One of the good things about these massive levels of fail is that they have been perpetrated by only a few people.
One of the bad things is that the scope of the problem isn’t only those few people.
Look at the hate mail female bloggers have been getting. Look at the commenters on news articles who say the outrage is “an overreaction” and deride it as being “the PC Police.” Look at the people who claim that we should engage in civil, calm discourse with those who call us fascists and subhuman.
Especially look at that last one. (It’s gone now, but I have a saved version here.)
I’ve been steaming about that essay since I saw it. In some ways, it’s made me far, far angrier than the Resnick/Malzberg piece or Beale’s vicious, nauseating hatred. After all, those pieces are so wrong, so outrageous, that it’s too easy to forget they shouldn’t be surprising, that they are emblematic of a much larger, more systemic problem. It’s easy to burn those pieces in effigy while retaining my faith in the greater SFF community.
Not so for this one.
Women, POC, and other marginalized people are constantly, constantly told to brush things off, to not make a stink, to be more “professional.” To the point at which every time someone is sexist or racist or homophobic or diminishing towards us, we question whether we should speak up. We question whether our own careers would suffer if we objected. More often than not, we swallow hard and opt for being polite. Ninety percent of the fucking time.
And then it takes people like Resnick and Malzberg and Theodore fucking Beale to make the community stand up in outrage and say no, no more, this is a problem, we won’t stand for it anymore—and we hear from people like Ann Aguirre and we wonder why all this hasn’t been addressed before, and a huge, huge part of the answer? Because everyone wanted to be so wonderfully civil.
And now that people are finally rising up; now that enough light is shining on the problem for some actual change to maybe, possibly, happen; now that potential allies are becoming aware of institutional bigotry that they were blind to before; now that the people who have faced professional dismissal over and over because of their race or sex are finally seeing a rally of support on their side—now Bryan Thomas Schmidt is saying, hang on, remember to treat the racists and misogynists with respect?!
To top it off, he also edges coyly around his temptation to keep a blacklist of people he finds too rude or unmannerly, hinting that the “young writers” speaking out are going to do damage to their careers.
You know what? I’m sick of hearing that speaking up about sexism or racism will damage someone’s career. I’m just sick of it. Does Schmidt not realize that women and POC live with that same Sword of Damocles every single time we open our mouths? Does it not occur to him that this threat always hovers in our minds, and when we take a public stand, we do so despite it? Does he think he is somehow revelatory in shaking his finger at us this way?
Not to mention, does he think the female bloggers who get death threats and rape threats for it are speaking out just to win an argument or to “have the last word?” Does he think POC engage in these issues to the point of exhaustion because we think it’s fun to act offended? To the people who are impacted by bigotry every day, whose professional careers are impacted by prejudice at every step, these issues are not academic. This is not debate club in the high school auditorium; this is people’s lives.
Let me tell you what this situation reminds me of:
A man sidles up to a woman, gets in her personal space, and gives her a cheesy pickup line about “lady editors.” The woman steps away from him and reasonably politely tells him she’s not interested and she doesn’t like his word choice. He then steps even closer, slings an arm around her, and whispers in her ear that she’s just like Barbie ’cause she’s got a “quiet dignity.” She pulls back from him and tells him to please stop, as he’s making her uncomfortable. He lets out a blood curdling-laugh and something about thought police, and dives at her, trying to tackle her and grab her boobs. And she punches him in the face.
And then Bryan Thomas Schmidt comes along and tells her she should really be more polite.
You know what I think? I think the world would be a better place if she had felt free to be less polite the first two times around. But she had a career to think of, doncha know. She wanted to be seen as a professional. Hence why it took the boob-grabbing of the collective women and allies in the SFF community to break out our online fisticuffs . . . and we’re still told to be more civil.
Being “nice” isn’t an isolated concept, one existing in a vacuum with Moral Value Positive. “Nice” isn’t always appropriate. In the wrong circumstances, “nice” can lead far too easily to “victim.”
The Resnick/Malzberg column and Beale’s racist tirade are appalling and execrable, but the SFF community is not going to be taken down by a handful of people who say viciously horrible things. It is easy to write off those men as outliers, as nonrepresentative—we can read what they have to say and still believe the community is generally good.
I find posts like Schmidt’s to be the far more insidious problem. Because his attitudes are what allow others to write off our rage. It is the people like him who would elevate bigotry to the level of discourse, who insist a situation has “two sides” to be debated when one of those sides is wearing a white hood. And he is far harder to write off as an outlier, because, on the surface, his “call for civility” is framed to sound so deceptively reasonable.
Schmidt says he wants to be a “community builder.” But I don’t want to live in his community. Instead, I want to be in a community that will take one look at the kind of sexism and racism in question and shun the people responsible. I want to see the community bury them. I want the community to stand up as a whole and say, “This type of rhetoric is not okay and we will not have it.” I don’t mean I’m in favor of “censorship” or that I’m trying to dictate people’s actions—what I mean by “I want this” is, This is the type of community I, personally, would want to align myself with. The type of community who would choose to fight back. The type of community that Does. Not. Hold. with these sorts of attacks.
For what it’s worth, I agree with Schmidt that ageism and illogical fallacies have no place in discourse. But anger does have a place—oh so much of a place. Loudness has a place. Incivility has a place.
Sometimes, to effect change, one cannot be well-behaved.
Edited to add: I had to take the morning to edit this, and in the meantime, Schmidt made his post private. That’s okay, because I saved it. I’m sure he won’t mind that I’m still linking to it, as he’s posted a rather patronizing statement saying he doesn’t regret posting it a bit.
Edited to add 2: Here’s an utterly fantastic response to Schmidt by the excellent Radish Reviews. Well worth a read.
- Can this stop? I’d much rather be blogging about math.↵
- Note that I’m talking about private communities I choose to respect and be a part of, not government legalities. Anyone who claims I am in favor of censorship in the legal sense clearly doesn’t know me, and will also have his or her comment deleted as a red herring.↵