Further Thoughts on SFWA (with links)

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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June 3, 2013

So.  Things have been pretty exciting around here. I had no idea that the SFWA Bulletin issue was going to become so big so quickly and there’s still a fantastic discussion happening in my post about reader shame and problematic books, too. My server held up and I’m very glad that my webhosting package allows unlimited bandwidth because I’ve used 100+ GB over the last few days (this is not a challenge).There’s been a lot of great discussion on the SFWA Bulletin issue and I thought I should link to a few of the posts I’ve found most illuminating and helpful:

This is by no means intended to be a definitive list–Jim C. Hines has collected a fantastic list of posts in his round-up of “anonymous” protesters.

I’d also like to say that even though I am not a SFWA member, I do have a dog in this fight: it’s an organization I’ve thought about joining as an affiliate member and SFWA should keep in mind that their official publications talk not only to current members but to future members as well.

And frankly, what I’m seeing from my outsider position isn’t encouraging. I see a “task force” has been formed–the SFWA needs a task force in order to ensure its publications abide by its own sexual harassment policy (although a former SFWA president doesn’t think it actually is harassment: fuck you, Russell Davis)?

If I were a SFWA member, I would be extraordinarily angry that my dues was spent, in part, to pay Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg 8 cents a word to insult me.

I appreciate that SFWA is working to address this issue but putting a cone of silence over it all is disheartening, especially when the only other official statement is an apology couched in corporate-speak from its outgoing president. I don’t know how it was possible to miss the problems in the Resnick/Malzberg column even with a cursory glance. The problems start in the second paragraph and one would think that because of the previous complaints that the publisher would be a tiny bit more conscientious in his duties–or hand those duties off to a trusted subordinate.

And as for it being the tail end of Scalzi’s term–it seems to me that both he and Steven Gould could coordinate a concrete response on this as part of the transition.  A good first step would be  the scrapping of the Resnick/Malzberg column: they’ve clearly shown that they don’t deserve to have such a platform.

SFWA does good work–it’s a damned shame that their official publication doesn’t reflect that and instead is being used as a platform to offend and alienate a large number of their current, past, and future members.

***

On another subject: I am putting together a series of guest posts about the romance genre written by people from marginalized groups or communities. If you are interested, please send me an email–you can find my email address here.

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14 Comments

  1. Jessica

    I’m glad you mentioned Scalzi’s statement. As apologies go, I would grade it a “D.” Nothing irritates me more than a non-apology cloaked in the language of apology. To me, it is using moral language to excuse and thus perpetuate moral wrongs.

    Here are just a few not-so-innocuous phrasings:

    1. “When members believe that they or other members are belittled…”

    and

    2. “too many of our members have felt their contributions and their place in the industry and within the organization belittled…”

    Try: “when members ARE belittled….” and “members’ contributions ARE belittled.” These are facts, not mere opinions.

    3. “It’s possible if I had more closely read the article I might have alerted Ms. Rabe to portions that might be an issue. ”

    Again, they ARE an issue. Better, because “issue” is neutral, they ARE a PROBLEM.

    4. “I apologize to the members who we have offended”

    Try, “I apologize to members we have wronged.” It’s not about members’ feeeeee-wings. It;s about things that actually happened and are happening.

    5. “All the positive work the organization does for writers and members means little when things like this blow up.”

    “When things like this blow up” makes it sound like a tree hit the building. Whoops! Try “When we do wrong things like we have done.”

    6. “SFWA is an organization of 1,800 writers – all of whom with their own points of view and the ability to articulate them. The task force will have its hands full,”

    This is not some theoretical disagreement over issues that morally responsible people can argue about. This is about harassment. It is about wrong actions that must be called such and dealt with appropriately.

    7. “To all our members, I say: You are welcome, you are valued, you are needed. We need you, and your voice and your willingness to make yourself heard when you feel that we are not the organization we can be.”

    Nowhere in the statement is gender mentioned. Why? This issue is gender specific. The issue is WOMEN members and their allies. Clearly, some male members already know they are welcomed and are overweeningly confident in their right to belong. “ALL” members do not need to be addressed right now. Why make a special effort to avoid terminology that addresses the group that has been wronged? I believe the answer to that question will not be a comfortable one.

    8. “I am aware that my apologies here will be taken any number of ways,”

    And I am aware that apologies are WRITTEN in any number of ways. I think it’s clear whose interests counted the most in this one.

    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!

    • donaithnen

      1&2: “Try: “when members ARE belittled….” and “members’ contributions ARE belittled.” These are facts, not mere opinions.”

      I read scalzi’s version of 1&2 in a positive manner, given that at that stage he’s just outlining what the problem is. I’ve seen such issues get derailed (by the people who committed the original offense of course) into arguments about whether the offended people were “actually” offended or if they were just misinterpreting things.

      As a response directed at the entire SFWA community, both those who were offended and those who committed the offense, it makes it clear that there is no “negotiation” on that point, it is the opinions of the people who were offended that matter, not what the people who committed the offense claim to have really meant.

