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SFWA — Housebreaking a Puppy or Abusive Relationship?

So I’m a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America.

I joined a few months back, because my buddy Mur said “Dude, you should totally join SFWA!” and I thought vaguely “Oh yeah…they do some good stuff…I approve of that…” I never aspired to it, particularly, I have been eligible for some years, but I figure hey! Professional organization for that thing I do! Lawyers on tap if somebody tries to screw me! A Good Thing! And also I like John Scalzi, both because he runs a rockin’ blog and because he handed me my Hugo, which means I’m sorta biased.

I tell you true, gang, I’m starting to think that was ninety bucks wasted. I could have bought like 30 really good TV dinners for that. The Boston Market ones with the really good mac & cheese, even.

Instead, I got a ringside seat for…well…excitement. Of that tiring “why are we doing this again?” sort.

The issue at hand is The Bulletin, the professional newsletter put out quarterly by SFWA, which is supposed to…I don’t know, do something for us. It takes a rather large percentage of that TV dinner money, anyway. Apparently it’s supposed to be a useful thing for professional science fiction authors, and possibly it is, at least for people who are not actually me.

Three issues in a row, it has printed something moderately derogatory toward women. The cover art one, I’ll give a pass on as simply vaguely embarassing—I drew chainmail bikini babes in my day too, so meh, whatever.

The bit about how hot various lady editors were was…um.

The part where Barbie succeeds because she conducts herself with quiet dignity, “the way a woman should,” made me stare at the ceiling for a few minutes, in that way you do when you are wondering if your stomach acid really NEEDS to be that particular pH, and whether you should go for the Tums or take your reflux medicine a few hours early.

And then there’s the current issue, where people complaining about the previous things were accused of being anonymous commenters seeking censorship and—you can actually read it for yourself, if you’re feeling like getting mad. (It even has a “This story was okay to tell because a woman told it to me, so it can’t be sexist!” In the wild and everything!)

Well, there was an uproar after the first one, and after the second one, and people said they’d change and there would be fixes and there was calling for more editorial, y’know, editing, and a general air that damnit, this can be dealt with! And then of course it happened again, and there’s another uproar, and I don’t know, maybe that’s how it always works—maybe there’s an uproar every time and promises to fix it and then somebody yells that they’re being censored. Couldn’t tell you, not enough data.

So I thought “This sucks. A lot. And I am annoyed and also tired because there is too much shit going on and I have too much on my plate and a comic due next week and a show in a month and I have poison ivy in both armpits and a tick-bite on my ass and a book that needs to be written pronto and there’s a half-ton of stone in the car that needs to be unloaded and—no, damnit, I’m still annoyed.”

(And while what happens on private forums stays on private forums, let me just say that it’s sad when you finally get to interact with some of the Big Names of science fiction and they turn out to be old men yelling at clouds. Goddamn thin-skinned humorless clouds! They were better in the old days. Clouds knew their place. They didn’t get all offended by jokes about their formation. Kids today just want to ban cumulonimbuses altogether.)


And then I thought “But SFWA does good things—they did that one thing with Hydra and that other thing with Games Workshop and that was awesome and people are saying they’ll fix this and won’t do it again–”

And then the wheels ground to a screeching halt, because, ladies and gentlemen, if you are telling yourself in your head that someone is Not That Bad, even though they belittle you and promise they’ll change and then do it again and then promise no, really, they’ll change, and you start tallying up the things that they’ve done that are good to try and get over the bit where they’re doing something bad that embarrasses you in public—no. Just no.

That’s an abusive relationship. We do not have those, except possibly with cats, who are allowed to treat us like crap when they feel like it and then purr and be made of love when it suits them, because we extend these privileges to cats and not to any other living thing.  Not to other humans. Not to organizations.

If I wish to have an abusive relationship with an organization, I can join any number of lousy churches, and at least they have free donuts.

I am trying to think of anything that could fail three times in a row, in short order, and I would still give another chance. Hmm. Housebreaking a puppy comes to mind. That’s about it.

So now I’m going “Hmm. Abusive relationship…or stupid but well-meaning puppy?”

And that’s the question, isn’t it? Can SFWA learn? If we hit it with enough rolled-up newspapers and rub its nose in big piles of Seriously-Not-Okay, will it get better? Will the puppy learn to go outside?

Or is SFWA just gonna go “Aw, you know I don’t mean it, babe…” and pinch our respective asses and turn around and do it again…and again…and again….

I don’t know the answer.

I’ve got nine months to run on my membership. By the end, I might know. And the nice thing is that since I don’t have much of an emotional investment here, if I want to walk away, I can do so—and never think about it ever again. Which is good for me. But not so good for SFWA if that’s what your members are thinking.

So maybe next year the puppy will have learned to go outside.

