Attack of the Girl Cooties

Yes, we’re still having that conversation – sigh. Though by now it’s not one conversation but at least four different intertwined discussions, one about SF romance and how some men feel threatened by it, one about racism and sexism in the SFWA as well as two new debates about sexual harrassment at conventions and about whether women are just being mean, when they criticise men for flat-out unrealistic portrayals of female characters. Apparently, this is shaping up to be the summer of genderfail.

Blanket trigger warning: Talk of sexual harrassment and links with potentially offensive content follow!

The debate about SF romance is still going on with several more SF romance authors weighing in. Pippa Jay wonders why we’re even having such discussions in the 21st century at the Spacefreighters Lounge, a group blog for SF romance authors, while Laurie A. Green feels uncomfortably reminded of Jurassic Park. Also at the Spacefreighters Lounge, Donna S. Frelick wonders why authors of romantic science fiction even go chasing after the science fiction readership that doesn’t want them instead of going after the much bigger romance readership that just might. Meanwhile, Sharon Lynn Fisher, author of the excellent Ghost Planet, describes how romance readers found and enjoyed her crossgenre novel, even though it was published by Tor and marketed as SF. She also points out that romance readers are a lot more openminded towards trying something new and don’t feel threatened by new genres and subgenres.

Meanwhile, a big new debate was sparked by one Rod Rees, a writer I’ve never heard about, who uses the official blog of his publisher Jo Fletcher Books to ask “Can male writers successfully write female characters?” It should be a largely uncontroversial question and the answer is, “Sure they can and plenty of male authors have done just that.” However, after reading his post, I’m pretty sure that Rod Rees is not one of them.

Rees starts off by confusing radical fringe feminism (You know the deal: Those evil feminists want to outlaw marriage, ban heterosexual sex and preferably just eliminate men altogether – and was there ever a single woman in the history of feminism except perhaps Andrea Dworkin who genuinely held those views?) with feminism in general. Oh yes, and feminism is a religion, don’t you know? This is something that really bothers me BTW, religious people calling decidedly non-religious movements substitute religions, because apparently they can’t imagine anyone living happily without religion of some kind. Listen, people, feminism is not a religion. Neither are communism or atheism or SFF fandom. The only religions out there are those thought systems that explicitly identify as religions (okay, the Church of Scientology is something of a borderline case). It’s okay if you want to believe in one of them, but don’t try to transplant your spiritual preferences on those of us who don’t feel the need for religion.

But it gets worse. Because you see, some female beta readers dared to tell Rod Rees that a scene where a female character admires her own breasts in the mirror was not realistic, because women don’t usually view themselves that way. Now the whole “Woman describing her own breasts in the sort of terms a heterosexual man would use” thing is such as big cliché that it even has its own name, omniscient breasts. And while some women may certainly have admired their own breasts in the mirror at some point (I probably did sometime as a teenager when I was happy to have breasts at all), what’s wrong with that sort of passage is not that the women admires her own breasts at all, but that she does so in a way that sounds like a heterosexual man talking about somebody else’d breasts. Honestly, most women don’t think about our breasts all the time. They’re just a part of our bodies. When I was writing spicy pulpy stories for Man’s Story 2, I constantly had to remember to throw in descriptions of breasts, because I honestly don’t find breasts all that exciting. And when I indie published those stories, a lot of the descriptions of breasts came right out again, because they felt unnatural.

But it gets even worse. For Mr. Rees is really angry at those evil feminists who are trying to constrain what he writes about. Here is a quote:

Worse, I had the troubling suspicion that there was an attempt being made to confine female characters in much the same way as male characters have been. To a section of the female reading public it seems that to be ‘realistic’ a female lead must be:

Strong and resolute;

Independently minded;

Not to see herself as an object of male sexual interest;

Never to use her sexual charisma as a means of achieving an objective; and,

Not written by a man (okay, I made this one up).

Indeed, one of those most troubling takeaways I get from this and similar debates is an attempt to eliminate female characters who are tough and not stereotypically female. There are all sorts of complaints about female characters, usually tough women, who are basically just “men with breasts” (which is very transphobic in itself). Quite often this is aimed at female characters I have loved and admired over the years. It’s not just men saying it either, but women as well (more on that later). A large part of the reason why I started reading and watching SFF was that SFF had so much better women than other genres, women who were not like the vapid, boy-crazy girls at my school. Women who knew that there was something other than men in life and who, if they did fall in love with a man, did so on equal terms. It was the likes of Susan Calvin and Jirel of Joiry, Tamara Jagellowsk and Princess Leia who made me love SFF. And nowadays, Leia and Jirel are dismissed as chicks on chainmail bikinis (Leia only wore a bikini in one short scene and she didn’t choose it herself, while Jirel wears full armour), Susan Calvin is apparently a man with boobs (and one written by a compulsive butt pincher at that) because she has no real interest in romance and no one outside Germany knows of Tamara anyway. Are those the only female characters we should have? No, of course not. But condemning the tough women of SFF ignores a lot of those who – like me – found those characters immensely inspirational.

