Discovering Your Favorite Authors Are Misogynists

The harassment of women in geek, tech, science, and other circles has many people taking a closer look at the sexism all around us. Thanks to this newfound awareness, I’m discovering, to my discomfort, that some of my favorite authors are actually misogynists.

tg-bookshelf

Books chez Guidry. Wish I had a misogyny detector, like a Geiger counter.

It’s a disturbing feeling when you realize all those hazy fond memories of curling up in a tree with a book and an apple (because that’s how Jo March reads, dammit, and I didn’t have access to a convenient garret with worn sofa) are contaminated by the fact that those authors, when they were writing those books, touring the con circuits, answering fan mail, were also being what today I’d term total creeper asshats. It’s even more disturbing when you realize this is still going on, and might be getting worse.

Heinlein, I should have known better. It’s right there in his books. But I was a kid and way more fascinated by the computer Mycroft in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress to realize the implications of Time Enough For Love. For the record, I also thought “a man who does not exist” in the Knight Rider opening credits referred to K.I.T.T., not Michael Knight. So I was a teenage idiot, apparently.

But… surely not Asimov. He was shy around women, so I’d heard. There were hardly any in his books and those who were present were almost asexual, like Susan Calvin. And anyway, I was only there for the robots.

Second childhood copy of The Caves Of Steel. I wore the cover off the first one.

And then, quite recently, I find out about this. Oh, no, Isaac, not you too! Can I ever read The Caves Of Steel again without feeling your ghostly hands on my ass?

It’s not fun, doing a web search for “<favorite author> misogynist” but it certainly is illuminating. I’m afraid to know what would happen if I were to type “<favorite author> racist” or “<favorite author> homophobe” or “<favorite author> total creeper asshat who just harassed female author XYZ last week at convention blah-blah-blah”.

I’m not sure I can re-read some of these writers’ books without misogyny leaping out at me like bold italic text. I know I’d have a hard time with Lazarus Long (fist in the face seems appropriate). But is it there in less expected places? Do I want to find out?

And then… there’s my own writing. I recently described my mental crossroads over recent sexist SFWA incidents and what I should do as a fantasy fiction writer. Is the misogyny there, too? Am I secretly a privileged cisgendered idiot who can’t even keep the misogyny out of her own stories? I submitted one recently and afterwards was wracked with guilt that it might be misogynistic. Ugh! I dread getting the rejection: “This thing is a piece of sexist tripe and don’t ever darken our doorstep again.”

I am going to go cry in my Valdemar now.

If you’re interested here are some of the other folks talking about sexism and speculative fiction…

 

 

How Being Female Affects My Strategy As A Writer

If you’re in the speculative fiction field you know about the recent controversy surrounding SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Of America). This has me questioning if women are really invited to the professional writers’ table, and if so, whether we get to sit with the grownups.

gabrielle-scroll

Female writer Gabrielle says, “You USED my SCROLL?!?!?!”

Specifically, recent issues of the SFWA Bulletin (their official publication) contained sexist language combined with stereotypical “sexy girl in unrealistic armor” cover art. You can read more about it here:

As a female writer, this has my attention. I write fantasy fiction as well as nonfiction about technology. For the past several years my goal has been to publish at least one story in a venue that would qualify me for minor status in SFWA. Now I wonder if my gender has been killing my chances, and what other women writers are doing about this dilemma.

SFWA is THE professional organization for writers of speculative fiction. Not being in SFWA hinders my ability to succeed in this field (I measure “success” as “get published more than once and develop a healthy readership”).

And it’s not just genre fiction. I have similar problems with tech writing, too. I guess women are supposed to be penning poetry about teacups instead of doling out advice on cloud storage security. Oops, my bad.

How Being Female Affects My Writing Strategy
I try to submit to publications with female editors. Why? Because I hope they will be more likely to take a chance on another woman. I didn’t start doing this consciously, but once I realized it, it became part of my strategy. Of course, you also have to make sure you’re submitting to an appropriate venue, that you understand manuscript format, that you’re following the guidelines… but for me, gender equality has become equally important. I don’t want to submit to (or, heaven forbid, get published by!) a misogynistic publication.

I also look for publishers who publish women writers, and who have women on staff. As in, more than one and allowed to sit in the big chairs. That seems so basic as to be ridiculous, but again, it subconsciously became part of my research process. If they don’t hire women, they’re not likely to publish women. The search for potential misogyny/unfriendliness has become a not insignificant part of my strategy for both fiction and nonfiction.

