So I wrote a story, “Men Need Sex.” I started with the mistaken, but wide-spread, belief that men need sex (PIV). Mistaken because, unlike food, water, and oxygen, without sex, you don’t die. Then, ‘inspired’ by Roger Elliott, I thought, ‘What if?’ What if men really did die if they didn’t get sex. I postulated contagion, perhaps social. Then I postulated a shortening incubation period (between belief, not getting sex, and suicide). And I added the belief that men are entitled to get what they need, which ramped up rape and, consequently, women’s self-quarantine (after begging, to no avail, for stricter gun laws and a curfew for men). I ended the story with something like ‘And then the women just … waited.’
The SciPhi Journal rejected it. Which was disappointing, because I thought the story was clearly sf with a philosophical element (“As its primary mission, SPJ wishes to provide a platform for idea-driven fiction, as opposed to the character-driven mode that has come to predominate speculative fiction”). Future Fire also rejected it, which was also disappointing, because they focus on feminist sf. But what I want to focus on is the first rejection because it came with the explanation that my story “reads as a fully seriously intended apology of gendercide.”
How was what I described gendercide? The women didn’t kill the men; they just waited for them to kill themselves. Yes, they withheld sex, but if you’ll die without food and I refuse to give you food, am I killing you? Perhaps. The philosophical community has not yet come to a consensus on that; it’s called the passive euthanasia vs. active euthanasia debate (and the SciPhi editor should have been well aware of that debate).
Framed another way, if you’ll die without being able to hurt someone, and no one steps forward to be hurt, are we all killing you? Not at all clear. That’s called the Good Samaritan debate (and again, the SciPhi editor should have been well aware of it), often illustrated by the scenario of a drowning child: if the passerby is a competent swimmer, then yes, she has a duty to rescue, but if the passerby cannot swim, and the rescue puts her own life at risk, then no, she has no duty to rescue. The essential question is ‘On what grounds would one have a duty to sacrifice oneself for another?’
Does intercourse put a woman’s life at risk? If she has no contraception and no abortion, that is, if she’s forced to become pregnant and then doesn’t miscarry, well, maybe. It is not uncommon for a woman to die giving birth. At a minimum, there is a clear risk to her health: high blood pressure, diabetes, anemia, stroke, cardiac arrest. Perhaps the SciPhi editor is unaware of the health risks of pregnancy and childbirth…
But even with contraception and abortion … why is she obligated to allow herself to be hurt (yes, men, sexual intercourse against our will, absent our desire, hurts) (maybe that’s what the SciPhi guy didn’t get?) so that the man will live? If it’s a one-time thing, and the man in question is a good man (yes, that would figure into my deliberation), okay, maybe many of us would, and should, say yes. Ten minutes, in and out, go on, live.
But if it’s an ongoing thing, like the provision of food (which is what my story suggests), then the scenario would be very much like one sex, male, enslaving another, female; men imprisoning women to ensure continued sexual access and, therefore, their continued existence.
All that aside, the editor said “Art is free, and I won’t criticise any apology of anything.” Okay, then, an apology for gendercide, should that have been what my story was about, would have been okay. “However,” he continued, “all pieces of writing for SPJ must have at least a grain of plausibility.” When I pointed out that I’d referenced Elliot Rodger and Alex Minassian, he said he hadn’t heard of either one. What? What? (I keep forgetting that since words like sexism and misogyny aren’t used on primetime tv or in mainstream news, most people [in the U.S. and Canada, at least, because their entire worldview is formed by those two media] `aren’t familiar with the concepts. And it keeps shocking me when I remember that. But wait, weren’t both Rodger and Minassian reported in mainstream news?) My guess is the editor just didn’t read my story very carefully. (Both Rodger and Minassian were referenced in footnotes.) And why might that be? Because … oh, right. It was written by a woman.
He went on to say “As a 100% gay male, I can assure you that your statements about ALL men are quite off the mark …” Quite apart from the fact that any statements I made about ALL men were in the context of the story, a fiction, I never made any statements about ALL men; in fact, I quite deliberately say “Of course not all men” at one point.
“On the other hand,” he continued, “the funny notion implied in your story that women don’t need sex is also wrong”— oh do tell, please, go ahead and mansplain women’s sexuality to me.
“Myself and quite a few of my gay male friends have had experiences of being sexually harassed by women. Therefore, women seem to need sex as well.” Therefore? Okay, at this point, I’m thinking the editor of a philosophical science fiction journal doesn’t have a philosophy degree.
In a subsequent email (because yes, I responded to his rejection letter, refuting his points; I’m tired of just letting these things happen without challenge), he said “At any case, there is too much hate shown by the narrator to be humanely appealing.” Need I point out all the sf in which male narrators show too much hate of women to be humanely appealing? (Yes, men, any time you write a story or novel in which the males subordinate or sexualize the females, you’re expressing hatred of women.)
And, in yet another email, he said “There is no lack of publishing venues that would gladly accept any kind of male-bashing. SPJ is not one of them.”
To which I replied, “It’s just … disappointing that you didn’t see that the story is actually an argument against male entitlement and an exposé of, and a cautionary tale about, toxic masculinity.”
[The story appears in Fighting Words: notes for a future we won’t have.}