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I have a question

Dear SFF Community,

Most of the time, I'm proud to be part of you. I'm proud to be part of a community that Matched It For Pratchett and regularly raises money for Talking Books for the Blind. I'm proud to be part of a community that is strongly, vocally, actively working to ensure our space is fully accessible, convenient and pleasant for people with disabilities. I'm proud to be part of a community that set up the Carl Brandon Society and Con Or Bust. I'm proud to be part of a community which, on seeing institutionalised racism, sexismn, trans*phobia, homophobia, hostility to people who reject gender normativity, turned around and, yes, argued, long and loud and continuously, but also set out to clean house and make ourselves better. Very few other groups linked by common interest have done that. Most of them seem to prefer to gaslight and bully those who raise such issues. I'm proud to belong to a community that sees its own shortcomings. Yes, we could do better. We can always do better.

There are some great things going on in our community right now. Nine Worlds is working to create and maintain a con environment that is welcoming to PoC, QUILTBAG people, fans with disabilities, new fans. Many cons now have and enforce Codes of Conduct aimed at fostering inclusivity and safety. Con committees are working to find ways to recruit new fans, younger fans. SFWA is working actively to end a culture of normative sexism and racism. Women writers are banding together to address equality in bookshop promotions. Writers of colour are speaking up and working to address the inequality they face. People from across the fan spectrum are supporting and signal-boosting them.

And we are all rooted in the societies that raised us, societies that are, mainly, institutionally racismt sexist, tran*- , xeno- and homo-phobic, hostile to people who face physical and mental challenges, wqhich blame the poor and underprivileged for their difficulties. We were most of us raised in cultures that fostered this, often unconsciously. We are surrounded by images and actions which reinforce an unequal status quo. It awes me that so many in our community fight this, in both their cultures and themselves. IT awed me that we stand up to those who are within the community who seem to revel in their prejudices and tell them, No More.

But, right now, I have a question for you. Why, when we fight these battles, do we so often resort to the same old patriarchal norms? Why do we reserve our greatest spleen for *women* and defend our right to do so? That, I put to you, needs addressing and it needs addressing now. I really don't want to comment on Loncon 3 and Jonathan Ross: enough has been said and said in all kinds of ways. My personal view on it, for those who will demand to know such things, is that I think the chairs made a mistake here. He is a fan, certainly, but he is also controversial and divisive for well-rehearsed reasons. At the same time, he's very popular, particularly with the younger demographic and would certainly have drawn in new, younger attendees. So I can also see that the chairs had reasons on their side too. I don't think the chairs are bad people. I know both of them, have done for years, and they have both worked long and hard for inclusivity in UK fandom. This time, trying for one kind of that, they made a mistake in another kind. We all make mistakes. They don't -- they shouldn't -- cast us into pits of hellfire for all eternity. If that were the case, then the Vox Days have won: they don't care about making mistakes, they just carry on. If we throw each other out of the lifeboat one by one, we end up with no-one.

That's one thing. But I want to go back to my question. Why is the worst reserved for women?
Here's what I saw: a woman, who is a survivor of bullying and class oppression, expressed her concerns over the material that might be used by Mr Ross and how it might affect her. A large number of people, male and female, lit into her for daring to express her fears in public, for being 'mean', for being out of line.
Women must be Good.
A young woman, who is related to Mr Ross, tried to reassure her and was distressed by all the things that were being said. Another woman, the mother of that young woman, stepped in to defend her daughter. She perhaps did not do so tactfully, but she was faced with an upset and unhappy child. And, a number of people lit into her for daring to express her feelings in public, for being 'mean', for being out of line.
Women must be Good.
Both the adult women are now silent on twitter. One has felt driven to delete her account. These women have in fact spoken to each other calmly and come to mutual understanding. But people on all sides -- pro-Ross and anti- him -- are continuing to abuse both these women. I'm seeing more of that than I am people questioning his form of comedy or the chairs' decision. I'm seeing women as a group involved in this being demonised in the press and on social media, for being strident mean girls, bullies, sell-outs etc etc etc.
Because Women must be Good.
Neither of these adult women committed a crime. It's not a crime to be distressed and triggered about potential harassment. It's not a crime to feel the need to defend your child verbally. But people are using the tone argument on both of them, because women Must Be Good. They are demanding complete recanting and surrender. They are demanding recognition for a perceived right to abuse women.
Because women must be Good, and a woman out of line is far worse than a controversial man or a questionable decision.
This is patriarchy at its best, using us to undermine each other. I've seen you, men who position as allies, poking fun at that first woman, implying her concerns are trivial, stupid, blamable. I've seen you, women who I love and admire and support, demanding a right to punish a woman for being married to a man you disapprove of. I've seen male allies and vocal feminists falling straight into the patriarchy trap and blaming the women.
Shape up. Look at who is gaining here. Not us. Oh no. The winner> The system that says women must bear responsibility for policing and controlling male behaviour, that women must adapt their bodies and thoughts and actions to suit male expectations and desires, that women must attain to and keep far higher standards than men at all times, that Women Must Be Perfect.
Mr Ross will not be hosting the Hugos. The concerns the community had over inclusivity and safety were heard. Inclusivity and safety won out.
Yet somehow the long term winner seems to be patriarchal thinking.
And I want to know why.


