Monday Musings: Forgoing the Shutdown for More Important Conversations

As many of you know, there’s a shutdown going on right now. The media isn’t being as helpful with that as I would like, but I am also getting frustrated with all the finger pointing and blame going on via social media. As usual, there are many people with a “This is both sides’ fault…” attitude, and wrath and destruction rising up everywhere.

This led a good friend of mine, Guy Anthony de Marco, to post this blog about why writers should avoid reposting a lot of politics on their public pages. That started a lot of controversy, so I think Guy took the blog post down (I certainly can’t find it)…If not I’ll update this with a link to that post when he gives it to me.

Many of you know that I wrote my own controversial wrath and destruction about Chic-Fil-A back in the day, last year around this time ish. I’ve pulled that post because it wasn’t particularly kind to some of my family members who do occasionally read things that I write. So, that in mind, this conversation is more expansive and talking less about individuals on a small level.

I was recently asked to speak on a panel about the misogyny present in SFWA and sexism in geek culture in general. Let me give you a timeline of recent events as far as a woman and a lesbian can expect from main stream global culture at the moment:

In August of 2012, Chic-Fil-A president Dan Cathy came under scrutiny for the fact that Chic-Fil-A funds many anti-equality groups such as NOM. Here’s backlash lasting even into the next year.
In March of 2013 evidence of the plan for the shutdown occuring now came out in the form of the ongoing battle to prevent mandatory healthcare from covering any form of contraception. Regardless of intended use.
In April of 2013: SFWA article tells women that Barbie is a good role model because she “maintained her quiet dignity as a woman should.” A response by Betsy Dornbusch.
In September of 2013 Barilla CEO starts out by saying he’d never feature a gay family in an ad because they prefer the traditional family unit…and then digs his hole deeper by saying gays shouldn’t adopt…and even DEEPER by saying that they “respect the woman’s role in the family.” IE in the kitchen. A response from HuffPost, including the original troublesome quote.
Oh, and this Fake Geek Girl thing has been coming up over the last year or so…
Also in September, Russia decided to come out as being even more anti than usual, as they passed an anti-“Gay Propeganda” law just in time for the Winter Olympics. Here’s some of that backlash.
And then just now this past week, October 3rd, a congressman derailed a reporter by saying “You’re pretty, but you have to be honest as well.” As though beauty and truth can’t exist in the same person, apparently.

So, we have two things going on here–a war against women and a war against the LGBT. But they aren’t necessarily separate wars, because they are both potentially propegated by a stereotypical patriarchal attitude that dictates the virile straight white male as the dominant ruler of the known universe. As the saying goes… they came for the LGBT community, but I was not LGBT…and then they came for the women, and we were too busy fighting for our own status quo that we did not notice, until there were none of us left to fight.

Now, I don’t want to start a name-calling-man-hating-hair-pulling-fistfight here today. Instead, I want to talk about why this series of events is NOT OK, and why the homophobic CEO of Barilla is so much worse than John Doe Homophobe in the neighborhood you live in.

First of all, let’s get the First Amendment out of the way. Wikipedia defines the First Amendment as preventing the government from establishing a respect of any particular religion, and as protecting freedom of speech.

Let me be perfectly clear. The first amendment DOES NOT protect ANYONE from social backlash due to their opinions or beliefs. It does not guarantee any individual the right to immunity from the community’s attack on their general asshattery. If someone opens their mouth and inserts their foot, they have the right to speak their mind provided they are not harassing others or being obscene or molesting children, but they DO NOT have the right to say whatever they want without paying any consequences inflicted by the public at large. The government can’t throw them in jail for being vocal jerks (otherwise Orson Scott Card would be in prison for life), but the public is another story. Using the “I have my first amendment rights” cry is a bogus excuse to be a bigot. Period.

Now, let’s talk about why these guys are in the wrong–starting with Chic-Fil-A (and Hobby Lobby, and any other “Christian Values” company out there). The problem ultimately stems from the fact that these guys are behaving as though their client base is entire in agreement with their personal values. If you want to operate with that conception, go start a church. Like the WBC guys. Problem solved. But if you want to use money acquired from your chicken sandwiches, company money, you shouldn’t be using it to further your personal convictions against another group. You can use it to save children from starving (that would be ironic), or to promote world peace, or whatever. But keep your personal religion and politics out of your company. Despite apparent laws to the contrary, your company is not an extension of you. It is a brand, and a brand has the obligation (especially when it’s based off of food!) to make the attempt to appeal to the widest audience possible. That means being kind to your fellow humans. That means keeping your politics to yourself. It means that if the LGBT community wants to work in your stores, you sure as hell can’t fire them because they are LGBT. Having a religious belief as the president of a company employing from and selling to the general public does not give you the right to use your position of power to enforce your moral code on others.

Your brand is at stake.

Let’s move on to Barilla, who not only made an ambivilous statement much worse by sputtering more and more outrageous statements after the first, but who also picked on women. He even went so far as to say “If gays don’t like it they can eat another brand of pasta.” You heard him, folks! Boycott Barilla! He understands the power of money dollars, but what he fails to recognize is the sheer volume of GLBTA consumers–not just those who are directly impacted but those who believe in the concept of human equality even when it doesn’t directly impact them. Barilla issued a pseudo-apology (much like Chic-Fil-A did), and you can see for yourself how that went. He apologized “if anyone was offended.” Which is the same as saying “You’re a jerk for thinking I was saying something offensive.”

