Moderating the Community and the Cost of Respect

In a recent blog post, Alastair Reynolds took on what he perceives to be the instantaneous vitriol that peppers (or, perhaps, consumes) the SF/F community on a regular basis.  Hence the title:  "Does it have to be this way?"  It's essentially an argument for moderation by way of a questioning of the current state of discussion in this community, and it's an interesting question to ask.

Does it have to be this way?  No.  That's kind of the point.  Most of these discussions don't have to begin and end with vitriol, though I think some of them require a certain firmness and uncompromising language (some).  In fact, it's entirely reasonable to expect two people from different camps to have a reasonable discussion about a hot topic and come out having actually learned something (I do this on G+ all the time).  I've certainly been guilty of jumping without much care to where I land, and it's something that I've tried to rectify to avoid the trap of attack over substance (it's an ongoing process).  I'm certainly not successful on all counts, and it has taken some degree of effort to hone my pouncing instincts so I'm not pouncing when I should be doing something else.  Even then, I try to pick my battles with some degree of care.

I'm sympathetic, then, to Reynold's question and implied argument:  there is some need for, if not value in, moderating the community, especially in situations when the benefit of the doubt is actually necessary.  This is something I've started to consider further in my own case, as even I have had a tendency to leap into things, believing I'm in the right, when I may be doing more harm than good.  After all, it is possible I've misread situations, seeing what is obviously offensive to me, but missing what was the intention.  That's not to suggest that intention gets one out of doing something boneheaded, mind you, but I do think intention should be taken into account more often than it is within our community.  If our community did more of that, perhaps we'd have more dialogue between various groups.

For example, there's the response to Paul Kemp's original masculinity argument (which I sort of responded to here).  I think there are serious issues with what he claimed, particularly in the assumptions he raised and reinforced in order to get to his point, but I also went into that discussion realizing Kemp's intentions were not malignant.  I understood the point he was trying to make, and so I tried to address that point without actually dealing with the individual (in part because I've talked with Kemp in the past and can't see Kemp as deliberately "starting shit," though his most recent post on this subject has thrown me for a loop).  Even Alex MacFarlane's post on non-binary SF (which I responded to here) contains arguments I think are stretching; but the intention behind that post was, overall, a good one.  The responses to MacFarlane's post, however, have been, at least where the "opposition" is concerned, hardly measured.  In some cases, they have been downright mean and accusatory, as if their authors were personally offended by the content of MacFarlane's argument.  I'll admit that it's probably easy to find the patience for intention when it comes from someone with whom you're likely to already agree, but every time I read MacFarlane's post, I cannot fathom why some of the responses have been so vitriolic.

Except now.  Now, I'm starting to understand.  Now, I recognize part of the trend in so many ragefests in our community (from any side).  Sometimes moderation doesn't work because the parties involved have sacrificed respect for the other in the service of whatever point they want to make.  And in the face of that, it is impossible to take a moderate position (in the loosest sense -- discussion over attack) when the thing to which you are responding has already committed offense without consideration of its impact.  In Reynolds' post, for example, one commenter basically implied that they should be able to identify a transgender person by their biologically defined sex and attending gender without push back by others. Reynolds rightly called this person out for the comment, and it is still there as of the writing of this post.

These sorts of arguments are almost explicit in their rejection of empathy and respect for another individual.  The opinion isn't the concern; rather, it is the complete disinterest in the personal desires of the individual.  In this argument, it doesn't matter what a transgender person feels or prefers; what matters is what is "the majority opinion" or "whatever suits my personal opinion of the matter."  That's problematic on its own.  Yet, this same argument either implies or explicitly states that refusing the empathic or respectful position deserves absolute respect and compromise for itself.  It's an argument for consequence-free social action, which itself is a justification not for moderation, but the extreme.  Yet, when this is pointed out to people who reject en mass the entirety of gender as a fluid social construct, they refuse, even on grounds of empathy, to give way, and become further entrenched.  It is as if the very idea of a transgender person being offended by being ignored and rejected out of hand is an offense in and of itself.

