I decided to weigh in on the Jonathan Ross/Hugos story because of what I saw as gendered discourse in the backlash to the backlash, and because Seanan McGuire is someone I know (and I make music with her girlfriend) and deeply respect for her non-fiction writing on feminism, sexual orientation, and representation in fandom and fiction. Her fiction is great too, but that’s not why I’m here.
I think angry women get dismissed as hysterical or irrational as a way of rendering their anger illegitimate and something that can be ignored. I also know that when you say something offensive, and someone gets offended, one way to take the high ground back is to accuse them of “not wanting dialogue.” Both of these elements are at play in the Ross-Hugos controversy, particularly the post-facto focus on Seanan.
In this post I’m going to offer some examples of the accusations and vitriol leveled at Seanan, then rely on the good works of others to show why they are at best cherry-picked, and finish with a few thoughts about how to read this aspect of the whole event. But as you read please remember: at best cherry-picked. So why does she become the poster-child for “bullying” Jonathan Ross?
Here are some examples.
From the Telegraph – “It really is time people stopped hating Jonathan Ross.”
The angry mob was led by Hugo-winning Californian author Seanan McGuire, who tweeted: “I’ve really enjoyed knowing that, were I to be nominated for a Hugo, the host wouldn’t see me and make fat jokes. Like, that thought has actually crossed my mind, when shopping for Hugo dresses, ‘The host won’t mock me’.”
… Several things struck me about all this. First, how sad it was that McGuire inadvertently fat-shamed herself. She clearly felt so bad about wearing a posh frock that she started imagining insults being hurled at her by a generic ghastly man. That’s hurty as hell but it says more about her self-esteem than it does about Wossy.
The New Statesman wrote: “Seanan McGuire, the most vocal of the Twitter pitchfork mob.”
“Reading all your yay! women! tweets this morning, while you rudely ignore a real, live 17 yr old girl … whom you hurt deeply with your words, is jaw-dropping[sic].
“You falsely accuse her father of sizeism, she gathers the courage to speak to a bullying adult with 12.5k followers … and you ignored her and casually blathered on about the Oscars. Don’t worry about the three real women whose weekend you ruined (me and my daughters).
Goldman then deleted her twitter account. The Independent called the piece in which they quoted Goldman as “family bombarded with abuse.”
Throughout the pro-Ross camp, the goal has been to make him the victim of feminazi aggression, led by McGuire, when after-all Ross hasn’t really been that offensive since 2008, and those quotes were mostly taken out of context (I linked to some in my previous post). Seanan and Goldman’s daughter have since exchanged twitter pleasantries.
But there are some basic factual problems with these accusations, beyond the bigger context of the delegitimzation of female speech that interests me. As writer K. Tempest Bradford points out:
Why did Jane say all this to Seanan? Because one of her daughters tweeted at Seanan earlier and Seanan didn’t respond. And Jane decided that this is because Seanan is a bully and a weekend ruiner and a tear bringer.
Now, I can understand Jane being upset that Seanan did not answer her daughter’s tweets. But what’s fucked up here is that she assumed Seanan ignored them on purpose. While knowing that Seanan has 12.5 thousand followers. Perhaps Jane doesn’t understand that when you’re popular enough to have 12.5K followers, the @ mentions feed can get very full and you might miss some things. Except maybe she could have asked her husband about that since he has 3.65 million followers and must go through he same thing.
The important thing is this: Ross’ announcement, the initial backlash from well-connected men and women in the SF world, and his first offer to withdraw, all happened during the day ON U.K. TIME. Seanan McGuire, wise woman that she is, was asleep for much of it.
Here’s a much more detailed Storify of the unfolding of events on twitter, where most of this “happened.” Using the time stamps on the tweets, which are not necessarily reflective of local time for anyone.
- 4:15 AM – Farah Mendlesohn, member of the concom, resigns over Ross before the online announcement goes out but after news was released to staff. She writes a livejournal post (since gone private)about her concerns. So the concom should have known the storm was coming.
- 4:16 AM – Loncon announces.
- 4:21 AM – Charlie Stross, author, relays his response to his 20,000+ followers. “Fuck.” No one calls him hysterical or accuses him of leading a mob.
