For the last year, pretty much coinciding with my determination to make this writing thing really happen, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has been embroiled with multiple strings of ugly controversies involving sexism, racism and the unfortunate growing pains of a changing marketplace and industry. Full disclosure: currently, I can’t join SFWA, because I’m a hybrid author who doesn’t meet their minimum qualifications for book advances, something that I don’t see changing until they modify their requirements to be more inclusive of self-publishing and indie-publishing. (Hugh Howey, making $40K a month from his Wool series, wouldn’t have qualified either before he signed his recent print publication deal–they really do need to update their by-laws, which currently exclude a whole lot of authors who might otherwise benefit from membership.) So I am an outsider, and I’ve never been a member of the organization.
That does not mean, however, that I don’t look to the organization, and that I don’t expect them to represent my interests. I do. I find Writers Beware to be an invaluable resource, and I respect and admire the effort that SFWA has made to protect writers from exploitation. They do a whole lot for the community. I want them to succeed, flourish, and damn it, I want to be a proud members some day. But just like knowing that your uncle Joe is a great guy who didn’t flinch at co-signing your first car loan doesn’t mean you have to excuse the fact he still calls ethnicities by perjoratives, I’m under no obligation to excuse the absolute bullshit going on with some of the members (and to be fair, non-members) of SFWA right now.
The argument (for those paying attention) seems to be divided into two main sides, with each side trying to define what the argument is even about. Listen to one camp and you’ll be told that this is about freedom of speech and censorship, that members of SFWA have a right to say what they want in the interests of democratic debate, even if a minority of members find what they say to be objectionable or ‘politically incorrect.’ Listen to the other camp and you’ll hear how it’s got nothing to do with censorship, but with discrimination, sexism, and an attempt to keep a growing group of SFWA members marginalized and silent because that’s how the good ol’ boys want it, since they don’t want to share their clubhouse. Just to add some spice to the stupidity, a former SFWA member threw some slut-shaming in there as well.
Now, I’m just going to throw it out there that neither side is probably one hundred percent correct (except about the slut-shaming part which wins the prize for wrong, wrong, wrong,) because that’s just not how real life works. I suspect that many of the authors who supported the anti-censorship petition that was making the rounds probably did so not out of malice but with a genuine concern for SFWA and the wisdom to understand that the mouth silenced today might be one’s own tomorrow. Without sarcasm, it’s a subtle thing to understand the difference between rejecting or vetoing something as unprofessional and jerk-worthy with the rallying cry ‘you’re censoring my free speech!’ On the other hand, some of those members do seem, judging by their own words, to be truly outstanding douchebags of the thirty-third degree, who think that women should be seen and not heard (or read!) and minorities have no place in the community. They talk about how SFWA used to be, the evil minorities poisoning its core (although bless their hearts for calling me ‘Young’), and in an ironic display of how they might genuinely not understand the evolving face of technology’s march, they did this in a public forum where the public could (and did) notice.
Naturally someone set up a tumblr site to mine for the good bits. Naturally people completely lost their shit over it, as people tend to do. Articles were written. And since this particularly organizational body is already fighting off a previous infection, it’s quite sensitive to new attacks. It won’t take as much exposure to cause a reaction as it did before, so each time something like this comes up, it’s going to trigger not only the current situation, but all the unresolved issues still lingering. Everything gets hacked up (a bit like this metaphor.) Oh, and one of the men in question is threatening to sue everyone under the sun who may be even peripherally involved with sharing his publicly uttered, unedited words. Because that always works out well.
Okay then. So I too am throwing my two cents in, even though I’m not a member and virtually no one has any any idea who I am (to those who do: love you!) But here it goes anyway. We writers are nothing if not open to sharing our thoughts. Even when we’re not asked. Maybe especially then.
First, and this is just a personal favor, but if you’re going to cite the US Constitution, please read it. Wait, I’ll quote it for you: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
So last I checked, that has nothing to do with a private organization’s rules for its own publications, except inasmuch as the USA sometimes makes laws that says private groups shouldn’t discriminate either. SFWA is not a newspaper! (And in point of fact, newspapers DO edit their own work. I worked at one for years. Just because you send a letter to the editor doesn’t mean it sees print.) So if a private organization tells you that you can’t behave in a sexist or racist manner in their official newsletter? That’s not impinging on your constitutional rights. Sorry. (Not sorry.)
You are of course free to say what you want as nastily as you want elsewhere, but you also don’t get to bitch if that organization decides you don’t represent the kind of image they want to portray and kicks you out. Again, you have a constitutional right to say what you like. A company or organization is also under ZERO constitutional obligation to print it.
Second, this is a matter of perception and public relations, and sorry, but public perception IS important. Never mind that there are members of this club engaging in some horrible behaviors, if SWFA wants to continue to be taken seriously as a lobbying body and champion of writers’ rights (or better, be taken more seriously — they’ve lost a lot of clout of late,) their public-facing side matters. And in this age, that means understanding that the Internet is a life under glass and what members of SWFA say in SWFA’s official newsletter will be taken as representative of SWFA as a whole. SWFA has a right to protect their own image.
Again, I like SWFA. I think they’re turning into something good (just way too slowly) but Holy Sputtering Dinosaurs, Batman, what’s been going on with some SWFA members lately has felt like watching a football hazing, where apparently you have to endure it all without complaint or protest or you end up with something even worse than having your head shoved into the toilet. My only consolation is that it’s not the leadership of SWFA who seems to be behaving this way. I have nothing but respect for John Scalzi, and I’ve been equally impressed so far with Steven Gould. So good on them for that.
The new counter to any accusation of sexism or racism (or hell, I guess I have to add ageism now that it’s the ‘Young’ writers who are being accused of this behavior) is apparently to accuse us of being politically correct, rabidly feminist, and attempting to politicize SWFA for our own ends.
I think that last one has some merits, because I suppose you could call it that when a group of underrepresented people try to gain a voice within an organization. In this case ‘our ends’ is asking that maybe women and minorities aren’t so discriminated against and get a little more respect. And oh, I don’t know, maybe stop thinking you have a right to grope us or something.
So guilty, I guess?
Guess what though! Good news! We’re here. We’re here, you can’t stop us, and we’re damn well going to keep writing. So HAH.