Friday, June 28, 2013

for the people who came to this blog seeking more information about WisCon and sexual harassment

Elise is a friend; I vouch for her sincerity. Her account is here and elsewhere: Brandon Sanderson Blog: Guest post by Elise Matthesen: How to Report Sexual Harassment.

My only comment at this time: Stopping when you are first asked to stop is not some weird new feminist notion. It may be the oldest idea of how good men are supposed to treat all women. It is at least as old as chivalry, and I suspect there were Sumerians who understood that.

Freddie's "What to Do When Someone Hates You on The Internet" is solid advice

L'Hôte: Getting to good enough:
What to Do When Someone Hates You on The Internet

Step one: Close laptop.
Step two: Go outside.
Step three: Look at the people out on the street.
Step four: Realize that not one of them has ever heard of you, heard of the person who hates you, or could possibly care.
Step five: Imagine that person out on the street, with you. Imagine them free from the power of their blog or their magazine or whatever, away from sympathetic commenters and connected friends, free from the distorting power of text-based communication, in all of their limited flawed fleshy humanity, with beating human beating heart, and feel better about them and about you.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

amusing comment in review of a Jemisin novel

Researching the call for civility in the Jemisin-Vox Day tiff, I googled "jemisin civility" and found Jeremy's review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inherit...: "In a book about a political power struggle it is frustrating to see the protagonist refuse to act with any sort of civility or tact."

It made me laugh. Why would a writer who rejects "tone policing" write characters who act with civility or tact?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

the appropriation of "cultural appropriation"

Two panels at the Fourth Street Fantasy Convention thrashed around the subject of cultural appropriation. I wasn't on "Syncretism, Real and Fantastic", so I can't take the blame there. I dove into it on "Journey's End" because explorers, invaders, and traders bring home more than memories. They brought Mithraism to Rome, pasta and syphilis to Europe, and art that explicitly inspired Orientalists and Fauves and indirectly inspired everyone. No culture is an island—Japan tried it, and found it was a terrible mistake. Cultures take what they like and some things they don't, which is why anthropologists coined "cultural appropriation" to talk about the process.

The "Journey's End" discussion went sideways when I brought up Ed Galloway's Totem Pole Park, a beautiful folk art creation inspired by a man's love of American Indians. Its sensibilities owe more to Hollywood than any American Indian tradition. A social justice theorist would claim it's an example of appropriated art using their definition (more on that below), but there's nothing in it that denigrates the people Galloway loved.

Someone in the audience claimed it was appropriated because of a power imbalance—Galloway was a member of the conquering people. But by this argument, no one should be inspired by anyone. We all have conquerors and conquered people in our genealogies.

And more specifically, where is the power imbalance? Galloway was a retired art teacher. He had no power to make life better or worse for American Indians. All he could do was build his tribute to them.

"Cultural appropriation" didn't have moral implications until social justice theorists and cultural conservatives appropriated it to argue that people of one culture shouldn't adopt things from others—whether those things are philosophies, hair styles, clothing, or symbols. To them, appropriation is theft.

They say white people shouldn't adopt black music, ignoring the fact that all black music in the Americas is influenced by white music. African-American and European-American musicians have been holding a musical dialogue for centuries.

They say white people shouldn't wear dreadlocks, ignoring the fact that human hair gets matted. Finding a culture that hasn't had a form of dreadlocks at some time may be impossible—the most prominent European examples are the Spartans and the Celts.

They say white people shouldn't adopt elements of other culture's religions, ignoring the fact that every religion took symbols and concepts from earlier ones. (In Los Angeles, a woman in a coffeeshop criticized Emma for wearing a ring with a moon and a star under the impression the symbol was unique to Islam. But that symbol is at least as old as Sumer. It became an Islamic symbol via a political route: it was used on the flag of the Ottoman Empire, and came to be identified with that empire's dominant religion.)