- 5:07 AM – Patrick Nielsen Hayden, “master of Tor,” asks Loncon, “Are you out of your mind?”
- 5:41 AM – Ross (3+ million followers) responds to a fan expressing dismay (with 95 followers) by calling her stupid.
- The conversation continues, lots of people weigh in, lots of dissent and dismay, some reasonable responses by defenders, Ross himself is pissy at detractors (celebrities doing things for free expect to be thanked, not castigated).
- 9:37 AM – Ross reveals he has already offered to withdraw.
- 10:32 AM- Six hours later, Seanan wakes up, hears about Ross, and begins tweeting to her 12,000+ followers. Like Charlie, her first post says, “Fuck.” Like Charlie, later posts are articulate about her dissent.
- 11:31 AM – Ross resigns.
@ferretthimself Apparently, because I was articulate and upset, I am now the poster girl for why he withdrew from the gig.
— Seanan McGuire (@seananmcguire) March 1, 2014
1) The fixation on Seanan doesn’t meet the facts or the timeline.
2) Jane Goldman’s accusations of Seanan shaming her daughter don’t stand up.
3) Given the role of powerful men in the SFF community in this, the media and fannish fixation on Seanan reflects the continued power of patriarchal norms in shaping our response to events – consciously or unconsciously.
So knock it off.
48 Replies to “Seanan McGuire’s Angry Mob”
Well, nothing to disagree with there. The fixation on Ms McGuire has been daft.
I think I hate Twitter though. Without it there might have been a reasonable discussion about JR's merits or otherwise. And a way through the mess without a decision effectively being made by a rabble.
Yup. Twitter is problematic. An anthropologist of online society I know says that Facebook makes you like people you don't know, and twitter makes you hate people you do know.
Without Twitter, we wouldn't have a literal numerical representation of the relative power and "voice" of each participant in this conversation (follower count) or a timeline that corrects the distortions of the media and observer bias. Because I've seen a whole lot of people act as if McGuire was the first person to complain, and this analysis makes it clear that she was neither the first nor the "loudest" to do so. Just the first prominent woman.
I think Twitter is excellent for democratizing conversations about power in this way.
I did like that I had those time stamps and follower numbers when putting this together.
Nora – it may be good for analysis but it has a propensity for turning a discussion into a flash-mob. And decisions made by mobs are not generally good ones.
I also quite liked Kari Sperring's post mentioning the women involved: http://users.livejournal.com/la_marquise_de_/362239.html
Blimey, that's a great post.
While there are some good points in there, in the comments it becomes a bit more troublesome, at one point an anonymous accusation of those criticizing Ross being "just like Westboro Baptist" and the author of the post saying that was a "fair point." But I guess "never read the comments" applies at all times.
I never read the comments except when you post! (I always read the comments, it's a character flaw).
David, you are my favorite.
Interesting. I'm so old out of the scifi/fantasy world now. Back in the 90s I frankly found myself often horrified at the outright sexism of some many in that world. Now I want to read McGuire. Good insight as always David.
If what you take from this post is a desire to read McGuire, I have won.
I have read all of McGuire's October Daye mysteries and I love 'em.
"accusations and vitriol leveled at Seanan"
I think there's been accusations levelled on both sides. None are especially helpful.
A backlash at Seanan is unwarranted.
"Throughout the pro-Ross camp, the goal has been to make him the victim of feminazi aggression"
Hm. Not sure that's a helpful characterisation. Maybe some who are in support of Ross have framed things as such, but I doubt all.
I don't see myself as 'pro Ross' or 'pro Seanan' or anti-anyone.
But I definitely don't think seeing problems with how this has played out means I would be in any way anti-feminist.
Nor, in fairness, would I automatically label someone with objections to Ross hosting a bully.
I have used the words "mob" and "bully" but not at Seanan. I would also use it with her receiving a backlash of accusations and vitriol. And to various other people I could list who have ended up as villain of the week for whatever controversy (Caitlin Moran and the Sherlock fanfiction thing comes to mind). It doesn't necessarily matter to me how controversial the figures are, or how deserving of empathy they may or may not be, or how wrong or right their stance is on an issue, or how much power in society they have. It's still not ok for the internet to gang up and tell someone how awful they are.
