25 Things To Know About Sexism & Misogyny In Writing & Publishing

This is one of those posts where I worry about putting it out there — like, I wrote a book, Blackbirds, which features a female character who some reviewers have suggested makes me a misogynist but other reviews have suggested makes me a feminist. And I worry, “Shit, am I gonna write a post like this and offend somebody? Will I lose a reader? Ten readers? A hundred? What if I’m so blinded by my own bullshit I say a bunch of stupid stuff?”

Because that totally happens. I totally do that sometimes.

Still, it feels to me like, if I’m worried, then maybe it means I should post it.

So, this stuff is all part of a conversation. Not a list of proclamations. Not a face full of holy writs. But these are the thing I’m thinking. Let’s put it out there and see what happens.

Potential trigger warning.

1. Sexism Totally Exists

I know there’s someone out there saying, “Wait, is this really a problem? Sexism and Misogyny in writing? In publishing? In science-fiction and fantasy? Are you sure this isn’t just a small bunch of very loud women with their panties all whirled around in some kinda panty tornado?” And there I’d correct you and note that I am a dude and, in fact, my panties are indeed whirling about in a panty tornado because this is a problem in our respective industry and it sucks. I’ll gently point you in the direction of Ann Aguirre’s post (“This Week In SF“) and Delilah Dawson’s powerful followup (“Why I’m Writing This Now Instead Of Two Days Ago“) and you’ll start see just the teeniest fraction of the iceberg poking out of the water.

2. Let’s Define Our Terms: Sexism & Misogyny

Sexism is discrimination and prejudice based on sex. (In this case, toward women.) Misogyny is like sexism on steroids — sexism that has completed many of its prejudicial quests and has leveled up — ding! — and become full-on anger and hatred toward women.

3. Why I’m Writing This Post

I am a young(ish) white dude in America — and in fact I am a soundly middle-class white dude in America — which makes me a very lucky fucking ducky. I’m not quite as lucky as say, a rich white dude in America, but hey, whatever. So, you might wonder just why I’m writing this post. After all, one would think I am best served by keeping my own young(ish) white American dude interests at heart. If writing and publishing is tilted favorably toward me, well, maybe I’d be best served by shutting my fool mouth and riding this sweet, sugary wave to its conclusion. Nnyeaaaah, no. I think the community is broken. And if the community is broken, all members are, too. That means me. That means you. I want a healthy writing and publishing environment and that doesn’t mean ignoring other groups to make my group look better. If we are to assume that we’re all on the same team, the same boat, the same Galactic Arcology drifting toward our star-born utopia, then I want everybody to be treated equally and treated well. I mean, I have a wife. I have a mother and sisters. I want a daughter one day. I don’t like a world where they’re less than me. I don’t like a world where they’re targets and victims. And so, ta-da. Here I am.

4. Yes, Publishing Has Lots Of Women (And That’s A Shitty Argument)

One argument I’ve seen suggests this is all a big buncha poopnoise because writing and publishing is chock full of women. Lots of women writers. Lots of women editors and marketers and in libraries and bookstores and, and, and. LADIES EVERYWHERE, YAY, EQUALITY, WE CAN ALL STOP TALKING ABOUT IT NOW. Yeah, that’s a shitty argument. Having a majority presence sadly doesn’t mean a bucket of llama spit. Outside of writing and publishing women are 51% of the populace — and yet they still get paid less, they still suffer the brunt of rape culture, they still get treated like lesser even though numerically they are no such thing. That’s not an argument of value, so stop making it. Frankly, it doesn’t matter of women are 5, 50, or 95% of the audience; they’re people that deserve the maximum respect afforded to everybody.

5. Diversity And Kindness Are Products Of Effort

I talked about Genderflipping Doctor Who last week and, besides some of the hate mail (yay hate mail) I also saw some truly bizarre reasons given for why we can’t have an actress fill the role. Some folks shouted tokenism — which misunderstands tokenism at a fundamental level. Some folks shouted that it should serve the story and not just be a “gimmick” — as if an actor in the role is proper but hiring an actress for this flesh-shifting time-traveling chaos-theory-in-action-character would just be a stunt. Some folks said it should happen naturally, that it should serve the story — as if the story is its own magical creature that will one day evolve to embrace an actress in the role, as if these things happen all on their own and without human meddling. They do not. Diversity does not occur in a vacuum. Defeating sexism is not the default mode or it would’ve happened already. We want to evoke diversity in writing and publishing, don’t we? Then it happens with choice. With agency and action. It happens when you make it happen, not when it happens on its own. Fuck inertia. Enact change by MAKING THINGS HAPPEN.

6. I Believe The Children Are Our Future

All this shit starts when we humans are tiny. I have a two-year-old son. Boys get the BLUE STUFF. Hard. Steely! Naval. Girls get the PINK STUFF. Soft. Squishy! Fleshy. Our son loves trucks. You think, “Oh, this is genetic. Boys are biologically attracted to boy things.” Until you see him playing with little girls and the girls are all like, “YEAH TRUCKS ARE AWESOME, MOTHERTRUCKER,” and that dashes that idea into itty-bits. Then you go to buy books and you see it translates there, too: the blue, the pink, the trucks, the dollies. So you realize, this boy/girl thing starts early in terms of writing and publishing. And that means it’s where you have to do some damage control early. Let your boy play with dolls. Let your girl read about trucks. Teach them early on to respect each other and everybody else. (AKA: “Hey, kid, don’t be an asshole.”)

7. The SFWA Thing

Recent SFWA kerfuffle: in an SFWA bulletin featuring a chainmail bikini girl on the cover, a couple old white author-mummies kicked their way out of their dusty old sci-fi tombs and said something like BLAH BLAH BLAH THEM LADY AUTHORS AND GIRL EDITORS SURE LOOK GOOD IN BIKINIS and that was I guess their idea of being progressive and inclusive? Then their cranky pants got all constrictive when people (understandably) complained and then the old mummies were like SOMETHING-SOMETHING CENSORSHIP. I dunno. Creepy, right? Whatever. Point is, this is a professional organization that serves a very significant genre. That’s not awesome behavior. What is awesome, however, is that instead of just letting this slide, lots of folks inside and outside the SFWA got pissed, got vocal, and made a difference. Tuck that lesson away.

8. Dangerous And Needless Distinctions

Seanan McGuire, the SFWA’s official Murder Princess and my own Spirit Animal, said unsurprisingly smart things here about what it means to highlight women for their appearance or to highlight that they’re women at all — meaning, “lady authors” or “lady editors.” She says:

…women get forced to understand men if we want to enjoy media and tell stories, while men are allowed to treat women as these weird extraterrestrial creatures who can never be comprehended, but must be fought. It’s like we’re somehow the opposing army in an alien invasion story, here to be battled, defeated, and tamed, but never acknowledged as fully human.

