Here we are, already a decade and a bit into the 21st century, and we again have to put up with holdover ideas from the 19th century. Let me be clear right up front. Sexism, either intentional or accidental, has no place. Especially not in any of the areas of Speculative Fiction. Women are just as capable of writing and serving as lead characters as men. Any thought to the contrary belongs to the 19th century.
I believe in full equally. In gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, religion, etc. In all things. That said, I also believe in being historically accurate when writing a period piece. But there is a big difference between writing a sexist character from the 19th century (or even early 20th century) and being sexist in your writing.
This subject has only arisen because of a bit of a fiasco with the SFWA quarterly Bulletin. For their 200th issue, they featured a very classic painting of Red Sonja standing over the body of her enemy with a bloody sword. Problem is she is scantily clad. A great many people object to that type of image, and they have every right to. But rather than have respect for that opinion, Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg ranted in the 202nd issue about censorship. While I personally do not have an issue with how Red Sonja was dressed (her in-world associate, Conan, is usually pictured in the male equivalent), it was inappropriate for the subject matter of that issue and I have a big issue with how Resnick and Malzberg handled it.
Rather than coming across as the wise older gentlemen of the field, they came across as angry teens caught doing something they shouldn't. Being a writer is not just about stringing words together, anyone can do that. It is about doing it skillfully. One part of that skill is knowing what to defend and what is outdated rubbish. Yes, a particular editor might have had incredible looks, but there is a way to say it that is sexist and a way that is neutral. You don't defend someone who flubbed it just on the grounds that the comment was innocent enough. And you really don't defend it in a manner that comes off as even more sexist than the original comment.
I read a scanned copy of the Resnick/Malzberg dialog in question and I found it so offensive I didn't even finish it. They need to come out of the 1960's (a la Mad Men) and join the 21st century. You have to change with the times. The SFWA is not a boys club. C.L. Moore, Andre Norton, C.J. Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, Ann C. Crispin, and many others, already fought this battle and proved that girls are just as good as boys. We should be building a world of equals, not trying to climb back down the ladder to the ignorant beliefs of our forebearers.
I am by no means perfect myself. I discovered after the fact that I had created a world that seemed like a boy's club and I have made the conscious decision that I must rectify that as I move forward. In doing so, maybe I can comment on this problem and help be a part of the change rather than a symptom of what is wrong. Contrary to the joking of a good friend (who says I'm an alien), I am only human. I abhor hypocrisy and stupidity, but I know I am occasionally guilty of both. The thing is that I strive to be better. What we need to take away from this fiasco with the SFWA Bulletin is that sexism has no place. We need to move forward and support our sisters as they fight this old problem. Yes, some of us may make mistakes, but we shouldn't defend them.