But it gets even worse: For Rod Rees leaves us with this little tidbit of insight:

But I have a suspicion that these proscriptions affect female writers as much as they affect male ones. It seems to be a fixture at the SF conventions I’ve attended to have a panel discussion debating why there are so few women writing in the adult SF and fantasy genres. Could it be that the success of female writers in YA fantasy fiction is in part attributable to their young female characters being better able to adhere to this template of the ideal female? Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype doesn’t work and hence struggle. Just a thought.

So women aren’t able to write YA, because it’s easy and allows them to write tough “Go and get ’em” girls (methinks Mr Rees has only read a very narrow sliver of contemporary YA), but not adult SFF, because it’s too complex for them and forces them to write female characters that are more to Mr. Rees’ taste, namely passive and feminine and possessed of omniscient breasts. Apparently, he missed the many, many works of adult fiction written by women, both in- and outside of SFF.

Foz Meadows rebuts Rod Rees point by point in this great post and also includes a snippet of the “woman admiring her breasts in the mirror” passage:

She regarded her breasts as her second- and third-best features, having, as was often remarked upon by her admirers – many of her regrettably few admirers – big breasts. But then Odette was a very big woman, so it was natural that she should have breasts to match her great height and her equally great girth. Still, never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Odette gave a wiggle and was pleased to see that her untethered breast jiggled in quite a charming fashion.

Uhm, Mr Rees, breasts are not zeppelins or balloons. They can’t be untethered. And if your passage describing a woman’s breasts makes me think of zeppelins, you’re doing something wrong.

Foz Meadows also has a great post on deleting potentially controversial posts (apparently, the Rod Rees post was deleted for a while), while Angela Highland a.k.a. Angela Korra’ti responds to Rod Rees and also points out how the “Hey, let’s oggle my own breast” thing looks from the POV of a breast cancer survivor.

British SF writer Tricia Sullivan responds to Rod Rees and the whole sexism in SF debate and shares her ongoing frustration with SFF in general. She also wonders whether SF’s bad reputation is not deserved. Here is a quote:

But I am at a point where I have seen too many mediocre male writers succeed while my work languishes, unread, that I give no more fucks, flying or otherwise. I have nothing left to lose, you see.
[…]
Is Rod Rees what we want as a field? Shit, we’ve just fucking lost Iain Banks. McAuley and Cadigan have cancer and I hope to God they both beat it. But really, what is the future of the genre in this country when publishers have to resort to cheap tricks like this and when idiots like Rees are encouraged to open their mouths and speak with regard to issues concerning women?

Meanwhile, Jo Fletcher, publisher of Jo Fletcher Books, tries to turn the whole thing into a freedom of speech issue. Sigh, the pattern is almost predictable by now, after all people were also falling over themselves to defend the rights of Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg or Theodore Beale/Vox Day to free speech. And while I agree that Rod Rees and everybody else has the right to say as much stupid stuff as they want (unless it crosses over into hate speech, but no one except VD did) on their own blogs, that doesn’t mean they automatically have the right to distribute said stupid stuff via an official publisher blog, the SFWA Bulletin or the SFWA twitter feed. As certain people are always quick to remind us when the issue is attacks on GLBT books or erotica, a private entity such as a publisher or writers’ organisation refusing to give room to certain kinds of speech is not censorship.

Mur Lafferty also points out that there is a difference between censorship and a magazine or website or other private entity deciding not to run a certain article and calls the “OMG, those nasty feminist fascists are trying to censor us” outcries from certain quarters what they are, namely silencing techniques. Plus, there are animated GIFs from Labyrinth.

Talking of which, there are a bunch of negative reactions from a certain rightwing libertarian corner of the SFF community to the SFWA brouhaha. First of all, here’s a post to which Bryan Thomas Schmidt (who has since withdrawn from the debate) linked in the comments to my previous post, namely Andrew Fox complaining about “swarm cyber-shaming”, which he likens to witch burning (complete with a witch burning graphic from what I think is the Martyrs’ Mirror). Andrew Fox is apparently a fan of the Malzberg/Resnick column and doesn’t quite get the outrage. He also traces the origin of the oxymoron “liberal fascism” to a book by the same title by one Jonah Goldberg, which – at least going by his summary – seems to be the sort of fringe political treatise that makes you wonder how it got published in the first place.