For me, much of this comes down to the cost.  It is one thing to demand respect for a position which directly affects others in a negative sense.  If, for example, I were to demand respect for my position that we should boot all libertarians from the SFWA because I think they're fascist pig monkeys (note:  I do not actually believe this), you would be right in giving me no ground whatsoever, especially if you are a libertarian.  But what exactly is lost by calling someone by the gender they believe they are?  I mean that question seriously:  what is lost by compromising on this point?  It costs us nothing to say "well, you want me to use the female pronoun, so I shall do so."  It costs us nothing to acknowledge that individuals are different from ourselves and, in most cases, deserve respect on that front alone.

But it does cost us something to ignore our natural empathic responses and reduce people to our own personal representations.  It's a social cost, and one everyone has to pay when they screw up.  We all pay those costs, but the point of paying a cost for bad or harmful social action (generally speaking) is to learn from it.  Those who don't shouldn't be surprised if others feel disrespected by what they say.  And if they're not surprised, you have to wonder why they won't give even that little bit of ground when it costs them absolutely nothing.

Moderation, in other words, requires reasoned respect.

Non-Binary SF/F and Message Fiction (or, “I don’t know what that is or why non-binary SF/F fits”)

(Note:  comments will be monitored on this post due to the nature of the debate surrounding this topic.  I hope I won't have to remove anything, but I have a low tolerance for rude behavior right now.  If you can't make your point without being a jackass, even if that point agrees with my own, then take it elsewhere.)

You might have seen the response to Alex MacFarlane's post, "Post-Binary Gender in SF:  Introduction."  If not, you can read the words of Jim C. Hines and Justin Landon, who both have things to say of their own.  I'm not going to address content of the primary response to MacFarlane (well, not the whole of it, anyway) or offer a line-by-line critique a la Hines.  Rather, I want to talk about a specific issue within this debate:  message fiction.  I would also be remiss to neglect to mention my post entitled "Gender Essentialism, Genre, and Me," which is amusingly relevant to the larger discussion being had in the community right now.

First, though I'm going to try to tease out the definition of message fiction in general by the end of this post, I should note that I'm not altogether clear on what certain individuals mean when they revile message fiction, except insofar as the politics are concerned.  Of the many references some in this debate have made to "the message", none of them properly defines the term and most engage with a strawman version of MacFarlan'es argument.  MacFarlane's column concerns the tendency to marginalize works which feature non-binary genders by exceptionalizing them.  Her primary example is The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, which she says has been held up as the pinnacle of post-binary SF, while other equally important works have fallen away, such that we are constantly "re-discovering" them:
It seems to me that there’s a similar process for post-binary texts: they exist, but each reader must discover them anew amid a narrative that says they are unusual, they are rare, they sit outside the standard set of stories. This, at least, has been my experience. I want to dismantle the sediment—to not only talk about post-binary texts and bring them to attention of more readers, but to do away with the default narrative.
MacFarlane, in other words, is interested in this narrative, not quotas or checklists -- the narrative which says "these texts about non-binary genders are not normal precisely because they are unusual."  The problem with this narrative is in its ability to provide a rationale for ignorance, not on some political territory where these works must be ignored because they violate some central tenet of an "ism" -- though this is true to an extent -- but rather on the simple basis of cultural amnesia.  If we are not talking about works of a particular form, we are submitting to the possibility that those works will be forgotten, and along with them, the value they produce for the communities to which they might belong.  It is for this reason, I think, that she begins the post with the following:  "I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories" (emphasis mine).  The word "default" is not insignificant in the context of the entire post.[1]  The post isn't calling for fiction to deliberately include non-binary genders for the sake of doing so (i.e., for an agenda); rather, it calls for SF/F to remove the default assumptions about gender in order to open up wider possibilities for inclusion (who does the including isn't exactly relevant, since nobody has to do anything here).  I think this is a far too lofty goal, and deeply hyperbolic, but it seems like some have missed that careful nuance for one reason or another.  The idea that all SF/F must, by necessity, court the content of MacFarlane's argument isn't a notion supported by the argument itself. 

