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Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley

My very first rejection letter was from Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was both harsh and helpful. So I was thrilled when, years later, I made one of my first professional sales to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I was even happier when I sold a story to her anthology Sword & Sorceress XXI.

I’m proud of those stories. I believe the Sword & Sorceress series was important, and I’m grateful to Bradley for creating it. I believe her magazine helped a lot of new writers, and her books helped countless readers. All of which makes the revelations about Marion Zimmer Bradley protecting a known child rapist and molesting her own daughter and others even more tragic.

Here are some of the relevant links.

  • Marion Zimmer Bradley’s testimony in defense of her husband, Walter Breen, a convicted pedophile.
  • A blog post from Deirdre Saoirse Moen, in which Moira Greyland, daughter of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, states that Bradley molested her starting when she was three years old and continuing until Greyland was twelve and able to walk away. Greyland also describes Breen as “a serial rapist with many, many victims,” but says Marion “was far, far worse.”
  • The “Breendoggle” Wiki. Much of fandom seemed to know about the allegations against Breen. The documentation includes eyewitness accounts of Breen molesting children and discussion that even if Breen was indeed an active pedophile, that doesn’t mean he should be expelled from fandom.
  • Silence is Complicity. Natalie Luhrs talks about Breen, MZB, and the damage done by prioritizing silence over safety, complicity over acting to protect the vulnerable members of our community.
  • On Doing a Thing I Needed to Do. Janni Lee Simner talks about having written for some of MZB’s projects, and her choice to donate her income from those sales to RAINN.

There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author.

I disagree.

To begin with, while Bradley and Breen are both gone from this world, their victims survive. The damage they inflicted lives on. Are you going to tell victims of rape/abuse that nobody’s allowed to acknowledge what was done to them? That the need to protect the reputation of the dead is more important than allowing victims their voice? To hell with that.

Second, as Luhrs and others have pointed out, many of the same behaviors that allowed this abuse to continue for so long are still present in fandom and elsewhere today. We excuse sexual harassment as social awkwardness. We ignore ongoing harassment and assault for years or decades because someone happens to be a big name author or editor. Half of fandom shirks from the mere thought of excluding known predators, because for some, sexual harassment and assault are lesser crimes than shunning a predator from a convention.

I’m not going to say that people should or shouldn’t throw all of MZB’s books away. There are authors whose careers might not have happened without MZB’s help, and our genre is better for many of them. But it’s also important to acknowledge that predators exist. They may be in positions of power and influence. Sometimes, they’re people who have done good work for a community. They often have very smooth, well-practiced tactics for defending or excusing their actions.

When we ignore ongoing harassment and abuse, when we belittle efforts to create harassment policies, when we respond to people speaking out about their own abuse and harassment by accusing them of starting “lynch mobs” and “witch hunts,” we’re teaching predators that fandom is a safe hunting ground. We’re teaching them that they will be protected, and their victims will be sacrificed so we can cling to an illusion of inclusiveness.

We need to work on teaching a different lesson.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 82 comments — Leave a comment )
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l_o_lostshadows
Jun. 23rd, 2014 01:58 pm (UTC)
even if Breen was indeed an active pedophile, that doesn’t mean he should be expelled from fandom.

*stares at sentence*
*goes off to beat head against wall*
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trishalynn
Jun. 24th, 2014 01:34 am (UTC)
This was and is my response as well. I also sent a Facebook message to my former sophomore English teacher who was the one who recommended the book to me to let her know and/or gauge her thoughts. No response yet.
suricattus
Jun. 23rd, 2014 02:23 pm (UTC)
Because of my work-association with many people associated with her, although not MZB herself, I heard rumors about this many years ago - but at the time to my knowledge they were only that, rumors. When people started coming forward...

Yeah. You may separate the artist from the art, but the behavior of the artist as a person still matters. And a predator needs to be isolated from the herd immediately. That's just common goddamned sense.
mme_n_b
Jun. 24th, 2014 05:31 pm (UTC)
That makes sense, but following that line of thinking, once the predator is dead and cannot personally benefit, it's ok to start buying their books/watching movies etc. again, right? Which is a good thing, because Dostoyevsky, Gogol etc.
rhoda_rants
Jun. 23rd, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
I saw this elseweb yesterday and was shocked. As much by the awfulness of what she and her husband did as by the drab, "Oh, this is old news, everyone knows about this" reactions of some of the members of the community in which it was posted.

I don't socialize much because of Reasons, but I consider myself a geek, and I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS. Granted, I've never read any MZB, but I had her on my "Sometime, eventually" list for a while. Still--this is NOT common knowledge. And clearly, it needs to be. In more cases than just hers.

From the Silence Is Complicity link:

three is that if you call a friend out on shitty or predatory or abusive behavior that you’re not actually a friend.
I'm actually okay with this? If you're acting shitty and I have to call you out on it, no, I'm NOT your friend, and you need to GTFO. I don't see this as a problem.

Because predators have made themselves valuable to our organizations and made us believe they can’t be replaced.
This, this, this.

Also not true anymore, since people like you, Seanan McGuire, John Scalzi, and Chuck Wendig exist. There's no reason to keep the creeps on-board. There's plenty of good genre writing out there without mumbling about how much the creepy writers have "contributed."

We don't need them anymore, and I'm not convinced we ever did.
jimhines
Jun. 23rd, 2014 03:26 pm (UTC)
I think everyone screws up and needs to be called out on it sometimes. I've said stupid stuff before, and will no doubt do so again. But...yeah. There's a huge difference between telling a friend, "Hey, that thing you did was uncool" and discovering that your "friend" is a predator who should be behind bars.
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nyxalinth
Jun. 23rd, 2014 03:02 pm (UTC)
That is just... I have no words.

