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The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation

Anonymity

First things first: my name is Chris Gerwel, and I am not anonymous. The past several months have seen mounting controversy around The SFWA Bulletin, a quarterly trade publication published by SFWA (The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), a trade group representing writers of science fiction and fantasy. This controversy centers around the field’s ongoing examination of its relationship to gender, both in the field’s works (literary and visual) and in its published rhetoric.

I won’t go into the history of the controversy, which you can review for yourself here. Instead, I’m going to briefly suspend my blogging vacation to respond to Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg’s most recent salvo in the latest SFWA Bulletin. You can find their complete article at the bottom of this post from Radish Reviews (preceded by some good discussion of the article as well).

I have a huge problem with Resnick/Malzberg’s attitude. I consider it regressive, out-dated, and condescending. I am married to a “lady editor”, am friends with many more, and have great friendships with many “lady writers”. But I don’t think of them as “lady [anything]“. They are editors. They are writers. They are people. When I consider their work, I do exactly that: consider their work. Nothing else matters. Not their genders, not their sexualities, not their political views, and certainly not their appearances. When, in a professional context, we consider the work of plumbers, rocket scientists, and lawyers, it is the quality and characteristics of their work which are subject to our commentary. That focus on the work itself is precisely what “professional context” implies.

What Resnick and Malzberg have forgotten is that words matter. Images matter. They are what the world sees of our work, whether in our fiction or in our behavior. The criticism that has been leveled at the SFWA Bulletin’s gratuitous “warrior woman” cover (issue #200) is not that it is bad art, but rather that its old-fashioned and highly sexualized portrayal of its subject sends a regressive and out-dated message about the genre. Resnick and Malzberg’s dialogues are being criticized for the exact same failing: that to those in the field, and to those looking at the field from outside, their words communicate an attitude towards women that is condescending, dismissive, and not representative of the field.

In their most recent article, they make two spurious claims that are inaccurate, illogical, ignorant and ultimately irrelevant:

First, their critics are not anonymous as Resnick/Malzberg claim. That is a neat little rhetorical device to sideline detractors and to gain legitimacy through victimization. Unfortunately, it doesn’t pass the test of truth. Criticism of Resnick/Malzberg is happening online: in blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on (various) forums. Their critics are not anonymous in these venues: Our names are known and typically displayed alongside each Tweet, comment, or post. However, Resnick/Malzberg wouldn’t know that simply because they are not participating in the modern field’s discussions. Their laments about “anonymous complainers” are the logical equivalent of someone calling the civil rights movement anonymous simply because they had never ventured into Harlem. Their claim is factually incorrect, and does little more than call attention to Resnick/Malzberg’s willful ignorance of today’s field.

Second, no one is calling for their thoughts to be censored. Their bombastic claims of “censorship” and “liberal fascism” are demagoguery of the basest sort, and as someone who has personally seen the consequences of real censorship and whose family has suffered at the hands of actual fascism, I find their ignorant rhetoric extremely offensive. Kameron Hurley discusses this from a slightly different perspective very eloquently here, as well.

Nobody (that I have seen) is saying that Resnick/Malzberg cannot have or publish their views in whatever venue will take them. I’m reasonably certain that every one of their detractors would agree with Ben Franklin in saying “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” If Cantankerous Cane-thumpers Weekly is willing to give Resnick and Malzberg a platform, then I’m happy for them.

What people are saying, however, is that SFWA — an organization whose mission is to “inform[s], support[s], promote[s], defend[s] and advocate[s] for [authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres]” — should not give such regressive views a platform. That is not a call for censorship. That is a call for principle, and for the responsible fulfillment of SFWA’s fiduciary duty to ably represent and promote the interests of its membership.

Like it or not, the SFWA Bulletin is an official trade publication published by an organization representing science fiction and fantasy writers. It is one of that organization’s public voices. The words and images it contains matter. They send a message to current members, they send a message to potential members, and they send a message to future generations of writers about the values and priorities of our field.

I could criticize Resnick and Malzberg for their antediluvian attitudes until I was blue in the face. But it wouldn’t do any good. They will hold to their views, and I will hold to mine, and never the twain shall meet. But Resnick and Malzberg – and their values – are irrelevant for today’s field. The relevant question is whether such attitudes (whether espoused by Mike Resnick, Barry Malzberg, CJ Henderson, or anyone else) will benefit from the imprimatur of the field’s most significant organization.

This is a question of editorial policy, and it is one that should instead be directed at Jean Rabe (The SFWA Bulletin’s editor) and at SFWA’s Board. And it is in this that I see a light of hope: All of the SFWA board members I know are good, thoughtful, considerate, logical people. They have done and will continue to do excellent, often thankless, work on behalf of SFWA’s members and the field in general. And unlike Resnick/Malzberg, they are all active in that field’s modern forums of discussion and debate. The critics are not anonymous to them, and our concerns are being heard and listened to. In particular, I applaud Rachel Swirsky’s reasonable, considerate, respectful statements on Twitter today. I have every confidence that the SFWA Board will address these concerns in a thoughtful, considered manner.

This controversy may be considered yet another storm in a teacup, and no doubt it is. But to those of us who are either inside the teacup or hoping to board, it remains a tempest. To be clear, I am not yet a SFWA member. Some might say that fact invalidates my opinion. I disagree. I have long hoped to be a member, and I eagerly look forward to the day when I am eligible. I look forward to joining an organization that will inform me, support me, promote me, defend me, and advocate on my behalf. I hope to join an organization that will represent the kind of genre that I want to contribute to, one which has abandoned a pernicious history of discrimination and condescension.

Yes, the organization is facing a storm in a teacup. But this storm shall pass, and I have every confidence that SFWA’s Board will help the organization navigate the waves. It will take time, because such is the nature of organizations. But I genuinely believe that SFWA will get to a far better place, and it is because of that belief that my hope of joining has not wavered.

