SFWA, sexism in SFF and missing the point

I really wanted to avoid posting about this. So many other people are addressing the issues very well and I don’t really have much to add. If you’re not sure what’s happening, suffice to say that two old guys who are members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America wrote a piece in the official publication, the SFWA Bulletin, that is astounding in its prehistoric approach to gender and dealing with justifiable complaints. If you want a good breakdown of what happened, Foz Meadows does an excellent deconstruction here (and she includes many relevant links). And honestly, if you throw a virtual dart anywhere near the SFF community online at the moment, you’ll hit something to do with it.

I’m not a SFWA member, although I think I do qualify. I can’t actually be bothered to check. Suffice to say that I’m not really interested in being part of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, as I’m a British-Australian writer. I really wish they would change that A to stand for Association, as they are a global entity in most respects and it would be great to see that reflected in the name. But that’s not the issue here.

It’s also worth mentioning that on the whole SFWA does excellent things and is a great organisation. The current President is John Scalzi and he’s a stand-up guy who is definitely on point when it comes to pretty much any issues rife in the community today. As a result of the Resnick/Malzberg debacle, Scalzi immediately went into action and did two things:

1. “authorized a task force, headed up by SFWA Vice President Rachel Swirsky, to look at the role of the Bulletin within the organization moving forward”;

and

2. “as the person who by our bylaws is responsible for publications, I took responsibility for events and opened up a channel for people to comment and criticize”

Those quotes are from his official presidential statement here. He made them the other way around, but I want to concentrate on the responsibility issue, so I quoted that one second.

That response is an excellent start. And Scalzi goes on to reiterate and clarify how much he’s taking responsibility for the article. He talks about how he didn’t give it a thorough read for content (and as he’s not the editor, that’s no surprise). He says, regarding the lack of checking, “This did not happen. I as publisher gave the go-ahead – and once again, the responsibility for the event, and the offense it caused, falls on me.”

You can read the extensive explanations and apology in the presidential statement I linked above. But this is all missing one really fucking significant point. At no point has any mention been made about Resnick and Malzberg, the men who wrote the offensive article.

It’s all very well Scalzi taking responsibility and apologising, but he’s only really apologising for publishing it. Where’s the apology for writing it? Where’s the promise that Resnick and Malzberg are going to be counselled by the organisation for whom they wrote on just why they’ve upset so many people. If SFWA wants to be seen as responding well to things like this, it needs to try to change the archaic attitudes of the men who are being so offensive. And while it’s unlikely those people will change their perceptions, the attempt must be publicly made. An apology from those people for writing the offensive article would mean a lot more than the apology by the president for publishing it.

It’s quite possible those people have apologised and I’ve missed it. I couldn’t find such an apology. It’s possible the organisation has said it will hold them to task for their offensive article, but I can’t find that either, nor is it part of the official presidential response. Unless an apology is made for the content, SFWA are seriously missing the fucking point of all the outrage. I would really like to be proved wrong here, so please point me in the direction of that proof if you can. I’m quite prepared to accept that I might have missed something.

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2 thoughts on “SFWA, sexism in SFF and missing the point

  1. Well said, Alan. Unfortunately, I’m not too confident of anything changing for the SFWA. As I understand it, complaints have been made off and on for years with promises to counteract the inherent sexism in the organisation but little of anything happen. Having such well-regarded authors such as Rachel Swirsky in editorial positions is all well and good, but what’s the point when stuff like this gets through?

    The SFWA are a part of the current SF/F landscape, and if if they’re going to be a part of the future they need to address this and they need to change.

  2. Change like this is inevitably slow, always uphill against the weight of “tradition”. This is why it’s so important to act and call out the real issues rather than just offer lip-service apologies and move on like it’s business as usual. Business as usual is broken.

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