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Jean Rabe Resigns as SFWA Bulletin Editor Amidst Controversy Over Sexist Articles

Friday, June 7th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

SFWA Bulletin 200Jean Rabe, editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America, has stepped down following a series of controversies in recent issues.

The problems began with the now-infamous issue #200, pictured at right, featuring a Jeff Easley Red Sonja cover. Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg, in their long-running column, wrote about “lady editor” Bea Mahaffey (among others), glossing over her significant accomplishments in the field to focus on her looks. In issue 201, CJ Henderson praised Barbie for maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.” But things really blew up with issue 202, in which Resnick and Malzberg responded to mounting criticism by crying about censorship.

There’s been a great deal written about this in the blogosphere and fan press in the past month (Charlie Jane Anders at io9 has an excellent round-up), but I think Benjamin Rosenbaum put it best in his June 3 open letter “Dear Barry & Mike“:

It takes a certain kind of willful blindness not to get that slathering wolf whistles all over your tribute to women editors of years past might piss off… well, pretty much anyone born after 1960.

It’s not that we don’t know how it was when you guys came up. We know that back in the day, talking loudly about Andre Norton looking good in a bathing suit was supposed to be a gracious compliment about which she should be merrily grateful… We know this. We get it. We can make the imaginative leap to your context.

What upsets me, though, is that you apparently can’t make the imaginative leap to our context. You apparently don’t get that talking about how hot an editor is in a skirt — not in a love letter or a roast or an autobiographical reminiscence, mind you, but… in the central house organ of her writers’ organization — is, for us, kind of disgusting…

And then, honestly guys, the confused ramble about censorship?… That’s just painful. Like, if you say something that sucks, and we tell you it sucks, that’s… censorship? Stalinism?

SFWA President John Scalzi issued an apology to readers of the SFWA Bulletin on June 2.

30 Comments »

  1. Ah the yearly fail fandom blow up…I had been wondering when it would occur.

    And Scalzi/SFWA caving to the pitchfork wielding mob was as disappointing as it was expected.

    Comment by TW - June 7, 2013 8:50 pm

  2. For the record, that Sonja cover by Jeff was a personal commission that was later licensed to the SFWA. Nonetheless, it is a kick butt rendition of this iconic character in what fans know to be her ‘normal’ attire. Now if they put, say, Ivanova from Babylon 5 on there in a bikini, I get it, but sheesh…

    Comment by Scott Taylor - June 7, 2013 9:47 pm

  3. I think Mr. Scalzi yielded more to professionalism and common decency than to any mob.

    Comment by J.A. Woods - June 7, 2013 9:50 pm

  4. Common accident in the Fiction Department.

    Comment by James May - June 7, 2013 10:14 pm

  5. Tempest + Teapot = Tedium.

    Comment by John Hocking - June 7, 2013 11:07 pm

  6. Benjamin Rosenbaum’s response was bang on the money. So why – directly after reading this article – did I try to find pictures of Andre Norton in a bathing suit? What’s wrong with me?

    Comment by Aonghus Fallon - June 8, 2013 1:58 pm

  7. I started to write a comment that started turning into an essay on why this is not a “tempest in a teapot”, but you know what, fuck it. Someone else has already done it. Here’s a point by point explanation of how the conversation between Resnick and Malzberg went awry.

    Read this:

    http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/old-men-yelling-at-clouds-sfwa-lunacy/

    Comment by Patty Templeton - June 8, 2013 2:15 pm

  8. Ms. Templeton, in her second paragraph, Meadows refers to Malzberg and Resnick as “white” in a manner that is clearly meant as a self-explanatory reason for negative or immoral behavior; the skin is in itself a problem. In the sense in which it is used, it is a racial slur. It is no different than using the word “Jew” or “black” as a partial explanation for moral or intellectual failure. Despite Meadow’s moral outrage, she doesn’t share an intellectual or philosophical space with “justice” but with racial and gender bigotry. The implied moral inferiority of both whites and men is evident throughout Meadows piece, as well as the many responses Jim Hines links to I’ve read, which also take the time to mention the skin color of Malzberg and Resnick, as if it is a curse. I recommend using principles of right and wrong that apply to all to determine right and wrong, rather than skin and gender. At the end of the day, the responses to Malzberg and Resnick are far more serious examples of hate speech, and so the cure worse than the disease, as anecdotes are spread onto millions of people by race and gender.