This fact notwithstanding, in the meantime, we should continue to condemn Resnick/Malzberg’s views, and we should continue to loudly proclaim:

Science Fiction and fantasy are enriched by all of our participants, regardless of gender, race, creed, sexuality, politics, eye color, hair length, or any other characteristic. Every writer and every editor deserves our respect and gratitude. Condescension and dismissal add nothing of value to the conversation, and merely show their adherents to have become irrelevant.

My name is Chris Gerwel, and I stand by these views.

90 Comments Post a comment
  1. So say we all.

    May 31, 2013
    • No, most vigorously, we do not all say so. I’ve criticized SFWA for many things during the many years I’ve been and not been (currently, not) a member, but I’ve always taken for granted the inclusive nature of The Forum. Calling for someone to make sure it only holds views of a particular sort is a call for an editor to become a censor. Gerwel considers that view progressive, but limiting speech is traditionally regressive, no matter what cause is cited when silencing others.

      It is true that no one has an obligation to provide anyone with a forum. But once a forum has been offered, removing it is censorship, regardless of the nature of those who withdraw the opportunity to speak. When Norman Finkelstein’s speech was canceled at Clark University, Sarah Wunsch, a representative of the ACLU wrote, “…the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship.”

      June 1, 2013
      • Will, I take your point, and in one sense you are definitely correct: the exercise of any editorial oversight (of any kind – even so much as the removal of a single punctuation mark) can be considered a limitation of one’s right to self-expression. While semantically that is true, I’m not sure how helpful such an observation is in this situation. Consider:

        (1) I’m not arguing (and I don’t think anyone here argues) for the removal of Mssrs. Resnick/Malzberg’s rights to the SFWA Forum (the discussion forums), to attend SFWA events, to participate in SFWA functions, etc. They – and anyone else – can and should be welcome in all such places, where they should be welcome and encouraged to voice their opinions loudly and proudly regardless of how distasteful they might be others. The focus here is on the SFWA Bulletin, and other official materials published by the organization.

        (2) However, SFWA as an organization has both the right and the responsibility (to its collective membership) to exercise editorial control over the materials which represent the organization. The exercise of such editorial control is in furtherance of the organization’s basic mission.

        (3) The complaints voiced about Resnick/Malzberg’s dialogues is that the attitudes articulated therein misrepresent the attitudes/values held by the organization’s broader membership. Presented as they are in the SFWA Bulletin, a reader can justifiably come to the conclusion that SFWA as an organization and its broader membership endorse the attitudes espoused in the R/M dialogues. It is this risk that the complainers seek to mitigate.

        (4) The easiest way to mitigate such a risk is to exercise the organization’s right to editorial oversight of their official publications. This can be done in a number of ways, most simply by rejecting such articles prior to publication.

        June 1, 2013
      • Having such a venue to express their views is a privilege, not an irrevocable right, something they seem to have forgotten. It is disingenuous to conflate censorship with basic editorial control. If they wish to continue to intentionally offend and marginalize a significant fraction of the SFWA membership and reinforce stereotypes about the SFF community, SFWA has a responsibilty to direct them to a new soapbox.

        June 1, 2013
      • Chris, I should probably add that I’m not defending Malzberg’s or Resnick’s politics. I’m a socialist, and I’m perhaps too proud of the fact that the feministsf wiki notes that I write strong women and people of color. I wouldn’t discuss these issues using language anything like theirs.

        That said, there’s a huge difference between allowing old people to speak of the past in the terms they know it and changing a semicolon. You’re asking for someone to vet the language they use. You’re asking for every writer in the Bulletin to “represent the attitudes/values held by the organization’s broader membership”. But a broad membership, by definition, has people who disagree about many things.

        And you did notice that their discussion piece or interview or whatever–it certainly wasn’t an essay–had a byline? That’s who should be held responsible for what’s expressed in what follows.

        Arclight, the line between censor and editor may be messy, but it exists. A magazine devoted to Democrats, for example, would not be faulted for excluding socialists and conservative capitalists. SFWA’s Bulletin has been a magazine for f&sf writers. Whatever you may think of their work, Malzberg and Resnick have a long history as f&sf writers. Dictating how they should discuss the field they’ve known for so long would cross from editorial guidance to censorship.

        June 1, 2013
      • Will, You definitely have a point, and from a philosophical standpoint it is quite defensible. As I understand it:

        (1) Resnick/Malzberg are independent actors who are (and should be held) responsible for their own words. That the terms of their rhetoric are out-dated and considered by many to be unacceptable/offensive is on them.

        (2) SFWA is also an independent actor, and can and should be held responsible for its editorial choices.

        (3) Just because SFWA publishes a piece does not constitute an endorsement of the positions, attitudes, or rhetoric such a piece espouses.

        In general, I agree with the three points above. However, from a practical perspective there are some consequential factors:

        (1) While an ideal reader can and will understand the moral consequences of (3) above, many will misconstrue publication for endorsement.

        (2) Were publication to be misconstrued for endorsement, this may negatively harm public perception of SFWA and it’s constituents.

        (3) As an independent actor making choices in its own interests (which in turn are the interests of its broad stakeholders, including as you rightly point out those with controversial views), SFWA has the right to choose what to publish and how to do so.

        (4) I do not think that SFWA should withdraw Resnick/Malzberg’s dialogue. However, I do believe that the organization has the right and obligation to curate what it publishes in the future. And in my opinion, giving a platform to such attitudes is not helpful for SFWA or its members.

        (5) As Barath points out, there are other ways than simply rejecting such articles outright. Personally, I prefer rejection to a disclaimer for its unambiguous clarity, but that is a question of editorial approach. Both are defensible solutions in my mind, and the choice between them is one of editorial strategy and judgement.

        June 1, 2013
      • Jon Marcus #

        Will, are you replying to Chris, or conflating his statement with others out there? I didn’t see anything in what he wrote that could be viewed as “calling for something to make sure it [The Forum] only holds views of a particular sort” or withdrawing the forum.

