Dear Mike Resnick, Barry Malzberg, and the SFWA for Giving You a Platform: Fuck You.

So, this thing happened.

Two issues ago, the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) had an article in their Bulletin that some people objected to because it showed a lack of respect for women writers and editors.  This was appropriately coupled with a chainmail-bikini-clad woman on the cover that even more people objected to. Because we’re not past that by now, yo.

Next issue, the Barbie thing happened.  You know, the article in the next SFWA Bulletin that said Barbie remains a role model and popular because “she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.” . . . Right.

Next came this issue.  This issue . . .

This issue, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg decided that the appropriate response to people criticizing their previous remarks as sexist is to throw a fucking shitfit about it.  They call the complainers “liberal fascists.”  They accuse people who call out sexism of demanding “censorship” and “suppression.”  They label such criticism “thought control,” they dismiss their critics as stupid and cowardly, and they imply that people objecting to their statements is tantamount to pushing a freedom-silencing dystopia a la Stalin and Mao.

I am not making this up.  I am not exaggerating.

Of course, Resnick and Malzberg, in spewing vitriol at those who dare to criticize them and in proclaiming that they should not be “silenced” or “suppressed” or “censored,” seem to have forgotten something very important about freedom of speech: The right to free speech does not equal the right to a platform.  They can have all the freedom of speech they want, but that is in no way equivalent to having the professional publication of a professional organization as their playground for bullying the members of that organization who don’t agree with them.  Freedom of speech does not guarantee them this.

Unfortunately, in this case they got it anyway.

Which brings me to: What the hell, SFWA?  Do you not have editors?  Did no one read this screed before you splashed all six pages across the publication that is supposed to represent you to your members and to the world?  How did no one look at this and say, “Uh . . . I don’t think we want this representing the SFWA.  I don’t think we even want to be associated with the people who wrote it.  Because I don’t think we want to kick a good number of our members in the face and then laugh about it.”  How did nobody say that?  And if someone did say it, how did nobody listen?

This article doesn’t even walk the line.  It’s filth.  It’s abusive, it’s dismissive, and it reeks of logical fallacy from every corner.

Please, go read it for yourself.  My descriptions can’t capture it: page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5 page 6 (credit Radish Reviews)

And now for some other reactions:

Dear SFWA  In which E. Catherine Tobler resigns her membership from the SFWA.  (A poignant letter and a good summary of events.)

Dear SFWA Writers: Let’s Talk About Censorship and Bullying  In which the excellent Kameron Hurley points out how just because the world no longer agrees with all your bigotry, that’s NOT CENSORSHIP.

Radish Reviews is where I gakked the above screenshots from; scroll down to the bottom of the linkspam to see quotes and commentary and the links to the full article.

SFWA — Housebreaking a Puppy or Abusive Relationship? Ursula Vernon compares the SFWA’s continued, repeated offenses to an abusive relationship. Because you don’t just let people get away with that shit; you walk out.

The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation An elegant logical takedown by Chris Gerwel.

SFWA Presdent John Scalzi takes responsibility and asks for people to contact him.  I think John Scalzi’s a good guy, so I’m going to refrain from sending him my thoughts for now, until the rage coheres into something more articulate.

Edited to add: Update about SFWA responses in my next post, here.

29 thoughts on “Dear Mike Resnick, Barry Malzberg, and the SFWA for Giving You a Platform: Fuck You.

  1. Chad

    I think this is all blown out of proportion. Too many people are too sensitive to things that aren’t really an issue. Maybe they are bothered because the image turns them on, and that makes them uncomfortable? I take a live and let live approach. If I don’t like the cover of a magazine, I don’t buy it. If I have a subscription, I reevaluate my decision to subscribe.

  2. slhuang Post author

    The original article wasn’t the main problem. Neither was the chainmail-bikini image. Or even the Barbie article. These provoked eye-rolling and facepalming when they happened, some snark, some complaints. If the response from Resnick/Malzberg/SFWA had been along the lines of, “Whoops, our bad, sorry folks” — or even if they had said nothing — the whole thing would have blown over.

