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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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Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Lainy
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.

Valentin
Valentin
2 years ago

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.

rv97
rv97
2 years ago

I’m just going to say goodbye before I get the ban I deserve.

Citerior Motive
Citerior Motive
2 years ago

Try

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.

TacticalProgressive
TacticalProgressive
2 years ago

@rv97

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”.

Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
Kat, ambassador of the feminist government in exile
2 years ago

@QuantumInc

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.

https://jezebel.com/the-rapist-is-you-protestors-chant-outside-weinstein-tr-1840949748

rv97
rv97
2 years ago

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.

@TacticalProgressive

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.

rv97
rv97
2 years ago

https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2020/01/trumps-new-campaign-advisor-anti-lgbtq-extremist-history-vile-hate-speech/

This is an example of why I still hold suspicion against religion – I don’t think we have a good way to counter their argument.

James Hutchings
2 years ago

I, Too.

Kevin Levites
Kevin Levites
1 year ago

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.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kevin Levites
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