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The Inclusiveness of the SF/F Community

Snoopy

I had a “Duh” moment at ICON last weekend. We were talking about conventions and fandom and such during a panel - maybe the gaming panel? - and someone in the audience commented that overall, fandom tended to be pretty accepting and inclusive.

It’s a claim I’ve heard a lot, and I think we as a community tend to pride ourselves on our inclusiveness. Heck, I mentioned in my speech at Worldcon how finding fandom felt like coming home, how I felt accepted and valued here in a way I never did back in high school.

And therein lies the logical flaw, which hadn’t quite crystallized in my mind until that conversation at ICON. Because fandom is not a utopia of acceptance and tolerance. True, it’s a place where I found acceptance. But the fact that I as a straight white male geek feel accepted and relatively safe here does not therefore prove that this is a safe or accepting community.

After all, the other place I felt accepted growing up was in the Boy Scouts…

I love this community, and I think we’ve made progress, but we have a long way to go. Most conventions I attend are still at least 95% white. Women continue to get harassed while men stand around asking why people have to make such a big deal about sexual harassment policies. Awards and “Best of” anthologies continue to be dominated by western (particularly U.S.) names. Our book covers fetishize women and whitewash or erase characters of color. And people who speak up about feeling excluded are accused of being oversensitive, searching for reasons to be offended, and being part of the PC police.

Fandom is accepting of a different subset of people than most other parts of my life, and as a member of that subset, I’m grateful. But I also think we have a lot more work to do to broaden that acceptance.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 77 comments — Leave a comment )
ravenslost
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:17 am (UTC)
Thank you. This. I put up with years of being told I'm being too sensitive. I still get told that in fanish circles sometimes. It's pretty sad.
dj_rocca
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:27 am (UTC)
Thanks for another eloquently put post!
pickledginger
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:30 am (UTC)
Very well said!
beccastareyes
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:40 am (UTC)
I think fandom does idealize inclusiveness...

... which can be a bad thing, since accepting that there's a difference between the person who will not shut up about Doctor Who and the person who makes lewd comments at strangers* is important. The first person is occasionally annoying, but he's generally someone who we want to include, because... well, part of being a fan is being really passionate into things, and Doctor Who is one of those things that SF fans like. At worst, he might need a panel mod to remind him to let others ask questions or that this is the Firefly panel, and perhaps he can talk about this in the hotel bar later.

The second person needs to be told that he is welcome only as long as he does not make others unwelcome; and that means reserving the lewd comments to people who expressed interest in such things first.

(Actually both the panel moderator making sure that everyone gets heard and the security guard/con anti-harassment rules are aspects of the same thing, which is that we should include all people* but not all behaviors at all times. It's just that the first fan is more likely to just annoy people, while the second fan may scare people.)

* Or all people who aren't dis-including others by their behaviors.
jimhines
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:53 am (UTC)
Oh, yes. This gets into the ridiculousness of "Ha! You're intolerant of my intolerance, ergo you're just as bad as me!!!" nonsense. When in fact, confronting person number two is an important part of trying to make the community *more* welcoming and inclusive.
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polenth
Nov. 10th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
I've found this is an issue with my first convention coming up next year. I have concerns, but if I try to talk about them in public, it gets dismissed. But I've seen enough said from people in similar groupings to me to know there will be issues. Especially as I'm alone, which is like turning up wearing a target on my back.

I hope I'll have fun too, but it'd be naive to think it'll come without difficulties.
starcat_jewel
Nov. 10th, 2012 05:05 am (UTC)
IYDMMA, where are you, and what sort of convention is this going to be? I may be able to provide information depending on the answers.
lavidaessueno
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:26 am (UTC)
And let's not forget the lack of accessibility when it comes to conferences/conventions. That's been an ongoing problem for years now. My partner is disabled, and we just don't go to cons anymore.
netmouse
Nov. 10th, 2012 09:41 pm (UTC)
Would you be up for writing a letter or article specifying what it would take for a con to be accessible to you? I know people who've written articles from a conrunner perspective, but I fear those have been insuccifiently specific and might be getting out of date w new assisted mobility devices.

A con bid I'm working with brought back a reports that entrances and routes and rooms are "accessible" but I want to make sure the hotel's definition of that word jibes with the real needs of a modern fan. They also listed the entrance to "accessible" rooms as 32" wide, which didn't sound very accessible to me...

(If not, I totally understand. Not your responsibility to educate the community. But I'm working on a fanzine issue right now and would publish soonish)
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ironed_orchid
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:27 am (UTC)
Yep, it's very inclusive of all sorts of cis white male geeks.
rimrunner
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:29 am (UTC)
I just laughed that sort of hollow laugh of the "oh god it's true" variety.
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darkangel_wings
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC)
Well said, and a really encouraging thing to know that someone realizes.