    Comment by James May - June 8, 2013 3:35 pm

  9. Ms. Templeton: I only wish you had linked to a more coherent commentary. That one was horribly written, logically inept, and lazy in creating a “drinking game” instead of creating logical counterpoints to the arguments of Resnick (who is a *far* better writer than the blogger you linked to, if this column is any indication). Moreover, it’s less likely to persuade than to do the opposite. I agree completely with at least some of the points that I assume the writer is trying to make, but he or she almost pushed me in the other direction (well, until getting to the Sean Hannity point, which makes me lose a *lot* of respect for Barry Malzberg).

    It doesn’t help that the writer’s worst paragraph is near the beginning, the one starting with, “Pardon me while I laugh hysterically…”, which sadly ends with, “Go on. I’ll wait.” Um, what? You were saying you’d be doing something–laughing hysterically–what exactly are you telling us to go on and do. Pardon you? That’ll be a *long* wait.

    Ughh. I’m not going to say that better written arguments will get through to troglodytes, but if they’re so poorly written that they push away people who agree with you….

    Comment by awsnyde - June 8, 2013 7:56 pm

  10. > Ms. Templeton, in her second paragraph, Meadows refers to Malzberg and Resnick as “white” in a manner that
    > is clearly meant as a self-explanatory reason for negative or immoral behavior; the skin is in itself a problem. In the sense
    > in which it is used, it is a racial slur. It is no different than using the word “Jew” or “black” as a partial explanation for
    > moral or intellectual failure.

    Sorry James, but I find that sloppy reasoning.

    Trying to dismiss Meadow’s entire argument based solely on her use of “white” as a racial slur also displays a profound misunderstanding of what a racial slur is, I think.

    When I hear a true racial slur (“wetback” or “nigger”), it’s a word that carries a deep history of negativity, of power imbalance. It’s a word that people in power used for generations to denigrate those of another race.

    When Meadows calls Malzberg and Resnick “white guys,” she’s talking about two men of privilege. That’s not a racial slur.

    I realize you may not be able to tell the difference. But trust me when I tell you, there is a difference.

    Finally, attempting to dismiss Meadow’s argument by pointing at the words “white guys” and screaming “racial slurs!” is not intellectually engaging in the argument. It is ignoring the argument.

    Perhaps you’re simply not equipped to engage in the argument. If so, then please step aside and let those who are capable, do so. Otherwise, you’re just a monkey hurling poo.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 8, 2013 7:57 pm

  11. I should add, when I say that Resnick is a better writer, I’m referring to his fiction, which I’ve always really enjoyed (although I’ve only read his stuff from ~1990s forward), not necessarily to the subject column–which I haven’t read except for the snippets in the linked column, and I really have no desire to do so. As much as I may have just complained about the linked column, I really don’t need to read “old men yelling at clouds.” 😉

    Comment by awsnyde - June 8, 2013 8:04 pm

  12. > I only wish you had linked to a more coherent commentary. That one was horribly written, logically inept, and lazy
    > in creating a “drinking game” instead of creating logical counterpoints to the arguments of Resnick

    Hi Allen,

    Sorry you didn’t like Meadow’s response. I found Benjamin’s much more tempered and on-target personally, but I still thought that Foz made very effective use of humor. This has been a rather humorless topic, frankly, and Meadow’s argument was far more engaging and readable than most.

    Regardless of how you grade the writing though, this isn’t a prose contest. Meadow missed the mark more than once, but also made some excellent points. I’m not about to dismiss her because I didn’t like her writing style.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 8, 2013 8:07 pm

  13. I was being a little facetious in saying that it actually pushed me in the other direction, so I’m not actually dismissing the blogger’s arguments. However, I wish Ms. Templeton had actually written the essay she alluded to. 😉

    I think my point is, that particular blogger is preaching to the choir. I already agreed with her for the most part, but no converts will likely be won.

    Comment by awsnyde - June 8, 2013 8:15 pm

  14. And an argument based on hackneyed Gramscian ideology indicates a higher intellect? John, you are very engaging when talking about stories and writing but your quickness in dismissing anyone who doesn’t bow to political correctness in the fiction world is off-putting.

    As an earlier commenter noted, the subject became tedious about thirty years ago. I only comment on this because I wish the blog would focus more on what it excels at, which is discovering and discussing great fiction – old and new.

