Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Perfect Metaphor

Still on the Resnick/Malzberg thing. I've been trying to figure out how to model what could possibly have been going on in these guys' heads, because they're not stupid, whatever they might've been displaying recently. Ferret Steinmetz hit it perfectly.

When you do something very difficult in an Xbox game, you get an Achievement. It’s a fizzy little thrill, not unlike winning a scratch-off lottery ticket: you vanquish a difficult boss and there’s a blip noise, then an alert at the bottom of the screen: ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

You’re told the name of your special Achievement. It is added to your profile, and is yours forevermore.


There appear to be a lot of feisty old dudes who think they’re awesome at this equality thing.

Here’s the thing: by 1970s standards? I’m sure all of these gentlemen were enlightened. Compared to the treatment women, gays, and blacks got from mainstream society at the time, these dudes were well ahead of the curve. And at the time, they deserved all the credit for going above and beyond ordinary treatment. Still do, in a certain sense.

The problem is, in their heads, they Achievement Unlocked. They became Good To Girls, or Friend To The Negro, or Comfortable With Homos. And that badge could never be removed. Once they’d proven their magnificent tolerance in the crucible of the Issues of the Day, they never had to question their position again.

That's it, right there. Steinmetz nailed it completely. Click through to read the whole thing. I hope Resnick and Malzberg do, and that it makes a lightbulb go off in their heads.



Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't seen the actual letter, of course. I read somewhere that they used the term "lady," and spoke about how attractive one editor was. I'm sure there was more to it than that.

Angie said...

Charles -- my previous post on the subject had some links, but basically, they were asked to reminisce about women in SF back in the day, and they talked about how various women looked, how this or that "lady writer" or "lady editor" was beautiful, or a knock-out, or looked great in a bathing suit. As if that had anything to do with their contributions to the genre or the business.

If it'd been in their personal blogs, or a memoir, they'd probably have gotten some eyerolls but no major uproar. But this was a regular column they do in the official quarterly publication of SFWA, the primary professional organization for SFF writers in the US. It's like if someone in the AAAS wrote a column in Science talking about how great Rosalind Franklin looked in her bathing suit back in the fifties, in what was meant to be a discussion of her contributions to science. It's out of place and inappropriate.

There was criticism, of course, and Resnick and Malzberg responded in another SFWA bulletin column, accusing their critics of being liberal fascists, of trying to censor them, and comparing them with Stalin and Mao. Because saying, "WTF, guys, that's completely inappropriate," is totally censorship, and that's exactly like Stalin and Mao murdering millions of people.

Most of the current upset is about their response, more than the original column, when it comes to Resnick and Malzberg. Now, add in the fact that one of the bulletin covers during this time was of Red Sonya in a chain mail bikini -- in a snowy, mountainous setting, which makes it that much more ridiculous. And as the cherry on top, someone else published an opinion piece in the Bulletin talking about how women should be like Barbie, who has "quiet dignity," as a woman should, and how that's given her longevity in our culture. Because women should totally stay still and quiet, and if they don't then whatever happens is their own fault.

It was a perfect storm of fail, and SFWA is hearing about it. It's not all about Resnick and Malzberg, but they were the primary triggers.


Suzan Harden said...

I've been watching this #epicfail with a bit of amusement and a larger helping of horror.

As much as I'd like to think our generation has eliminated the "isms" that plagued our parents, it's all still in existence, just driven underground until some idiot pops up like a whack-a-mole to spout their drivel. *sigh*

Angie said...

Suzan -- I've never thought we'd eliminated the -isms, but I'd still like to think we've throttled back on them a bit. [crossed fingers] But yeah, there are still privileged idiots scattered through the population who think it's fine to dismiss or disrespect people who aren't like them.

And in the case of the older generations, part of the problem is that I'd bet cookies Resnick and Malzberg thought they were being complimentary. [sigh/facepalm] Old-fashioned gallantry might've meant well, at least on the surface, but it was developed in a time when woman's sphere was purely social (even though it wasn't, particularly among working class women, but of course they didn't count) and the idea of a woman being treated as a fellow professional whatever wasn't even a concept to be considered.

I still wish all the folks who've long made a living inventing different cultures and wrapping their minds around different possible futures would've kept up with what was gonig on around them over the decades. :/


Steve Malley said...

Being so damn out of touch lately (since the quake, really), I of course missed all this.

Great article, though, and it did get me thinking about my own situation: I live in a country and culture that on the one hand has more women in positions of leadership and real power than would be imaginable in the US. Come to think of it, ethnic minorities and GLBT folk are much better represented at the top of the ladder too.

On the other hand, this is also a place where gender roles and such can seem straight out of the 1950's. It feels like subtle sexism when you go to a party and women cluster in the kitchen with wine while the men must go out on the deck with beer, and it feels like a vague form of homophobia that a bloke feels daring if he wears a pink shirt.

I don't know, I just have trouble reconciling this stuff... Then, when you factor in that 'changing bar' the article mentioned, it all gets even more confusing.

I mean, those old dinosaurs with their winks and 'little lady' remarks and all the rest are moving through a landscape changed out of all recognition. I grew up with a feminism that sought to erase gender boundaries, in which any but the most painstakingly negotiated sexualization was taboo.

Now I move through a world in which pole-dancing is a sport, women parade naked to protest 'slut shaming', and my GLBT mates fight hard against heteronormativity.

All of which I think is great. The 'ideal equality' I grew up with was a weak, anemic thing, a fitting product of a time in which 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was seen as a breakthrough policy. The changes I see now are healthy and amazing, but they do take some getting used to.

Which I guess means, I can see how a couple of old farts might have trouble keeping up.. :)

Steve Malley said...

Whoa, just saw the length of that comment- sorry! :o

Angie said...

Steve -- no prob, I post humongous comments on other people's blogs all the time. :D

If you look back to what things were like in the 50s, then yes, there's been a huge amount of change. Someone who was frozen in 1956 and thawed out last month would have a lot to catch up on, and a huge amount of confusion and faux pas would be understandable. But older people have lived through the changes. They had a chance to pay attention, and see what was happening, one day at a time. It's not tough to absorb the changes if you check in periodically as time goes on. It's only if you completely ignore social justice issues for a few decades that it looks like things have "suddenly" done a one-eighty on you.

BTW, it's great to hear from you again. [hugz] I hope things are going well with you, and that you all are recovering from the quake. :/