        Is someone suggesting “withdrawing” an issue of the SFWA bulletin? That does seem over the top. But if that is the case you should be responding to them, not Chris Grewel.

        Or are you saying that because Resnick and Malzberg have been given a forum in the past, they deserve one in perpetuity?

        June 1, 2013
      • Jon, I was referencing this: “The complaints voiced about Resnick/Malzberg’s dialogues is that the attitudes articulated therein misrepresent the attitudes/values held by the organization’s broader membership. Presented as they are in the SFWA Bulletin, a reader can justifiably come to the conclusion that SFWA as an organization and its broader membership endorse the attitudes espoused in the R/M dialogues.”

        No, I don’t think anyone’s entitled to a forum forever. But I don’t think anyone should have their forum canceled over political disagreements about how to talk about the accomplishments of women*. Cancel their column for being irrelevant, and I’d shrug. Like most of the people discussing this, I haven’t been reading their part of the Bulletin.

        Oh, by “withdraw”, I meant withdrawing their column, not withdrawing an issue.

        * Did they suggest Bea Mahaffey was incompetent, or that women were?

        June 1, 2013
      • Barath #

        “The easiest way to mitigate such a risk is to exercise the organization’s right to editorial oversight of their official publications.”

        Chris, this is the most pernicious way. I’d rather run the risk of having something I disagree with published, than ensure that only the stuff I agree with gets published.

        It would be so much easier to just run a disclaimer : “The opinions mentioned herein are those of the writers and not of the organization”

        June 1, 2013
      • Barath, You have a point. Publishing the pieces with a prominent disclaimer is a valid way of addressing the concerns. Is it the best way? That’s a judgment call on which reasonable people can disagree. It is also a judgement call which will by necessity vary from article to article, depending on the content in question. This falls under editorial prerogative, and the editor’s choices will naturally be subject to criticism and second-guessing after the fact. The criticisms/complaints voiced about the SFWA Bulletin point to a faulty editorial approach to such controversial content. That approach will likely change, and still be subject to further criticisms. That’s the nature of the process and the medium.

        June 1, 2013
      • Chris, I think it’s time to agree to disagree here. I’ll just add that if this shakes up The Bulletin, it could be a good thing, because the magazine’s been in a rut for decades. I’ve long thought it should be cancelled, but it could also be improved. I would say more, but Emma’s planning to write something about this on her LJ, and she’ll prob’ly say it better than I could.

        June 1, 2013
      • No worries, Will! I agree that a shake-up at The Bulletin is very necessary, however it plays out. I’m looking forward to reading Emma’s thoughts!

        June 1, 2013
      • I disagree. The government is not hindering these individuals from expressing their thoughts They are welcome to get up on a soap box, or blog away. That’s the legally defended “Free Speech”. An organization has 100% the right to “censor” their public materials, to ensure the face they present to their membership and the public is in keeping with their philosophy. They are under no obligation to provide a sounding board to every member/individual who wishes to use their resources. None. And that doesn’t violate free speech in the least.

        The fact that SFWA published these individuals’ articles tarnishes the organization in the eyes of all, who now believe they condone the opinions expressed there.

        Sorry but my Corporate HR background is rearing it’s head.

        June 4, 2013
      • Debra, censorship and free speech are not restricted to what’s legal. I go with the ACLU’s definition, which you can find here: http://www.aclu.org/free-speech/what-censorship

        What’s legal and what’s right are often at odds.

        June 4, 2013
      • That only begs the question, is it only censorship if the content is forbidden because it’s offensive? What if it’s forbidden for any number of other reasons? Seems like that’s the core definition of what an editor does — decide what to publish and what not to publish. If said editor thinks his/her audience won’t like something, they reject it. Otherwise they wouldn’t be an editor, they’d be a printer.

        June 4, 2013
      • The editor made the call: she wanted to have a dialogue about this, as Hines’ article indicates. But now she and SFWA are being pressured about it.

        I’m not sure that “offensive” is a useful term. There’s nothing that won’t offend someone. Members of the internet’s rage culture get a rush from being offended. The question is whether offended people have a right to say, “I’m offended!” and silence their targets.

        You might google Stephen Fry’s comments on being offended.

        June 4, 2013
      • Will, I would definitely not call the women I’ve seen offended by this part of the “Internet Rage Culture”, as you put it. They are intelligent, established professionals in the industry, and some of them I know on Codex. If they’re offended, I believe it’s for a good reason, and I think they would be doubly offended at their reactions being belittled in such a way. It’s one thing to argue in favor of not blotting out the content that offended them, it’s another to imply their reactions are wrong and the offending content was right.

        June 4, 2013
      • Then what do you think of Felicity Savage or Jean Rabe or Deborah Ross or any of the women who have said they have not taken umbrage at R&M’s reminiscences? One of the things I find a bit odd in this discussion is the number of people who have decided they speak for all women.

        June 4, 2013
      • Hey, that’s no problem for me. The reaction is up to the reactor. I only even started posting on these threads when I saw people going as far as belittling the women who were offended for wanting to leave. As for speaking for them, I did mention on my own blog that there were more SFWA-established people who could probably do a better job of speaking for them than me, since at the moment I’m just a neo-pro outsider. I guess I can’t help saying what I can, little as it may be.

        June 4, 2013
      • Of course people react differently. But does that make them right? For example, there are people who are so upset by “the n-word” (a phrase I hate when discussing the effects of the word, but I don’t know Gerwel’s policy on censoring speech on this blog, so I’ll use it) that they want to ban Huckleberry Finn. Does this make them right? Why should one person’s reactions trump another’s in matters of speech?

        June 4, 2013
      • Will – FWIW, you can find my comment moderation policy here. The short version is: Keep it civil. Keep it respectful. I decide where that line falls on a case-by-case basis using my subjective judgment.

