Sexism in fandom and Bullying (in which Jonathan Ross calls me a [poor] journalist)

31 Replies to “Sexism in fandom and Bullying (in which Jonathan Ross calls me a [poor] journalist)”

  1. Victor Raymond says:

    David – some kudoes here. I suspect I could use this in my Race, Class, and Gender course to show how this stuff goes on today and some of how it works. Material for class? I think so.

    1. Victor Raymond says:

      I also ended up reading the thoughtful discussion on Steve's blog. It was…interesting. I'm not sure how to react, save to say that spending lots of time parsing out whether or not Fodera's comment was bullying or not seems to miss the institutional context of (a) where he works, and (b) what he said he intended to do after he was called out on his original statements. Put another way, if you are going to act in a sexist manner on the internet, don't be surprised when people get mad. DD-B noted this relatively early on.

    2. David Perry says:

      Yeah. Steve wasn't really so much interested in parsing bullying to excuse or not excuse Fodara, I think, but to explore the nature of bullying and our responses to it. Which is why I find him interesting.

      I like working on articulating the implications of Fodara's kind of speech – the use of a woman's choice to wear nice dresses to render her critique illegitimate.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Ok, but as Billy Connelly once pointed out, jokes written starkly in text after the event completely lack any context. It's not exactly a new thing for the media to take a hatchet job on comics or celebrities.

    "In a similar vein. 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"

    …Isn't he?
    Not sure how being rich white and famous makes you impervious or immune to the words of others.
    Additionally "being mean to people on tv" is entirely subjective; and frankly, unlikely. When hosting a chat show if the majority of celebs felt he was going to be abusive or hurtful to them (or otherwise make them uncomfortable or unsafe) they would stop going and he wouldn't have a talk show any more.

    "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."

    Absolutely it is if your anger is based on a set of assumptions. (Or maybe not "your job", but you've certainly lost any high ground). Your anger and offence, formed from your interpretation of what someone has said, isn't anyone else's responsibility. If they've hurt you unintentionally and you want redress or clarification, it seems obvious logic that if you approach them in anger and "attack" you will receive an equal and opposite reaction. They are not caretakers of your feelings. Do as you would be done by applies.

    I saw on twitter someone calling Laurie Penny a turd and a lying whore or somesuch. The person saying it identified as trans, so a marginalised group, and was angry – therefore other commentators suggested Penny should just 'listen' to the 'criticism'. No, I'm sorry – how you approach the person directly affects how they respond do you. If the person in question finds themselves oppressed by wider society that's unfair and unfortunate, but it doesn't make misdirecting that anger at somebody else justifiable.

    re: not being the obligation of people being insulted to be nice to those who insult them? No – not an obligation. But if you want anything resembling a constructive dialogue, then it's advisable to be civil and establish if the insult was intended or due to interpretation before going off half-cocked. Equally, it's not other peoples job to insure that you take what they say in the right manner and that you never take offence.

    "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."

    I do agree that bullying is linked with power; but I don't feel that being a celebrity or an insider gives anyone carte blanche to personally attack him any more than it would be acceptable to anybody else.
    And if people are intending to drive him out of hosting a convention by insulting and intimating him en masse? doesn't seem so far removed from bullying to me. He might be a rich, white, male celebrity but it's still just one person under a deluge of internet anger.

    The methods of how you effect change are also important. And medium and message are related.
    If you have an important point and you believe your cause is valid, you are only going to undermine it by behaving like an angry anonymous mob on the internet.

    I'd struggle to rationalize attacking someone (anyone) until they leave as "levering the internet to combine voices and effect change," to be honest.

    1. David Perry says:

      Thanks for the long comment. I disagree with you of course, but I really do appreciate the chance to discuss.

      First of all, the endemic sexism on British entertainment TV is a real problem. It offers public women a few choices: hide (and hurt their careers), take it, or fight back. When fighting back, the counterattacks are furious. Did you read the Mary Beard essay? It's really important. Ross may be a super nice guy who just is rude and sexist on TV because it's what the job expects, and it's a good job, and we all sometimes have to compromise for our jobs, but that doesn't erase the sexism.

      Insults are insults. And if someone insults you, then you (and Laurie) of course have the right to take offense, to be angry, and to respond in kind. But being insulted is not the same as being bullied, which refers specifically to power dynamics.

      Most of all, the leveling of words like bullying, mob, etc. are used to render speech, especially angry female speech, illegitimate. And that's why I wrote this. It's true that if Seanan (and so many others, but she's the one I know) wanted productive dialogue with Ross they needed to swallow their anger and smile and be nice. But that's not their obligation and I will defend their right to be angry in public.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I agree that sexism on British entertainment TV is a problem. I think it's worse in 'geeky' cultures; sci-fi/fantasy, comics, video games. I wouldn't hold Ross personally accountable for that, though. I'm not going to debate how sexist Ross is or isn't as a person or presenter as that's obviously subjective.

      I read the Mary Beard essay before this thing happened. I also followed her post-Newsnight trolling on the internet, calling her all sorts of things under the sun. She handled it adroitly – but obviously, she should never have to put up with it in the first place.

