Monday, May 15, 2017

Science Fiction for Ladies

Jane Jetson drawing credited to Awearytraveler on DeviantArt
The idea that there were women who not only dislike science fiction, but also assume it’s all for boys, is not a phenomenon I encountered until considerably late in life.

I spent my teens reading science fiction from authors like Le Guin, and Butler, and Norton, and L’Engle, and McCaffrey, and the despicable Bradley, and some guy writers as well.  Later on I encountered plenty of grown women that live in houses where bookshelves overflow, and they usually have plenty of science fiction too. The idea that I was living in some bucolic enclave of sheltered privilege never occurred to me. As far as I knew, science fiction was a multi-gendered thing. 

Imagine my surprise when later on I discovered there were women who avoided the genre entirely, or assumed all of its fans were male, because that’s how it worked in their house, with the husband apologizing for his immaturity as he headed out to enjoy some starships or superheroes. 

Perhaps there are wide-sweeping social theories that explain this in condescending and heavily jargonized terms. I’m not too sure about social theories. I do know (now) that a lot of women prefer their fiction to be not too fictitious.

Possibly this has to do with male science fiction getting more mainstream PR. Dudebros like Heinlein and Asimov and Captain Kirk and the boys from Marvel are known beyond their subculture, but you kind of have to be down with the nerds to know who Ada Palmer is, even if she's up for a major award.

I’m bringing this up because (a) I encountered yet another “oh wow, I thought all sci fi fans were male” reaction, within the last month, from an intelligent liberal San Franciscan who was entirely benign about her misconception; and (b) the majority of Hugo novelists this year are female (and the winner last year was a woman) (and the year before that it was that space opera, written by a woman, where everyone was female). 

A lot of the time science fiction is like this Schroedinger’s subculture – both oppressively patriarchal and smotheringly matriarchal at the same time.  If it’s not encouraging desensitized violence it’s preaching about social justice. If it’s not dumbed-down and cartoonish it’s too dense and scientific. It’s got just a little too much everything to offend someone.

And we fans and writers and consumers of it argue with the zeal of medieval theologians as to what constitutes “real” science fiction or “good” science fiction or “classic” science fiction.

Even people who love science fiction have a hard time keeping up with all the subclassifications. Dystopian, steampunk, cyberpunk, new wave, feminist, libertarian, religious, grimdark, space opera, space trader, first contact, postapocalyptic.  There are people passionately devoted to science fiction that have never seen Star Trek, or Star Wars, or a superhero film.  It’s a very big tent.  One that probably contains quite a few people very similar to you, no matter who you are.

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