        June 4, 2013
      • Ah. When I was young and involved in civil rights, I was beaten by racists and called a nigger-lover. Some people say I should use a euphemism when talking about that. I think euphemisms distort narratives, so I avoid them–except around children, not because I don’t think children don’t know the words, but because I don’t want to upset their parents.

        June 4, 2013
      • Context matters. Your comment above about getting beaten and the use of euphemisms is civil and respectful, and so I let it stand. I happen to believe that the use of euphemisms like “the N-word” is itself a sign of respect, an acknowledgment of privilege, so I’m partial to its use myself. My priority here is to keep discussions reasonable, civil, and on-topic. Judicious word choice can be very helpful in that regard, particularly when discussing hot-button issues like sexism and racism.

        June 4, 2013
      • It doesn’t make them right or wrong — I thought that was what we were going for here. But if we’re taking this in the direction of personal opinions, In that case, I would judge how the word was used more than the fact that it appeared.

        June 4, 2013
  2. great article, especially as I am also one who wants one day to be pro enough to qualify for membership…

    but this:

    Ben Franklin in saying “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    it’s not Franklin, it’s most frequently attributed to Voltaire, but even that attribution is in question. It’s one of those “did he say it or not” things.

    Keep up the good writing.

    May 31, 2013
    • I stand corrected. :) When I get annoyed I fail to check my quote attribution, so I do appreciate it.

      Glad you enjoyed the post, too!

      May 31, 2013
    • Actually, it’s well attested: it’s from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s biography of Voltaire. From Wikipedia:

      The most oft-cited Voltaire quotation is apocryphal. He is incorrectly credited with writing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire’s attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l’esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Her interpretation does capture the spirit of Voltaire’s attitude towards Helvetius; it had been said Hall’s summary was inspired by a quotation found in a 1770 Voltaire letter to an Abbot le Roche, in which he was reported to have said, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”[30] Nevertheless, scholars believe there must have again been misinterpretation, as the letter does not seem to contain any such quote.

      May 31, 2013
      • please read what you just pasted in: the article says a) it’s apocryphal b) he’s incorrectly credited with saying it c) a biographer wrote it d) she meant to paraphrase him but wrote it first person e) she is alleged to have been inspired by a similar quote in a letter that f) apparently contains no such similar quote.

        May 31, 2013
      • Georges #

        For the attribution to Voltaire see: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2911066

        June 3, 2013
    • telzey #

      Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote it as an encapsulation of Voltaire’s beliefs in the biography she wrote about him. Except she wrote “I *disapprove* of what you have to say, etc.”

      I always thought “I may or may not agree” was a very American slant to put on the quote. ;)

      July 7, 2013
  3. Very fine, pointed, and finely pointed response. You’re awesome. :)

    May 31, 2013
    • Thanks! :-D

      May 31, 2013
  4. It’s like watching ripples on a lake, after a rock has been thrown in. That’s my zen answer and I’m sticking to it.

    May 31, 2013
    • Nothing wrong with taking a posture of Zen serenity. Wish I had the intestinal fortitude to do so, but that article just sat poorly with me.

      May 31, 2013
      • Well, I am not a SFWA member (nor do I expect to ever be), I was on Nebula Weekend 2013 staff, and I know and trust many of the people inside the organization who are attempting to address this. It’s an odd semi-connect.

        May 31, 2013
      • I’m not a SFWA member myself, though one day I hope to be. I’ve met plenty of SFWA folk through my (limited) con-going experiences, through my involvement with Viable Paradise, and through the Internet in general. In each case, I’ve found SFWA’s leadership and membership to be respectful, engaged, thoughtful, and reasonable. Which is partly why the disconnect w/some of the Bulletin’s content rankles, and more importantly why I’m confident that the organization will respond to the controversy with respect, consideration, and reason (even if it takes time to do so – such is the nature of organizations).

        May 31, 2013
  5. merriank #

    The push back against critics of Resnick/Malzberg’s views by CJ Henderson that women should be silent and dignified like Barbie (the doll) rather than whores like the Bratz dolls is so insane but also ipso facto highlights with the power of a thousand fiery suns the actual meaning of Resnick/Malzberg’s views.

    June 1, 2013
    • Absolutely. Just adds fuel to the fire.

      June 1, 2013
  6. This is one of the best posts I’ve seen on the subject. Thank you, Chris. And especially good on you for linking to Hurley, who wrote my other favorite post. The two of you together hit different notes, but in harmony.

    Also, I would like to add that there are SFWA members who specifically believe that your non-membership DOES invalidate your opinion, and they are the scariest of scary, bat-infested, haunted assholes. An organization that runs on dues cannot continue to run at all without new members. You are a potential dues-paying member, and for anyone to dismiss that is a travesty. If you do come under fire for commenting when you’re not a member, please ignore their ignorant griping.

    June 1, 2013
    • Thanks, Cory! You’re absolutely right that a dues-based organization needs new members to keep running. I’ve heard that there remain some nutbars in the membership, and so I was a little nervous before posting that I’d get flak of the “Who are you to have opinions” variety, but I’m actually really grateful for the positive response I’ve gotten.

      Everyone who has commented here, on Twitter, or in e-mail has been awesome, and that just strengthens my belief that (a) as a genre, we’re better than this, and (b) that SFWA as an organization can and will do better.

      June 1, 2013
  7. And just when I was thinking of rejoining SFWA.

    June 1, 2013
  8. I definitely will not be joining SFWA. Why would I put my hard-earned money into a writers’ organization still debating on whether I should be treated like a writer? The men commenting here that not accepting sexist articles for their magazine is censorship just solidified my position. I’d be PAYING for this magazine/membership in the hopes of furthering my career. Not to be insulted. Really, nobody saw this as a problem? And not allowing these two hidebound idiots further forum in the organization’s self-proclaimed voice of the membership, when they’ve blathered on to the point that they couldn’t possibly come up with more degrading opinions and offered nothing useful to their readers, is censorship rather than common sense? Hell, why not ask them for discourse on Mexican sci fi writers? That sounds like genius, doesn’t it? Then we can move to African-Americans and you know, just let them keep going. Get the opinions of the membership out there for all to see. Bemoan the loss of white privilege properly.

