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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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Comments

douglascohen
Jul. 21st, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, wow! Is this how I'm coming off to you? Cat, I'm sorry! First, I'll say I didn't think I was being rude to Mary or Shweta. It certainly wasn't my intention. If they feel I was, I'd be happy to apologize to both of them, online or in person or both (Tempest is another matter, as you've probably guessed already).

I responded as I did to Jim for a couple of reasons. First, because he gave me the head's-up about his post, which I appreciated. Second, "I'm fine with it" was meant to indicate that or friendship hasn't been broken over this, that's all. I've been friends with Mary until now, and I certainly hope we still are. I only know Shweta a little, but until this point we've gotten along fine. I honestly hope this continues despite our difference of opinion on some of these matters.

I did say to Jim that I disagreed with some of the things he said, but I'm trying to avoid getting in extended conversations about this topic on multiple blogs (time constraints), so I left it at that.

I see why you said what you did though. This was not my intention. I am sorry. I hope you understand why I responded to Jim as I did. No ulterior motive here. I hope you believe me. Best.
catvalente
Jul. 21st, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the considered response, Doug.

I thought you were dismissive to Mary and a bit rude to Shweta. Their mileage is their mileage. I'm just glad that you've heard what I've said and I hope it sticks with you in the future.
douglascohen
Jul. 21st, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
Absolutely.
beth_bernobich
Jul. 21st, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)
In case it matters, I had exactly the same reaction that Cat did.

And it's why so many women get frustrated--time after time, we are ignored, or answered dismissively, only to watch a man get acknowledged for saying the same thing. (Not just acknowledged, but answered with respect, even when the responder disagrees.)

Even if that wasn't your intent, and I believe you when you say it wasn't, at some point it doesn't matter. The effect is the same.

douglascohen
Jul. 21st, 2009 07:15 pm (UTC)
If it came off this way to you as well, all I can say is that I hope you'll accept my apologies on this matter.
beth_bernobich
Jul. 21st, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
I appreciate that you heard me and responded with grace. Please consider re-responding to Mary and Shweta, and I hope you keep this in mind for the future.

douglascohen
Jul. 21st, 2009 07:39 pm (UTC)
Before you posted this I already emailed them both, telling them I didn't mean to be rude, didn't think I was, but if I came off as such, I am sorry.
squirrel_monkey
Jul. 21st, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
And when we get frustrated with continued dismissal, we get chastised for the wrong tone.
agent_mimi
Jul. 21st, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
Not that you know me from Eve, but I had the same reaction to your reply to Jim versus your reply to Tempest. It's extremely uncomfortable to read your numerous mentions of how Tempest is such a horrid person who lies and is out to get you, how she has no real point but is just trying to irritate you, and you'd never apologize to her ever.

Perhaps something could be accomplished if you could separate this issue of sexism in the genre, and of your role as art director, from your dislike of Tempest. It's not about Tempest, it really isn't.
douglascohen
Jul. 21st, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
There are two issues at hand, I think. Some want to discuss one, some want to discuss the other, some want to discuss both. I've responded to all three camps over at my blog.

And no, I can't imagine ever apologizing to Tempest. If I've upset you with how I responded to Jim, I am truly sorry. Just as I don't know you from Eve, you don't know me from Adam, except for whatever you've read online. I'll leave it to you whether you want to accept my apology. No hard feelings on this end.

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