""I tweeted at him/her and they didn't respond," is, I think, the weakest accusation of bullying I've read in quite awhile."
Sure. It sounds unlikely an irrational as far as reasoning goes. Likely because, as you point out, she's upset (which doesn't excuse the assumption, but does explain it).
She likely made the assumption because her perception of Seanan is coloured by her thinking Goldman's husband is the type of person to publicly shame her for being fat, and is therefore on the defensive.
Likewise, Seanan made the assumption Ross would do that because all she really knows about Ross is based on his persona and the controversies in the tabloids. (i.e doesn't know him personally).
Seanan responded utterly reasonably that she had not ignored Goldman's daughter on purpose, but that sometimes replies 'fold' and you can't see them. She then had an eminently sensible exchange with Ross's daughter and, frankly, the tweets between Seanan McGuire and Honey Kinny Ross make the most sense out of anything I've read about any of this. It's a shame they couldn't have been the only words exchanged.
Both Goldman and Seanan have used emotive language here – Goldman with the tear bringing and how Seanan has upset 3 women and Seanan "..you got a man who says things about women like me that I won't put on my twitter. I am actually crying" I am not judging EITHER of them for having an emotional response, by the way, it's valid, as both are protecting things that are important to them.
"Ross himself is pissy at detractors (celebrities doing things for free expect to be thanked, not castigated)."
In fairness, there were a lot of people assuming he would get paid, and didn't want their entrance money going to him – so pointing out it's voluntary and he wouldn't be paid is a valid response to that criticism.
No disrespect intended (and I know that's usually the preface to something disrespectful, but I'm being sincere) but do you not think that your defence of Seanan is not dissimilar to Goldman and Gaiman's defence of Ross?
I.e you know the actual person involved and what their intentions were, you are aware they are a good person and want to defend them from detractors and attackers?
I'm not leaving blogger, but I hate their comment system sometimes, especially when people write long complex comments to which I want to respond. As always, thanks for the comment.
A couple of points: Both sides got emotional and there's nothing wrong with getting emotional, so long as that's not where it ends. We get to feel what we feel and express what we feel. The rest of us get to decide not whether what we feel is legit, but whether we care (too many "we" there, but I think you'll get it! :)). I also think Ross' reaction is fully understandable. In fact, I see all the first-wave reactions here as legitimate. Ross is announced, people get upset, Ross and family get upset back.
Where I question is this fixation in Seanan as the cause terrible of the event, hence the timeline. I continue to feel that the fixation on Seanan is based on, well, on patriarchy. Patriarchy drives us, subtly and subconsciously, to fixate on the angry woman, to use the language of mob, rampage, hysteria, and this is a classic case.
As a writer about gender, what I like about this case is the way that the timeline enables us to see how the defenders chose Seanan – not Charlie, not Patrick, not any of the other folks – but the angry upset queer feminist woman – as the target of their counter-wrath.
I think the fixation with Seanan McGuire as opposed to Charlie Stross, say, is that while he posted "Fuck" as his immediate gut reaction, then went off and wrote a thoughtful blog post about the whole thing, she went off on a 14-tweet tirade of pure gut reaction, starting with "WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK", building through the whole strawman "what if he calls me fat?" thing, policing Ross's fan status along the way (calling for "someone who ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD THE AWARD" rather than Jonathan Ross, who as Seanan now knows has a Hugo award – his wife's – on the shelf at home), accusing the organisers of a "FUCKING LIE" (block capitals hers, not mine) and culminating in "How dare you, Loncon. How. Fucking. Dare. You."
The whole thing is storified here: http://storify.com/jimchines/why-jonathan-ross-is-the-wrong-choice-for-the-hugo
It really is a masterpiece of vitriol.
To imply some sort of equivalence between that reaction and that of Stross or anyone else is disingenuous. If you can find me someone – anyone – else whose reaction came close to that, I'd concede you have a point, but as far as I know, *nobody* reacted the way Seanan McGuire did. That's why she got all the attention.