In all of this, the question for me becomes:  do the works MacFarlane wishes to discuss in this series deserve to be remembered?  Personally, I think they do for various reasons, though the most relevant here, I think, is the fact that these works, even in their most obscure forms, are an example of SF/F's remarkable imaginative, extrapolative, and critical potential.  And that potential is not isolated to "stuffy" works; rather, it is found in a whole sea of exceptional and memorable texts from before the codification of the genres to the present.  This is what SF/F does best!  Most of the time, it's a lot of fun (in my entirely subjective opinion).

All of this brings me back to the point about "message fiction."  The entirety of discussion about this topic concerns a term which has no defined criteria by which we can discern message fiction from just fiction.  The only criteria, as far as I can tell, is that message fiction isn't fun, but since "fun" is entirely subjective, it's impossible to apply that in any significant way.  Some who attack message fiction provide an explanation for one of message fiction's functions, which is to subvert the natural drive of a narrative by bogging down the whole with an agenda, but the best explanation on offer boils down to "here are some works which have messages."  Even upon a deeper search into certain individuals' posts revealed little useful material for understanding, at the very least, how they define the term.  There are numerous claims about liberals taking over Worldcon, making it impossible for conservative message stories (or books by conservatives, by extension) to appear on the ballots[3] and people avoiding SF because of messages.  At what point does fiction with political issues in them become "preachy" or "message-y"?  No idea.  The argument is never made; we're simply supposed to accept it as accurate on the basis of someone's word, which you'll notice is quite difficult when so much of the discussion centers around political affiliations (liberals this, liberals that).  The claims are weirdly paranoid, like the Illuminati itself has taken over SF and only these folks have figured it out.  If you replaced every iteration of "liberal" with "human-skin-wearing lizard people," it would surely bring its own kind of entertainment.  Perhaps this is what one means by "the message"?[4]  At best, the term has a nebulous casing, with possible good and bad examples of "message fiction," but no clear sense for how they connect or disconnect from one another.

In the end, I was left with a question:  what is message fiction and why is non-binary SF/F naturally lumped within its borders?  Strangely, the post that (sort of) helped me most had nothing to do with the original conversation behind all of this or any specific discussion in SF/F:  Mike Duran's 2011 post entitled "The Problem with 'Message-Driven' Fiction."[6]  Duran's post concerns Christian publishing and the divided camps within it:  those who subscribe to nuance and subtlety and those who believe Christian literature should be driven by a specific message.  What it comes down to is agenda or intent.  Duran argues that many Christian writers believe fiction's purpose is to send along a specifically Christian message (presumably it's a more fundamentalist message, but it's not strictly relevant to Duran, and neither is it for me in this instance).  In the process of supporting this argument, he wonders, as do I, when writing a theme, idea, concept, and so on becomes an actual problem (i.e., a message in the form of fiction rather than a fiction with a message):
When an author’s “message” subjugates the story, co-opts characters for the purpose of delivering that message, and uses the novel as a platform for that message, at that point something’s out of whack.
Duran provides a specific example to support his claim:  the Christian view of hope.  Granted, it's a softball choice, since "hope" is hardly the sort of thing to spark debates, but if you translate "hope" to any other value that is associated with Christianity (good or bad), you can get the idea.  In Duran's view, Christian fiction in its rigid, monolithic form focuses on the message at the expense of the narrative, such that the fiction itself is tangential to the message:  if you pull the story and world away, the message would remain intact.  But like others, he doesn't provide all of the necessary criteria to concretize the concept. As I've already said, it, at best, comes down to intent:  message fiction serves a purpose that is clearly defined by the creator and which is meant to foist individual values through a fictional medium to the public; in so doing, the narrative ceases to matter, except to conclude or complete the image of the message.  In the case of Christian fiction, this seems to serve two clear purposes:  1) to represent the narrow interests of a specific religious affiliation, and 2) to reinforce values for those who already agree with the message, which Duran notes may explain why many Christian authors don't see an issue with jamming messages into the work to fulfill the dictates of an agenda.