As you can imagine this takes additional time and effort, not to mention reducing the number of possible places where I could be published. As a freelancer, more overhead + less potential clients = less paying work. (Good thing I’m not expecting to make money as a fantasy writer… but it hurts on the tech side.)

What Can Women Writers Do?
I’m disappointed, but not surprised. It’s a corollary of my experiences as a woman in IT – less raises, less chances for promotion, less opportunities to work on the high-profile projects. For some time I’ve wondered if my obviously-female name alone is hurting my chances. Maybe I should write under a pseudonym? Worked for D.C. Fontana.

But I don’t want to be an androgynous writer. I am a FEMALE writer. I want to be in a group like SFWA because I want to network with like minds, polish my skills, learn new things from new people… but not if they’re deliberately hopping on the misogyny train. I never thought SFWA was like that until this latest debacle. Not being in it, I’m not sure if I was naive or if this is just an aberration.

I’m disinclined to think such things are mere aberrations, however, because holy Captain Grace Hopper in a handbasket, shit has been BAD for geek women lately! Harassment at cons. Harassment on the job. Harassment in online comments. Rape and death threats for any female who speaks out. And apparently a professional organization like SFWA doesn’t have our backs either? What century is this? What the heck is an aspiring female writer to do?

Some female members of SFWA have chosen to leave. Some are giving it another chance. Many are sharing their experiences with sexism in the field. All are doing so knowing that it could permanently affect their professional careers. (That’s food on the table, people.) As a newbie I find myself at a crossroads because, as Ann Aguirre said in her thought-provoking blog on her own experiences with misogyny in speculative fiction:

My professional work shouldn’t be impacted by my gender, my appearance, my religion, my sexuality, my skin tone, or any other factor. The fact that it is? Makes me so very sad.

And as Patty Jansen expressed in her blog about why she’s giving SFWA another year:

Our genre needs and deserves a decent professional organisation, dammit. Since there are no viable alternatives, THIS IS IT.

THANK YOU To The Women Who Continue To Write
I want to give a big shout out to all the women out there, talking about this, putting up with personal attacks, dealing with the utter filth they receive in comments and on social media, all so that they can continue to write the stories that are sitting on my bookshelf. Thank you. A million times. THANK YOU.

Personally I’m not sure I want to be a member of SFWA anymore. (Easy to say – I don’t have the publication credits to qualify, at this point.) But this isn’t specific to SFWA. I’m not sure I want to be a member of ANYTHING if it’s going to turn into a sexist slugfest. And it stinks not knowing whether the rejections I’ve received mean that I need to polish my work more… or that I’m committing the grave error of Writing While Female.

Meanwhile SFWA has an updated announcement which defines their strategy for dealing with this situation – starting with an immediate hiatus of the Bulletin until improvements can be made. This, I like. This tells me somebody’s taking the matter seriously… unlike, for example, when Microsoft does its sexist thang and then shrugs and walks away. But still… once bitten, twice shy…

I would love to hear from other writers. What’s your strategy? Is this SFWA thing just a hiccup? Are there other organizations/publications more friendly to women? Should we just give up and go back to scratching stories in notebooks that get shoved in drawers, as some might prefer? Or should we wait it out and see if the atmosphere becomes friendlier to geek women in the future? And how might we help make that happen?

 

How Much Of Our Children’s Narratives Should We Share Online?

Social networks abound with the intimate details of our lives. Family photos, vacation plans, concerns and celebrations – all of it becomes part of our ongoing online identities. It’s one thing when you’re posting about yourself, but what about when you post about your kids?

As I browse various social networks, I’ve come to realize that people are just plain sharing too much stuff. I cringe when I see baby pictures because I know pedophiles steal them. I wince when a friend posts “Greetings from vacation!” because I know burglars use the same social networks to find empty homes to rob. I want to scream when people say, “I only friend people I know” or “I use the same password on Facebook and Twitter” because I know cybercriminals create fake profiles and hijack real ones.

My question is this: How much of our children’s narratives should we share online?

