Thursday, March 6, 2014

Jonathan Ross and the 2014 Hugos

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.

Angry Mob Playset. OMG I want one.

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."

Jane Goldman, Ross's wife and a Hugo winner for her screenwriting, took to Twitter to single Seanan out
“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.
"I tweeted at him/her and they didn't respond," is, I think, the weakest accusation of bullying I've read in quite awhile. 

But there's an even bigger issue with the accusations against Seanan, encapsulated in the following image provided by brilliant reader Claire, who pointed this out to me first:

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.
The only time Seanan actually tweeted @Wossy was to acknowledge that Ross' onstage persona was likely more caustic than his off-stage one, that he was probably a nice person, but has a history of making fun of people. Like me, I'm sure Seanan knows that this is endemic to British chat-show laddish culture. Like me, I'm sure Seanan knows that it's a culture that pushes women off the air, restricting their public voices (obligatory link to the amazing Mary Beard essay, again, just in case). No one (well, not these famous people) is saying that Ross is, deep down inside, a bad person. 

But they are saying that as part of his job as a host he has relied on sexist commentary to get a laugh. He could have gone on twitter saying, "I'm excited about the Hugos, I know sometimes I get a bit mean on the telly, but I just can't wait to be part of your community at Loncon" or something similar (no doubt more witty than I can construct). Instead, he called a fan "stupid" for questioning him. 

Charlie Stross and Patrick Nielsen Hayden are pretty high profile members of the community. Other artists and authors weighed in. The voices of the fans were many. But somehow Seanan has become the focal point even though Ross had offered to resign before she was even out of bed that morning. 

Hence my continued reading this through the lens of gender. Seanan is a queer, articulate, outspoken, feminist. She is the kind of woman who doesn't accept "I was only joking" as an excuse for sexist discourse. She's a woman who wants the SFF community to be a safe space. I'm standing with her on this.

Here's one more tweet from Seanan (and the storify) to finish:
So to sum up:
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.