    Comment by Tyr - June 8, 2013 9:00 pm

  15. I didn’t say it was a racial slur, I said it was used as one, and it clearly was. For me personally, it is meaningless. I was attempting to judge this group by its own standards, which they violate over and over again. As for the “privilege” argument, that is saying there are times when racial and gender defamation are correct. I am responsible for nothing in this world someone has done who has my skin and gender nor can anyone predict my behavior that way. Our Constitution agrees. So do people who in the past who have been portrayed as greedy Jews and lazy black folks for the actions of a few. Two wrongs don’t make a right, no matter how you spin it. Hate speech is hate speech. Buy a principle. I don’t even care what it is. But make it one that applies to all, rather than slipping about from Mon. to Thurs.

    Comment by James May - June 8, 2013 9:44 pm

  16. > John, you are very engaging when talking about stories and writing but your quickness in dismissing anyone who doesn’t bow
    > to political correctness in the fiction world is off-putting.

    Tyr,

    Always reassuring to see how predictably you react in the face of issues that challenge conservative thought.

    I’m sorry you find issues involving women in fantasy “tedious.” I have an idea – why don’t you just ignore them?

    Or you could just continue to comment on how confounding and tedious any opinions that don’t match yours are. Your call.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 8, 2013 9:48 pm

  17. > I didn’t say it was a racial slur, I said it was used as one, and it clearly was.

    James,

    If you said it “clearly was” a racial slur, that’s not the same as stating “I didn’t say it was a racial slur.”

    I really don’t think you’re equipped for this argument. Sit down before you hurt yourself.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 8, 2013 9:50 pm

  18. I feel very sorry for Jean Rabe. Her only real fault in this was letting the argument continue in the publication, rather than let it stay in the forums where it belonged.

    I can endure, and even like, a cheesecake Red Sonja cover. And I can tolerate a tasteless remark from someone who has chosen to not know better. Isn’t that Thanksgiving in a nutshell?

    Thing is, sci fi and fantasy authors aren’t an homogenous group. I don’t think the SFWA was ever homogenous, but there’s a perception on both sides of the argument that it was.

    I can’t help but feel that the reaction of people, namely leaving the SFWA, is a bit extreme. I agree with their views, but I still would jump at the chance to be a member.

    Comment by darangrissom - June 8, 2013 11:55 pm

  19. Here’s all I need to say about the current SFWA mess, quoted from my own blog:

    Oh, the noise in the background is my professional community arguing about how much sexism counts as too much to put up with. The short version: there’s a trade organization for writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and the past three issues of the organization’s bulletin featured some big gaffes, each of which alone might have been shrugged off, but all of which together provoked a lot of protest, and a variety of other responses. There’s been an official apology. I’ve blown what would otherwise have been my writing time for the week, small sliver though that is, catching up on the controversy, because it’s all everybody in my writing life wants to talk about. And here is my conclusion:

    Those old coots who shot their mouths off in the 202nd issue of the SFWA Bulletin don’t get to hijack one more minute of my energy and attention with their sexist crap. I am too busy embarking on the next chapter of my excellent life to spend an evening writing a blow-by-blow critique of blunders that have been amply critiqued by others. I am too busy writing a short story about a real woman warrior who goes into peril with the gear she needs–far, far too busy–to spend an evening explaining why the chain-mail-bikini-chick on the cover of the Bulletin’s 200th issue annoys me. I am also to busy to spend an evening explaining why I am merely annoyed, and not outraged, by such cover art. I am too busy raising my sons to be excellent men to waste more than this sentence on the columnist in the 201st Bulletin issue who admonished women writers to emulate Barbie, who allegedly owes her enduring appeal to having “quiet dignity,” as all women allegedly should. May my sons, when they are grown, be mensches, like the guy who wrote this blog post [Benjamin Rosenbaum, and thanks, John, for calling my attention to his piece]. Decades after my demise, when the only men in my field who remember meeting me in person are themselves old coots who were young enough to have been among my last students, I hope my professional community will have finished shedding its clinging scraps of misogyny. If it hasn’t, well, nobody will be reminiscing about how I looked in a bathing suit. That’s fine. I didn’t come here to be ornamental. I came here to be awesome. And now I’m getting back to work on that.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - June 9, 2013 12:28 am

  20. But your quickness in dismissing anyone who doesn’t bow to political correctness in the fiction world is off-putting.

    The argument isn’t about political correctness in a fictional world. It’s about professional writers wanting to be treated in a professional manner in the in-house magazine their membership dues fund.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - June 9, 2013 2:45 pm

  21. John, After reading your excerpt of Rosenbaum’s letter, I went and read it in full, and I have to say: ripping good job condensing the key points of his argument. The full letter adds a bit more context, a little more nuance, but those are his best points in a nutshell.

