For the past few days I’ve been engaged in a series of conversations on Twitter and Facebook about SFF fandom and its safety/egalitarianism — or lack thereof. I’ll just share some of what I’ve already said there, here:
Some bits of a conversation on Twitter that started with me generally ranting about how unsafe I feel at Worldcon and progressed to an argument with someone who said s/he spoke for the SMOFs (“secret masters of fandom”, i.e. convention organizers). I basically pointed out that if fandom wants to change, the resources to assist with doing so have been around for years. At this point I’m tired. I’m not interested in further talk until I start seeing some action.
Then from a conversation about Heinlein and the racism that has always been visible in his work, and lately has been made explicit through his letters:
Marc, the larger literary continuum in which Heinlein’s work existed was both created by *and contributed to* that flawed society. Heinlein’s work is one of the reasons why SFF has spent years calling itself progressive, and utterly refusing to listen to complaints about the racism embedded in the genre’s bones. That resistance is one of the things that’s made my career a greater struggle than a white author’s might be. The reason I read FF in the first place was because, when I first got active in SFF fandom and tentatively complained about some stuff that bothered me in the first Heinlein works I’d read, Heinlein fans yelled at me that he wasn’t racist or sexist, and Farnham’s Freehold was the proof of that. After I read that book I realized two things: a) that Heinlein was racist as *fuck*, and b) most of science fiction fandom was too.
Now, don’t get me wrong. SFF is where my literary muse takes me, so I’m committed to this genre; I care for what it’s done and where it’s going, if only out of intelligent self-interest. But I’m very aware of not only how flawed it is from an artistic standpoint, but how utterly hostile it has been to me and people like me. So this cannot be an abstract thing to me; the bigotry in SFF does not merely passively reflect that of US society. It is an active, ongoing, threat. It has done, and is still doing, real harm. So I’ll read it, but I’m not even going to pretend to love it. The best I can manage is love for its *potential,* and loathing for most of what it’s actually done.
Now here’s something I attempted to post as a comment in response to this blog post hyperbolically lambasting complaints about sexual harassment at cons as “plunging all fandom into war” (because demanding safety is just like attacking another country, killing soldiers and civilians, etc.):
You’re downplaying what actually happened. I don’t know whether you’re doing so intentionally or out of ignorance, but this is a situation that can only be understood in context, and you’re leaving out or ignoring a lot of the context that matters. I will attempt to explain.
No one has said Walling is a rapist. He has, however, been accused of repeatedly harassing women — and by “harassing” I mean stalking and groping and attempting to coerce into sex — not just at Readercon but many cons. He’s done it to at least two authors (including Valentine), to con volunteers and staff, and more. When Valentine came forward, these other women did, too — enough to show that Walling has a demonstrated pattern of doing the same thing everywhere he goes. People want him banned from Readercon simply because that’s what Readercon’s rules said. But this is why people want him banned from all cons: because he cannot be trusted to behave at any of them.
Then you complain about the behavior of Valentine’s friends. But you don’t mention that Walling’s friends have not only protected him from con rules enforcement, but they’ve gone after some of the women who’ve complained about his behavior in the past. Some of the authors haven’t been invited to other cons as guests, some of the con staffers have been marginalized until they quit. In other words, Valentine’s friends are hurting his reputation, but Walling’s friends are hurting women’s careers. Women cannot feel safe at any con Walling attends in part because of Walling himself, and in part because Walling is surrounded by (relatively) powerful people who’ve proven more than willing to use their power to harm others on his behalf. And he’s also protected by a throng of random bystanders who decry any complaint about sexual harassment as a “lynch mob”.
(Yeah, because asking a con to adhere to its own printed rules is totally like beating, raping, torturing, dismembering, and stringing someone up. Also, this is nowhere near “war”.)
It’s lovely that you’ve felt safe at cons. You’re very lucky. But your luck does not mean that less-lucky women are imagining things. Or that their unwillingness to tolerate being groped — even though it didn’t bother you when it happened — means they’re overreacting.
Sadly, the level of vitriol around this incident can set the general egalitarianism in fandom back by decades.
There is no egalitarianism in fandom.
There is a belief in egalitarianism. But it has mostly been used to support the usual suspects — the straight white men at the core of SFF — while marginalizing the usual targets — women, people of color, anyone the straight white men don’t like or want to objectify or want to own. When the usual targets complain about their treatment, they have to listen to what I like to call The Egalitarianism Speech. That’s the speech that goes, “Can’t we all just get along? Shut up a little and we can. Stop asking for change and we can. Everything was fine before you started complaining. We’re all equal here, after all.”
We are not. But we can be, eventually, if things change. What is necessary to bring about this change is sometimes, yes, vitriol, because polite discussions have already been had — in spades — and they haven’t worked. Walling has apparently been Talked To before; it didn’t stop him from pulling this again. Readercon’s no-tolerance harassment policy came out of a previous incident and discussion and they ignored it. Only vitriol made them follow their own rules. All the anger right now is because politeness has been tried, and all that’s done has been to protect and enable more bad behavior. The anger, however, seems to be having a positive effect.
So there’s your context.
I write science fiction and fantasy. I write other things too, but I can’t claim to be a mainstream writer; that’s not where my muse goes. It’s here. And I both love and despise this genre.
I love it because I’ve met wonderful people, and because through SFF I’ve been able to imagine things that I couldn’t have if I’d kept my focus on the here and now. I despise it because SFF is just as flawed as the rest of the world when it comes to bigotry and marginalization — but unlike the rest of the world, SFF thinks it’s progressive. Embraces the idea of its own progressivism with such fervor that I’d call it religious, if the field weren’t so full of atheists who would never be caught dead preaching doctrine or shunning unbelievers or anything like that. (That was sarcasm. The atheists have their own problems right now.)
We have to shed this idea that SFF is somehow special. That it is perfect. That it is in any way better than the mainstream society from which it derives. It isn’t. And in fact, SFF’s manifest unwillingness to examine itself is one of the things that makes it worse than the mainstream.
I and people I care about keep getting accused of having some kind of agenda, whenever we express a demand for some kind of positive change. So OK. You know what it is? Lean close. Here’s the secret. Here’s the goal of the big shadow conspiracy. I’ll whisper.
I say “nearly” because, well. Some people’s idea of fun is other people’s non-fun. But for anyone who doesn’t think “fun” means hurting, frightening, or stomping all over someone else? They should all be welcome under this tent.
That’s it. That’s the conspiracy. And it really doesn’t seem that much to ask.