The current rounds of controversy started with the petition aimed at SFWA. It continued with attacks against Mary Robinette Kowal on sff.net. Rather than rehash the issue directly (which is being done plenty already), I’ll attack the argument itself.
This is the exact text in question, by Sean P. Fodera, directed at Kowal:
I find it very funny and ironic that she would jump on this bandwagon. For
a long time, her website featured an array of photos of her in a diaphanous
white outfit, posing on a beach. No metal bikinis or such, but they were not
innocuous writer headshots either. One of them, with her recumbent on the sand
with legs exposed, made her somewhat attractive. I also recall she’s fond of
wearing tight-fitting gowns and plunging necklines when she attends cons and
I’ll have to add “phony” to “incompetent” and “arrogant” in the mental tags
I’ve assigned her.
What, you may ask, does her choice of clothing have to do with what she believes about the content of the SFWA’s member newsletter? The correct answer is: nothing. Of course it has nothing to do with it. What we see here is an example of a logical fallacy, in which Fodera attempts to discredit Kowal’s credibility on the basis that her clothing is not respectable enough. (Note that he does not describe his own clothing as a counter to why he is more credible.) There are also strong elements of cognitive bias going in these arguments.
By the way, that “legs exposed” bit in there refers to the fact that her ankles were showing. Her. Ankles. I’m not kidding.
Kowal’s defenders have posted statements and screeds attaching many fine traits to her. Which is great, and I’m glad that she’s getting support. At the same time, I’m uncomfortable with how we’re all leaping to that side of it. Did you see that I just did it myself above? I pointed out that the photos in question weren’t the slutty pics that Fodera implied they were. I caught myself writing it and then left it in just to make this point:
It shouldn’t matter what a woman wears. It shouldn’t matter whether she’s well-liked. But there it is, and we’re still judging women by a different standard than we’re judging men.
And we’re doing it even when we’re on the “right” side of the issue.
We’ve still got a long way to go.
Incidentally, Sean Fodera posted a threat to sue everyone who linked to that Daily Dot article. If you do, Mr. Fodera, please include me, because I could really use the publicity, and I’m pretty sure such a lawsuit will hurt you a whole hell of a lot more than it will hurt me.