9. On Display At Conventions And Conferences

The most grotesque and overt displays of sexism and misogyny is at conventions and conferences. Genre conventions in particular often have panels with a strong imbalance leaning toward DUDES and where said dudes often speak over any of the women on those panels. It’s also where you get creep-a-holics coming up on women as if they’re predators stalking gazelle on the veldt. Last year at WorldCon I watched a dude literally hit on a girl passing him by as he went to the elevator (and here’s why we don’t ‘hit’ on women, FYI); it was painful and awkward and creepy, like he was just desperately trying to find a place for his penis to live for a while, as if the woman wasn’t a person so much as a wandering dick receptacle. Then, at BEA this year, I passed by the booth of a venerable publisher only to hear an old and presumably important dude laud his female staff by, of course, talking as much about their beauty as he did their abilities in their field. (Imagine if he did that to guys, too: “John, you’re a great editor, and your ass looks like gold in those chinos, my friend.”) We counterbalance this by making sure women get represented on panels equally. And by making sure they work on staff, too. And that we treat them with respect and not like targets or victims or booth babes.

10. The Problem With Chainmail Bikinis

Isn’t just that they’re impractical (uhh, which they are). It’s that, it looks like this is how we see women — as foolish, impractical objects with gravitationally-irrational kickball-bosoms that are in fact the only thing on the woman worth defending from blade or arrow. It’s the same thing with the leather-clad urban fantasy covers or the spine-bending contortionist Catwomen on comic book covers. We’re saying that the only thing we as authors and publishers and even readers value in these theoretically strong female protagonists is their, erm, various “assets.”

11. The Coverflippers

Maureen Johnson issued a challenge not long ago where readers gender-flipped book covers — they answered the call in hilarious and eye-opening ways.

12. The Hawkeye Initiative

And, as a follow-up to that: the Hawkeye Initiative takes comic book covers and panels of female characters in, erm, extreme poses and then redraws them with Hawkeye doing them instead. It’s awesome and hilarious but also does a good job at illustrating the absurdity. Oh, see also, the masterful Jim Hines on his own cover posing efforts.

13. Sexuality Versus Sexualization

On the other side of things you have slut shaming, where women are made to feel lesser for their sexual choices (or, worse, for being sexually assaulted). It’s easy when criticizing covers (as above) to make it sound like slut shaming: “Those women are too sexy on those book covers, they should be all covered up LIKE PROPER MENNONITE MOTHERS.” The difference, I think, is between being sexual and being sexualized. The former is under the character’s (or author’s) control — the latter is controlled by someone else. Criticizing the sexualization of women has merit; criticizing the sexual nature of women is fucked up (and is slut shaming).

14. The Bechdel Test And Beyond

The Bechdel Test is a test applied to pop culture properties and stories to see if it meets a minimum requirement for not being completely dismissive of women. The test is: a) does it have two or more women characters [with names] in it? b) do they talk to each other? c) do they talk to each other about something other than men? The Bechdel Test is not the end-all be-all for making sure your work is representative of strong female characterization (strong as in, complex and compelling rather than can karate kick a vampire), but it’s a good entry-level test. And it’s still amazing how many major works of pop culture fail it twenty years later.

15. The Nature Of Rape In Fiction

Yes, you can write about rape. Saying you can’t write about rape as a subject of fiction is the same as saying you shouldn’t talk about it at all — which is a dangerous supposition to make. That said, you need to look at how you handle rape. Is it just another plot point? Is it exploitative? Is it an easy and lazy crutch in a genre where it’s used too often? Is it made to be more titillating than horrific? Rape is not just a throwaway topic. Realize that some of your readers may be the victims of sexual assault. Consider how you want to speak to them as your audience and how you want them treated in your fiction.

16. So You’re Tired Of Hearing About Rape Culture

I’m just going to leave this here then.

17. The Role Of Men In This Conversation

The role of men in this conversation is definitely not to be a bunch of pouty shouty poo-poo faces who start yelling about how they’re oppressed too and something-something our-poor-penises. But you can swing too far the other way, too — the role of men in this conversation is also not to be the swooping swinging heroes who need to jump into the fray and save the Poor Widdle Women. Women are not our damsels in distress. We are not rescuing them from the onrushing train of sexism and misogyny (I’LL SAVE YOU FROM THE ANGRY OLD SCI-FI WRITER, LITTLE NELL). Our job is to facilitate the conversation and to foster a healthy, safe, kind environment. Our job is to signal boost and to cheerlead awesome women and, ultimately, to not be dicks about any of it. Can we just say that last part again? DON’T BE A DICK KAY? Kay.

18. It Starts Inside Publishing

Hey, Giant Monolithic Publishing Industry: a lot of this starts with you. It starts with you having women across all the roles of your company, and that doesn’t just mean editors or artists, but also as authors, as CEOs. From the mailroom to the boardroom: up and down the pike.

19. And It Continues Inside The Books

Like I said, diversity doesn’t just happen. It isn’t the natural evolution you’d like it to be — you don’t one day just step into strong female characters in your books and wonder how the fuck they got there. You write them in. You put them there as author. None of this bullshit of — “Well, only if it serves the story.” Hello, you’re the DEITY CONTROLLING THIS PLACE. It serves the story when you jolly well say it does. You write the story. It does not write you.

20. And It Continues Outside The Books, Too

It’s about book covers. And booksellers. And librarians. And readers. And cosplayers. And convention-goers. It’s about ensuring that everybody gets to play. It’s about making sure we’re talking to our whole audience and that we’re not contributing to a culture of imbalance and victimization and prejudice. This is lateral. This is everywhere. Pay attention.

21. Check Your Shelves

Many years ago I looked at my bookshelves and I saw they were mostly male authors sitting there. Er, I mean, books by male authors — I didn’t have like, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King crouching there like creepy black-clad gargoyles. I’ve since made a concerted effort to put many more women authors on my shelves, so much so that I probably read as much by women as I do by men. Look at your shelves and if the ratio is out of whack — er, put it in whack, goddamnit.

22. Speak To Your Entire Audience

This is very simple: remember that you’re not just talking to people like you. With your work you’re (ideally) talking to everyone. So, try to imagine how your work will translate. Does it compel? Empower? Does it diminish? Does it perpetuate stereotypes or dangerous cultural aspects? This isn’t about being politically correct. Politics can fuck off. Real people are out there. How are you reaching them? How will they read your work?

23. Works Across Racial, Religious, Gender, Sexual, Economic Boundaries, Too

This isn’t just about sexism. Obviously the brunt of this list is written that way but you could pretty easily rewrite it to include folks of different race, religion, gender, sex, sexual preference, or economic class, too. Nobody’s asking you to be perfect. But it can’t hurt to try, can it? You don’t need to be an avatar of social justice, but a little inclusion is good for everybody.

24. If You See Something, Say Something

I hate to borrow a twee saying from our Masters at Homeland Security, but when you see inequality, it’s time to kick up some dust, time to throw a little sand. To borrow another twee sentiment: all evil requires is for good folks to stand by and do nothing. All sexism needs to thrive is for good people to do the same. Which is to say…

25. This Is Not A Time To Be Quiet

Those who resist these conversations often make a weak-boned play at having a point but it’s often frequently geared toward shutting the conversation down. You can feel the vibe — they don’t really want to debate the points so much as they just don’t want there to be a debate at all. Which is why this is precisely the time to have these debates. Change happens through noise, through wild gesticulations, though these kerfuffles both on the Internet and in meatspace. Like Delilah Dawson says: “Being quiet doesn’t get results.” So, this is not a time to be quiet. Strides are being made. So keep making them. Keep taking those steps. Keep waving your arms and pointing out bullshit when you see it. Nobody’s saying we’re going to get through this comfortably — but we’ll get through this long as we keep making noise.


  • Super excellent points, sir.

