Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Call For Gender Equality in Science Fiction, Once and For All

Perhaps you've recently heard about the infamous post in which the author rants and raves about how women are destroying the very foundation of science fiction. If not, here are a few excerpts:

Science fiction is a very male form of fiction. Considerably more men than women are interested in reading and watching science fiction than women. This is no surprise. Science fiction traditionally is about men doing things, inventing new technologies, exploring new worlds, making new scientific discoveries, terraforming planets, etc. Many men working in the fields of science, engineering, and technology have cited science fiction (such as the original Star Trek) for inspiring them when they were boys to establish careers in these fields.

What has happened is that science fiction on television has for the most part become indistinguishable from most other television shows which are written for women filled with moronic relationship drama. Sure the moronic relationship drama is in space, but . . . its not science fiction anymore, and men are not interested in moronic relationship drama in space…

With women killing science fiction on television, the current generation of boys won't have this opportunity to be inspired to work in these fields. There is still a great deal of written science fiction that is real science fiction so all is not lost. However, many boys who would have gone on to make scientific discoveries and invent new technologies will not do so since they will never be inspired by science fiction as boys.

The above misogynistic vitriol in the quoted article (not to the mention the homophobic undertones) represents an extreme view of women in SF (as readers, writers, etc.). Unfortunately, it’s hardly a new attitude.

In response to the Smart Bitches post on the topic, Cora (#86) notes that “…the attitude behind the article is not that uncommon in the SFF community. Because there are a lot of people in the SFF community (and not all of them are male) who have serious issues with the changing genre landscape and particularly the influx of female fans and writers.”

I urge you to read her comment in its entirety, and perhaps you know of other examples of those who have serious issues.

John Scalzi also posted about the issue, although the several hundred comments seem to have devolved into something rather messy.

There were a few notable insights presented at io9 that are relevant to science fiction romance:

"People are piling onto this guy in a giant hatefest not just because he's an easy target. He's also a safe target. And that's what worries me. Because sexism still exists in the world of science fiction, but it is just more politely masked than this guy's overt outlier opinions. Anthologies of 'great' SF are still routinely published without a single woman's contribution included. Publishers often push women in a subtle way to focus on fantasy and paranormal writing. Even among so-called enlightened SF literati it is not uncommon to hear people say that women can't write hard SF."

And this:

"Fantasy publishing is exploding partly because it's one of the genres where women authors are valued by the publishing industry, and so women interested in speculative writing are fleeing to fantasy when they find the SF clubhouse doors locked. Where are the great new female hard SF writers and space opera directors and showrunners? We aren't hearing from them because the SF community doesn't believe that women truly love SF. And so people with power - unlike Spearhead guy - aren't publishing women or giving them development deals." [All emphasis mine]

SF publishers aren’t the only ones operating on outdated assumptions. I don’t think some of the movers and shakers in the romance community believe that women “truly love SF” either. I don’t expect every romance reader to convert to SFR inside of a minute just because it’s so great and all (*wink*), but given the right circumstances, many are open to trying a book or two—more readers, I think, than publishers are willing to admit exist, nurture, or invest in finding.

But science fiction romance has obstacles that go deeper than story quality, labels, or marketing dilemmas. There’s been a lot of propaganda for a long time that attempts to convince us all that SF and women don’t mix, let alone women and SF and romance. Sometimes we (women) perpetuate that propaganda ourselves. If not by overt behavior, then by inaction or complicity.

When I hear about aversion to stories that blend science fiction and romance, the above issues immediately come to mind. The number of romance readers who might enjoy SFR is artificially low because many of us have been conditioned to believe the female gender has no innate interest in science or speculative fiction. How many times have women been discouraged from pursuing careers in science over the past century? I’ll bet the number is astronomically high.

Then there’s the fact that on top of women writing and being fans of science fiction, some of us want to read character-driven stories as well. SF stories involving romance and relationship dynamics are very threatening to certain parts of SF fandom. The fear that the existence of one type of story will squeeze out another is downright bizarre.

The refreshing part is that no matter how many readers shudder in response to SF with romance or to romance with SF, artists charge ahead and combine them anyway. Both the SF and romance communities are saying and doing two different things. I guess we homo sapiens are funny diverse like that.

Let’s strive for gender equality in science fiction—and in romance. Let’s be unapologetic about the fact that we love books that mix romance and science fiction. Authors, be unapologetic about the fact that you write them. Let’s lose the shame of the romance or the science fictional aspects. Instead of rewarding misogynistic attitudes with attention (short-term solution), we can all positively reinforce progressive attitudes and actions (long-term solution).

We—male and female and romance and science fiction fans alike—must unlock that door. Come on. Let’s forge the key right now.

Joyfully yours,