Thursday, May 8, 2014

The loudest sound in the world is a bigot screaming that he's being silenced

I didn't want to write this post.

Wait, that's not honest. I wanted to write this post with the burning fires of righteous rage, but I've held off for a long time because I didn't want to give these idiots any more of the attention they clearly require to continue existing. But then this happened, and I'm afraid my anger has finally overridden my common sense.

Warning: Rant Ahead

For those of you who don't want to read a whole OpEd of a middle-aged white man pining for the Good Old Days when SF fans were "real" and didn't get offended over every little sexist/racist thing (or at least didn't make a fuss about it where he could overhear), the general gist of the article is exactly what you'd imagine. "Oh woe! Science Fiction is under siege by whiny minorities and fun-killing feminists! It's a leftist conspiracy! The PC police are silencing our voices! Won't the Real Science Fiction fans stand up and take back our genre?!"

You get the idea.

Now, I could go in and rip this apart, but I'm not going to because 1) take downs aren't in the spirit of my blog, and 2) Foz Meadows already did a way better job. But I do want to take a moment and talk about idea of genre communities "silencing" writers.

Authorship is an opinionated business. The very act of writing puts your core values and world view front and center. Your characters, your plot, your moral conundrums, the way you build your world--these are all reflections of you, the writer behind the curtain. If you hold and put forth opinions in your writing that other people find repugnant or offensive, they're going to offended. And since you, the author, put those opinions in a public medium widely distributed and sold for money, otherwise known as bookselling, these offended people are going to criticize your work publicly. They're going to say that these stories don't deserve awards and/or public recognition because of the ideas espoused therein, they might even band together to get you booted out of your genre organizations, publications, and/or fan groups so they don't have to put up with your crap anymore.

I'm sure you think that sucks. I'm sure you think that the mob is turning against you, silencing your voice and robbing you of your right to free speech. And while that all sounds very dramatic, it's just not true. You're not being silenced. You're still yelling as loudly as ever, we're just choosing not to listen.

Genre is not a government. It's not even really an organization. It's just a bunch of people who like the same sort of things. Sometimes this means a rich community of fans and conventions and critique, other times it's as simple as knowing what part of the bookstore you like best. Personally, I think that's great, because it means genres like SFF belong to everyone and no one at the same time. The whole process of grouping creative works into categories is one we create as a culture. Genre is what we make of it, and that's why it's so important for those of us who want our genre to be bigger and better and more fun for everyone to speak out when we see other people messing it up--sort of like yelling at a drunk when you see him taking a shit on the slide in your community park.

Did you write a book where women are nothing but sex objects and rape victims? I'm going to call that shit out. I'm going to say you're sexist, and I think your book is sexist, and I don't care how good it is. I don't care if you wrote the freaking War and Peace of sexist rape books, I'm not going to read it, I'm not going to vote for it for awards, and I'm going to tell other people to stay away as well if they don't want to read sexist garbage.

Now, that might seem unfair. What about the story? What about the context?! But deciding I don't want to read yet another sexist book full of women being violently raped for plot is my right as a reader, as is calling those books out publicly for what they contain. The same goes for racist books or homophobic books or any other form of bigotry, because I don't want that poison in my genre. I don't want it in my world, period. I can't stop you from writing it or thinking it--that's your right, your free speech--but just because you wrote it doesn't mean we as readers and fans and members of the genre (which, by the way, belongs to all of us, not just those you anoint as "real fans") have to read it or take it seriously.

It is an author's right to set forward his or her opinions in their own works. If Orson Scott Card wants to be giant homophobe, that is his prerogative, but I am under no obligation to agree with him or buy tickets to his movie. That's not silencing his voice or even belittling his talent, that's simply choosing not to support what I consider a very hurtful, hateful, and backwards way of thinking. When SFWA ousted Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) for continuously posting sexist and racist messages, including a personal attack on fantasy author N.K. Jemisin, they were not silencing him. They were responding to the overwhelming outrage in their community and removing his ability to, if I may reuse a metaphor, shit on our slide.

If Vox Day wants to call a very successful black female SFF author a "half ignorant savage" or any of the other awful racist BS that I'm not going to repeat because just copy pasting it makes me want to Clorox my keyboard, he can (and has) post it on his own blog or twitter or any of the thousands of other places he can make his voice heard. He does not, however, have the right to force anyone else to give him a platform. That's what's really happening here. Racists and bigots and sexists are not being silenced, they're simply losing their megaphones. As SFF becomes more diverse and accepting and generally moves into the modern area, all of these bigoted voices are finally falling back down to the volume of everyone else's, and as such, they're finding themselves drowned out by the tide of people who want acceptance and inclusion and respect, and I think that's god damn beautiful.

What makes me the angriest in all this is the fact that SFF, at least in terms of its major publishing side, does have a history of systematically silencing voices. You don't have to look too far back to find a time when books were rejected for no other reason than the author's name was female, or the main character was of a race/sexual orientation other than white straight male.

