empathy deficit entitled babies misogyny sexual assault sexual harassment

Isaac Asimov: Prolific author, even more prolific sexual assaulter

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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135 replies on “Isaac Asimov: Prolific author, even more prolific sexual assaulter”


It’s not always easy to tell what will inadvertently trigger the spam filter, unfortunately.

It also seems to vary arbitrarily from person to person. I know several commenters have trouble posting links but others have no problem, with no known explanation.


[I]t sounds like you have never met anyone who wasn’t also a feminist.

No, I’ve met many, many people who weren’t feminists.

That’s why I’m an ambassador of a government that is in exile.

I fear reactionnaries thrive on this sort of thing. As long as they can keep the discussion centered on a specific person they can preserve the source of it all from the worst of the scrutiny.

I disagree.

For example, to some extent, focusing on the horrific actions that Hitler took does provide a very shallow take and an excuse not to take a deeper look into the culture of antisemitism and bigotry that developed in Germany (and in many other European countries) at the time.

However, having a ‘poster child’ of the bad behavior is a good way to raise people’s awareness of shitty things that are being committed. We’re social creatures, and having a ‘bad guy’ sticks more easily in our heads than a discussion of vast, nebulous societal patterns. Saying that a government is starting to resemble Hitler’s is an easy shorthand and a good way to make people sit up and listen. It shouldn’t be the end of the discussion, but it is a good starting point.

On top of that, I think it’s important to showcase examples of bad behavior. Being faced with our “heroes” doing shitting things teaches us that even people who have some good aspects to themselves (they make good art, etc) can take harmful and abusive actions, and that we shouldn’t let admiration of others in our lives get in the way of addressing harmful actions. Being exposed to cases of “normal” people sexually assaulting others teaches us that sexual assault is not something that is committed entirely by monsters lurking in dark alleyways, but by people in our day-to-day lives. The more the myths of sexual assault are erroded, the easier it is to address the rape culture around it.


Ernest Hemingway I think. I’m not sure what he’s done that puts him in the League of Disappointing Authors, but it was probably his attitude to war. Google isn’t giving me much.

“Yes, old men sometimes have reduced inhibitions and can assault people, but many old men somehow manage not to be molesters.”

The same point has been made about “he’s a teenager, they have bad impulse control” defenses of sexual assault: most teenage boys manage to reach adulthood without committing assault.

“Reactionnary can also appeal to the dead person’s legacy to attack feminism as some sort of joyless movement hellbent to destroying all the people you admire and love, a “no fun brigate” and a new form of moral and sexual puritan. ”

They do that anyway. One of the standard counter-attacks to feminist critiques of sexual harassment is “Don’t you realize flirting is fun? Why are you such repressed prudes?”

“Good people don’t seek fame or wealth. They just want to settle down with family and friends.”

Nonsense. I know people who seek wealth simply because it’s easier to make it through life with money and without (the person in question is not a 1 percenter but by most people’s standards she’s rich). And Asimov, as far as I know, didn’t set out seeking either — he got them as a result of his work. Doesn’t make his conduct with women any better.

I’d still recommend Asimov to someone I thought would like him, just as I would Lovecraft. But that’s a personal decision, I have no argument with people who’d reject either man or anyone else for their personal lives.

Sarah Karloff once said the thing she’s proudest of with her dad is that nobody tells stories like this about him. I didn’t quite get it when I heard her speak, but stories like this make me appreciate why that mattered.


I’m not even going to say what I think should be done about repressive religions, and especially evangelical christianity given its major (almost exclusive role) in putting and keeping us on the path to global extinction via Global Warming; because it would violate comment policy.

Needless to say I am of the mind to ban it as well, or at the very least pass laws prohibiting Hate Speech so that only the verses that deal with love and tolerance can be printed or preached.

@Diego Duarte

Broadly agreed. I do think that the Innuendo Studios video on “The Ship of Theseus” offers a cautionary point about the abstraction and essentializing that can occur when engaged in public shaming. These are not always wrong to do and can be useful shorthands, but it’s important to consider the fallout when doing so.


Definitelt agree on that, given the propensity and bad faith in which Nazis try to hijack accountability to publicly shame figures that oppose their goals. Also given that people do get it wrong sometimes.

@ Victorious Parasol:

My money will always be on the rabbit whose Chief Rabbit told him to defend this run.

O Embleer Frith yes

My grandfather introduced me to Asimov’s work. He was older than Asimov, and also a “product of his time”, but he would never have touched a woman without her express permission. He died two years after Asimov, and I’m glad he went not knowing that the writer he admired so much was a lecherous creep.