      That's the thing about the internet. It makes everyone accessible with no accountability. If you feel angry or threatened you can strike out verbally with no repercussions. In that sense, it's a social leveller, but anger at Mary Beard (for being female, on tv, an academic – whatever combination is threatening people) is clearly misdirected.

      Her study of how women have been silenced since the Roman times has excellent points; how this is true politically then and now, despite so much other social change but the language remains culturally implicit (characterising women as 'shrill' when they use their voices for dissent; threatening to cut out their tongue). Mary Beard and Anita Sarkeesian are contemporary examples of an angry mob attempting to silence and drive away women on the internet – the latter also having to deal with the endemic sexism of 'geek culture'.

      I don't think this justifies ganging up on someone on the internet though, or suggests a celebrity is far enough up in the power dynamics not to be bully-able.

      While I acknowledge bullying is to do with power (in making the victim helpless) I don't believe someone is automatically exempt by virtue of their celeb status, sex, race or wealth. As an analogy, put a privileged posh boy in a deprived state school and he's likely to be bullied. He has a higher social status than the other kids, but they're looking for weakness – he's not part of the tribe and they're trying to drive him out.

      I don't think insults are the same as being bullied, but it's the same justification. Another person was arguing that the insult was valid and justified *because* Penny was perceived as higher in the power dynamics than the person insulting her (she should take it without comment because the other person was transgender).

      If Penny was suggested and hundreds of people banded together in outrage to tell her she wasn't wanted, labelled her as transphobic (as well as other insults and accusations) and attempted to drive her away because she wasn't seen as an inclusive enough choice – I would see it as going from insults to bullying. When you have hundreds of people vs one person the power dynamics shift. You may have achieved change, but you didn't throw over an oppressor – you just upset someone until they went away.

      Seanan's had a constructive dialogue with Ross's daughter and didn't hit out personally at Ross or directly accuse him of being a bad person as far as I can tell. (I think it's problematic to prejudge someone, but I can understand her fears that he might be inappropriate given media representation).
      I wouldn't say she bullied or insulted – just (as she admitted herself) maybe conflated a persona/her perception with a real person.

      I would level "bullying" or "mob" at a group of people directly messaging him to accuse him of various wrongs to drive him out, if that's seen as a valid method for change. However good the intentions are and wherever Ross may be on the hierarchy, the methods can still be equated with the words "mob" and "bully". I am not using those words to silence individuals or undermine any specific points, but because that's how those actions appear to me and because I know how I'd feel on the receiving end.

    3. Paul Oldroyd says:

      Emobullshittery – I was wondering how to respond to David Perry, given that I agree with much of what he has written but disagree with the Twitterstorm not being a form of bullying. And then you said it very articulately yourself. Thank you!

    4. David Perry says:

      Thanks to both of you for commenting. I'll have another post going up later today with a storify of how things unfolded. I concede that in many cases twitterstorms can be forms of bullying. I just don't think this one is for various reasons. Stay tuned. 🙂

  3. Claire says:

    Thanks so much for writing this. I was trying so hard to phrase it properly and failing.

    Also, regarding that sexist comment you quoted, the timeline is wrong, distorted to fit the 'It's all McGuire's fault' narrative.

    I was checking tweets live and Ross' "stupid" tweet was posted in the late morning (UK time), before McGuire was even aware of the whole issue as she is a different time zone and would have been sleeping then. Ross also offered to withdraw before she started tweeting. Loncon3 agreed to it after he tweeted it twice, but only one of those was after McGuire's comments.

    I think the media is specifically picking on her because Ross' daughter and then wife tweeted at her directly, so she is more noticeable in the whole affair. They're not saying anything about Patrick Nielsen Hayden or Elizabeth Bear who also protested. Most articles don't even mention Farah Mandelsohn stepping down from the Committee over it.

    1. David Perry says:

      Thank you! I wonder if anyone has storyfied that. Seanan is an easy target, but also a righteous force. If you put together or find someone who has put together a few tweets in chronological order, that would be great. I'll promote it.

  4. Alasdair says:

    I've read plenty about this over the past few days, and there are some good points here; but the one that puzzles me is describing Ross having 'a history of fat-shaming humor'. I've read several claims of that, but as far as I've seen, nobody can give a single example of when Ross 'fat-shamed' anyone. The Telegraph link above doesn't contain anything that could be considered 'fat-shaming'. So where did that idea come from?

    (I'm not defending his other comments, which speak for themselves, as Ross can. It's just this one specific point that bugs me.)

    1. David Perry says:

      Yes, I actually mis-read something which I thought involved that. I should change it to perception of.

      So here's the thing – he has a history of talking to female guests about their bodies in ways that sometimes have clearly made them feel uncomfortable (they make me feel uncomfortable). Hence the reaction to – he's going to make fun of our bodies.

      He's controversial, sexist, rude, and very successful in part because of it. But I haven't specifically found a "fat" joke. I'll amend the post with a note, and thanks for reminding me.

