Barbie, Burquas, April Fool’s Jokes, Writer’s Advice: Small Failures Hurt Us In Big Ways

I like being an introvert. My world is small. I have my books, a few people I care very much about, and I occasionally get out of my shell to have coffee, or go to a convention. I like people, in small doses. I’m happy and loved and comfortable with my life. I pay attention to what’s going on in the world but it’s, honestly, easier for me to stay out of controversy.

Not because I don’t care, but because I’ve already had so much of it. I’m tired of being a target, a victim, an object of ridicule, of derision. I’m exhausted from watching people I love insulted, mocked, abused, disenfranchised. I’m reminded every day that a huge segment of the population thinks it’s okay to take from me and mine. People with so much privilege they don’t even realize they have it, because they never needed to.

I’m white, but I’m a woman, and grew up poor. Left alone a lot, without someone to protect me from the monsters. I have friends who are people of color. Relatives – my step-grandfather, my nephew. The love of my life. My son has a developmental disability, so though he’s male and white and cute (things which normally would give him a better position in society than most) he’s not going to enjoy that privilege for a long time. Maybe never. So I have a vested interest in defending those I love. I am not as good about defending myself, but I make an effort sometimes, even if it’s just so that people I care about don’t have to do it for me.

I point all of this out up front because if I don’t, someone else will. My sex, my relationship, my child, would all used to “prove” that I’m too invested in whatever was being discussed. That I was taking it too personally, that I was choosing to be offended instead of seeing the humor or satire of the situation. Because that’s what I’m told when I step in.

If I was uninvolved, just another white person assuaging my “white guilt” by retweeting the controversy of the day, then I’d be safe. I’d be applauded by a few, largely ignored, but not attacked personally. If I had never been raped, if I was completely heterosexual, if I had never dated a person of color, if my son was born “normal” … then I’d just be an ally. And that’s a good thing, to be a friend and a shield when it’s needed, but it’s easier to be able to walk away when you want to than it is to be someone who’s part of the minority. You don’t always understand why the comment was hurtful or why someone’s actions scared others away from participating.

I can’t walk away, no matter how much I want to stay in my little world, because these jokes and comments are aimed at me and my family. Even if I didn’t care what people said about me, I care very much what’s said about the people I love.

Two things happened this week that got me involved in the conversation. First, Locus Magazine ran an April’s Fool joke mocking Wiscon’s decision (two years ago) to disinvite a guest speaker who’d been making racist and anti-Islamic statements. The Locus post suggested that the convention would force all attendees to wear burquas in the future. The “humor” relied on the reader being offended at the idea of following Islamic customs. It relied on the idea that making a space safe for all women, not just white American ones, was unnecessary and stupid. So I spoke out.

So did a lot of other people. The post was taken down, the online editor apologized – sort of. The author of the post decided he couldn’t have been wrong, and put online not only the content of the Locus joke but his views on the “Feminist Failfandom Brigade”. Read it here. Locus‘s editor-in-chief got involved, fired the writer, and seemed sincerely sorry about the whole thing (read her post here).

I was already worn out from that level of public involvement, when this happened:


click to see the larger version

That’s a photo of page 39 of the Spring 2013 SFWA Bulletin, which says, in addition to the above:

The reason for Barbie’s unbelievable staying power, when every contemporary and wanna-be has fallen by the way-side is, she’s a nice girl. Let the Bratz girls dress like tramps and whores. Barbie never had any of that. Sure, there was a quick buck to be made going that route but it wasn’t for her. Barbie got her college degree, but she never acted as if it was something owed to her, or that Ken ever tried to deny her.

She has always been a role model for young girls, and has remained popular with millions of them throughout their entire lives, because she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.

As you can see from the picture, it also says that Barbie was successful because she was happy, and she was happy because she was perfectly shaped.

The worst part, worse than the stupid, offensive comments about women, is the fact that this article is supposed to be about being successful as a writer. It lists suggestions for improving your career. The SFWA, a professional organization of writers, included this in its official literature. It wants us, as writers, to read this and learn from it.

The SFWA, our writers’s union, our leadership and our guides, want us to know that women should be quiet, nice, and happy, in order to be successful, because otherwise we’re imperfect, unhappy, whores. How can I laugh that off? How can I read that and not stand up?

These two great institutions – SFWA and Locus – which have done so much for writers, in one week announced to the world that:

  • we can feel free make fun of women, because if they don’t like it, that’s their problem
  • we should mock conventions designed to encourage women to be part of the science fiction community
  • we should be offended if anyone wants us to follow Islamic custom, because, ewww
  • feminists are fat, or so ugly they should be covered with black fabric from head to toe
  • women with Barbie-like proportions, white skin, blue eyes, and blond hair are perfect (therefore, women don’t look like that aren’t)
  • women should be quiet, respectful, and appreciate their place in a man’s world
  • women who meet the current standards of beauty are happier because they like being objectified
  • women who aren’t sexually active are nicer than those who are
  • a child’s toy can be considered a “tramp” or “whore”

At least Locus realized they were wrong, and corrected the situation. I haven’t yet seen anyone from the SFWA commenting on this.

