Girls Don’t Like Sci-Fi! Do They?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember how far we’ve come until you look back at where we’ve been.

When I was a kid, growing up on STAR TREK, WONDER WOMAN, SPACE 1999, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, THE BIONIC WOMAN and BUCK ROGERS women were still pretty much objects to be kidnapped, tied up, held for ransom and eventually rescued by the big strong man. While women and girls were fans of science fiction, it wasn’t really written for us, with us in mind. The general consensus was that science fiction fans were primarily male, intelligent, between the ages of 12 and 40 and virgins living in their parents’ basement.

I was frustrated that there was precious little out there that depicted kick-ass women as heroic figures. So I started writing my own. That’s how Bo Barron was born. Even then, I realized that it would be impossible to find a market in the male-dominated science fiction market. I was ready to give up the idea and bow to pressure to go to college to be an English teacher. Fortunately, I found the Rissa Kerguelen series of books by F.M. Busby and held fast to my original plan.

Until I sat down to write this post, I’d pretty much forgotten those books, which is a shame, considering how many times I read and re-read them in high school. It was 1984, Bo was already cutting a wide swath through my friends who clamored for more of her adventures. It was a stinky boy who told me no one would ever buy a science fiction book about a girl warrior. College loomed. I had to declare a major. While browsing in a bookstore I found Rissa. She was so different from Bo and while I tried to really like her, something about her fell flat. I later came to realize that was because she was written by a man, from a man’s perspective. But what kept me going was knowing that here was a character who had a lot in common with my own. If she could see the light of day, so could Bo.

Over the years, I heard over and over that “women just don’t read science fiction” and “women aren’t into science fiction.” I did and I was. What was I? Chopped liver? I would argue with whoever held still long enough that the reason more women weren’t into science fiction was because men were writing science fiction for men. If more women wrote science fiction, more women would read it. But it was the 1980’s and gender lines were still clearly drawn.

The movie ALIEN started things changing. Ripley was a kick-ass heroine that men loved and women related to. It was a slow process, but by the 1990’s, the sub-genre of Science Fiction Romance was on the rise and traditional romance publishers were taking a chance on it. However, the mainstream SF publishers still didn’t want anything to do with it. Hard SF, cyberpunk and technothriller were all they wanted to see. Space Opera? Forget it.

The stereotype of the awkward, but brilliant male adolescent SF fan living in his parents’ basement was still the target market of SF publishers. Funny, but during that time Romance sales soared and SF sales did not. Film and television tapped into the female market with shows showing women in heroic roles like SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND and BABYLON 5 and STARSHIP TROOPERS. In fantasy and other genres there was XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, NIKITA, and even the X-FILES, which switched the gender roles with the skeptical scientist played by Gillian Anderson and the wild-eyed paranormal expert played by David Duchovny.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. SF Romance still struggles to find a market as Romance publishers are reluctant to deviate from their formula and require Happily Ever After endings or at least Happy For Now, and Science Fiction publishers are more reluctant than ever to sully their reputations with that tripe. Of course, the beautiful thing is, SF authors are no longer dependent on the hallowed halls of traditional publishers to get their work in the hands of eager readers. There is an awful lot of self- small- and indie-published SF out there, a lot of it Space Opera and SF Romance.

You see, the nasty little secret that mainstream SF publishers never realized is that no matter the situation, be it war, politics, or business, no matter how complicated it is at the outset, all you have to do to really screw it up is to throw a woman and romantic element into the mix. It doesn’t necessarily make it a romance, but it does complicate your story nicely. That’s the kind of thing women love to read. Even Homer understood how women can complicate and cloud the issue. After all, he told the story of the Trojan War, which, according to Homer, was all for the love of a beautiful woman.

As for women being fans of Science Fiction, just take a look at current trends in cosplay.

Yeah. Women love SF. Women love a good story. Women don’t necessarily need a Happily Ever After. If we did, GONE WITH THE WIND wouldn’t have sold so many copies and CASABLANCA wouldn’t be considered one of the most romantic films EV-AR!!