That being said, @DMDR: Your hope that Asimov died a painful death from AIDS is disgusting. Why wish that on anyone?

The AIDS bullshit (wtAf????) Was posted by @Mr_Devanny, not DMDR.

And yeah, Mr_Devanny, what the hell. I don’t want anyone to die like that, no matter who they are.

Your comment was freaking TERRIBLE.

Uhm, guys, the fellow you want to smack upside the head about the AIDS comment is Mr_Devanny, one post up from DMDR’s post.

Poor dude mentioned in that post, though. Hopefully he found peace on the other side.

And anyone with religious leanings who wants to see what fellow members of their faith are doing about the problems of the world, go over to the Patheos blog group and browse what they say. Assorted progressive Christian, Judaism, Buddhist, and Pagan bloggers (and many more) all discuss the problems and limitations of their faiths, as well as how to apply said faiths in a polarized world.

Great antidote for when the ‘religion is the sole root of all evil; humanity/society would’ve been all rainbows and fluffy critters if religion had never been invented’ vibe gets to be too much to bear.

ETA: ninja’d by Rhuu about who posted the AIDS thing.

Patheos is here: Original link not working?

@Diego Duarte

Sadly I came across someone who thought feminism was antithetical to Judaism while lurking at /r/inceltears’ chat. This is supposed to be a leftist subreddit too, but I guess the chat is a different story.

It’s definitely not the first time someone has pissed me off because of their repressive beliefs. This has applied to mostly the Abrahamic religions so far.

I take the point that women authors can be terrible people too. Statistically less likely to be rapists, but there’s no shortage of ways to be a bad human being.

I guess I have the same struggle as most of us right now- how to engage with the world at all without letting the bad completely sap my will to live. All I really feel SAFE doing anymore is hiding in bed with my dog.

*deep sigh*
How many times do we need to say this?

Not all people of a religion have the same beliefs. I’m Jewish and I’m a feminist, and I know lots of other Jewish feminists as well. The same is true of any other religion. You’re not accomplishing anything other than pissing people off by repeatedly bashing all religions.

Yeah, there are a ton of good people involved in religion. And as for Judaism specifically, there are megatons of Jewish women who are feminists. In Canada the rates of feminism among Jewish women are higher than the rates among women as a whole.

But this also raises the question, “So what?”

We know that there are anti-feminists. We know that some of them are religious and some aren’t. Cassie Jaye and that faux-Marxist who thinks women should be grateful for sexual harassment are both, so far as I know, non-religious (in the first case) and anti-religious (in the second case) and are among the worst anti-feminists David has written about.

So… what?

Are we supposed to downplay Jewish anti-feminists because there are fewer of them? Are we supposed to counter-attack atheist/agnostic feminists harder because we expect better of them? Are we supposed to pour our feminists efforts into confronting the Christian anti-feminists because in a Christian-majority nation the Christian anti-feminists are a majority of anti-feminists? I mean, is that even weird or unexpected?

Religious people have done bad things, but sexism is sexism. I fight it wherever I find it. Why stop – or start! – with religious anti-feminism?

And I mean that seriously. Because if you look at what David documents every day (and I’m trusting him here, because I wouldn’t be able to read all those terrible threads and cling to even the minimal sanity I have), articulations of sexism correlate much more strongly with articulations of white supremacy than articulations of religion.

So… if we’re going to go on about roots of anti-feminism and terribleness and all that, wouldn’t we be talking about eradicating white people not eradicating religions?

But of course we don’t talk about eradicating white people. In fact, we’re not for white genocide at all! I resent even the implication of anti-whiteness: some of my best body parts belong to a white people!

Eradicating religion doesn’t seem quite the same as eradicating a race, because nowadays we can more easily imagine eradicating religion through means other than murdering adherents, while eradicating a race is still imagined as something that could only be accomplished through mass death.

But this isn’t true for every person. Different people have different memories, and until very recently there was little difference. The Bible itself describes the genocide of people for their religion (“worshippers of Baal”) and right through 1950 I can’t think of an anti-religion movement that wasn’t characterized by murder and threat of murder.

Now, I do certainly oppose credulous epistemologies, and opposing those can have an effect on religion. And I also oppose making law that imposes religious mandates on people not in that religion by coopting the secular government. But I don’t actually oppose anyone going to temple or calling out the sh’ma or celebrating an eid or sermonizing on a sunday.

In short, I oppose theocracy rather than religion.

It’s a pretty easy distinction to make, why not try?