    One *teeny* but – the Bechel Test isn’t so much about whether a particular book or movie or whatever is clueless, but how very widespread it is to have the default of ‘men are characters, women are girlfriends/slasher victims/eye candy’. The point being that in a world without sexist bullshit, if you had a rule that all your books or movies had to pass the Bechdel Test, you probably would miss out on the occasional John Preston novel or watching Master and Commander but not much else; but sadly, you’re in a media desert if you follow in in real life.

    (I mean, it’s bog-easy to pass the test: that just-before-the-hero-bursts-in scene where Security Guard #1 says “So, enjoying your last day before retirement?” and Security Guard #2 says “Can’t wait, I got my flight booked to Cabo already” – make them both women and boom, you’re done. Or, your hero is waiting around the space station, bored, while a self-important diplomat and the n-space-travel agent are arguing about when the next ship arrives; if they’re both women, again, done.)

      • Chris, check out the original DTWOF comic I linked to – the characters don’t even need names. That’s why it’s so ridiculous that few movies pass the test.

    • Yes, absolutely — it definitely is a cumulative thing, and certainly I don’t think every book or film that “fails” the test is also a social justice failure at the same time. And having the characters be named is key.

    • You know, I’d actually notice if two security guards were women. Or if the self-important diplomat and the space-travel agent were both women. Because most casting decisions tend to default to men. Just look at the new Star Trek movie and its background characters — those were a lot of white male admirals in Star Fleet.

      One of the things that’s useful about the Bechdel rule is that it can help you be aware of your own knee-jerk assumptions. When I’m writing something, I am aware that a lot of my automatic instincts are to create white, male characters. What I’ve started trying to do is always ask myself if I actually have a good reason beyond just my knee-jerk first creation impulse. If I have a reason, I keep the white male. But if I don’t have a reason, then I ask myself whether this character could be a woman. Or a person of color. (or both!) The fact is that my automatic setting is to create characters as straight — I’m trying to re-examine that. It’s not about tokenism — it’s about making the world more representative and layered.

  • It makes me sad when I see people applying the whole “my team yay, your team boo” idea to gender, among other things. If we’re going to divide humanity and choose sides, lets go with assholes vs. non-assholes.

    • Yes. And also, we need new definitions of “strength” and “weakness” – so that “strong” is not defined in terms of traditional “male” characteristics and “weak” not defined in terms of traditional “female” characteristics – which limit everyone.

      I will always remember the day when my son was about 5 and wanted the grocery store temporary tattoos of roses, and the openly lesbian check-out clerk gave him the gift of saying, “For your softer side, huh?”

      I almost cried. But not “like a girl.”

  • A really great post on sexism and misogyny from “a young(ish) white American dude.” As a young multi-racial American girl who went to an all-girls’ high school, this is something we talked about often in class. However, there is a dearth of men, especially young white men who feel like it’s okay to talk about sexism in a public forum because they don’t want to say the wrong thing, and even fewer do it as well as you just did.

  • Chuck, man, you are my hero! Awesome post, good sir, and some great points all around. We can all talk about getting rid of sexism all we want, but at a fundamental level, we need to make sure that we communicate to entertainment providers about what we want to see. We want to see diversity in all its different aspects. We want to see fair representation (NOT equal because that’s an uncertain term and I don’t want to see any straight 50/50 split, I just want to see more of the minorities in enough numbers where it doesn’t look as those the big majority overshadows all of them put together). That’s what this is all about.

  • Chuck, thank you for posting this!

    You touch on many points that I frequently rant about to anyone who’ll listen.

    I’ve read a few books lately that were billed as having “strong” female characters, but being female was about as far as they went. They spent most of the books being the damsel in distress, who needs to be rescued by any male who happens to be passing by. Ugh!

    Also those armor bikinis would really hurt if someone gave a wedgie, just sayin’.

  • Thanks for this post — all of this stuff is so important to know and to keep talking about, and it’s immensely valuable to have male voices in the “can we stop treating women so badly” chorus. I have one little quibble with #15, where you write “Realize that some of your readers may be the victims of sexual assault” — the statistic that I see quoted most often is that 1 in 6 women (and 1 in 33 men) in the US will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes. Statistically speaking, if you have a readership of more than a handful of people, it’s more reasonable to say your readership WILL include sexual assault survivors than to say that it “may.” Which is depressing to even consider! But all the more reason for writers to think hard about what they want to say about rape, instead of just applying it as Grimdark Set Dressing or Heroine’s Tragic Backstory.

  • Really great article. There are some people trying to talk about this more in the ‘gamer’ (I always use this time as loosely as it can be applied)mags Jim Sterling often brings up this point that there is a huge difference between treating women like people or treating them like things. It is probably third thing on a list of most common complaints/rants he has.

    I’m glad more people are talking about it, even when their opinion is dismissive. Because as long as someone is talking about it somewhere no one forgets. Forgetting would be much worse.

  • Yes.

    The problem is many people are invested in believing that this isn’t a problem. They interpret attempts to share the pie more equitably as an attempt to steal the whole pie. They only see what they’ll lose (their power, privelege and comfort) and don’t see what they’ll gain (which is so much more awesome).

    But if even one person hears it and understands it that’s one more person who might just stop treating me as an object that exists for their pleasure or convenience and you know, that’d be great.

  • Thank you. Although yes, because you have dared speak on this matter, I am sure you will be lambasted by one or more Mr Butthurt Angrypants. Actually I’m just waiting for one to come along and give you the whole ‘You’re just a poor intimidated wimp, demanned by teh feminazis.’ Because that’s going to be fun to watch.

  • Good post about stuff that every male writer should consider. The secret is to look around you. Who are the people? Half of them are women, half men. To be realistic, your character mix should reflect that, unless you’re writing a story about guys on a submarine.

    Then what do the women do? Here in Italy, they do everything. They are doctors, lawyers, vets, garbage collectors, boat drivers (I live in Venice) (not taxi drivers, though, only men, for some reason). As someone above said, if there’s a character in your story that could be a woman, make it a woman. Then you’re done. If I went to a vet with my dog here, for example, it would probably be a woman.

    It does not seem a frivolous argument that with respect to literature, the gatekeepers are largely women. More than 51%. A lot more. If your story treats women in a sexist or hateful way, it’s not likely to see e-paper.

    (Whatever happened to “Four Things You Need to Know About . . . .?” I like that. Nice round number. Fits my attention span.)

    • “(not taxi drivers, though, only men, for some reason)”

      Actually I was in Florence earlier this year and had an amazing taxi driver – a woman dressed all in leather driving a stripped-down mercedes like she was in the Grand Prix. She was a total bad-ass.

    • Dubai has a fleet of taxis from one of the companies where all of the taxi drivers are women. And these taxis are only for women and kids.

  • I agree with a lot of what you were saying. I just want to make the point that although I think Delilah Dawson is wonderful (she makes me laugh so much on Twitter), I was disappointed that Wicked as they come (or at least the copy I have) has a picture of a guy showing his naked, muscular chest through his open jacket. Is that not sexualising men?? Didn’t we ought to not sexualise anyone at all? My husband picked the book up and said “Does the cover of this tell me everything I need to know about the story?” – no it doesn’t,and it is a little off putting.