Appropriation theorists rarely bother to learn the opinions of the subjects of their theories. They tend to use "Native American" instead of "American Indian" because they think the words are synonyms and "Native American" is more respectful. They don't know that "Native American" is a legal term used by the US government to describe American Indians, native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in federal programs. (For folks who're confused about this: Some American Indians do prefer Native American, more prefer American Indian, and most think either term is both okay and unimportant, because they'd rather be known by the name of their tribe. If you want to research this, start at Native American name controversy.)

Appropriation theorists claim they're concerned with respect. What they argue may seem initially like common courtesy, but when I do the research, I usually find their concept of respect is being imposed. Most people in most cultures are flattered when people adopt their ways. They're not worried about sacred things being stolen: they keep private the things that matter to them.

Monday, June 24, 2013

your spoiler warning triggered me; your trigger warning spoilered me

At this year's Fourth Street Fantasy Con, Lynne Thomas announced that Apex Magazine would put trigger warnings on stories from now on. That surprised me a little, but what surprised me more was a small group applauding with fierce partisan fervor, as though Fort Sumter had just fallen and the Confederacy would soon be free.

I get the usefulness of warnings for fanfic and personal accounts on a blog. But magazines and anthologies provide a context: if a story doesn't fit the editor's agenda, why is it being published there? You should know that you'll find an Apex story at Apex, just as you'll get a Disney story from Disney.

I can't imagine a warning that doesn't weaken the first-timer's experience. Googling "Lynne Thomas Apex Magazine Trigger Warning", I came on someone's link-sharing that included this description:
[TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic Violence.] What I like best about this story is that it starts out in an unexpected way given what’s really going on (which you understand at the end).
The person giving the warning has told you to watch for something that the writer hoped would surprise you.

If I was starting a magazine right now, I would call it Trigger Warning.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

all I needed to say about the SFWA Bulletin controversy

I left this comment at Science fiction authors attack sexism amid row over SFWA magazine:
It seems rather disingenuous not to mention that the most controversial issue also had a column by Jim C. Hines titled "Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women are People". Traditionally, the SFWA Bulletin has let writers speak for themselves on the theory that it's better to have a dialogue than silence people. A diverse organization will have diverse views.
But while I blathered much too long in the comments at SFWA Bulletin Stuff: All I have are questions, it did inspire this, which I continue to like in the way writers like their writing too much:
When you silence speech that offends you, you become the power that truth must be spoken to.

"Tango of the Archangel" by Kees Van Dongen

via The Pictorial Arts: Once Upon a High Place

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

a note to Roz Kaveney about trans identity: new identity is not erasure

(Note: This post is effectively Part Two of The question that comes from the clash between feminists and transgender activists.)

Roz tweeted something with my twitter address, so I saw it:

But of course is on Twitter. How could I have thought he was not?

So I went looking and found this:

In a perfect storm of not knowing when to STFU, Will Shetterley tries to resolve teh Trans You knew it had to happen

And this discussion:

  1. *facepalm* Right, because he's always FELT black. Well-intentioned, I think. Maybe. But tone deaf.
  2. Saying he does not intend to dis trans people is not enough. You don't get to police people's reaction to what yu say about them
  3. Because each context is equally interchangeable; each way-of-being as fungible as another...
  4. The race argument really bothers me. I can't work out why beyond the obvious racism wd I be annoying if I asked for pointers?
  5. Because it is a smart-ass analogy which breaks down when you think about what it is to have any identity.
  6. The argument is patently nonsense but I need to do better than that. I see an evening of ironing and deconstruction ahead.
  7. Marginally better than saying "I don't mean to dis trans people, but..."
  8. I think it depends at some deep level on not thinking trans a real identity. Also on erasing trans men.
  9. I think he assumes the same will apply to trans men. But I'm assuming he's assuming because he doesn't say.
  10. Eagerly awaiting J. Michael Bailey’s take on the whole matter.
  11. It's the comparison with German Native American hobbyists that gives the game away.
  12. It's the essentialism thing. He's saying only two possible experiences of race Black or White and nowt else. Same with gender.

