Wednesday, June 12, 2013

That SFWA Thing

So it seems that less than a month after joining SFWA, it has managed to disappoint. If you're involved with writing SF at all then you already know the details, but I figured I'd put up another post about it anyway, because it's always good to have another voice in the room. So, the details:

1. SFWA publishes a trade journal called The Bulletin, a subscription to which is included with SFWA membership. The Winter 2013 issue had a cover featuring a lady in a chainmail bikini, laughingly juxtaposed next to a headline asking "Where Do the Dues Go?"

2. The next issue featured an editorial about career longevity that included an extended metaphor about Barbie, how she doesn't dress like a tramp the way those Bratz girls do, instead maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should. I read the article while over at a SFWA member's house, and thought it was more bizarre than anything. The metaphor didn't even make sense in the context of the article; Barbie changes "her" style all the time! "She" can't remain true to "herself," because Barbie is a plastic toy licensed by a corporation.

I already knew about the chainmail bikini cover and the Barbie article when I joined, and while I was annoyed by those things, I wasn't actively offended. I rolled my eyes, yeah, sure. Because it's a trade journal, not the cover of a pulp magazine (and SF magazines haven't carried those types of covers for a very long time). This would be kinda like the AMA journal putting a sexy nurse on the cover, or the American Bar Association trotting out its hottest new lawyers on the front page of an issue otherwise devoted to tax policy. I'm all for sexy nurses, hot tax attorneys, and yes even chainmail bikini babes (although I didn't find the image on The Bulletin all that sexy, I felt the composition was poor and the coloring muddied). But on the cover of what's supposed to be your organization's flagship publication, the professional face you put out to the world? I've railed against the expectation of professionalism in writing before (of course, that was when I was told that "professional writers" shouldn't ever mention politics or personal problems to anyone, because nobody will publish your stories/novels if you don't present an absolutely blank-slate face to the world), but when it comes to something like The Bulletin, I think that professionalism is something that is required.

And that leads us to...

3. The latest issue, the first I received in the mail and which was worse than the other two fails combined. Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, two writers I have never read but who have been in the SF game for a very long time, engaged in a "conversation" where, over six pages of fairly small type, they railed against anyone who was offended by the bikini cover, said that nobody would complain if they called male writers or editors "beautiful" (yeah, but you didn't do that, did you?), and closed out the article by stating that "If they [feminists] can get away with censoring that, can you imagine what comes next? I'm pretty sure Joe Stalin could imagine it. Even Chairman Mao could imagine it." Because truly, thinking that a pulpy image isn't necessarily the best cover for a trade journal = killing ten million people. The editor, Jean Rabe, seemed to think this was a counterpoint to a very good article by another male writer, Jim C. Hines, about ChainmailFail and sexualization of cover images in general. (It's also worth noting that the length of the Malznick piece was twice the length of the Hines article.)

Where do the dues go, indeed!

It seems that the editor (who has since resigned) seemed to think she was offering a different view by placing the Malznick piece alongside the Hines piece. But the thing is, the Hines piece didn't need a counterpoint. Equal rights and respect for all don't need a differing view to "further the dialogue." Also, invoking "fascism" is a lot like bringing up Hitler. You don't automatically lose the debate, but you've set up a hell of a job for yourself.

I'm not going to quit writing SF. You don't need to be in SFWA to write SF, and let's be honest, all my attempts at straight fiction come out SF anyway (there was one story that I wrote in college that came so close to being just a normal lit piece about relationship dynamics but then I had to go and make the metaphor literal). And I'm not going to stop interacting with the SF community, at least now that I've found a corner of it that doesn't suck. I also know there are some amazing people in SFWA (largely women) who are currently scrambling to make things better.

But I gotta say, it DOES piss me off that I paid $80 of my money to pay for two old dudes to talk about what a fascist people like me are. I guess I'll spend this year deciding if it's worth it to me to continue. I think a lot of people in SFWA are going to spend this year deciding that.

(Crossposted from LiveJournal.)