    • Just to say I thought I ought to go back and read Delilah’s post (as linked above) – I agree, she is one incredibly brave lady, and I am glad she is fighting for women in the industry, but still, maybe if we are not having half naked women on the covers of our books, we should also not have half naked men. If we really want equality.

      • It sounds a teeeeeensy bit like you think Delilah is responsible for the cover of her book. I’m sure that’s not your intention, but just in case somebody should stumble on this comment who is unaware:

        For the record: Authors in general pretty much zero sway over their covers. If they are lucky, they MIGHT get asked their opinion — more often, though, their ability to give input is framed as something like “here’s your final cover, we hope you love it as much as we do!”

        • Very true – although I’m immensely proud to say that the not-at-all sexist cover of my second novel (heroine all covered up and in a practical pose) was based on my brief to those lovely chaps at Angry Robot. Not that they need my say-so – their design for Lee Collins’ Cora Oglesby books are in a similar vein 🙂

          • Yep — Angry Robot asked what I wanted to see on the BLACKBIRDS cover and I gave them a laundry list of what NOT to do — and I think the result was pretty aces!

        • Thank you, dear literaticat!

          It’s true– I had no input into my first cover until it showed up. I was extremely surprised, as I expected it to focus on my heroine and her adventures and the steampunk aspect, not the hott dude aspect. My main input was “they didn’t have leather jeans with studded belts in my world, and the hero is slender and pale instead of huge and buff and tan.” Luckily, both my publisher and artist were able to get the cover dude more like the actual hero, but it would have been a big deal if I’d asked them to scrap it completely and start over. When you sell to a Big Six publisher, you give up a portion of your control, but I trust them to sell my books to the best of their ability. I like to encourage dudes to read my books by offering to Sharpie-draw a vest and cravat onto Criminy so his nipples are no longer so poky. 🙂

  • Ooh, I’m in moderation! How exciting. Could I possibly have used a word *too naughty* for Terribleminds? Because that would be quite an achievement, I feel. Sadly, I don’t think I did.

      • And here I was thinking I was special too 😉 – I agree with gaie… although I wouldn’t be surprised with lambasting from both sides of the aisle. the ‘we don’t need your ‘help” crowd. It’s one of those no-win scenarios, that would be really nice if it stayed on topic and people actually think about the issue at hand and talk about the six foot gorilla instead of focusing on who pointed him out in in the first place.

  • Having grown up on pulp SciFi, I found myself more often than not identifying with the male characters because the women’s role was “Oh, help. Help, help… I seem to be in trouble… again.” but then came the backlash writers, where the women were the strong, powerful characters and that was great. Unfortunately, in a lot of those, the male role was then “Oh, help… help, help…” and oddly that wasn’t considered sexist, it was… well… turnabout. it was WRONG. It’s actually part of why I write, and the only characters I have trouble with are the extremes, the uber-feminine and the uber-male characters. I have hope, but it’s going to take time… And probably a lot of milanta. (I also pretty much ignored the cover art).

  • I read this with my 5yo daughter sitting next to me, watching the Munsters, preparing for her first soccer camp. I imagine my mother could have read something like this with me, as a 5yo, sitting beside her. Sad to think things are still in this shape, but I love that it’s our job to fix it. We can do it! Thank you for your support of women-writers and women in general, and I think you and Delilah and Anne are amazing and brave. Thank you. Thank you

    • My hope is that what we see right now looks a lot better than what you would’ve seen even 20-30 years ago. Despite the feeling that this is a bad time for gender relations in, say, SFF, I think part of what contributes toward that feeling is just the fact that people are TALKING about it more? I dunno. So I hope!

      • Its an exponential growth. Social media has connected people far more closely than we were even 5 years ago and so its become extremely easy to disseminate information and propagate discussions everywhere.

  • Your description of colour coded children contains your social preconceptions about the meaning of colour. To the Victorians, boys wore pink because it was a shade of red, and girls wore blue because it was the colour of the Virgin Mary.

    There is definitely an issue with assigning sections of the electromagnetic spectrum to specific groups, but I am wary about the thesis that we should let boys wear pink because it is soft; instead we could reject the idea that colour has an inherent meaning.

    • unfortunately the blue for boys, pink for girls thing starts at birth. i personally hate pink, but i dress my newborn daughter in pink when i take her out in public. otherwise every stranger who stops to look and congratulate has to ask: boy or girl? practicality wins over gender-neutral child rearing in this way. in all other ways i maintain the same treatment and expectations of my sons and daughters.

      • As a serious question, why is having to answer one question onerous enough to make avoiding it a sensible plan?

        Based on me speaking the question and answer aloud it takes less than five seconds for them to speak the words and you less than five seconds to answer. So you are spending 10 extra seconds per encounter. For every six new groups you meet it uses up one minute that could be used for something else. As this does not seem onerous to me, what part of your experience have I missed?

        • “what part of your experience have I missed?”
          Possibly parenthood?
          In a sea of tedium, tired and wanting other people to just go away, answering a question… any question… more than twice, can be a teeth-grindingly offensive question.
          HOWEVER: I agree with you on the facts, and while I expect Jennifer disagrees on my takeaway. The reality is that convenience trumps idealogy on the marginal details… even if those marginal details could become unwelcome patterns.

          • I was not disputing it might be annoying to be asked: I was curious why it was impractical to be asked.

            As we differ on whether combating unhelpful stereotypes is a marginal issue, we will have to agree to disagree on whether it is an irritation worth bearing.

          • Dave, that was my point.

            If we don’t all agree on whether an irritation is worth bearing, we are treading water… which is better than drowning, but not swimming.

            Where to draw the line between “perpetuating oppression you evil mysoginist toilet face” and “you can not be seriously think that is offensive, prince pretentious pants” is hard to see when your child of one particular shade or another looks cute in one particular shade or another.

            That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter… just that it probably matters more to someone else… and there we will be, treading water.

  • Dave Higgins – colour may not have inherent meanings but it does have current *cultural* meanings. (Just as an example, Europeans consider black normal for death/funerals, whereas I believe in China white is traditional. In Europe white is the colour for weddings, in China, it’s red). We also, wittingly or otherwise, refer to colours in writing and in film to draw upon the cultural designations that those colours have. I think it would be something of a stretch to change this – and would make life very difficult for writers, artists and filmmakers if successful. Sorry, that ended up being a bit of a sidetrack.

  • Thanks for adding your dude voice to the mix. We need that, because this isn’t a female issue, it’s an everybody issue.

  • Love your wading in here. Yes, sexism ain’t just a panty tornado among the easily offended femmes.

    We need male voices like yours raised regularly and often, instead of being patted on the head and told, “Oh, honey, it’s all your imagination.”

  • I am SOOOO sick of these OWGs (Old White Guys, although some of them, I’m sure, are young and not white, but the label still sticks due to their attitudes) who poo-poo female authors, especially outside genres of their own. I know part of it is fear on their part that they are no longer relevant, but I also suspect there’s a fair amount of jealousy going on. Especially against romance writers. Especially especially when there are quite a few romance authors (some of whom write sci-fi plots, take out the sex it’s sci-fi) who easily outsell the OWGs.

    That’s got to gall them to their very core.

    And I’m glad it does.

    Because I’m not in this business for prestige. I’m in it because 1) I love it, and 2) I wanted a job where I didn’t have to ask if you wanted fries with that, (Not that there’s anything wrong with that as a job, it’s just not for me, because I’m kind of anti-social. LOL) and 3) I have bills to pay.