Or maybe I’ll just change the locks and keep all my TV dinner money to myself.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

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Scalzi is the outgoing president, having served his year. You can be pretty sure that he's not enamoured of this, but I get the impression from elsewhere that The Bulletin is a bit of a fiefdom in its own right, not immediately amenable to the better influences of the board.

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Ah, so THAT is what is going on. Oh, dear.

That is disgusting. I will be following what happens, and it really is disappointing when authors you like, who have such authority in their communities, spout such sexist, backwards rhetoric. I can only hope for generational change - it's happening in the Hugos, hopefully it will happen in the SFWA, too (one of the reasons I maintain a Hugo membership, even if I don't particularly want to/can't afford to go to Worldcon again, is because more young people are needed in the voter pool and attitudes like this face negative selection pressure). Here's hoping this puppy learns its lesson.

Also, looking forward to the Digger Kickstarter!

That was my reaction. Resnick was always a name I looked for when browsing at the library. Kirinyaga is a novel I like to reread every few years, and The Branch, the last book by him I read, was a damn interesting read.

great minds think alike

I said basically the same thing when someone was going "don't quit, YOU have to stay and fix it from the inside!" and I went "I'm sorry I hit you sweetie, have some flowers, won't happen again I promise"

FWIW Rachel Swirsky did tweet back that she understood how I could see it that way. I'm just glad I'm not the only one who saw it.

also FWIW I'm not a member, but I do have a professional credit or two in the bank and have always hoped to get that letter from SFWA School for the Sciffy Arts telling me I've been accepted... but now I don't know if I even want one if I got one. Because all this won't change their cloud-yelling-at minds, they'll just go into lurk mode to pop up when the fuss has sufficiently died down for them to feel safe enough to put the "he-man woman-hating club" t-shirts back on.

Re: great minds think alike

SFWA doesn't invite anyone; you apply. Or not.

I'm sorry I didn't warn you in time. As SFWA nonsense goes, this one is really minor. It doesn't really rank with funding Harlan Ellison's legal attempt to destroy all unmoderated internet forums, or sending tons of unauthorized DMCA takedowns, or Andrew Burt's bizarre anti-piracy idea of distributing fake versions of books, or coopting Swedish library royalty payments on all American SF, or Howard Hendrix' Pixel-Stained Technopeasant rant, or probably a bunch of things that have happened in the five years since I stopped paying attention.

So in that sense, maybe hitting them over and over has made things better. But you can see how much farther it still has to go.

tl;dr: Run.

So that's where "Pixel Stained Techno Peasant" came from. I'd seen the phrase around. On an icon, I think.

I've realized that I'm too tired and too busy to house train puppies in my life, figuratively or literally. And I'm especially too old to house break grown-ass men.

Really, I didn't realize it was my job to give men an upbringing unless I squeezed them from my loins personally.

You are the second person I know to publicly blog that they wish they had their money back.


This really does not make me *ever* want to join.

I'm not a member, but I've had a few run-ins with SFWA people myself. (The "pixel-stained techno-peasant" kerfluffle some years back in particular) and I kind of feel like the puppy thing is probably about right. Somebody needs to rub a few noses in the widdle puddle there, I think.

"The "pixel-stained techno-peasant" kerfluffle"

Wait.. What?

I think it's a bunch of guys, and while puppies might be one comparison, others come to mind.

As Kevin illustrates, you don't have to be that kind of guy to be a cool man. But they don't get it, the same way T-Partiers don't get that racism isn't obvious and evil.

What pisses me off about this is that I have so many favorite lady science fiction writers! I assumed this wasn't an issue in the SF community because there are so many. And sci fi is supposed to be progressive instead of regressive (think GRRM justifying writing rape since it's in the spirit of the 'era' he's writing in).

It strengthens my resolve to make some good non-shitty-to-people comics already.

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On the one hand, I think 'abusive relationship' lends the nonsense they are churning out a dignity it doesnkt deserve. On the other, I think this is less a puppy than an old if adorable stray dog with a whole slew of bad habits you are not going to train out of it. :/

my gut response is that I've heard so much abusive sexist crap out of SF cons that I don't believe it's stupid innocence for a second.

I am close to losing track of the amount of abusive sexist crap I'm hearing out of SFWA, and I'm not even a member. I personally know more than one woman author who has left SFWA because of the harassment that they got for, essentially, being female and writing stories about women. :-\

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SCBWI is problematic in different ways (they tend to focus on new writer resources and offer limited resources beyond that, and also do little in the way of advocacy), but the culture is very different and the members themselves have far better manners.

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Oh sweetie.

Run. *grins*

Man, I hope you don't get attacked for posting this. What a lot of unoriginal, self-important douchebags.