( 113 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 6th, 2014 10:25 am (UTC)
Overall this is no surprise to anyone who experienced feminism in the 80s and 90s, which ended up much like the little Baptist sect in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon (they had so many doctrinal rows that eventually it devolved into his uncle and his dad, who still could not agree and ended up on both ends of the sofa, glaring at one another). Like a lot of movements that are founded on altruism, rather than the right wing glue of self interest, it tends to devour its own before it looks beyond.

There was a very good article by a Nigerian feminist activist about bridge building, rather than destructive testing, which came up in the New Statesman at the height of the SFWA row. I put a link on FB and I think one person 'liked' it (that person may well have been yourself). People love rows because they get to feel important, and the row is a distraction from whatever else might be going wrong or on in their lives.

A lot of the female petition signers seemed to attract more criticism than men, as though people like CJ Cherryh must be in some perfect accord with the rest of fandom. There, the idea seemed to be that 'I love this writer's books so she must think exactly like me.' This may well be something to do with identification. One of the petition signers, who is a close friend of mine, publically stated that she was not currently speaking to Sean Fodera, nor he to her, over something else entirely, but that if he lost his job she would make sure that he was financially supported, because he is a member of the community. I did not see that mentioned anywhere.

There is a flipside to all this, which is the feeling that one cannot criticise someone's behaviour at all, because they are, for instance, being female in public and might shatter. I have profound disagreements with other women on occasion, and I do not think any of us should be insulated from knowing that other people disagree with us. Hopefully this can be expressed offline and in a civil manner. In the Ross row, I felt that at least one woman acted very unprofessionally and cynically, and I have in the main refrained from saying so. I will not comment in public at length on that because I don't think that's terribly professional, either.

Paganism has and is going through all this - the 'summer feud' mentioned by Rosemary Edghill in 1992 is verily alive and well - but it has one advantage, and one advantage that is also a disadvantage. The latter, which is quicker to unpack, is that women are the dominant power in modern Wicca. This results in some truly awful behaviour by HPSs on occasion, nor are we free from sexual harassment, but the model is of women in power. The advantage is that in a spiritual environment, people are more receptive to personal dynamic training. A lot of pagans hark back to Starhawk and her writing on group management and conflict resolution. And hell, she's a SF writer too - quite a good one. I'd like to see more of this kind of analysis online, and less kneejerking (to which I am prone, too: I try to confine it to the living room).

It is possible to adhere to a set of principles whilst not engaging with the methods by which those principles are currently applied. I do not like the current zeitgeists, for reasons which have to do with experiencing them before, and seeing how they inevitably end up. I hope that people can start questioning the ways in which interactions are practiced, although I do not hold out much hope.

Sorry this is so long.
Mar. 6th, 2014 10:42 am (UTC)
Strange bedfellows are also more easily tolerated for the sake of the common interest when there is a tangible goal to fight for. For the sake of repealing the Pigeon Elimination Act I will put up with your unsound ideas on bats and you will tolerate my unreasonable attitude towards organic pesticides.

Also, Twitter is a blight.

Edited at 2014-03-06 10:55 am (UTC)
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Mar. 6th, 2014 10:30 am (UTC)
On the issue of safety in conventions, why do convention organisers not uphold the law? Surely policing should be done by the police. Assault, harassment, verbal abuse and so on are offences either against the person or against public order in most Common Law countries (and in most Civil Law jurisdictions as well). So why are men who commit these offences not handed over to the police for prosecution as they would be if they were thieves or pickpockets or vandals? At the very least, hotel security should be called in. You would only need the occasional prosecution to have a permanent deterrent effect.
Mar. 6th, 2014 10:44 am (UTC)
I agree. I do have to call the police on a regular basis, with aggressive or violent people; if I got groped at a con, I'd call the law.

At present, 'he might be nasty to me' is not, however, grounds for summoning the cops. I feel very patronised by a lot of the current debate over safe spaces: it is not a model by which I operate, but it is a model which is becoming increasingly applied.
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Mar. 6th, 2014 10:39 am (UTC)
I don't know if I can leave an unbiased comment, as I've grown up in societies (UK and US) that have had ingrained patriarchy and gender roles, and so must be aware that what I think is "normal" or "right" is very much tinted by this.

So ...
(after much retyping, and rethinking, and deleting...)

