Concert today

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Spent the day on tour. I promise I’ll be back to the blog soon.mike

Busy writing

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Am busy writing today. Back with more blogs soon. FeatherPenClipArt

Who’s being bullied?

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55327_girl-writing_mdUntil last fall, Jen Scharf taught a free yoga class for students with disabilities at University of Ottawa. However, the class was cancelled by the student center administration because of concerns that it was “cultural appropriation.” This translates as: Yoga is a Hindu art, so people of African, Caucasian and Latino descent should not be allowed to practice it.

Oberlin College had a similar issue over its cafeteria food. Last fall, cafeteria management, hoping to create more diversity, included a number of food offerings from different cultures. However, they were attacked because the food was not made with authentic recipes, and was again, a type of cultural appropriation. Presumably this means that serving Asian dishes to African American and Jewish students is a form of micro-aggression.

These are easy targets. Looking for a way to feel like they’ve brought social justice to the world, these activists have deprived disabled students of a free exercise class. They have hounded low-paid cafeteria workers who are trying to add some diversity to the menu. And worse, some activists have crossed the line into bigotry themselves.

Oberlin College has been in the news again this last week. The college has posted the demands an association of African American students sent to the school’s President Krislov before the holiday break. The students were complaining about racism, but others read the content differently. Krislov called some of it “deeply troubling.” More forthright alumni and board members called it anti-Semitic.

Cultural appropriation is another issue that Ann Rice has addressed in her comments on bullying. It’s very common for books to be attacked because a white person is considered unqualified to write about black characters, for example, or straight writers are unqualified to write about the LGBTQ experience. This is considered cultural appropriation. However, it also belittles the skills of the writer. Where are we supposed to go from there? That men shouldn’t write about women characters, or women shouldn’t write about male characters?

Jen Scharf had this comment about the yoga class: “…effectively, political correctness is the new face of bullying.” The class resumed this week with a new teacher of East Indian descent.

Escalation of the SFF culture war?

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55327_girl-writing_mdThe second uncomfortable issue that solidified over the last week is the perception that the gender/race/worldview war within the SFF community is getting nastier. This despite calls for a stronger community and initiative for the We Are ALL SF con. Nobody seems ready to let this go.

A little while back, I reviewed what I saw as the origins of the Hugo debacle of last summer. Here’s the core of the issue again:
•The SFWA Bulletin publishes various covers and articles that could be considered sexist.
•Resnick and Malzberg respond to criticism of their editorial by calling their complainants “liberal fascists,” and grousing about censorship.
•Resnick and Malzberg are fired as columnists.
•Women bloggers start to get hate mail.
•The bulletin editor resigns.
•N.K. Jemisin complains about Vox Day’s conservative views and the 10% of members who voted for him for SFWA president in her Guest of Honor speech at the 2013 Continuum in Australia.
•Day responds by calling her a “savage,” which gets him expelled from the SFWA.
•Conservative authors mount a slate for the 2014 Hugo Awards.
•Vox Day spearheads a largely successful effort to sabotage the Hugo Awards in 2015.

That brings us up to now. Looking at this rundown, I can gather that at least 10% of the SFWA membership holds a conservative worldview strong enough to vote for Vox Day for president. There’s been a lot of focus on Day, who is acting as spokesman for the conservative faction. I agree that his extremism makes him an attractive target for harassment; however, everyone seems to be skimming over problems like Jemison’s dissing of the 10% of conservative SFWA membership at Continuum. This 10% is likely just the tip of the conservative iceberg, too—it’s likely half the SFF community holds at least some conservative views.

This is not to attack Jemison. As an African American woman, she certainly has a right to hold a progressive viewpoint. However, it is likely this speech inflamed the ideological split within the SF community. This is also not to support juvenile assessments of the attributes of “lady editors” as published by Resnick and Malzberg. We all need to be professional here.

