By David Futrelle
The famously and rather ludicrously prolific science fiction and popular science writer Isaac Asimov — who claimed to have written or edited some 500 books — was born a century ago this month, and the occasion has inspired tributes in a variety of languages.
But there’s an uneasy tone to some of these tributes, because this longtime sci fi hero, who died in 1992, had a dark side hidden in plain sight — he was known not only as a tireless prose machine but also as a man who regularly, and enthusiastically groped women and sometimes tried to force them to kiss him.
Donald Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy; Asimov liked to grab and pinch women’s asses. Indeed, as Stephanie Zwan has documented, he was so well-known for this behavior that he was once asked to deliver a speech at a science fiction convention on “The Positive Power of Posterior Pinching.” While Asimov declined, partly because of the hassle of finding women who would consent to appear on stage with him so he could demonstrate his technique on them, he did suggest that he might change his mind “if the posteriors in question were of particularly compelling interest.”
Normally, of course, Asimov didn’t ask permission before pinching, or doing anything else; as he once joked to fellow science fiction luminary Frederick Pohl that, using his particular technique, “you get slapped a lot, but you get laid a lot, too.”
Within the science fiction community Asimov’s behavior was treated (at least by men) as little more than a sort of side effect of his affable personality — like a tendency to make bad puns, which might occasion both groans and laughs. Indeed, it was his reputation as a basically harmless lech that allowed him to get away with routine sexual harassment and assault for decades.
As biographer Alec Nevala-Lee has noted, Asimov’s
reputation as a groper became a running joke among science fiction fans. The writer and editor Judith Merril recalled that Asimov was known in the 1940s as “the man with a hundred hands,” and that he “apparently felt obliged to leer, ogle, pat, and proposition as an act of sociability.” …
It was all framed as nothing but good fun, as were his interactions with women once his success as an author allowed him to proceed with greater impunity. He writes in his memoirs of his custom of “hugging all the young ladies” at his publisher’s office, which was viewed indulgently by such editors as Timothy Seldes of Doubleday, who said, “All you want to do is kiss the girls and make collect calls. You’re welcome to that, Asimov.” In reality, his attentions were often unwanted, and women found excuses to be away from the building whenever he was scheduled to appear.
After his celebrity increased, his behavior at conventions became more egregious, as the editor Edward L. Ferman reminisced of a fan gathering in the late 1950s: “Asimov … instead of shaking my date’s hand, shook her left breast.”
Another Great Man who turns out to have been a massive shit.
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