Sexism in fandom and Bullying (in which Jonathan Ross calls me a [poor] journalist) Posted onMarch 3, 2014February 7, 2019 By David Perry Lately, thanks to a long and thoughtful thread on Steve Brust’s blog (which you should read), discussions about sexual harassment in fandom, the fake geek girl issues, and so forth – I’ve been thinking a lot about online bullying, gender, power, and the speculative fiction community. Especially in the SFWA (Science-Fiction Writers of America), issues pertaining to gender and representation have lately been especially acute, and if you don’t already know about them, you can google it. At the end, I’m going to say something that I think is VERY important about women and speech and the ways men (in particular) try to render it illegitimate. So please just skip to that. Over the weekend, another episode broke out in which British TV Host Jonathan Ross agreed to host the Hugos, the major fan-voted award for sci-fi/fantasy, at the coming worldcon in London. A number of people, including friend of the blog Seanan McGuire, reacted angrily and publicly. You see, Ross has a history of making fun of his guests, especially his female guests, as well as a history of fat-shaming humor. *NOTE – Correction here, see bottom * Here are some examples, not to mention “Sachsgate,” in which Ross and Russell Brand called a famous elderly actor to leave messages about having sex with his granddaughter. In the examples, I’d like you to notice how Ross renders his female guests as their body parts: breasts and vagina, as objects of his sexual desire, and how he seems to expect them to laugh along. But I keep coming back to bullying, as defenders of Ross see this as internet bullying, as feminanzis winning another victory for intolerance, as something unfair. Ross sees it that way too, as you can read on Storify. Here are highlights. Dear Fandom: A rich white man famous for being mean to people on tv is not bullied by people being mean to him on twitter — David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) March 2, 2014 @Lollardfish well, that’s not what I’m famous for really, is it? But convenient for you to claim that. Very poor show from a journalist. — Jonathan Ross (@wossy) March 2, 2014 I mean, first of all, a famous guy called me a (poor) journalist. I’ve arrived! @wossy Well, I don’t write about entertainment. But it’s true, you are famous for many things, among them making fun of people. (1 of 2) — David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) March 2, 2014 @wossy And that’s fine, comedy involves offense sometimes. But then it’s ok for people to be offended and not want you part of an event. — David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) March 2, 2014 @Lollardfish never said it wasn’t. But perhaps they might have started a dialogue instead of a witch hunt. Shows them in a poor light. — Jonathan Ross (@wossy) March 2, 2014 So there we have it, it shows “them” in a poor light that they didn’t choose to start a dialogue with the person who offended them. That’s a common dodge in these circumstances and merited a response – and an important one, because I hear that a lot when I talk about language. I get angry, but it’s my job to initiate dialogue with the person who has angered me. So I wrote: @wossy It’s not the obligation of the people being insulted to be nice to those who insult them. It helps, but it’s not their job. — David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) March 2, 2014 Here he wrote a few tweets about having only offended people accidentally, and apologized, and tried to learn from it, and maybe that’s true. I can’t say whether he’s learned or not. But I feel it falls into the “I’m sorry you got offended” not “I did wrong” type of apology. At any rate, we ended up in more interesting places. @wossy Interesting you mention witch hunts. Now as an historian (I’m not a journalist), I know something about witch hunts (1 of 2) — David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) March 2, 2014 @wossy (2) Accused witches tended to be powerless outsiders under significant pressure from the powers-that-be. Does that describe you? — David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) March 2, 2014 @Lollardfish I think you know what I meant. In that the evidence cited was opinion based. Some of it, fittingly, was mere speculation. — Jonathan Ross (@wossy) March 2, 2014 This is interesting. It’s the use of “Witch hunt” to mean falsely accused, but that’s not what a witch hunt is about. Similarly, the word bullying is used to mean insulting or the rallying of lots of voices to a cause. @wossy That’s again fair. But the language of witch hunt, like the language of bullied (being used by defenders), refers to relative power. — David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) March 2, 2014 Power matters. The witches were, generally, the other, limited in power, limited in access to power, limited in recourse, scary, outsider. Jonathan Ross is the consummate insider. Heck, even in fandom, he’s a friend of His Royal Highness Neil Gaiman. He may or may not be falsely accused on any given charge of abuse or offense, but it’s not a witch hunt, and it’s not bullying. One could make the argument that the Hugo organizers were bullied into changing their minds, and that’s interesting to think about. Go read Steve Brust’s thread on bullying if you’ve a mind to think about leveraging mass opinion to change a decision, for good or for ill, and consequences of doing so. But I think calling Seanan McGuire and others bullies, women and men who, offended by Ross (rightly in my mind), spoke publicly about it, got angry, got angry in public, and effected change, is a way to render their speech illegitimate. When Rich Johnston, for example, founder of the fan website “Bleeding Cool,” writes: “Yes, he can be acerbic, but he works the room. Any mocking is truly done with love, and clearly so. It’s flattering,” he’s saying that we should stop taking these jokes so seriously, to lighten up, he was only kidding. This is the language that harassers have relied on for decades. Here’s one more, a comment from a blog, and only the responsibility of the poster: And here we go again. i, Jonathan Ross, a Brit TV personality and sf fan, volunteers and is selected to host the Hugo Awards at Loncon. ii, The Usual Suspects rake over his comedy and declare that he doesn’t kowtow enough to their brand of ideology for their liking. iii, Seanan McGuire in particular goes on a tweeting rampage culminating in expressing her fear that Ross might look out from his stage at the Hugos, point at her personally, and call her fat. ‘Cos, you know, it’s all about her. iv, Ross starts reacting to the shitstorm and heatedly tweets back about people being stupid. v, The Usual Suspects point at his heated tweets as proof that he’s dangerously unstable. McGuire, I assume, is lying on a fainting couch somewhere while her fans try to reassure her how brave she is. vi, Ross pulls out. vii, The Social Justice Warriors notch up another glorious victory. I read this comment, which the poster has subsequently denied was sexist, in the context of Mary Beard’s incredible essay on the public voice of women in the western tradition, as well as the class on medieval women and gender I’ve been teaching this year. “Rampage” – the notion that women are irrationally angry, hysterical (womb wanderers), angry, non-logical, not like a man. “Fainting couch” – again, gendered obviously, but here suggesting as well that her hysterics were faked, that she was just trying to get her ideological way, and never felt that Ross hosting would make her feel unsafe. And this is the big picture and the thing I watch for – the many ways in which those who dominate, patriarchy and its many voices (male and female), render the speech of those who oppose it illegitimate: hysterical, irrational, intolerant. Bullying is a real problem. Cyber-bulling is a real problem. Leveraging the internet to combine voices and effect change? That’s called organizing. *Note: I have not in fact found the alleged fat-shaming jokes and I apologize for this (But don’t want to edit out my mistake). I assume that the people upset saw him using his female guests’ bodies as weapons of comedy and extrapolated, as is their right, but I want to note I made a mistake here.