Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

One of the challenges that comes up pretty regularly in conversations about diversity and inclusiveness in SF/F is, “Show me where someone has been told they can’t be a part of fandom because of their race/gender/sexuality/etc.”

The underlying assumptions seem to be that:

  1. There aren’t any such examples, and therefore–
  2. All of this talk about the need for diversity is a made-up problem blown completely out of proportion by a handful of oversensitive souls looking for something to be offended by and/or campaigning for Hugo awards.

I could point to examples of explicit attempts at exclusion, like “Its bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?” But what would that prove? Usually such examples just result in moving the goal posts. People will acknowledge that sure, there are a few cavemen and trolls out there, but go on to explain that most of SF/F is better than that, so why make such a big deal out of those rare and extreme outliers?

It’s true that I’ve rarely seen people explicitly, deliberately, and publicly saying, “Hey, we don’t want women in our genre” or “SF/F stories should only be about white heroes.” And that’s a good thing. Our society has finally reached the point that there can be serious social consequences for a convention that posted a “Whites only” sign at registration, or a publisher that said in their submission guidelines, “LGBT authors need not submit.”

The problem is that so many people think that’s all racism and sexism and homophobia and discrimination are — “Whites only” signs and lynchings and KKK rallies. As long as we don’t have any of those at a convention, what’s the problem? If an event doesn’t turn into Tailhook, then there’s nothing for women to complain about!

If that’s the foundation for your understanding of discrimination and inequality, then I can see how you’d be confused by ongoing conversations about the need to do better. I suspect this is why some people react to such conversations as if they’ve been personally attacked. When I point out that SF/F has a problem with inclusiveness, a fair number of people seem to hear, “The Genre Police are accusing me of being racist/sexist/homophobic/bigoted/etc, and that’s not true at all! Why, I love Martin Luther King, Junior, and I’ve never attended a KKK march!”

So let’s look at a few aspects of inequality and discrimination. Things that aren’t as blatant, and often aren’t deliberate or conscious at all … which makes them much easier to ignore, if you’re not one of the people being hurt. What follows are just a handful of the studies pointing out the larger, less obvious problems we continue to struggle with.

Blind Auditions and Sexism in Symphony Orchestras – “Traditionally, women have been underrepresented in American and European orchestras. Renowned conductors have asserted that female musicians have ‘smaller techniques,’ are more temperamental and are simply unsuitable for orchestras … Using data from the audition records, researchers found that blind auditions increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. The likelihood of a woman’s ultimate selection is increased several fold.”

In other words, judges were significantly more likely to reject a candidate if they knew she was female, based on nothing but the candidate’s gender. But I’d bet you every one of those judges would insist they were only trying to choose the best musicians, and they would be highly affronted if you dared to suggest they were sexist. I trust folks can see the parallels to all-male “Best of” anthologies or male-dominated awards ballots, not to mention editors who insist “They’re only looking for the best stories!”

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care – “…a consistent body of research demonstrates significant variation in the rates of medical procedures by race, even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable. This research indicates that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures and experience a lower quality of health services.”

I’m not aware of any hospitals or doctor’s offices that post “Whites only” signs, and yet we’re consistently giving poorer health care to non-white patients based on their race. But I’m sure most of those doctors and nurses would take great offense at the suggestion that they were acting in a racist way. They’d probably insist that they’re colorblind, treating all patients equally.

Gender and the Perception of Knowledge in Political Discussion – “…both men and women perceive women to be less knowledgeable about politics and men to be more knowledgeable, regardless of the actual level of knowledge each discussion partner holds.” Oh look, it’s the Fake Geek Girl thing all over again. How many of those men and women do you think would believe their perceptions were being filtered through a sexist lens?

Experience and Perception of Racial Discrimination – “When asked how much discrimination still exists against Blacks, only 10% of Whites said ‘a lot,’ while 57% of Blacks said ‘a lot’ … sixty-seven percent of Blacks described encountering discrimination and prejudice when applying for jobs, 50% reported incidents during shopping or dining out, and many stated that it was a common occurrence to hear derogatory racial comments.”