      Once he’s established that fact he is perfectly clear about it later in the “I apologize to the members who we have offended” bit without any equivocation about “feelings” or “beliefs”, although you have a different problem with that wording. If the actual apology had been something like “I apologize to those who feel like they’ve been offended” that would be a definite issue.

      There’s certainly value to be had in educating the offending members about the nature of offensive behaviour, but i’m not sure that it’s a battle that needs to be fought every time the issue comes up. Especially given how pig-headed they can be when offered any kind of perceived “out.”

    • Natalie

      Especially given how pig-headed they can be when offered any kind of perceived “out.”

      Ain’t that the truth.

    • cecilia

      I read the gender neutrality a little differently. It read to me like he was emphasizing for the offending members and their sympathizers that the belittled members and those offended on their behalf (and I don’t think these were exclusively women), that the offended people are equal in their membership. In fact, if he’d stressed that those offended were women, it could have come across as “lady members”-type condescension.

  2. Las

    “I am aware that my apologies here will be taken any number of ways,”

    That one stunned me. It’s a preemptive dismissal of any criticisms.

  3. --E

    I have some slight sympathy for Scalzi, as he was coming late to the party off a signing tour, and perhaps not at his best. Or that he has to represent a lot of people. Being the leader of a diverse bunch of people can instill a reflexive diplomacy. It’s hard to make oneself go full slapdown on a group that you know will react viciously when you do (as contrasted with the group that will react loudly, but not viciously). The man’s in a rough spot.

    That said, this situation was so egregious, so stupid, and so blatant and disgusting, that being mealy-mouthed even the tiniest bit was an error. This was the time for unequivocal statements. This was the time for a clear message of “This shit is OVER. You are done. Get out and take your whining with you.”

    Jessica (above) is spot-on.

    • craniest

      I also have sympathy for Scalzi because he’s outgoing president and is trying not to leave the next one with the shit that happened on his watch. It would have been easy to just go “who, me?” and stall for a month but he didn’t.

      That being said, it will be interesting to see where the new administration takes this opportunity–any other direction but forward is unacceptable.

    • Natalie

      There’s this magical thing called delegation. It should have been used in this situation if Scalzi was too busy to make sure that the Bulletin wasn’t going to have gross sexism and racism in it.

      I definitely understand the rough spot he’s in with some of the entrenched folks who still see SFWA as their private club and not a professional organization for all writers of speculative fiction.

    • Jessica

      I think that word “entrenched” is perfect here. When you see an unwanted plant growing in your garden, you don’t assume it got there magically. A smart person realizes that somehow s/he allowed an environment to evolve in which that unwanted plant was allowed to stake its ground and live for a while. These problems of marginalization don’t arise ex nihilo. Just like that unwanted plant, they need a fertile environment. They need soil, they need space, they need sun and air. In short, they need cultivating, even if that cultivation happens unintentionally or via neglect. A good leader recognizes that these events are never merely the actions of a few bad apples, but that an organizational culture has been allowed to evolve which provides a common fertile ground for all kinds of seemingly isolated or unrelated incidents. Reading or not reading the bulletin isn’t even really the issue (although, yes, absolutely, I agree with Natalie that it should have been done, by the president or his designee). What’s needed, it seems to me after reading the many first person accounts of harassment and disempowerment by women in the SFF writer community (some of whom are this very minute facing threats of violence for sharing their stories), is – to switch to a third metaphor, which shows you why I could never be a writer myself — a good thorough excavation.

  4. IMSoP

    I’m glad your bank balance hasn’t suffered as a result, but I stopped by to point out something which would explain at least some of the bandwidth.

    Your scans of the Resnick & Malzberg column have been directly linked far and wide, and I’m sure everyone’s grateful to you for hosting them so we can see for ourselves what the fuss is about. Problem is, although the filenames end in “.jpg”, they’re actually Windows Bitmap files, completely uncompressed, weighing in at a hefty 3MB each.

    Saving them as actual JPEGs and re-uploading with the same filenames would make them less than a tenth of that, and make things a whole lot smoother for everyone, if you have the time. 🙂

    • Natalie

      Oh, that is an excellent point. /facepalm

      That’s what I get for working quickly.

  5. Trisha Lynn

    @IMSoP: That’s why in my commentary post, not only did I not hotlink to Natalie’s images, but I combined them as a .pdf on my site, and I hosted that .pdf on Scribd.
    Now, if Natalie re-uploads better scans, I may or may not have to re-combine/re-upload because there’s only so much I could probably get away with quoting in the name of journalistic fair use and criticism.

  6. Natalie

    @Trisha Lynn: And the funny thing is that I got them as a high-res PDF but my source wasn’t sure what information was embedded in the PDF re: their identity (and I’m not savvy enough in the ways of PDF to know where or how to look for that kind of information) so to be safe I took screenshots. And I completely forgot about Scribd as a place to host this sort of thing.

    Also, if I hadn’t been working late at night I would have taken the time to figure out how to disable hot-linking on the images, I honestly did not expect this to blow up in the way that it did. I’m a relatively obscure corner of the internet, after all.

    I did convert & re-upload as actual jpegs last night, though, so that issue is resolved.

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