Posted by: Matt Y | 06/03/2013

Space Sexism

Hey, there’s writing talk going on and I wanted to dust this blog off anyway so here are my uninformed opinions:

The SFWA Bulletin has recently had two writers, Resnick and Malzberg, defend some sexualized female Sci-Fi imaging that has recently been used for covers for the Bulletin.  As well there have been arguments made by Stuart Sharp who sees the potential for an increase in SF Romance to be a threat to the genre, along with previous SFWA President Russell Davis who wrote about how we live in a sexist world and that it exists, and we all probably show a bit of it from time to time without intending harm or insult.  While doing so Resnick and Malzberg used some loaded words, such as the term liberal fascists.  Davis used a clumsy analogy about the word beautiful.  Sharp wrote some really stupid bullshit.

In many ways I get what they’re trying to say in their various articles.  When Resnick and Malzberg refer to female writers as lady writers it isn’t meant as an insult to them, the term lady is not meant to demean.  The cover art is similar to thousands of Sci-Fi covers, and as they mentioned isn’t overtly sexualized anymore than a romance novel.  Calling a colleague beautiful in both spirit and in her physical looks is a positive thing.  Davis is saying that there are obvious gender differences that exist, which people shouldn’t be afraid to mention, but that everyone should be treated equally.

Not trying to sound defensive about those guys, because it’s also easy to see it as a couple of old white guys who use the term ‘lady writers’ putting their views about women who write under the cover of a large breasted woman in a chainmail bikini.  Writing is about effective communication with the audience, and while I can understand that they didn’t have malicious intent behind their words, it’s not hard to see why someone might also be uneasy given the context of it all together.  Then in their rebuttal to clear the air, they use loaded terms which only serve as a red flag.  If you can’t defend yourself without wrapping it up in an irrelevant conclusion that people who disagree with you must be censorship Nazis (how’s that for loaded terms?) then you’ve already lost your position.

Even if the original article was somewhat suspect, that follow up article is just insulting in the way it is written.  You can’t ask for people to have a rational discussion about a subject and then completely try to change the discussion from one about equal respect to one about censorship.  That’s antagonistic for the sake of it, and not in any way trying to encourage honest debate.

That said I personally don’t think the cover is bad, just a really terrible choice given the content of the articles within.  Is it sexist?  It certainly is designed to be sexual.

Which brings me back to one of the other authors in the current debate, Stuart Sharp.  Stuart wrote an article about how Science Fiction is going to be hurt somehow by a potential spike in Sci-Fi Romance, and that they shouldn’t be able to classify it as SF but as a separate sub-genre.  While he points out that many of these romance(or erotica)-genre blends, like Paranormal Romance or some Young Adult fiction, rely heavily on cliches and may have writing of varying quality.  Frankly though the complaints he’s making could apply to a wide selection of science fiction that already exist, hell, it built its backbone on pulp fiction so referencing the history of Sci-Fi then saying it’s too good for romance or cliches is pretty amusing.

If someone wants to write about an alien with eleven dicks trying to find love among the amazon women of Pluto, I don’t give a fuck about arguing if it’s Sci-Fi or not and I think geeks in general spend too much time trying to classify things that don’t fit into the tiny mental box they’ve created.  However I find it hilarious that while some of these guys are trying to say ‘hey this pulp artwork is okay, I mean it’s not any worse than romance novels’ you’ve got another author trying to say ‘get those broads who want to write about romance out of my sci-fi’.

Sexuality is a part of human nature and shouldn’t be ignored, and there’s a larger discussion maybe to be had about why something would be offensive in a power fantasy when it wouldn’t be in a romantic setting, which is what I believe Davis was attempting to say, however it is a delicate subject and all too easy to accidentally offend someone.  It’s best to just treat everyone equally, to try not to be a dick as much as possible, and for the love of anything holy stop trying to ostracize other people who just want to play in the same playground.

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  1. […] Yaeger: Space Sexism. “If you can’t defend yourself without wrapping it up in an irrelevant conclusion that […]


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