I find myself coming down hard on this issue, as a writer and as an adult adoptee and advocate for adoptee rights. I believe the narratives of minors should be not be shared, or should only be shared minimally, until the minor is of an age to make his or her own decisions. I’ve spoken on my adoptee rights blog 73adoptee about the question of who controls adoptee narratives (here and here, for example). Many adoptive parents and prospective adopters blog intimate details about an adoptee’s origins before that adoptee even has a chance to know for themselves! I know how I’d feel if the personal details of my origins had been spread around in public before I was old enough to voice my opinion. It’s up to me to decide what to share of my story, and how much, and when. (It’s also up to me to decide what I should know about my adoption instead of having agencies or governmental bureaucracies deciding for me, as eloquently described by my friend Amanda over at Declassified Adoptee.)

We can also see this in the furor over Liza Long (the “Anarchist Soccer Mom”) and the intimate details she shared about her son in the wake of the school shooting in Connecticut. Some have lauded her efforts to improve mental health, while others have chastized her for oversharing her son’s story. I have to say I’m leaning toward the latter. How would you like it if you were in that kid’s shoes – unable to share your version of your own story? How would you like it if your parents were telling the universe about your academic problems or physical ailments or mental health?

When you talk about your children online, you’re not making private comments to your Aunt Martha over tea in her parlor. This is the Internet. It is global, and it is permanent. What happens when that child becomes an adult and wants a say over how his or her narrative has been shared? How can they reclaim their narratives later on? Will Facebook take down the posts? Will Twitter and Blogger and Instagram delete that information? Will all the engines that have archived the data also delete that information? The backup tapes? The locally cached copies?

I think we all know the answer to that.

Such information can also be used for cyberbullying. Let’s say you’ve got a kid whose parent posted about a bitter divorce. Don’t you think, when that child is a teen, that other teens might try to dig up as much dirt about them as possible? How is that going to make the kid feel? How would YOU feel knowing the information you shared was later used against your own child?

As an IT expert, my advice to parents has always been: Share minimally. Don’t post family photos on social sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – not even with the privacy controls locked down. I don’t care how convenient it is or how many of your friends are doing it. Those privacy controls never stay locked down. Bugs are found or hacks occur or switches get flipped and you suddenly discover that your precious five-year-old’s face has been Photoshopped onto raunchy material and spread around the underbelly of the Internet.

I try not to blog about my kids except in a generic way. I occasionally describe events, like our family Doctor Who cosplay for Halloween, but I don’t share their names or personal narratives. I ask questions, as any parent does. Sometimes I do it on the Internet. But I strive not to badmouth my kids or speak publicly about private information. No, not even in private chat. No, not even in email. It’s basic common sense.

Kids may not be adults, but they are still people, and when they become adults they have to deal with the repercussions of the decisions made for them. So do your kids a favor. You’re the caretaker of their information, not the owner. Safeguard it until they are able to take care of it themselves.

What do you think about the sharing of childrens’ information online?

(Comments welcome but moderated against spambots. And if you’re only here to argue with me over adoptee rights, don’t bother – go over to 73adoptee or other blogs like Declassified Adoptee and Musings Of The Lame and First Mother Forum to learn about the adoption reform movement.)

Image courtesy of pat138241 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Freelancing: How To Say No To A Paying Job

When you freelance full-time, you’ve got to keep working to keep bread on the table. It’s easy enough to say no to jobs that pay in pennies or so-called “exposure.” Most of us have been around long enough to recognize scams like those. But how can you say no to a bona fide paying job?

Some people don’t. When I started freelancing, I took every gig I could get. Some were worse than others – far worse. But when you’re new to fluxuating income, turning down a paying job seems insane. And sometimes you literally can’t afford to turn down a job.

But unless you’ve hit rock bottom, you should always consider saying no to a paying job under certain circumstances. Here are some of mine, feel free to share some of your own!

If it’s outside your mission
I recommend everyone have a mission or goal, a single sentence that keeps you focused. Mine used to be “I help people with their computers,” but when I switched from full-time consulting to full-time writing it became, “I write about business and technology, and I also write fantasy and science fiction.”

That makes it easier to say no when, for example, someone calls me looking for tech support. After 13 years my first instinct is to jump up and get started. My mission reminds me that’s not my job anymore. It’s still hard, but it helps me avoid an instinctive, “Yes, of course I’ll help!”