    The outrage that’s happening right now is in response to their response to the criticism, linked above, in which they compare objectors to Stalin and Mao, call those who disagree with them fascists, and claim “anonymous protesters” (they make a big deal about the “anonymous” thing, which is provably untrue; see this post by Jim Hines) are out to “censor,” “silence,” and “suppress” them. All because a little murmuring of criticism about a column they wrote.

    It’s not the complainants who are being overly sensitive and overreacting, it’s Resnick and Malzberg. They responded to some civilized “I find this problematic” voices with six pages of name-calling and abuse, and they did it in SFWA’s official publication.

  3. slhuang Post author

    Oh, and I want to add — the “don’t like, don’t subscribe” approach is problematic here, because SFWA is the professional organization for SFF writers. It provides a lot of valuable services to SFF writers, perhaps the least of which include professional recognition and networking opportunities. Telling people who object to sexism “just not to be a member” of the professional organization in their field is not an acceptable solution.

  4. InMyBook

    I respect your right to an opinion, Chad, but I strongly disagree with you. While boycotting an offensive product is a positive step, people need to express their outrage regarding attitudes such as those expressed by Resnick and Malzberg in the SFWA publication. What they wrote is so inappropriate, especially in this day and age. Two generations ago when I was a girl, I might have expected it, but I was really shocked to see what they wrote in 2013. Negative social attitudes like this are what have kept females downtrodden through the ages. So much positive social change has taken place in America since I was a girl that I cannot imagine living through the 50’s and 60’s again. We need to keep the momentum going, and we must encourage radical change in cultures where women continue to be controlled, abused, and treated as subhuman objects by men.

  5. Chad

    The biggest problem I can see, is that none of it was written offensively, nor was it a “put this person in their place” response. Over sensitivity, and reaching out while searching for something to offend you is ridiculous. The biggest parts that most of you missed is that the editor of the publication is FEMALE. If she was offended by it, she didn’t have to run the responses or the original edition that has caused the initial uproar. Personally, and this is just my opinion, people have become too easily offended. Most of all, people who preach for tolerance, and ask for understanding. Now the question is; was their response out of line? That depends, I don’t feel that it was. It was a strike back at the political correctness that is causing so many different issues in our society where people are afraid to express what they feel. But that is part of the wonder of printed media; if you don’t like what something is telling you, or you take offense to it, don’t read it. You can turn the page instead of continuing to read something that makes you angry.

  6. InMyBook

    SL Huang just brought up an excellent point about science fiction writers not really being able to boycott their own professional organization and its publication without detriment to their own careers. I must say that I did more than just roll my eyes at seeing the Resnick/Malzberg article regarding female sci-fi writers and editors, however. The article by someone else and published by SFWA that touted the virtues of Barbie made me downright ill. It is so untrue and outrageous that I cannot imagine anyone even conceiving of those ideas. Barbie came out when I was a girl, and not only did I hate it then, I certainly did not uphold Barbie as a role model or acceptable toy for my daughters 3 decades later. And I find pictures such as the chainmail-bikini image upsetting because they perpetuate sexual objectification of women, and this hurts all females in society. The Resnick/Malzberg defensive, twisted response to the criticism left no doubt as to the cluelessness of these people. I have no respect.

  7. InMyBook

    This is not a case of political correctness run amuck and the Resnick/Malzberg response to it. If the articles and image people have taken exception to were totally innocent and not intended as being “offensive,” then that is even scarier. It is such ingrained attitudes that hurt people (females and minorities) so much. We have a right to read professional trade publications without feeling put down (thoughtlessly or otherwise) by our peers.

  8. Layla Lawlor

    Chad:

    But that is part of the wonder of printed media; if you don’t like what something is telling you, or you take offense to it, don’t read it. You can turn the page instead of continuing to read something that makes you angry.

    *cough* Exactly like Resnick and Malzberg did! … OH WAIT, THEY ACTUALLY DID THE OPPOSITE OF THAT.

