Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

An Open Letter to The Men In Genre Fandom

[Full disclosure - I am a member of SFWA and have written articles for the SFWA Bulletin. In fact, I should have an article in the next one.]


There's a damn good reason that women and minorities aren't as well-represented as the straight white male in genre fandom. It's well exemplified by the 200th cover of the SFWA Bulletin (check out this clever article with pic here)... but maybe not quite for the reason you think.

Admittedly, the woman is in a victorious pose (and therefore, presumably strong), but the chainmail -- sorry, scalemail -- bikini armor (in a mountainous climate, no less) still plays right back into the sexist patterns of old. While portraying her as a strong warrior, it simultaneously tears away the strength of the woman by arranging her outfit and pose so as to satisfy the male gaze.1

It's a decades old tactic - pay lip service to empowerment whilst simultaneously tearing away the power that you grant. It reminds the represented group(s) who is actually in charge. It reminds everyone who the target audience is...and isn't. (Important note: While I am talking about sexism here, I'm guessing that racism follows the same pattern as well.)

I showed the cover to my writing group, half of which are women. Instead of being outraged or annoyed like I was, the women just shrugged.

"What do you expect?" said one.

"Same old same old," said the other.

"But...but..." I spluttered.

"Look," they said2, obviously pitying my innocence, "this is nothing new. This is ... well... normal."

Further, as Geo-Geek pointed out:
Double bonus - the Resnick and Malzberg dialog at the back is to sing the praises of lady editors and publishers. With, "She was competent, unpretentious, and beauty pageant gorgeous... as photographs make quite clear. Tell succeeding generations all about her [Dorothy McIlwraith], please." at the start.

There's two related things for us males to learn here.

  1. Our fandom is assumed to be sexist by people outside it.
  2. The burden of proof is on us.

This means that every Scalzi-Hines poseoff that mocks and decreases or minimizes sexism is assumed to be an exception. And that every *-mail bikini and every case of victim-blaming is seen as the norm. That people think that women can't enter a convention or a comics store or a gaming store without being ogled and harassed.

And there's only one way to change it.

We - the guys who have perpetuated it for so long - must join voices with the women who love the same things we do. We must all say in one voice, repeatedly, that sexism is not okay any more.

When sexist bullshit raises its head, we have to ensure that there's a clear message that it's not okay in our community. That apologies are matched with actions, instead of justified with "reasons".

There is only one available course of action:

We must clearly, consistently ensure that until those apologies are said, until those sexist behaviors change, that people behaving in sexist ways aren't welcome in our fandom.

So say we all.

For further (and slightly less spork-wielding) reading, I highly recommend Jim C. Hines' post about cover art and about posing like a man in regards to sexuality and objectification.

1 If you're a guy going "What's the problem, she's just sexy!" right now, then you are demonstrating the male gaze as referred to here.
2 Obviously I'm summarizing, folks. And in case you're wondering, those women are not prejudiced against genre. The opposite, if anything.


Murphy Jacobs said...


Jim Hines just posted today about his own little action to adding consequences to being a con creeper. This is even more a case of "why does this have to be said, because obviously it does" and I thank you. As a long time "non demographic" member of the SF/F/H community, I thank you.

Steven Saus said...

You're quite welcome.

Jim's good people.