Just Because You’re Not Offended Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Offensive

There’s been a huge controversy over three recent issues of the quarterly magazine of the Science Fiction Writers of America, The Bulletin. The debate began with issue #200, which used a vintage piece of Red Sonja artwork for its cover.

A number of people questioned the appropriateness of this image for the cover of our professional publication, particularly as it was presented without context or explanation.

Perhaps in response (it’s not clear), Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg took up the task of summarizing the accomplishments of women in the field in their regular Dialogues column in two subsequent issues, but went about it in a pretty clueless, tone-deaf manner, making repeated reference to “the ladies” and referring to professionals as “lady writers” and “lady editors.” There were also a couple of (positive) comments about attractiveness.

And then there’s an article by Jim C. Hines about the problematic aspects of cheesecake book covers (again, presumably for balance), and, quite randomly, an article by a male writer that used an extended Barbie metaphor to make a point, in an obvious, but tragically unsuccessful, attempt at humor. The ‘Barbie’ piece made reference to the doll’s “perfect” proportions and “sweater fillers” and praised Barbie for “maintaining her quiet dignity as a woman should.”

I think that sets the scene. The culmination of this scandal, however, happened in Bulletin #203, in which Resnick and Malzberg responded to the criticism with a tirade on censorship and free speech that reminded me of my beloved grandfather’s (may he rest in peace) vigorous arguments in favor of the divine right of kings. Malzberg invoked the specter of “liberal fascists” attempting to shut down the conversation, and Resnick hinted darkly that his network of spies had identified the “anonymous” complainants as people who had made comments to SFWA President John Scalzi “at Confusion.”

Others have answered Resnick and Malzberg, and as far as I can tell R/M continue to dismiss it all as “liberal fascist” attempts at thought control. I’m not going to rehash all of that.

However, I’m here to say something simple: the Red Sonja cover does’t actually offend me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. I’ve looked at it a couple of times, I’ve listened to the criticisms, and I’m still not offended.


Because you know what? Much as I am not particularly BOTHERED by Red Sonja, above, it, admittedly, is a rather silly image, and could have been better if the artist had originally envisioned her as a warrior, not a piece of meat. And that is a point that would never have been made if everyone had my laissez faire attitude about it. Other people being offended by things I am not actually generates useful conversations and improves the world for us all. Because people like Jim C. Hines have spent time and energy criticizing covers that objectify women, we are starting to get better book covers. That means everybody wins.

Rather than expecting everyone to have the exact same concerns and sensitivities as me, I live in a world that contains many viewpoints and ideas. I also have some concerns and sensitivities about things that others may not have thought about, and when I bring them up, I hope people will listen and consider, even if they don’t agree.