    If OWGs keep writing for OWGs, guess what? They’re going to go the way of the dodo and extinctify (is SO a word!) themselves in short order. Because WOMEN are a powerful force in terms of book-buying dollars. The OWGs who keep ignoring women and keep treating them the way they are will at some point begin butting up against women who aren’t polite enough to keep silent about their identities at cons and conferences and start totally outing them as the frigging asshats they really are.

    And I hope they do.

    Because, frankly, I don’t want to buy books by those OWG asshats. I WANT women who run up against these fucktacious twits to publicly name and shame them. I want them (the OWGs) to sink their own careers in their grotesque swamps of misogyny. I don’t want to support them — I want to support male writers like you who GET it. (In addition to female writers, of course.) I want them to be drawn into the fray and make public asses out of themselves while they try to defend their indefensible position and draw even more attention to themselves.

    I get it. They’re scared of the status quo changing and are too short-sighted to realize it’s already changed. Decades ago. Multiple times already. And it won’t change back and they’re throwing little temper tantrums about it.

    I’d like to tell those OWGs to nut up, buttercup. If you REALLY want to BE a man, you need to roll with the times and get the fuck over it already.

    Whew. Thanks for letting me totally vent spleenage.

  • I think people should be allowed to have preferences.

    Some people seem to be telling me that I shouldn’t like chainmail bikinis or edgy erotic fiction. That I should somehow stop liking it.

    The answer to art you don’t like is to make art you do like. Full stop.

    The answer to art curation you don’t like is to curate art you do like. Full stop.

    Increasingly, there’s no such thing as “mainstream’ culture. We all get to choose what aspects of the culture we are going to participate in, and what we’ll ignore.

    • Here we go with the “censorship” argument again…

      No-one’s telling you what to like. It’s about what’s appropriate on the cover of a professional publication that should be representing all of its readership, not just the chainmail-bikini-loving minority. On the 200th edition, celebrating a landmark of the publication’s existence. In the 21st century.

      That’s what we’re objecting to. Go collect Boris Vallejo posters to your heart’s content, dude – just don’t expect the rest of us to come round and admire them.

      • I’m not saying anyone’s getting censored. I’m saying there are a lot of people out there (much of present company excluded, because I see many author names here) who talk much more about what they don’t like than about what they do like.

        You seem to be saying that you (in the plural) are objecting to the cover of one issue of one magazine, but I don’t see anything in the OP about that. It’s talking about all chainmail bikinis, everywhere.

        Isn’t just that they’re impractical (uhh, which they are). It’s that, it looks like this is how we see women — as foolish, impractical objects with gravitationally-irrational kickball-bosoms that are in fact the only thing on the woman worth defending from blade or arrow. It’s the same thing with the leather-clad urban fantasy covers or the spine-bending contortionist Catwomen on comic book covers. We’re saying that the only thing we as authors and publishers and even readers value in these theoretically strong female protagonists is their, erm, various “assets.”

        The core of this paragraph is “…it looks like this is how we see women…”

        Do you see how this could be interpreted as telling anyone who likes this kind of image that they’re bad and wrong, and that if they are so stupid as to like it, they should keep it secret?

        • I think I see your point, though you made it appalling badly. No, there’s nothing wrong with finding a scantily-clad woman sexy any more than it’s wrong to ogle a half-naked man. Human beings are, after all, sexual creatures.

          Pulp fiction is popular. It’s fun. And occasionally it has large-breasted damsels in distress. And I’m okay with that. I’m not saying – nor do I think Chuck was – that this kind of fiction should never ever be written or read.

          The problem comes when it is on the cover. Okay you like it, but some people don’t. Some people are going to feel uncomfortable – and that goes for men who like to read romance just as much as women who like to read pulp.

          It’s not about whether chainmail bikinis are wrong, but about using sex to sell a product (in my opinion)

          • I’m a middle aged white male, and I’m totally onboard that chainmail bikinis are inappropriate for a bulletin of a professional organization. But as Nobilis pointed out, Chuck addressed chainmail bikinis totally separate from the SFWA bulletin issue.

            I think the argument that chainmail bikinis per se are always inappropriate for entertainment products is a more difficult argument.

            I also think I (and probably quite a few others) are going to need much more convincing of the idea that there fundamentally shouldn’t be any sexuality at all in entertainment covers as Misa has argued. I’m not saying that I can’t be convinced, but I’m going to need to see better arguments.

            I do think trying to argue this will muddy the waters to some degree and detract from the other stronger arguments made in Chuck’s post.

        • Nobilis, you KNOW I adore you. I also love Frank Frazetta. With that in mind:

          If you want to look at a babe in a chain mail bikini, great. But don’t seriously try to call her a warrior woman, as the original defense of that cover did–because in that outfit she’s not making it past her first training skirmish–and don’t put her on the cover of a magazine representing a professional organization. Call it a pretty fantasy picture and put it some place where her impracticality can be both acknowledged and appreciated. I’m envisioning a coffee table book, maybe call it, “Chafing for You, Big Boy.” Also, get a better artist.

          I said this on a mailing list, and while it doesn’t apply to you, Nobilis, I’m repeating it: covers like this are like going to Hooter’s because you want to look at boobs but don’t want to admit you want to look at boobs. If you want to look at boobs, go to a strip club, people. If you want to look at girls in malfunctioning armor, go look at…well, damn, I have to look at them every time some ad for the latest Evony-type game pops up on my screen at bare minimum, so basically everywhere, but NOT on the cover of a professional association’s house organ.

          Heh, I said “organ.”

          • I think Chuck needs to weigh in, as to whether he was talking specifically about that SFWA cover and its defenders (which I agree have problems) or if he was condemning the entire CMB trope.

            Otherwise we end up spending a lot of time talking past each other.

          • “But don’t seriously try to call her a warrior woman, as the original defense of that cover did–because in that outfit she’s not making it past her first training skirmish”

            Devil’s Advocacy Association leaves the following message for MLM:
            Do you believe that the way a woman dresses is a measure of her worth as a warrior (or anything else)?

            I prefer to think of chain mail bikinis as indicators of EXTREME prowess… Clearly, she has the silliest armor in the universe, obviously that means she doesn’t really need it, and would be kicking that guy in full plate’s arse up and down the cobblestone street BUCK NAKED except that there are delicate sensibilities present, and that would cause discussions on message boards.

            There is also the whole, “the less you wear the less you get hit” law of comics… How many times has Batman been in traction? Ankles-to-necks is not working out for him. If I ever go to war in a comic book, I’m wearing a rice paper codpiece and a smile.

        • Even if you like that kind of image, surely you realize how impractical it is? Chainmail bikini that covers just the parts that they do cover? We are expected to believe that these are all warrior women of some skill so surely they themselves realise that more is good when it comes to armour? It *is* armour after all? And despite what Chuck said, he is contextualising with the recent SFWA controversy. And part of that controversy was that issue 200 of the SFWA Bulletin had Red Sonja on the cover when there is absolutely nothing in the issue that talks about Red Sonja. The cover is completely out of context.

