SFWA Flap: Acting Honorably

When it comes to the recent SFWA flap, I blame my heritage for my reaction.  Acting honorably is important to me.

When there’s a flap about a subject I care about, my Native American and Irish roots seem always to be at odds with one another.  My Irish temper flares, and my Native American awareness of injustice slinks back, but not to cower—to watch.  And that is exactly what I’ve been doing since I first saw the now famous cover in question: the one with the scantily clad female warrior.

At the time, the cover struck me as an odd choice, and, in fact, an uncreative one that I found unsettling.  Because I’m not a member of SFWA, I said nothing.  That silence made the Irish and the female/mother in me uncomfortable.  The Native American and mother in me convinced the other parts to watch and think before reacting, despite the discomfort.

Since that time, I’ve let my Native American and mother watchfulness do their thing.  I’ve read the article in which two prominent male members of SFWA speak about women in the SF/F field.  I’ve read the blogs and letters of outrage in response to the article (and in response to responses to the article).  I’ve read the rebuttal to outrage from the aforementioned men.  I’ve read the SFWA’s “official” response and the news related to it, including the development of a task force to address this issue and news about the female editor’s resignation from the SFWA’s trade journal staff.  And finally, I’ve read some private (and sometimes heated) discussions among women who are dedicated to and work in this field.

So, where does all this reading leave me?

Right back where I started—with the uncomfortable feeling that the SFWA and the two men given the opportunity to comment on women in SF/F have shown an incredible lack of creativity:

  • The initial choices for cover design and the male-male dialogue with women’s voices in absentia and only represented in the memories and word choices of men lack creativity.
  • The dialogue between the two men lacks creativity, relying instead on lazy descriptors and worn-out tropes.
  • The rebuttal lacks creativity, stuck in an overused “the best defense is a good offense” position.

I don’t know what the SFWA Task Force charged with addressing this issue will determine or what the organization will do as the result of the Task Force’s findings.  It doesn’t really matter to me as a writer.  I don’t qualify for SFWA membership.  The SFWA does not represent my interests, nor will they as long as they continue to demonstrate a lack of creativity in their position regarding self-published authors and authors who publish in “unqualified” markets.  I do not wish to be part of an organization that excludes from membership a part of the population in this field, and I will continue to hold that position regardless of any future eligibility I might attain by publishing in an SFWA “qualified market.”

Women have enriched SF/F beyond measure–as writers, as readers, as industry professionals in non-writing capacities.  What the SFWA Task Force does in addressing this issue does matter to me as a woman who advocates inclusion (active participation and respectful recognition) of women in this field.  I hope the Task Force acts creatively.  So doing would benefit all.

In the meanwhile, there are some actions I CAN take to demonstrate my own commitment to inclusion of women in SF/F:

  • Engage in the Native American practice of shunning.  If I were a participant in a conversation in which two men spoke about women in the way these two men did, I would speak up and say, “I find this discussion disrespectful of women.”  If they took the “best defense is a good offense” position, I’d walk away.   And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.  I’m walking away from their books and from their names (you’ll note I’ve not named them in this article).   They’re not getting any publicity from me, and they’re not getting my financial support or industry advocacy.
  • Continue to be an advocate for women in literature—for readers, writers, editors, publishers, and anyone else involved in this industry who is a woman or who advocates respectful inclusion of women.  That means I’ll give air time to writers and other industry professionals—women and men alike—whose work, words, and actions demonstrate creativity in regards to women, rather than compliance with what I consider disrespectful.

Will my shunning “hurt” the two men or my boycotting of SFWA harm that organization?

Absolutely not.  After all, how much in royalties/membership fees would they make from a single purchaser/member?  Certainly not enough to change the course of their careers/organization longevity.  However, I will not be contributing to the success of either for as long as they continue to act disrespectfully, on the basis of exclusion, or without honor.

Will others follow suit?

Some may.  Others won’t.  I am making this choice for myself, not for others.

Does it matter to me if anyone reads this article, agrees with me, or follows suit?

Nope.  I’m certain about my position on this issue.  I know some disagree with my assessment of the situation, and I acknowledge and respect their right to do so.  Comments are open, as always, on this blog—with two exceptions.  Neither the SFWA nor the two men who engaged in what I consider disrespectful dialogue about women in SF/F are welcome to air their opinions in this space.

Despite the fact that I do think some of the arguments opposing my view are valid, I cannot condone with a clear conscience the choices and actions that were taken by the SFWA or by the two men in the original article.  In my view, they were disrespectful and dishonorable.





4 thoughts on “SFWA Flap: Acting Honorably

  1. I’m another female indie sci-fi writer and I haven’t heard a thing about this ‘flap’ but I will now try to find out. Just off the top of my head though, SF has long been a boy’s own bastion, which is ironic as the few women who do write in this field are exceptional – Ursula K. LeGuin and C.J.Cherryh are two of my very favourite authors in any genre and of any gender. Thanks for this post.

  2. Thanks for your comment!

    The fact that you haven’t heard of this flap isn’t surprising at all. That’s part of the fallout from the SFWA’s membership eligibility rules. While the organization has the stated goal of supporting SF/F writers, what it really means is *a very few writers* in SF/F. Consequently, a lot of writers are left to search other avenues to find out what’s going on in this field. So, shame on the SFWA for that!

    Historically, a lot of those left out are women because despite their contributions to the field, they don’t get their work reviewed in the “big” outlets and/or don’t publish in “qualified” markets. It’s truly a testament to the power of their work that writers like LeGuin and Cherryh and so many other women have achieved recognition at all. And frankly, I do hold SFWA partly responsible for that condition, as artwork and articles that objectify women belittle the hard-earned contributions of women in this industry.


  3. I wish I had some background on this issue, although I understand your not wanting to link to them. Sadly, mistreatment of women is rampant in all forms of media. I agree with your decision to not support the men in question

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