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Posts tagged ‘SFWA Bulletin’

A Healthy Dose of Professionalism


So for much of the last two weeks I’ve been kept offline by travel (yay 4th Street Fantasy!) and offline life doings. Now that life is starting to settle back down, I’ve entered catch-up mode. When I left for Minnesota, much of the discussion was focused on the controversy surrounding SFWA’s Bulletin, N.K. Jemisin’s GoH speech, and Theodore Beale/Vox Day’s racist response to it. I wrote about these issues here and here. While I was away, the SF/F corner of the internet has been quite busy (for a good timeline, I recommend S.L. Huang’s post here).

Since the last update (on July 3rd) to S.L. Huang’s timeline, several notable events have happened which give me hope for the science fiction & fantasy community:

  • Convention Harassment Policy Pledge. Former SFWA president John Scalzi posts a public description of his newly-adopted convention attendance policy, wherein he categorically states that should a convention not have a harassment policy or fail to communicate such policy clearly to its members, he will not attend that convention in any capacity (e.g. as a Guest of Honor, panelist, fan/member, etc.).
  • Scalzi’s Policy Gains Co-signatories. Many other writers, fans, publishers, and editors (as of this writing, over 550 and counting) across a myriad of genders and backgrounds co-sign Scalzi’s Harassment Policy pledge.
  • SFWA Bulletin Task Force Announces Next Steps. SFWA’s Bulletin Task Force (established in response to the SFWA Bulletin controversy) announces that all Bulletin contributors have been paid for their contracted work despite the Bulletin’s publication being suspended. SFWA’s statement furthermore reiterates and clarifies plans for a survey to be delivered to members to get a better sense of what the organization’s membership expects of The Bulletin.
  • SFWA Proceeds with Vox Day/Theodore Beale Matter. Following complaints about SFWA-member Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale)’s racist attacks on fellow SFWA-member N.K. Jemisin and his abuse of SFWA promotional tools to disseminate same, many SFWA members have begun calling for Day’s expulsion from the organization. SFWA has responded by following its organizational procedures and compiling a confidential investigative report and sharing it with Vox Day for his response. Vox Day chose to publish the e-mail correspondence in question (note: again, FWIW, I choose not link to Vox Day’s blog here, but a quick Google search will find it), though not the contents of the investigative report itself.

Why do these four events give me hope? Because they are all markers of an increasingly professional response to the cultural drama unfolding in the SF/F community.

Harassment Policy Pledge as an Articulation of Standards

Scalzi’s harassment policy pledge is a statement of professional standards. It articulates a clear set of expectations that all conventions can and should be held to. One can quibble as to whether or not his standards go far enough or fall short, yet they remain a reasonable set of standards nevertheless. And while they are his personal standards, the fact that so many people active and involved and passionate about the genre agree with them lends credence to the belief that those who disagree are a small and dwindling minority in the community.

I am saddened that as a community we still need such clear and plain-spoken standards. I am disappointed that such standards are not simply a “given” in our cultural makeup. But I am proud that as a community we can articulate these expectations and that so much of the community supports them. I see this as a sign of burgeoning professionalism in the community.

SFWA’s Steps on the Bulletin

I sympathize with SFWA’s new Board. They probably had a rough first week. However, SFWA’s behavior speaks well of the Board’s attitude towards professionalism. The Board treated its business partners (the writers who had been contracted to write for the Bulletin) honorably and correctly, as befits a professional outfit. As an organization that represents writers, it would have been an egregious act of bad faith to have stiffed its own constituents. Thankfully, SFWA took the high road and did exactly what it should have. I applaud the Board for its professionalism.

I have more mixed opinions on the announced Bulletin survey. On the one hand, seeking to get insight from SFWA constituents is a professional response to the high emotions and rhetoric surrounding the recent controversies. Regardless of the task force’s ultimate decision(s), such a survey will simultaneously help give SFWA’s leadership insight into the current mindset of the membership and will give that membership a chance for its voice/views to be heard. This is good. This is professional. This is as it should be.

However, having spent my professional career in the world of market research, I am less confident that a survey of dissatisfied customers (i.e. Bulletin readers/SFWA members) is a good way to design a better product going forward. It is notoriously difficult for a survey respondent to offer meaningful recommendations to a researcher, particularly in a quantitative tool. Yes, it can be done, and yes, a survey can be well-designed to elicit more practical / meaningful data. But it is not easy, and the quality of data that SFWA gets from its survey will be directly dependent on both the questionnaire that SFWA designs and the response rate that SFWA achieves. It leads to me wonder whether SFWA will be designing the questionnaire or conducting the research in-house or contracting it out to a professional?

Still, that is ultimately the technical challenge of executing on the published plan. As it stands, SFWA’s Bulletin Task Force has been proceeding exactly as it should in responding to the controversies surrounding the Bulletin. The Task Force’s response has been measured, responsible, and professional. Which is exactly as it should be.

A Comparison of Two Approaches: SFWA and Vox Day

SFWA’s proceedings on the Vox Day matter are equally telling. From an outsider’s perspective, the e-mails which Vox Day chose to publish (which I currently assume are accurate) are procedural, bureaucratic, and precise. They are unambiguous and procedurally even-handed. They are downright boring. Which is again exactly as it should be in a professional organization’s professional conduct.

Some may complain that SFWA should move faster or should make its proceedings in regards to Vox Day public, but I strongly disagree. Due process – even in a private organization which defines for itself what such due process is – matters. Responsibly and completely investigating the complaints against Vox Day/Theodore Beale and giving him time to respond is exactly what the organization should do. And this cannot – and should not – happen overnight.

The confidentiality of these proceedings is a somewhat more debatable choice. I can see arguments both for making the proceedings public (to give constituents insight into the proceedings/decision-making process) and for keeping them confidential (to protect everyone: those who complain, those who have been accused, those who defend the accused, and the organization itself). As it stands, SFWA’s Board has chosen to keep the proceedings confidential. I am not certain I agree with that choice, but I can respect it as reasonable, responsible, and (again) professional.

Vox Day has chosen to only partially respect the confidentiality of SFWA’s proceedings, attempting to use that very confidentiality as a stalking horse to appear victimized. This is an unprofessional attempt to shift the proceedings into an inappropriate forum: it is not the internet’s job to adjudicate this matter. That is the right and responsibility of SFWA’s Board.

As I said in my last post on this subject, I won’t opine on whether Vox Day should remain a member of SFWA or not. I’m not (yet) a member, so my voice in this regards should be meaningless. In this process, it is SFWA’s Board (and ultimately SFWA’s membership) which sets the rules. That’s just the way professional governance works. By publicly flouting the rules, Vox Day is sending a clear message to SFWA’s Board and its membership: He does not respect SFWA’s right to govern itself, nor does he respect the professional approach SFWA’s Board has adopted.

But in all of this, what makes me smile is the fact that SFWA – and SFWA’s freshly-minted Board – is approaching all of this with a reasonable, responsible, and professional approach. Which is exactly what I would want from a professional organization. And all of this gives me increased hope that – slowly, very slowly – the tempest I first wrote about a month ago is beginning to ebb.

The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation


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.

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