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?

From Bones to Hair: Building a Story

When I write a new story, I approach it like constructing a building or a living organism. First you lay the foundation (premise), then you build the framework, which I envision as the bones. At this stage, I have the main plot points down and the major scenes are in their place to push the rising and falling action to the climax and the denoument. Some scenes are fully realized, others are brief narratives that describe the action and the purpose of the scene. Anything goes at this point. Anything, no matter how bizarre or disjointed is allowed. That’s the first draft.

The second draft is where the meat and connective tissue are added. In the second draft, I focus on transitional scenes and place the actions and dialog that foreshadow coming events. I beef up and write the scenes that are simple narratives and I look for plot holes and dropped plot lines. Simple scenes that were mostly dialog get blocking and characters start moving around the space. Scenes that do not serve to advance the plot in any way are cut, but saved for reference or re-purposing.

The third draft gets skin. The “skin” hides the technique. Scene and sequel should flow seamlessly. Transitions are smoothed. Passive voice is removed. Grammar is analyzed for consistency. Character reactions are analyzed and tweaked for appropriate response. Stilted dialog is reworked to sound more natural. Characters’ mannerisms and subtle gestures are tweaked. Setting and descriptions take center stage.

The fourth draft is the hair, makeup and clothing. In the fourth draft, typos, overused words and phrases come out. The fourth draft is where the little details are added to ensure that readers are emotionally involved in the story. Everything that doesn’t create immediacy or place the reader in the middle of the action comes out or gets reworked. This is the devilish draft because it takes  so long to complete and the results are not readily apparent to anyone but me. The devil is in the details and the fourth draft is all about the nit-picky details. Upon completion, this is the draft that goes to the beta readers for a final look.

A fifth draft goes to the editors for a figurative photoshopping, and becomes the final draft that makes it to publication.

I don’t know if all writers work this way, but this technique has worked for me because it allows me to write cyclically. Once I have the main points in, I can jump around in the story as details for plot threads solidify in my mind, returning to key points to make sure there is a coherent flow from one to another.

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The first draft of THE BROKEN WING is complete and revisions have already begun on the second draft. Still no concrete date set for its release.