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SFWA Ugliness Spreads to Personal Attacks on Mary Robinette Kowal

Monday, February 17th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mary Robinette Kowal 2013-smallLast week, we reported on the most recent public explosion in the ranks of the Science Fiction Writers of America, as Dave Truesdale, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Barry N. Malzberg, Gene Wolfe, and others signed a petition calling for changes in the planned oversight to the SFWA Bulletin. That particular brouhaha seems to have blown over for the most part, at least partially defused by a statement from SFWA President Steven Gould, clarifying that “the editor of the Bulletin will not have to go to any selection or editorial review board to approve material.”

But, like a needle lancing a boil, this latest controversy has brought an eruption of hurt feelings, long-festering grudges, and bitter commentary to the surface. Much of it has been in the public forums of SFF.Net (where Black Gate also has a newsgroup.) The most incendiary comments seem to be directed towards either the signers of the petition or towards the fan press who made an issue of it. But the sound of cannon fire seems to have been too much to resist for others, who are using the opportunity to level personal attacks at current and former SFWA officers.

One of the most egregious is Macmillan’s associate director of contracts, Sean P. Fodera, who launched a personal attack on Mary Robinette Kowal, bizarrely criticizing her wardrobe and critiquing her for being “somewhat attractive.” Fodera, a self-professed science fiction fan who apparently embraces ideas like teleporting wardrobes, magic wands, and giant space amoebas, seems to be completely unable to wrap his head around the concept of a woman who both likes to model and write science fiction. In fact, the whole thing seems to send him into a baffled rage.

For a long time, her website featured an array of photos of her in a diaphanous white outfit, posing on a beach. No metal bikinis or such, but they were not innocuous writer headshots either. One of them, with her recumbent on the sand with legs exposed, made her somewhat attractive. I also recall she’s fond of wearing tight-fitting gowns and plunging necklines when she attends cons and award ceremonies.

I’ll have to add “phony” to “incompetent” and “arrogant” in the mental tags I’ve assigned her.

Read Fodera’s complete comments here and here.

Mary published a few of her modeling shots on her website here.

I’ve attended several conventions with Mary Robinette Kowal, and I’ve seen first hand the “tight-fitting gowns and plunging necklines” she wears. Here she is in the Black Gate booth at Dragon*con in 2010, in typical Mary attire:

Mary Robinette Kowal 2010

I took the picture at the top right at her launch party for Without a Summer here in Chicago last July. Silvia Moreno-Garcia offers a few more shots (and her own thoughts on the matter) here.

For the record, I find the fact that Mary Robinette Kowal — one of our most acclaimed new writers, winner of the Hugo Award, and a Nebula nominee for her first novel — should have to endure bizarre and blatantly sexist attacks on her wardrobe and appearance from fellow professionals in the industry (in the midst of protracted discussion on sexism in SFWA, no less) appalling.

The fact that a sizable number of professionals in the industry are currently expending energy trying to convince SFWA members that no such sexism exists and the sanctity of the SFWA Bulletin needs to be protected from the overreaching forces of political correctness, is frustrating and exasperating to a large portion of the membership. Aja Romano encapsulates the issue nicely in her Daily Dot article, “Apparently, these guys don’t want women to write science fiction.”

Mary addressed the matter succinctly on her blog today, in a post titled “Me, as a useful representative example.”

My impulse is to tell you all that I’m fine and that this has no material affect on my life. And that is true. But I also know that I am a useful representative sample of the abuse that happens to other women.

I know that there are a ton of women who have received similar messages — and can we stop pretending that sexism is happening because it’s SFWA? Sexism happens all the time. It’s visible in SFWA because people are actively fighting against it.

Too many places, too many women, get this sort of unwelcome attention and commentary about what they were wearing but no one does anything. It’s always, “Laugh about it” or “Just shrug it off,” or “Ignore it and he’ll go away.”

You see how well that last is working?

Read Mary’s complete comments here.

24 Comments »

  1. Sad and appalling in equal measures. I applaud Mary for her thoughtful response.

    Clearly there is a segment of the SWFA male membership who, as I have long suspected, have had little to no interaction with real, three-dimensional women and therefore do not know how to express themselves appropriately.

    I strongly suggest they step away from their computers and get out more.

    Sue Granquist, Goth Chick News.

    Comment by Sue Granquist - February 18, 2014 12:02 pm

  2. Snuh? Fodera’s comments are just bizarre.

    Reading them in more detail and context…yep, still bizarre.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - February 18, 2014 12:11 pm

  3. > Clearly there is a segment of the SWFA male membership who, as I have long suspected, have had little to no
    > interaction with real, three-dimensional women and therefore do not know how to express themselves appropriately.

    Sue,

    Indeed. And why not make these attacks right in the middle of trying to build a case that SFWA is overreacting to charges of sexism? That’s a great idea.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 18, 2014 12:36 pm

  4. Nothing like an article about someone attacking Mary Robinette Kowal to get me commenting. And seriously, “incompetent”? I need read nothing else to know that Mr. Fodera is someone whom I need to pay absolutely no further attention to. As you and I have discussed before–only in the Black Gate comment section unfortunately–she is among my admittedly very large list of favorite authors, and her novella “Kiss Me Twice” is one of my favorite short form works of the last few years (http://www.asimovs.com/2011_06/exc_story1.shtml).

