That Whole Discussion About…

Women in SF.  Thought about this a lot.  Didn’t write anything in any of the long conversations because mostly it felt like all the positions had been covered by someone else.  However, in conclusion to this phase I feel that there are two major factors operating across the board.

The first one is the old vision of Science Fiction as that emotionless thing with spaceships that men do as the mental equivalent of going out to the shed and tinkering.  This is a very strong and persistent meme which will probably be around a long time, not least because there is quite a bit of ‘shedness’ still in SF to act as exemplary material and many counterexamples have gone off to label themselves in other genres more suited to the readers they are aimed at.  This masks the real number of women writing SF. 

I realise the above is subject to the quota mark of ‘How much SF does it take in a book to actually include it in the category’ and I’m a liberal includer so this might not be much of a help.  But on to the next point which is –

I could be persuaded there is a gendered bias in operation here, but not just a socialised one, a biologically based one rooted in a few bell curves about how you prefer to perceive your world and what you think is important to notice.  It is possible that SF trends in the type of story, focus of characters and general tone plus content is genuinely not very attractive to a large part of the female population compared to, say, fantasy or paranormal romance or crime thrillers or modern novels.  So, given a wide choice of reading there is a trend towards picking out of our genre, even if many books inside it would be perfectly acceptable to those women. 

I tried some years ago to have a discussion about this with various people but it never got anywhere, mostly because I have no hard evidence about the above, only a lot of anecdotal observation and my own introspection.  Add that to the difficulty of articulating the subtleties of one’s own perceptive framework and trying to weed out the learned from the innate and scientifically this has a long way to go before it’s out the door. 

My thesis basically is that there is a very broad (and by no means all inclusive) trend that divides the genders in how they perceive reality which is based in the unconscious automatic processes through which certain things are selected as Important and Worthy of My Attention and other things are not.  I suspect that tendency is rooted in some ancient divisions which could probably be easily overridden in any individual lifetime by the judicious application of self awareness and inquisitiveness on the part of anyone.  But it’s there, a maybe-genetic maybe-cultural legacy and it does determine the look and feel of the stories and writing that men and women produce and prefer.

Well, so far so bland, what to do?  Can’t do anything about any of it, except continue to be open to ideas and help others to be the same.  For that reason I feel that both quotas and condemnation are unhelpful since both smack of control.  More flies with honey than vinegar, eh?

6 thoughts on “That Whole Discussion About…”

  1. Well, a lot of the classic SF was written by introspective male scientists, and it reflects that.

    Likewise, anything with a military bent will usually have both a writer and reader bias toward men.

    I would like to see more women in SF. My daughter falls more toward fantasy partly because she finds it warmer, and because it has more female presence.

    I suspect a certain amount of gender differentiation is unavoidable. It’s my observation and experience that mixes of genre/theme/character/author tend to appeal to the intersection set, not the union set.

  2. Just started reading ‘Keeping it Real’. Enjoying it so far. One question however, you use the the ‘Desertron’ SSC in Texas as your launching point for the other realities. That facility was never completed, and all construction was stopped in 1993 due to budget problems? Is your book supposed to be an alternate reality, even before your “dimensional explosion”?

  3. Hi Cyberdactyl

    Yes it was. Don’t think anyone mentioned that before 🙂 I didn’t push the creation of the worlds as a storyline driver because it felt like I would soon bog down in a hefty wrangle about the nature of reality but perhaps I should have. Thanks for your comment. 🙂


  4. I enjoy scifi more than fantasy because when it does have women characters they are usually not damsels in destress or the wife or girlfriend.Often they are the captains of ships or something like that and their postions are not even commented on because it’s not important or unusal in the socities portrayed.
    it is esp good when women are portrayed as “kiss-ass”, but not totally emotionaless.Well rounded I guess you good say.
    This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading about Lila Black…thanks Justina for creating her!

  5. I heard that Al Reynolds and Jaine Fenn nearly came to blows over this issue at the third SFX Weekender in Prestatyn. I’m not sure what the fuss is about, I read heaps of fem author’s and counting up, it’s about 2 women for every 3 men. Is it recognition of women in SF, or lack of respect, are you not selling as much as your male counterparts…? I remember not seeing anywhere near enough women writer’s at Aussiecon 4, but they were on every panel I checked out and was rewarded with some pretty thought provoking stuff. I found them much accommodating to talk to as well. So yes, there need’s to be more SF Chick Lit. If I may!

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