This is entirely different than writers getting pushback for what they say. What I chose to put on a page or on my blog is my responsibility, my gender is not. That's actually one of the core values of feminism and all inclusive movements: that we are judged on the merit of what we say and do, not for our skin color or sex or orientation or anything else we can't control. What's really amazing, though, is that even under this enormous handicap, minority SFF authors still found ways to tell their stories, publishing through small presses and even independently despite the bigots (or as Mr. Wright calls them, "real" SF fans) trying their best to keep the the doors shut. But you can't fence in an idea, you can't close out a genre, because it doesn't belong to you. SFF belongs to all of us, and thanks to the internet and the tireless work of marginalized fans and creators who steadfastly refused to give up on the genre they loved just because some bigots didn't want to share, SFF is more diverse and open than ever. That's a pretty big change for small minded people who don't like that they're now having to defend their indefensible and terrible ideas, but just because you're no longer the loudest voice in the room doesn't mean you're being silenced.

Now, of course, all of this is just my opinion, and you are not obligated to listen to me any more than I'm obligated to listen to you. Still, I would encourage self proclaimed free thinkers and futurists like Mr. Wright who feel they are being silenced to consider the possibility that, if a vast majority of members in a large and respected group of professionals such as, say, SFWA, feel you're being such a giant jerk that they have no choice but to kick you out, then maybe, just maybe, you're actually being a giant jerk. If you post an impassioned article about how you and your fellow authors are being systematically silenced by the leftist boot of an overzealous liberal shadow organization that has infiltrated the highest levels of SFF like some kind of nerdy Hydra, and the internet explodes with otherwise mild mannered authors recklessly taking time out their busy writing schedules to compose giant posts about how you are wrong and all your examples are noted homophobs and racists, then maybe, just maybe, you're on the wrong side of things. Or maybe incurring such responses and the attention they bring was your entire plan right from the start, in which case, bravo, sir! Job well done! You're still wrong.

And thus concludes my rant budget for this month. Thank you all for putting up with my outrage. Normal writing posts will resume shortly. Until then, I remain yours always,


ETA: I wrote a far more eloquent and less ranty post about almost this same topic over at the Book Smugglers for their Conversations in SFF series called Upsetting the Default. It probably has fewer rage induced typos as well, so if you skimmed this post, I recommend going over there for a more civilized and nuanced conversation.


Unknown said...

You rock.

Anonymous said...

Blech. This just one long appeal to majority/mob rule, not some principled defense of the SFWA.

Anonymous said...

OSC is not a homophobe. He's been branded one by the thought police, but that doesn't automatically make it true. Please do your homework before you decide to join a mob and lynch someone. The accused might not have done what mob is saying they did.

Anonymous said...

Well said! Thank you, Rachel!

Rachel Aaron said...

Nice, Anonymous comments! Must be doing something right :D

You aren't going to change my mind and I'm not going to change yours, so here's some Kirbies!

(>^_^)> !!! THANKS FOR READING !!! <(^_^<)

Mike Reeves-McMillan said...

So, let's see if I can summarize Mr. Wright, a writer who always needs to be summarized.

"In the good old days, we straight white men could exclude the perspectives of people who aren't like us and casually insult them without being called on it. It was a time of intellectual freedom! But now we're living in a dystopia ruled by the thought police. Waaaah! (Anyway, what they said wasn't really that bad.)"

Jennavier Gilbert said...

I'm struggling with all the nonsense. As an aspiring author I've had to take a long hard look at whether I want to write speculative fiction, specifically sci-fi. I've strongly considered not doing so because of all this. I grew up reading military SF because that was what was around and I LOVED it. Sadly as I got older I found that it didn't really match my interests anymore and I drifted away from it. Now instead of writing the story that I always wanted to read in the genre I just want to leave it all under a rock and walk away, both as a writer and a fan.

ZK said...

Probably should have left this one go. Throwing around "middle-aged white men" as a pejorative is not nice. We have feelings too, you know, and there are lots of us reading military scifi.

For the record, I'm a fan of your work because you write fantastic stories with interesting characters, exciting action and great wordbuilding. Your gender is completely irrelevant to me, and probably to most fans.

Likewise, I'm a fan of Larry Correia's work for roughly the same reasons. The fact that he's a libertarian and apparently likes to insult people on Twitter isn't relevant to the fact that his work is enjoyable.

To Jennavier, the population of people who go online and yell about this sort of thing, on either side, is tiny compared to people who just want to read good books. It's best ignored.
This whole kerfuffle is not anyone's finest hour.

Peter said...

Ah, for the Good Old Days of SF, when it was all being written by manly men who were male and manly like that Andre Norton guy and his good buddy Andrew North, or C.L. Moore, or Leigh Brackett...

Greg said...