    • It’s kind of like a recent MSN article lauding the decision of a high school valedictorian to ditch his prepared speech and go all Christian Lord’s Prayer on his audience, and how the crowd of classmates cheered him on and the school couldn’t take disciplinary action because he’d just graduated. And this somehow became a platform for Christians everywhere to complain about how often they are discriminated against because people of other faiths actually exist.

      Completely ignoring the fact that in a secular, public school setting, the point of keeping it secular is so that people of all faiths and backgrounds can feel safe, comfortable, welcome, etc. and focus on academics. If a kid of some other faith had gone all religious at that event, they would have been shouted down and possibly assaulted.

      But privilege means you don’t know how privileged you are, usually, because you’re so used to it, swimming in it so that you’re blind to the perspectives of those who do not share that privilege.

      Direct parallel. Context is everything. The audience matters.

      That doesn’t mean you’re bad, sick, or wrong for liking what you like. I’d like to see some covers with hot, scantily clad men. More full frontal nudity. Maybe some fire fighters. But I wouldn’t expect that to appear at a conference where it might make someone uncomfortable. Unless it was a soft porn conference. Which would be nice to go to if there actually were any good porn for women (there isn’t.)

      There’s a time and a place, is all.

    • First, I’m not knocking anybody for their personal preferences — particularly regarding erotic fiction.

      And I’m not condemning all sexed-up imagery, whether it’s chainmail bikini girl or oily-chested barbarian dude with the fur-lined dick cloth. One could argue that a certain mode of pulp fiction or S&S fiction commands those types of tropes.

      The problem — culminating in the SFWA cover — is when this starts to form an overall pattern: a lazy pattern and, in fact, a sexualized — not sexual, but *sexualized* — pattern. So, women who want to read fantasy and enjoy fantasy have to be confronted with marketing departments or artists or in some cases authors who can’t seem to get off the “chainmail bikini” (or the leather-clad vampire hunter with her face hidden on the cover or, or, or).

      The pattern overwhelms individual instances. The pattern becomes a problem.

      — c.

      • **So, women who want to read fantasy and enjoy fantasy have to be confronted with marketing departments or artists or in some cases authors who can’t seem to get off the “chainmail bikini” **

        Heh! No doubt. As an aside, that’s why I don’t read romance novels in public if I can help it, lest some hick see the, as you so awesomely put it, “oily-chested barbarian dude with fur-lined dick cloth” and wonder if I’m reading “one o’ them gay books.” 😉

  • If you are silent on an issue, the perps assume that you agree with them, with their actions. I have instituted a policy of calling bullshit wherever I see bullshit, whether it personally involves me or not. It is not easy for me to do so, since like Delilah I was raised in the South and we were taught to smile sweetly, take the high road, and condescendingly say “Bless your heart.” Well, the high road is damn lonely and not recognized by others so much anymore. It is time for every douchebag to hear the public’s disapproval of their douchery. If their parents did not teach them etiquette and boundaries, it’s time for us to do so. Thanks for taking a stand, Chuck.

  • This just came up this morning for me. I have an MS where the main character makes a non-traditional sexual choice because she wants to. She might be selfish. But I couldn’t structure the story to have her be in danger or threatened into making her choice, because I wanted a complicated choice.

    So this morning I got a rejection (fine) that said: “I think it will be hard for readers to sympathize with M. and her struggles as she’s carrying on an affair in her own home.” Carrying on. In own home. Guh. Interesting word choices, agent.

    Thanks Chuck. You’re cool.

  • Great post and some great links. Some days it saddens me how little progress we’ve made since I was a kid. But then I see you, Hines, Scalzi, and other white males talking about the problem and how we have to work together to solve it. Not that you have to swoop in and save us but be there with us and think about what your writing, reading, and what’s being put on covers. Thanks for reminding me that the world is changing and that maybe the next generation of guys may be brought up thinking about these things. Or maybe the one after that will be…

  • Dude…I fucking love you ..Man!!! Thank You for being the change~~ I have said many times to counselor groups….”Bad Men are made by THEIR MOTHERS, who were indoctrinated before they were ever born!!” Great article!! Good on Ya!!

  • Bravo, Chuck – but I’m so confused by all these positive comments. Where are all the trolls telling you that you just need a good raping and you’ll get over it? *taps mic* Is this thing on?

    • Sadly, it’s because I’m not a woman. A man says this stuff and he generally gets away without a lot of the violent threats. A woman says it and the threats roll in, it seems. Or so goes the experience of others I’ve noted.

  • YES! Thank you for this post, all of it. “You write the story. It does not write you.” That’s a hard pill for lazy writers and humans to swallow. But it’s ultimately empowering to all of us.

    • It’s kind of just another way of saying “I won’t write what doesn’t fit into the story”, so yes, it IS an excuse to not include something just so it is in the story because people think it should be in it…
      Precisely why I don’t care if people calling me out on “being a homophobe” just because I don’t have prominently featured homosexuals in my stories. It didn’t happen, and the hell I will force it just so others are happy…

      • The problem with this is that you get to imagine a world, a world with norms (implicit and explicit) with characters who have agency (that’s what makes them interesting characters), depth, interests, self-definitions, etc, and that the world you make in turn becomes part of your readers’ worlds, or an extension of the way they see their own. I’m confident that as a child I lived constantly by re-making my world in little bits in interacting with it in ways I’d absorbed from literature, and as an adult I’m sure I do as well, I’m just better at lying to myself about it.

        This burden is even higher in sci-fi/fantasy, hilariously, than in supposedly ‘realist’ work, in that we actively admit that we are engaged in creating worlds, and so everything we make carries the weight of our choices. Sci-fi/fantasy often seem almost hyper-real, in that they take essences from the actual world, change all the place names and technologies, and let us see a vision of our core human experience when all of the baggage is stripped, and it is laid bare. This has been a powerful tool for social critique (‘extrapolative’ sic-fi is the most obvious case), but it comes with a risk too, because anything we import unchanged from our world reads as if we are building it in to human nature. “Space travel can change, and place names, and social traditions sure, and politics, but gender norms?! Heaven forbid. Those are built in.” This is how it reads, implicitly, when you are too lazy to be critical about the contingencies of those norms as well. And they seep into the world through literature in a powerful way. Because that’s the damn point.

        • That wasn’t even what I was talking about.

          I see that “It’s your story, you can do whatever you want” argument pop up a lot, usually followed by the statement that anyone who believes that a story does take on a life of its own at some point is plain nuts. Nope, we are not. I blogged about that before (incidentally when I talked about another of Wendig’s posts), and I stand by it: You can’t just write anything into a story if you want that story to work. And if that story I’m writing doesn’t happen to have any gay/ethnic/whatever characters on every page, that’s just how it is. It doesn’t mean *anything*. I know that a story is not only what I write, but also what the audience reads into it. But the latter should always come second to the writer. If whatever a reader thinks I said isn’t what I *actually* said, that’s his problem, not mine. It’s fine to give this issue some thought, but it shouldn’t be mandatory for any author to fuss about it (or forcibly include the characters/situations in question just so they’re there), as the article and some comments strongly imply.
          And that includes sensitive issues like sexism, homophobia, and frankly, anything else that anyone got riled up about ever.

          • I don’t think you have to hammer everything into every story, nor do I believe that every story needs to be some Social Justice League representing one character of every race, creed, sexual orientation, etc.etc. —

            The problem is when writers trot out story after story repeating the same White Dude or Weak Woman nonsense and then use as the excuse, “Oh, well, the story is the story,” as if it the author is just a passive channel for magical Story Spirit.