I tweeted back:
No, I never felt black. Rejecting whiteness only translates to "feeling black" in a binary world.
Rather than continue in the twitterverse, I'll expand on that here:
Of course a trans identity is valid. Communities get to create identities. Trying to list all the gender possibilities for modern humans would be impossible, but my list would include male, female, transmale, transfemale, bi, lesbian, gay, straight, etc. in any combination anyone chooses.
That said, to put the question in identitarian terms: do transfolk get to appropriate the identities of cisfolk, or are they their own identity? I would say we're all human, and we all have gender preferences of varying fluidity: the world is not binary. Rather than fight to create more rigid social constructs of male and female, why not abandon them entirely?

the question that comes from the clash between feminists and transgender activists

If you're interested in the tension between biological and social identity, this discussion is fascinating:

The Left Hand of Darkness by Julian Vigo

These Are Not the Radicals You’re Looking For by Dorian Adams

It inspired this question: Are you entitled to claim a social identity if you reject the one you were raised with?

For transfolk who want to be accepted as full members of the gender they feel they belong in, the answer is "yes".

But I reject whiteness. Does that mean I get to identify as black and have the black community accept me as black? If not, would I get to identify as black if I used drugs to darken my skin like John Howard Griffin did to write Black Like Me?

Should white, black, or Asian people who feel they are American Indians be accepted as American Indians by American Indians? Groups like the Seaconke Wampanoag think so, but the Cherokee Nation’s Fraudulent Indians Task Force disagrees, saying, "False tribes distort genuine Indian history."

Who gets to decide who belongs in a social identity? My answer is that's up to the people who were raised in that social identity. Rejecting a social construct that had been imposed on me doesn't give me the right to claim someone else's.

But it does give me the right to claim a new one.

And better yet, it gives me the right to live without claiming any, to simply be a human among humans. Why agonize over which social identity fits you? Reject them all. Sex and skin color are biological, but gender and race are equally artificial—in the terms of my favorite religion, they're granfalloons. Rejecting them is hardly a new notion—for a two-thousand-year-old example, see Galatians 3:28.

Standard notice: Lest anyone think I'm dissing transfolk, I'm not. What adults do with their bodies is their business. Everyone should be equal under the law and treated with respect. Body modification is a human right. My question is purely about social identity.

Possibly related: Der Indianer: Why do 40,000 Germans spend their weekends dressed as Native Americans?

Real Indians and wannabes, and American Indian or Native American

ETA: This continues in A note to Roz Kaveney about trans identity: new identity is not erasure.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

on white-washing book covers: Throne of the Crescent Moon and Liavek

From Beyond ‘Game of Thrones’: Exploring diversity in speculative fiction:
“My editor and another editor who made an offer on the book explicitly committed to not whitewashing the cover,” said Ahmed of the industry’s practice of slapping white people on the cover of books that don’t feature white protagonists. “That to me is a clear example that the protest on the Internet got through to at least a certain level of editors.”
There are people on the US hardcover:

But not on the British edition:

Or the US paperback:

Here are the mass market paperback covers for the Liavek series, published between 1985 and 1990:

I'm hesitant to draw any conclusions. But I'll note this: You could argue that Saladin's middle-eastern protagonists were "erased" on his other covers. Or you could argue that the first cover looks like a sword-and-sorcery adventure, while the others look more literary. The comic-book fan in me loves his first cover, but the paperback cover looks like it's on the better book.

PS. I know the pain of having covers white-washed. The narrator of Witch Blood is a dark-skinned man travelling among light-skinned peoples. The cover shows a guy who's as dark-skinned as Claude Van Damme:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why John Scalzi deserves even-more-than full blame for the SFWA Bulletin fiasco, and should have done more to support Jean Rabe

It's not Scalzi's fault that his Presidential Statement on the SFWA Bulletin fails to make clear something that's been missed by the people who are pleased by Jean Rabe's resignation—insiders often forget how little outsiders know. Medievalist stresses an essential point about Rabe's limited power as editor in The Latest SFWA Controversy:
If you look closely, you'll see she did not have editorial control; hence the content was passed on to the Publisher i.e. the President of SFWA, i.e John Scalzi who did not read the articles.

