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Only a Sith Deals in Absolutes

ETA2: Anonymity and pseudonyms are important, and I believe they should be respected, for a number of reasons. However, I’m also aware that a handful of individuals have been actively shit-stirring and spreading disinformation in this ongoing conversation. VitaSineLibrisMorsEst will no longer be commenting on this blog. (Before anyone asks, no, this is not RH. Yes, I know who it is. No, I will not be sharing that information.)

ETA: I’ve gotten a wide range of comments and emails on this post. At least to some extent, I think I’ve screwed up.

  1. I am not defending RH. While I have some criticism of the way Laura Mixon presented her report, I’m grateful to her for doing so, and for shining a light on the abuse, harassment, and other attacks this individual has committed over the years. If my posts came off as a defense of RH, then that’s on me as the writer, and I apologize. This is someone who has been actively abusive, and while it might be ironic, given the title of this post, that’s something I absolutely do condemn.
  2. I’ve been told that some of what I’ve said here mirrors rhetoric being used elsewhere to portray RH as more of a heroic figure speaking truth to power, and dismissing her victims as whiny, thin-skinned authors out for revenge. To which I say Dammit, internets! But I see how I could come across as another voice in that chorus.
  3. A lot of people are hurting and afraid right now. RH’s victims are chief among them, and deserve support. I’ve been talking by email to minority writers who were stalked, threatened, and attacked by RH and her helpers, as well as to minority reviewers who are afraid because they see RH being condemned for her reviews as well as everything else. I believe all of these voices deserve to be acknowledged and heard.
  4. I tried to conflate a conversation about reviewing vs. bullying with a conversation about a specific individual who has hurt a great many people in the field. That was clumsy and stupid on my part. I should have picked one or the other. By trying to do both, I dulled and confused what I was trying to say. I’m sorry for that.

I’m continuing to struggle with all of this, and to sort it out in my own head. Thank you for your comments and your emails. Even the angry and critical ones. Especially those.

#

I’ve been thinking about some of the comments and emails I received after my blog post last week about online bullying and harassment. Several people expressed confusion about exactly what I was saying. Was I defending attacks on authors? Condemning angry reviews?

The answer was neither. I was trying — perhaps unsuccessfully — to acknowledge the damage this individual had done as well as the good.

That’s a little easier for me. To the best of my knowledge, I was never one of her targets. I get that it’s harder when you’re the one who’s been attacked. There’s an editor who’s publicly badmouthed me, calling me various names (“Rotten meat” is my favorite) and basically blacklisting me and a few other folks, among other things. When I see friends of mine working with him, I cringe. Don’t you know what this guy is like? How can you work with someone like that?

Maybe they don’t know what he’s like. Or maybe he’s actually a good editor, I don’t know. It’s hard for me to recognize there’s more here than my annoyance, and to recognize that he’s more than just a cardboard villain.

“Requires  Hate,” or whoever she is, hurt a lot of people. She bullied and threatened and harassed, and none of that is okay. She also raised valid critiques in her reviews, both of specific books and of the genre as a whole. Because yeah, a lot of SF/F is dominated by western culture, and is full of sexism and racism and cultural appropriation and other problems.

I’ve spoken to people who learned a lot from those reviews, and they’re scared to say so publicly, because it feels like an all-or-nothing conversation. The line has been drawn. You have to pick a side. And that’s damaging.

So I want to be very clear about my own thoughts and opinions here. Bullying is not okay. Threats and harassment, calls for violence against an author (or a reviewer, or anyone else) are not okay. Threatening and/or emotionally blackmailing others to condemn a work because you don’t like it, or because you don’t like the author, is not okay. So much of what RH did over the years was not okay, and these are behaviors we need to do a better job of recognizing and speaking out against.

But speaking up to say you find a book offensive? That it’s full of stereotypes, dehumanizing tropes, sexist or racist bullshit, and so on? Criticizing books and authors who perpetuate colonialism or the erasure and sidelining of women and minorities, of disabled and LGBTQ characters? That’s not only okay, it’s necessary. It’s important. Even when the reviewer is angry.

I’ve spoken with people who are watching this conversation and feel afraid, because they see a lot of rage and hostility toward a reviewer who identified as a lesbian and a woman of color. And while some of that rage and hostility feels justified, based on RH’s harassment and bullying, a fair number of us are falling into that all-or-nothing approach. RH is being condemned in entirety, and that includes both her harassment and her reviews and criticisms and so on.

I have a fair amount of power in our community, by virtue of being a published author, a Hugo-winning blogger, and a straight white American male. But imagine being a woman of color, a reviewer from a different culture, an LGBTQ reader, anyone who looks at the dominant narratives in our genre and sees themselves treated as lesser. Imagine feeling angry and wanting to speak up to power. And then imagine seeing quotes like these presented as evidence of damage done to a community by someone like you:

  • “Shit plot. Shit prose. Weeaboo maggotry.”
  • “It’s a regurgitation done without skill, with an extra dose of racism nobody asked for.”
  • “Easily the most overrated thing ever to come out recently, and I’m going to assume that people who gush over how groundbreaking it all is have only ever read Tolkien and Eragon.”

There’s a lot of anger in those comments. I may not agree with them, but so what? Reviewers are never 100% in agreement about anything. But those quotes are presented as part of the condemnation of RH. What’s the takeaway for other reviewers who feel that same anger? Will they be condemned or attacked if they’re not careful and gentle about how they post their reviews? Are they better off simply remaining silent altogether?

