Doubling Down on Double Standards

I’ve made the usual criticisms of John Scalzi and of Ken White in the past seven days, so let me take a moment to say that the present target they’re both taking aim at – one Sean P. Fodera – deserves to be hit. Unlike Tom Perkins or Pax Dickinson or any of the other people that Ken White wants excluded from the marketplace of ideas, Fodera actually did something to harm the functioning of the marketplace – by threatening to sue people who said things about him he doesn’t like. His legal claim, as I understand these things, is indeed without merit, and even if it weren’t, I don’t approve of silencing tactics. So, good on Scalzi and White for calling him out.

And it would be nice to leave it at that, but then Scalzi posts this followup to his piece on Fodera that shows all of his normal double standards at work. It concerns Mary Robinette Kowal, who was singled out – apparently unjustly – by Fodera as someone who gives him the creeps. John Scalzi is her biggest fan, and she’s wonderful, and awesome, and capable, and the fact that Fodera described her as an "unperson – no one you should have heard of" is just totally unconscionable because she’s won a Hugo award, so there. Which, you know, is probably all on the up-and-up and is not my point here. The point is that Scalzi calls the post "Mary Robinette Kowal Offers Herself Up as a Useful Representative Example." Then the first line in the post is "Of What? Of the sort of crap women get, all the time." So, you could be forgiven for thinking that this post had anything to do with whether sexism played a role in Fodera’s diatribe against Kowal.

Now, let’s look at some of the comments that are "on topic."

[Priscellie – 11:12am] (link)

Mary Robinette Kowal’s books are FANTASTIC, and anyone who feels they shouldn’t be concerned with her work is not only a thundering idiot, they’re denying themselves some of the most delightful, original, beautifully crafted, emotionally powerful stuff the genre has to offer. … Why do some people feel that because they disagree with someone politically, all of that person’s achievements are meaningless? I guess that’s the only way these cowardly cretins can handle feeling threatened by someone from the opposite sex refusing to fit into their antediluvian, obsolete worldview: pretend she’s obsolete instead. What fools.

[GeekMelange – 11:13am] (link)

I’m getting really tired of the idea that there’s some magical middle ground here between people engaging in misogynistic, racist, homophobic, etc., behavior and people calling out said behavior for what it is. The bottom line is that engaging in misogynistic, racist, homophobic, etc., behavior is inherently disrespectful from the word GO and there’s no middle ground to be had when arguing over whether or not someone deserves to be treated with basic respect because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, whatever.

[uleaguehub – 11:37am] (link)

What really interests me is the mechanics of a publisher’s employee feeling as though he and his fellow misogynists are somehow entitled to a “safe haven” for their thuggish immaturity. It’s as if the little nest of roaches you keep smacking as it pops up in a new location every week (yep, laid poison under the sink… yep, behind the refrigerator… yep, in that crack in the baseboard…) suddenly started picketing you. Teeny-weeny signs saying “It’s OUR kitchen, too!” and “Unfair to vermin!”

And here’s one that was "off topic," but stated with enough deference to Scalzi’s incredibly thin-skinned sensibilities that it was allowed to stay:

[Todd – 12:03] (link)

But just to throw a counterpoint in here: It seems to me that MRK, like you, Jim Hines, your archenemy, and Orson Scott Card, has chosen to involve herself in "The Great SF/F Debate about Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation". (I recall her participation in Hines’ "pose-off" activity–which is mentioned in one of the hyperlinked posts.) As you know, you have your online detractors–as do Hines, OSC, and your archenemy. My point being this: When an author chooses to become a quasi-political activist, that author is going to draw detractors from the other side of the political fence. And those detractors frequently become nasty. It doesn’t matter whether the author is male, female, gay, straight, etc.

So, it’s instructive to see how Scalzi responds to this one, and to note that he didn’t feel the need to respond to any of those other three linked, or the many, many others like them.

[Scalzi – 12:22pm] (link)

Leaving aside the loaded and highly contentious assertion that expecting to be treated equally and with respect is somehow an outspoken partisan political position, why would it have to be an "or" thing? Beyond that, if we agree that things are being said about her that are beyond the pale, why does it matter? If you’re being sexist and denegrating, it is not mitigated by your impetus. Todd, let me suggest for followups you try to stay tightly focused — meandering digressions here are likely to be off topic.

Man, oh man, where to begin? The obvious, I guess, which is the interesting question of why Todd is not being "tightly focused" or is otherwise presenting with "meandering digressions" that are "likely to be off topic" for talking about whether Fodera’s rant is sexist, when many, many other commenters have addressed exactly that issue without being accused of not being "tightly focused" or presenting with "meandering digressions," and when the post itself offers Fodera’s rant as an example of sexism. I mean, fer cryin’ out loud, how discourse-challenged do you have to be to not know that asserting that something is an example of a thing can reasonably be met with responses that say that it might not be an example of the thing you think it is?

