They Just Don't Get It

imagesSo, I finally had the chance to read the entirety of Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg's 6-page defense of their sexist article about "lady writers". Aside from feeling incredibly stabby, I oscillated between horrified confusion and disappointment. (You can read their article here thanks to Radish Reviews. Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6.)  I thought I'd said all I had to say on the matter in a previous post--ha ha! silly Jamie!--but as it turns out, I've got a lot more to express on the matter. (And I wish that wasn't the case. I wish I didn't have to explain this, especially to two men older than my father.)  Then I saw Russell Davis's defense of the article and fell further into despair. Nope, I can't just sit on my hands and hope that someone else educates these guys. I can't just hope that inspiration whacks them in the head with a Harley Quinn-style Clue Hammer. I really do have to explain this. Resnick and Malzberg would have you thinking that they are being censored, that the backlash they're getting is some sort of "thought policing". In stead of considering the possibility that what they said might have been truly offensive, they wave it off and further demean the readers by stooping to name calling. ("Liberal fascists"? Seriously, guys?) They spin the anger and nitpick at the words. To them, we're pissed off that they called an editor "beautiful". I paraphrase, but it's as if they're saying, "What? Can't a guy call a woman beautiful? What's wrong with that? Everyone wants to be called beautiful, right?"

What makes it even more appallingly thick-headed is that both men point out when they're talking about a woman. It's as if they need to prove they aren't sexist because look how many women they know. (No, really, I'm not a homophobe. I know tons of queers.)

They don't get it.

Russell Davis defends them by saying this:

In fact, pretty much everyone is sexist from time to time, where the definition of sexist is behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes based on gender. The reason for this is simple: we're human and we sort both our interactions and our memory by sense, type, preference/non-preference, etc.

Davis spends the majority of the time looking at the issue as one pertaining to physiological differences between men and women. He goes on at length about how the sexes are different and studies show that our sensory perceptions vary based on gender. He dances all around the point but never hits on it. He spends all this time making excuses for his opinions and those of others without actually taking the time to understand the anger being displayed.

My favorite part of his article, though, is this.

And when we describe someone else, these physical and gender traits are part and parcel of that description. It's interesting, isn't it, that we insist on the use of adjectives in our fiction and the non-use of adjectives in our lives? Imagine if someone wrote, "I once met a writer at a convention." There's nothing there, is there? It’s gender neutral and lacks detail. Any reply to that would be a host of detail-seeking questions.

On the other hand, if someone wrote, "I once met this beautiful woman, Jane Doe, a really amazing fantasy writer at the World Science Fiction Convention," that’s a much more clear statement of memory. Is the use of the word “beautiful” sexist, an attempt to impart an observable fact, or simply the writer attempting to accurately describe someone from memory – a process which begins with sense perception and judgment?

First of all, I am amazed that there is a sci-fi/fantasy author who finds it a problem to entertain a "host of detail-seeking questions". Isn't that what we live for? Being asked (and asking) questions rather than shutting down all dialogue?

But I digress.

He goes on to say that he would find nothing wrong with saying "I once met this beautiful woman, Jane Doe, a really amazing fantasy writer."  This sentence is very telling, though. We--as writers--know that the rhythm and order of our words, the emphasis we place on them, can completely change the intent of a sentence. When I see that statement, what I understand from it is this:

I met a person and the most memorable thing about that person was their physical appearance. Also? They have this skill that I appreciate. 

There are certain connotations with that statement that come from our societal narrative. Beauty and brains rarely walk hand in hand, we're taught. A woman's worth is in her appearance, we're told. So when you put these words in this order, you're saying way more than you might think. As a writer, I expect you to know that.

The problem represented by Resnick, Malzberg, Davis and many others is not one about censorship. It's not about something we all do, these guys are just being called out on it. It's not a witch hunt. No, the problem is best demonstrated by the fact that they don't get what the problem is. They are oblivious to it. As I wrote in my comment to Mr. Davis, the problem is that when discussing one's professional merits, their appearance (or race, or religion, or sexuality or or or) has nothing to do with the matter. These men chose to highlight her looks rather than discuss what she offered to the industry. Doing so demeans her (and others) and removes humanity.

 

It means you've stopped seeing me as an equal. 

To make it more disappointing...all three men I've mentioned in this post lean on the "But this is the way it's always been" line. Yeah. It has been this way. There is a rich heritage in any industry of sexism and yes, it does go both ways. Having a discussion with a friend of mine yesterday, she was appalled that men  in her profession are treated like pieces of meat. She's a teacher.

So, yes, I see that these men think they are making valid points. But they're completely missing the epicenter of the argument.

Author Delilah S. Dawson asked for other writers on Twitter to repost if they'd experienced gender discrimination. Honestly, I can't say that I have. (If I have been, I wouldn't know it. Much of what I do is via email and I have no way of knowing if I've been looked over due to my gender.) Is that because I'm new? I haven't had time to get on the radar? Is it because I have a gender neutral name? Is it pure dumb luck? Who knows. I do know that in this situation I feel devalued. I feel like Malzberg, Resnick and Davis and others like them don't see me as an equal, therefore, I have to fight twice as hard for that validation. I've been there before in other careers. I've been the object of harassment and vilification because I have breasts.

Sexism isn't always as blatant as a smack on the ass or a lewd comment. Most often it is subtle. It speaks to us every day in advertising, television, books, memes...it is a societal issues. This SFWA thing? It's a symptom. It's a demonstration of the larger issue.

And I'm sad that such creative people with so many years of experience at life, so many years writing accounts of the human experience, wouldn't understand that.

But they don't.

They really don't get it.

 

Edited 6/5/13 to add: Mr. Davis has posted this in regards to the responses to his earlier blog. Interesting read.