Sexism in Science Fiction

I’d heard the rumblings about sexism in SF around social media this morning and been warned about how heated the topic had gotten.

Why must it be so heated?

It’s the elephant in the room. Sexism in science fiction is the creepy uncle we all know about but are afraid to mention. We just avoid being cornered by him at family gatherings.

I like to think I’ve come to terms with the fact that “real” sci fi is a male-dominated field that denigrates any work, written by women, that contains an element of emotion.

But isn’t that what good writing is all about?

One of the first lessons I learned in writing fiction was that it was VITAL to evoke an emotional response in the reader. If sci-fi eschews emotional topics and subject matter, like something so primal as romance and love, isn’t the genre unnecessarily limiting itself to telling only half a story?

I had to check out Ann Aguire’s post on the subject. The tone of her blog post is furious and frustrated. I felt compelled to comment. I liked my comment so well, I posted it here because I felt compelled to offer *my* take on the subject to my readers.

It is a constant struggle for acceptance that science fiction romance writers have to deal with. We don’t like being pigeonholed as “science fiction romance” because it makes it easier to marginalize what we do and to denigrate the stories we tell. I prefer to bill my books as “space opera” and “character-driven” which I consider by definition a closer description to what I write.

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After struggling for over a decade to get a toe in the door of mainstream SF, I realized that it is indeed a male-dominated field. I had to endure the same derision you are talking about because my books are character-driven and focus on relationships set against the backdrop of space and adventure.

I realized early on if someone like HG Wells or Edgar Rice Burroughs had written books like mine, they would have received critical acclaim for exploring the human side of science fiction. That’s why I chose to write under my initials rather than my given name. JC could be male or female… a little trick I picked up from D.C. Fontana.

As a female fan of science fiction, I found that the women written by the male authors were unrealistic, two-dimensional, and borderline — if not outright — cartoonish. It’s obvious a writer cannot do justice to a subject for which one has nothing but contempt.

This is the reason I have no interest in membership in the SFWA. It is the original “old boy” network.

Science fiction is about pushing the boundaries and imagining the future, other worlds and societies. The urge to form pair bonds, the quest for love is universal among humans. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs places sex on par with breathing, food and water with love and a sense of belonging coming in just behind safety. Mainstream science fiction that ignores the human need for love and companionship tells only half a story.

To say that romance and love have no place in serious fiction is to deny a formula that has worked since Homer’s time. The surest way to complicate an issue is to interject an element of love and romance into it. Homer understood this. The Iliad was not only about the Trojan War. It was about Helen ~ The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships ~ and the men who loved her, desired her, and wanted to control her. In the Odyssey, what was Odysseus battling overwhelming odds to return home to? A throne? A kingdom? Responsibility? More likely it was his wife Penelope, a formidable woman who held his kingdom intact, keeping her faith that he would return. Don’t even get me started on Shakespeare and the tales of chivalry! At the heart of the legend of King Arthur is a love story with an unhappy ending.

The misogynistic old relics of “real” sci-fi are welcome to their anachronistic old-boy society. However, I will warn them that the women of sci-fi are coming. We are writing. We do not require their approval or permission to speak or publish. We do not require their support. Whether they like it or not, the future of science fiction lies in embracing the human condition in all its messiness.

To the neanderthals who consider females feeble-minded and incapable of comprehending complex concepts of time and space, I say get out of the way. A future without love or sex may be their idea of Utopia, but it is implausible to anyone who understands basic psychology. Women like complex plots, characters and relationships. Male SF writers have for the most part demonstrated their… inadequacies… in that area.

If women sci fi writers are so inferior, what are the men so darn afraid of?

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What are your thoughts on sexism and science fiction? What can be done to change the status quo?