    June 2, 2013
    • Kate – Fair enough. The Resnick/Malzberg/Bulletin mess aside, SFWA does some very good work on behalf of SF/F authors: the Nebulas, Writer’s Beware, and the Emergency Medical Fund are only some high-profile examples. Behind the scenes, SFWA officers do a heck of a lot of work interfacing with publishers on behalf of authors (recent examples include the Nightshade mess). The impression I have of the organization is that it is truly a force for good on behalf of its authors – regardless of their gender, background, etc. The fact that this good work can be overshadowed by the Bulletin and Resnick/Malzberg’s out-dated and offensive attitudes is truly a tragedy.

      For myself, I still hope to join SFWA when I am eligible – mainly because I think that Resnick/Malzberg and their ilk are in a minority within the organization, and that the organization will fix the evident problems in their oversight/handling of The Bulletin. SFWA has responded quickly to this latest round of criticism, and have already announced a task force with a team that I’ve always found to be reasonable, responsible, and respectful. I’m hopeful that they’ll find a way to improve The Bulletin’s editorial oversight, and make the organization publicly appear as truly welcoming, respectful and helpful as I’ve been given to understand it truly is.

      June 2, 2013
    • Though I let my membership lapse, I’m rather proud to have been a member of a group that included Octavia Butler.

      And I find it a bit odd that people are focusing on one article in the Bulletin by a couple of old guys reminiscing about the old days and ignoring articles in the same issue like Jim C. Hines’ “Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People.”

      A truly diverse group has diversity of opinion.

      June 2, 2013
  9. Chris, you wrote:

    “What people are saying, however, is that SFWA — an organization whose mission is to “inform[s], support[s], promote[s], defend[s] and advocate[s] for [authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres]” — should not give such regressive views a platform.”

    If this is what people are saying, then said people are in effect calling for SFWA to adopt an ideological agenda and conform its publications to that agenda. (*Their* agenda, it goes without saying.)

    The censorship issue is a red herring. So are arguments over whether this phrase or that cover was offensive and if so to whom. The real scandal here is that certain ideologues are seeking to use this incident as an excuse to hijack SFWA and convert it into a platform for views *they* favor.

    This is an organization founded as a big-tent advocate for professional writers. For it to privilege “progressive” views over “regressive” ones, or indeed the other way round, would be a egregious breach of its mission.

    And why, anyway? Why should SFWA politicize the editorial policies of its Bulletin? Quoting you: so as not to send “a regressive and out-dated message about the genre”? So as not to “communicate an attitude towards women that is condescending, dismissive, and not representative of the field”? Oh lawks, yes, let us purge ourselves hastily of attitudes that someone, somewhere, might judge to be insufficiently right-on. This is the essence of self-censorship, Chris, and I’m surprised that you can suggest it with a straight face (that is, you may have been grinning evilly as you typed this post; but its tone does convey a certain straight-facedness …).

    For what it’s worth, I read Resnick and Malzberg’s dialogue and found it mellow, endearing, and rather more generous towards humankind than anything their critics have said.

    June 3, 2013
    • Felicity – I take your point that SFWA should provide a broad-tent platform to air the views of its diverse membership. This is a principled view, and one which I find completely defensible. However, at the heart of this issue are two questions: (1) Should SFWA give views which many find offensive a platform? and (2) If SFWA should do so, how should this be done to maintain/further SFWA’s mission?

      To the first question, saying that SFWA should lend its platform to all views, however offensive, is philosophically defensible. Nevertheless, I disagree with it. The SFWA Bulletin is a professional trade publication. The standards of acceptable professional behavior are changeable in time. What was acceptable 30 years ago is not the same as what is acceptable today, and what is acceptable today will not be the same as what will be acceptable 30 years hence. It is the editor’s job to uphold the magazine’s professionalism. When you strip away the emotions and offense elicited by Resnick/Malzberg’s Dialogues (and The Bulletin’s earlier cover, and the CJ Henderson “Barbie” piece, etc.), the criticism leveled against Resnick/Malzberg and the Bulletin is that it is unprofessional.

      There are several reasons for calling it unprofessional. At the textual level, and before we even get to the “offensiveness” of their article, Resnick/Malzberg’s most recent dialogues is rife with logical fallacies and inaccuracies of fact which should not stand in a professional publication. To whit and from memory: the claims that critics are anonymous (demonstrably untrue) and the statement that 97% of African tribes have the gender politics of the Kikuyu (demonstrably untrue) should have been caught by the editor and the authors should have been asked to revise.

      Beyond the textual level, I find the gender-oriented condescension articulated in the current and preceding Dialogues falls short of modern standards of “professional conduct”. Resnick/Malzberg’s age, their stature in the field, the fact that in their youth professional standards were different, etc. are no excuse: it is the editor’s responsibility to ensure articles in The Bulletin are up to snuff. Jean Rabe could have done so (and could have done so on numerous occaisions in the past), but failed. She could have paid them a kill fee and pulled the article (as Mary Robinette Kowal suggests here) or she could have returned the article to them for revision (as Laura Anne Gilman suggests here). She chose to do neither.

      And in this case, that is the true failure.

      Reasonable people can disagree on the first question. As I said, your view is very defensible, even if I disagree with it. However, even if I were to grant that SFWA should give air to offensive views, there remains the question of how this should be done. This is a question both of editorial coordination across articles selected for The Bulletin, and of visual design within each issue itself.

      As it stands, Resnick/Malzberg were given a column (articles repeating over time), their column is composed as a dialogue between two individuals (lending it still more authority), in addition to which CJ Henderson was given his piece, and the “warrior woman cover” was published without any context or comment. The “opposing set of attitudes” was given one article in the form of Jim C. Hines’ essay in the latest Bulletin, which was separate from the Resnick/Malzberg Dialogue both in terms of its placement within the issue and in terms of its content. As I recall, neither the Hines piece nor the Resnick/Malzberg columns were signposted as opinion pieces divorced from SFWA’s official views.