Fandom is, as you said, inclusive of DIFFERENT people than the "mainstream world." But it isn't really inclusive of ALL people. I think there are strides being made in the right direction, with more cons holding to strict harassment policies, and such. But there's progress yet to be made.
jimhines
Nov. 10th, 2012 03:13 am (UTC)
Agreed. I think it's important to acknowledge the progress, but equally or more important to recognize these are only first steps, and we've got a long way to go yet.
deakat
Nov. 10th, 2012 02:58 am (UTC)
It's sad that we have to keep saying this over and over, but I'm thankful that you keep doing it.
cascade_writers
Nov. 10th, 2012 03:02 am (UTC)
We really need to get a harassment policy in place. But even when I explained to someone that they were being asked to leave for bad behavior, they didn't seem to get it. We do get all kinds of folks!
jimhines
Nov. 11th, 2012 12:19 am (UTC)
What did they not get, if you don't mind me asking?
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northernwalker
Nov. 10th, 2012 05:18 am (UTC)
I think part of the problem is that we as fans want to be- or at least see ourselves as- tolerant and accepting and open. That leads to people ignoring the difference between quirky and jerky, or, welcome to the Geek Social Fallacies.
fjm
Nov. 10th, 2012 05:20 am (UTC)
Yes but....


I work in academia. I'd say the same about my academic circle with all the same qualifications.

Then every so often I have to go do business outside the uni/fandom...

and remember that actually, fandom/academia is so far ahead that I end up suffering time shock as I find myself plummeted back to the 1970s.
barbarienne
Nov. 10th, 2012 06:04 pm (UTC)
Being somewhat better at something than other groups are doesn't actually make the somewhat-better group good at the thing.

I'm better at dancing than most people, but I'm never gonna get hired as a professional, or even get on So You Think You Can Dance.
angikate
Nov. 10th, 2012 05:56 am (UTC)
Funny you bring this up. I started going to conventions in 2000. I was 18, an aspiring novelist, and female. At that time, I was instantly welcomed, made several friends in the affectionately named Con Circuit, and felt like I was part of a greater community that was tolerant, respectful, and encouraged individuality.

All wonderful aspects that I am saddened to have written in past tense. Right around 2008, the tone of conventions started changing. Little things at first. I'm a costumer so I got some cat-calling. Photographers asking me to pose in uncomfortable positions. I was never harassed "too much" or assaulted or stalked like some of my friends were, probably because having my husband nearby is a great shield for that kind of behavior. No, what really bothers me is the sense of elitism at conventions. If I didn't like the same writer/tv show/movies/art as the other attendees, suddenly I was being treated as if I wasn't good enough, wasn't fan enough, to attend "their" convention. I'm "one of the gang" while we're debating the literary significance of Philip K. Dick and John Crowley, but if I try to compare the writing of Neil Gaiman to Satoshi Kon's movies, suddenly I need to be re-educated into fandom. Oops, I've just let slip that I respect and value anime and manga as an art form. Now I'm one of "those people," a lesser, pitiable creature who hath strayed from the path of the righteous and true fandom, and must change her ways or be exiled to those little anime cons that the ignorant kiddies go to.

I am not kidding. I have been belittled, repeatedly, for including anime and manga into my fandom. The sexual harassment I have some defenses for, but to have my all my contributions to a conversation on the social and scientific ramifications of being able to identify, detect, and transport the human soul as hypothesized in "Vectors" by Michael P. Kube-McDowell or "Biting the Sun" by Tanith Lee become suddenly irrelevant because I have the audacity to compare these books to Ed and Al's sacrifices in their attempt to use forbidden magic to bring their mother back from the dead in "Fullmetal Alchemist," my brain implodes and my tiny feelings are crushed.

Sorry, got really long winded there, which illustrates how important this issue is to me. Unfortunately, because of this type of elitism, I no longer find it fun to go to sci-fi/fantasy conventions. It hurts too much to know I had the camaraderie of convention goers before I discovered anime, but because I expanded my horizons, it's like I'm the Andromeda Strain.
jimhines
Nov. 11th, 2012 12:19 am (UTC)
Was it a particular convention or handful of conventions that changed? To some extent, I know that turnover in the volunteers and concom and such can have a big impact on the tone of the convention. But if you were seeing this across the board...

As for the belittling of anime/manga fans, ugh. I just don't get that. But hey, maybe that helps to explain why most anime/manga conventions are getting bigger and more popular every year, while so many SF/F cons are struggling to stay afloat.
(no subject) - angikate - Nov. 18th, 2012 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
darksunlight
Nov. 10th, 2012 06:16 am (UTC)
You shoulda been out at youmacon this weekend. I'd say 1/3 to 1/2 of the attendance was of non white origin. I was shocked, and happy!
akiko
Nov. 10th, 2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
Anime cons tend to be a lot browner than eg WorldCon, and a lot more inclusive of other fannish stuff (see angikate's comment above). That's my experience as someone who's been to a dozen anime cons and a dozen non-anime cons.
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swords_and_pens
Nov. 10th, 2012 08:17 am (UTC)
Part of the reason I think our fandom goes on about its acceptance is that many members of our fandom aren't used to finding acceptance in other venues. When you're not used to being accepted for who you are and having your interests valued, and then you find fandom and suddenly *bang* both you AND your interests are welcomes, well, that's gonna seem like utopia...at least for a little bit. Heady stuff, especially when you're not used to it.

