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Women in sci-fi are #SoWeary of Hugo Awards backlash

The outcry over controversial British talk show host Jonathan Ross’s invitation to host the Hugos just won’t die down.


Aja Romano


The outcry over LonCon’s decision to ask controversial British talk show host Jonathan Ross to host the Hugos just won’t end. After a week filled with accusations of bullying and harassment on all sides, a new wave of backlash swept the sci-fi community Thursday evening after one noted author used the wrong Twitter hashtag.

Ross has a long track record of offending women and other marginalized viewers on his eponymous BBC talk show. LonCon is this year’s host for the world’s oldest sci-fi/fantasy convention, WorldCon, which like the rest of the sci-fi/fantasy publishing sphere has grappled with ongoing issues of diversity and representation in recent years. Many in the community took Ross’s engagement to host as a sign that convention organizers didn’t care about the safety of women and minority attendees.

For his part, Ross felt personally attacked by those who reacted to the con’s decision on Twitter. His daughter called the uproar “emotionally exhausting,” while his wife, Hugo-winning screenwriter Jane Goldman, deleted her Twitter altogether because of the backlash. Meanwhile, mainstream media consistently characterized many of the community members who spoke out against Ross’s hiring as an “angry mob,” although many of those who were offended also received harassment on Twitter as a result of the debate.

Then came LonCon’s statement. The convention apologized to everyone and apparently satisfied no one: First to Ross and his family for the harassment they received, then to those who were upset that Ross was chosen, and to those who were upset he would not be hosting. Additionally, the convention seemed to abjure full responsibility for the decision, claiming that “we did not consult widely or promptly enough within our own Committee or with external parties.”

This seems to contradict a now-private statement by one committee member that she argued with the chairs for days over their decision, and resigned in protest after gathering that the decision was not up for debate.

Many members of the sci-fi community felt the apology rang false and accused LonCon of catering to Ross (and to celebrity author Neil Gaiman, who Ross claimed asked him to host). Others blamed easily-offended Americans for the brouhaha, despite the time zone difference. And still others blamed social media for causing the whole situation to spiral out of control.

Social media has continued to drive the debate in the days since Ross’s withdrawal, and it has predictably catalyzed the latest turn of events. Perhaps as a result of what writer Chuck Wendig called “social PTSD,” last night, bestselling fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss, known for his Kingkiller Chronicle series, asked the community to simmer down:

Um, guys? Can we all stop being dialed-to-11 offended about everything? Then being offended that people are offended we’re offended? Please?

— Pat Rothfuss (@PatrickRothfuss) March 6, 2014

@wilw I know these conversations are important. But it feels like I’m awash in an endless sea of butthurt all the time these days. #SoWeary

— Pat Rothfuss (@PatrickRothfuss) March 6, 2014

Twitter user Rose Fox took the hashtag and issued a sarcastic response:

You know what I’m #SoWeary of? Talking about “being offended” like it’s a bad choice. As though there’s something wrong with giving a shit.

— Dandy McFopperson (@rosefox) March 7, 2014

Rothfuss may have just been trying to soothe the community. Instead, he drew a number of raised eyebrows as the sci-fi community weighed in.

.@PatrickRothfuss That’s a good attitude to take toward one’s own behavior, but a problematic one to apply to less powerful folks. + @wilw

— P Nielsen Hayden (@pnh) March 6, 2014

.@PatrickRothfuss + You or I can get a lot of instant attention to a problem if we choose. Most people have to raise their voices. @wilw

— P Nielsen Hayden (@pnh) March 6, 2014

@pnh @PatrickRothfuss @wilw And even when we do, we’re called shrill, or hysterical. See the hash tag #iaskedpolitely

— Beth Bernobich (@beth_bernobich) March 7, 2014

The #IAskedPolitely tag referenced above is a year-old tag detailing women’s negative experiences with geek culture after “#Donglegate” and the firing of Adria Richards. Like another geek hashtag takeover, #1ReasonWhy, women used it to outline the many obstacles they face in a culture that routinely marginalizes them. Last night, a similar takeover swiftly happened.

Rothfuss’ use of the hashtag #SoWeary quickly turned into a venting session among marginalized members of the sci-fi community. Like all the other geek hashtags before it, the #SoWeary takeover included discussions about girl-shaming, harassment, the “watch your tone” argument, and more:

@eilatan #SoWeary of being told SF isn’t for girls anyway.

— Ann Somerville (@ann_somerville) March 7, 2014

Reminder: Multiple Hugo award-winner Connie Willis was groped onstage during the 06 Hugo Awards ceremony. #soweary

— LFP (@Living400lbs) March 7, 2014

I’m #SoWeary of the rules for me being different than for my male peers

— Fiona Campbell (@fionalorne) March 7, 2014

#SoWeary of not being able to participate in geek communities without a measure of harassment, stalking, or other uncomfy male entitlement.

— Cecily Kane (@Cecily_Kane) March 7, 2014

But this takeover also contained specific callouts of the sci-fi community and the frustrations fans are having with LonCon:

I am #SoWeary astounding lack of empathy coming from certain quarters of the SFF community.

— Annalee (@leeflower) March 7, 2014

I’m #SoWeary of seeing valid concerns dismissed or shouted down.

— Alice (@alicetheowl) March 7, 2014

I’m #soweary of legitimate questions being seen as an attack by privileged folk who don’t know what an attack IS.

— Suleikha Snyder (@suleikhasnyder) March 7, 2014

I am #SoWeary astounding lack of empathy coming from certain quarters of the SFF community.

— Annalee (@leeflower) March 7, 2014

I am #SoWeary of the supposed allies coming down all Big Daddy with their, “Now, play nice, dears. It’s tiring when you complain.”

— Lesbonomicon (@heavenscalyx) March 7, 2014

#SoWeary whenever I look for SFF sensawunda, I find ANOTHER white cis man pained by the cries of the marginalized @PatrickRothfuss @wilw

— hapax (@hapaxnym) March 7, 2014

And I’m #soweary of this sad tale playing out the same way every time. Big guys push people around, people push back, big guys cry foul.

— Susan Jane Bigelow (@whateversusan) March 7, 2014

And in the mix of outrage were those who were simply, well, weary of the backlash to the backlash to the backlash.

Just to recap, we’re on the reactions to reactions to the actually mostly quite subdued and rapid events of last Saturday? #SoWeary

— A A McNamara (@aamcnamara) March 7, 2014

The sci-fi and fantasy corner of geek culture has a long way to go before it can stop reacting, however. After decades of marginaization, many members of sci-fi/fantasy fandom are finding that the Internet is finally providing a platform for their concerns. They are angry and loud. But they are yelling over the long history of publishing that has rewarded the accomplishments of straight white men while dismissing or erasing those of everyone else.

The good news is that more and more, publishing is starting to listen, and changes are already taking effect. Despite the shadow cast over the Hugos by the debate over Ross, the year’s awards circuit is already favoring diverse authors. Whether any of them will make their way onstage at WorldCon remains to be seen; but with the award ceremony months away, one thing is certain:

The ongoing debate about inclusion and diversity in sci-fi will be coming to a Twitter near you.

Photo via brewbooks/Flickr; CC BY-SA-2.0

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