I feel like as far as organizational reforms go -- whether actual organizations or staggering big things like "My Cultural Environment (TM)" -- the extent to which one involves themself in reform really depends on one's personal energy levels, resources tangible and intangible, and tolerance for bullshit. (Okay, #1 and #3 are subsets of #2.) I'm sure any organization can be reformed at some point given enough time and effort, but the question is -- do the would-be reformers have that kind of time and energy? I'm in awe of those who wade through shit to constantly educate and advocate, but it's perfectly reasonable -- especially for people working on organizations that are marginalizing those like them in particular -- to look at the clusterfuck and go "Hahaha hell no."

I managed to pi-- annoy some SFWA members a fair while ago, so much so that at one point I ended up being taken to task by three or four officials on my LJ (three commitee members and the VP). Given that I didn't have a single pro credit at the time I was somewhat amazed that they felt obliged to try and browbeat me and to insist that I was just a resentful whiner who would shut up and join if I was ever able to. (I like to remember the outcome as me holding my own until they realised no one was watching anymore and went off to battle the forces of evil elsewhere)

But damn, I am massively impressed that while building their big wicker man (straw is not enough) R and B manage to return to a few personal gripes about 'bad reviews I have had'.

Edited at 2013-06-01 03:11 am (UTC)

And while what happens on private forums stays on private forums, let me just say that it’s sad when you finally get to interact with some of the Big Names of science fiction and they turn out to be old men yelling at clouds.

Nor will I tell stories about being convention staff (especially programming staff) and dealing with GOHs who turn out to be much the same. I wasn't on staff when you were at Duck or MFF, but I am very glad to know you are definitely not in the "yells at clouds" set. Honestly most of the GOHs I dealt with were not members either, but I know it did cut back on my interest in buying stuff from the ones that were. Yeah, it's sad and more than a bit disappointing when it happens.

You don't know that! I might have TOTALLY yelled at clouds. Stupid entitled clouds, with their...err...cloudedness....

Everyone's probably just being polite.

Sadly, I'm not at all surprised by this. I've met Resnick a few times, and he registers strongly on my skeezy-meter*; and I know he and Malzberg are thick as thieves, which IMO explains why Malzberg has had a story in just about every anthology Resnick has edited (most of which won my "Waste of Ink" award -- the man can't write worth a damn). So the idea that Resnick would be a flaming sexist asshole and Malzberg would agree with him on all points is unfortunately all too predictable.

* Note: I've been going to cons for over 30 years. I can definitely tell the difference between a guy who's just poor at social interaction in general and one who's specifically skeezy toward women. Resnick has always made me side-eye and want to back away slowly.

I have my own long-simmering issues with SFWA, mainly revolving around the somewhat absurd requirements they have for qualifying as a full-fledged active member...which continue to be well behind the times. But when I hear about sexist or other bullshit, it really irritates me and makes me question why/whether I want to ever someday make the leap from Associate to Active. I so want us to be better than this, dammit.

You should found 'The Other Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and Illustrators Confederation' (or possibly something more catchy. And shorter) that has one giant forum with general topics by month and no paper newsletter.

And maybe a roving get-together annually where everyone who can make it gathers in a cheap hotel. News of panels would be spread by word-of-mouth and held in individual rooms (standing room only) and there'd be a lot of furtive skulking between rooms and randomly laughter or sobbing would float from one room or another.

The people who clean the hotel would be vaguely traumatized afterwards, even if they weren't really sure why, or how they'd come into the possession of three books, four comics, and a children's book, all featuring interesting (male and/or female and/or other) protagonists and possibly wombats.

"And what does that mean to you?"

"That somebody really wanted our initials to spell SHIELD."


That is so nail on the head right!

Okay, I know it's only a metaphorical puppy but I'm still not comfortable with someone hitting it with rolled up newspapers and rubbing its nose in the mess... Metaphorical puppy training is reward-based these days. You reward the puppy for messing in the garden rather than in the house.

Though the idea of giving members of the SFWA dog biscuits every time they write something that isn't sexist is perhaps a little strange.

Though the idea of giving members of the SFWA dog biscuits every time they write something that isn't sexist is perhaps a little strange.

Or possibly the best write-in campaign gimmick ever.

*snerk* I think you nailed 'em here... :-)

Back some decades, when I was married to an author, the main thing I noticed in the Bulletin was all the letters saying basically "we should declare all the famous SF writers to be members so i can shine in their reflected glory, and kick out anyone who makes less in annual sales than I do, because they aren't real writers."

We do not have those, except possibly with cats, who are allowed to treat us like crap when they feel like it and then purr and be made of love when it suits them, because we extend these privileges to cats and not to any other living thing. Not to other humans.

except small children. she said, staring at a fist-sized bruise on her thigh. *sigh*

otherwise, yes.

Well, with small children, one is engaged in the process of training them out of it. The years-long, repetitive, mind-numbing process ... yeah, I'm doing that too. I'm looking forward with anticipation to the time when the efforts start visibly paying off.

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