Let me tell you the story of the previous company I worked for. Once upon a time, it was a small ~300-employee 50 mil a year company based out of California. It had its ups and downs, but because it was based in California it afforded same-sex-couples full benefit coverage. To a point. My coverage was mostly paid for by the company, but they didn’t pay any portion of my wife’s coverage and it was post-tax rather than pretax. But at least they offered health coverage. But then along came a really REALLY big company (KMBS, 11 billion in global revenue at that time) who bought out my little employer. And the first thing they did was change all of our benefits and remove ALL same-sex coverage. Now, being the person that I am, I put my foot down hard. I wrote emails. I sent letters. I made calls. I pled and bargained and wheedled. My wife and child (who had just been born) needed health coverage. First, the company told me that I was the only employee in the entire 30,000+ employees who had this problem. They told me that since Colorado did not at the time have laws protecting same-sex couples, I wasn’t getting coverage. I went to the media. I tried to talk to anyone who would listen. But no one wanted to take on a global company with 11 billion in their pocket. I finally received a tiny bit of allowance from them…if I went and got married (NOT a domestic partnership or civil union) in another state (at the time, only three called it a marriage) then they would cover my wife. The domestic partnership offered by Boulder County was not enough because I didn’t live in Boulder County. Incidentally, the regional director was also a lesbian and told me that KMBS was so not-helpful that she went on her partner’s benefits–not an option in a single income household like mine.

At one point the HR representative told me (in response to my accusation of discrimination) they “Didn’t care” what I did in my personal time, but they “weren’t obligated to cover it.” And again, later, the same person told me that the company (11 billion, remember?) “Couldn’t afford” to offer domestic partner benefits to everyone who asked for them. Wait, I thought I was the only one asking?

KMBS, you can’t afford to be bigoted against your employees. And I hope someone who lives in a not-so-at-will-state comes after you.

My point, amongst this diatribe, is that big companies and small companies have only one set of rights–the right to mouth off and go under, or the right to strive for success and treat all of their potential customers equally. That means keeping their money and their bigotry out of the way of the equality movements rolling through our world.

Now let’s talk about why SFWA and anyone making fake geek girl type claims adds to this situation. First of all, Geek is a lot like Gay…that is to say, you don’t get to say how gay I am any more than you get to say how geek I am. Just because I’m under thirty (for a little while) and did not have to undergo the same scathing disdain for gaming that some of the dinosaurs underwent does not mean that I am not a geek. Just because I keep my hair long does not mean I am not a lesbian. Capiche? The only person who knows what I like and who I am to the full extent of my classification is me. The same goes for my capabilities–as a woman, or even if I were a man, my capacity for talent is up to me, not up to you. And you’d better keep your twitty Barbie fantasies to yourself.

That being said, SFWA and many organizations like it were started with the idea that people could own a market and help themselves get more publicity and publication in the Sci-Fi world. Many of the guys in SFWA refer to themselves as dinosaurs. But I want to quote my friend Matthew Boroson, who was on the SFWA panel with me at MalCon. He said that everyone, as human beings, has an obligation to stop and listen when someone says “You’re hurting me.” The outcry at SFWA over their antiquated notions, the rage rising up in the geek community of women over the abuse and harassment of women. Geek men, you have an obligation to stop, to listen, and say “How am I hurting you? What can I do to stop hurting you?” If you don’t, you are behaving just like a sociopath–dictating to more than half of the population that you have a voice and they should not. That their hurts are invalid. That you know them better than they know themselves. Maybe you are a dinosaur and older than Methusala and likely to die any minute from the sheer weight of your own audacity. But you can still slow down your boulder-rolling and listen to the people you hurt. Matthew believes those who are incapable of admitting that they have hurt someone and listening to why should separate themselves from the population–for the good of the whole. Obviously locking themselves in the basement playing video games isn’t working for that any more, because now there are women and LGBT and minorities and other REAL PEOPLE playing video games. Oh snap.

In that brilliant conversation, our audience brought up the point that the almighty dollar ultimately is the closest thing to a vote that we can use. While our congressmen and the lawmakers in Russia have moral obligations to uphold the best interest of the people–but they aren’t, at least not if they’re women–the companies have their own best interest in mind. So we can only guide their moral compass by not spending our dollars with them, and by telling them WHY.

The reason that my family boycotts Chic-Fil-A to this day is because our money is the loudest voice we can speak with. We will not see Ender’s Game in theaters or read the book, because Orson Scott Card is so anti everything I stand for that saying his name out loud makes my teeth hurt. Barilla will not be on my shopping list again, probably ever. We avoid shopping at Hobby Lobby. We avoid shopping at Walmart whenever possible because they have a history of being jerks to women and the LGBT community, We have those options. In today’s age and global economy, economic revolution is the best form of protest we have.

The list of challenges in this past year just goes on and on and on…over and over, daily, it seems that people in power are making blanket statements or overtly suppressing women and the LGBT community. Downplaying their intelligence and honesty by mentioning their attractiveness. Insisting that the family unit is formed by one woman and one man, and the man should be working while the woman is in the kitchen. Etc etc etc etc.  But one good thing is rising up out of all this sudden open attack against (women especially). The curtain of silence is slowly falling away. People are standing up against the harassment. Slut-shaming, rape culture, fake geek girls, all of this disgusting display of the celebrated masculine mentality that makes it OK for Mal from Firefly to call his obsession a whore…It will be overcome. And we’d better get to it, ladies, because my daughter is only 2 now…but she’ll know soon that quiet women never make history.

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