So why do I think the war is getting nastier? It took a while for my Nebula reading to settle in. I mentioned in my review that Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory contained suggestions I found offensive. One of these was that all women are two-faced. Another was a subtle attack on white men. In light of this, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy also contained what I think is an attack on male privilege. This one is even more subtle, as Leckie uses only female pronouns. Still, she gave out enough clues that I suspect who’s what. These novels are both high up in consideration for the Nebula nominations. I don’t know that this is constructive—it feels like more sexism. Everyone needs to remember that conservatives are part of the diversity package and they’re not going to go away any time soon.

Before everyone checks in to assume I’m a conservative, my worldview tends toward liberal progressive. However, I do look at the issues and think cooperation is better as a way to deal with diversity than fighting it out.

Typical female viewpoint, eh?

A “mean girls” culture in spec fiction?

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FeatherPenClipArtAfter contemplation, there were a couple of things that fell out of this recent foray into the wilds of the Internet. Contemplation always solidifies what was uncomfortable about what you saw, right? In this case one of the uncomfortable issues was that the search for author bullying cases brought up mostly women.

There are some well-known differences in the way men and women operate. This is something that’s generally quoted as an advantage in hiring women for management positions. Specifically, women tend to seek cooperative decision-making while men tend to set up a hierarchy of authority. Because of these structures, men have a mentoring structure, while women don’t. This can result in actions within a group of women to take down members who want to achieve more than the average. It’s complex, but it often results in the “mean girls” culture outlined by the film of the same name. This culture takes down upstarts who don’t know their place and enforces mediocrity.

Over the years, women writers have struggled for achievement and equal representation in the speculative fiction genres. SF writers especially are fighting for recognition in a male-dominated field. The early pioneers like Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree knew they’d get recognition faster with male pseudonyms. Taking a male pen name not only obscured the female Tiptree’s identity, but also gave her access to the mentoring system men use. It’s no surprise that the worst harassment abuses I came up with were in the female erotica/romance genres where male participation is lowest.

In responses to the bullying and harassment issues, I notice calls for a stronger community of women writers. I’d certainly vote for this. Budding African American writers like Fionna Free Man need mentoring and support from the community of women writers, not a career-destroying take down from an established, best-selling writer like Jenny Trout.

Who would take the lead in something like this? Maybe an SFWA committee?

The dangers of Internet activism

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WarriorAnother element that sticks out in the episodes of Internet bullying/censorship I’ve reviewed here is the backlash. Because Internet activists have a tendency to go off half-cocked and to be over-zealous, they sometimes make mistakes about what the public actually thinks about something. Their goal is to sway public opinion with a media campaign, of course, but not everyone falls for this. There are actually a lot of critical thinkers out there. These include people like Ann Rice who are concerned about the social implications, plus the experts who are now labeling this trend as fascism.

There are advantages to having a prominent role as an activist. Your name gets repeated a lot in blogs and articles, which raises your profile as an author (or whatever). As I mentioned some months back, some people feel there is no such thing as negative publicity. This means they will pursue notoriety regardless of consequence. However, some of these activists have run afoul of public opinion and suffered for it. Jenny Trout was dropped by her publisher after the Fionna Man episode. Ann Rice, Kevin Weinberg and Marvin Kaye suffered from their efforts to counter some of these attacks. Sarah Wendell received a lot of negative attention after Vox Day featured her comments on his conservative blog. And Day is a prime example himself. Everyone in the SFF community should know his name after last year’s Hugo debacle, but most of the press is so negative that it leads people to discount his viewpoints.

This suggests that activism should be used cautiously as a way to advance ideas and/or to market yourself. It should also be used intelligently to further viewpoints. Attacking people like Fionna Man doesn’t help the progressive cause.

Dangerous Ideas

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55327_girl-writing_mdFollowing up on the analysis of bullied authors, what was it that triggered the attacks on Man, Breslin and Foyt? Are some ideas dangerous? More specifically, are there some ideas that we do need to suppress? Some that are too perilous to allow out there, even in fiction? Ann Rice calls this transgressive fiction.

