Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.

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February 19, 2014

Sure, taking a few seconds to be respectful toward someone about something they care about doesn't sound hard. But if you talk to hundreds of people every day and they all start expecting that same consideration, it could potentially add up to MINUTES wasted. And for WHAT?

A bit of pointed commentary from XKCD.

While I was at Boskone this past weekend, I was sent a link to excerpts from a public newsgroup at sff.net–I tweeted it out and then pretty much wandered off to do convention type stuff. It was a very fun convention. I mostly did bar con, which was definitely the right choice for me this time around.

Got on the train Sunday afternoon and discovered, well.  Discovered that the postings to the newsgroup were suddenly very, very public.  People were talking. Which is a good thing.

I know a lot of people have been reading through the sff.sfwa newsgroup over the past few days, specifically the “Culture Wars” thread started by William Barton.  People unfamiliar with the history of SFWA are noticing how clubby, condescending, and downright nasty the newsgroup can be.  This is what some long-time members–and former members–want. They don’t want a professional writers’ organization; they want a club for (a certain subset of) writers.

A lot of the commentary over the last week has been interesting, enlightening, and occasionally infuriating.  I’ve been thinking a lot about voices and who is allowed to have them.  Liz Bourke pointed me at this wonderful essay by Mary Beard in which she talks about classical ideas about whose voices are encouraged and listened to and how the emphasis on male voices persists to this day. This article about how young women use upspeak and baby talk is also quite interesting and relevant.

It’s fascinating to see how this entire conversation has progressed and how the rhetorical techniques Joanna Russ wrote about in How to Suppress Women’s Writing are still used today to suppress and erase women.

One thing that’s happened to me is the the intimation that since I am relatively unknown that I have no standing to speak about these issues. The thing is this: everyone has to start somewhere and the insistence on credentials is a way to suppress voices.  I haven’t been getting a lot of push back, but what I have gotten has centered on this fact and a fair bit of the overall commentary generally doesn’t even acknowledge that this is a site run by one person (those of you who have acknowledged that: thank you).

The thing is this: the whole conversation isn’t just about one disgruntled man’s long held grudge against Mary Robinette Kowal. It’s about a culture which has systematically privileged the voices of a subset of the population over all the other voices.

Putting the focus on a handful of high profile people in our community shifts the conversation from one about systemic issues to one about an individual’s grudge about something that happened years ago. It’s difficult to talk about systemic issues without using individual examples, and yet.

I know it’s easier to focus on individual examples instead of the big picture because trying to change those systems is so incredibly daunting.  As Beard pointed out in her essay, the idea that women shouldn’t speak in public goes back thousands of years. We have a lot of work to do.

So I’ve gone ahead and done something that I’ve been meaning to do for well over a year now: I’ve joined SFWA as an affiliate member. What can I do to help?

P.S. Jerry Pournelle, this is called sexual harassment.

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