What do you think? Are girls into SF? Has traditional Science Fiction publishing met the needs of female fans? Or are they hopelessly still operating on an outdated business model?

16 thoughts on “Girls Don’t Like Sci-Fi! Do They?

  1. I know many girls into SF. There’s my wife, which is one of the things that brought us together in the first place. Along with several friends. Now, my best friend from high school hid her love of SF from me for 15yrs because of the supposed social stigma of girls liking SF.

    Much of the “main stream” sci-fi still treats women poorly in my opinion. It’s getting better but still not there. Sadly, Star Trek one of those shows often viewed as progressive, has done an overall terrible job in this area.

    In my books, I’ve tried to treat my female characters like people and avoid the bad SF female stereotypes. I can only hope I’ve succeeded.

  2. I’ve loved hard SF for ever. Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Heinlein, HG Wells, John Wyndham. And I am undoubtedly of the female persuasion. I still love hard SF, like Jack McDevitt, but I don’t go for the recent craze for dystopian fiction. I read Linnea Sinclair, Elizabeth Moon and McCaffrey’s Pern books; I like space opera with tough, smart women and tough, smart men. And that’s what I write.

  3. Nicole Galloway-Miller

    I have to admit, I am a recent convert to SciFi and Part of it is thanks to the writers who participate in SFFS. I read my first science fiction novel at the beginning of the year, and am trying to squeeze more in. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed them, especially the ones with romantic subplots. They get my inner “science geek” going. I hope there is room to grow the genre to include more strong female butt-kicking characters and female writers. It saddens me that scifi isn’t being marketed for females, because I feel like I have missed out on some great books and writers by not reading the genre.

    Keep writing and I will keep reading.

    1. I really believe that independent publishing has opened the doors for writers who never would have been given the opportunity otherwise.

      I really love the work The Science Fiction Romance Brigade and other groups have done to open up the genre for women writers and readers. I think that, given the pressure groups like the RWA are putting on SFR writers, phasing them out, and the complete intractability of SFWA, that there is a need for a new professional organization in support and promotion of Women’s Science Fiction as a genre, romantic, erotic, or just plain adventure.

      1. Can I have an AMEN? I’ve been reading and loving SF since the mid-70’s. Andre Norton was and is my favorite author. But SFWA does marginalize people who don’t bow to their idea of SF. I went to World Fantasy once and had a horrible experience with the SFWA elite. BroadUniverse is an organization committed to promoting and supporting women authors of SF, Fantasy, and Horror. You may want to check them out. SFR Brigade is a great group, too.

  4. Love this post. It is tough being a female scifi fan. Especially tough finding other females to discuss scifi with. My neighborhood book club has only one rule–no Science Fiction! Sigh… guess they won’t be reading my book. 🙂

    1. It really is the fault of the gatekeepers of the genre. Women have been marginalized in sci-fi if not outright ignored.

      When I posted my reading list for the summer, my local friends came to me and asked “Don’t you have anything to recommend that isn’t science fiction?”

      In many ways we’re still fighting that old stigma.

  5. I grew up watching and reading SF. Star Trek: TNG was probably my earliest introduction to the genre. Then came Hugh Walter with his scifi books for children. LOVED them. Then Asimov and several other hard scifi writers (I adore hard scifi), and of course, Anne McCaffrey, the ground-breaker SF female writer. My imagination tends far more towards scifi than fantasy, my other love.

  6. Try reading Julie Czerneda, if you like hard SF. Hers is amazing. Then there’s Marion Zimmer Bradley, Zenna Henderson, Andre Norton, Elizabeth Moon, and the already mentioned Anne McCaffrey. All of them were writing SF long before it was accepted for women to do it. Andre Norton started publishing in the 1930s under Andrew North.

    In movies, Princess Leia was one of the first kick-butt heroines. Yes, she had to be rescued, but she took that over once they got her out of her cell.

    I recently gave up on a book after the second chapter because it was written for men by a man. The women in the story were all prostitutes and happy to be that way. Turned my stomach.

    So is there a list of great women’s SF that isn’t all erotica? I’d love to find one.

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