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Sexism is Not About Your Ego

I linked yesterday to Tempest’s post about the disproportionate number of scantily-clad females on Realms of Fantasy’s covers, and the mermaid gracing the new issue of the relaunched ‘zine.  Last night, Doug Cohen posted a response.

Doug is the new art director for Realms, as well as being the long time editorial assistant for the magazine.  I’ve worked with him a few times, and he struck me as a generally nice guy, one who cared a lot about the magazine and was always willing to go the extra mile, reading and commenting on my stories even when they were getting an automatic pass up to the editor.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the nicest guys who fail the hardest when it comes to discussions of sexism, racism, and so on.  “I’m a nice guy!  How dare you call me sexist!”  [Insert image of face-melting fury at the injustice of such a horrific accusation here.]  We then get to hear all about how these accusations are utter nonsense, and don’t you dare judge me, and the accuser is unfair and angry and mean.

You know what?  I don’t give a damn about the Doug/Tempest show.  Nor, at the moment, do I care whether Doug is a nice guy.  I care about whether a magazine I love is going to continue using covers like the one to the right.  (From June 06 and my second publication in Realms.)

Doug talks about how much he cares about the magazine, how hard he’s worked, and so on.  He explains that Shawna and Warren both approved the mermaid cover.  (We can’t blame Doug, because other people signed off on it.)  This isn’t about Doug, damn it.  It’s about a trend, one which he himself acknowledges:

[D]uring the Sovereign Media years, quite a number of them featured chicks in chain mail - make that hot chicks in chain mail - make that big breasted hot chicks in chain mail - with armor that often revealed far more than it covered …  It irked a number a writers to no end.  Guess what?  It irked Shawna too, but she had no control over the artwork, so whacha gonna do but grit your teeth and endure?  Did it irk me too, some of you might be wondering?  Yes, but not as much.  By the time I joined RoF in May of 2005, the magazine was in the midst of shifting away from these covers….

There are people, myself included, who have been watching to see how Realms would move forward under new management and whether this trend would change.  To see whether Realms would continue the boobs and chainmail cliches.   We got one out of two.

Doug defends the cover of the current issue by saying, in part:

…last time I checked, mermaids tend to shun clothes.  And last time I checked, the chicks in chainmail covers are far more offensive than this.  And last time I checked, nudity does occur in artwork. 

All true.  All utterly missing the point.  The logic simply doesn’t work.  It’s like saying “Black criminals do occur in real life, so it’s okay if we make most/all of my black characters into gangsters and thugs” or “My neighbor is far more violent when he beats his wife, so it’s all right that I slap mine around a bit, because I’m not that bad!”

Please note: pointing to someone else’s offensive behavior does not excuse your own, even if that other person’s behavior was worse than yours.

I’m tired of the excuses.  I remember a professor of mine talking about how he was allowed to write ditzy blondes, darn it all, because some blondes are ditzes!  (Some blondes are also rocket scientists.  Somehow those characters didn’t seem to make it into his fiction.)

The mermaid is better than a lot of Realms’ old covers, though it doesn’t fill me with confidence.  By itself, it’s not a bad cover.  The artwork doesn’t do anything for me personally, but if I saw it as a single issue in isolation, it wouldn’t necessarily make me cringe.  Taken as one of many covers with a disproportionate emphasis on partially clothed women, on the other hand?  Taken as the first cover of the newly relaunched magazine? That makes me uncomfortable.

But not as uncomfortable as Doug’s response as the official Art Director for the magazine.  Like so many men responding to issues of sexism, Doug’s post seems to come back to two points: “I’m a nice guy!”  and “How dare you judge me?”

I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of seeing so many discussions of sexism devolve into The Festival of the Hurt Ego.  I’m tired of my genre worshipping at the Altar of the Big Breasts.  I’m tired of the excuses and the minimizing and the chest thumping.

I like Doug, but based on this, I don’t trust that he understands why this is a problem, or that he cares enough to consciously address it.

I hope I’m wrong.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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filamena
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC)
I'm down with every though here, well said, but one.

The genre doesn't worship at the Alter of Big Boobs, that would imply the women with boobs would have some power to effect things. Since the women with big boobs don't exist, no real woman has any real power.

It worships at the Alter of Hungry Penises.
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
Point noted, thank you :-)
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catvalente
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)
Jim, you rule.