Well, I can see that point, though it veers very close to tone argument land. But regardless Ross had already offered to resign and there had been 6 hrs of backlash before Seanan even woke up. So whatever you think of her tweets (which I read differently), the fixation on her doesn't match the facts.
I think the fixation matches the fact that nobody else went off on one on the scale she did. That's a point of fact.
In respect of the tone argument point, I want to make clear that I'm not saying her reaction was invalid, or wasn't heartfelt, or that the way she said what she said should in any way detract from the meaning of it. I'm just saying it explains why she got a lot of the attention.
I think we are, as a culture (broadly speaking), wired to respond to angry women in particular ways, and that this matches those patterns. To read being upset and vulgar as crossing lines that must not be crossed.
I mainly see her as the wrong person to fixate upon because she didn't accuse him directly (@wossy) but more talked about her own fears, feelings and responses.
Therefore I don't think it could be taken as intended to drive him out (as some others seemed to want to do) as there's no guarantee he'd even see it. She clearly wasn't happy with him as a choice, and was vocal, but she didn't directly attack him, either.
Your timeline does demonstrate she isn't patient zero here – but even if she wasn't near the end of it, I don't think any one person would likely be to blame for a twitterstorm. Seems like a variety of (unfortunate) factors contributed here.
That's all fair analysis, I think, emo.
The storify link above omits this rather telling post from McGuire, posted during her rant about Ross. IMO this reveals much about "her own fears, feelings and responses." Whenever people say it's "not sour grapes" it often is. Even if the poster has only just woken up.
Also, and this is not sour grapes speaking, but: I HAVE VOLUNTEERED TO HOST THE HUGOS. I'm an award-winning stand-up comic.
(8:35 AM – 1 Mar 2014)
Will be interesting to see who presents.
Let's take this tweet and your comment seriously, despite your use of the de-legitimizing word "rant." I'll take you seriously if you take me seriously and you think about the context for that word. A "rant," by its nature, is something you can dismiss.
I want you to imagine you were a queer feminist author scratching her way into the profession, making the transition from fan-fiction author to full-time bestseller, but always aware of the obstacles you transcended, the boundaries you transgressed, and the limitations of representation for people like you in the genre – both as a producers and characters.
And then for the leading event in the profession, someone you perceive as diametrically opposed to you and everything you've done is appointed instead of you.
I don't think "sour grapes" accurately reflects the feelings of disappointment, anger, betrayal, cognitive dissonance, and so forth that emerges from such a moment.
Not sure about the "instead of you" there, David. Nobody has a *right* to be appointed to the position. but I do understand the reaction nevertheless.
No no, I just meant that assuming Seanan had genuinely thought she might be in the running (I'm not sure that's true, for what it's worth), then the whiplash effect would be greater than sour grapes can cover.
Sorry, inflammatory remarks like 'White Dude Parade' made me perceive McGuire's posts as a bit of a rant. So, if i am imagining correctly, it's okay to have an 'outburst' (if not a 'rant') about a stranger on Twitter if one has struggled in some way with self-esteem issues (as McGuire's fearful comments about potentially being called 'fat' by him would suggest). If and when McGuire does end up presenting the Hugos, this perhaps becomes a justification of exploiting one's status as a 'victim' – the very same exploitation that members of the Ross family are now being accused of.
I understand your perceptions. I recommend you take a few days and think about how your perceptions might be shaped all sorts of interesting factors. I don't know you, so I can't say what they might be.
One thing is for sure. Loncon will not be inviting Seanan to host the Hugos. So your double hypothetical that is fueling your irritation "If … perhaps …" seems a bit premature.
Very much agree on the sexism involved in vilifying Ms. McGuire.
One quick correction:
'5:07 AM – Patrick Nielsen Hayden, master of Tor, asks Loncon, "Are you out of your mind?"'
PNH is no more the "master of Tor" than any other senior Tor editor (unless you mean tor.com, anyway, which is a web/blogging site, not a publisher). This is a misunderstanding that Phil Foglio confusedly helped spread a few months ago, but it isn't, strictly speaking, true.
Also, just read Indexing, which was -fabulous-.