In other words, those of us who aren’t on the receiving end of discrimination have a much easier time minimizing it or pretending it’s no longer a problem.

Perception of Conversational Dominance – “…men (and to a lesser degree, women) perceive women as talking more than men when women talk only 30% of the time.  This phenomenon is not limited to Spender’s academic seminar data or to CMC, but rather is a feature of mixed-sex conversation in public settings more generally.”

This phenomenon of distorted perception seems particularly relevant to complaints about non-white/non-male/non-straight/etc. characters and authors “taking over the genre.”

I’m sure someone will point out that none of these studies are directly or specifically about SF/F and fandom, and that’s obviously true. They are, however, about people — about people’s perceptions and actions and biases, many of which are unconscious. Last I checked, SF/F and fandom were made up of people. And we do this stuff too.

Just look at Malinda Lo’s research — she drew on multiple sources to research LGBT representation, and found that, “Less than 1% of YA novels have LGBT characters.” There are accounts of agents and editors asking authors to “straighten” characters. Multiple reports of sexual harassment at conventions and throughout our community. Whitewashed cover art. Racist nastiness toward cosplayers. Gender-specific threats. And so much more that I’m not going to link to, because I could be here all day, and you’re just as capable of using Google as I am.

Twenty years ago, I would have told you I was a nice guy, utterly free of bigotry or prejudice. I would have been wrong. I grew up in this culture. I absorbed a lot of messed-up ideas and assumptions. It took years for me to start to recognize those, and even longer to work on changing them. I’m still doing that work. I probably always will be. I don’t believe that makes me a supervillain. I believe it makes me human.

We’ve got to stop thinking that this is all about mustache-twirling villains in black hats. Look at those studies I linked above. The researchers didn’t collect a sample of wife-beating, gay-bashing Nazis for their studies. These weren’t evil, hateful vindictive supervillains. They were ordinary, random people, most of whom would probably be shocked to learn that they treated others in unequal ways. They were people who had grown up absorbing the discriminatory attitudes and assumptions of their culture.

Very few of these people self-identify as bigots. Very few think of themselves as racist or sexist or homophobic or discriminatory. But they’re part of the problem.

And those people who choose not to see it, because nobody’s burning crosses at conventions or actively campaigning to kick all the women out of SFWA? Who read stories of harassment and discrimination, but dismiss them as people looking for attention? Or make excuses for the perpetrators? Or refuse to believe these things happen without notarized video submitted in triplicate with at least fifty witness signatures? Or who decry the backlash against bigotry as “lynch mobs” and “witch hunts”?

They’re part of the problem too.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.



( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
Jan. 6th, 2014 02:49 pm (UTC)
Well done.

I was going to say that I thought that blind auditions was standard for orchestras these days --I know they are at the Cincinnati Symphony-- but I guess that the Clevelanders still need some work.

And yeah, I've heard the "I'm not a racist" argument before, and maybe they're not lining up to attend a neo-Nazi rally, but listening to all the code words is pretty damning. My own high school --a Catholic one-- has billboards around town for recruitment. The ones touting sports have african-americans on them, but the generic and academic ones? You can't get much more aryan than those. Another Catholic high school had billboards showing a white student in a graduation gown while his obviously affluent parents looked on. Translation = rich white people send their kids to Catholic schools, while we'll take african-americans who are good at sports.
Jan. 6th, 2014 04:07 pm (UTC)
This is brilliant. But fandom is a magic land in which societal influences and subtle biases are totally erased!

(As a personal anecdote, my wife ran a locally famous political blog for years. She's still writing political editorials and columns for well-respected newspapers and magazines. She did the blog under a male name; now that she's writing with a female name, she does in fact frequently hear from commenters that little ladies just don't have the head for politics. The SAME commenters who worshipped her before [they don't all realize it's the same person].)
Jan. 7th, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC)
The SAME commenters who worshipped her before [they don't all realize it's the same person].

