Want to Criticize Women? Nevermind Their Ideas, Just Go Straight for the Clothes (Updated)

If anyone’s still wondering why we’re all still talking about sexism and SFWA (that Truesdale petition is so last week), the fact that much of the criticism of SFWA has centered around former VP Mary Robinette Kowal specifically should be a gigantic clue. John Scalzi was president of SFWA when Mary was VP, and it’s Scalzi, as well as current president Steven Gould, who bear the most responsibility for pushing through some of the changes that have apparently rankled those who prefer the status quo. However, they’re not getting the brunt of the criticism and vitriol in this latest round of WTFkery – Mary is, and the form it’s all taking is unmistakably misogynistic:

“It just occurred to me that MRK seems to be deeply involved in this whole anti-sexism matter. I remember seeing her posing with Hines and Scalzi on one of their very scary cover parodies, and I know she chimed in with a snipe at the petition signers on the Radish thread. I find it very funny and ironic that she would jump on this bandwagon. For a long time, her website featured an array of photos of her in a diaphanous white outfit, posing on a beach. No metal bikinis or such, but they were not innocuous writer headshots either. One of them, with her recumbent on the sand with legs exposed, made her somewhat attractive. I also recall she’s fond of wearing tight-fitting gowns and plunging necklines when she attends cons and award ceremonies. I’ll have to add “phony” to “incompetent” and “arrogant” in the mental tags I’ve assigned her.”

Going for the "But look at what she wears!" line? Really??

Going for the “But look at what she wears!” line? Really??

That lovely ditty is by one Sean P. Fodera, who by the by, thinks nothing of threatening to sue people who are sharing is public posts. I can’t even begin to parse his comment comparing his reaction to Mary to his phobia of dogs. Apparently Mary’s crime is that she’s talking about sexism as a problem even though SHOCKHORROR she’s “fond of wearing tight-fitting gowns and plunging necklines” – because we all know that a woman who wears such things is clearly asking for people to treat her in a sexist manner and anything she says criticizing sexism is obviously hypocritical, amirite?

Unsurprisingly, there are already responses wondering if this is really sexism, because aren’t some people criticizing Mary because they disagree with her politics? 1) The two aren’t mutually exclusive and 2) If you honestly can’t tell whether or not implying that a woman isn’t worth listening to because of what she likes to wear is in fact sexism, I can’t do anything for you because it really can’t get any more clear than that.

I highly recommend reading Mary’s own words about the issue because what she’s experienced, both as VP of SFWA and elsewhere, is not at all uncommon. This in particular bears repeating:

And this is the part that I feel I should draw attention to — I was “mostly” laughing. I was also having mild stress reactions. Dry sweats, elevated heart rate. I was ready to shrug them off as, “Meh, doesn’t materially affect me. I’ve seen worse.”

Until someone pointed it out that I was basically saying, “I’m inured to being abused, because I was abused for years.” See… the things those folks are saying in that public forum? When I was in office, they would email that bile directly to me and because I was an officer, I could not chose to ignore it. I had to read every single one. And I had to reply politely to them. Strangely, sometimes I had trouble doing that, but a polite response was the one that was expected.

Just because I'm being polite, doesn't mean you're not being a jerk.

Just because I’m being polite, doesn’t mean you’re not being a jerk.

This is the norm many, many women have to live with. This is why admonishments that we should just be “more polite” when calling out sexism and misogyny makes us angry. We’ve already been polite – we’ve had to be in order for people to take us seriously, because getting angry, even when it’s justified, is a ready excuse to dismiss anything a woman might have to say. Now that people, including women, are speaking up and calling out sexism for what it is, even in the most polite way possible, it’s still being characterized as “angry” because it’s forcing people to acknowledge that sexism is still a problem.

I can’t put it any better than this comment on Scalzi’s response to this latest round of sexist horseshit:

This is the reason we have got to give up on the dignified silence response to bigotry. Because dignified silence allows people to go on having no idea. Enough was enough a long time ago.

Amen to that.

UPDATE: 2/17/2014, 5:55pm: In case anyone’s curious, Mary posted a link to the infamous “diaphanous white gown on the beach” photos that apparently got Fodera so hot under the collar. Ye gods, someone fetch my clutching pearls, she’s showing ANKLE! Although she could have been prancing around in Princess Leia’s metal bikini and it still wouldn’t change how wrong it is to point to a woman’s sartorial choices as a reason not to listen to her or take her seriously.

UPDATE: 2/18/2014, 11:00am: This sums the entire ridiculous affair up in one neat image. (original imgur link here)

MRK and Sexism

3 Replies to “Want to Criticize Women? Nevermind Their Ideas, Just Go Straight for the Clothes (Updated)”

  1. Of course you should be more polite to them, because misogyny totally isn’t rude or disrespectful….

    And as far as SFWA presidents wearing a short dress, or one with a deep neckline? Scalzi did surprisingly well in that little black number for one fundraiser photo, but borrowing MRK’s green ball gown really rocked (even though he really would have done better in jewel tones than pastels.)

  2. Chuckling at Bill’s comment about Scalzi’s dress. That was awesome! And thank you for this well-articulated post. It’s an appaling situation all the way around. So glad it’s finally being dealt with publicly. Cheers!

  3. Pingback: A Lack of Sincerity Isn’t Sean P. Fodera’s Problem | The Geek Melange

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