I rather feel that this post isn't quite as worthy as you might think it is. Don't get me wrong, the post that motivated it was utter toss, but still.
The problem is, the moment you take an extreme point of view on anything at all, you tend to exclude a lot of what most people would refer to as common sense. The comments of Mr Wright lose all credibility when he makes statements like 'This is a Hispanic person being accused of racism' - the classic misunderstanding of the truly brain dead that a person of an ethnic minority culture in any given society is incapable of being themselves prejudiced. It’s akin to the old chestnut of 'I can't be a racist, I have a black mate.'
Anyone with half an ounce of sense and intelligence would therefore quickly be able to dismiss a lot of what the man says as utter dross. Unfortunately, you've taken it on as a crusade, and jumped right to the other end of the silly see-saw.
Whether you like it or not, there often IS a difference between the personal beliefs of an individual and what they put in their fiction. Scott-Card is quite backwards in many of his beliefs, but as far as I am aware (never having bothered to read any of his stuff) he's never been accused of putting racist/homophobic comments or commentary in any of his books, and thus there *is* an argument (whether you like it or not) that his books should be judged on their merit alone. That means that they would be valid for an award, even if the man himself is repulsive to you as an individual.
As to Vox Day - having read a good few of his blog posts, the man is a complete moron, incapable of having anything approaching an interesting or original thought and substituting with great, neon drenched red flags of obvious provocative bullshit in order to cultivate some reaction and give him the attention he so clearly craves. I don't actually care if he writes good fiction or not, his personality alone is enough to make sure I would never read them, but that doesn't give me the right to pronounce whether they are good or not, or whether they, as works of fiction, are deserving on their own merits of an award.
The main point worthy of note about his Hugo nomination was that it came in the wake of the whole Jonathon Ross furore, when the community as a whole showed itself right up by bullying the man out of volunteering to host their award for free on the basis of spurious claims about him with no root in fact whatsoever. .
The hypocrisy worthy of note there went to the organisers and fans of the event - if Day wrote a novel that people felt worthy of nomination, then so be it - it would be a far more powerful message to invite him to the ceremony, give him the award and make it explicitly clear in the presentation that the award was for his book alone, and that his personal views and opinions were abhorrent and not in keeping with the spirit embraced by the community as a whole. Kick him out and refuse him the opportunity of an award based on his personal proclivities and all you do is give him more fuel for his poor martyr of the loony lefties routine.
People like Wright and Day and all the other old-school 'oh woe is us, we are so persecuted' idiots make themselves look quite stupid enough all by themselves. When you react with thoughtless anger and rage, decrying them and their work and shouting about how evil they inherently are and how everyone should boycott everything they do, all you actually achieve is to add to that picture they LOVE to cultivate about how persecuted they are. Don't give them the time of day. Stop reading them and what they spew out. Ignore them, as they deserve. Their views and opinions belong in the dustbin of history, so don't keep raking through that dustbin and spilling them all over the pavement as it were.

Anonymous said...

Larry Correia linked this story in on his facebook, so you'll probably get a lot more of the whole annon crazy comments.

Incidentally, I agree with everything you've said. I'm always amazed by the amount of people who love going around screaming 'THIS IS ALL BS! MAN UP!' and then run away crying about how unfair and how mean other people are when they get confronted by what they say. Man up, indeed!

Anonymous said...

Nope. This is just an opinion. Plainly given in response to the opinion of another. Get back under your bridge

Unknown said...

White middle-aged bigots is probably better I suppose. I'm guessing you don't like that that phrase implies that all middle-aged white act and feel that way. All I can say about that is you now know how frustrated and offended everybody else has felt about just about everything for as long as forever

Unknown said...

Using "bigot" in the title and the phrase "middle-aged white man" in a negative racial and sexual sense is Orwellian. "1984" is your legacy and a warning, not a blueprint. Answer with a "LOL" and then go look up "doublethink."

Greytfriend said...

It never ends, these guys just can't quit these posts. I read all of the Hugo nominated short stories, BTW, and "Vox Day's" was just the most derivative, terrible story, I couldn't understand what it was doing there until I looked up who he was and connected it to all of this. Some people must have been voting him up because of all of this crap. Keep up the good work, Rachel. It's just like the NBA, the difference between having the right to speak and having the ability to say it in a private organization is the point. And whether or not fans want to keep paying for what they're shoveling out. A lot of people have had the Chris Brown debate, can you or should you separate the artist from the art. I think it's probably a matter of degree, how much have they offended you, how far over the line did they go so it's poisoned everything they touch? I won't be reading anything a lot of these guys have written, that's for sure. There are too many other great things on my to-read list to waste my time or support on them, even when the books are free from the library. I won't even give them circulation numbers.

barbex said...

Yes, you Rock, Rachel!

It never stops being funny how the old boys club screams and cries when their own rules are turned against them. You have an opinion and someone called you out on your bullshit? How very unfair!

Ted Sbardella said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted Sbardella said...

Orson is by far the most closeted Gay man in America today. The only series of books I have read by him were the completely botched American witchcraft books I cant even remember the title.. Anyway the man makes the most lovingly lavish descriptions of his manly character that made me cringe with creepy - I mean he tried to make the women seem attractive but there was something missing.. Heterosexuality maybe? What I love about Rachel is that her women seem real I love the relationships I am a man who loves women and I love the woman's mind the most and I adore her body and that is what I love about Rachel's stuff she gives us women with commitment. Orson is a repressed Gay man with issues - he needs to let go - he is the one repressing himself he cannot claim otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

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