Critical Fandom: Speaking Out

It’s important to have your voice heard, and, yes, we’ve gone over this, but it can do a whole world of good, no matter how vitriolic the loud minority may be. There are circumstances in which real change can be made, and though we’ve seen an unfortunate lack of movement in the larger skeptical organisations in this regard, other institutions have faced issues of outrageous internal sexism head-on.

In this instance, I’m talking about an incident with some long-term members of SFWA, the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, who caused a huge outcry after publishing some very suspect articles in the SFWA bulletin. I have omitted their names from this description, though, if you must know who they are, you can look them up, most of the important information can be found here.

To start with, the aforementioned chainmail bikini sported the bulletin’s cover, and an article by two columnists covered the topic of ‘lady editors’, in a way one might imagine someone who feels the need to make that their point of discussion wants to talk about them, namely, referring to their physical appearance uncomfortably often. In reaction to criticism for their article, these columnists respond by calling dissenters fascists and comparing their criticism to the thought police. So yeah, that happened. I should also mention that between their column and their rebuttal there was another set of raised eyebrows when Barbie was thrown out there as a role model for women.

As you might imagine, this blew up into an all out controversy, but, unlike certain skeptical organisations who have stood their ground on similar issues and even supported the offenders, legendary author and then-SFWA president John Scalzi took full responsibility for the editorial oversight, and stepped down, and as a result of the incident, there was a ban on a certain controversial writer. Though Scalzi took no part in the offences himself, his position dictated that he take responsibility, and he did. This is a behaviour some organisations could learn from.

The outcry, both internal and external, really made it clear that this issue affected a large number of people. Indeed, a penis is not one of the requirements to be filled to become a writer, and there are tons of women involved in SFF writing and fandom.

So, although some may disagree with me, I’m going to cite this controversial incident as an example of when speaking out has, if not solved a problem, then at least made it so clear that there is one that someone might think twice before acting as if women are some kind of lost spirits that can only possibly function as an extension of male desires and expectations.

We certainly have our fair share of people willing to speak out in organised skepticism, and although skepchicks and FTBloggers are the source of much derision by dissenters, it’s important that such a voice keeps speaking out, and that those who are passionate about these issues speak up, too.

I’m not saying you should all write for Teen Skepchick (although you should definitely write for Teen Skepchick), but don’t feel the need to stay silent if this issue is bugging you. There are people who will agree and stand with you, and sometimes people actually listen, and change to be more accommodating. Fandom is about community, and though there are some communities who no doubt snarl at the idea of expansion, there is no community without voices being heard.

[image credit: SFWA Bulletin 200 cover via The Guardian]

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Cat Strickson

Cat Strickson

Cat, or Elly, or Eddy, or whatever name they're going by these days, is a British palaeontologist and fantasy author. It's a pretty awesome skill set, but it doesn't pay much right now. They enjoy science, history, vidyagames and all things SFF.


  1. October 15, 2013 at 10:57 am —

    You have a couple of errors here… first, Scalzi did apologize and take responsibility, but he didn’t step down, he was on his way out as there’d been a new president elected. The editor of the magazine did, however resign. And SFWA has agreed to rethink/rework the magazine to make it better. They also removed one of the offending writers from SFWA membership not so much for the offensive articles as for misuse of SFWA tools. He’s out for life.

    • October 16, 2013 at 12:51 pm —

      My apologies, I did this post in a bit of a rush and didn’t double-check my facts before I posted. Thank you for the correction 🙂

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