Not that it excuses egregious behavior by any means; just that I can see where the notion springs from (and keeps perennially springing from, as more people find the community).
jimhines
Nov. 11th, 2012 12:15 am (UTC)
Yup. "They accepted me! Wow!!! This must be the Most Accepting and Wonderful Group Ever!"

Logicfail, but a common one.
dracothelizard
Nov. 10th, 2012 12:02 pm (UTC)
I've never been to a convention myself, but have heard plenty of stories, both positive AND negative.

Several years ago, someone wrote about the five geek social fallacies, which I think still apply today. The whole 'we are so inclusive!' thing means that sometimes there is pressure to accept even those who are, y'know, massive douchebags.
kellymccullough
Nov. 10th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
And this sort of post is one of the big reasons you won that well deserved Hugo. *quiet applause*
jennielf
Nov. 10th, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
I was just thinking that same thing. :) *pompoms*
also_huey
Nov. 10th, 2012 06:52 pm (UTC)
You've hit on why I don't do cons. Although I know many wonderful people who do, I can't help but think that I want no part of any community that'd have me as a member.
slhuang
Nov. 10th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. Really. Thank you.

I tend to lie to myself that SFF fandom is more accepting than it is, because I self-select. I read blogs like yours or ones that have a social justice bent to them, and I surround myself with real life friends who won't belittle my concerns about under- or misrepresentation. And so I tell myself that fandom is progressive and Thinks About Things and listens to people and I go on my way, whistling merrily. . . until I stumble across a comment thread that makes me physically hurt inside with the stupidity and racism and sexism and oh did I mention the stupidity?

My first foray into larger fandom was when I started blogging this year, where I write a fair bit about gender and race, and one of the first things I realized was that no matter how much I might value changing minds, there's a huge part of me that's perfectly happy to keep my readership in a comfortable little circle of people who won't cause me to waste hours flailing in rage. Which feels cowardly, but . . . (I made a post early on expressing disappointment in how race and gender were handled in Redshirts, which I or other people linked to a few places in fandom where it was discussed very rationally, and Scalzi himself stopped by with a very respectful response . . . and then there was a, shall we say, hyper-trollish discussion of it in one fannish place that I just. Could not. Fathom. It was like a bucket of cold water with the, "I like to interact with people in fandom, but . . . I like my corner of it better" realization.) There's a point at which the frustration becomes not worth it. And I think that's why certain subsets of fandom have tried to carve out safe spaces for themselves, particularly online, places within fandom where they can find their own "acceptance" . . . and it's a shame that this is necessary. And then, of course, there are realms (like publishing) and levels of interaction in fandom (like cons) where self-selecting becomes impractical or impossible . . .

tl;dr: Parts of fandom are amazing, but other parts are broken and horrible, and it's wonderful and cathartic to hear people acknowledge that and say we should fix it. So thank you. Again.

p.s. -- Also, it would be nice if all those straight white male cis dudes who have gone their whole lives upset about "not fitting in" because of SFF interests would consider what it's like to "not fit in" in the mainstream because of SFF interests AND find oneself a tiny minority in a fandom that seems like a like-minded utopia to others.
jimhines
Nov. 11th, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
I know what you mean about the self-selection. I keep having to remind myself that the people I interact with, either online or in real life, aren't necessarily representative of the larger whole.

Also, it would be nice if all those straight white male cis dudes who have gone their whole lives upset about "not fitting in" because of SFF interests would consider what it's like to "not fit in" in the mainstream because of SFF interests AND find oneself a tiny minority in a fandom that seems like a like-minded utopia to others.

I definitely wish more people would make that leap.

Do you happen to have a link to your review of Redshirts? I'm curious to read your thoughts there.
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j_cheney
Nov. 10th, 2012 09:37 pm (UTC)
You're a wise (and observant) man, Jim ;o)
sraun
Nov. 10th, 2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
I look at it slightly differently - IMAO, fandom is accepting, but not very welcoming. We'll accept an awful lot, but we do a lousy job at making the accepted range feel welcome.
amusingmuse
Nov. 10th, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
On this subject, you might find OnyxCon of interest. It is not limited to comics. This year had Steven Barnes as a guest.
snapes_angel
Nov. 11th, 2012 05:57 am (UTC)
Agreed. Different conditions exist at different conventions, and even, from year to year; but the inclusiveness still needs a bit of work.
squirrel_monkey
Nov. 11th, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
I also find it instructive that many of us who do not feel welcome OR accepted have been blogging about it to crickets and tumbleweeds, and you get immediate and thoughtful responses.
netmouse
Nov. 11th, 2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
I think this happening all too much. I tried to extend my personal reading list after Racefail '09 to include some of the bloggers involved, as well as some of the amazing people I met or saw on panels at wiscon that year, but when an issue flairs in that subsection of my reading list, I almost never see it mentioned on the more well-read blogs.

Jim, it might be time to have a "pump up the volume" thread where you invite people to link to thoughtful blog entries and roundups about acceptance issues, perhaps putting a time limitation on it to the last two years so readers *know* it's all about the current situation.
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 18th, 2012 03:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
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