatively few instances where an individual may have said or done something untoward?

Shorter: Stop complaining where the mundanes can hear you. Also, stop yelling. The problem lies with some people, not with structural inequalities and lack of opportunity.

Ah, then there’s this.

Show me one well-regarded SF/F book publisher who refuses to publish a good novel because of the race or sex of the writer. Show me one well-regarded SF/F magazine editor who refuses to publish a good short story because of the race or sex of the writer. It can’t be done.

Of course it can’t be done–the argument has been framed in such a way that it would not be possible for all your conditions to be satisfied, particularly the adjective “well-regarded”. Also, there’s a thing called a form rejection. That’s where the editor doesn’t actually give a reason for the rejection, just that the work is not suitable for the publication.

And, well, John W. Campbell, Jr. did choose not to serialize Samuel R. Delany’s Nova for the following reason:

Campbell rejected it, with a note and phone call to my agent explaining that he didn’t feel his readership would be able to relate to a black main character. (citation)

I mean, it doesn’t exactly fit the conditions set, but it’s damned close.

Then we get a catalog of women who have held–and do hold–prominent editorial positions at major publishers. This is pretty awesome. But the bulk of the awards and accolades still go to their male peers.

At its heart and soul and as the ever-shifting and changing entity that it is, the field of science-fiction hasn’t a racist or sexist bone in its body.

Right. Go read Justine Larbalestier’s Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction and get back to me. Read Samuel R. Delany’s “Racism and Science Fiction” and get back to me. Because you are wrong, Dave Truesdale. Dead wrong.

Do I even need to go into the ridiculousness that is Truesdale’s claim that he’s never witnessed even a single incident of racism or sexism? As a white man, would he have even noticed?

Those of us who speak out about racism and sexism and homophobia in genre are, according to Truesdale, doing more harm than good.  We’re “shrill” and intimidating people who may be inclined to ally with us–hey, it’s the tone argument! Do we have bingo yet?

At this point the square peggers do more harm to their cause than good, because they have intimidated and shouted down many of the very people who may have wanted to joined their initial cause, but who now want nothing to do with it. It is their very stridency and knee-jerk castigation of SF at every turn that conceivably will drive people away, especially new writers. It is in this sense only that this small, misguided subset might do true damage to the SF field, which in itself is another irony.

We’re also a bunch of ingrates, biting the hands that feed us. I’m sort of amazed that he didn’t call us whippersnappers or something.

My simple, unadorned answer to many of the so-called problems some folks have with SF is to stop talking about them, stirring up flames of anger and resentment where unwarranted (which solves nothing)…

Sit down, shut up, be civil, and support the status quo. You’re upset over nothing. It’s not a big deal that books written by men are reviewed at a significantly greater rate than those written by women. It’s not a big deal that men can repeat the same things that women and POC have been saying for years and get praise while the women and POC get rape and death threats.

I wish Truesdale had done more research for his editorial. I shouldn’t have had to do it for him–that’s another thing women are expected to do, see. We have to have all our facts together before saying anything. Men can just say whatever and it’s cool.  I wish he’d just talked about how the main thing that writers should do is write–I agree with that. I’m a greedy reader and want more books and stories to read. But he didn’t. Instead he wrote a 3,500 word editorial trying to silence people he disagrees with and make them look like a bunch of irrational hysterics blowing everything out of proportion.

Except we’re not.

The last line of Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing is my favorite.  It’s simple, but I heard echoes of it at the end of N.K. Jemisin’s WisCon guest of honor speech, too.  Russ says, simply:

You finish it.

We’re trying, Joanna. We’re trying.

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