Barbie's Quiet Dignity and Progress

Some days it's easy to despair that sexism will ever be over.

Let's take the latest SFWA* scandal. The upshot: Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, two icons of science fiction from yesteryear, made some kinda sexist comments in a Bulletin article entitled "Literary Ladies." Which was, well, you know, sometimes it's hard to keep up with mores that have changed dramatically over your lifetime? Regrettable, but old habits die hard. When called on it, though, rather than apologizing, these gentlemen (and other, presumably male, members of the SFWA) reportedly went on a rampage on the SFWA forums and in a whopper of a rebuttal, among other things telling complainants that they should emulate Barbie and maintain a "quiet dignity."

I'll let other people take this from here. Say, Jim Hines and his fabulous linklog.

And that's just one more drop in what seems like a never-ending stream of sexism. Let us not forget Anita Sarkeesian and the Feminist Frequency Kickstarter and ensuing barrage of death and rape threats. Or that one time the New York Times started an obituary of a female rocket scientist by talking about her cooking and devotion to her children. Frankly there's not enough time in the world for me to catalog all of the sexist garbage that's gone down in the geek spaces of SF/F, games, comics, tech. Even if I were to limit myself to the last year or two!

Given that big hot stinking mess of sexism, it's easy to lose hope and think we're not getting anywhere. Sexism can't possibly be going away if we're hearing so much about it, right? The dudebros have won and we might as well cede control of geek spaces to them, alas.

Au contraire, my comrades for social justice. That the SFWA scandal exists and is being perceived as a scandal -- and that the leadership is taking it very seriously indeed -- is amazing and awesome. It means we've made tons of progress. We're winning this fight. No, for real.

You know the famous quote from Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." It's easy to think it's just a nice piece of rhetoric, but actually it's a pretty deep and accurate portrayal of how social change happens. Those "ignoring you" and "laughing at you" steps are what happens when the bulk of an affected population don't agree that a problem is a problem.

If I were to tell you that having long hair was offensive to the follicle-impaired, and if someone subsequently posted a magnum opus on how to style hair a la Princess Amidala, there would be no scandal. There's no perception out there that this is in any way a problem.

We have enough critical mass behind gender equality now that ongoing reports of sexism are being treated as a problem, and a serious one, too. Better, there's a snowball effect in play: Some of the men (and women!) who didn't really think there was a problem before will see, have seen exactly how people are treated when they speak up. Increasingly, you're seen as a total dinosaur or a total dick if you persist in engaging in problematic behaviors. Anita Sarkeesian, bless her, had to live through some horrible things -- but she did so publicly, and in doing so persuaded a vast body of people who hadn't cared about this stuff before that there truly are some awful things out there, and that it's worth fighting them.

The army grows. The battle rages. And then we win.

* I still don't qualify to be a member, of course, even though I've made proper non-ARG narrative games since then. Which makes me very sad. Oh, legitimacy, you are ever found elsewhere.