Years ago, I tried to read her books, and kept getting a very creepy vibe from them, and from her. I didn't know why. I wonder if there was something pinging just off my radar. I will never try to read anything of hers again.
tylik
Jun. 23rd, 2014 05:02 pm (UTC)
I think one of the reasons this has been so deeply creepy for friends of mine who loved her work is that they really didn't get this vibe, and that these were works that were hugely meaningful to them and now they're unsure not only if they want to get rid of them all, but if there was some kind of subtle psychological poison they imbibed with the stories they loved.*

I've read few things of hers. Mostly happenstance, though that the last couple hundred pages of Mists of Avalon was so goddamned depressing was certainly part of things. And then, while I was still young enough that I might have really gotten into her stuff, I had a weird run in with her at a con, and while nothing more happened than her ranting at me about things that even at the time seemed historically questionable, I was skeeved enough that I never really picked up anything else. (When I was a sweet young thing I played harp and had waist length dark hair, and having random people tell me all kinds of random shit was kind of a thing. Though most often it was drunken Irish or pseudo-Irish men.)

* And this is one of the reasons I think it's important to talk about these things, even if no one who was directly affected is currently alive. Because the context of the person is as important as the context of the culture.
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jimhines
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:20 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of people are going through the same reactions right now.
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northernwalker
Jun. 23rd, 2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
I was a fan- I have all the Darkover books, lots of S&S, the Light series.

Right now I never want to read them again. I feel ill. I had heard some odd rumors about Walter Breen a few years ago, but didn't know much. Consider me enlightened- and horrified.
alumiere
Jun. 23rd, 2014 05:34 pm (UTC)
I'd been aware of the abuse convictions for some time, and have never bought MZB projects as a result. But if they're both dead and royalties go to the survivors, maybe I should finally pick some up to support their kids...

But some digging shows they don't benefit, so nope, still not reading.

count_croakula
Jun. 23rd, 2014 05:36 pm (UTC)
I had never heard any of these rumors and I'm saddened to learn them. The Mists of Avalon (and that whole series) had such an important impact on my childhood. I'm honestly at a loss for words.
deborahblakehps
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:03 pm (UTC)
Dammit. I loved her work.
jimhines
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
Her work was important to a lot of people.
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juliansinger
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
I appreciate this post, and I appreciated Luhrs' post. Thank y'all.

Just to state the obvious: Saying a certain behavior is beyond the pale is not a "witch hunt." It is, in fact, saying a behavior is not OK.

Also, on the book part of all this -- it's OK for one person to have one reaction to an author being a Problematic Person, and for another person to have another, different, reaction. And it's OK for those reactions to change over time.

(I currently don't want to read MZB. I can imagine a time in my life when I might want to again. I can also imagine a time where I won't want to.)
jimhines
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:21 pm (UTC)
I'm definitely not trying to tell anyone how they should or shouldn't feel about all of this, or what actions they must or must not take. A lot of people are feeling hurt and betrayed and angry, but everyone deals with those feelings in their own way.
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tavella
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:51 pm (UTC)
What makes me especially sad is that I was a big MZB fan as a teen, to the point of buying the Greyhaven anthology she edited. The stories weren't much, as I recall, but there were little bits in the header about their milieu, about Greyhaven and Greenwalls, the SCA and fandom, and it all sounded so wonderful and friendly and magical. And probably was one of the things that led to me eventually moving out to the Bay Area years later.

So to think back and realize that false front was concealing such a horror show of abusers and abetters... there's something especially awful.
mme_hardy
Jun. 23rd, 2014 08:19 pm (UTC)
This. I felt so envious of the people who could live at Greyhaven.
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martianmooncrab
Jun. 23rd, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
well written.


thewayne
Jun. 23rd, 2014 08:13 pm (UTC)
I can't think of anything to say except *wow*. I have not read MZB nor heard of any of this as Phoenix fandom in the '80s seemed somewhat isolated from groups outside of Arizona. My wife has quite a collection of her work, and it's always been on my back burner of things to eventually read, but now I won't.

It will be curious to see what my wife's reaction will be when I tell her when she gets up.

I was at a Phoenix WesterCon back in the '80s and went to a room party with a Big Name Author (now deceased). I hadn't read any of his work, but listening to him spew as he held court I kept thinking 'What an ass.' Fortunately I got to meet L. Sprague DeCamp and his wife (amazingly gracious people) and spent a good half an hour or more talking to Harry Harrison in the green room, so the bad taste was rapidly washed out of my mouth (not to say that the BNA was a predator). I never met MZB or her 'husband', makes me wonder if she was a partly a beard because they shared like proclivities.
funwithrage
Jun. 23rd, 2014 09:37 pm (UTC)
Holy God, the documents in the Breendoggle Wiki...what the hell was WRONG with fandom people in the sixties? "Oh, well, he's just 'cuddling' seven-year-olds, it can't actually hurt them," and, like, earnestly debating whether it's right to exclude a pedophile from fandom circles (instead of, y'know, CALLING THE DAMN COPS), and I know we still do a lot of the same things in principle, but at least it's...adults?

I want to get a time machine and slap critical thinking skills into ninety percent of the people named on this Wiki.
northernwalker
Jun. 24th, 2014 12:46 am (UTC)
When I hit the section about him fondling a naked 3yo girl repeatedly in front of an audience I almost passed out. The author says, "He had her trained up to the point where she would take off her clothes the minute she saw him." Jesus wept.

"the spectacle was not thought to be aesthetically pleasing." Gee, sexually assaulting a child wasn't a pretty sight. Y'think?

I just want to headdesk myself into a coma.
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