SF writers' association draws stinging criticism with chainmail bikini cover and articles praising Barbie and 'lady editors'
A row has been brewing for two weeks over the Bulletin, which also ran a column referring to "lady writers" and "lady editors", describing them as "beauty pageant beautiful" or a "knock out".
The columnists, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, responded to claims that their descriptions were sexist in another bulletin, where they wrote that "all we did was appear in a magazine with a warrior woman on the cover, and mention that a woman who edited a science fiction magazine 65 years ago was beautiful. If they get away with censoring that, can you imagine what comes next? I'm pretty sure Joe Stalin could imagine it … Even Chairman Mao could imagine it."
The issues provoked blistering attacks from authors online, with some going so far as to withdraw their membership of the organisation.
"I loved so many things about you – but your apparent willingness to overlook constant and continued sexism in your own publication and ranks I do not love," wrote E Catherine Tobler, who later said she received a "flood of hate mail" for her comments. "People have told me I never should have joined SFWA if this is what I wanted from it. That I was wrong to try to make it conform to me and my ideals. They have told me not to let the door hit my perky ass on the way out. (You see what they did there?)" she wrote.
The bestselling author Ann Aguirre spoke out about sexism in science fiction on a wider basis, of how she has been treated by male writers when at conventions – "I had a respected SF writer call me 'girlie' and demand that I get him a coffee, before the panel we were on TOGETHER," she wrote on her blog – and of the "dismissive, occasionally scornful attitude" she has found as a woman writing science fiction.
"I've held my silence when I probably shouldn't have. But I was in the minority, a woman writing SF, and I was afraid of career backlash. I was afraid of being excluded or losing opportunities if I didn't play nice," wrote Aguirre.
"I don't care about that any more. If this means I don't get into anthos [anthologies] or invited to parties, I don't give a fuck. I care more about doing the right thing, about speaking out, so maybe other women who have had these experiences will do the same. If enough of us gather the courage to say, 'Hey, look, this is NOT ALL RIGHT,' maybe the world will change."
Like Tobler, her post provoked hate mail, which she added to her blog: one correspondent told her: "Its bitches like you that are ruining SF. Why cant you leave it to men who know what their doing?" [sic].
Aguirre has since told Publishers Weekly that while she "didn't post the worst, scariest or ugliest hate mail I received … at this point, the positive feedback exponentially outweighs the hateful microcosm, and I'm so glad I did this.
"I've gotten an overwhelming number of emails, thanking me for being brave because now this woman has the courage to tell her own story or to stand up for herself and demand better treatment. A number of those emails brought me to tears, and if I helped strengthen the sisterhood and made other women feel better, then it was all worth it. I'm so proud to know so many courageous, creative women. The positive I see coming from this is that we've broken through the wall of silence, where it's better to swallow our shame and outrage. If we're united in our determination to demand equality and respect, the situation must improve," she said.
The SFWA president, author John Scalzi, has also apologised to members, saying that "when members believe that they or other members are belittled or minimized by our official publications, that's a problem" and "as president of the organisation, I apologise to those members".
And the Bulletin's editor, Jean Rabe, has resigned.