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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.



( 82 comments — Leave a comment )
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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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(no subject) - sylvanstargazer - Jun. 23rd, 2014 03:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tavella - Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(no subject) - ckd - Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
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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.
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.
(no subject) - ethelmay - Jun. 23rd, 2014 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - northernwalker - Jun. 24th, 2014 12:56 am (UTC) - Expand
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Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:20 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of people are going through the same reactions right now.
(no subject) - juniperus - Jun. 23rd, 2014 07:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
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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.
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.

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.
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:03 pm (UTC)
Dammit. I loved her work.
Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
Her work was important to a lot of people.
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
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.)
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.
(no subject) - juliansinger - Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 23rd, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
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.
Jun. 23rd, 2014 08:19 pm (UTC)
This. I felt so envious of the people who could live at Greyhaven.
(no subject) - kalimac - Jun. 23rd, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Jun. 23rd, 2014 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 23rd, 2014 07:35 pm (UTC)
well written.

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.
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.
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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Jun. 23rd, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
I keep reading about this, despite the cost, because it MUST be known. It must be shared. Or it will never stop. The quiet underground warning system isn't enough.

As for legacies- by their works shall you know them. And their victims, too. </p>

No more pity. No more shame. No more silence.

Jun. 24th, 2014 12:11 am (UTC)
Very well put. Thank you so much for writing this, Jim...This is beyond horrifying. I am sick and tired of people in fandom excusing perpetrators of child sexual assault and silencing the victims. It just makes me so angry, and incredibly sad.
Jun. 24th, 2014 12:41 am (UTC)
One thing that keeps coming up over and over again is that the people in that segment of fandom all seemed to have the attitude of, "Oh, everybody knows about this, old news, we don't talk about it but it's an open secret." But things that "everybody knows but we don't talk about it" are things that new people coming in, or people on the fringes, NEVER HEAR ABOUT.

A less-toxic example is a newcomer to filk trying to hear a performance of "Banned From Argo". I've heard people say that it took them years to find a performer who was willing to sing it for them, because we all got so burned out on it back in the day.

Similarly, the number of people in these discussions who are saying, "I never knew anything about this" -- some of them who were actually involved in the local fandom at the time in question -- is a pretty clear indicator of why that attitude was, and remains, wrong. We can't expect the grapevine to protect newbies if there's a conspiracy of silence.
Jun. 24th, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
The other problem with the "grapevine" is that what it actually does is encourage everybody's natural tendency to protect their own and throw anyone outside the circle to the wolves. ("Why didn't you know you couldn't trust so-and-so in that kind of situation? Everyone knows you can't trust so-and-so in that kind of situation! It's just so obvious. Either you're stupid or you wanted to be victimized.")

Which is, of course, the same thing that makes groups more likely to defend or ignore the sexual predators who happen to be an established part of the group than to shun them or call the cops.
Jun. 24th, 2014 04:41 am (UTC)
I had no idea about this until I read your post today. I was shocked and appalled, and I believed your post needed to be read, so I shared the link to it in my journal.
Jun. 24th, 2014 05:32 am (UTC)
I find this story distasteful but the ugly truth is what it is and should be told.

I'd like to ask you to comment on Mexico's 12 year age consent laws. That is child molesting up here in America but legal down there.

Are you against it or would you feel racist if you spoke out against it. Would you censor this question because it doesn't fit liberal agendas?

This question deals directly with millions and millions of people coming here from a culture who are fine enough with what we consider child molesting to have it as their law.

Are you ok with your children hanging around Mexicans?
If so, are you defending their institution or stating it's not inherent as soon as they cross the border?

Are these questions to harsh?
Jun. 24th, 2014 12:20 pm (UTC)
I'm not familiar with Mexico's consent laws, but even a quick bit of searching finds that it's not as simple as you're trying to make it sound. From Wikipedia (which isn't a great source, but is a good starting point), "The federal law establishes the age of 12 as the minimum age of consent, while the age at which there are no restrictions for consensual sexual activities is 18 (sex with someone 12-18 is not illegal per se, but can still be open to prosecution under certain circumstances)."

I wouldn't describe the questions as harsh, but as deliberate trolling.
(no subject) - custardfairy - Jun. 24th, 2014 01:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - funwithrage - Jun. 24th, 2014 01:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 24th, 2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
I feel very strongly that I do not wish to contribute a penny to help predators survive. Ergo, I will never watch a movie made by Woody Allen or Roman Polanski. And because Whoopi Goldberg called the RP case "not a RAPE rape", I will never watch her again, either. Slimy bastards, all of them. Knowing that MZB is dead takes away the issue of supporting her financially; however, I am so disgusted at the knowledge of what she did, I can't read her anymore. As noted earlier, knowledge of her actions taints everything she ever did.
Jun. 24th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah. If I did read something from her after this point, it would always be in the back of my mind. Knowing the characters all came from her mind, which means that they had the potential to also commit the same kind of crimes.
Jun. 24th, 2014 04:55 pm (UTC)
I agree completely.
Jun. 24th, 2014 05:18 pm (UTC)
This is outrageous and sad. It hits worse because I had no idea about this. I'm not sure I'll be able to read anything by MZB ever again without a bias against her.
Jun. 25th, 2014 12:35 am (UTC)
Rape, Abuse and MZB
This is a priceless post and comment thread. I had naively thought that MZB divorced Walter Breen after finding out about his "proclivities". Now my MZB books will go to landfill.
I wonder about Deborah J. Ross, who is continuing the Darkover story. I've enjoyed her novels, and I have read several postings from her on various websites and blogs that are both progressive and compassionate. I hope she is free of the taint of this poisoned apple.
Jun. 25th, 2014 12:43 am (UTC)
Re: Rape, Abuse and MZB
Deborah had a short post on her LJ about this at http://deborahjross.livejournal.com/319803.html
Re: Rape, Abuse and MZB - barb27 - Jun. 25th, 2014 02:08 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 25th, 2014 02:16 am (UTC)
Well, hey, Jim.

As you can imagine, I do have something to say about this. You may read my emotionally overwrought essay here:

Jun. 25th, 2014 12:11 pm (UTC)
That didn't strike me as emotionally overwrought at all. I thought it was well-written, powerful, and important.
(no subject) - cathschaffstump - Jun. 25th, 2014 01:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
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