Though I think this post helped me grasp the mechanisms of message fiction, Duran's post still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.  For one, his post concerns Christian fiction, which has its own thematic milieu and agendas, many of which do not translate into other arenas; how might these same ideas apply to other formats?  Duran is, at least, careful not to say that all messages are inherently bad, just that focusing primarily on message is detrimental overall because it limits perspective (for the writer and the reader).  But, again, the criteria remain fuzzy.  And by this point, all I've got is intent and "not fun."  Neither of those are particularly useful.[7][8]

Regardless, I'd like to take a moment to talk about one of the key questions I raised in the title:  why does non-binary SF/F automatically fall into the domain of message fiction?  As far as I can tell, the rationale is political.  Because those who typically discuss non-traditional genders are overwhelmingly liberal, the desire to include such things in SF/F can only be read as "a message."  But since "message fiction" is neither concrete nor particularly useful for assessing anything, especially since one cannot escape messages and produce "pure fiction," the political demarcation seems absurdly partisan.  These things are liberal ideas; therefore, their inclusion is bad.  What seems apparent to me is the way "message fiction" is used within certain communities:  as a method for dismissing fiction on the basis of its content, but with the added bonus of making a political statement.  It's an attempt at the apolitical or non-political which is itself political.

There is also the more disturbing matter, which goes to the heart of MacFarlane's post:  for reasons I don't quite understand, inclusion in and of itself is not necessarily "message fiction," but calling for that inclusion is.  Some have essentially argued this point without a hint of irony; it seems suspect that the overwhelming response from one side of this debate (one which I won't attribute to a universal political subject) is along these lines.  It's fine if an author puts some transgender characters in a book all on their own, but to challenge the fact that such characters are almost never seen and to argue that this should be rectified is suddenly a problem.  Since MacFarlane's post is a challenge to the default (i.e., these are the two genders deserving of representation), it should go without saying that the intent is not to arbitrarily insert characters as challenges (i.e., to make a point on this issue), but rather to open the gates so inclusion is no longer seen as an issue.  It's about normalizing what isn't perceive as normal, even though it is.[9]  Part of the project demands giving attention to works which have already done this.  But the other part of that project means opening the discussion to the issue of gender at large to rectify what is the marginalization by the dominant cultural narrative of binaries.  The fact that male/female is perceived as the default is the real problem.  And if that isn't the message so many writers are sending the people who read their work when they refuse to represent non-binary genders or treat those genders poorly, then neither is the desire for inclusion.

On a final note, I'd also like to point to a recent post by S.L. Huang, who argues against the politicizing of existence:
People with non-binary genders aren’t an agenda. They exist. They’re reality. Same with people of nonwhite races and non-Western ethnicities and queer orientations. I don’t consider my existence to be part of some “liberal agenda”—in fact, my personal political ideology might be considered quite conservative in many respects, but my existence is neither conservative nor liberal.  And neither is anyone else’s. (emphasis theirs)
And on that note, I leave it to the Internet.


[1]:  It's possible this argument is nuanced further in the comments somewhere, but I am concerned primarily with the rhetoric of MacFarlane's original post.

[2]:  Very little of the arguments against MacFarlane seem to have anything to do with the content of her; the point seems to be to construct an annoying strawman (in both senses here) so one can easily topple it, but in doing so, they miss the actual argument.  The phrase "man screaming at the clouds" has been thrown around already.  In this case, I don't think the image is inaccurate.

[3]:  Global warming, racism, sexism, etc. has also been defined as definitely liberal concerns, which I find offensive not because I'm a conservative, but because this binary seems utterly facile.  Presumably, one can find conservatives who agree with some of the above these issues, or are such people merely RHINOs (I suppose CHINO would make more sense, but WTF is a CHINO anyway)?

[4]:  I'd also like to note that some have routinely claimed that message fiction is the direct result of lower sales in SF/F.  I can't find the statistical evidence for the conclusion, as anecdotes (readers say X, for example) seems to be the foundation of the claim.  It's a matter of causality vs. correlation.  There might be a correlation, assuming one can define message fiction in any stable sense, but proving a causal link requires considerably more rigor.

