Today saw another blowup in a series of memorable events in recent history pertaining to sexism and science fiction. And the SFWA wasn’t even involved this time!
The organizers of LonCon3, the London SF convention playing host to Worldcon and hence the Hugo Awards this year, announced today that British TV personality Jonathan Ross had agreed to emcee the Hugos. This immediately sent a shockwave through the community, because Ross has a history of raunchy and sexist humor on the air. A number of prominent SF writers and personalities declared their dismay, including Seanan McGuire, who tweeted:
You know, I’ve really enjoyed knowing that, were I to be nominated for a Hugo, the host wouldn’t see me and make fat jokes. Like, that thought has actually crossed my mind, when shopping for Hugo dresses. "The host won’t mock me." Thanks, @loncon3, for taking that small bit of comfort and reassurance away from me.
One of the convention’s organizers resigned in protest over the decision.
It may seem like overreacting, but you have to consider that, in recent years, it’s come out that sexual harassment at conventions is a constant and common issue. People want conventions to be a safe space. When you invite a transgressive comedian in to host your show, no matter how good his SF chops might be (Ross actually has written several SF books and comics, so he’s not a complete outsider to SF), you’re sending mixed messages about that.
And speaking of sending mixed messages, Ross himself didn’t help matters with the way he responded to critics—offering to buy one fan’s convention ticket off him and “give it [to] someone less stupid,” and referring to critics as “haters” and “small minded people.” In the end, Ross decided to throw in the towel and let someone else host the event.
You do have to wonder what LonCon’s organizers were thinking, given how big of a trigger issue sexism has been in genre circles lately. According to the convention organizer’s LJ post (which she has since pulled because Ross’s stepping down makes it unnecessary), they knew ahead of time his sexist humor was going to be a problem, but they declined to discuss it with her. And granted that Ross is capable of toning it down for audiences to which it would be inappropriate, and is a SF writer and fan himself, perhaps he should have said that instead of coming out swinging?
In any event, unless the convention organizers try to come out with someone even more divisive, the issue is settled for now. We’ll have to see who their next choice is.