But I'm sure those commenters would insist it has nothing to do with them being sexist!
(no subject) - lietya - Jan. 7th, 2014 12:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 3rdragon - Jan. 7th, 2014 04:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lietya - Jan. 7th, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ethelmay - Jan. 7th, 2014 09:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 3rdragon - Jan. 7th, 2014 09:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 6th, 2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
It's also about how the boys club allows people to claim they don't want to discriminate, it just happens. I know you understand this, but let me list the basics for general conversation:
1. Newcomers face the "getting work requires experience which requires getting work" catch-22.
2. Trusting newcomers with work requires speculation, thus opinion and bias. People apply previous good decisions to current ones, and bias informs what they believe made prior choices work. A bias towards applicants who look like current employees amplifies and rationalizes prejudice. Even if one isn't an active bigot, historical exclusion produces a workplace steeped in confirmation bias.
3. Extended hostility and exclusion towards one group will keep them away long after it has allegedly changed, in part because the change isn't great enough. When participation involves many levels (i.e. training, connections, resources for sample work) bias can exclude people almost before they try.
4. Thus people think women are just naturally uninterested in drawing mainstream comics while Rob Liefeld's entire career is pretty much this system in action.
Yet even people who despise and complain about the results of this system will object to the remedies. Consider Dan Harmon, who admits Community was improved when he was forced to hire more women, yet in the same quote says: "But the fact is, black women have ovaries and white women have ovaries; black men have testicles and white men have testicles, so actually, race is far more an artificial construct than gender." Yeah, you keep telling yourself that, Dan.

Edited at 2014-01-06 04:15 pm (UTC)
Seth Ellis
Jan. 6th, 2014 08:23 pm (UTC)
Trusting newcomers with work requires speculation, thus opinion and bias. People apply previous good decisions to current ones, and bias informs what they believe made prior choices work. A bias towards applicants who look like current employees amplifies and rationalizes prejudice.

Exactly this. Many people, in both professional and volunteer circles, just know what a good risk looks like. Without imagining that they contain prejudice, they're measuring candidates against internal benchmarks they're not wholly aware of.

Twenty years ago I was visiting Dublin, and in walking to meet a friend I got turned around, as I tend to do. I had no idea where I was, but I thought, well, at least I'm obviously not in a dangerous part of town, so I'll just keep walking towards the river and I'll figure it out eventually. A second later, I realized that I'd automatically judged it as a "safe" part of town because everybody I could see was white. That internalized "wisdom" can be very insidious and tough to chisel out, in part because it lives in the part of our judgment and intuition we tend to pride ourselves on as discernment.
Jan. 6th, 2014 04:36 pm (UTC)
Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care – roughly the subject of my daughter's master's thesis (we are white). I was brought up by parents who were very much trying to not be racist, leaving behind (or trying to) the attitudes they were brought up with, heck I was part of the first group of kids to be bussed to a 'black' school, I'm not racist! I live in a primarily black neighborhood! I am not racist! Yet, helping my daughter (just by listening to her findings, and such, and discussing things I have never dug deep into before) has made me realize that I too have lots of work to be done regarding the way I react to people based on the color of their skin. And I am working on it.
Jan. 6th, 2014 05:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, and thank you.
Jan. 6th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
I would never argue that there isn't systemic racism and sexism, unintentional discrimination, and outright prejudice still alive and well in the world. I do occassional have problems with the "blank-privilige" arguments because I think people are failing to make a distinction between "power" (the ability to control a situation) and "privilege" (benefiting in some substantial way from a situation). Sometimes the two features coincide. Other times they really don't.

But, eh. Maybe I'm just bitter because I'm not bright enough to use me privileges in order to gain power so that I can remove my privileges and create a more equitable society.
Jan. 6th, 2014 06:18 pm (UTC)
Not to mention people appropriating an actual disability (colorblindness) to claim they "don't see race".
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 7th, 2014 03:00 am (UTC)
Women in their 20s, sometimes even older are often referred to as girls while men over 21 are almost never called boys, except of course when using a colloidal expression such as good ol' boys. Is this a sign of sexism or is girl just an expression like guy?