      This editorial approach to presenting controversial subject matter is flawed on several levels, precisely because it leads to ambiguity about organizational endorsement.

      I agree wholeheartedly with you that The Bulletin should allow for diverse viewpoints, particularly those that are controversial. However, I do not think that “controversial viewpoints” should have carte blanche and be free of editorial oversight. I do believe that professionalism matters, and that the editor has a responsibility to maintain the magazine’s professionalism. I think that the task force SFWA has put together understands these issues from both sides of the debate, and I’m confident that they’ll be able to find an approach that balances the need for diversity in opinion with professional presentation.

      Will there be articles in The Bulletin that I disagree with? I fervently hope so! But I hope that they will be written to professional standards and framed/presented in a responsible fashion.

      June 3, 2013
    • “For what it’s worth, I read Resnick and Malzberg’s dialogue and found it mellow, endearing, and rather more generous towards humankind than anything their critics have said.”
      Including the part about Barbie and how proper women should be quiet and dignified? Just trying to make sure I understood this clearly.

      June 3, 2013
      • FWIW, I believe it was CJ Henderson who wrote those words about Barbie back in The Bulletin issue #201. I quickly just glanced at Resnick/Malzberg’s most recent Dialogue (here) and didn’t find any mention of Barbie or dignity. I believe Resnick/Malzberg’s most recent Dialogue was a response to criticism of both their earlier dialogues (in #200) and CJ Henderson’s piece in #201.

        June 3, 2013
      • Vee #

        Because Barbie is the epitome of a lady!

        Gotta love her, old trout, such a Marvel in disguise.

        June 4, 2013
      • Chris is correct: there were no mentions of Barbie or “proper women” and their dignity in the dialogue I read, which was the one Chris linked to in his essay.

        Responding again to Chris: when you frame your stance in terms of professionalism it becomes more palatable, but I don’t think it shifts the grounds of the debate. Logical fallacies and factual inaccuracies–root ‘em out with the ardor of a wild hog! I’m all for this. If the SFWA Bulletin editor is failing in this respect she is being unprofessional and ought to pull her socks up.

        But when you define professionalism to exclude such nebulous tendencies as “gender-oriented condescension”–as perceived by *some,* mind you, not all!–then “professionalism” becomes just another way of smuggling in an ideological agenda, and we’re back to the question: whose agenda? There does not exist a single, clearly defined set of views that everyone in SFWA will deem appropriate and professional in today’s society. And that is why the Bulletin’s editorial policy has no business excluding any views, however defined.

        It ought of course to make a deliberate effort to include opinions from a representational cross-section of the membership–which is something quite different. And a standard disclaimer printed with every article to the effect that “these are not the official views of SFWA,” as someone suggested above, would probably be a good idea.

        I do appreciate the opportunity to have this debate! Thank you for hosting it, Chris, and for being so civil. Ditto to all the other commenters.

        June 4, 2013
      • Felicity – No problem! I think this is an important issue, and I always think civility is the key to any reasonable discussion – especially if I don’t agree with folks.

        The issue really is one of editorial standards: who defines them, by what process, who applies them, using what techniques, and with what (if any) redress. Right now, SFWA and The Bulletin are relatively ambiguous on all of those points (at least from where I stand – perhaps if I were to sit in on SFWA business meetings I’d have a different understanding).

        “Professionalism” is a moving target: professional conduct of 30 years ago is not identical to professional conduct today, and today’s professional conduct will be different from the professional conduct of the future. Furthermore, the field is not a monolith and what one publication/editor deems “professional conduct” will not match the judgment of another publication/editor.

        Standards of behavior in a social context (at the bar, on Twitter, in an online forum, etc.) are a social construct, an emergent characteristic from our personal and often idiosyncratic values. The standards of behavior in an official context (on a panel, in a publication, etc.) are a refinement of that social construct arbitrated by the moderator/editor.

        Ultimately, SFWA’s members have control over the identity of the Bulletin’s editor and their editorial mandate, although that control is mediated by SFWA’s governance structure (by-laws, elected Board, etc.). You and Will do have a good point: The organization does have a moral responsibility to acknowledge the diverse (and often conflicting) viewpoints of its membership. However, there is a difference between acknowledging a viewpoint and giving its adherents rhetorical carte blanche.

        Considering the fact that SFWA’s members are all writers, it strikes me as reasonable to expect The Bulletin’s editor to make sure that articles are at the least factually accurate and logically constructed. The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues fail even this most basic test. Had Jean Rabe asked Resnick/Malzberg to revise for factual accuracy and basic logic, would their most recent Dialogue have been as offensive? Maybe, but I strongly suspect its venom would have been heavily diluted.

        Furthermore, the editor has a variety of tools at her disposal to appropriately frame controversial views. Whether it is through the rejection of unprofessional articles outright, or the management of the overall TOC (through a more balanced presentation of opposing viewpoints – I would argue that the inclusion of the Hines piece was not enough balance), or through the appropriate signposting of opinion pieces and the disavowal of organizational endorsement, or the magazine’s visual design/layout, there are many ways to present controversial material without giving it the imprimatur of the organization.

        These are all arrows in the editor’s quiver, and knowing when and how to use all of them is the hallmark of a professional editorial approach.

        Do I fault Resnick/Malzberg for being unprofessional? Yes. I think their rhetoric and the stance they took is unprofessional and offensive. But their unprofessionalism is only part of the story, and it is a consequence of what I consider a sub-standard editorial approach. The framework and processes for defining, articulating, and applying The Bulletin’s editorial standards are – I think – the principle challenge facing SFWA’s task force.