    I think Rosenbaum hit just the right tone and balance in explaining why some people were bothered and disappointed, and why expressing that disappointment is not tantamount to censorship: “If you say something that sucks, and we tell you it sucks, that’s…censorship?” Great line; good point.

    Reading some of the commentary from folks on the other side of this issue, I find myself once again frustrated by what seems to happen so often in these online forums — folks talking past others’ points, a phenomenon I’ll dub “Ignore the mace, kill the fly.”

    Here in Rosenbaum’s letter are the strongest arguments on one side of the issue. Now, if anyone wants to argue for the other side, please address THESE arguments first. Someone has just articulated the best justification for position A. Okay, deal with the A-game — That’s the guy coming at you with a mace. Parry the mace first! Don’t say, “Well, bugger, I’m going to swat this fly over here” because the fly seems to be an easier target. Save the other tangential points that you’re itching to express about tradition and censorship and how us white guys are so disrespected for the next round.

    Best debate practice: First person puts forth his/her strongest argument, Argument A. Next person addresses Argument A, then puts forth his/her own counter-argument. But no. Too much fun just to pop off with whatever notions floating around in the gray matter happen to congeal into a rant around the latest online controversy.

    I’ve read many garrulous comments from folks in defense of Resnick and Malzberg, none of which even attempt to address the points Rosenbaum so succinctly made.

    I’ll be the first to concede that there is probably just as much knee-jerk reaction on one side as the other, with folks over-reacting to the other extreme and putting the “political” in political correctness. But Rosenbaum has approached this rationally, intelligently, and with good form. Is there anyone on the other side who will engage with him head-on, exchange direct (rhetorical) blows, rather than striking out at flies?

    Comment by Nick Ozment - June 10, 2013 2:18 am

  22. > I feel very sorry for Jean Rabe. Her only real fault in this was letting the argument continue in the
    > publication, rather than let it stay in the forums where it belonged.

    Daran,

    I know what you mean. I know Jean, and she’s a consummate professional. It’s easy to understand how she might have chosen to publish (and stand by) these articles, even if she didn’t agree with them. That’s a brave stance.

    Unfortuantely, and speaking as an editor myself, I know the ultimate responsibility for the content of a magazine rests with the editor. Mike and Barry are entitled to their opinions, and blaming writers for honestly expressing their opinions is a useless exercise. But the woman who repeatedly gave those opinions a forum – in the official organ of a professional writing organization – was Jean Rabe.

    If there’s a problem with these articles (and the cover that contained them), then it’s her judgment that must be questioned, at least as much as Mike and Barry’s.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 10, 2013 2:23 pm

  23. > I didn’t come here to be ornamental. I came here to be awesome. And now I’m getting back to work on that.

    Well said, Sarah.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 10, 2013 2:27 pm

  24. > The argument isn’t about political correctness in a fictional world. It’s about professional writers wanting to be treated in a professional
    > manner in the in-house magazine their membership dues fund.

    And excellent point, Jeff. One I should have made myself.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 10, 2013 2:28 pm

  25. > I’ve read many garrulous comments from folks in defense of Resnick and Malzberg, none of which even
    > attempt to address the points Rosenbaum so succinctly made.

    Nick,

    I wish half the people who were leaping to defend Barry and Mike would make an attempt to address these issues as well. Instead, most of them seem too busy invoking the First Amendment.

    In fairness, there have been some good points raised recently on both sides. And the issue seems to have quieted down somewhat since Jean’s resignation, and Scalzi’s apology.

    Perhaps they were the steps necessary to start to put this in the rear view mirror.

    Comment by John ONeill - June 10, 2013 2:41 pm

  26. […] Jean Rabe Resigns as SFWA Bulletin Editor Amidst Controversy […]

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  27. […] hardly news — the organization is known for regular rows. Less than a year ago, in fact, we reported that SFWA Bulletin Editor Jean Rabe resigned amidst a controversy over a series of sexist and […]

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  28. […] of SFWA can vote. Which they do, when they’re not loudly denying there’s harassment of women writers, or spending all their time actually harassing women writers. Let’s hope the […]

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  29. […] for maintaining “quiet dignity the way a woman should.” In June, editor Jean Rabe stepped down and the Bulletin went on […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » The Return of the SFWA Bulletin - March 3, 2014 6:05 pm

  30. […] rough time of it when it comes to sexism. The editor of the SFWA ‘Bulletin’, Jean Rabe, resigned over issues related to sexism, and there was a big scandal from a listserv of SFWA writers about being too politically correct […]

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