Achievement Unlocked: Women's Rights Advocate

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When you do something very difficult in an Xbox game, you get an Achievement.  It’s a fizzy little thrill, not unlike winning a scratch-off lottery ticket: you vanquish a difficult boss and there’s a blip noise, then an alert at the bottom of the screen: ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.
You’re told the name of your special Achievement.  It is added to your profile, and is yours forevermore.  Many people on Xbox size up their fellow players by how many Achievement points they have accumulated – or by the difficulty of the Achievements they’ve unlocked.  It’s a badge of honor to get, say, the Bladder of Steel Achievement, which involves playing all of the hardest songs on Rock Band in a row for six hours straight, without pausing the game.
Achievements are a brilliant addition to the game, for they make you feel warm and fuzzy for doing hard or tedious things.  You may have damn near wet your pants getting the Bladder of Steel award, but by God you’ve got a little icon on your profile to show off and a permanent gold star on your record.
The problem is, real life doesn’t work like that.
You can see people thinking that it does, particularly in the old-guard ranks of SFWA.  There was a kerfluffle this weekend regarding a series of female-unfriendly columns in the official SFWA Bulletin by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg (scroll down to read them), wherein they stood around befuddled that anyone would think they were sexist.  How could they be sexist?  They’ve supported women for years!  They worked with lady editors back in the 1970s, when practically nobody was a woman!
And you saw that with Harlan Ellison, too, when he was slagging off K. Tempest Bradford by reminding her that he marched in the 1960s equality rallies, and how dare she accuse him of being racist?  He was fighting the good fight before it was cool, man!
There appear to be a lot of feisty old dudes who think they’re awesome at this equality thing.
Here’s the thing: by 1970s standards?  I’m sure all of these gentlemen were enlightened.  Compared to the treatment women, gays, and blacks got from mainstream society at the time, these dudes were well ahead of the curve.  And at the time, they deserved all the credit for going above and beyond ordinary treatment.  Still do, in a certain sense.
The problem is, in their heads, they Achievement Unlocked.  They became Good To Girls, or Friend To The Negro, or Comfortable With Homos.  And that badge could never be removed.  Once they’d proven their magnificent tolerance in the crucible of the Issues of the Day, they never had to question their position again.
Problem is, the bar always changes.  Remember when smoking in restaurants was cool, and the three-drink martini lunch was standard?  Yeah, now you’re an inconsiderate drunk.  Remember good old Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Old Series, the bastion of peace, equality, and liberal thought?  Now he’s a sexist warmongerer.
What women and gays and minorities of all stripes have come to expect has been upgraded over the years.  Just because no one complained at the time doesn’t mean that no one had complaints.  It just means that they weren’t in a position of power enough to request you stop.
Now they are. Will you listen?  Or will you be amazed by these annoying harpies, because dammit, you showed the ladies that you’re all for them back in 1972, when you did something nice for Marion Zimmer Bradley that one time?
There’s no “Women’s Rights Advocate” badge you can get and wear forever.  This is more of a co-op multiplayer game, where you band together with your friends to fight against everyone on the server, and are scored daily compared to how the other people did.  And every day, there are better players coming in, new strategies you must master if you wish to stay relevant, very smart people changing the game for everyone.  Every day, awards are given, and some people have a shitty day and fail, and others surprise you, and at the end of the day you have the knowledge that you were good for one day.
That’s it.  You still have to fight tomorrow.  Maybe you don’t feel like fighting.  But you know, the women and gays and minorities are trapped in the fucking game, forced to fight to the top whether they want to or not, so, hey, how much can you legitimately complain?
The point is this: all you old white guys? You probably fought the good fight at one point, and helped to get the world to this better place where all these people can demand even more of you.  I thank you for that.  But it’s time to stop thinking like the world froze when someone complimented you in 1982 and that “Achievement Unlocked” pop-up dinged in your brain.  You’ve got more work to do.   You’ve got to see that calling them “lady editors” is actually diminishing them, that women in chainmail bikinis may be a long tradition but so are grinning Negro lawn jockeys, that your pro-African writings were progressive in 1980 but look like a TRS-80 now, that there is a subtle difference between “censorship” and “saying such monstrously unpopular things that nobody wants to talk to you.”
You did good things. The question is, can you do even better ones these days?  Can you acknowledge, as men whose main profession is envisioning the future, a world where everything you knew was wrong?
We’re not trying to take your badge away, guys. We’re trying to point out that it’s a very old badge, and it’s time you stopped resting on that as your proof that you’re all for this women’s lib thing. Because damn, guys. At one point, you were helping us. It’d be so much easier if you started helping us again.  But to do that, you’re gonna have to look at what society expects of people now and actually position yourself ahead of that wave.
You did it once.  Now please.
Do it again.


  1. Jim Ryan
    Jun 3, 2013

    Well. Said!

  2. Steve Dolan
    Jun 4, 2013

    Achievement unlocked
    100G – wrote a kick ass article
    Great article. Someone needs to be giving these guys some new challenges to get meet. 🙂

  3. Steve Dolan
    Jun 4, 2013

    Blah… get met…

  4. Billie Milholland
    Jun 4, 2013

    Excellent post. I’m willing to give the old boys an old pat on the head while I give them a new slap upside the head. 😀

  5. StaceyHH
    Jun 4, 2013

    I love everything about this piece. Thank you.

  6. Jeff K
    Jun 4, 2013

    I’m getting two sets of ribbons made up for the next SF convention I go to, one that says “women’s rights advocate” and another that says “I <3 Mike and Barry".

  7. Ashley
    Jun 4, 2013

    Terrific, terrific article.

  8. Angie
    Jun 4, 2013

    This is a perfect comparison. I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate what these guys are probably thinking, because they’re not stupid, so WTF? But yes, I’ll bet that’s exactly it — they got their badge back in 1972 or 1981 or whenever, and figured that was it, they’d proven themselves. [sigh]
    I’m really hoping Resnick and Malzberg read this, and that it makes a lightbulb flicker on for them.

  9. Xenologer
    Jun 4, 2013

    I got linked to this by someone in the secular community, which is having the same problem with many of its high-profile dudes. It is a pervasive issue and I am glad you blogged about it. Thanks.

  10. Julia Dvorin
    Jun 5, 2013

    Right ON, Ferrett! Way to work a metaphor into an excellent rant. I admire your ability to be both compassionate and scolding at the same time. 🙂

  11. Captain Cassidy
    Aug 7, 2013

    Amazing. Sorry to come to this so late, but it really blew my mind. Well said, and thank you for writing it, and for being an ally. Sometimes fighting every day in the pit gets really tiring; it gives me strength to see that I’m not alone in there.


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