For a while now, there has been a new topic of discussion amongst some female authors – sexism in science fiction. If you’re a woman, and you write science fiction, you are far less likely to be reviewed or taken seriously, and the whole science fiction arena continues to be dominated by men, men who don’t seem to welcome their female counterparts into the genre. Why should this be?
The first time this subject came to my attention was when I read this post by Ann Aguirre. In it, she tells of her treatment at the hands of male sci fi authors at the SFF Fandom in 2008. It’s shocking reading, and not just because I’m a woman, and not because I’m also a sci fi author, but because I’m a human being doing something I love to do, and which I’m pretty good at. What has my genitalia got to do with it?
Take a few minutes to google, and you can find countless articles about this problem of sexism in sci fi. Here is one by the Guardian, here’s another by The Wire, and here’s another by Slate.com, and there are many more. It seems that men in sci fi think us gals will sully ‘their’ genre by bringing romance into it, and that we should stick to the romance genre. Tsk tsk gentlemen, don’t you realise that without romance, you and your dinosaur chums wouldn’t exist?
It’s not that male sci fi writers keep their books full of action and derring-do, far from it. Take a look at a few sci fi novels written by men and you will often see scantily clad women on the covers, scantily clad women characters and quite a bit of sex in the stratosphere going on. These narrow minded male writers are happy for these almost-naked-but-not-quite characters to appear in their books, but they tend to be of lower ranks in the pecking order, and often spend their off time bedding (or trying to bed) the hero. The male characters spend quite a bit of time having sex or trying to have sex with female characters, but seldom do these books contain strong female lead characters who don’t wear skimpy bikinis while fighting creatures, and seldom do they not hop into bed with anything with a Y chromosome at the drop of a hat. For these male writers, sex is fine, but romance is out of order. They seem to be labouring under the misapprehension that woman can’t write anything without romance being an integral part. I have a sci fi series called The Sinclair V-Logs, which stars a freelance law enforcer and I can assure all those male dinosaurs out there, that there is no romance whatsoever, nor will there be. Sam Sinclair’s adventures concentrate on his experiences as a law enforcer, not any romance he might have encountered. I refuse to believe I’m the only woman who can write without including romance into a story.
The old boy’s network is trying its best to exclude women from the genre, by disrespecting us and our work, by behaving in the most shocking ways to us in front of sci fi fans, and by generally behaving like rather badly educated neanderthals. Women are beginning to hit back, some by adopting genderless pen names and others by being nominated for prestigious awards. This year’s Nebula Award nominee list shows a refreshing number of women. This is wonderful news, and a real step forwards for us women science fiction authors.
As a female science fiction writer myself, I find it hard enough to garner interest for my work, as sci fi doesn’t seem to attract the same interest as other genres, without sexism coming into it. I must admit, I have toyed with the idea of adopting a genderless pen name, but I’ve resisted so far. Let’s hope that the Nebula award winners turn out to be all women. That will deal a mighty blow for the old boy’s sci fi network, won’t it girls?