I agree. Using the tone argument, or wanting people to roll over, surrender, and apologise for how they feel, is wrong. (there, very simple).

And abusing people, online, in person, behind their backs ... is wrong.

(Terrible analogy follows)
If you abuse a big guard dog, and it bites you ... you aren't very bright.
If you a abuse a puppy, who doesn't have the power to fight back, you can damage it for life.

Men have had the power, the strength, and the societal support for so long, that it feels normal.
Women who are now trying to establish an equal position are being attacked for it. They haven't had the power, the strength, or the societal support, and still don't.

Seeing that men have that power, strength etc. some people see an "easier" target to go after their wives, children etc. as a way of attacking.

I think a problem straight away is "why are we attacking?" You don't like something, say so. If you like something, say so.
If the convention is organising, say, an exhibit celebrating the works of John Normal (the "Gor" books) and you object to them, then raise awareness, start petitions, boycott the convention, ask your friends to boycott the convention ... *don't* attack someone, don't attack someone's family, friends, employers etc.

Of course some people have gone through experiences that have taught them that protest rarely works, and so skip most of that and go straight on the attack (you can see this in many families and relationships, the "knowledge" that reasoning and asking nicely doesn't work, so you get to shouting and throwing things really quickly).

Dehumanising a person is the first step. "She's only a hysterical woman", "his point isn't valid, he's fat", "you can't understand, you're a man", "he's a public personality, that means he deserves abuse and has to take it, because he's not human anymore". Or the worst (and prevalent here) ... "it's ok, it's not a real person, it's a twitter account, or facebook ... I'm not talking to a real person with feelings, so I can be as rude and threatening as I want".

Compassion, understanding, empathy have all gone out the window, and we (if we are a community, then it is *us*) have allowed horrible things to happen here. We need to find a healing way forward (and no, I'm not suggesting reinviting someone devisive).

I do think that if an event said they were going to have, say, the EDL leader, as a guest, then you could choose whether to attend or not. But if an event says it's going to be open, welcoming, and respectful, takes your membership money, and then invites someone like that EDL person, you have bought into the event, you have invested your holiday time, your travel budget, your hotel budget etc. as well as your membership money, and so if the convention then deviates strongly from what you thought you'd invested in, you have a say in it.
There's an old thought that if you don't like how a team is running a convention, run your own. That doesn't work particularly well for political parties, it works even less well for Worldcon. It's not a practical or sensible answer.
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:36 am (UTC)
It's really hard to break out of patterns of thinking that are so ingrained in us by everyday society. Really, really hard.
And yes, to your point re invitees. Individual members absolutely have the right to have a say.
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Mar. 6th, 2014 10:40 am (UTC)
Good question, and one to which I wish I had an answer.
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:38 am (UTC)
Oh, so do I.
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:17 am (UTC)
I share your concerns about the unpleasantness of the abuse to female participants in the debate (which to me is a bigger issue than whether or not Mr Ross gets to participate in the con).

I get it that fans care about fandom but I sometimes wonder if they need to care a bit less about what happens in fandom and a bit more about everything else.

If Fan A pinches Fan B's bottom, it generates 300 LJ posts but there's a resounding silence about the Layla Ibrahim case and the UK FGM initiative -both in the news recently.

In the short term, maybe people could say take an Angry Bird pledge - play a round of some game on their phone before tweeting back so that they have time to think.

Mar. 6th, 2014 11:37 am (UTC)
That's a nice idea, re angry birds.
And good wishes.
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Mar. 6th, 2014 11:39 am (UTC)
Excellent question. I am not sure there is an easy answer, but I am glad you wrote this, because it was something I noticed, but couldn't quite put my finger on. I think there are other dynamics at work, too, for example, the weird way fans defend their idols no matter what. Plus, for some reason, things like the actual people involved working things out, clearing up miscommunications, and trying to mend relationships, seem to be like chum for a bunch of sharks who have been waiting to call people out in really non-productive ways.

It's really hard to call people out when they speak to issues, rather than ad hominem/feminam

It's really hard to gain traction or attention by focusing on people who say things like, "those people are idiotic losers," because stupid reductionism is stupid.

The kind of personal, emotion-laden comments that draw sharks do so precisely because they are personal and emotion-laden: they are easy game.

As you point out, they are easy game because we live in a society that says that "being mean", or expressing anger at a person, rather than a situation, are generally unacceptable. It's therefore ok to react against them, because such behaviour needs to be controlled. But that still doesn't answer the question of why women and allies do it so willingly. I think there are two things that partially help to explain it. The first is fear: people attack the weak in order to show that they are on the side of the strong. If they do it well, they even score points with TPTB. That's a general group dynamics and upholding the patriarchy kind of thing.