[5]:  One of commenters in this debate (who is also an author) has written a post trying to elucidate the "problem," but since this individual finds it appropriate to joke about the mass extermination of people based on political affiliation (har har har), I'm just going to ignore them from here on out.  And before anyone says "well, liberals do that to," you can take a giant Fuck Off pill.  I don't care if some liberals do the same thing.  One person's bad behavior is not a valid reason to do the same thing yourself.  Anyone who does this is a jackass.

[6]:  Duran has the benefit of having written a post specifically about the issue at hand, which means I don't have to piece together references from multiple blog posts and hundreds of comments.

[7]:  At this point, I hope it's clear that I'm not looking for subjective standards of review.  If there is such a thing as "message fiction," the criteria should be specific and clear enough that just about anyone can assess whether a work of fiction falls within the category.  Objectivity vs. subjectivity.

[8]:  I have to tell my students to ignore intent when it comes literary works, since it is often difficult to find out what people actually meant to do when they wrote something.  Even if the intent is clear, the work itself may not provide an accurate reflection of that intent.  Short of extremely obvious examples (Oliver Bolokitten's "A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation, in the Year of Our Lord 18--," perhaps), it's just not a feasible criterion.

(Bolokitten was the pseudonym for Jerome B. Holgate; he wrote the story as a screed against abolitionists and then self-published it.  It's a hilarious work, to be honest, but only because we live in 2014.  I suspect it was horrendously offensive in its some.)

[9]:  There's nothing inherently abnormal about the various genders, though I'll admit that I'm not an expert in the field.

Gender Essentialism, Genre, and Me

I'm late to the party.  The first major SF/F controversy party.  And while this post won't be about Kemp's argument specifically, it does come out of the discussions about his post -- most particularly the criticisms.[1]

Part of the problem I have with traditional gender roles is the way they assume what manhood (or womanhood) is based on behaviors which are definitively not gendered.  There's nothing explicitly masculine about aggression or nobility.  There's nothing explicitly feminine about child rearing, except insofar as it is currently required for women to be the carriers of unborn children.  Gender essentalism, however, assumes there are definitely gendered behaviors, such that chivalry is read as "male/masculine" and cowardice is read as "female/feminine."  If this association sounds negative, that's because the construction of male/female or masculine/feminine is frequently a negative.  These associations are also oriented around agency, where masculine behaviors are active and feminine behaviors are passive.  There are all manner of gendered constructions, and each is based on arbitrary, culturally-determined factors.

The impact of gender essentialism in this particular context is often unintended, but, by the nature of a culture's ability to transmit its behavioral modes, it is also pervasive.  We are all coded by our
gender without ever having a say in the matter.  My culture tells me I should behave in certain ways because that is what men do; it tells me there is a true form of manhood; and it tells me that I am deviant, even in an innocuous sense, if I do not conform to these standards.  It's that absence of agency which should make all of us pause.  In effect, I am, as Louis Althusser might argue, interpellated by/into my culture's gender paradigms as it codes my identify for me and I, as all children do, react by internalizing these values.[2]  As I grew older, it became clear how pervasive and abusive these standards and values were.  When I was told as a young man that I was not masculine (i.e., male enough) because I did not engage in feats of strength, it was implied that I must acquire that masculine behavior to properly assert my manhood.  If I wasn't into sports, I was naturally feminine.  If I shared my emotions, I was more woman than man.  In other words, my youth was a process of cultural assault, by which my behaviors had to be coded along gender lines, interpreted, and then rejected if they did not conform to the norm.  This is not exactly a unique experience, either, though my examples above are certainly reductive.

Women are told all manner of similar things, too, so I imagine I'm not wrong in asserting that the psychological impact of gender essentialism is rarely positive for any gender.  It reinforces gender roles as fixed, when in fact they are anything but, and it shames those who do not conform by implicitly stripping them of their gender and assigning a new one.  Thus, women who are aggressive are "manly."  A great genre example is Grace Jones' performance of Zula in Conan the Destroyer (1984).
Here, we're presented with a woman who is every bit as aggressive and noble (or not) as Conan (Schwarzenegger).  She wields spears and screams warcries as she cuts into enemies.  She doesn't shy from battle or give in to injury or the intimacy of others.[3]  But she is definitively a woman, and expresses that behavior in ways particular to herself, not to her gender.[4]  That she is the female opposite of Conan is not insignificant:  she isn't an enigma, but the embodiment of an anti-essentialist stance on gender (incomplete though that stance may be).  Women can be warriors without becoming "men."  Women can be brutal and limited in their emotional expression without sacrificing their gender association.

