You don’t have to look very far these days to see sexism but you do have to know what you are looking for. The problem is that most of us are effectively blind to it, both because it is kept behind close doors and because it is hiding in plain sight. And when people, particularly women, call attention to it, they’re often labeled misogynist, or simply told to “laugh it off”. Even when sexism is dragged out from behind doors for all to see, it is easy to claim that it is happening to just one person, or a small group of people, hidden away, and not a systemic problem within our society.
Noted and award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal was slandered by some of her peers in the Science Fiction Writer’s Association (SFWA) the other day. Male members of the organization made comments via the organization’s public email listserv. One called her a hypocrite based upon her public views as a feminist and what clothing she chooses to wear to award ceremonies, as well as simply calling her phony and incompetent.
To her credit, Mary has offered a response which, rather than simply attacking back, called attention to this attack and focused instead on making it an example of sexism and to make note that this is not an incident she is facing alone, but that women inside and outside the SFWA suffer all the time from what is effectively verbal abuse.
In her response entitled”Me, as a useful representative example“, she says the following:
Then I replied to the messages saying, “Honestly, I’m fine. Four years in office inured me to this so mostly I’m just laughing.”
And this is the part that I feel I should draw attention to — I was “mostly” laughing. I was also having mild stress reactions. Dry sweats, elevated heart rate. I was ready to shrug them off as, “Meh, doesn’t materially affect me. I’ve seen worse.”
Until someone pointed it out that I was basically saying, “I’m inured to being abused, because I was abused for years.” See… the things those folks are saying in that public forum? When I was in office, they would email that bile directly to me and because I was an officer, I could not choose to ignore it. I had to read every single one. And I had to reply politely to them. Strangely, sometimes I had trouble doing that, but a polite response was the one that was expected. Now? Being out of office for two years, I can say whatever the fuck I want, but most beautifully, I don’t have to read the emails.
So this is why I feel weird about writing about this. My impulse is to tell you all that I’m fine and that this has no material affect on my life. And that is true. But I also know that I am a useful representative sample of the abuse that happens to other women.
Too many places, too many women, get this sort of unwelcome attention and commentary about what they were wearing but no one does anything. It’s always, “Laugh about it” or “Just shrug it off,” or “Ignore it and he’ll go away.”
You see how well that last is working?
So, I really, truly am fine. But watch what happens to me now that I’m posting. Read the comments when they happen. Note the people who say that because I’m talking about the abuse, I must be begging for attention.
Take me as a useful representative example. And know that I am not an isolated case.
It is sad that we need examples and I applaud Kowal for providing one. And we do need one. I recently was reading an online article about a video game that was in no way related to gender equality. In the middle of this author’s article, he says the following:
…this is, after all, a game where half the punchlines are “ogling women is funny” (and I say that as a staunch anti-feminist)…
It stopped me reading right in my tracks. It took me awhile to comprehend that the initial statement meant that the game wasn’t necessarily to be taken so seriously as it relied upon humor like men staring at women. Yet I couldn’t understand why he felt compelled to add the anti-feminism qualifier, to declare that he was staunchly opposed to a society where men and women are treated equally without discrimination or abuse, be it physical or emotional.
Actually it seems unlikely that the author is an active proponent of sexism. Instead he is likely ignorant of the amount of sexism that exists in our culture and the harm that it does. Instead he is reacting to the backlash that accompanies attempts to educate people regarding this harm, shielding himself from it by claiming that he is not a feminist. This backlash is what Mary Robinette Kowal wants you to look for in the coming days.
That backlash will be just some of the sexism that hides in plain sight.
Apparently, these guys don’t want women to write science fiction by Aja Romano [DailyDot.com]
Me, as a useful representative example by Mary Robinette Kowal [MaryRobinetteKowal.com]
Cheap Arts by Silvia Moreno-Garcia [Silvia Moreno-Garcia.com]
Mary Robinette Kowal Offers Herself Up as a Useful Representative Example by John Scalzi [whatever.scazli.com]
Does Bravely Default Hate Atheists? by Geoff Thew [HardCoreGamer.com]