I note however that the Bylaws don't really indicate much about the Bulletin other than it's a membership benefit and it should list new members.

Which is why I've said that they need to stop treating the Bulletin like a fanzine that no one reads. It needs to be taken seriously. The Editor needs to have the ability to accept or reject, and there needs to be some sort of approval mechanism so that the Board can support the editor and be aware of issues before they become public..

A modicum of oversight would have prevented the idiocies of the last three bulletins from ever appearing in print.
The Bulletin has never made writers conform to a speech code. Instead, it's encouraged dialogue. Rabe was clearly continuing that tradition when she ran Jim C. Hines's piece about women and cover art. When Scalzi announced a task force, he should have stressed that it was in response to the uproar and not in response to Rabe's handling of her duties.

Given the circumstances Rabe was working under, she fully deserves the praise Scalzi gave her when announcing her resignation. And probably deserves more.

Recommended: Sheila's LiveJournal - THE SFWA BULLETIN KERFUFFLE.

ETA: From a comment I made at I09, where someone asked whether a publisher would be closely involved in what was published:
Some publishers are effectively editor-in-chief-of-the-editor-in-chief. Others don't care what's in their publications so long as they're making a profit.
But this was a controversial matter already. Rabe ran it by Scalzi. Here are the relevant bits from Scalzi, with emphasis from Medievalist:
" By our organization’s current bylaws, the president of SFWA has unilateral control of, and therefore is ultimately responsible for, the organization’s publications. This includes the Bulletin. This means that when all is said and done, I personally am responsible for the Bulletin and what is published between its covers."
"As publisher, I was aware that there would be two articles in Bulletin #202 about the cover of issue #200, one by Jim C. Hines and one by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. I did not read Mr. Hines’ piece and glanced cursorily at the Resnick/Malzberg piece but did not give it a significant read; I do not as a matter of course closely read the Bulletin before it is published. It’s possible if I had more closely read the article I might have alerted Ms. Rabe to portions that might be an issue. She might then have had the opportunity to take those concerns back to Mr. Resnick and Mr. Malzberg, who I have no reason to believe would not have taken editorial direction.

"This did not happen. I as publisher gave the go-ahead – and once again, the responsibility for the event, and the offense it caused, falls on me."

the right to offend is the heart of free speech

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

the First Amendment protects private censorship, but opposing free speech is still wrong: a few points from the ACLU, Popehat, Salman Rushdie, and others

Some people claim censorship can only be done by governments. Neither dictionaries nor the American Civil Liberties Union agree. From What Is Censorship?:
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are "offensive," happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.

In contrast, when private individuals or groups organize boycotts against stores that sell magazines of which they disapprove, their actions are protected by the First Amendment, although they can become dangerous in the extreme. Private pressure groups, not the government, promulgated and enforced the infamous Hollywood blacklists during the McCarthy period.
Some people argue that withdrawing an opportunity to speak is not censorship. Sarah R. Wunsch of the ACLU answered that when a private school, Clark University, canceled a speech by Norman Finkelstein:
…the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship.
Ken White at Popehat makes a point in Free Speech Does Not Include The Right to Be Free of Criticism that applies to would-be private censors who argue that "offensive" speech should not be tolerated:
Often the argument involves portraying speech as violence, as when thin-skinned speakers complain that criticism of their speech is "terrorism" or "abuse", or claim that it is "chilling," thus misappropriating a term used to describe the effect of government restrictions on speech.  To that extent the argument  is related to, but not identical to, the European/Canadian/UN concept that "hate speech" is a violation of the rights of others."
A few of my favorite comments about free speech and censorship:
"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist." —Salman Rushdie

"What you don't hear from the hate speech theorists is that the first casualty of the MacKinnonite anti-obscenity ruling was a gay and lesbian bookshop in Toronto, which was raided by the police because of a lesbian magazine it carried." —Henry Louis Gates 
"When decorum is repression, the only dignity free men have is to speak out." —Abbie Hoffman