In other words, this idea that there are "gendered behaviors" in any pure or stable sense should seem absurd to all of us.  We can easily point to examples whereat someone behaves contrary to their assigned gender, and yet in doing so, they do not cease to be whatever gender they so choose.[5]  That's the point I think more of us need to grasp in the SF/F/H community.  If you want to write characters who behave like chivalrous knights, then do so.  But there's no reason to assume those characters must be male, or that their behaviors are masculine by nature.  We can do without thinking in those terms.  We'd certainly be better without it...


[1]:  Based on my interactions with Mr. Kemp, I think I am correct in saying that his post was ill-considered in certain respects.  I understand what he is trying to say, but his methods for making that point were unintentionally sexist.  Instead of saying "I like writing masculine stories because men," he might have said "I like writing stories that feature these virtues and behaviors."  He might even have said he is most comfortable writing men, which is hardly an offense in my opinion.  I, for example, am only semi-comfortable writing men, which might explain why many of my protagonists (in written, not published fiction) are women (or sometimes something other than straight white guys); whether my writing is good is a whole different question.  In any case, it's the fact that his post reinforces traditional gender roles and applies certain virtuous actions specifically to male behavior which poses the problem for most.

[2]:  This is a horrible reduction of Althusser's work.  I hope you'll forgive me.

[3]:  In all fairness, she is perhaps naturally distrustful of others because she is treated quite poorly by the people of her world.  I wish she had appeared in more Conan films, though.  Zula is such a fascinating character, and easily one of my favorites.

[4]:  I should note that Zula was actually a man in the comic books.  She may not be the best example to make my point, but I love her, so I'm sticking to it...

[5]:  I realize that there is some slipperiness in the terminology here.  I am absolutely not talking about biological sex in the main, but gender as an assignment of identity.  I just don't buy into the idea that there are behaviors that are gender coded outside of those particular to one's sex.  Obviously, these gender assignments are based on sex to some degree in our culture.

Link of the Week: Amal El-Mohtar Calls for the Expulsion of Theodore Beale from SFWA

You've probably already seen it, but if you haven't, here you go.  If you scroll down to the comments section, you can see a lot of other responses to the situation.

In short, Theodore Beale (a.k.a. Vox Day) is our resident loud-mouthed racist and misogynist.  This is not a bit of name calling.  This is just established fact.  The things he's written about women and people of color so clearly define him as among the most vile minds among us that I'm surprised it took until Amal's post to spark serious discussion about expelling him from the SFWA.  Then again, I suppose this is the first time he's explicitly broken "the rules."  And that's the crux of the matter:  Beale/Day used an official SFWA space to increase his readership (as opposed to N.K. Jemisin who gave a speech at a non-SFWA function), and in doing so, he turned SFWA's voice into a loudspeaker for racism.  It's like the guy comes straight out of a D.W. Griffith film...

I may have more to say about this whole thing later, but if not, there's plenty of interesting stuff to read in Amal's post alone.  The links at the bottom of that post add a whole lot more.


SFWA, Sexism, and Progress (A Response to Jason Sanford)

(Note:  I originally intended this as a short comment on this recent post by Jason Sanford.  In his post, he basically suggests that the men in our field need to stand up and say "no" to sexism; his post is, I think quite obviously, a response to the SFWA Bulletin kerfluffle from this weekend, which he also wrote about here.  Both of his posts are worth reading.  In any case, my response will maintain its original format, so assume the "you" refers to Sanford.)