            This isn’t about “mandatory.” It’s about being mindful and writing with purpose.

          • Chuck, if I wrote “weak woman nonsense,” my wife would beat me senseless with the manuscript. 😉 Thankfully, I have no interest in doing so. The closest I got was the epic fantasy trilogy and I had to explain to my wife, before the heavy stick connected, that she changes pretty quickly into the savior she needs to become after being thrust into the unfamiliar.

  • I have a theory about why men are taken more seriously than women. It’s about the ability to growl. Voices in the lower register carry more animal authority. So if you can growl like a dominant ape and not sound wee and high pitched like a child, you will be heard. But people are not animals and really need to get over that furry forest bullshit. RRRRAAAAAAR. Hear me now?

    Remember S.E. Hinton, who wrote “The Outsiders”…ages ago. All about boys. And she was a woman. But as an author, had to hide that behind her initials. If you want to be taken seriously, get a gender-neutral name. Pat. Chris. Lee. JK.

    Or the idea that a writer who happens to be a woman can only write about “girl” things, like romance and relationships and poetry. But women play into this by acting all chirpy and cheerful. Fuck that shit.

    There are few things that will drain your credibility faster than being female.

    And if you’re a little boy who plays with dolls, bad things will happen to you. When my son was about 8 years old, he went to a Super Bowl party with some of his friends. Unbeknownst to us, his parents, he took his Kermit the Frog doll with him. And they beat him up and tried to put his head in the toilet.

    There is a trend toward making female characters more bad-ass and fighty. Letting women drinks cups of nails like men. But no one ever asks how to write a kinder, gentler, more sensitive male character, because that’s considered icky.There is a trend with female characters criticizing others who “scream like a little girl,” or who act like “grandmothers” – now it’s cool for female characters to criticize the sensitive side of other women? What the fuck is that? Bad enough to insult men by comparing them to women. But now to insult women by comparing us to women? That is not progress, kay?

    On principle, I now pledge to never write a male main character.

    • But no one ever asks how to write a kinder, gentler, more sensitive male character, because that’s considered icky.

      I think one of the ways that speculative fiction can really change the world in a way that it needs right now, is to provide models of masculinity that don’t involve oppressing people.

      • That’s an interesting point. I happen to be writing a sci/fi novel in which most of the oppressors are male. Most of the oppressed are male, too. The protagonist is female. There may not be enough female characters who are prominent. But I’m using the story to examine sexist social dynamics and power structures as currently expressed in our culture. I’m not trying to describe a perfect future world, but to draw metaphors. Someone will undoubtedly call it political feminist clap-trap. Knowing that, I am trying to keep it subtle. However, now that you mention it, I will make an effort to put more sensitivity and multi-dimensionality into the good guys. Just reading this post, I have to ask myself why more of the characters are not female. And why, when I decided that didn’t feel right…it didn’t feel right.

        There’s definitely an anti-brainwashing process that has to take place across the spectrum of people doing this kind of work. Including within ourselves. Right? Because that shit is everywhere. It’s not about blame, it’s about learning to see in a different way.

        It’s sad, the way when you try to make a male character gentle and pretty, people automatically assume he’s gay. And there’s another whole payload of cultural stereotypes about being gay that I don’t like to see perpetuated, but which show up everywhere.

        I like Chuck’s approach, which is to assume that if he can experience something, it is probably a universal human experience that transcends the contents of anybody’s underwear.

        Ultimately, I hope that fiction in all forms will embrace the idea that it’s OK for everyone to express and experience the full range of human emotion.

  • Brilliant post, great testament that these’re everyday truths, lived by real people right around us, not some drummed up political fantasy.

    The “you write the story” bit is really powerful; the number of people who abdicate their own agency for the sake of their ‘freedom’ is one of those things that would be funny, if it wasn’t so fucked up.

    Finally, #21 hit home. I had to go down two shelves to find a female primary author (not buried in some a collection edited by a white dude) and, to my horror, it was a cookbook. Granted, below that was some awesome Le Guin, Krauss, Arendt, Nussbaum, on & on, but seriously… ouch. I’ll be keeping that in mind.

    Thanks so much for the post. Made my afternoon.

    • This was cool of you to share. I think sometimes men might not be aware of things like how many books they own were written by women. It’s just as applicable to cultural lines too. I have few books written by writers of color. While someone like Zadie Smith is a bit more visible, there are other authors you have to search harder for, which sucks, but I think it’s something to keep in mind.

  • “Realize that some of your readers may be the victims of sexual assault. Consider how you want to speak to them as your audience and how you want them treated in your fiction.”

    The second you start being politically correct in fiction is the second you need to stop writing. The truth in what you write is far more important than the readers feelings, or than paying lip service whatever social complaint is making the rounds that particular day. If you’re constantly worried about who you’re going to offend, or whose feelings you’re going to hurt, then your writing will be fake and not worth the time to read it. Censorship in any form, even self-censorship by a politically correct writer, has no place in fiction.

    Have a spine and serve the story. That’s all that matters.

    • Stories aren’t written in isolation anymore. What Chuck said is absolutely correct and completely valid. Why? Because today writers are taking inspiration from popular culture, from what they read, what they hear, what they see, and so on. People don’t just get ideas and go write them, there’s always a genesis that starts somewhere from an experience. Time was, writers could pretend to be dismissive and misrepresent minorities. That time is gone. Today readers and fans call writers out on their dismissals and misrepresentation. Some writers, unfortunately, are in a position where fan criticism doesn’t really hurt them (Game of Thrones books and television series being a good example), and that’s lamentable. But these are fringe cases and certainly not something that new incoming writers should be moving towards, or established professionals for that matter.

      What Chuck is saying is that you have to and must consider what might be the minority in your readership. That you should consider the ramifications of plot points such as sexual assault in your fiction, or a case where the hero is a straight white male and the horde of enemies facing him is made up of people of colour and he saves a straight white female character who is his automatic romantic interest just because, and so on.

      Chuck is saying that we should write intelligent and thoughtful fiction.

      • “What Chuck said is absolutely correct and completely valid. Why? Because today writers are taking inspiration from popular culture, from what they read, what they hear, what they see, and so on.”

        And rape doesn’t exist in our culture?

        The writer should write without concern for the readers feelings or delicate sensibilities. His job is to reveal the truth in the lie of fiction, and if that means writing a scene where a woman or a man or a child or an elderly grandmother/grandfather is beaten to within an inch of their lives before being bent over a table and raped, then so be it. If the story demands it, it needs to be there despite what readers think. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to read it.

        I realize the doors have swung wide and everyone and their brother can now claim to be a “writer”, but thinking you owe anything to your readers other than honesty shows a profound lack of understanding about what fiction is and why it’s important.

        • I never said that rape doesn’t exist in our culture. But a writer has the responsibility of treating the subject with respect.

          And if a writer is writing without concern for the readers’ feelings or “delicate sensibilities” then the writer isn’t writing FOR the reader, but for hirself. And that’s not what fiction is about. Fiction has to elicit a response from the audience, otherwise its not doing its job. And its the writer’s responsibility that the response that is elicited is not negative in the context of treating real world social ills such as racism, sexism, etc as “it happens, so what?”.