But you know what I have seen? Comments from people telling me that I am overreacting, humorless, a radical feminist, and that I shouldn’t choose to be offended. I got an email telling me that while the SFWA author was probably wrong to say what he did, he’s not a bad guy and didn’t mean it in a bad way.

This is the community I’m supposed to feel safe in. This is where I’m supposed to feel at home.

Tell me how I do that if nothing is going to change.

24 thoughts on “Barbie, Burquas, April Fool’s Jokes, Writer’s Advice: Small Failures Hurt Us In Big Ways

  1. Thank you.

    I’m particularly unsettled by the Bulletin article. I hadn’t read my copy yet–I was just glad the cover this month was only metaphorically tasteless instead of literally tasteless–but I’m also not surprised to find out they’re being horrendously misogynist again.😦

    • This month’s cover was an attempt at an homage to our new Grandmaster, so while it’s not my favorite art, I understand the intent. This was my first Bulletin (I’ve been a member for over a year but for a long time wasn’t getting any mail from them; just got the handbook a month ago), so I missed the other cover.

  2. Like Cory, I hadn’t read the Bulletin yet. I will. Thank you for posting this.

  3. Beautifully said. Thank you. It’s so tiring to care and be open about being hurt by the things that hurt us. My small note of hope is that I found your post because SFWA members read it, linked to it and are paying attention.

  4. Thank you for pointing this out – I also had not read the Bulletin yet. I was one of the people who called them out on the Forum re: the last issue’s cover (so we could get collectively patted on the head and belittled by various luminaries in the field), so I apparently do lot have “quiet dignity” to maintain. Ironically, a sizeable chunk of our membership dues go to…supporting the Bulletin. I am struggling with whether or not to bother to renew again this year.😦

    • I think the SFWA still has a lot to offer, but it’s also important to speak up when things like this – articles and essays read by some as innocent/not offensive – so that those who are in a position to make changes hear that the membership wants those changes.

  5. :Claps: Thank you, Carrie.

  6. Thank you very much for speaking out, and for saying this so eloquently.

  7. Thanks for pointing that out, but I gotta say… anyone who thinks Barbie is 100% wholesome doesn’t know their Barbie history. Barbie’s proportions are as they are because Barbie’s design was based on the German-made Bild Lilli doll. Bild Lilli is an adult comic book character who was a prostitute. So, can we stop going on about how wholesome Barbie is?

    Carrie, I’m with you. I’ve noticed a lot of sexism in Locus magazine which I find odd since it’s supposed to be a professional SFF writers’ magazine.

    • Locus had the burqua “joke”; the SFWA Bulletin had the Barbie reference.

      I agree that Barbie hasn’t had the best history, and certainly had her share of sexualized outfits. It was a bad analogy on a lot of levels.

  8. Bravo. Thanks for being so brave as to raise this in public. I was aware of the Bulletin error (and am appalled by it) but the Locus “joke” slipped right by me. It’s better to be informed, even it does make one feel rather less for one’s community.

    • CJ’s Bulletin article wasn’t an error. It was written, accepted, and edited by individuals who made a choice to include it. I happen to think it was a bad choice, and the judgment of those involved should be questioned.

      The Locus situation was different in that one person posted something which was later seen by the online editor & editor-in-chief, and removed. The administration apologized. It’s easier, in that case, to see it as one person’s bad choices, not indicative of the whole community.

      Until we see apologies and a plan to avoid this in the future from the SFWA, it says no one in charge thinks this was wrong. It says they think our community is fine with this view of women. I thought our community was better than that.

  9. Thank you for speaking up!

  10. You raised a lot of really good points. Many times racism and sexism masquerades as “humor”. Which probably says more about the sense of inadequacy of the person making the comment. The people with those attitudes underneath it all must feel threatend. Probably most of losing their sense of inherent entitlement. By way of background, I am a successful brown man married to an indepent, accomplished white woman and we have a special needs son. It’s always nice when someone notices me or my wife or my son as a person not as a label..

  11. Very new member here. I had been so happy with SFWA’s behavior in the Hydra debacle. I thought “Yay! This is why I joined!”

    But I also have this standard that, if an organization I belong to says something stupid and sexist, they apologize for it. (I don’t ask that they DON’T do it in the first place, since–y’know–life, I just ask they APOLOGIZE when somebody calls them on the carpet and says “Dude. Not okay.”)

    I would forgive Locus, because they apologized. But until SFWA (or the Bulletin, more specifically) says “You’re right, that was dumb, we’re sorry and we’ll try to do better…”


  12. Carrie you’re brilliant and the world plus myself are asses. Behavior like this and the monsters are true to life. We all believe ourselves to wear the white hat, but few manage it. There will never be a shortage of asses giving offense, but call them on it and never take it.

  13. Ow. I never got to the end of that article, because it was kind of boring, but I went back and yeah, you called it.

    • I’m glad this is still up and it’s still being read because it’s important to know why we’re pushing for change–but I also want to point out that recent changes to the SFWA staff and an outpouring of concern/effort by the membership mean articles like this are unlikely to appear there again.

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