I've found it rather frustrating to hear people defend some of these sexists (or people engaging in sexist activity) against attack (I'm not using any particular individual in this comment, even though I think it's obvious that your post is in response to the SFWA Bulletin thing).  They often say things like "attacking the person is wrong" or "they are really nice people" and so on and so forth.  I don't doubt that a lot of people who say or do sexist things don't realize that what they're
doing is, in fact, sexist (not all, but some).  Some of them have always done these things and probably haven't been formally challenged before; their responses, in many cases, are not unusual in that respect.  When you've done something your whole life, and have never been properly challenged for that behavior, a shift in the dialogue surrounding said behavior may seem like an attack on one's person.  I am, of course, speaking from my own assumptions and from my own experiences as someone who considered himself a pro-women's-rights-but-not-a-feminist man who subscribed to a number of sexist concepts/ideas/assumptions without realizing they were sexist.  Granted, I've never seriously suggested anything quite as batshit as we've seen among the radical contingent in SF/F (i.e., the Vox Days).

But there comes a point at which we have to demand change.  Just because you are a nice person and you do nice things for writers and what not is not an excuse for us to ignore other poor behavior.  Bad behavior is bad behavior.  Holding our tongues just because someone is a nice person or because it's supposedly "civil" will not change that behavior.  People who defend the sexists in our midst sometimes don't understand that leaving such behavior unchallenged actually validates it.  It reinforces the behavior.  While it's a nice thought to suggest that women should have stood up for themselves back in the day, we have to remember that a lot of the ideas we've seen raised in official SF/F platforms are descended from a time when women didn't have the political authority to change things from the inside -- not if they wanted careers in SF/F.  In some respects, that's still true (as you noted when you pointed to Ann Aguirre's disheartening post about her treatment as a woman in our community -- the hate mail is horrifying).  SF/F is getting better, but it is not helped by leaving sexism or any nasty ism unchecked.  And that means telling people off for shitty behavior.  I'm not sure how you do that without making those individuals realize that there is a social cost for said behavior, which is where I tend to disagree with some defenders who call foul on ad hominem attacks -- if the statement is true, then the fallacious form does not arise.

Another thing that annoys me about this discussion is the odd, and sometimes occasional, double standard.  For some reason, we're supposed to accept sexist behavior as "something you wave off," whereas other isms are unacceptable.  If X spends an entire column saying anti-Semitic or clearly racist things, we are right to look down on that -- you don't talk about *insert racial slurs here* in our community without paying the social cost everyone else pays.  But if X say a bunch of sexist things, suddenly you can't go after them.  We just have to realize they're nice guys, and we should show them the same respect they...don't show to women?  (See N.K. Jemisin's comment below for why everything in this paragraph is bullcrap.)

I think that's bullshit.  There isn't an easy way to point out sexism without going after the person.  Behavior comes from within.  Good people look at criticism of their behavior and learn from it.  They don't self-censor.  They learn.  I've learned a hell of a lot the last few years, despite having always been a feminist (sorta -- see above).  And it has made me a better person, because I recognized my own failings, my own sexist inclinations (inherited from a still largely sexist culture), and I worked on them.  That's not censorship.  That's not thought-policing.  That's what we do when we want to make for a better world.  We try to be better people.

I think it's fair to say that you and I (or anybody) are not expecting perfection.*  We are expecting some semblance of growth, though.  It's no longer acceptable to say "back in my day, we could do whatever we wanted and nobody said a thing."  That kind of logic allows one to support all manner of poor behaviors.  Progress doesn't happen when we are stuck in the past.  It happens when we learn from the past and try to move towards something better.  Humanity is an imperfect beast, and part of life, in my mind, is trying to reach the next step on the way to perfection.  It's like a ladder to the stars:  each new rung brings us closer to the nearest star, until finally we reach it and realize there are other stars to reach, and so we continue putting up new rungs.

I'm rambling.  The point is that I agree with the notion that we all need to speak out against this behavior (though some of us never will).  We need to support the people who have already spoken out, whether they are women or men.  Sexism is wrong (obvious statement is obvious).  No.  It's bullshit.  We should call it out when we see it, no matter our genders.  And we should definitely make sure it no longer uses the voice of the various professional organizations in our field, because that's the last place these kind of behaviors belong.

And I'll shut up now...


*The original sentence did not include the "not."  I've since corrected that.