I have to think this is the issue with the attacks on these books. There are certain views that have been established by political pressure groups that are carefully defended. For example, the views challenged in these novels are: 1) Thomas Jefferson as a racist and child rapist, 2) Nazis as irredeemable monsters and 3) current views of what constitutes racism in literary expression. Once these views are established, then they have to be maintained, so proponents watch like a hawk for any slippage of the ideology. Any infringement offers a new opportunity to drive the point home. Blackface is a prime example, as large segments of the public persist in failing to understand the racist significance of wearing makeup that’s darker than your skin. Angelina Jolie was vilified in 2006 for her appearance in the film A Mighty Heart, for example. The trailer for Save the Pearls showing the character in blackface was one of the prime motivations for labeling Foyt’s book racist.

Ideas are curious things. I’ve been discussing the importance of ideas in hard SF—that someone has to predict the future in order for us to build it. If you look really hard at it, reality is something humans construct for ourselves. On a basic level, we understand that it’s a fragile construct. This means we will always defend against ideas that challenge our vision of reality. The question is whether we can make reality fit our specifications.

Common threads in these examples?

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55327_girl-writing_mdFor one thing, I notice all these authors are women. Presumably there are also male authors who are bullied, but the prominence of these results in a search for bullied authors suggests that women are more likely to be targeted than men. It’s interesting to speculate on why. Are women viewed as fair game for some reason while men are not? Do women tend to present more daring or challenging ideas? Do they have a really bad understanding of political correctness? Do they have naive assumptions about their right to freedom of expression?

In two of the cases above, the harassment was instigated mainly by another woman who was offended by either the basic idea or the presentation of ideas in the novels. Why is this? Do women see themselves as having a responsibility to police and punish offensive ideas moreso than men? Do they act as SJWs more often?

In one case conservative author Vox Day entered the fray on the side of Kate Breslin. Does this mean there is a political or ideological battle going on? An attempt to censor or bury particular ideas that don’t meet with popular support? Are all novels now required to meet standards of progressive correctness in the marketplace?

One issue pointed out in the battle over Save the Pearls was that Foyt’s ideas weren’t that radical, but that her presentation was heavy-handed and inept. The same might be said of Man’s book, which took characters from history that carried baggage along–apparently just mention of Sally Hemings carries unacceptable implications about statutory rape and racism. Presumably a different treatment where Jefferson’s role as rapist and racist was prominent would have been completely acceptable. This suggests that one of the problems here is the reduced role of traditional publishers and editors in presenting these books for sale. Experienced publishers and editors, like those at Weird Tales for example, are more savvy about what’s acceptable to the public and what’s not. They would most likely nix offensive ideas before they got out there to cause trouble.

I’m not going to speculate about what happened to Harris. I think her fans need to get a life.

Examples of Internet Censorship/Bullying: Fans vs. Charlaine Harris

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royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779One last example is Charlaine Harris, who was threatened by fans in 2013 over the fantasy novel Dead Ever After.

Charlaine Harris writes vampire fiction and her Sookie Stackhouse novels form the basis of the TV show True Blood. Dead Ever After winds up the saga, and some fans were apparently unhappy about the conclusion. Harris received death threats, suicide notes and thousands of vilifying rants and complaints. The book received 366 one-star reviews on Amazon. Harris’ publisher reported that the author refused to go on a book tour because of the harassment. One source comments that Harris is an author held captive by her successful series.

Note: This should not be taken as support for either vampirism or radical fandom on my part. I only support Harris’s right to freedom of expression.

David G. Hartwell has passed

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RIP David Hartwell, senior editor at Tor. FeatherPenClipArt

Hartwell suffered a fall at his home on January 19th and passed away on January 20th. David was a long-time editor in the SF community, having published his first small press magazine in 1965. My thoughts are with his wife, Kathryn Cramer, and his children.

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