At the Mad Genius Club, a group blog of self-identified Human Wave writers, someone named Amanda mixes a good point, namely the relatively lack of YA with male protagonists, with comments about the current sexism and racism in the SFWA discussion, which she considers overblown. It all sounds fairly reasonable until she starts claiming that only a “vocal minority” found VD tweeting his racist screed via the SFWA Twitter feed offensive. Uhm, has she actually read VD’s post? Even if you disagree with N.K. Jemisin, it’s pretty obvious that VD’s post was just horribly offensive.

But Andrew Fox and Amanda are still semi-reasonable. Other reactions from the more extreme end of the political spectrum (and yes, in Europe these people are extreme) are not. At Daily Pundit, someone named Bill Quick decides that the SFWA acronym should stand for something else. And at Liberty’s Torch, some guy named Francis W. Poretto decides that it’s all just the fault of those evil women who are collectivists and want power over men. BTW, what is it with rightwing political blogs and crappy layouts? The last two links were found via Radish Reviews, where there are also lots more links about the crying dinosaurs of SF.

One thing I must have missed is for how many fans and writers Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg are important touchstones of their journey into SF. Now I know who Resnick and Malzberg are and I have read Mike Resnick, though I don’t think I’ve ever read Barry Malzberg (unless it was in an anthology). However, neither writer is of particular importance to me, my personal touchstones were other books and other writers (and for the record, one of my personal SF heroes, Isaac Asimov, has since been revealed as a compulsive butt pincher). But apparently, Resnick and Malzberg were of enormous importance to other writers, which also explains the big outcry over perceived insults towards Resnick and Malzberg (though IMO Ann Aguirre or Delilah Dawson or N.K. Jemisin or E. Catherine Tobler suffered worse than Malzberg and Resnick). For example, here is an appreciation of Mike Resnick by Brad Torgersen.

Meanwhile, Elise Matthesen, writer and jewelery designer, was sexually harrassed at this year’s Wiscon and decided to report the guy who did it. She also shares advice on how to report sexual harrassment at Jim Hines’ blog. The big shocker here is not that this thing happened, but that hardly anybody was surprised, because apparently the guy in question, editor at a big name SFF publisher, had been known as a problem for years. Mary Robinette Kowal also explains why she is reluctant to name the culprit.

As for editors using their position of power over writers to get sex, yes, this absolutely happens. I knew a skeevy editor like that (small press, non SFF) myself. To be fair, he never crossed the line from heavy flirting into harrassment and he left me strictly alone after I made it clear that I wasn’t interested, but he certainly had a reputation.

As for how much sexual harrassment and worse is going on at conventions, check out this post about some trolls harrassing female attendees at an anime convention via Twitter and in person. Found via this very good post by Hal Duncan (with bonus Paul Grice references).

Carrie Cuinn, Alisa Krasnostein, Cherie Priest and Maria Dahvana Headley talk about their own experiences with harrassment at conventions. Tansy Rayner Roberts, Sherwood Smith and Kari Sperring also weigh in on the sexual harrassment in fandom debate. So does Natalie at Radish Reviews and also offers a lot more links about women speaking out about their experiences.

At Popehat, Ken White wonders why talking about sexual harrassment makes many people so angry. I must confess I don’t get this either. It’s particularly bad here in Germany, where sexual harrassment is widely viewed as “something those prudish Americans invented”. Now I do think that the US in general is overly sensitive with regards to matters of sexuality. I’ve personally had the experience that what I thought was harmless conversation was viewed as a come-on by an American man. And the US concept of dating is so offputting that I don’t get why Americans mourn its passing. But when I tried to discus the recent sexual harrassment cases in fandom with German friends (along the lines of “Look, this is what happened to other women. Do you really think I should go to one of those cons?”), I got a lot of “Well, how do you know it’s true? She might be overreacting. It might just have been something like he telling her her t-shirt looked nice. You know how those Americans are.”

Yes, I know that Americans are more sensitive with regards to matters of sexuality than Germans. But that doesn’t mean that behaviour which actively makes women uncomfortable is okay. And indeed, a lot of the time I am frustrated by my fellow Germans dismissal of behaviour which makes women feel uncomfortable. Now I’m pretty direct myself. I talk about sex. I sometimes tell rude jokes, though only among people I know won’t feel offended. But I can’t even begin to count the incidents where I have told – even begged – male relatives or acquaintances not to make potentially offensive jokes with random waitresses. Where I have begged them “Don’t do this thing, especially not with young women you don’t know, cause you’ll offend someone and get in trouble” and was blown off. Just lately, at a family get together, the talk came to an old man, now long dead, who had the habit of making teenaged girls uncomfortable. Crushing hands, inappropriate remarks, that sort of thing. And yet we were expected to be polite to him, because he was a sort of friend of the family. I was terrified of this guy and I know that slightly older girls, cousins and the daughters of friend of my parents, were as well. But when I dared to say at this family gathering, “Well, X was really horrible, wasn’t he? We were all terrified of him”, I got an icy response of “Well, our daughters got along with him just fine. Maybe it was because they were sporty [which I was not] and good riders.” And I wanted to scream at this woman, “Lady, your daughters were just as terrified of X as I was. We all hated him, you just chose not to notice.”

The harrasser from Honeypot is based on a real person BTW. It never got quite as bad as in the story, but he was (is) bad. And the worst thing about it is that this guy, who is old now, has been doing that sort of thing, harrassing women, for decades now. Women know about him and sometimes they warn younger women, but no one ever stopped him or told him, “Dude, this is not okay.” I didn’t explicitly call him out either, cause I don’t need the family drama. I just know to avoid him.

At All About Romance, Anne Marble sums up the current controversy and also points out that while the romance community has its share of controversies and – yes – harrassment cases, it’s nowhere near as ugly as the SFF community can get at times. Indeed, the thing that struck me most about romance blogs and discussion fora was how generally nice people were.

Paranormal romance writer Elizabeth Hunter points out how sexism isn’t just a male phenomenon, since she has experienced many reviews by female reader upset that her heroines dared to defy or at least mistrust the hero. After all, the hero was such a dreamy and sexy man, so heroine had to be a bitch for not trusting him outright. And yes, I’ve noticed this dynamic on romance sites and messageboards, too. Bad behaviour by the hero is excused (and since a lot of romance readers still love ultra-alpha heroes, they can behave very badly indeed), but the heroines are judged to a ridiculous degree. And woe betide the heroine who is “too feisty” (code for “has a spine and opinions”), “too sophisticated” (code for “slut, i.e. not a virgin”) and a “bitch” (code for “Doesn’t think the hero is the best thing since sliced bread within two seconds of meeting him”). Sexism is not just a problem with men.

ETA: Carrie Cuinn has some ideas on how to stop sexual harrassment in fandom and John Scalzi has stated that henceforth his personal policy is that he will only appear at conventions which have a harrassment policy in place. S.L. Huang has compiled a timeline of the SFWA controversy, while a Tumblr named Speculative Friction offers screencaps of established writers making arses of themselves on a private SFWA forum. Not a whole lot of surprises there – the political orientation of many people is known. Though one author really disappointed me, because I read a very good novel by said author more than twenty years ago.

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25 Responses to Attack of the Girl Cooties

  1. Daniela says:

    I’m reading all these posts and I’m really wondering if we are in the year 2013. I remember having similar discussions 25, 20, 15 years ago and yet, we are still talking about the same thing. So much for equality.

    The whole breast-entry had me going: Really? Really???
    I mean, sure women think about breast, mostly when they are trying on bras. Or when they hurt (like when they juggle around untethered – my first reaction to that was **OUCH!!!!**) or are annoying because they get in way. I think Rod Reese confused breasts with the male package.

    Sexual harassment in Germany is an issue in itself. I still remember Rainer Brüderle’s sexual harassment of a female journalist and the following stomach-turning debates. And guess what? Nothing changed. I think in this instance we could really learn something from the US. I often find the way the US deals with sex very prudish on one hand, but also borderline abusive and demeaning on the other hand. The whole dating thing! Or the way women still are expected to define themselves through their man. The whole abortion debate -wtf?
    But at least sexual harassment is addressed and measures to help women feel more comfortable are put into place. In addition to processes to report potential harassers.

    I’ve also had my share of sexual harassment at the work-place or in public places (though I found the US worse than Germany at least when it comes to harassment on the street, the office I was working in was harassment-free. When comments were made, they either happened outside the office during our free time or involved teasing by my female co-workers).
    The one time I complained to my boss I got the usual statements: “Don’t make such a fuss. That’s how he is. Stop complaining and just deal with it. ” My older female co-worker was made even more uncomfortable by that man than I was, yet she never dared to complain though she would have been in a much better and more powerful situation than I. She just ‘dealt with it’.
    Later I was often viewed as *one of the guys but not as female* and so was exempt from comments, but that meant I learned firsthand what the men thought about some of my female co-workers.

    Ah, the relative/acquaintance every women avoids because he can’t keep his hands to himself or makes remark that have casting around for the next exit or the next male relative to hide behind. We had one of those in the family as well.

    I would also be interested in finding out how the situation at German cons is. You never hear anything about harassments or anything of that kind. I even asked on facebook about it – no comment. Same as most (female) bloggers keep relatively mum about the kind of abuse they in all likelihood have to put up with.
    My contacts with fandom have mostly been positive; our Trek dinner is very mixed and overall harassment-free. At least I’ve never encountered a situation where a woman felt uncomfortable and when a man said something problematic he was usually quickly and loudly *educated*.

    I’m always surprised when people suddenly point out how much nicer the romance community is. Well, sure, the few men who show up get special treatment because they are special snowflakes, but I’ve seen some debates that turned extremely ugly and nasty, especially in the m/m section of the romance community and there often directed at writers using a male pseudonym some of who were transgender or genderfluid. Some of those writers were left with the feeling that their genitalia were of more importance than their writing.

    The sexism I sometimes see in the romance community is very similar to the one you encounter in the fanfiction community, especially among the slash-writers. The actions of the romantic heroes are excused, women are bashed. The misogynism in a mainly female community is sometimes staggering and it spills over into the m/m romance section where it’s then perfectly okay to write books with no women in them at all. I’m not talking short-stories, but actual novels where the only woman mentioned are the hero’s dead mother, otherwise only men around who are involved with other men and yet somehow managed to have sons (but no daughters). Very weird.

    Anyway, it’s also particularly interesting when you have so-called feminists (female) who are very outspoken about misogynism and all kinds of other -isms turn around and use demeaning, sexualized language primarily used by men to put women into place towards other women, especially women who don’t agree with them. Suddenly they are all bitches, cunts, twats, etc. Romancelandia has a few outstanding and very vocal examples of those. Always strikes me as very odd and still fascinating in what is says about the debate-culture.

    • Cora says:

      In many ways, the Brüderle debate was the German equivalent of the current SFWA debate. An eyeroll worthy comment by an elderly man that served as an initiating spark for a wider debate and many women speaking out about the sexism they personally experienced. And the same dismissal by many men (including our president, but then Gauck has a history of dismissing complaints with “We have capitalism and capitalism is freedom, so shut up”) as well as some women. And again with Brüderle, I wonder why no one, neither Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger nor Westerwelle nor Rösler nor Angela Merkel, told him, “Dude, that sort of comment is not okay.” But then maybe they did tell him and he just preferred not to listen.

      And for all its fault, the US is more aware with regards to sexual harrassment and more willing to do something about it. Okay, so maybe they go overboard at times. But then how can we know whether stories about men getting in trouble for complimenting a woman about her clothes or getting into an elevator with a lone woman are true? The guy who complimented the woman about her clothes might have been pulling a Brüderle, after all. As for the elevator thing, it is striking that a lot of the sexual harrassment experiences reported from the US involve elevators. And come to think of it, the only time a guy tried to hit on me in an elevator was not in the US, but in Canada, which is close enough. So even if elevator harrassment is not a thing in the Germany, it might well be an issue in the US.

      And yes, street harrassment in worse in the US (though nowhere near South European and oddly enough Dutch levels), though I have gotten street (and public transport) harrassment in Germany, too. I suspect it’s because men know that sexual harrassment on the job will get them in trouble in the US that those men who do that sort of thing increasingly do it on the street where a woman has no real chance of reporting him. Street harrassment is largely risk-free.

      As for fandom, I’ve definitely gotten the usual “Oh my God, it’s a woman, a real living, breathing woman” and “Wow, so that’s what breasts look like in reality” stares and odd comments in comic shops in Germany, but then that sort of thing is common to comic shops all over. And usually the dingier the shop, the worse the stares. No idea what German cons are like, though it would be interesting to know.

      And the misogyny in the romanceland and the fanfiction community can be ugly. I was a Torchwood fan for a while, but one who liked the whole ensemble and not just everybody’s OTP Jack and Ianto. The misogyny in that community was ugly, including fanfic writers who completely forgot that Torchwood had two female team members (plus one male team member who was no pretty enough for the fanficcers). Supernatural fandom is another one that can be stunningly misogynist. Now I like a good m/m romance as much as the next girl, but I’ll never understand those women who dislike women so much they refer not to have them mentioned at all.

      You also get a lot of highly problematic attitudes towards female characters in regular het romances among some romance readers. The more conservative places like All About Romance are particularly bad about that, full of sneers about how Eve Dallas would never manage to nab a man like Rourke in real life or how Yasmeen from Meljean Brook’s Heart of Steel was a bitch, because she did not say “I love you”. Though romance still hasn’t manage to have a conflict as ugly as e.g. Racefail in SFF fandom.

  2. Daniela says:

    Hm, did wordpress eat my comment or are you currently moderating comments?

    • Cora says:

      I’m not moderating more than usual, but your comment (and James Nicoll’s) ended up in the spam folder for some reason. I’ve restored them now.

  3. Daniela says:

    Looks like wordpress ate the comment, so let’s try again.

    I’m reading all these posts and I’m really wondering if we are in the year 2013. I remember having similar discussions 25, 20, 15 years ago and yet, we are still talking about the same thing. So much for equality. But at least we are still talking and more and more women (and some men) open up and take a stand.

    The whole breast-entry had me going: Really? Really???
    I mean, sure women think about breasts, mostly when they are trying on bras. Or when they hurt (like when they juggle around untethered – my first reaction to that was **OUCH!!!!**) or are annoying because they get in the way. I think Rod Rees confused breasts with the male package and even that would hurt if it juggled around without any kind of support.

    Sexual harassment in Germany is an issue in itself. I still remember Rainer Brüderle’s sexual harassment of a female journalist and the following stomach-turning debates. And guess what? Nothing changed. I think in this instance we could really learn something from the US. I often find the way the US deals with sex very prudish on one hand, but also borderline abusive and demeaning on the other hand. The whole dating thing! Or the way women still are expected to define themselves through their man. The whole abortion debate -wtf?
    But at least sexual harassment is addressed and talked about and measures to help make women feel more comfortable and safe are put into place. In addition to processes to report potential harassers.

    I’ve also had my share of sexual harassment at the work-place or in public places (though I found the US worse than Germany at least when it comes to harassment on the street, the office I was working in was harassment-free. When comments were made, they either happened outside the office during our free time or involved teasing about dating by my female co-workers).
    The one time I complained to my boss I got the usual statements: “Don’t make such a fuss. That’s how he is. Stop complaining and just deal with it. ” My older female co-worker was made even more uncomfortable by that man than I was, yet she never dared to complain though she would have been in a much better and more powerful situation than I. She just ‘dealt with it’.
    Later I was often viewed as *one of the guys but not as female* and so was exempt from comments, but that meant I learned firsthand what the men thought about some of my female co-workers.

    Ah, the relative/acquaintance every women avoids because he can’t keep his hands to himself or makes remark that have casting around for the next exit or the next male relative to hide behind. We had one of those in the family as well.

    I would also be interested in finding out how the situation at German cons is. You never hear anything about harassments or anything of that kind. I even asked on facebook about it – no comment. Same as most (female) bloggers keep relatively mum about the kind of abuse they in all likelihood have to put up with.
    My contacts with fandom have mostly been positive; our Trek dinner is very mixed and overall harassment-free. At least I’ve never encountered a situation where a woman felt uncomfortable and when a man said something problematic he was usually quickly and loudly *educated*.

    I’m always surprised when people suddenly point out how much nicer the romance community is. Well, sure, the few men who show up get special treatment because they are special snowflakes, but I’ve seen some debates that turned extremely ugly and nasty, especially in the m/m section of the romance community and there often directed at writers using a male pseudonym some of who were transgender or genderfluid. Some of those writers were left with the feeling that their genitalia were of more importance than their writing.

    The sexism I sometimes see in the romance community is very similar to the one you encounter in the fanfiction community, especially among the slash-writers. The actions of the romantic heroes are excused, women are bashed. The misogynism in a mainly female community is sometimes staggering and it spills over into the m/m romance section where it’s then perfectly okay to write books with no women in them at all. I’m not talking short-stories, but actual novels where the only woman mentioned are the hero’s dead mother, otherwise only men around who are involved with other men and yet somehow managed to have sons (but no daughters). Very weird.

    Anyway, it’s also particularly interesting when you have so-called feminists (female) who are very outspoken about misogynism and all kinds of other -isms turn around and use demeaning, sexualized language primarily used by men to put women into place towards other women, especially women who don’t agree with them. Suddenly they are all bitches, cunts, twats, etc. Romancelandia has a few outstanding and very vocal examples of those. Rather fascinating view on the debate culture and power issues.

  4. James Davis Nicoll says:

    After all, the hero was such a dreamy and sexy man, so heroine had to be a bitch for not trusting him outright.

    Suddenly I wonder how said readers would react to a series I was sent back in 2011, where a few books into the series the lead’s hunky bad boy boy friend turns out to be a junky who reacts to the lead’s periodic problems with possession by making out with her while she was possessed (and of course not mentioning the issue to the lead because normally he never gets to make out with her). She dumps him.

    (And then spends the next book pushing him away and pulling him back because teenager)

    • Cora says:

      A certain kind of romance reader would probably hate the protagonist for dumping the poor boyfriend, depending on how non-consenting the sex was. And sadly, I think I know exactly which series you mean. Heroine with possession problems, crappy boyfriend – there are some possibilities but not that many. And come to think of it, that series was controversial among romance readers.

      • James Davis Nicoll says:

        Is “banshee” enough of a confirmation?

        • Cora says:

          That actually wasn’t the series I thought of (This one is YA, the one I thought of was adult UF), but I know which one you mean. And it’s really sad that there is more than one series with such a fucked up relationship dynamic.

          • James Davis Nicoll says:

            Hey, at least Kaylee dumped Nash the second she found out what he was doing. Some authors would have stretched that out over books. Or treated his abuse as acceptable: how many UFs are there out there where the hunky manly love interest insists on treating the protagonist as property, with only symbolic resistance from the protagonist?

            • Cora says:

              Yes, there’s certainly worse, though I mostly avoid the really bad UF series with ultra-possessive boyfriends. And if I accidentally grab one, I usually won’t read another in the same series. Paranormal romance is usually even worse about possessive boyfriends. And for some reason, it’s the stomach churning series with bad gender dynamics that are hugely popular, while better books are neglected. Sigh.

          • James Davis Nicoll says:

            What determines which of these comments allows replies?

            I see the messed up relationships in UF as part and parcel with the messed up politics in UF. Kitty Norville stands out as one of very very few supernatural protagonists who didn’t react to getting uncanny abilities by immediately rejecting Enlightenment values in favour of a social system that would make the most hide-bound Tory raise his eyebrows.

            • Cora says:

              It’s probably got to do with the WordPress settings. I set the “Allow nested comments for X levels” setting ages ago, when I first created this blog and up to know, it has mostly been sufficient. Time for an update, I think.

              Politics in fantasy, whether epic or urban, are messed up anyway and often informed by a wrong understanding about the dynamics of wolfpacks, too. The Kitty Norville books are one exception. Ditto for Rob Thurman’s underrated Leandros brothers series. Rachel Caine criticizes the creepy political and relationship dynamics in her Weather Wardens series and even Sookie Stackhouse eventually turned her back on the hunky vampires with their creepy as hell relationship dynamics and political structures and dumped both Eric and Bill to the collective outcry of fans.

  5. Mark says:

    I have been following this discussion for a while, but I still have difficulties putting the different pieces together.

    I have read reports from female SF writers who were sexually harrassed, and I’m appalled. I’m not an active member of the SF community, never attended a convention, but I thought the genre was more grown up. I do have to admit, though, that one of the reasons I never went to a convention was this picture in my head of all middle-aged men at a community center, and I somehow feel uncomfortable if everybody around me exactly looks like myself (like being stuck in Being Jon Malcovich).

    But I don’t understand why this turns into a “the unwanted SF romance writers”-discussion. “Being afraid of SF romance” almost sounds as absurd as “Being afraid of apples”. Personally I’m not interested in that particular genre, but I’m not interested in any stories that follow too much of a formula. SF romance is not the only formula, though. What is referred to as typically male SF in these discussion is just as much of a formula, even easier to mock, in my opinion. After reading all of these blog posts I now have a new picture in my head of a typical SF convention: a big pyjama party with all the SF romance writers dressed in pink pyjamas and all the shoot-em-up SF writers dressed in light blue pyjamas. It’s as if there is no middleground and if there are no shades of grey.

    Now I’m reading about unwanted “lady writers” in posts about SF romance, even though this quote came from a completely unrelated discussion.

    My very subjective view on the current state of SF from somebody who doesn’t exclusively read SF/fantasy (maybe 30%, not more):

    – Short fiction was always the powerhouse of the genre. The majority of the interesting new writers are female, and female writers dominate these categories at awards. Most of them don’t write specifically SF romance stories. Most of them do write good character-driven stories.

    – I’m not very interested in SF novels, at least the ones that you find on the shelves at book stores. Maybe the novel market is really dominated by male writers (more space-shippy and military stories), I don’t know.

    – SF is a more nostalgic genre than I would like it to be. The chicks-in-chainmail SF bulletin cover: I don’t think sexism is the major problem there, but that it is so damn old-fashioned and self-referential. As annoying as the “laser-shooting spaceship” on almost every cover of a German-language SF novel.

    – A lot of important comments were made in these discussions, but despite the big coverage I still don’t know what to make of the Resnick/Malzberg thing, because I’m missing most of the context like it seems most people. So it was a regular opinion piece, which of course doesn’t mean that it has to run forever if it stops being relevant or at least interesting, but again, I think an opinion piece is extremely subjective by definition. Without the “we are being censored!” follow-up nobody would probably still talk about it…

    • Cora says:

      The problem here is that there are four different discussions going on at the same time, which are all related to the wider topic of women in SF. There is the sexual harrassment at cons discussion (which pops up again every summer during convention season), there is the sexism and racism in the SFWA discussion, there is the SF romance discussion, which was sparked by this condescending post by one Stuart Sharp, which understandably infuriated a lot of writers of romantic SF, and there is the “untethered breasts” discussion which was sparked by Rod Rees’ clueless post about male writers writing from a female POV. As a result, the whole debate is rather confusing, because it’s four different discussions tied together.

      As for SF romance or futuristic romance, nobody is quite sure whether it’s a subgenre of romance or SF or both. There are some books in the subgenre which are proper SF and some that read like they were written by someone whose only exposure to SF was watching a couple of films and TV shows. For example, I read one where the setting was basically ripped off from Waterworld (well, at least somebody liked that film) and that was also full of logic holes (prisoners fed fruit in a setting where no agriculture is possible). Others actually work as both SF and romance. The subgenre also seems to be growing due to digital publishing and the books are getting better compared to the Waterworld rip-off I read a couple of years ago. But whether one actually enjoys the subgenre or not, belittling its writers is really bad form. And of course, not all women writing SF write SF romance, though a lot of them get accused of writing romance novels in space, even if they don’t.

      I don’t mind the occasional bit of nostalgia in SF and have written some deliberately retro works (not SFF though – my retro works are thrillers) myself. But the key word here is “deliberate”. Because I honestly don’t know why the SFWA would have Red Sonja, a character created approx. 80 years ago, rendered in a style that is very 1970s, on the cover of a magazine published in 2013, unless it was Robert E. Howard’s umpteenth birthday (which it wasn’t). Not that nostalgia is confined to SF – TV is full of retro costume dramas at the moment, which are inexplicably popular, even though it’s all stuff we’ve seen umpteen times before.

      And the SFWA discussion is a bit hard to follow, because non-members normally don’t see the SFWA Bulletin. I did read an article by Barry Malzberg reminiscing about the way the SF community used to be in a webzine edited by Mike Resnick lately and it made my eyes glaze over, because I don’t really care what happened back in 1967 or whenever. The reminiscences weren’t even entertaining like Frederic Pohl’s, but just dull. If the regular Resnick/Malzberg column is like that, I’m not surprised that plenty of people find it old-fashioned. And in fact my personal view is that the column is a sort of charity pension for aging writers, who might otherwise suffer from “Altersarmut”. And the whole thing probably wouldn’t have been more than an eye-roll, if Resnick and Malzberg hadn’t started crying censorship. And seeing that Resnick started a webzine this month with Malzberg as a contributor, I can’t help but wonder whether the controversy wasn’t deliberate.

  6. Thanks for the updates, Cora, and for including the Spacefreighters Lounge lady writers in your roundup. 😉 Also very nice job sorting out and explaining the tangle of events!

    Sharon

  7. Bryan Thomas Schmidt says:

    Cora, I’ve rather stayed off this post and stopped following comments since my “harrasser” showed up. But just because she denies her actions, this is what I have to deal with for the past month. VERBATIM. Now you tell me if she’s not attacking me.

    @beth_bernobich
    And by sexist jerks, I mean @BryanThomasS, @voxday, and Gorden van Gelder. Because honestly? I see no difference between the lot of you.
    05:57 PM – 07 Jul 13

    Wish you well, C. As always.

    B

    • Cora says:

      If that’s what she tweeted, it does seem overly harsh to me. Because while I don’t agree with that particular post, there is definitely a difference between you and VD. As for Gordon van Gelder, I’ve heard rumours that he doesn’t much care for women writers, but my only interaction with him was a “Didn’t work for me” rejection I got from him several years ago, so I don’t really know enough to make any judgments there.

      Otherwise, whatever this thing is between you and Beth, please keep it off my blog.

  8. Keisha Case says:

    The challenge, of course, is battling that “default cultural point of view.” Can science fiction romance ever break out of the niche if the books written by women authors and featuring female-centered issues are deemed of “lesser significance”?

  9. I saw you’d linked to Foz Meadows’ post, so I came to share a comment that I doubt she’ll let out of moderation: “Serious question, meant respectfully: Why do people like you complain when your targets delete or hide posts, but say nothing when your allies do?”

    Do you have an answer? I’d love to hear it.

    • Cora says:

      Well, I can’t answer for Foz (and I see she answered you herself), but I’m not a fan of deleting comments and banning commenters unless they are seriously abusive and/or what is called “incitement to hatred” here in Germany. Your post ended up in my spam filter for some reason (though the other one made it through) and first time commenters get put in moderation, but the only people I IP-ban are hardcore comment spammers.

      There only ever was one comment on this blog more than a year ago, which I did not approve, because the commenter was rude and abusive and I don’t have to put up with people being rude to me on my own blog. I’d had run-ins with that person before and they apparently missed the fact that I agreed them for once and showed up here to argue and generally be an arsehole. Coincidentally, that person would probably consider themselves on the left side of the political spectrum.

      But as long as people are behaving themselves, I let anyone comment regardless of political or other orientation. I have you commenting here, I’ve had Bryan Thomas Schmidt commenting, I’ve had Tom Kratman commenting once and all of you are not exactly popular in vaguely progressive/liberal/left SFF circles right now. Vox Day would be welcome as well, as long as he behaves. Actually, I did have one of his followers here a while back.

  10. It seems I misjudged Foz Meadows; she did answer. But I’m still interested in your take.

  11. Romeo says:

    this article is interesting and could add new insights, have a nice day

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