Feeling heat for your ideas is not censorship or thought-control

Update: This essay only focuses on why it was wrong for Resnick and Malzberg to use the terms censorship and thought-control against people criticizing the depiction of women in SF art. For my overall view on sexism in SF, see "Time for the men of SF to tell the sexists to go to hell."


Yesterday the summer 2013 issue of the SFWA Bulletin arrived in my snailmail box and I immediately read Jim C. Hines's essay "Cover Art and the Radical Notion that Women Are People." Now, since this is the official publication of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, it makes total sense that the Bulletin is a print-only affair. We SF/F authors don't need no fancy futuristic techie-online stuff! So if you want to read Hines' excellent essay, you'll have to hunt down a print copy.

But that said, if you've been following the online discussion about how women are depicted in SF/F art, you likely already have a sense of Hines' powerful arguments. So kudos to the SFWA Bulletin for publishing his essay, especially since the cover for their previous issue played a major part in the debate.

And kudos also to the Bulletin for publishing a rebuttal to Hines' points in the same issue, in the form of the newest dialogue between SF authors Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg.

Wait. What? I'm okay with Resnick and Malzberg saying there's no problem with how women are depicted in SF artwork? What kind of sick SFWA liberal fascist joke is this?

I raise that last question because in the dialogue Malzberg calls people troubled by these types of sexist covers "SFWA liberal fascists." Resnick and Malzberg then talk at length how the campaign to raise awareness on how women are depicted in SF/F art is nothing more than thought-control and censorship.

Now, I think Resnick and Malzberg are taking the issue a bit personally because in the previous issue of the Bulletin they discussed female genre editors, and took flack for commenting on the looks of one of the editors. I also know that they are trying to stir the pot on this issue—hell, they basically admit as much toward the end of their discussion (right before they say this type of thought-control and censorship leads us straight into a world full of Joseph Stalins and Chairman Maos).

But even though I disagree with their views, I have no problem with Resnick and Malzberg presenting them in the Bulletin. I've long enjoyed their dialogues and believe it's a good thing to have their views offered alongside Hines' thoughts. I should also note that Hines' essay nicely rebuts every reason Resnick and Malzberg raise on why sexpot SF/F covers are not offensive.

However, that doesn't mean Resnick and Malzberg's essay didn't piss me off. And the reason for said urine-anger is simple—they throw around the words "thought-control" and "censorship" merely because they've been made to feel uncomfortable for their beliefs.

News flash: Feeling heat for your ideas is not censorship. Having to defend your beliefs when challenged is not thought-control.

The only time I've ever agreed with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was during his concurrence in a Washington ballot initiative case. You see, the people in that state who'd signed petitions to ban same-sex marriage protested the disclosure of their names, saying it "subjected them to harassment from supporters of same-sex marriage." But as Scalia wrote in the Supreme Court ruling forcing the release of their names, "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed."

Basically, what Scalia and the Supreme Court were saying is that while there might be discomfort and pain in stating one's opinion, this is actually a good thing. 

When Resnick and Malzberg compare the heat they're feeling for stating their beliefs with censorship and thought-control, they are playing a version of the political correctness card. We've all seen this before, where someone complains because they—horror of horrors—have to actually stand up for what they believe in instead of automatically having their beliefs agreed with.  But as the Supreme Court said, this is actually a good thing because it results in honest debates and discussions, which is how both societies and people grow and change.

So yes, I'm glad the Bulletin printed their thoughts. I have no desire to censor their opinions, nor does anyone I know. If you want to live in an economic free market, you can't then whine about defending your beliefs in the marketplace of ideas.

This is a hard post to write because I've met Resnick a number of times and really like him; I also love many of his stories. I've never met Malzberg but I've long respected him for his principled stands and writing style.

But they are absolutely wrong about this being a case of thought-control or censorship.