ETA: This in no way excuses comments and threats like:

  • “If I see *** being beaten in the street I’ll stop to cheer on the attackers and pour some gasoline on him.”
  • “her hands should be cut off so she can never write another Asian character.”
  • “Spread the word that *** is a raging racist fuck. Let him be hurt, let him bleed, pound him into the fucking ground. No mercy.”

I don’t think Laura Mixon was trying to silence anyone, and she’s done a tremendous amount of work putting that report together. I also give her credit for updating the report as she receives feedback. While I think there are some flaws, I believe that Mixon has done our family a service by bringing all of this out into the open. I know I’d certainly have flaws and problems if I tried to compile something that extensive.

But as this conversation continues, we have to step back from the all-or-nothing approach. Abuse and harassment are unacceptable. I don’t care who you are, or how you try to justify it. And I’m going to continue to work to do a better job recognizing and speaking out when I see it.

I also want to state for the record that blunt, pissed-off, negative reviews are not abuse. Anger is not abuse. Not that anyone needs my permission, but you have the right to your anger at books that rely on racist tropes, that treat women as objects to be raped or killed to motivate the men, that assume only white people exist or matter, that belittle your culture and community, or whatever else.

You have the right to express that anger, and you should be able to do so without fear of backlash from the author, or that the community will try to silence you for daring to voice that anger. Even if the book or story you’re putting through the shredder is one of mine. Because that review isn’t about me. It’s about you and your reaction to the work. And I support you and your right to tear it apart.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
serialbabbler
Nov. 10th, 2014 03:44 pm (UTC)
This I can agree with without reservations.
bigherman
Nov. 10th, 2014 07:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this--it acknowledges a lot of the concerns I have about what is going on.
serialbabbler
Nov. 10th, 2014 09:52 pm (UTC)
I'm actually rather impressed with the width of the comment range you've illicted here. (Well, more on your official site since you've only gotten two comments here. Heh.)

I thought your post was pretty straight foreward.* Shows what I know.

*Abusive behavior is bad and should be confronted/prevented. Critical reviews that show real emotion are not abusive in their own right and need to be a part of the conversation.
jimhines
Nov. 11th, 2014 02:06 am (UTC)
That's the message I was going for, but I made several mistakes in how I presented it, and in the timing. Posting this when people were feeling raw and bloody from events of the past week was...not smart.
serialbabbler
Nov. 11th, 2014 03:18 am (UTC)
Much sympathy to you. I've never been great on timing myself and, of course, the more people involved in a situation, the more difficult it is to get right.
straussmonster
Nov. 11th, 2014 04:36 am (UTC)
This is a thread here that has stuck with me, on this issue, for quite a while.

This is such a fantastically disingenuous thing to say. Also? It's offensive. I'm livid, but I'll moderate my tone because hey, someone else's blog. I won't even touch the idea that I've only ever said inflammatory, critical things about Cindy Pon. You know what you're doing, though? You're a white woman attempting to police a woman of color's language and conduct, and suggesting that her conduct toward a white man means that racism and sexism are surely her logical next step.

To clarify, since that's not what you said: I won't even touch the idea that I've made Cindy Pon some kind of fixation for my attacks, or whatever it is that you wanted to imply.


Of course, later by her own admission, she HAD made Cindy Pon some kind of fixation. But it bothered me then that any critique of language could be brushed aside with the "policing a WoC", and I think that's one reason responses have been as they were and are now.
jemck
Nov. 11th, 2014 09:38 am (UTC)
I'm going to post this here because it's a bit quieter than Jim's main blog...

One (of several) real issue I have with the 'but she made some valid points' argument is that it ignores how often RH used precisely that ploy as cover for calculatedly dishonest reviews.

Such as the author she lambasted for having a dark-skinned villain. That was technically true - the villain was dark-skinned. So was the hero, and across the book overall, there was a wide range of ethnicity and absolutely no correlation between virtue and skin colour.

And let's not forget that when readers attempted to point out things like that, she would then attack them too, pursuing them in multiple online venues with personal abuse.

Then there was the up and coming author whose life she made hell after reading a 500 word excerpt from a short story in which he had a character sitting on a batik cushion. Because that cushion alone was overwhelming evidence of 'exotification' and thus proof of his racism, white male imperialist outlook - and more abuse along the same lines.

The real issue? Could it possibly be that that particular story won first prize in a competition where the girlfriend of one of RH's most assiduous acolytes came second?

RH carefully threaded valid observations through an overall tissue of intellectual dishonesty and that invalidates everything she might have to say as far as I am concerned.

Even before the link with BS was revealed, highlighting yet more calculated lies

A stopped clock is right twice a day. It's still no damn use as a timepiece.
cbzofdeath
Nov. 14th, 2014 07:44 am (UTC)
Things that I don't have a problem with:
Ranty reviews
Comments that call attention to problematic lines of reasoning
Snarky tweets

Things that I'm not okay with:
Harassing people across multiple social media platforms over several years.
Killing comms by abusing and harassing members.
Sending messages encouraging or inciting violence.

Look, everyone shows their ass on occasion, and everyone has written a snarky comment or tweet that perhaps went a bit too far. However, when a person's sustained pattern of negative behavior has the effect of silencing members of a community--and especially when it has the effect of silencing marginalized people, that is crossing a line for me and that is not okay.

At this point, I can't mentally divorce the negative association I have with RH's persona from BS's persona, so no, I don't see myself ever reading any of her work.

That said, I don't think she should be blacklisted in the community or that there should be an organized boycott of her work.

On the plus side, all of this drama has got me rereading The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin (which is excellent, btw, and a great antidote for sff wank).
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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