(Update regarding comments: if you’re here to leave a flippant comment about the issue in question, it is unlikely to get through. Either engage or move on. This is likely to become my comment policy from now on because I really don’t have patience for people who want to treat my comments section as if my blog were an opinion piece on HuffPost.)
If you missed the events of the last 36 hours, you should probably catch up here. I linked to that post earlier today; in short, Charles A. Tan takes an editor to task for their problematic anthology submission guidelines, among other related things. Earlier today, that same editor, after declaring on Twitter that they felt persecuted by people like Tan, etc., decided to delete his Twitter account and make his FB profile inaccessible (I think the latter is true). This came on the heels of this editor’s belief that he was being bullied by the people who he had un-affectionately called “rotten meat” (you can see the Twitter exchange for part of that here).
I’m not here to talk about the editor’s submission guidelines or any of the major criticisms offered by Tan or others regarding what this editor has said about Africa and other things. Instead, I want to talk about the charge that Tan, myself, and others who have criticized the editor (Natalie Luhrs and Jim C. Hines, for example) are bullies. In short, I will say this: criticism is not the same as bullying.
- Being told why a position you took is racist
- Being told why something you wrote could be misconstrued as X
- Being told why your editorial decisions are contradictory and are not as inclusive as you think
- Being told you got something wrong
- Being told you offended someone
- Being told you said something sexist
- Being told you need to think about things and stop resorting to name-calling because you got criticized
Second, bullying is a far more pervasive and insidious practice than some who use its name seem willing to accept. A good definition of bullying can be found on the U.S. government website, Stop Bullying. I won’t include the whole definition here, but here is a relevant excerpt:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.
Let’s toss aside the bit about children because I think most of us would agree that bullying can happen between adults, too. The same page lists a number of behavior types which are defined as bullying, from taunting to unwanted sexual comments to name-calling (i.e., a variation of an ad hominem attack, to be honest) to exclusion , etc. Notice that the definition makes clear that power is an essential feature.
If I could criticize this page, it would be that it doesn’t make explicit the difference between normal social control (wherein a behavior is rationally excluded on the basis that it is bad — i.e., someone who believes women shouldn’t have any rights and belong to men) vs. coercive social violence (i.e., using ridicule, public shaming, and other tools to prevent someone with legitimate concerns from engaging in a community, such as a woman who speaks out about a sexual assault being repeatedly told by a community and the police that she should shut up — see Steubenville). I think these are valid distinctions. The former is a normal consequence of a social culture (women wouldn’t have the rights they have now without some variation of social control); the latter is abusive and can happen in a variety of situations and in a variety of communities, even sf/f (such as someone being blacklisted on the sole basis that other people don’t like them).
None of what falls under the “bullying” category should be misconstrued as “criticism.”
Here’s what bullying means to me:
- It means being afraid you’ll get punched by someone with a spiked ring, but also so terrified to tell an adult because you don’t think they’ll do anything about it and because you’re afraid the kid will follow you home and punch you when you’re off school grounds.
- It means feeling helpless to protect yourself and feeling like nobody else will help you even if you really need it.
- It means being openly ridiculed for literally no viable reason (you’re short; they just don’t like you; they want someone to pick on; they don’t like your glasses; they don’t like your hair; you have freckles; you look different; you talk different; you wear the wrong clothes) and being unable to stop yourself form taking on the names and knock pegs off your self-esteem.
- It means running home from the bus because you’re afraid of what the other kids will do to you.
- It means closing in on yourself because you can’t reason with someone who hates you for no reason, who won’t listen to adults, who looks for every opportunity to punish you, who follows you around, who abuses you physically and mentally, who reminds you that you’re really just a worthless pile of shit.
- It means starting to believe that you just might be worthless, or close enough to it.