I've often wondered about that.
Jan. 7th, 2014 04:02 am (UTC)
On an etymological basis, "girl" is definitely not equivalent to "guy" because it includes an age-related assumption. "Boy" is the direct male equivalent. There's also "boys will be boys", the standard all-purpose excuse for rapists, but that's the only other example I can think of where adult men are referred to as boys.

I'm not sure there is any direct female equivalent to "guy" -- and it's worth noting that in some parts of the US (including Jim's), "you guys" is a gender-neutral second-person plural, used to address any group of people no matter whether it's male, female, or mixed.
(no subject) - maladaptive - Jan. 7th, 2014 04:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Jan. 9th, 2014 09:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rhoda_rants - Jan. 7th, 2014 04:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 3rdragon - Jan. 7th, 2014 04:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wolf_shadow - Jan. 7th, 2014 11:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 7th, 2014 04:05 am (UTC)
For the people who insist that "MOST of fandom isn't like that" (which, BTW, is a No True Scotsman argument), a useful comeback is, "How many of them do you have to hear about before you're willing to stop denying there's a problem?"
Jan. 7th, 2014 05:08 am (UTC)
This is tangentially related, but I thought you might like to see it: Why Marketers Fear Female Geeks
Jan. 7th, 2014 12:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I've seen that article in passing, but haven't had a chance to read it closely yet.
Jan. 8th, 2014 12:34 am (UTC)
That poster reminds me of a cancer we had to cut out of a con I was on committee for, namely a volunteer cosplay judge who felt it was appropriate to demand proof female cosplayers were in the correct underwear.
The phrase "Oh hell no lifeban" comes to mind.
Jan. 8th, 2014 08:16 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for this thoughtful post, Jim. :)

You're definitely right about the conversational dominance thing. I remembered one of my university tutors being surprised when a fellow student pointed this out. But I *was* happy and relieved that my tutor was so willing to listen, and learn.

Less than 1% of YA novels have lgbt characters

That's very sad and worrying. *Especially* how authors are asked to straighten their characters. *shakes head and facepalms*

I was *so* glad when Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith refused to de-gay the protagonist for their upcoming novel Stranger.
Jan. 8th, 2014 12:58 pm (UTC)
Rachel and Sherwood are great people :-)

And I hope that their choice to speak out publicly about what happened will make the next editor or agent think twice about making the same sort of request!
Jan. 8th, 2014 09:54 pm (UTC)
"Experience and Perception of Racial Discrimination " is the "I don't notice what doesn't happen to me" filter in action.

At our last car-buying, the dealer not only interrupted me, but blew off every financially responsible excuse I had as a silly pipe dream. ("Your car's not going to last long enough for you to pay it off. No one ever pays off a car!") The Wookiee did not live up to his nickname by any stretch.
Jan. 9th, 2014 11:26 pm (UTC)
"No one ever pays off a car"

Wow. Given that I've read that around 20% of new-car buyers and 40% of used-car buyers pay cash (and hence by definition pay off their cars), I have a hard time with that...
Jan. 9th, 2014 01:48 am (UTC)
Here are a couple of my favorite studies on institutional racism or sexism:

Race, Criminal Background, and Employment: "What was surprising was that race actually turned out to be more significant than a criminal background. Notice that employers were more likely to call Whites with a criminal record (17% were offered an interview) than Blacks without a criminal record (14%)." (emphasis in the original)

Study Shows Gender Bias in Science is Real: "Half the scientists were given the application with a male name attached, and half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. Results found that the 'female' applicants were rated significantly lower than the 'males' in competence, hireability, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student."


Also, yeah, ten years ago I would've told you I was free of prejudice too -- and I would've been wrong (very wrong). Now I know I have biases, but I'm better than I was ten years ago, and I'm working to keep failing better still. And the first step, for me at least, was acknowledging the reality.
Page 1 of 2
<<[1] [2] >>
( 35 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines

My Books


Latest Month

March 2018
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Tiffany Chow