To put a fine point on it, when a group of famous writers petition the SFWA saying that instating a new review board to vet all issues of the SFWA Bulletein to make sure that it doesn’t contain things that are politically contentious in a way that offends a certain segment of the SFWA readership amounts to "censorship," Scalzi seems to understand that putting up a post saying "no it doesn’t" is relevant to the subject at hand. So it shouldn’t be hard for him to extend that to someone saying, in much clearer and more diplomatic terms (note that — as Scalzi’s post, by contrast, was both coy about what it was talking about and contentious – which is the coward’s path), that there isn’t any real evidence Fodera was being sexist, he might just really not like Kowal personally or professionally. There’s no question that Todd’s post is "on topic." The only reason Scalzi thinks it might not be "on topic" is because he mistakenly thinks that the topic of discussion started by any of his assertions is "who can agree with me most?" He’s like King Lear banishing Cordelia.

The other thing I’d like to know is whether Scalzi thinks it is possible for men to have personal animus against women at all, or is it always sexist? I ask this because he himself is in the habit of refering to Vox Day as "that racist, sexist, homophobic dipshit with an adorable mancrush on me," which would seem to be motivated by non-sexist personal animus. He is surely aware that Beale/Day, for his part, calls him things like "Gamma Rabbit" and "McRapey," which are certainly motivated by animus, and yet he doesn’t seem to think that this is sexist animus. That is, Beale doesn’t hate Scalzi because he’s male, and Scalzi doesn’t hate Beale because he’s male, they hate each other because their political ideologies and personality characteristics are diametrically opposed. Does Scalzi think it is impossible for that kind of animus to exist between a man and a woman? Or is it always the case that when a man feels that kind of animus toward a woman it is sexist, and is it likewise always the case that when a woman feels that kind of animus toward a man (let’s keep in mind that Kowal is on record telling several unnamed but presumably male "rabid weasels" in the SFWA to "shut the fuck up") it is NOT sexist? And if he does think it’s possible for individual men to hate individual women as individual women without being sexist, how does he know that that’s not what’s going on here? What evidence can he cite that it’s Kowal’s gender, and not her personality or political position, that’s offensive to Fodera? Likewise, how does he know that Kowal’s criticism of the "Twelve Weasels of the SFWA" was not motivated by sexism? And don’t tell me it’s that he knows Kowal personally and can vouch for her, since he also knows Fodera and decribes him in his original post as a "decent and good person." I mean, the prima facie evidence here would seem to suggest that Todd has a point. After all, I’ve just cited examples of men attacking men, and women attacking men – and Scalzi started us off with an example of a man attacking a woman – so it would appear to the casual observer that there’s excessive rhetoric all ’round. Todd’s comment strikes me as eminently reasonable: given that it’s the case that women (not just "women" but the woman in question) call men things like "rabid weasels," and that men call men things like "McRapey," unless you subscribe to the theory that any rhetorically excessive criticism that a man makes of a woman is automatically sexist (and if you subscribe to that theory, you should really come out and say so), you’ve got some homework left to do before saying that Fodera’s attack on Kowal is an example of "the sort of crap women get, all the time."

Finally and most importantly, there’s no reason to "[leave] aside the loaded and highly contentious assertion that expecting to be treated equally and with respect is somehow an outspoken partisan political position," because this assertion is neither "loaded" nor "highly contentious." Or, rather, if that were the assertion that Todd were making, perhaps it would be, but of course Todd is making no such assertion. Todd hasn’t challenged the idea that "expecting to be treated equally and with respect is somehow an outspoken partisan political position," the "partisan political position," as Scalzi well knows, is what counts as being "treated equally," who gets to decide, and what methods the SFWA in particular is allowed to and should (or should not) take to make sure that its members treat each other "equally," however defined. There is a lot of disagreement and misunderstanding about those points, they are not easy issues, there are legitimate points of view on those questions that differ from Scalzi’s own, and they are currently under very public discussion.

What Scalzi is doing, of course, is a rhetorical fallacy well-known by the name of card stacking, in which you define the terms of the debate in such a way that disagreement is not really possible, and it’s one of the older and more pernicious tricks in the political book. It beggars belief that Scalzi can’t understand why people call him a "censor" for using tricks like this, that have been common tools in the chests of fascists and witchhunters, but which are, or should be, beneath the dignity of junior high debate teams. What we want is a world where people can argue in good faith on the merits of their position without trickery and personal attacks and the like. Scalzi (and Ken White) is(/are) correct that Fodera isn’t doing that. He’s trying to rig the game in his favor, and as such he’s damaging the marketplace of ideas. But Scalzi is doing the same thing on a smaller scale by acting like this. Pointing the finger at someone who is wrong doesn’t make you right, you know. You have to actually BE right to be one of the good guys.

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