I know re: Patrick. It was tongue-in-cheek and he, on twitter, said he was amused. I did think about Foglio but I decided to go with it anyway.
Ah, ok. I'd probably have used scare quotes there to avoid miscommunication, but no harm, no foul.
The thing about Twitter is that it's so short, there's so little time between starting to write and posting, that you can write one, or several, things that you really should have thought better of and sent them winging their way out into the world before you even know it. People really should adopt a paraphrase of that Bill Murray quote from Groundhog Day: "Don't tweet angry."
You see that in Seanan's angry messages. You see that in Jane's angry messages. You see that in angry messages in all sorts of different contexts. It's far, far too easy to post angry words in a fit of rage in the heat of the moment.
(I wrote a blog post myself going into that…)
This is an excellent analysis, and thank you for it.
Thank you for reading and commenting!
Ooooooh, this one's great: http://radishreviews.com/2014/03/06/reframing-and-punching-down/
Just stopping by, having seen your post linked on Facebook.
I've had my views on this whole mess lifted up, tipped over, spun around and dumped out with every new article I read. But yours had really put things into proper perspective.
I do feel that some people may have over-reacted on Twitter and had a knee-jerk response. But that's the internet. People post comments without thinking them through, and with Twitter it can all be broken up into little pieces that others can hold up to back up their own views.
But real responsibility lies with Loncon for handling this so poorly, and with Ross, who is an experienced public figure who should know better than to lash out and belittle peoples' concerns.
As an author and SFF fan myself, I've been utterly dismayed by this whole thing.
Thanks Paul and I basically agree. There probably would be a way to present Ross that would have engendered grumbling, but not backlash – as a huge SFF fan, husband of Goldman, promise to respect, etc. But cons are run by amateurs – and I mean this with love – not PR professionals or press agents skilled in predicting and handling this kind of thing before it gets out of control.
True. Ross was really always going to be a hard sell, even if the announcement had been handled properly.
I am well out of even knowing most of what you're talking about (well, until I read it here), but I want to thank you especially for this: "I think angry women get dismissed as hysterical or irrational as a way of rendering their anger illegitimate and something that can be dismissed."
You're welcome. It's why I wrote this. Also frustrating, it often takes a man to point this stuff out and get attention, even though women have been saying it all week (and centuries).
Also … gee that double "dismissed" doesn't read well. I'll shift to "ignored" instead for the second one.
1. You can't trust Twitter time stamps.
2. McGuire was WRONG in what she said. Full stop. And I might add, a tad pathetic.
3. Given the fact that she obviously wanted to garner attention with her erroneous tweet, surely she would have noticed that other websites were talking about Honey's response?
4. The real issue appears to be that McGuire wanted to present the awards herself.
4. As a woman, I'm embarrassed by her whining, especially when she has NO REASON TO.
1. In this case the announcement and backlash happened on UK daytime. Seanan was asleep. This is not a debateable point.
2. I disagree that she was wrong. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.
3. I disagree with your assessment. Seanan talks about how she feels about things on twitter, and she does so without a filter. Your assessment of her motivations are possible, but there's no evidence one way or another.
4. Again, you have come up with a negative assessment in order to support your anger at Seanan. I understand that. But I disagree. I think the real issue is that she didn't want someone with a history of ignoring boundaries and sexism to host the Hugos.
4 (I think you meant 5): Women have a long history of negging each other. That doesn't remove your right to do so, of course. I, academic that I am, of course see your comments in the context of patriarchal discourse and the way that women reinforce it.
Thanks for commenting. I always appreciate it.
Your twitter time stamps are fine. But Ross's tweet :
"I have decided to withdraw from hosting the Hugo's @loncon3 in response to some who would rather I weren't there. Have a lovely convention."
Has the time stamp "5:31 PM – 1 Mar 2014"
He did not make the decision to resign (saying that he was "happy to step down" is more of an invitation for the organisers to "fire" him instead) until almost exactly an hour after Seanan's outburst, so you cannot tell whether or not it contributed but can you see how many people will have seized on a series of tweets in the hour directly before his resignation as being a cause of it?
