• An Open Letter to John Scalzi, President of the SFWA

    Posted on 01/06/2013 by Jamie in gender, politics, sexism, SFWA, society, the world at large, Twitter, writers, you.
    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.
    In one dialogue between authors Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg, the two men are asked to discuss women in the field. This soon dissolves into water cooler conversation about how “lady writers” look in swim suits. In another opinion piece, C.J. Henderson recommends that women seek the “quiet dignity” of Barbie.
    There have been many good responses to these articles, and John Scalzi–the current president of the SFWA–has jumped right in. He publicly apologized on his Twitter feed for anything that happened “under his watch” and has formed a task force to discuss the future direction of the SFWA. John has called for any and all complaints or comments on the matter to be directed to him (president@sfwa.org). Not to be a lemming (or a llama), but I need to say something. And I feel the need to not just share it with the SFWA, but with you as well. Below is my letter to John Scalzi in his role as President of the SFWA.
    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.
    I hate this. I respect Mr. Scalzi immensely. I just enjoyed seeing him at Phoenix Comic Con last week! And I know that he sees the ridiculous way women are portrayed on covers or in art. I know that Scalzi does not agree with these articles and he’s a good man who just wants to spend his last month or two in office with churros. But I had to say this. And like the man said, it happened under his watch, so he has to take the flack.
    Guh.Quiet dignity, indeed.
    **Edited 6/3 to add: I’ve written a follow up post directly addressing comments made by Malzberg, Resnick and Russell Davis. Please read that as well as it further explains my feelings on this issue.

    Jamie Wyman is a pyromaniac who drinks too much chai. She enjoys writing, circus history, tattoos and has an unholy love of Tom Hiddleston.  She also thinks you're pretty awesome.

9 Responsesso far.

  1. AlyssaNo Gravatar says:

    Hear hear! Well ranted.

  2. SusanNo Gravatar says:

    The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is has been succinctly demonstrated by the SFWA under the tenure of the man who defined it. Irony and infamy will doubtless continue as the SFWA continues to fail the standards set so high in The Left Hand of Darkness.

    • JamieNo Gravatar says:

      I wouldn’t say anything to dark and enigmatic as all that. I think we’re seeing symptoms that the SFWA–as a whole–needs to adapt with the times like anyone or anything else. Infamy? Not so much. The SFWA has a chance to do great things right now. I see Scalzi is already working towards that end rather than condone the crap found in The Bulletin. We’ll have to watch and see what happens.

  3. [...] Wyman: An Open Letter to John Scalzi. “It’s not okay. And the reactions–these men saying that they are being bullied or [...]

  4. AlisonNo Gravatar says:

    I say to you what I say to those who talk about leaving the RWA (Romance Writers of America) when things get wonky there- I believe that the strongest change comes from within.

    If you believe in the work, in the genre and the people and the work that’s been published, that is being published, and that will be published, then I say join and become an active member, and be the change you want to see.

    It’s slow and it’s frustrating, yes. I understand that. I am seeing that from the inside as a RWA member currently. HOWEVER, we are turning the Titanic- we’ve gotten recognition for e-published works, are getting recognition for self-published works, and are starting to see same-sex and menage works being recognized in contests and by RWA itself as worthy or recognition.

    When I joined RWA in 2008, I never thought any of those things would happen and yet, here we are. So, I say to you, don’t lose faith.

    Granted, RWA doesn’t require you to have sold to join, so it’s a different animal entirely. But, I think the same logic applies, in the sense that if you love the IDEA of what it could be, then don’t give up on it. Join it, stick around, and see if you can’t help make it what it should be.

    Or, you know, you could always just join RWA and hang out with me at Nationals and drink a lot of booze. *shrug* I’m cool either way. My plan is to join SFWA once I’m eligible, so maybe we’ll be members together.

  5. Damn!

    Dignity is never quiet. Well, it can be if you are a middle-class, older white gentleman living in his country of birth and believing in some form of judeo-christian religion – then you will not have to stand up for yourself because guess what? Lots of people decided that there is nothing wrong with you.

    For the rest of us, dignity is SPEAKING OUT. Sexism is not alright. The marginalization of women is not alright. Inviting men to speak for women is *not fucking alright*.

    ‘Quiet dignity’. There is no such thing for us women. A lie repeated a thousand times does not become the truth. Quietness understood as the absence of speech, anger, energy or power has absolutely nothing to do with dignity, and never will.

    On a lighter note, I rather like your new place. (I’m the girl who read your old blog when she couldn’t sleep, perhaps you remember; no hard feelings if you do not ;) )

  6. Shay'a'chernNo Gravatar says:

    Hello. I appreciate the letter that you have written. However, I have one qualm. Please do not conflate chromosomes or vaginas with being a woman. One can be a woman without a vagina. Chromosomes are not necessarily indicative of someone’s biological sex. An essentialist view of sex and gender does none of us any good.

    I recommend this link for more information: http://tranarchism.com/2010/11/26/not-your-moms-trans-101/

    • JamieNo Gravatar says:

      Thanks for bringing that up. In the context of this letter I was speaking to my own chromosomes/vagina, but yes, you’re 100% right that biology/physiology are not indicative of gender. :) Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>