You need to stop. I’m gonna have to start wearing a mouth guard because of how much you make me grind my teeth with your comments.

@Crip Dyke

Just want to say that was a great post—you have really been killing it lately!

It might be about time to email David about this—I feel quite similar and I think some other commenters do as well. It just feels like every exchange with rv97 slides into bashing religion, bashing men, or strange and often offensive ideas about LGBTQIPA+ people (or some combination thereof), and it gets frustrating.

I agree. Rv97 makes me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I am AMAB and Christian, 2 things which I basically didnt chose. I cant use logic to stop my belief in god, I have tried, but in hard times I believe and actually it helps me to believe so I accept it now. Religion like all belief and values can be used for good or for bad.


Octavia Butler
C.J. Cherryh
Celia S. Friedman (AKA C.S. Friedman)
N.K. Jemisin
Mercedes Lackey
Ann Leckie
Tamora Pierce
John Scalzi

Adding Ursula le Guin to the list.


While granted I’m staunchly non-religious, nor have an identity or world view that was structured or based in religiously minded thought or paradigm; I frankly must say that the application of blanketly painting all religion as broadly and universally as the same is uncritical and un-nuanced, as the reality is way more sticky and complicated.

Religion has been, no doubt, abused, misused and propped up as excuses for at best, embarrassing gaffs, faux pas and plain old nonsense, to at worst being counted among some of the most terrible and systemic atrocities in human history; both past and recent.

However, while granted I don’t think basing the structure and oversight of mortal systems of government or the pursuits of science and broader academic learning through the lens of religious theocracy and it’s values; to say that all religion is so broadly and without exception so core to the ills of the world, in my eyes; is a logically flawed conclusions that stands as a frank inaccuracy.

The reason for that is that most of the problems we are faced with, both in the past of history and with recent times, in regards to the problems of religion as seen through the actions, ideology and patterns of behavior of Neo-reactionaries is actually nominally within the circles of Religious Conservatism. Ergo, as much as I find religion to not be a source of factual scientific discovery nor a perfect moral bastion as most institutions of theology may often so claim: the ultimate problem, observed, and i systematic fucntion lies with Conservative leaning ideologies, values and social moors in general and at large; not just in religion. One may debatedly argue that religion may often better map with and attract Conservative’s political values, but that would be more of a case of distinction with only marginal difference, and that even than it wouldn’t be completely accurate since their are also a number of religions and lines of spiritual paradigm that adhere to more progressive and liberal values, of which either lack completely or at least share little of the problems that plague Conservative religious notions.

While as a general rule I don’t really hold or believe in anything along the lines of religion, don’t follow or care for religion or the beliefs held in them outside of historical, secular, academic curiosity; I frankly find myself having more patience, understanding, acceptance and even some periphery kinship with the spiritual or religious who are at least liberal, progressive or otherwise left leaning moderates of such theocratic institutions. In contrast: I do not share anywhere the same level of patience, understanding, acceptance or kinship with the majority of Conservative theology or Conservative ideology and politics period, if at all, save for the most moderate (and even than I am highly dubious and suspicious of even that the majority of the time).

And the reason I think that’s the case comes down to the inherent problems that tend to be innate or at least built to attract the problems with pretty much all lines of Conservative thought at it’s core: veneration of arbitrary and ridged social-ideological hierarchies, a staunch and unhealthy adherence to and presupposition to alleged “tradition”, creating, upholding, enforcing and instilling a set of rigid, arbitrary normative values, an unhealthy obsession with unfettered authority and “He-Man-Alpha-Man” patriarchal authority figures, unhealthy, negative attitudes towards human sexuality (wither male, female or any other configuration of being that isn’t some arbitrary and inaccurate normative binary of “leave it to beaver 1950’s social values”), fierce (to the point of unfounded, uncritical and dangerous) distrust to outright rejection of actual science, rationality and sound logic while favoring, at best, long defunct pseudosciences, to at worst, plain wishful thinking with “god of the gaps” fallacy, the fostering of various bigotries and tribalism to motivate followers and adherents to the ideology of such theocratic institutions and a multitude of other problems that are innate to the foundational, ideological core of Conservative thought as an aggregate body.

I know this is a long ramble, and my appoligies for slipping into such: but I guess the crux of my thesis comes down to: even as a staunch and earnest non-believer who critiques the flaws of religion: the ultimate problem faced with religion is the Conservative ideological and political paradigm itself that religion either attracts, or is usually built to attract.