If it takes more out of you than it brings in
There’s more to a job than pay. Maybe there’s so much involved that your hourly pay ends up less than a tenth of a penny. Maybe there are only three part-timers working with you plus the boss hates the project and wants to undermine it. Pay is great. Pay for misery is not.

If your Spidey-sense goes off
Sometimes a job just feels wrong. The project looks interesting, the people are nice, but there’s something twinging your senses. Stay far away from projects like those. In my experience your instinct is always right.

If it’s beyond your skills
It’s okay to tell a potential client, “I don’t know how to do that.” In fact, it might just work to your advantage. People appreciate the truth. They also appreciate a good referral if what they want isn’t in your skill set. And by “good” I mean a trusted referral, someone you know personally, not just the latest business card to cross your desk.

If you don’t want to
I received an offer the other day. I thought about it a moment and decided that, while I had the technical ability for the gig, I didn’t want to do it. There’s no freelance rule that says you have to have a reason to decline.

Now, let’s get to the big question: How, exactly, do you say no? Many freelancers take jobs they don’t like because they’re afraid to say no, or they feel guilty, or they think their business will UTTERLY FAIL if they don’t.

You have to resist that fear. Saying no is quite simple: you say, “no.” Believe me, that is the hardest thing in the world to do, especially when it’s a sweet project and you’ve been eating ramen for a week. Don’t hem and haw and say you’ll think about it. Just say no.

But there’s more to no than “no.” I mentioned the importance of a good referral. You may also want to…

  • offer resources like Web sites and articles
  • suggest other approaches

But you don’t want to…

  • Blow them off
  • Upsell them
  • Talk them into your services just so you can get the gig
  • Refer them to a poor referral
  • Be unprofessional

If you maintain your equilibrium and say “no” with grace and dignity, your freelance business will thrive and you won’t have to worry about miserable, time-consuming, soul-sucking gigs.

How do you say no to a paying job? Share in the comments!

(Image: cbenjasuwan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I’m A Mom. I’m A Blogger. I Am NOT A “Mommy Blogger.”

I saw a tweet recently that set me off like an explosion on MythBusters:

“New Job: Hiring Mommy Bloggers”

It’s not the first time I’ve seen the phrase. The term “mommy blogger” is common – and offensive.

Like “work-at-home mom,” the phrase “mommy blogger” makes all women bloggers sound like part-timers who are only knowledgeable about mom-related things like organic baby food. As it happens I am knowledgeable about organic baby food, having made my own when my kids were little. But that doesn’t mean it’s all I know, nor that my brain suddenly got scooped out of my head the moment my kids were born.

“Mommy blogger” implies that you’re not a paid professional, or if you are paid it’s in diapers and coupons. It’s the 21st Century version of Tupperware. People see it as something for housewives to do to earn a little extra spending money while their husbands have real careers. It’s not a real job, it’s moonlighting.

Except this IS the 21st Century, and plenty of women are earning their livings online: bloggers, freelancers, web designers, programmers. Yes, there are female programmers, and we don’t call them “mommy programmers” regardless of parturition status. These women are capable and highly skilled. To dismiss them as “mommy” anything diminishes them as professionals.

(And while we’re at it, all those women selling Tupperware and Pampered Chef and scented candles? I’ve met plenty of them and guess what? They’re professional about their jobs, too.)

I’m a writer and IT specialist. One of my blogs is about technology and social media. Another one, this one, is about writing fantasy and science fiction. Not exactly topics that come to mind when using the term “mommy blogger,” yet my decades of professional experience are dismissed by those two little words merely because I happen to be Blogging While Female.

As far as I’m concerned, even if you’re literally blogging about being a mom, you’re still not a “mommy blogger” because of the negative connotations. Some have embraced the term “mommy blogger” in an attempt to redefine it in a positive way. I’m familiar with that, because my other other blog is about adoption. No, not adopting children, BEING adopted, as in adult adoptee. We bastards know a thing or two about redefining offensive terms. Nevertheless, I can’t find it within myself to embrace “mommy blogger.” It stirs memory of every hardship I’ve ever had as a female in a predominantly male industry. In short, it makes me go all Captain Janeway. And we know what happens when you go all Captain Janeway (if you don’t, ask the Borg Queen).

The problem is painfully obvious if you visit freelance job sites, especially those advertising to “Work At Home MOMS!” The jobs are lousy and the pay is slim if any. I’ve seen tons of writing gigs where you’re asked to write your fingers off for pennies a word and “promotion on our site.” Of course these sites are happy to con both men and women; getting ripped off is not exclusive. Even so, the advertising seems disproportionally targeted toward women, moms in particular.