You've declared you "interest" and bias in this. I have none. I am not a fan of Ross, I find his idea of humour mildly nauseating – as I do with ALL humour that relies on some level of humiliation (so-called "pranking" etc). I've seen footage of Ross hosting other events and his humour for those is different, where he knows a person he appears to know how far he can go and with strangers he holds back. I do not follow him on any social network. I had been starting to read Seanan Macguire's works, recommended by several friends as something I'd enjoy (I say "read", I mean "listen to audiobooks" and have been following her on Twitter for a while. I've known Charles Stross via good friends (and via a techy newsgroup or two on usenet many years ago) for several years and often agree with his views. I think I have Charlie "friended" on pretty much every social network that we share. This time, I'm not so sure I agree with him.
Part 1 because of size restrictions…
PS. please excuse any typoes, I am having a "need more spoons" day and my fingers are refusing to hit the right keys a lot of the time – I may have missed fixing a few of them.
Mistakes were made by the committee… I'm on the committee for a 900-1000 person convention held every 2 years in the UK, have been since 2006, and would have been incandescent at the Chair(s) hiring a public figure for any entertainment without first "running it past" the rest of us for our opinions. Or, after asking for opinions, ignoring them if there were any strongly held negative opinions – the thing to do there is to either a) drop your idea on the basis that if one or two committee members feel that strongly, then a percentage of the members are likely to also feel that way; or b) spend a few days trying to show the dissenters why this person is a good fit, showing them footage of the Eisners in this case might have helped, if there's no give, or a complete refusal by the dissenters to even consider the opposing view the choice is then to return to a), or hire the person anyway but warn them that there is some dissent and likely to be some vocal negativity from some quarters (this also gives the guest the room to refuse at the start). I've seen a copy of Farah Mendlesohn's public LiveJournal post (since made private, I believe) which read to me as "I've resigned becaus ethe committee ignored me and didn't do what I want but I'm still going to do the same stuff for the convention that I was doing, just won't be on the committee." And included the fun "fact" about Ross:
"This is a man who has made a fortune (6 million a year at one point) from abusing others—particularly women—live on air."
I don't think he has particularly singled women out for his brand of humour – it's funny, some people, women included, find innuendo amusing, some find it sexists and abusive – he's an equal opportunity pillock but, as I said, he appears to tone his "act" to suit his audience & who he is dealing with. I've not heard of any of his guests storming out of his show or claiming afterwwards that they felt humiliated or abused, which suggests that he does get teh level right for each guest. "Sachsgate", as they call it, was stupid and hurtful, I did hear it at the time and, to be frank, it was almost all Russell Brand, with minimal contribution by Ross. As I said to my other half at the time "where the fuck was the 'adult in the room' when that was given the go ahead?"
Social networks make it so easy for people to complain extremely publicly about something that bothers them, rather than 5-10 years ago when you'd complain to the people you actually knew and maybe write an email/letter to the organisation that had caused the upset.
Funny how SFF convention goers all believe that they are the beginning and end of SFF Fandom, though. I know fans who've never even heard of conventions, say "WorldCon" to them and get a blank look, for example; who do not know what the Hugos are beyond having maybe seen it mentioned on a book cover; who simply like to read the genre (and sub-genres) without thinking that they represent everyone else who enjoys the same books/movies/games.
Thanks for the comment, and typos are never a problem in comments (and to be hunted down in my posts!). To clarify, I'm not arguing that Seanan might not have had a role in Ross stepping down, but that the narrative that she was the ringleader of an internet mob is false. I stand by that.
I wonder if there's a way to shift size restrictions on the blog. I shall check.
The social network thing is interesting, I tried to work out some more of the implications in my Gaiman post, and I'm still thinking about it. I'm definitely not there yet in articulating the complicated line between voice to the masses and bullying. But I like trying to write it out.
I resigned because the committee weren't consulted at all. We were told on the Monday morning. We were not consulted at all and were told we had no right to be consulted. My livejournal post said this.
As you so cogently put it:
"I'm on the committee for a 900-1000 person convention held every 2 years in the UK, have been since 2006, and would have been incandescent at the Chair(s) hiring a public figure for any entertainment without first "running it past" the rest of us for our opinions"