"Political correctness is America's newest form of intolerance, and it's especially pernicious because it comes disguised as tolerance. It presents itself as fairness, yet attempts to restrict and control people's language with strict codes and rigid rules. I'm not sure that's the way to fight discrimination. I'm not sure silencing people or forcing them to alter their speech is the best method for solving problems that go much deeper than speech." —George Carlin 
"In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them." —Alexis de Tocqueville

"...the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate." Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes
If you think free speech is primarily a male concern:

FEMINISTS AGAINST CENSORSHIP: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: "Feminists have traditionally been anti-censorship, and the major women's anti-censorship groups in the US and UK are made up of feminists ranging from Betty Friedan and Kate Millett to the members of the old Red Rag collective and the Feminist Review collective."

Feminists For Free Expression: "There is no feminist code about which words and images are dangerous or sexist. Genuine feminism encourages individuals to choose for themselves. A free and vigorous marketplace of ideas is the best guarantee of democratic self-government and a feminist future."

Related: the right to offend is the heart of free speech

Monday, June 3, 2013

diversity of thought vs diversity of identity: a little about the SFWA Bulletin brouhaha

The most objective account I've found of the basic events in the Great Flamewar about Mike Resnick, Barry Malzberg, and the SFWA Bulletin is in Russell Davis's Sexism and SFWA—but it should be noted that, as always happens in war time, partisans see attempts at objectivity as collaboration with the enemy, and Davis has already felt it necessary to apologize in What I Learned Yesterday.

Davis's account has its quirks—he seems to think there's no difference between sexist and sexual, so he keeps saying everyone's the former when he seems to mean we're the latter. But even if he does mean we're all sexist sometimes, he seems to mean it in the sense of making generalizations and jokes based on gender. Anyone who's ever said anything about men should nod and agree with that.

(Resnick and Malzberg's column from the most recent issue was posted online by Radish Reviews as six jpgs: 123456. If the earlier parts are available online to give people more context, please let me know.)

As with most of these kerfuffles, I stayed out for the opening shots, then stepped in when my sense of self-preservation failed me. My only comments so far have been at Chris Gerwel's The SFWA Bulletin, Censorship, Anonymity, and Representation. Here's the lightly edited version. I began:
I’ve criticized SFWA for many things during the many years I’ve been and not been (currently, not) a member, but I’ve always taken for granted the inclusive nature of The Bulletin. Calling for someone to make sure it only holds views of a particular sort is a call for an editor to become a censor. Gerwel considers that view progressive, but limiting speech is traditionally regressive, no matter what cause is cited when silencing others.

It is true that no one has an obligation to provide anyone with a forum. But once a forum has been offered, removing it is censorship, regardless of the nature of those who withdraw the opportunity to speak. When Norman Finkelstein’s speech was canceled at Clark University, Sarah Wunsch, a representative of the ACLU wrote, “…the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship.”
Then I responded to quibbles by Arclight, who disagreed about the nature of censorship, and Chris Gerwel, whose response included “The complaints voiced about Resnick/Malzberg’s dialogues is that the attitudes articulated therein misrepresent the attitudes/values held by the organization’s broader membership. Presented as they are in the SFWA Bulletin, a reader can justifiably come to the conclusion that SFWA as an organization and its broader membership endorse the attitudes espoused in the R/M dialogues.”:
Chris, I should probably add that I’m not defending Malzberg’s or Resnick’s politics. I’m a socialist, and I’m perhaps too proud of the fact that the feministsf wiki notes that I write strong women and people of color. I wouldn’t discuss these issues using language anything like theirs.

That said, there’s a huge difference between allowing old people to speak of the past in the terms they know it and changing a semicolon. You’re asking for someone to vet the language they use. You’re asking for every writer in the Bulletin to “represent the attitudes/values held by the organization’s broader membership”. But a broad membership, by definition, has people who disagree about many things.

And you did notice that their discussion piece or interview or whatever—it certainly wasn’t an essay—had a byline? That’s who should be held responsible for what’s expressed in what follows.