The second is harder to define, but I think it's related to the internet/dog proposition. Not everybody in the conversation is there to have the conversation. Some people, the sharks, or maybe hyenas, are there to feed. That is, they are not there as women, or allies, although they may present that way. But they aren't there to contribute to a conversation, or even to defend friends. They are there because it allows them to attack people without repercussions, and they enjoy it. They are the Thenardiers of the internet, in it for their own profit.

Or maybe I am just being cynical.

Edited at 2014-03-06 11:40 am (UTC)
Mar. 6th, 2014 11:47 am (UTC)
I think it's so deep-rooted by social training that it's almost unavoidable. And it's often upheld and supported and validated by that same culture, too. Sigh.
Mar. 6th, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
I'm not involved in this particular debate but I seem to have a lot of online friends who are and some of them are quite close to the eye of the storm.

Why is it that it seems to be constantly men who need to decide what is 'safe' for me? You've no idea how much this bugs me!

Edited at 2014-03-06 12:27 pm (UTC)
Mar. 6th, 2014 12:35 pm (UTC)
Quite so!

I will be the one to decide what is safe for me. I am not a delicate little Victorian flower, or a rugby forward. I am, however, a generally rational individual who is able to make her own decisions about what does or does not constitute a safe space. Life is not a safe space, nor is one's own body.
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Mar. 6th, 2014 12:40 pm (UTC)
Actually, I don't think there were any winners in Jonathan-Ross-gate.

It may not be a crime to be stressed and triggered about potential harassment but the intensity of the reaction to Jonathan Ross had me wondering if I weren't misreading the name and Fred Phelps and his Church of Hatred had been invited to host the Hugos.

Don't get me wrong---I am in favour of trying to make our gatherings as inclusive as possible and also as safe. But the latter is possible only up to a point. If the idea of having to be within ten feet of someone who has made jokes at the expense of fat people---but has never done so to you personally---is enough to make you begin howling in outrage about being afraid to attend a function where you might---might---have to interact with said person, though in fact you have no idea whether this will happen because the nominating period is still open---

If this is the case, I don't think Jonathan Ross is the real problem. To me, that sounds like a really bad case of PTSD.

And I say that as someone who wasn't enamoured with the idea of Ross as host for completely different reasons but can tolerate conditions that I don't think are optimum.

I say it as a fat woman who has taken a fair amount of snark for twenty years, often from total strangers...but also from people who knew me when I wasn't overweight, who thought it was funny to say, "Oh, here's a BIG writer."

I say it as a woman who has been sexually harrassed, as a woman who has fought off attempted physical assault...but neither of the latter two things has ever happened to me at a science fiction convention.
Mar. 6th, 2014 12:59 pm (UTC)
I think that's a very fair point. This has resulted in a lot of pain and discomfort and unhappiness to many, many people and, as you say, there are no winners. It's deeply saddening.
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Mar. 6th, 2014 12:47 pm (UTC)
Dammit, I didn't realise I wasn't logged in. My comment wasn't supposed to be anonymous. Now I've forgotten my password and exceeded the number of tries so i can't log in. So, just so you know, that was from me, fastfwd
Mar. 6th, 2014 05:01 pm (UTC)
LJ seems to be playing up today. And no problem.
Mar. 6th, 2014 02:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you all for a reasoned debate.
Until I read this thread I was seriously considering not attending LonCon (despite budget meaning it would be my only event this year). I now feel that the explosion of bile that has filled my computer recently is just a symptom of twitter and the like, not truly representative of fandom.
I had truly reached the point where I felt that as a WASP male I was no longer welcome (the white, anglo-saxon, male is an accident of birth, the protestant is by choice). Now at least I know that a reasonable number of fans will judge me by the actions and decisions I make and not, as seemed to be happening in the twitter-storm, as at personal fault for every transgression of every WASP male in history.
Thank you all again for restoring my faith in fandom.
Mar. 6th, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you all for a reasoned debate.
I'm glad to have been helpful. I am all in favour of everyone being judged on themselves, and not on the grounds of what they appear to be.
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Mar. 6th, 2014 06:45 pm (UTC)
The "Woman must be good" part seems like an example of What Mary Beard was writing about here


Mar. 6th, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
She's a wise, wise woman. And yes, absolutely.
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Mar. 6th, 2014 06:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this thoughtful post - I've linked it a few places on the internet, now, and in return I just wanted to link a couple other interesting ones here, two posts on discourse, feminism, and the languages of bullying and blame as it relates to this situation:


Mar. 6th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Those are good links.
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(Deleted comment)
Mar. 6th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading.
Mar. 6th, 2014 07:39 pm (UTC)
I have no answers. :(
Mar. 7th, 2014 01:06 am (UTC)
I don't have any brilliant things to add, but I love this entry with a huge expansive love, and thank you for speaking it.
Mar. 7th, 2014 10:31 am (UTC)
I'm glad it worked for you. Hug.
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