Amal El-Mohtar

Of Awards Eligibility Lists and Unbearable Smugness

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We need to have a serious talk about awards and eligibility and the awkward eggshell-dance people feel obligated to do every time this year.

Recently I went on a tear on Twitter because I saw women for whom I have tremendous admiration and respect speak up about how difficult they find it to overcome shyness and low self-esteem enough to talk about their work, and what an ongoing struggle it is for them to find value in their art, to think of it as in any way contributing anything to the world.

This is an old story. This is most of my friends.

John Scalzi has views on posting eligibility lists; so does Adam Roberts. The former says hooray, lists! The latter says boo, lists! Mysteriously, both of them really want to see more recognition and lauding of writing by commonly marginalized people, but while Scalzi offers the use of his Comments space for anyone to share their eligibility, Roberts decries the practice as “making it easier for the guy with the loudest megaphone to shoehorn his way onto the shortlists.”

Scalzi has also responded to Roberts’ post, but neither of them state what bothers me the most in this folderol: nothing will stop the guy with the megaphone. No hand-wringing or tut-tutting about reading widely or behaving with dignity or integrity or what have you is going to end the practice of brash, confident people telling other people, often and obnoxiously, to vote for them. But, crucially, the hand-wringing and tut-tutting does have an effect: it discourages the people who already feel silenced and uncomfortable from ever talking about or taking pride in their achievements.

You cannot with one breath say that you wish more women were recognized for their work, and then say in the next that you think less of people who make others aware of their work. You cannot trust that somehow, magically, the systems that suppress the voices of women, people of colour, disabled people, queer people, trans people, will of their own accord stop doing that when award season rolls around in order to suddenly make you aware of their work. You MUST recognize the fact that the only way to counter silence is to encourage speech and make room for it to be heard.

It breaks my heart to read post after post of (mostly women) saying “well I usually wouldn’t do this but so-and-so” (OFTEN ME) “goaded me into doing it so here it is,” or to participate in discussions where women — extraordinary, talented, accomplished, incandescent women — confess how terrified they are by the prospect of talking about their publications during award season because what if assholes start treating them like they treated Seanan McGuire.

There’s a peculiar, unbearable, vicious smugness in sitting back and talking about how tacky it is of people to list their publications and that of course YOU won’t do so because while winning awards is nice naturally YOU don’t really care about them. I find that behaviour several orders of magnitude more repellent than asking for votes. Requests for votes I can ignore; what I can’t ignore is the real toll taken on brilliantly talented people by this kind of rhetoric — brilliantly talented people who already think themselves unworthy of any kind of positive attention.

Can we please just accept — and make widespread the acceptance! — that making lists during Awards season is fine? That it’s standard? That there is a vast difference between stating one’s eligibility and campaigning for votes? That lists are extremely helpful to nominating parties who are rigorous in their reading and want to see conversations in fandom expand and diversify? And that rolling one’s eyes about the whole process helps precisely no one while in fact hindering many?

Because this is something for which I’ll certainly campaign.

#SFWApro

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