        • “I realize the doors have swung wide and everyone and their brother can now claim to be a “writer”, but thinking you owe anything to your readers other than honesty shows a profound lack of understanding about what fiction is and why it’s important.”

          Listen, not to be rude, but I’m going to go ahead and suggest that you don’t have a monopoly on the definition of fiction or why it matters. Writers can feel they owe whatever they want to an audience: entertainment, truth, lies, philosophy, thematic punch, a good story, excitement, intelligence, wit, etc.etc.

          Further, I’m not suggesting people not write about sensitive or troubling topics. That would be absurd. Re-read my comments about rape in fiction. The point isn’t to avoid stuff like that, but to make sure you *are* serving the story *and* serving the audience in the way you feel is best. And that means ideally not falling into cheap exploitative patterns (“Well, there’s a woman, so the way I threaten her and make the audience care is by having some character rape her”) and leaning on lazy crutches.

          A lot of very bad storytellers have relied on really tawdry, unimaginative hooks and conflicts.

          IMHO, YMMV, etc.etc.

          — c.

        • As a survivor of sexual violence I can usually get a feel in a story if the person is writing about something that has had an impact on their life, and is therefore writing the truth of the story, or if someone is just using rape as a plot device. There are some stories where it’s treated so superficially that rape = “something really bad happens to female character and she has to overcome it/deal with it/get help.” Even if the truth the author feels isn’t my own truth, isn’t how I understand or deal with things, I can still feel sincerity vs plot device. That said I’m not sure every story has to uplift or even speak to every reader. If someone wants to write the truth about sexual violence and that truth is graphic and upsetting they might give a warning, but I’m not sure they need to worry about how others will interpret it.

    • I don’t know where the conflation of “be conscious, original, and concerned with the impact of your work” with “politically correct” comes from, but a) it makes no sense, and b) Chuck explicitly said “Politics can fuck off.” I don’t know if you read that as code for “I want politics to take over your life”, but I’d love to hear your reasoning on that careful decryption, to me it reads “politics can fuck off.”

      Censorship: is what happens when people in power *make* others not speak for their own safety. Governments can do it, employers, etc. This is why the 1st amendment only says ‘congress shall make no law…’. The very heart of the idea of free speech is to get powerful people out of the way, so that *the community can regulate itself*. This happens when we express strong opinions to one another about the what we all make of a conversation we all find really damn important. Cause that’s why we’re all here, right? Writing and reading matter in our lives?

      Finally, ‘serving the story’ is a bogus excuse. Especially in fantasy/sci-fi, you make an entire world, piecemeal (it’s true in all fiction, but these genres are more clear about it). The idea that you can think a whole lot about one part, but that when someone points out huge issues surrounding another part that’s ‘bending’ the story does not make one lick of sense. If you have to hide behind your big, strong, out-of-your-control-story, you’ve seriously lost touch.

    • If you think I’m advocating for political correctness, I suspect you have not read much of this blog or any of my fiction work.

      I’m advocating that you think about your audience and who constitutes your audience.

      It’s fine to offend people. Offense is easy and subjective.

      It’s not fine to do harm. That’s a whole different ballgame.

      — c.

      • “I’m advocating that you think about your audience and who constitutes your audience.”


        You don’t owe your audience anything but the truth. If you’re holding back or not talking about sensitive topics, or if you bend your story or make gender role decisions based on what will be the least offensive to your reader, then you suck at being a writer, and you’re in the wrong business. Go to Hollywood and be run focus groups for big studios who’s job it is to flood the world with banality.

        I’m not saying you need to offend your readers, I’m saying you need to be honest with them even if it makes them cry. There’s a difference. And if you hold back, or change what you write because you’re worried about offending a reader, then you’re part of the problem.

        • Again, not about not offending — about making sure you’re not part of a larger, more harmful pattern of lazy crutches, foolhardy stereotyping and bad storytelling.

          • Not being part of a large pattern of lazy crutches, foolhardy stereotyping and bad storytelling is a good idea whether you’re talking about sex and gender or anything else.

            At least in Spec Fic.

  • It frustrated me greatly, although did not surprise me at all, that Ann Aguire’s blog post spurred hate mail and general trolling, some of which she amended into the post (one brilliant example suggested a woman should be forcibly raped in order to understand how to write sci fi. Want to offend a woman? Just go right to rape and leave it at that).

    Thank you for saying this. Your voice and blog is a big one online for writers and publishing insiders. It means SO MUCH when guys who have a sphere of influence stand up for women who have been marginalized. I have guy friends who are possibly just as or more feminist than myself, and it makes me proud that they’ve jumped into the discussion and actively support women writers, bloggers, and in one case, open source software developers, which is also a heavily male industry.

    I’m for the Mens. I love men. I love men who respect women. Trolling basement dwellers and old fogies who wish they were Don Draper need not apply. We will continue tornadic level panty bunching until this shizz ceases. And I will not feel bad doing it. Also those panties will be pink panties if I want them to be.

    Thanks for this post!

  • My apologies for the tangent, but this post got me thinking how strange – or, sadly, not – it is that “traditional” gender roles and hetero-normative behavior are so firmly entrenched in a lot of science fiction and fantasy fiction. It’s almost as though a lot of the community feels, “Welp, we’ve got already dragons, and magic, and rippling thews, and immortal god-sorcerers – but two women in a realistic relationship that isn’t simply a vehicle for some fan service lesbian sex scenes? Let’s not go crazy!”

    When I was at Philcon last year, I heard this sort of stuff up close on some of the panels – people talking about the wonders of limitless imagination at the heart of fantasy and science fiction literature in one breath and decrying anything outside the “traditional” in the next. In a discussion on modern fantasy authors I mentioned that I enjoyed Richard K. Morgan’s “A Land Fit For Heroes” series and immediately got a few muttered comments and one person who stood up and said something to the effect that it would be a good series if the Morgan wasn’t trying so hard to push a “politically correct”+ agenda.

    The agenda, of course, being that one of the main characters happens to be a openly homosexual man while another is a nominally closeted lesbian female, and both of them get sex scenes in the books (as do a couple of the heterosexual characters). When I pointed out that pretty much everybody was getting laid in those books, so I didn’t see it as pushing anything so much as recognizing that human beings enjoy a well-measured humping now and then (dragons be damned), the response was, “Well, it didn’t have to be so GRAPHIC.” When I asked for clarification, they admitted it was the scenes with the homosexual men that bothered them the most (shocker), because everybody sees heterosexual sex in entertainment but not everyone wants to see “different stuff.” I asked them how they imagined gay and lesbian readers must feel about all the straight sex scenes they have to sit through, and her response was “well at least they’re used to it by now.”

    Flames. On the side of my face.

    Lest I be charged with painting miniatures with a fire hose, I fully recognize that many authors and an increasingly vocal segment of readers – such as many of you fine folks – are challenging these sorts of views. But the fact is that for a community that celebrates imagination and exploration as much as we do, we still have a long way to go sometimes.

    +Seriously, does anyone outside of conservative commentators looking for a cheap pop (and their fans, apparently) still use that term anymore? I haven’t heard it in any other context in ages.

  • This is one of the best post I’ve read about sexism in the industry. And thank you Chuck for being a stand up dude and writing it.

    We need more men like you making a stand and saying ENOUGH ALL FUCKING READY!

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