        To be clear, I don’t want a trade publication that is unwilling to be controversial. I think that even with a clear editorial mandate the editor will still run afoul of the “standards” from time to time (or at least they should, if they are doing their job and fostering debate). But by ensuring that there is an appropriate and generally accepted framework, the level of discourse will be improved. Right now, that framework is missing, and high drama ensues.

        June 4, 2013
  10. Thanks for this. I’m a prospective SFWA member who is eligible to join but hasn’t yet pulled the trigger, and this incident has given me some pause. Your analysis is extremely to me in evaluating whether SFWA membership is as worthwhile as we always considered it to be. The real test will be what they do next, in response to valid and well-expressed criticism. Where will they place the balance between respect for the old guard and greater tolerance for and broadening of the genre writing community? I’ll be watching to find out!

    June 3, 2013
    • The real test will be what they do next, in response valid and well-expressed criticism. Where will they place the balance between respect for the old guard and greater tolerance for and broadening of the genre writing community?

      Well said! This is precisely the question. So far, I think that SFWA’s response has been excellent: prompt, responsible, responsive, and respectful. I’m looking forward to seeing what the task force ultimately determines.

      June 3, 2013
  11. Vee #

    Well, all I have to say is:

    Dirty Old Men

    Silk skin of youth tempts camera lens trembling in hands of wrinkled men primped in peacock fashion trends as they sit, a gaggle of insatiable friends, with a sly rocking motion of shrinking pens working to produce stiffer nether regions, fantasying they are Barbie’s Ken.

    #

    You need to work harder, Resnick/Malzberg/CJ Henderson if you wish to attain ‘Ken’ status however a D- for effort.

    June 3, 2013
  12. Vee #

    Freedom of speech does not include the right:

    1) To incite actions that would harm others

    Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).

    2)To make or distribute obscene materials.

    Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 (1957).

    #

    Funny, this ‘freedom of speech’ lark.

    You see, I’m kinda thinking humans should have enough common sense (if not decency) to want to police themselves which simply means that although I am sure everyone has a certain right to express their thoughts in whichever way they see fit, not one has the right to impinge their viewpoint on another, especially if these views act as a form of propaganda,and although one issue of SFWA’s publication (chain-mail babe) could be deemed ‘harmless, what has been printed since makes a totally different statement.

    June 4, 2013
    • Vee, argue with the ACLU, not me.

      Though I must say it’s odd to hear you speak of common respect after your initial comment here.

      June 4, 2013
      • Vee #

        Hi, Will,

        Not sure how you construed my responses, to the idea (proffered in the comments) that anyone objecting against something wrong is considered an infraction of free speech, as an argument with you.

        However I thank you for your critique on my views about respect due to my posting a small piece of satire in parody of Henderson/Resnick/Malzberg’s contributions in SFWA’s last few Bulletins.

        June 4, 2013
      • Apologies. I didn’t mean to imply that I thought you thought I was the only person who agrees with the ACLU that non-governmental censorship is not forbidden by the First Amendment, but is still unethical. I only meant to point out that the ACLU and others disagree strongly with the people who make your argument.

        June 4, 2013
  13. Vee #

    Now if one is to think about the right to free speech while not having the right to impinge a viewpoint on others, then look to the law as this is what governs the contradiction of what seems to be misconstrued as an unequivocal right to freedom of speech when in reality it is a right with certain conditions, one of which I feel has more to do with ethics and common respect.

    June 4, 2013
  14. Vee #

    Apology accepted, Will. :-)

    By the way, I noted your use of Stephen Fry’s quote, wasn’t that about the phrase ‘I am offended by that’ rather than about an actual offence?

    June 4, 2013
    • I assume the people who said they were offended had something in mind. I just did a new blog post which includes a quote from Salman Rushdie I really like: “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

      June 5, 2013
      • Vee #

        I read it, Will, good post. Can’t comment there as I like my privacy and google plus wants too much info before commenting. Seeing as it ties into the SFWA affair: if freedom of speech is really where its at, why do civil rights fight for people who are injured by ‘fighting talk’? That’s censorship. Relying on law to stop comments considered injurious (i.e. sexist/racist etc) is no different to censorship, cannot have it both ways.

        June 5, 2013
      • Thanks!

        But I’m not sure I understand your question. Traditional civil rights workers want free speech for everyone. One of the odd developments of the last forty years is that many leftists have abandoned free speech and many conservatives have embraced it, but free speech has always had supporters on the left and right.

        Do you have an example of a “civil rights fight for people who are injured by ‘fighting talk’”?

        June 5, 2013
      • Vee #

        Civil rights, human rights, equality rights – all tie in and are fundamentally equal in that they fight for liberty. Every time there is a court hearing regarding issues such as harassment, sexist/racist behaviour, etc it becomes an issue on both sides for the right to freely express what is on one’s mind, if not by action.

        In a scenario where freedom of speech is exactly that, an employer could invoke the right to say exactly what he wants no matter how it affects his employees.

        Say for example he keeps airing his views that 97% of the male population are just like a Ken doll that maintains a quiet dignity as a man should.

        Puts up posters of men in tight swimming trunks and says his gentlemen employees look good in swimming shorts but looked better in those swimming shorts when they were younger, then goes on to say to those that object:

        Q/I don’t like the objections myself, and I find them offensive. Then again. First Amendment near-absolutist that I am (I will explain the “near” some other time) I feel that they have every right to complain loudly and often … just as … 1 have the right to complain loudly and often about what I take to be (dare I use the word) their stupidity. “The proper response to offensive speech is more speech” the cliche goes, and as long as we are able to *write*> talk < freely … 1 have
        no problem with the alarums … from objectors to the issue. But then again, … we have a situation, an impasse as it were with which both sides can live and 1 would be content if not overjoyed to leave the issue there.

        Yet the employer doesn't leave it there but goes on to question what business is it of those employees who object, that they are lacking morals as they have similar posters on their walls, and they fall into the category of "liberal fascists,". Argumentum ad nauseam

        This scenario is a take on the SWFA Resnick/Malzburg rebuttal dialogues.