    You know, there are a few different ways a person can gracefully respond to having their behavior criticized:
    – You can say, “Hmm, I think you have a point” and change your behavior accordingly.
    – You can say, “I respect your right to feel differently, but I stand by my actions.”
    – You can ignore your detractors and carry on with your head held high.

    Resnick and Malzberg, however, decided to go straight for Option D: wailing about censorship (and thus displaying complete ignorance of what the word actually means), comparing their critics to the regimes of Stalin and Mao (because being talked about on the Internet is absolutely the same thing as being oppressed by a dictatorship that killed millions of people!), flailing about “liberal fascists” (once again betraying their incomprehension of what these words mean, not to mention Godwining themselves), and basically behaving about as professionally as a pair of toddlers throwing a fit on the playground.

    And, as SL Huang and InMyBook have pointed out, this is a trade industry publication. It’s the professional face of the organization. Imagine this kind of personal shit-fit appearing in a publication sent out to automobile manufacturers, or going to a trade conference for veterinarians and having this be the keynote address. Because that’s what’s happening here.

    And in what way, exactly, are Resnick and Malzberg being “censored” or oppressed? The fact that their screed appeared in the SFWA’s professional publication proves the exact opposite: far from denying them a voice, the SFWA gave them a platform to reach all its members. Do you think that they will never publish another book again? Do you think the FBI’s special Thoughtcrimes Division is investigating them right now? I will pretty much lay you odds that the answer is “no” to both of these. People who throw around the word “censorship” are almost invariably people who have a platform to speak and can be reasonably confident that they are not in danger of losing it.

  9. Chad

    Normally, I would agree with you about not being able to boycott a professional publication. But in the words of one of my favorite authors, the Bulletin is “mostly focused on lauding and back-patting of its original membership, and repeating dated advice that was not as helpful in the current market as it once was.”

    What does that mean? Nobody reads it anymore anyway. All this big hoohah is about a publication that hasn’t been relevant to the industry in many years. That’s equivalent to someone complaining about what is written in the Enquirer. It’s irrelevant.

    Secondly, what did you expect? You are talking about two authors that have made a career out of offending people. SciFi/ Fantasy authors have done this exact thing since the beginning of the genre. How many people do you think Tolkien offended with his writings? Talking about elves and orcs. How many people were offended by C.S. Lewis alluding to Aslan being Jesus in a different form? Or even better, when Orwell wrote 1984? The list goes on and on. These people were famous for offending differing groups of people, and yet there is an outcry when you are the ones being offended too easily.

  10. Layla Lawlor

    Chad: I notice you’re not addressing my actual points and are instead choosing to counter with “No one reads it anyway” and “Everyone else in the industry is just as bad” … so I must assume you agree about Resnick and Malzberg’s poor behavior, or at least, can’t argue that it’s not a pretty dickish way to act.

    As for “Everyone else in the industry is just as bad”, while I disagree with the false equivalency you’re presenting here (writing about elves and orcs is equivalent in terms of misbehavior to comparing people who politely disagree with you to Stalin? Really?), I have to say that I do agree with this:

    Secondly, what did you expect? … SciFi/ Fantasy authors have done this exact thing since the beginning of the genre.

    You are absolutely right. I’m not surprised at all. (I only wish I was.) They have always done what Resnick and Malzberg did, and from the look of things, they are going to continue doing it well into the new millennium. Sci-fi and fantasy, for all its pretense of forward-thinking, is reactionary as hell. It was only 6 years ago that the vice president of the SFWA (who refused to have anything to do with computers himself) compared authors to “scabs” on a picket line for offering free samples of their work on the filthy Internets. A year before that, Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis’s breasts onstage at Worldcon. Meet the new SFWA, same as the old SFWA.

    Resnick and Malzberg seem to think of themselves as bold revolutionaries, waving the flag against the onrushing hordes of the PC police. Actually, they are reactionaries stuck in the 1950s, waving their arms wildly with unfounded accusations of CENSORSHIP! and FASCISM! while the world moves on around them, leaving them far behind along with the past they have chosen to hide in.

