“SFWA has a fanzine, too,” I’ve heard pros joke, meaning the SFWA Bulletin. Since I’m not a member I don’t see it, and ordinarily never think about it unless an issue contains something controversial about fandom, for example, Gene Wolfe’s complaint about the financial support he received as GoH of the 1985 Worldcon, or the dialog – by Resnick and Malzberg, come to think of it – saying the Worldcon will keep deteriorating unless it becomes more like Dragon*Con.
These days the SFWA Bulletin has even more in common with fanzines. While most writers and organizations have moved to various internet formats, the Bulletin persists as a quarterly magazine.
Just how long that will continue suddenly seems in question.
Consecutive issues have been criticized by a number of members who found some contents sexist – a Resnick/Malzberg dialog about “lady editors” in #199, a babe in a chainmail bikini on the cover of #200, an article suggesting Barbie as a role model for women writers in #201, and most explosive of all, the new Resnick/Malzberg dialog in #202 counterattacking critics of the earlier piece (see screen shots at Radish Reviews, pages 1, 2. 3, 4, 5, 6.)
Resnick, “The next question is: is this an overreaction to attempted censorship? The answer is simple and straightforward: I don’t think it’s possible to overreact to thought control, whether Politically Inept or Politically Motivated or merely displaying the would-be controllers personal tastes and biases.”
Although Jim C. Hines’s essay “Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People” is in the new issue, too, and Jason Sanford says it implicitly rebuts the type of arguments offered by Resnick/Malzberg, the controversy has moved rapidly beyond Sanford’s characterization as an exchange of broadsides in the free marketplace of ideas.
Om May 31, E. Catherine Tobler publicly resigned her membership, explaining in Dear SFWA –
In all the complaints that were voiced, there was never a call for censorship. There was never a call for suppression. There was a call for respect.
There arose the notion that women are people too; that, in a piece focusing on editors, one might speak of editing ability, of anthologies and magazines assembled, and not how one looked in a bathing suit. Surely such content didn’t belong in a piece about editors? Were these such radical thoughts? What year is it?
There arose the notion that SFWA might consider its membership—its whole membership—when assembling an issue of the Bulletin. That SFWA might take in to mind that perhaps a good portion of its membership would be offended and insulted by content that tells them to keep their quiet dignity as a woman should.
I am leaving you because your publication and certain members have made me feel unwanted and unwelcome more than once. I have grown uncomfortable speaking my mind in the forum because based on prior incidents, someone may likely tell me I’m being silly for feeling the way I do.
Kameron Hurley immediately followed Tobler’s announcement with Dear SFWA Writers: Let’s Talk About Censorship and Bullying, which addresses Resnick and Malzberg:
So. I get it. The world used to agree with you. You used to be able to say things like, “I really like those lady writers in this industry, especially in swimsuits!” and your fellow writers, editors, agents, and other assorted colleagues would all wink and grin and agree with you, and Asimov would go around pinching women’s asses, and it was so cool! So cool that he could just sexually assault women all the time!
Her full discussion concludes with this advice:
Listen. Do better. Understand privilege and power. Understand why people didn’t speak up before. Why you didn’t hear it before. If you hit somebody, and you really didn’t mean to would you say, “Well, it’s your fault for having tits?” or would you say “I’m so sorry I hit you. That wasn’t my intention. I will actively work to not hit you in the future.”
I know what somebody who was genuinely interested in open, honest, respectful dialogue with people they considered humans and colleagues would do.
Samantha Henderson also set the critcism apart from censorship, putting the latter in a real-world context:
Women of my generation aren’t supposed to be rude to men of your generation; we’re supposed to be reasonable, understanding and respectful of all points of view, even those that seek to belittle us. And I hear you’re lovely people, supportive of women writers, great conversationalists, salt of the earth, and I’m sure in many ways that’s true.
Screw that anyway. I’m too tired to see your non-stop use of the term “lady;” lady writers, editors, publishers as anything but condescending, however gentlemanly it’s meant (and in #202, it’s so constant I can’t but suspect you’re intentionally trying to get a rise out of your soi-disant anons). I’m too tired to be anything but offended at your claiming that those who have the audacity to criticize you are trying to censor you, in a world where censorship means a girl getting shot in the head for daring to become educated, or a country trying to wipe all records and knowledge of an atrocity.
After the Barbie article came out, Carrie Cuinn said (in addition to its other failings) the piece was antithetical to the purposes of a professional writers’ organization:
The worst part, worse than the stupid, offensive comments about women, is the fact that this article is supposed to be about being successful as a writer. It lists suggestions for improving your career. The SFWA, a professional organization of writers, included this in its official literature. It wants us, as writers, to read this and learn from it.
The SFWA, our writers’s union, our leadership and our guides, want us to know that women should be quiet, nice, and happy, in order to be successful, because otherwise we’re imperfect, unhappy, whores. How can I laugh that off? How can I read that and not stand up?
And now, Chris Gerwel (in The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation) adds that there are implications of giving SFWA’s platform over to any given set of views:
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.
The board is aware of a number of complaints by members regarding Bulletin issue #202, specifically the article by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. We welcome this criticism and thank our members for making their voices heard. Further feedback is welcome on our online discussion boards, or else can be mailed to either Rachel Swirsky or John Scalzi.
In response to this and previous feedback from members about recent issues of the Bulletin, I have authorized the formation of a task force to look at the Bulletin and to determine how the publication needs to proceed from this point in order to be a valuable and useful part of the SFWA member experience. This task force consists of SFWA’s current vice president and incoming president, as well as related SFWA administrative staff, and experienced editorial consultants. The task force is: Rachel Swirsky, Steven Gould, Jaym Gates, Kate Baker, James Patrick Kelly, Charles Coleman Finlay, and Neil Clarke.