        Now what about the right to say to a young child, 'You're sexy, I want to do you.' – does this come under free speech?

        If the child's parent heard this and thought it improper, wouldn't this speech now become evidence in order to 'censor' the speaker?

        Surely if freedom of expression is the desire, then this means all thoughts can be expressed yet where is the line between expressing oneself to injury of another?

        I think freedom of expression is a matter for one's own conscience but when many refuse or are unwilling to accept even a minimal human standard, have disregard for the effects they might cause, show contempt for the right of others, then laws are needed for if some of us are not willing to learn what it is to be a human, then surely we all deserve the right to seek protection and ask for justice.

        June 5, 2013
      • Vee #

        Further to the child example (and please forgive typos, have dyslexia), I should have added:

        If society deems someone talking to a child in this manner as inappropriate, wrong, and society generally does by repelling the freedom to speech in this regard, then how can there be a true advocacy for freedom of speech for all?

        For if one takes offense on behalf of a child and seeks remedy to stop the speaker from repeating the expression, surely one is saying censor the words, the freedom to express one’s thoughts.

        If it is wrong to say something like this to a child, then it is wrong, ergo freedom of expression/speech is censored, period.

        June 5, 2013
      • I have to stay with Salmon Rushdie. I don’t think we can or should try to protect everyone from anything that might upset them.

        But I am a fan of this way of dealing with images in the workplace that bother you: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-05/16/hawken-gender-swap

        It’s fine example of choosing to engage with someone who has a different approach than yours.

        I have no problems with people complaining about R&M’s rhetoric. (Well, other than that I don’t think we improve the world through word-policing.) They’re simply engaging in free speech. My complaint is with the people who go on to say that the editor of the Bulletin should prevent writers from expressing views that have been deemed incorrect in some communities.

        I’ll sidestep the issue of speech with children, because I think you should be nice to kids and generally defer to their parents’ wishes—unless you believe their wishes are harmful in some way, and then you should go to the police. Kids need to know what’s creepy behavior so they can tell cops, teachers, and parents if someone’s saying or doing something that troubles them. And then the adults can decide whether the kids have over-reacted or something should be done.

        June 5, 2013
      • Vee #

        Q/But I am a fan of this way of dealing with images in the workplace that bother you: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-05/16/hawken-gender-swap
        It’s fine example of choosing to engage with someone who has a different approach than yours./Q

        I agree, Will, hence my first comment being a parody and my initial scenario example being another.

        I also agree that we shouldn’t have to have cause to police each other’s words and in a world where someone’s freedom does not cause injury to another, I would be all for it.

        The fact of the matter is, this is not our world as yet where speech and/or action (through the use of abusive terminology) to instigate physical harm doesn’t happen, and happen often.

        In my child example for instance, if freedom to speak was unconditional, law could not be used to stop (censor) the speaker, no matter how many times the speaker were to relay his thoughts.

        A person deemed different by a local community would have no protection if some or all of that community decided to harass with vitriolic words hours on end every day as the laws governing this aspect rests on the ability to censor words that are thought of sexist, racist, abusive.

        I think that’s the main point, the laws that exist today to stop mental and even physical harm that comes from an abuse of freedom would no longer have the ability to function as all rest on it being a right with conditions attached.

        Once those conditions are taken out, then it would be lawful for anyone to use the ‘N’ word, it would be lawful for a parent to call the child derogatory names, it would be lawful for a woman hater to subject words of hatred to women because the unconditional freedom of speech could no longer allow these to be considered evidence of intent or of corruption or even of crime.

        So if society says okay, let someone have total freedom to speak as they wish in a publication, no matter if what they said doesn’t even fit the criteria of said publication, then society cannot then claim any of the above few examples (I’ve put forward) as abuse.

        If society thinks any of these examples are wrong, that one doesn’t have the right to call someone the ‘N’ word, that the second example is child victimization and that the third example shows emotional and/or sexist abuse and wishes to stop or at the very least curtail those members of the human race who would misuse their rights to this freedom, then laws need to be in place to allow society to implement these as crimes of racial abuse, child victimization, emotional and/or sexist abuse.

        Not everyone has the means of a bankroll to help them hide, not everyone is strong enough to face the daily onslaught, and not everyone can be fearless.

        Yet, even though those conditions in the freedom to speak are in place today, it doesn’t stop the hate crimes/abuse continuing however it does, and is, constantly offered up as evidence of intent and of abuse. If ever those conditions meant to safeguard the whole population rather than just a few were cut, those examples that now stand as crime would no longer be the case.

        I respect your views and understand their origins, I hope you can understand mine.

        June 6, 2013
      • Vee, I started to reply here, then realized I was writing a blog post, so I did. If you visit, you’ll find “the right to offend is the heart of free speech”.

        June 6, 2013
      • Vee #

        I shall mosey on over, Will, and if comments allow take up the debate there, otherwise I bid you adieu.

        June 7, 2013
      • And hasta luego to you!

        June 7, 2013
  15. I still haven’t seen the original article, but I’m imagining it as two good ol’ boys of science fiction informally shooting the breeze, reflecting the vernacular and mores of a bygone era–which is fine and good, informative and entertaining, but also potentially offensive to newcomers in a field that is attempting to diversify its voice and audience, and in a publication tasked with outreach to the members of today. I don’t think they were trying to be provocative or offensive, but when the matter was raised their initial reaction was to mock alternate viewpoints, argue from a position of authority bordering on arrogance, and attempt to shut down the debate. That’s the part that’s especially unacceptable to me.

    It’s sad to see two guys so deeply entrenched in the past after building careers based on looking to the future.

    June 5, 2013
  16. Vee #

    Thank you, Chris, for allowing me to share space in your comments section, most generous of you.

    June 7, 2013
    • Vee – You are very welcome! Thank you for raising interesting points, and doing so in a respectful and constructive fashion.

      June 7, 2013

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