And we don’t see the reverse assumption towards men. Men blog. Women are “mommy bloggers.” Men go to freelance job boards. Women go to boards for Work At Home MOMS! You can’t just be a blogger or a freelancer who happens to be female. Is it any wonder we are often paid less for the same jobs?

As a female person of the professional blogging persuasion, I’m offended. What do you think? Does the term “mommy blogger” offend you? Why or why not?

 

Writing, Depression, And Science Fiction

I wasn’t going to talk about this here. Maybe that was naive. I’d been working on a nice mundane post about my writing resolutions for the New Year, but it’s going to have to wait. When I woke up yesterday I read something really important from The Bloggess about her struggle with depression.

Uh-oh. And it’s January. That’s significant for me, like a cosmic message saying, “You are supposed to write about this.” (I believe the universe added, “Now, stupid,” but that part was muttered under its breath.)

Because I suffer from depression and anxiety, too. Not offically, as I have an abject abhorrence of anything approaching therapy, but I’d be a fool to think it was anything else. In my case it revolves around my adoption, hence my issues with January because that is when I was born and adopted. There is evidently also some biological basis, but that’s one big joojooflop situation better discussed on my 73adoptee blog.

My BFF (howdy, sis!) calls me “high functioning” because I can go about my daily world while depressed. As far as I know, most people aren’t aware of my inner struggles. Maybe that, too, is naive, and everyone is really whispering behind my back. It’s not something I want to talk about in public – which is why I’m blogging about it. I might not have bothered if The Bloggess hadn’t brought it up, but too many suffer in silence and that’s a theme I know all too well. I’ve discussed it at length on 73adoptee. Adoption and depression go together like peanut butter and chocolate, only not as tasty. (There’s a related entry that I posted on 73adoptee this week: my annual thoughts on adoption, birthdays and depression.)

Just as people in the adoption community are not supposed to talk publicly about the downsides of adoption, people who suffer from depression are not supposed to discuss it either. That’s why The Bloggess’s post is so important. It’s rare to find someone who is so honest about her experiences with depression. I wonder how someone who doesn’t suffer from depression would read it. Would they find it disturbing or unusual? It resonated to me.

I use writing, both fiction and nonfiction, to combat depression and anxiety. You could call it a crutch, or creative therapy without shelling out the health insurance. To me it’s more of a spiritual necessity, a formative part of an identity already fractured by adoption: I-Must-Write. Not-Writing equals walls closing around me. I can’t let my imagination stay in one place. Reading, writing, blogging keeps the depression at bay, like a single candle in the cavernous dark.

It’s also why I love science fiction and fantasy. Escapism is my coping strategy. I don’t care if it’s inappropriate to admit that. Why should it be? It’s how I’ve always lived. I don’t know another way. I’m not sure there is one. I’m not sure I want one, because it also gives me incredible strength. I see strange and often beautiful things in the world around me that I might otherwise miss. I appreciate my husband and kids more. I can enjoy things with the wonder of a child. I get to talk with really cool geeky people about really cool geeky things that other people might think stupid. Like, does it really matter exactly how long you can run the Enterprise NX-01’s engines at Warp 5? Of course it does! It makes life more hopeful to pursue the things that make your heart soar. If no one did we would all be like the people of Camazotz, forever hypnotized into a dull routine.

I wasn’t sure if I should post this or not, because it exposes a lot of my personal life and because it may change the way some of you think of me. But then again, I’m the person who used to run down the halls of my all-girls school with a phaser and a Starfleet comm badge. I have always erred on the side of independence versus conformity, struggle versus stagnation. If what I have to say bothers you, you’ll unsubscribe and ignore me. If it interests or inspires you, you’ll stick around and maybe we can all learn something from each other.

It’s good to be reminded that depression comes in waves and it is possible to ride the crest for a while. I guess it doesn’t matter if we come crashing down afterwards as long as we know we’ll eventually rise again. So big thanks and thumb’s up to The Bloggess. Your message came at just the right time for me and a lot of other lost and lonely souls.

(She wrote a followup post which you should read also. The Internet community is rallying to the cause of those who suffer from depression and it’s already making a difference.)

Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net