Back in the mid-90s, when the political correctness movement was bursting onto the scene, one tended to pass it off as a bunch of post-modernists playing at deconstruction*. The old “Doberperson” joke just about summed up how seriously it was taken by anyone not in the public eye. Most people, it was concluded, wouldn’t care, and, in general, they didn’t. People went about their lives normally, and only some of the weirdness filtered into everyday life, mainly in positive ways such as the use of non-pejorative terms for certain groups. It was OK, and life went on.
But all was not as well as it looked on the surface. A friend of the house was studying at the University of Arizona just about at this time, and he turned in a story for a creative writing assignment which, knowing this guy, was probably extremely well-written and insightful.
His teacher came back and said that the story was unacceptable.
“Why?” asked our friend
“Because it doesn’t contain any references to feminism or to the struggle of women. Literature without those qualities is unacceptable to me,” was the gist of the reply.
Now, our friend is both non-confrontational and was, for scholarship reasons, trying to maintain a perfect GPA, so as far as we can recall after twenty years, he mumbled something and modified his tale (creative writing is not important enough to an engineering student as anything other than credit for him to have done otherwise), went on to maintain his scholarship and graduate with gigantic honors and now designs products that all of you use every day. His response was probably the wisest course of action.
But it was the wrong response. The correct response would have been to say “What the fuck?”, send the teacher and her imbecilic agenda to hell, and then immediately report her to the school authorities. You see, using coercion in this way is, to me, a fireable offense. I don’t care what your political / social leanings are, it’s wrong. I also have no idea whether the teacher in question is still at UofA, but I doubt it – people of that sort don’t last long at prestigious universities (well, they do sometimes, but hopefully not in this case).
This may seem like an isolated incident, and in real life, probably is. But there is one particular place where the kind of people who think this way are not only a vocal (if small) minority, but are being pandered to by the rest of the community mainly because of the fear from the tactics they use, and that place is the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers and fan community.
Over the past five years, the community has been rocked by several tempests in a teapot regarding the nebulous and politically charged concept of “privilege“. Essentially, the idea of the concept is to disqualify anyone who is part of the “mainstream” in a number of categories (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc) as being able to voice a valid opposing opinion (or of writing about in fiction!!!!!!) to the view of the extremists because they have privilege – essentially “you haven’t suffered what I’ve suffered, so you don’t have any right to talk about it.” Usually, the fanatic goes on to call the other person a sexist or racist.
Since the discussion is usually about charged subjects, most of the antagonists stop arguing right there. People who go on have found that reason simply doesn’t work against them, so they stop, too. The problem is that, by the time people pull out, a small but rabid strike group has been put into action, and Twitter, blogs and emails to employers have been sent out to the effect that so-and-so is a racist. Perfectly nice, unracist people have lost paying jobs, guest-of-honor gigs and editorships as well as being hounded, bullied and harassed thanks to these unfounded accusations of racism – as defined by a splinter group of extremists.
The problem, you see, is that these nice, rational people, who won’t think twice about ruining someone’s career, livelihood or reputation for not marching in lockstep are trying to stop racism. That makes it all right, then. They can call you whatever they want, because you have privilege, and they (most of “they” are just as privileged, intellectual and white – but are making the “effort” to understand) have suffered.
So it’s no real surprise that no one in the genre world was willing to stand up to these people. It has gotten to the point where many people no longer consider the SFWA to validly represent the interests of authors in the genre – many qualifying professionals are choosing NOT to send the SFWA their fees at all until the current group of vocal activists are severely reduced in power, as they are noxious to all the writers who want an organization that represents the majority of them, not a puppet spokes-arm of a “diversity” activism group, which it is on the slippery road to becoming. Romance writers don’t seem to have these issues (probably because they sell a lot more books than SF writers, to their professional organization HAS to be professional!).
Fortunately, I’ve been seeing a recent trend towards people speaking out. This was recently posted on the Heroines of Fantasy site (and you can imagine that Heroines of Fantasy is not precisely sexist), and this has been written about the most recent guest of Honor Affair, plus a good piece on Jonathan Ross hosting the Hugos. All in the last couple of months.
Which, as tangential members of that community we find encouraging. Maybe Science Fiction and Fantasy can find a way to stop being offended by everything and return to a civil discussion of things – you know, like rational human beings?
Many of the Classically Educated team and contributors are proud SF geeks. We hope the fact that people are stepping up and saying that the bullying is not OK is a good sign. Hope springs eternal.
Agree? Disagree? All discussion is welcome – especially differing points of view! But calling anyone a racist or a sexist immediately invokes a modified version of Godwin’s law that we’ve created just for this post, and you automatically lose the argument!
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*If you think deconstruction can ever be serious, all you have to do is read the Wikipedia entry about it to disabuse yourself of that notion.**
**Even better is the story of the Sokal Affair. Only tangentially related, but still brilliant!