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SFWA — Housebreaking a Puppy or Abusive Relationship?

Posted by | June 01, 2013 | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

So I’m a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction Writers of America.

I joined a few months back, because my buddy Mur said “Dude, you should totally join SFWA!” and I thought vaguely “Oh yeah…they do some good stuff…I approve of that…” I never aspired to it, particularly, I have been eligible for some years, but I figure hey! Professional organization for that thing I do! Lawyers on tap if somebody tries to screw me! A Good Thing! And also I like John Scalzi, both because he runs a rockin’ blog and because he handed me my Hugo, which means I’m sorta biased.

I tell you true, gang, I’m starting to think that was ninety bucks wasted. I could have bought like 30 really good TV dinners for that. The Boston Market ones with the really good mac & cheese, even.

Instead, I got a ringside seat for…well…excitement. Of that tiring “why are we doing this again?” sort.

The issue at hand is The Bulletin, the professional newsletter put out quarterly by SFWA, which is supposed to…I don’t know, do something for us. It takes a rather large percentage of that TV dinner money, anyway. Apparently it’s supposed to be a useful thing for professional science fiction authors, and possibly it is, at least for people who are not actually me.

Three issues in a row, it has printed something moderately derogatory toward women. The cover art one, I’ll give a pass on as simply vaguely embarassing—I drew chainmail bikini babes in my day too, so meh, whatever.

The bit about how hot various lady editors were was…um.

The part where Barbie succeeds because she conducts herself with quiet dignity, “the way a woman should,” made me stare at the ceiling for a few minutes, in that way you do when you are wondering if your stomach acid really NEEDS to be that particular pH, and whether you should go for the Tums or take your reflux medicine a few hours early.

And then there’s the current issue, where people complaining about the previous things were accused of being anonymous commenters seeking censorship and—you can actually read it for yourself, if you’re feeling like getting mad. (It even has a “This story was okay to tell because a woman told it to me, so it can’t be sexist!” In the wild and everything!)

Well, there was an uproar after the first one, and after the second one, and people said they’d change and there would be fixes and there was calling for more editorial, y’know, editing, and a general air that damnit, this can be dealt with! And then of course it happened again, and there’s another uproar, and I don’t know, maybe that’s how it always works—maybe there’s an uproar every time and promises to fix it and then somebody yells that they’re being censored. Couldn’t tell you, not enough data.

So I thought “This sucks. A lot. And I am annoyed and also tired because there is too much shit going on and I have too much on my plate and a comic due next week and a show in a month and I have poison ivy in both armpits and a tick-bite on my ass and a book that needs to be written pronto and there’s a half-ton of stone in the car that needs to be unloaded and—no, damnit, I’m still annoyed.”

(And while what happens on private forums stays on private forums, let me just say that it’s sad when you finally get to interact with some of the Big Names of science fiction and they turn out to be old men yelling at clouds. Goddamn thin-skinned humorless clouds! They were better in the old days. Clouds knew their place. They didn’t get all offended by jokes about their formation. Kids today just want to ban cumulonimbuses altogether.)

Sigh.

And then I thought “But SFWA does good things—they did that one thing with Hydra and that other thing with Games Workshop and that was awesome and people are saying they’ll fix this and won’t do it again–”

And then the wheels ground to a screeching halt, because, ladies and gentlemen, if you are telling yourself in your head that someone is Not That Bad, even though they belittle you and promise they’ll change and then do it again and then promise no, really, they’ll change, and you start tallying up the things that they’ve done that are good to try and get over the bit where they’re doing something bad that embarrasses you in public—no. Just no.

That’s an abusive relationship. We do not have those, except possibly with cats, who are allowed to treat us like crap when they feel like it and then purr and be made of love when it suits them, because we extend these privileges to cats and not to any other living thing.  Not to other humans. Not to organizations.

If I wish to have an abusive relationship with an organization, I can join any number of lousy churches, and at least they have free donuts.

I am trying to think of anything that could fail three times in a row, in short order, and I would still give another chance. Hmm. Housebreaking a puppy comes to mind. That’s about it.

So now I’m going “Hmm. Abusive relationship…or stupid but well-meaning puppy?”

And that’s the question, isn’t it? Can SFWA learn? If we hit it with enough rolled-up newspapers and rub its nose in big piles of Seriously-Not-Okay, will it get better? Will the puppy learn to go outside?

