The past few days have been interesting if you’re a science-fiction/fantasy author on the internet. One of the author organizations, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, has found itself in a controversy. Their quarterly publication The Bulletin is under scrutiny for its choice of cover art and two particular articles regarding the role of women in science-fiction and fantasy.
Dear Mr. Scalzi,
My name is Jamie Wyman and I was gifted with a unisex name. It’s true that any amount of Googling will bring you to my site or Twitter and immediately out me as a woman, but the first impression of my name is ambiguous. This is sometimes helpful as we still live in a world where women are treated as second-class citizens, where having a vagina makes a person somehow inferior. You see, I can send letters and manuscripts with my name on them and generally not worry that I am immediately shunted into one mental bin or another.
I shouldn’t have to think about these things, but I do. It’s The Way Things Are, and I’m no stranger to professional sexism. I was a drummer from age 12 up. If you’re not familiar, allow me to tell you that there are very few places where testosterone flows more wildly than in a drumline. I heard the jokes. I grinned and kept my mouth shut while my bandmates talked about this “piece of ass” or those “tits” or made blowjob jokes. I kept my eyes forward and my jaw set as someone asked me if my “pussy hurt” because I’d taken off my drum rig for a break. I dealt with all of that silently because that’s The Way Things Are.
What’s exciting about this day and age, though, is that Things are changing. Men and women alike are being enlightened that the 1950′s are long gone and there are different ways to live. One way that our society is shown such alternatives? Media. Television. Movies. Stories. And what better place to look for a bright future or a warning to be better than in the realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy? Women can be captains, mechanics, warriors, presidents and no one bats an eyelash because Things can be different.I’ve been writing all my life and actively seeking publication for more than 5 years now. That whole time I’ve used a membership in the SFWA as a personal carrot, a reward dangling in front of me to keep me running. And this year I made my first two sales! While neither market is currently on a list that will grant me that coveted SFWA sticker on my Con badge, the organization is still one I aspire to belong to.Right now, though, I’m wondering if this is still a worthy goal. The past few issues of the SFWA’s publication The Bulletin have been loaded with sexist gaffes. These articles are not just offensive, they are disappointing. The cover…eh, I’ve got no gripe. It’s stereotypical fantasy art. Does the cover play into a trope? Yes. But, I’m not one who usually judges books by covers. The sideboob is annoying and gratuitous, and we both know that. The real damage is in the articles. When I saw the comments about “lady writers” I felt transported to Don Draper’s office. Then the opinion piece that says women should strive for Barbie’s “quiet dignity”? Seriously, the previous cover and these article combine to form one grossly unfortunate juxtaposition.What it comes down to is this, Mr. Scalzi: I’m a writer. My stories have merit. I work hard at my craft. I love what I do. At no time does my gender have anything to do with the quality of my work. You know that and I know you know that. Seeing such archaic ideas put forth in multiple SFWA publications, however, leaves me wondering if I want to be part of yet another organization that trivializes me based on my chromosomes. If I want to be objectified and put down for being a woman in a boys club, I could go right back to the drumline and take all the sexual harassment that entails. Why should I pay to be part of the SFWA if my merit is just going to be reduced to a discussion on how I look in a swimsuit?
It’s not okay. And the reactions–these men saying that they are being bullied or censored because they are being called out as sexist bigots–is not okay.
I need you to do better, Mr. Scalzi. When writing a story about women in the publishing industry, perhaps it should be told by other women. Or better yet, why make that distinction at all? My looks, my gender, my skin color, my tattoos, my hair color, my dress size, my sexual preference, my religion…. none of this matters. None of these things are reflections on my worth as a human being nor should they be used to validate my career or the quality of my writing.“She’s good….for a girl. And she’s cute, too.” I heard that enough in the drumline. Then, I let my percussive skills prove to them that I was someone to deal with, that I was a force to be reckoned with and not dismissed. I will do no less here, Mr. Scalzi. I’ll continue to pour my heart, soul and blood into my words and get better at storycraft. I’ll make more sales and qualify for SFWA membership.
At this point, though, I don’t know that I’ll join. I don’t know that I want that particular feather in my cap if it’s just going to be pink in deference to my lady nature.
Do better. Do better by all of us. Prove that science fiction and fantasy aren’t wrong when they tell stories of a better place where no one gives a damn about someone’s gender, skin color or pointed ears. The SFWA is no more a utopia than Star Fleet, but we still look to it for guidance and validation. If the SFWA doesn’t respect the role women play in all the worlds of science fiction and fantasy, why should people respect women in this world?
The place of women in sci-fi is the same place as a man; on panels, in the captain’s chair, leading the charge, slaying demons and changing the worlds. Because that’s the way Things Can Be.
Jamie Wyman, author.
Guh.Quiet dignity, indeed.