Arclight, the line between censor and editor may be messy, but it exists. A magazine devoted to Democrats, for example, would not be faulted for excluding socialists and conservative capitalists. SFWA’s Bulletin has been a magazine for f&sf writers. Whatever you may think of their work, Malzberg and Resnick have a long history as f&sf writers. Dictating how they should discuss the field they’ve known for so long would cross from editorial guidance to censorship.
Then, to Jon Marcus:
No, I don’t think anyone’s entitled to a forum forever. But I don’t think anyone should have their forum canceled over political disagreements about how to talk about the accomplishments of women*. Cancel their column for being irrelevant, and I’d shrug. Like most of the people discussing this, I haven’t been reading their part of the Bulletin.

* Did they suggest Bea Mahaffey was incompetent, or that women were?
Then, to Kate Fall:
Though I let my membership lapse, I’m rather proud to have been a member of a group that included Octavia Butler.

And I find it a bit odd that people are focusing on one article in the Bulletin by a couple of old guys reminiscing about the old days and ignoring articles in the same issue like Jim C. Hines’ “Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People.”

A truly diverse group has diversity of opinion.
And finally:
Chris, I think it’s time to agree to disagree here. I’ll just add that if this shakes up The Bulletin, it could be a good thing, because the magazine’s been in a rut for decades. I’ve long thought it should be cancelled, but it could also be improved.
In the same comment thread, I recommend Felicity Savage's contribution.

I do have one thing to add: I don't think Jean Rabe should be blamed for The Bulletin's shortcomings. She worked well with the resources she had. Her approach in #202 seems perfectly right to me: Jim Hines' article was part of a dialogue, which is being missed by people who don't grasp that the proper response to words are more words. People who discuss what Resnick and Malzberg said understand this. People who say the SFWA Bulletin should not allow writers to write freely do not.

See also: the First Amendment protects private censorship, but opposing free speech is still wrong: a few points from the ACLU, Popehat, Salmon Rushdie, and others

googling yourself is like masturbation: most people do it

Reputation Management and Social Media | Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project: "More than half (57%) of adult internet users say they have used a search engine to look up their name and see what information was available about them online, up from 47% who did so in 2006."

That's from 2010. If the trend has continued, the actual number is higher now.

oh noes! Ann Somerville is cyberstalking me!

It began with her tweet:
17hWhat a surprise. Shetterly is defending sexist dickwittery in comments.
I responded with:
16h Actually, I'm supporting the right to disagree. I believe in intellectual diversity, not bourgeois identitarianism.
Then I saw her response:

16hchrist, does will shetterly do anything but ego google himself all fucking day? As if he could ever say anything I want to hear
16hWhat does it say about the SF community that a racist sexist tool like Shetterly is more acceptable than 'lady writers'?
So I tweeted:
12h Do you even know what "racist" and "sexist" mean? You use them like synonyms for "poopyhead".
12h The Feministsf wiki said my “work features strong women characters and people of color”. What did it say about yours?
12h I marched and was beaten bloody in the civil rights struggle. What have you done?
Will Shetterly ‏@WillShetterly12h Ah, well. Bored now. Ciao!
Then I noticed she had blogged about me: Bros before hos. So I tweeted:
2h Oops, forgot to say this: Stop cyberstalking me! (I hope I'm using the term in the proper SJW sense.) :)
What can I say? I was bored, and I assume Ann Somerville was also. It used to bother me when SJWarriors threw hissyfits about me, because I like to think people can disagree civilly—I have many friends who don't share my politics. But since Warriors reject civility as tone policing, I realize that outrage is just what makes them happy. So now I find their attention kind of flattering.

But mostly, I pity them. They want a better world and haven't a clue how to make one. (Hint: Embracing the idea of treating everyone with respect is a start. I don't always succeed at that, but I keep it as a goal.)

ETA: Her blog post may be private now. I wish these people would decide whether they want to be public or private before they hit "post". But changing things from public to private is just another example of SJWs wanting to have everything two ways, and a third if they can figure one out.