Or is SFWA just gonna go “Aw, you know I don’t mean it, babe…” and pinch our respective asses and turn around and do it again…and again…and again….

I don’t know the answer.

I’ve got nine months to run on my membership. By the end, I might know. And the nice thing is that since I don’t have much of an emotional investment here, if I want to walk away, I can do so—and never think about it ever again. Which is good for me. But not so good for SFWA if that’s what your members are thinking.

So maybe next year the puppy will have learned to go outside.

Or maybe I’ll just change the locks and keep all my TV dinner money to myself.

12 Comments

  • Wolf Lahti says:

    You can do better than TV dinners.

  • Alex R. says:

    Get a rolled-up newspaper and pound on that pup!

  • Can you leave now and ask for the rest of your subscription back? If enough members did that it would concentrate the minds of the task force enormously!

  • siadea says:

    I’d say that grown adults don’t DESERVE to be given the tolerance that one would give a puppy. Puppies are allowed to be dumb. Grown men shouldn’t have to be told “no bad!” over and over.

    A “task force” seems ineffective to me; what I would like to see is another layer of editor-ship or whatever, manned by someone who would shut that right the hell down. One of the people who complained the most, and/or most eloquently. There’s frankly a lot of dudes on that “task force” thing, which is not ideal when it comes to shutting down misogynistic shit.

    I know, like, you were yearning for my opinion and stuff. Almost as much as they are. XD Since I’m not even a member and all.

  • Lounalune says:

    Seconding the trying to leave right now and ask for the rest of the subscription back.

  • Mel says:

    Even considering the sources of the article, it’s still completely ridiculous. The task is a good first step.
    To the fossils crying about censorship or uppity women, get over it. My goodness, old grumpyguts really needs to get over himself.

  • Tracy Canfield says:

    I qualified for SFWA active membership years ago, but what SFWA delivers has never seemed worth $90/year to me.

    The current fiasco has confirmed my existing impressions. While I don’t have access to the numbers, I’ve seen SFWA members saying that 25% of the budget is spent on the Bulletin. If so, that means that SFWA has a division which takes one quarter of its operating budget – and that this division can repeatedly screw up over a period of months while nothing’s done.

    That says to me that there’s an organizational problem. Maybe it’s because people are fighting other fires, or the people who understand the problem aren’t the ones with the authority to make changes, or any number of things. But when I’m deciding whether to spend my $90, the reasons don’t matter to me. What matters to me is that such a large part of the organization can have problem snowball while nothing is done.

    If anyone wants to fix SFWA, more power to them. But I’ve been seeing a lot of people saying that anyone who doesn’t like the current situation should send in their check and start volunteering to fix things.

    All I can say is that I appreciate their point of view, but if I want spend time and money fixing an organization in crisis, I can find plenty of charities that would accomplish more with it. I could even go wild and find a charity that isn’t in crisis!

    Which is why I found your abusive relationship metaphor so compelling – I feel like I’m seeing so much “If you have a problem with SFWA, it’s your job to fix them. They’re good at heart, even if their actions are bad, so it’s your responsibility to buckle down and do the work of fixing things. After all, if you leave, how will it ever get better?”

  • [...] SFWA — Housebreaking a Puppy or Abusive Relationship? Ursula Vernon compares the SFWA’s continued, repeated offenses to an abusive relationship. Because you don’t just let people get away with that shit; you walk out. [...]

  • Al the K says:

    SFWA is just another club. It is what the members make of it.

    Here’s a parallel blog post on Robert “I-am-not-a-racist” Heinlein:
    http://worldsf.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/heinlein-and-racism/
    In his aw shucks rebuttal, Malzberg fails all the tests in very much the same ways.

    But while both Heinlein and Malzberg/Resnick have been outed, it’s been to a limited audience. What’s going to happen to them then? Pretty much nothing as usual. Unless. With racism, we “complainers” see all the “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” streaming for the exits when the chips are down. Scalzo in this case.

    Malzberg has fired his counter volley. But are you willing to take it to the next level? This needs to be taken to the general press. And this could mean handing the ball over to a pitbull-type of person, who has to have some standing/ media notoriety.

    If I were you, I’d also like to find out what what the SFWA’s lawyers think about Malzberg and Resnick — you are paying for them, after all. If there is a “conduct unbecoming” clause to membership . . .

    And talk it up with previous Hugo winners and nominees — the Foglios, etc. Plus Worldcon and their membership, your publisher and other publishers. You know, the ones with the lady editors.

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