Also I find it hilarious that we're having conversations about how it's OKAY BECAUSE MERMAIDS DON'T WEAR CLOTHES. You know, because anyone's done a comprehensive survey of the mermaid population. Maybe they wear algae-dervied counterpressure wetsuits. It's fucking cold for human anatomy in the ocean. That's at LEAST as plausible as using the sartorial habits of fictional entities as justification for objectifying boobies.
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
Mine wore sharkskin harnesses, for what it's worth. They also make several comments about humans being too darn skinny to survive in the sea ;-)
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snurri
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
Amen to this. Every word.
ktempest
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:05 pm (UTC)
It's interesting that this discussion is being framed (by someone) as a Doug/Tempest fight when, really, my post wasn't even ABOUT Doug, it was, as you say, about the covers and the trend. By bringing the issue up, I hoped that maybe the trend could be put on a different track. And regardless of how Doug felt about my "tone", Warren at least seemed to think that perhaps the trend needed re-thinking. This may not pan out, but THAT is what I was getting at all along.
catvalente
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
I don't think there really is an appropriate tone for women to address these issues to men. If a woman's tone becomes an issue, it's really saying: if you had only said this in a correct way, I would have listened. So really it's your fault that I'm not listening to you. Sadly classic shit.
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tammy_moore
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC)
I thought the majority of Doug's complaint wasn't that he'd been accused of sexism - although that obviously annoyed me - but that he objected to Tempest's transcript of their conversation. It did, to me, seem likely that the tone of it had been slanted a little in Tempest's favour. (Which is natural, people do tend to reframe events so that look more reasonable and their opponent looks less reasonable. Especially when you're trying to be amusing.)

I don't know anyone involved, so I could be wrong.

(I do like the cover, since in my head she's the sea-sheriff of a underwater Wild West and I am now enamoured of that idea.)
tammy_moore
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
annoyed him.

Lord, my typos are bad enough without me starting to impersonate ROF online sock.
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cat_mcdougall
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
Oh... wow.

Just on what I'm reading in his post, there seems to be a lot of feet stomping and hand waving of the "It's not my fault!!" kind.

This, particularly gets me:

I would imagine this was a marketing tactic, meant to move copies especially to boys between the ages of 11-18.

"Because them icky girls don't read!"

If that's not what he meant? Sadly, that is what came across. We had RaceFail '09, now it looks to be SexismFail as well.
catvalente
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
I am personally baffled at the idea of a 12 year old boy reading Realms of Fantasy. It's really not their demographic anymore. And if you compund that with the idea that a 12 year old in 2009 would give the slightest shit that Harlan Ellison had a story in there, or even know who Harlan is, ROF's practices (see e-subs kerfuffle) seem totally contradictory and foot-shooting.
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bodlon
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
The artwork doesn’t do anything for me personally, but if I saw it as a single issue in isolation, it wouldn’t necessarily make me cringe. Taken as one of many covers with a disproportionate emphasis on partially clothed women, on the other hand? Taken as the first cover of the newly relaunched magazine? That makes me uncomfortable.

Right here. This.

It's the kind of hand waving and buck-passing here that frustrates me most about confronting various -isms. Single incidents are so rarely egregious enough to create an uproar on their own, and so being outraged looks like overreacting to people who haven't cottoned on to a pattern, or to people who want to justify that pattern based on their own biases, conscious or not.

I mean, I don't doubt that he's a nice guy. Anyone can be a nice guy and ignorant, or a nice guy and make mistakes, or a nice guy and not know how to do more good than harm. Most people don't glory in their -isms. It's no wonder he's sounding defensive.

What I want to do -- and what I wish I had the clout to do -- is grab him (and people like him) by the shoulders and say, "Okay then. You're a nice guy who doesn't aim to be sexist and you're the art director for a major magazine in the genre? Good. Stop bitching and start using your imagination instead of playing into the same old shit that people complained about. Accept some criticism and grow from it."

*sigh*
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
I've actually been second-guessing this entry a bit. I do the rants in part because I know I've got a decent audience here, and I'm arrogant enough to think the things I'm saying need to be heard. On the other hand, I wonder if I would have been better off just e-mailing Doug directly to talk about it. I worry that by posting this, it will come off as escalating the "flame war" and make it harder for any positive change to come of it all.