    You’re right that the SFWA is becoming increasingly irrelevant and obsolete, but it’s made itself so, through actions like this.

  11. slhuang Post author

    @Chad: Layla and InMyBook have already responded eloquently, so I won’t repeat their points. I will add that I’m confused that you seem to acknowledge this is a problem but object to other people calling it out. The world will never change for the better if everyone takes a, “Yeah it sucks, but what did you expect?” attitude; I’m baffled that just because you’ve resigned yourself to such attitudes means you think everyone else should, too.

    Also, women are not a hive mind (the thinking that they are is a perfect example of institutional sexism, in fact). Just because the editor of the Bulletin didn’t object to this article doesn’t mean that it isn’t sexist, or that other women, or other people, don’t object — strongly and loudly. See Foz Meadows’ writeup for more on this.

    And putting on the mod hat for a minute, please bear in mind the comment policy here. You’re welcome to your opinion, but please stop telling others we get “offended too easily” or are “overly sensitive.” That’s not helpful.

  12. Chad

    I wouldn’t say that others get offended too easily if in fact, people weren’t constantly looking for a reason to be offended. This being one of those instances. You ask if I agree with their actions? The answer is no. I do not. However, I also disagree with trying to dictate what is appropriate for all, simply because the few object or choose to be offended by it. Just as I object to an off color joke being referred to as sexual harassment when the “offended” party wasn’t even involved in the conversation. It’s simple, really. People, and especially authors, do not want people to dictate what they say or write about. Yet when it’s not something that you like, it is decried as offensive. So, for the record, I’m not defending their statements. I didn’t personally find them that bad. I am, however, defending the right of both the publication, and the authors to express their views. Much as Larry Flynt was vilified in the 80’s for Hustler magazine.

  13. Layla Lawlor

    Chad, here’s an example of the reason why people like SL Huang are talking about this. It’s a link I ran across today, in which author Ann Aguire talks about being dismissed, ignored, and otherwise treated badly on all-male panels at her first SFF cons … not in 1965, but in 2008. The comments Ann reposts at the bottom are particularly enlightening:

    http://www.annaguirre.com/archives/2013/06/02/this-week-in-sf/

    This isn’t the long-distant past, though it might sound like it. The convention she talks about happened within the last few years. The comments that she received after she posted this polite accounting of her own experiences, comments calling her a bitch and a “cunt who needs a good cocking”, happened today.

    This is what it’s like being a female sci-fi writer here and now, in 2013. Female bloggers, female video game players, and other women on the Internet tell the same story over and over, of the hate they receive, from threats of rape to threats of death. Over and over, on different blogs, different forums.

    I am certainly not accusing you of being like Ann’s commenters. But, when you tell people who speak up about sexism in SFF circles that we’re being oversensitive and “looking for a reason to be offended”, you’re enabling it. Ann Aguire is one of the people you’re discussing, when you talk about these oversensitive individuals who just need to stop complaining.

    When you say things like this:

    I wouldn’t say that others get offended too easily if in fact, people weren’t constantly looking for a reason to be offended. This being one of those instances.

    … you are, in essence, assuming the worst of people who bring up this kind of thing. And I’m just baffled: why would you do that? Is it really so hard to give other people the benefit of the doubt, and say “I know we see this differently, but I assume that you must have valid reasons for believing what you believe.”

    What you’re saying and assuming is the exact opposite of that. You’re saying, “I know your experiences better than you do. The pain you have experienced is not valid; you’re just looking for excuses to be offended.” You’re ascribing motivations to people you don’t know — and not just any motivations, but the worst possible motivations: that they are too malicious or too stupid to accurately interpret what they’re seeing and hearing. That they’re lying. That they’re foolish. That they’re completely mistaken and too stubborn or stupid to realize it.

    How do you know? And why would you do such a thing? At the very least, even if you disagree, is it really so hard to keep an open mind, give the benefit of the doubt, and think, “I don’t see it, personally, but she must have good reasons for believing that”, rather than jumping straight to the most condescending and dismissive possible explanation?