    And claiming her as “arrogant” is simply idiotic. It has been several years since I’ve seen her on Facebook. I suspect she either removed herself completely, or created a new, harder to find, Facebook name, and probably because of sexist idiots like the one currently on display. But back in the day when I’d leave a comment on one or another of her posts, she would often respond. Granted, it’s probably easy to respond to praise, as I was almost certainly complimenting her on one or another of her stories. 😉

    What particularly makes me sad–versus the anger that this current column engenders–is that Nancy Kress, a long-time favorite–would sign onto the aforementioned SFWA petition.

    Comment by awsnyde - February 18, 2014 12:36 pm

  5. > Reading them in more detail and context…yep, still bizarre.

    Jeff,

    Just so. Usually additional reading gives at least some context. Here, the more you read, the less sense it makes.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 18, 2014 12:36 pm

  6. > What particularly makes me sad–versus the anger that this current column engenders–is that Nancy Kress,
    > a long-time favorite–would sign onto the aforementioned SFWA petition.

    Allen,

    I’m sure Nancy had her reasons for signing, and I’m not prepared to judge her. I support the changes being made to add oversight to the SFWA BULLETIN, and think the petitioners are overreacting, but there’s been lots of good discussion and some excellent points made on both sides.

    But the trolls like Sean P. Fodera who pop out when they hear an uproar, and chime in with “Yeah! And I hate that Mary Kowal; she’s a woman and she frightens me.” They get nothing but contempt.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 18, 2014 12:46 pm

  7. By the way, can someone explain to me how this dysfunctional turd was able to have an open forum for his spewing his nonsense? I thought most legit forums had monitors to remove content that was clearly irrelevant bullying.

    Comment by Sue Granquist - February 18, 2014 6:33 pm

  8. Look out Mary, you’ve been assigned “mental tags”. XD

    Comment by CMR - February 18, 2014 7:12 pm

  9. awsnyde, my guess is he originally associated “incompetent” with her role in SFWA administration, not her writing. Now, who knows. His hatred of her seems to have spilled over into her physical appearance and his memory of what she wears. That said, “unperson” is all I needed to read to dismiss his opinion.

    Sue, SFF moderators do at times remove or relocate posts that are personal attacks, at least on some newsgroups. However, in my personal experience that only happens when it is another participant being attacked.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - February 18, 2014 8:39 pm

  10. The word “unperson” is the one that troubles me most in all this. NOBODY is an unperson. I’m pretty mad at the president of Ukraine today, but he’s not an unperson. Ted Cruz’s little government shutdown messed up my family’s finances and time management for months to come, and my children have gone from having a no-potty-talk rule to having a no-potty-talk-unless-it’s-about-Ted-Cruz rule, but Cruz is not an unperson. Caligula and Nero were not unpersons.

    Fodera has conducted himself badly in public, has perpetuated a chilling environment, and has good cause to be embarrassed by what he’s said. He might be a jackass, but he’s not an unperson.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - February 19, 2014 5:23 pm

  11. > By the way, can someone explain to me how this dysfunctional turd was able to have an open forum for his spewing his nonsense?

    Sue,

    Sean posted his comments in the SFWA section of SFF.Net, which is run by Jeffry Dwight. Jeffrey does police the site, but with a fairly light hand.

    There are literally hundreds of active threads at SFF.Net at any one time, and you can hardly expect him to keep on top of all of them.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 19, 2014 5:56 pm

  12. > Now, who knows. His hatred of her seems to have spilled over into her physical appearance and his memory of what she wears.

    Jeff,

    It does seem to have all the hallmarks of a rage-fueled rant that has abandoned any sense of logic. Why he felt it necessary to post it online (and why no one on SFF.Net seemed even slightly inclined to disagree with him) are the real questions.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 19, 2014 5:59 pm

  13. > The word “unperson” is the one that troubles me most in all this.

    Sarah,

    I see your point. I was mostly troubled by the blind rage he directed towards a woman who was clearly a feminist, and yet also modeled clothing — and how that somehow informed him about both her writing and her worth as an individual. It reveals a profound anger towards (and mistrust of) women in general, and women writers in particular, I think.

    Comment by John ONeill - February 19, 2014 6:04 pm

  14. The language he uses about her body and appearance is pretty creepy, too. But an unperson is someone to whom anything can be done with impunity, someone with no recourse to human fellow-feeling. Attempting to de-person someone linguistically can sometimes function as a justification-in-advance for violence. “Unperson” is the kind of word you see bandied about just before purges, pogroms, bouts of ethnic cleansing, etc. My antennae go up when I see language used in that manner, by anyone.

    SFWA’s organizational dysfunctions won’t go that far, but the wider community has always had its share of creeps, probably in proportion to the creep index of the general population. The creepy-misogynist subset of fandom may be very small — I hope and believe it’s very small. It only takes one sociopath to ruin your whole day, though. When sociopaths believe nobody cares what they do, they go do things.

    I don’t want to demonize Fodera. I’ve never met the guy. I wish, though, that people would think twice before using words like “unperson.” They add up faster than anyone expects.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - February 19, 2014 9:19 pm

  15. It does seem to have all the hallmarks of a rage-fueled rant that has abandoned any sense of logic.

    John, my wife read just the one post of his and said, “It sounds like she spurned his advances.” While I very much doubt anything like that is behind his hatred of her, abandoned any sense of logic seems an apt description.

    It reveals a profound anger towards (and mistrust of) women in general, and women writers in particular, I think.

    Or just toward Mary. I don’t know him or even his online persona, so I can’t hope to sense his motive. It’s possible he was so pissed off by his dealings with her as VP that he now views every aspect of her in worst conceivable light. Or it could be more in line with your comment; a woman who hasn’t been in the business as long as he has dared to have thoughtful, strongly held opinions that differed from his. I doubt we’ll ever know.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - February 20, 2014 1:09 am

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