Friday, July 26, 2013

SciFi Sister Suffragettes: You have got to be kidding me.

August 18th will be the 94th anniversary of an important landmark in American history. (I'm busy that day and I want to talk about this now, so you're getting this post today.) On that date, back in 1919, the 19th amendment passed the final hurdle between being an idea and being the Law of the Land [1]. What a lot of people don't know is that when it passed the US Senate and was turned over the states for ratification, the bill was already 41 years old.

Those 41 years on the road from the pens of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to ratification was a rocky one and not necessarily the gist of this essay, but it's worth remembering that it took longer than I have (at this point) been alive to get the bill from the pen to the people.

The message it sent was as simple as it was revolutionary: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."

What a freaking concept.

It would be ratified by the states a year later when Tennessee cast the deciding vote and women's suffrage became the law of the land.

I didn't want to have to follow that with the not-at-all-shocking news that "Women and men should be equal" is somehow still shocking 93 years later. . . and somehow it's even more shocking among a group of men who bill themselves as "futurists".

This post, by the way, is about sex and gender. If you can't handle that, get out. I don't want to turn this blog into a place where I never get down from atop the soapbox, but people keep doing things that put me up here. Seriously, people, cut it out. Treat people the way you want to be treated because I'm getting tired of being up here so often.

We're going to start our conversation in the obvious place: penises and vaginae.

Yes, vaginae; I looked it up.[2]

Why do I want to talk about penises and vaginae? I honestly don't, but for the life of me, I've never been able to fathom why my penis and my Y chromosome would make me superior or inferior to someone who has a vagina and two X chromosomes. And I've spent my entire life trying to figure out why some people with Y chromosomes think that I'm wrong about that. I find it deeply embarrassing that we had to specifically write "Women are people too and shut up about it" into our constitution. It's probably the second most absurd thing we've ever had to do as a nation.[3]

What's worse, this summer it's become clear that there are some who believe that my ability to pee my name into the snow (in flawless Parker penmanship, thank you very much) makes me better qualified to write a science fiction novel[4] or just generally be a nerd. I can't personally vouch for Elizabeth Cady Stanton's views on literature or Science Fiction, but I'd wager she would disagree with that premise.

And so do I.

But it's pointless and condescending for me, as a man, to explain sexism to you. So I'm going to send you away for a bit to read someone else's blog from a few months back to find out what I'm talking about from someone who experienced one of the many forms of it.

Then please come back when you're done, because we're not finished here...
This week in SF
by Anne Aguirre
"So this week, two notable things happened. First, two dinosaurs went on a rampage. Granted, that didn’t happen this week, technically, but this is when the backlash occurred, first for the initial column that ran in the (Science Fiction Writers of America) bulletin, and then there was the rebuttal, bemoaning the spate of anonymous complaints..."
When does it ever end?

It's the "imitation nerd girl" thing all over again. And I find it deeply shameful that I keep having to repeat myself. And I think you should too.

By the way, while I like David Brin and generally think the world of the man's books and his intellect, I think she's wrong to give him a pass. I'm sorry, Dr Brin, but you're not off the hook. Guys who quietly come over later and apologize later are not part of the solution. Going along to get along and apologizing later when no one can hear you isn't a solution, it is the problem.

It's not a solution to sit quietly in the room and laugh uncomfortably while someone is being a bitter, racist, sexist, and/or misogynist asshole. Someone on one of the forums where I saw this posted said "Be David Brin". With respect, no. Don't be the guy who will walk up to your victim later and chuck her on the shoulder and say "Hey, we're not all like that."

Stand up and call the bitter, racist, sexist, misogynist asshole to the carpet. The lack of a negative response from the audience is what perpetuates this kind of behavior.

And if it ends my career because you're too well connected to be touched by a nobody like me, that's how it goes. I would rather fail for the right reasons than succeed for the wrong ones. This industry, this country has had too many years of people doing the wrong thing because they're afraid to do the right one.

Aguirre's post is a bit old and an isolated case, you say? Sadly, no. I was reminded of this today by a friend linking me to Maureen Johnson's suggestion that the gender of the author is the primary concern of cover designers.[5]  Her fans responded to her challenge to re-imagine the covers of male authors' books as they would look if the author had been female. The results are distressingly accurate and generally speak for themselves.

It gets better?

Maybe a little. Honestly, I think it just gets more complicated.

During Comic Con last week, an internet-based music group called The Doubleclicks put out a video called "Nothing to prove" in defense of the geek girl (embedded at the bottom of this post) and they were greeted by the geeky Great and the Good with open arms. The geekiest geek guys of them all, John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton, Adam Savage were all in there, holding up signs saying "C'mon guys, join us in the future. You'll like it here, we have equality and jet packs... just kidding about the jetpacks."

As I said last time sexism in nerd culture reared its unsightly head: This shouldn't be necessary. This kind of thing is beneath us. It is beneath our intellect; it is unworthy of our ideals; it stands opposed to our own quasi-Utopian ideal that humanity can be better than it is.

The 21st century is shaping up to be a time when formerly nerdy/geeky enthusiasms are pursued with furious abandon. When science fiction rules the marketplace just as it rules the silver screen and it feels like anything is possible if we could just stop hating and turn our energies to accomplishing something. Together. And while we nerds haven't quite built Utopia, it is a world where - as predicted by Herbert Gerjouy - the illiterate is not the one who cannot read, but the one who cannot learn, unlearn, and re-learn.

It's time for us all to prove we're worthy of our reputation for literacy and our earnest wish to live in the future.  We supposedly had this figured out 93 years ago. So catch up, wouldya?

Now someone help me down from this soap box before I fall off and break a hip.

[1] My home state of Missouri ratified it on what would someday be my birthday. It's long been one of my favorite trivia tidbits about that day.  
[2] I don't advise doing that, by the way. Certainly not in public. If you must search for "vaginae", use a dictionary, or a medical text book, anything but the internet. Just trust me on this one. 
[3] For those who slept through American history class back in grade school, it took several laws, a constitutional amendment, and a catastrophic war to convince certain people that they didn't get to own certain other people just because those people had darker skin.
[4] Not by peeing in the snow, for the record. Not even I drink that much coffee.
[5] For the record, you shouldn't necessarily hate on cover designers for that. They do what art directors and editors tell them to do at the big houses and at the small houses or for indie authors, we do what the author asks for. Graphic design is a service industry and we don't exercise a lot of personal volition about design content. 


  1. It is, no joke, a serious comfort to me that you didn't do the covers for Dragon Ring and King's Raven with my sex in mind. And oddly enough, they're amazing covers! We need to do t-shirts.

  2. Rock on. The situation gets even worse when one adds the gaming community. As is with most situations, 99% of those in the community are fine with equality and don't have issues with women in their midst. It's that vocal, scary, angry, needy 1% that makes things so very hard.

  3. I should also confess that I publish under "T.E. MacArthur" because I didn't want my gender to really play into the first impression (keeping it neutral with initials) and I'm publishing in SciFi Fantasy where sexism is still alive and well (just on a much smaller scale these days.)

  4. Awesome post! Thank you for keeping it in the sunlight. It's when it comes out that people can see how silly it is to think that writing skill depends on body parts rather than intellect, craft and a bodacious amount of elbow grease. You totally ROCK!


Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).