    Wouldn’t you want that done for you? … actually, hell, I just realized this in the course of typing this very long comment, but I AM doing it, right now, because you seem like a decent guy to me, someone who means well and might be open to a well-reasoned discussion. I’m not assuming the worst of you. I’m not thinking, “Chad must be a terrible, close-minded person who thinks that women are touchy idiots, impossible to have intellectual discussions with, and who basically considers me a piece of meat.” If I really thought that, I wouldn’t be writing out a long comment explaining my point of view; I’d basically just say “Fuck you” and be gone. And I don’t think that. You seem thoughtful and reasonable to me.

    But why, then, would you assume the worst of people who disagree with you, rather than giving us the benefit of the doubt and considering that we might have valid reasons — not “oversensitivity”, not “wanting to be offended” — for seeing different things than you see in Resnick and Malzberg’s editorial?

  14. slhuang Post author

    I just got home, and Layla already said pretty much *exactly* what I was intending to, including linking to Ann Aguirre’s post, which I was also going to do. (Thanks, Layla!)

    You can’t call these problems irrelevant when sexism is affecting people’s careers and day-to-day lives in such extreme ways. You can’t tell people they’re “looking to be offended” when this sort of sexism is only one manifestation of some really terrible shit that goes down for female writers. We’re not talking some curmudgeonly old gentlemen on their porch talking about the good ol’ days; we’re talking real-world, tangible, horrible things happening to people, caused by an attitude of which Resnick and Malzberg are a small and ugly part.

    Resnick and Malzberg’s thinking in this article is the same type of thinking that makes people feel it’s okay to send female bloggers death threats and rape threats (sometimes with maps of their homes and other personal details attached). The same type of thinking that makes male writers feel it’s okay to dismiss their female peers professionally. The same type of thinking that makes it actively harder for women to succeed as SFF writers. So no, we’re not looking for something to be offended by when we see this in the Bulletin. We’re already aware of a massive, terrible problem here, one that needs to be fought against, and we don’t think it’s okay when the official publication of the professional organization for SFF writers — you know, the one that’s supposed to look out for all its members — takes a stand on the wrong side.

    Because this isn’t happening in a vacuum. If it were, if Resnick and Malzberg were alien outliers, this would be much less of a problem. But there are enough people who are living the attitude the two of them espouse, right now, today, to make it a really big problem when a professional organization endorses it, when SFWA makes it implicitly okay for their members to talk that way while representing them. The sexism that still exists in SFF is not imagined or exaggerated; it is real, and if we don’t stand up and speak out against it when we see it, it will just keep happening.

  15. Rebecca

    I’m impressed with Scalzi’s response, and glad that the editor resigned, because wtf was she thinking, but I’m less than impressed that I’ve seen no sign of Resnick and Malzerg being held accountable by SFWA. Maybe something’s happening behind the scenes, but somehow I doubt it. I like that Scalzi is taking responsibility, but what about the idiots who actually wrote that drivel? Will SFWA continue to give them this platform?

  16. slhuang Post author

    Yeah, I’m waiting-and-seeing on that. I think their column in the Bulletin should be discontinued, certainly, and if it isn’t . . . well, they are welcome to write what they want on their own blogs, but why should SFWA members pay them to insult half the membership?

    Also, it would be nice to see some sort of public statement from one or both of Resnick/Malzberg, but it doesn’t look like any will be forthcoming (and actually, given that the column in question WAS their last public statement, maybe we don’t need another one!). Resnick’s daughter did write an interesting piece here — she doesn’t talk about her father or his column, really, but gives her perspective on sexism in SFF.

  17. Viola

    Bless you. Bless this post. And especially, bless this bit:

    The right to free speech does not equal the right to a platform.

    Yep, that’s the one!

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  25. Dan

    “The right to free speech does not equal the right to a platform.”

    Completely true.

    It is also completely true that the prigs who howl for narrowing free expression to suit their own tastes are doing serious damage to our culture.

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