In other words: Conservatism is the actual problem. Religion is just usually Conservative ideologies common, go to vehicle of delivery.
Religion could and can be redeemed through liberal and progressive reformation… even if I don’t necessarily “buy it”.


It is sometimes useless to blame people, even when they are clearly blameworthy. Blaming Isaac Asimov isn’t the same as helping his victims, and it is not the same as stopping sexual assault in the future.

So it’s useless for these women to call out Harvey Weinstein? Doing so won’t help those who were sexually assaulted by him? Shaming him won’t help to stop sexual assault in the future?

‘The Rapist Is You’ Protestors Chant Outside Weinstein Trial

During the jury selection process for Harvey Weinstein’s trial in New York on Friday, protestors stood outside the courthouse chanting and performing a dance that originated in Santiago, Chile as a statement against rape culture, victim blaming, and patriarchy as a whole.

Actually, I’ll try and respond to these without being an asshole. I’ll simply refuse to respond otherwise until I can get myself together.


You hit the nail on its head; sadly, people tend to interpret “freedom of religion” as not letting people practice minority religions or none.

I’m particularly concerned with nations like Turkey whose modern founding was based on secular values, but it seems to want to turn away from such secularism, believing leftists, the LGBT community and atheists to be threats. I fear nations such as Russia too are going this direction, by upholding the conservative Russian Orthodox Church as the ideal moral hegemony, one where “women must fear men” and with anti-abortion attitudes as per an SBS dateline video I once watched on Russia’s Orthodox revival (not sure if it’s still up) – they’ve even become dangerously lenient with domestic violence largely because of this. Once the militant atheist Soviet Union fell, the church came back with a vengeance against liberalism, believing it to be fallacious. Russia is already turning to fascism too, with Putin blaming ethnic minorities for election interference and Poland for starting World War 2 – calling Russia communist is a lie when it appears to have successfully taken revenge against the Soviet Union, celebrating communism to save face.

I just get really angry with religion because I feel trapped by my own community. I feel like I have to do what they say because I look like them, I grew up speaking their language and even believing their same beliefs – this was even though it only took place in the first six years of my life. It’s a shame since I had a great relationship with them until various life events made me have radically different beliefs. This same Christian-majority community is one that generally doesn’t look too kindly towards atheism.

I’ve been involved with an LGBT-friendly church – I still prefer to not be involved with religion but I’m glad that I’ve found a church like this. I still feel furious about the world where most people and most religious institutions tend towards repressive values. Heck, the Salvation Army operates in this town I live in, which had its first pride event just over 8 or so months ago and this town is overall very liberal compared to its neigbours. A Christian student society is also quite fundamentalist from what I’ve heard, and one would think universities are liberal echo chambers.

Hi Guys:

I have always been a rabid fan of Asimov’s work since I first discovered his writing when I was 11 years old, and have read (and reread) about 350 of the roughly 495 books that he wrote.

He has even answered a few letters that I wrote to him as a fan when I was a teenager, and I consider him a strong influence in my own writing (I have had my own science fiction in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and I’ve recently had my first book published). I often cited his work in papers that I needed to write for school, so–indirectly–he has helped with my grades.

Yet despite my worship of Asimov’s work, I would have probably belted him in the mouth if he had groped my girlfriend, my mother, or my sister (indeed, probably any woman . . . now that I think of it) in front of me.

Yet–with the idea that I’m not making excuses and/or justifying this behavior–I believe that!a I can shed some light on this nastiness and add something constructive to this conversation.

I honestly believe that Asimov had a form of high-functioning autism that was formerly called Asperger’s syndrome. I’m autistic myself, so I have unique insights that may not be obvious to everyone else.

Some of the consequences of high-functioning autism include social incompetence, an inability to read body language, and a lack of insight into someone else’s viewpoint.

Much of the behavior of someone with high-functioning autism is attributed to simply being a f—king asshole when–instead–it’s a lack of insight.

On top of this is society’s general lack of knowledge of autism . . . so we have people saying: “If Asimov (a noted polymath) is smart enough to write hundred of books, then he’s smart enough to know how awful his behavior toward women is . . . “, and so forth.

I have encountered similar issues in my work and family life, as people believe that if I’m smart enough to graduate school, become a paramedic, and also become a published writer . . . then I’m smart enough to know how to “not be autistic.”

His nasty behavior toward women, therefore, may have also been a product of a lack of understanding of high-functioning autism, and the lack of educational resources that surely would have been applied to him if he had been born at a later time.

Again, I don’t excuse him . . . any more than I would excuse someone like an alcoholic who does evil things while drunk.

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