    2. David Perry says:

      Yes. You can find them if you look. Start with the person whose lack of underwear Ross was discussion and who wanted the camera cut. Go from there.

      Moreover, there's lots out there on British TV culture (and beyond, but not relevant), that requires women to subject to harassment if they want to promote whatever they are promoting. So they choose – stay off TV, and some do, or get harassed and smile and love it, and others choose that. But it's the kind of structural issue you don't think exists, much as you don't think white privilege exists because you have bad teeth, or that harassers of "Fake geek girls" aren't a real problem because you've never seen one (I seem to recall you asked Emma too, but then you invoked Nazis, then you defriended me).

      With that in mind, I'd like to give you some Will Shetterly specific groundrules for my blog:

      I don't know why you are on my blog, Will, and my instinct says to ban you. You are, by your own admission, an unpersuadable person. I don't trust you in discussion and I don't want you trolling my commentators the way you troll Steve's. Moreover, unpersuadable people are boring and just end up hurling their polemics rather than engaging in interesting dialogue. I'm wrong all the time, but at least I'm willing to learn.

      So here's my rule – don't enter into conversations here in which you are not persuadable. If that's not a rule you're willing to accept, well, the internet is a big place and there are lots of other pages you can haunt.

      My sub-rule is that if you use the word identitarian, even once, I'll ban you. But that rule is for your benefit, because you use it as a crutch, and it impedes your otherwise magisterial ability to make cogent arguments.

      P.S. I have no idea if I can ban you, but I'm willing to turn on moderation and delete every one of your posts.

      So think about what you want to accomplish here.

    3. Will Shetterly says:

      I love how people make up things that I'm supposed to think that I don't actually think. We may disagree about how these things work, but I have always believed that racism and sexism are still problems, and of course some male fans are abusive to women. I did ask Emma about the fake geek girl thang because she's been in fandom longer than I have.

      I'm here because I followed someone's link here. I think it was Cora Buhlert's.

      Out of curiosity, what do you think of Adolph Reed Jr.?

    4. David Perry says:

      I'm sorry. I don't know what you think. I only know what you said. I actually suspect it is entirely in character for you to take polarizing positions in order to stir up argument as I've seen you do that on Steve's blog too.

      I haven't read Adolph Reed Jr. One of the unfortunate side effects of my job is that staying current in my field eats up way too much of my reading time, following by reading for my advocacy work.

    1. David Perry says:

      One of the pleasures of the blog post is that they evolve as I write, then I hit post. As opposed to my scholarship with months of rewritea or my opeds with days, these form more or less as first drafts.

      Of course if thousands of people are going to read them, I may have to edit more carefully. I guess it should say thoughts about fandom and perceptions of bullying?

    2. Will Shetterly says:

      Oh, I was just referring to the parenthetical—he didn't say you were a poor journalist; he said what you'd done was a "poor show from a journalist". Now, I'd be inclined to agree with your interpretation, but you'd said recently on Steve's blog that there's an important difference.

  5. Will Shetterly says:

    If you know what I've said, it should be easy for you to quote me. I suspect what happens is that because you see the relation of racism and sexism to class as intersectional rather than interrelated, you see anyone who criticizes intersectionality as part of the problem, and therefore you infer what you've claimed here.

    Similarly, because I'm a socialist, you see me taking a polarizing position when I criticize capitalism in general and bourgeois ideology in particular.

    Reed's the person Katha Politt called "the smartest person of any race, class, or gender writing on race, class, and gender." Here's a very, very short piece by him that takes all of two minutes to read:

  6. David Perry says:

    I suspect what happens is that because you see the relation of racism and sexism to class as intersectional rather than interrelated, you see anyone who criticizes intersectionality as part of the problem, and therefore you infer what you've claimed here."

    No, Will. I see you as a troll. A person who engages in conversation without any interest in actually listening, yanking any topic onto your hobby-horse ground. It's not welcome here. I've seen you cite Reed before. I'll try to get around to reading him, but I have a long list.

    If you follow the threads, you'll see many reasonable criticisms of my analysis and approach, and I credit them as such.

    At any rate, I have wasted too much time now having precisely the same conversation with you here that we've had on Steve's blog, that in fact drives me off Steve's blog for months at a time, despite the fact that his arguments are both persuasive and interesting. I regret that.

    If there's a new conversation to have, please let me know. Let's not rehash this one.

  7. David Perry says:

    No, but I have a good memory. I'm sure if you search Steve's blog for your "no white privilege because you have bad teeth" discurses, you'll find it eventually.

  8. Will Shetterly says:

    When you speak of having a good memory, you might want to remember that eyewitnesses are not reliable because memory is constantly rewritten. It's why people often claim other people said things they didn't say. It's why I like quotes.

    And I'm not exempting myself from any of the biases that come with being human. It's why I like quotes—maybe I did say something I don't believe, and I forgot that I did. Or maybe I missed a typo. We're all fallible.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I would never survive a Twitter Battle. On that note, I can't take anyone seriously if they have a Harry Potter user pic.

Leave a Reply