Just when I was planning to move on from “lady” stuff, apparently a bomb of controversy exploded at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) concerning the organization’s newsletter, the Bulletin. It had been a slow brew of exasperation that bubbled over just before SFWA President John Scalzi was safely able to exit and pass his post over to in-coming President Steven Gould. A fairly good summary of events with commentary that I think is fairly apt is offered by Trisha Lynn.
Back in the day, the Bulletin, the main newsletter of the organization, was basically a bulletin. It was published in plain print on 16-20 double-sided pages on thick, stiff paper usually colored vanilla or an office memo pastel shade. It had a few small ads of only print and graphics, and it was filled mostly with announcements — publication opportunities, the movement of editors, agents and imprints, member author book deals and publications, convention and conference schedules, SFWA news, services and legal campaigns. There might be a few brief articles on sales and other trends in SFFH, or a brief author interview. It looked like a dull brochure and you could subscribe to it if you weren’t a member of SFWA. It was something of little interest to most people, but had useful information if you were in the field or trying to break in.
Over time, SFWA tightened up its membership regs and the Bulletin itself morphed into a semi-glossy magazine with cover art and more articles. Somebody running it got the idea to have prominent SFF author Mike Resnick and writer/editor/former agent Barry Malzberg do a regular column in which they have a conversation about various topics. And with the Bulletin approaching 200 issues, Jean Rabe, the current editor, asked the two to talk about women writers and editors in the past for issues #199 and #200. Which they did, by talking about lady writers and lady editors, bathing suits, and how one editor’s main contribution was that she was a dish, and, well, you get the idea. Two older guys talking about the old days of the 1960’s and 1970’s when the “ladies” were around and working hard, but didn’t mind the comments and a slap on the rear — because it could tank their career if they didn’t put up with it. (This is not just an age thing, as plenty of younger people unfortunately also have these views.) What caused more than minor grumbling about this was that issue #200 with Part 2 of the guys’ dialogue was accompanied by a cover image that seems to be a Red Sonja reprint or tribute picture — Sonja in her traditional metal string bikini and cape in the snow standing over a dead giant. There are a lot of 1980’s or earlier art images they could have picked from SFF history, but in an issue that was supposed to be supporting women’s contributions in the field, that one was more than a bit out of place.
So there were a lot of complaints by men and women in the membership. And then the next issue, #201, came out and might have been unremarkable except that comics and horror writer C.J. Henderson, in an otherwise innocuous article about lasting in your career, decided to school the “lady” authors about how to behave if they wanted to keep their careers — like Barbie. An imaginary Barbie who was ladylike, neatly dressed, nice to people, had her career without demanding that Ken was blocking her from it, etc. Of course, the only reason that Barbie ended up having “careers” is because women got demanding and un-ladylike towards real-life Kens about not blocking them from the workplace and advancement with artificial sexist barriers. Mattel saw the change in society and what little girls wanted to emulate, and went with it. They also took rivals (Bratz) to court in a not very nice manner.
Issue #202 saw the Bulletin’s attempt to respond to the complaints about the cover of issue #200 with an article by Jim C. Hines about women in cover art, related to his previous, hilarious cover art flips and writing that won him a Hugo. But they also figured they’d let Resnick and Malzberg respond to their critics about the previous ladies in publishing articles. And their response was, well, chiefly to declare that long ago women used to keep quiet if they had a problem with anything — because they never heard a complaint — and women should keep being quiet or they were liberal fascists trying to censor the two gentlemen by disagreeing with them and not liking what they said. You can imagine how this went over with men and women author members. They were angry and took the anger to the Net, because Resnick and Malzberg are right — it’s no longer the past when the ladies “don’t say anything about it.”
Scalzi apologized for dropping the ball on really understanding what had happened with the Bulletin and appointed a committee to review procedures on SFWA publications and help Gould out for future policies. So yet another incident yields a bright spot for improved dialogue about discriminatory problems and diversity in the field. But we are left with the knowledge that these incidents will likely continue because both men and women (Rabe is a woman,) unthinkingly say women are and should behave like docile dolls, and then get confused and upset when others angrily point out that they aren’t.
Overall, SFWA has been a smart organization run by sturdy volunteers and has changed and adapted to the needs of its membership in shifting market conditions, and it will probably do so again. And voices like Resnick, Malzberg and Henderson are not ignored, nor evil, nor do they have nothing to contribute as members and authors to the field. But because their viewpoints on women are so exclusionary, they can’t be the main voices speaking for the Bulletin or SFWA, nor can images of Red Sonja, groundbreaking though she was in her time. And neither can Barbie. Instead, SFWA and the field itself will have to put up with loud-mouthed, unladylike female authors and their allies, because in a conversation about women, women are going to keep talking.
Some links of possible and related interest: