A couple of weekends ago at WisCon I attended a party where one of the hosts asked people to write down a sentence or two about why they love WisCon. One of the answers was: “I love WisCon because it demands the best of me.”1 I believe I screamed YAAAAAAS because that is exactly why I love WisCon. The conversations are awesome, of course, and getting to see people I love or really want to meet and discovering how intelligent and fun they are is high on my list. But WisCon isn’t just some old con, it’s a feminist convention with a specific aim and community vibe. And while I am well aware that there have been and continue to be issues and problematic aspects of the con on a systemic and individual level, there are plenty of people who demand the best of all of us and it makes the con a better place year by year.
There are many who don’t agree. I remember being quite pissed at a certain someone saying that WisCon isn’t a “safe space” for him, but when you count safety as “no one ever challenges me on my behavior or speech, even if that behavior or speech is hurtful” then yeah, it’s not safe and that’s good. Those who don’t want to be challenged for hurting other people are best off staying at home in general and away from WisCon in particular because, yes, we demand you be better than that.
Demand is a really strong word, and I know that there are plenty who will bristle at the use. I don’t care. When it comes to the things WisCon attendees demand, such as equality and the ouster of -ist attitudes (sexist, racist, homophobic, fatphobic, plus way more), you have to go right to the strongest possible terms. The history of this country and of many others shows that equal treatment does not come from asking politely, but demanding on the basis of what is right. Even people who want to trot out that old Malcolm vs Martin crap need to understand that MLK never politely, meekly asked for equal rights, he stood at podiums and in front of microphones and demanded it in very strong terms. So, if you want to puff out your feathers and get all harrumphy about the idea of someone demanding you be better? Then you clearly have no place in polite society.
I will acknowledge that out here in the non-WisCon world, it isn’t always possible to be in a community that demands the best of people. I accept that and I have my ways of dealing with it. It is in that context that I’m watching the newest argument around SFWA unfold. There is tons of background here2, so I’m only going to give the short version. In the latest SFWA Bulletin there is a column (ongoing) penned by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg in which they have a dialogue about censorship and bullying that boils down to: Young people and women are liberal fascists because they want to silence us for saying some sexist stuff. Not even Jerry Fallwell ever tried to censor us! You can read their ramblings here3.
Plenty of right-thinking people are upset about this and plenty of non-right thinking people are upset at the upsetness. There’s been a lot of discussion about how this reflects on SFWA as a whole. Mike and Barry aren’t officers or representatives of SFWA, but the column appeared in the official publication of the organization. What does the publication of the column say about SFWA and the people who run it and the people who are in it? There are many answers to that question and many debates around it and plenty of great things being said about the complexities. I encourage you to read them.
I know that SFWA is made up of a multitude of people, some of whom are quite despicable, some who are just annoying, and some who are working to improve the organization. The improvers are tackling issues around how the org works, how it can better help the writer members, and how SFWA can better reach out and tell people about itself. All wonderful things. Then there’s the aspect of SFWA that’s about dealing with the culture of the community. SFWA represents professional authors, not all of fandom. Still, the cultures sometimes mirror each other. And depending on the time and place, fandom might take cues from the culture around the pro writers (many of whom are fans, too). Whose job is it to address cultural issues such as sexism, racism, oppression, bigotry, etc. within SFWA’s ranks? That is the big question, and that is part of what people are wrestling with right now.
The officers and board members can set a tone but they can’t control people. The membership (and outsiders) cannot put all of this on them. What needs to happen is that the all of people who belong to and run SFWA need to demand the best of their community4. Demand that sexism no longer be treated lightly, that it be called out and put down and not tolerated. Unless you demand the best of people there will be plenty who will be completely comfortable giving you their worst.
How do I know this to be true? Read the SFWA Bulletin. All the proof you need is there.
- If anyone remembers who wrote this, please tell me! [⇧]
- Jim Hines has a nice link roundup which should lead you to many more [⇧]
- Scroll to the bottom for images of the column and an OCR text version [⇧]
- I know many SFWA members already do this. Most of them (on this issue) are women. They need all the other members to step up and help them and have their backs. Especially the men. [⇧]