And as someone who considers himself a pretty nice guy, I can attest that it's possible to be both nice and completely freaking clueless :-P
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j_cheney
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)
The odd thing is....I believe that their average customer age is older than overly-hormonal teenaged boy. Isn't it? I mean, manga-boobs really aren't the thing to attract mature male readers....oh, wait, never mind.
oldcharliebrown
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:32 pm (UTC)
It's about thirty-seven, last time I checked.
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emilytheslayer
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
Hi Jim, I love your books, and now I love you.
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
::Smile:: Thank you!
(Anonymous)
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC)
Proud Student of Marion Zimmer Bradley
As a proud student of Marion Zimmer Bradley (one of, if not the, first authors to put a sword/magic power in a REAL woman's hands)and a woman I have to say Doug's reaction screams fear of change and fear of being able to meet the growing number of female readers' expectations. While equal beefcake time may not be the answer (though I can't say I'd object to it), female readers should be encouraged by putting realistic (read dressed in more than flames) women on the cover. Make it look like something I'd be comfortable being seen reading by strangers. And don't get me wrong, I get that naked people are a part art (I grew up on Frazetta)but does it ALWAYS have to be the only art in the realm of fantasy?
And just out of idle curiosity: How many of the artists are women? Do they actively pursue female artists like Rebecca Guay? I know next to nothing about publishing but maybe naked women are what are being submitted because that's what they've always bought before, and maybe adding some new blood to the artist pool would change what was submitted.
suricattus
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Proud Student of Marion Zimmer Bradley
I would so very very love to see a female warrior, chested or otherwise, dressed in realistic armor. Y'know, something that kept the delicate bits and the organ-protecting bits actually...protected?

(IOW, breasts and stomach and buttocks under armor, because one well-placed slice with a sword will incapacitate the fighter)
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bearmountain
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:49 pm (UTC)
I'm supposed to review this issue of the magazine. It came in the mail before I saw your post. I'll just say this: I did not pick up the magazine to anxiously read it. The cover was "meh" at best, doing nothing to make me want to read. I don't like much about it at all. Loud color, naked woman--didn't do a thing to make me wonder which story (if any) it went with. Didn't make me grab the magazine and read.

I can say that when I see just about every single Black Gate issue--I want to READ it. The artwork on that magazine is simply second to none. There's a been a few that didn't grab me right off; just a matter of taste. I'm pretty sure that it has never once had a naked woman on the front either--rather it depicts exciting scenes, castles, GREAT landscapes...just all around really great artwork. And when I see the front, I can't wait to read. It does what it is supposed to do.

So for those that think that putting boobs on the front makes us buy it or read it...that's probably not true in many, many cases. Like a book cover, I want a scene that makes me want to read the story. I want shadows and fights, a landscape that intrigues, danger just out of sight...beautiful images that make me want to explore THE STORY.
alabasterfalcon
Jul. 21st, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
This. Nuff said.
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hntrpyanfar
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
What I want to know is, why is it that in our culuture large breasts act as a cultural shorthand for a sell?

I mean, really. What is it about breasts that people feel the need to link buying things to them? ;)

(Sorry, I know it's rhetorical. But I felt it needed to be said.)
mela_lyn
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
Heehee... oh come on. Breasts are mezmorizing. They lure men in (and even some unsuspecting women who are more disguested than attracted) and hypnotize them. :) And the bigger they are, the harder to ignore, even if they are freaky. (Said tongue in cheek.)

Look at Barbie. She'd never been able to walk standing upright with her tiny waist and GIANT boosoms. Yet she's the most popular doll in the history of American toys (I don't know about worldwide).

Boobs sell... as sad as that is. I mean, hey, I had mine cut-off (2.5 lbs) b/c they were getting too much attention. I KNOW people pay attention to boobs. Guys & girls. Girls are just usually bitchy if yours are bigger.
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mela_lyn
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:52 pm (UTC)
What's wrong with a few chick in chainmail, eh? I liked Red Sonja. As long as the important bits are covered so kids aren't too scarred... They put strapping bulging bicepped men on there in chainmail. What's the difference?

I know 'women as objects' but it's art. Everything in art is an object. It's just in how you percieve it. *shrug*

Somehow I think the arguement is getting deeper than it should.
mela_lyn
Jul. 21st, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
For those reading... I AM a chick. Just to clarify.
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amy34
Jul. 21st, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. You're exactly right, and it needed saying.
txtriffidranch
Jul. 21st, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)
I say that we should give him a chance. Give him a year, and then deliberate as to whether he paid attention. (Having worked for Sovereign Media in the past, I can tell you that Sovereign gave slightly more of a damn about the perceptions in the artwork being commissioned for each issue of Realms than it gave about how it was treating its subscribers and contributors. That "slightly more of a damn" is still something that requires access to an electron microscope to measure.)
jimhines
Jul. 21st, 2009 05:12 pm (UTC)
I'll definitely be curious to see where the magazine goes, and whether Warren and Doug make more changes in the artisic vision of the magazine.

I didn't have too much trouble with Sovereign as a contributor (though they lost a check once), but I remember the subscription nightmares, particularly with the "free trial issue" madness. Not pretty.
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