Gender Politics and the Feminization of Science Fiction [EDIT: Link Fixed]

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 10/28/09

Someone calling themselves “Pro-male/Anti-feminist Tech” over at the Spearhead has written an excellent (if one-sided) article about the feminization of Science Fiction of late. You can read the whole bit here http://www.the-spearhead.com/2009/10/09/the-war-on-science-fiction-and-m... but the gist is that once the Bonnie Hammer regime began at the old Sci-Fi Channel, she began a directed program of ’feminizing’ Science Fiction in order to broaden the network’s demographics.

That’s fine, actually. The article points out that SF has always been a boy’s club - so much so that the few women who wrote it though most of the century had to obscure their gender, or write under pseudonyms (DC Fontana, CL Moore (Who frequently co-wrote under the name “Lewis Padgett”, James Tiptree, whos’ real name was Alice Sheldon, etc.) - so if I were the head of the network (And God willing, someday I will be), I’d have done the same thing. I mean, yeah, SF traditionally deals with stuff that women don’t give a damn about - aliens, guns, wars, crazy science stuff, advanced technology - but there’s no reason it couldn’t be made a little more inclusive without really loosing anything.

The article points out that the second wave of SF on TV (The sixties) inspired a lot of young boys to become scientist and technicians, and even a few astronauts, and implies that now that SF has been feminized, this won’t really be the case any more. It stands to reason that women will go on to do those things, and men will, I dunno, grouse around the house chatting about makeup and the latest shoes out of Italy.

I don’t think that really follows logically.

First of all, the article neglects to mention the considerable role SF has *already* had on women. Whoopie Goldberg, for instance, said that Lt. Uhura from Trek was the first black woman she’d ever seen on TV, and that she was completely overwhelmed to realize there would still be black people in the future. She decided to become an Actress based on that feeling of inclusion that the character gave her as a young girl. That’s considerable. I’ve met several women who insist they went in to medicine because of the example of Dr. Crusher on TNG, and I know at least one woman who became a mathematician because she was inspired by the example of Colonel Carter on the various Stargate shows. I, myself, have thrilled at the fact that Defying Gravity is getting some women at least peripherally interested in the real-world space program.

Secondly, people tend to auto-select their lives. Captain Kirk may have made you want to be an astronaut as a kid, but unless you’ve got the grades and the reflexes and the stomach and the military career, and the advanced degrees, you’re not going to make it, and you’ll go on to something else. In cases like those, it isn’t “Captain Kirk made me want to be an Astronaut,” it’s really more like “Captain Kirk convinced me that I could never be anything more than a garbage truck driver.” Likewise, if you’re a kid and you’re gay, and you like fashion, you’re going to find yourself drawn towards fashion design, even if the straight boys beat the hell out of you. A degree of our attraction to the careers we choose is innate. I mean, seriously, how much impact do these shows *really* have in our lives? Did 12 seasons of M*A*S*H* make people want to be army surgeons, or just funny, sarcastic guys? Did seven years of The X-Files make people want to be FBI agents, or just punch Chris Carter repeatedly in the head? Be honest!

But I *DO* think the article makes a valid, if understated point: why the mad rush to feminize SF? Isn’t that a bit like trying to market jockstraps to women, or bras for men? One can argue that boys like SF because it’s been marketed only to boys, and there’s some validity in that, but it neglects the question of ‘why do boys instantly like big, technical, explodey things, and girls don’t?’ A degree of that is cultural, no doubt - little boys tend to play with active toys like guns, cars, and balls, while little girls tend to play with more passive, nurturing toys like dolls. Some of that is undoubtedly a cultural bias - there’s no reason little girls couldn’t play with hot wheels cars, too, and obviously little boys like stuffed animals as well as toy guns - but it is not *ONLY* cultural. Boys are inherently more aggressive than girls, it’s in the wiring, it’s in the plumbing, it’s in the chemistry, it’s the way we evolved to suit the niche we fit.
Understand that I am not in any way a sexist, or an anti-feminist. I’m equally annoyingly critical of damn near everything, to be honest. But at the end of the day, a man’s primary biological function is to produce sperm , and a woman’s primary biological function is to produce eggs, and aggressive boys who like toys while girls don’t so much is the way that 3 million years of evolution has developed to accomplish that.

Ignore it at your peril.

The article also makes a point of mentioning the deliberate inclusion of gay characters in SF lately. Personally, I think that’s more a case of deliberate political grandstanding - Hollywood always loves to wear their affiliation on their sleeve - than it is of ‘feminization.’ I mean, Captain Jack is a stereotypical boy’s club character, he’s just a perverted boy’s club character. I think that’s a separate phenomenon.

I do think that SF can be more inclusive - personally, I’m annoyed/bored silly by Next Gen-era trek (TNG, DSN, Voyager, Enterprise), and I found their attempts at incorporating women hopelessly poorly done, but I’ve been very impressed with Samantha Carter in the Stargate shows, as I already said - she’s smart, she can hold her own in a fight, she’s pretty, and she’s not opposed to being feminine, though we generally don’t see too much of that. There’s a lot to aspire to in that, and it doesn’t really slow down the boys any. I didn’t care for Dr. Weir at first, but eventually she became a good character. I actually liked some of the female characters on the new Galactica, before the show utterly crapped out - but for the most part, I didn’t care for Starbuck, who - meaning no disrespect to the actress - was poorly and inconsistently written, and in the first couple seasons came across more like a dude wearing a skirt than an actual flesh-and-blood woman in a leadership position. Firefly had some absolutely great, kickass female characters, all of whom I instantly loved, and I didn’t feel any of them were taking away anything from the boys. I never felt like it was a girly show. I never felt like Zoe was a dude in a skirt, either. Well-done tough military broad.

I do think the author is right in that there’s a trend towards ‘weakening’ male characters in order to strengthen female characters, and I think that’s probably a bad thing to do.

A lot of people have complained about Defying Gravity is basically just sex and relationship drama in space, and there’s some validity to that - There have been eleven episodes, and stuff has only really happened in about six of ‘em - but there’s another way to look at it: Instead of it being a girly show, we can view it as a kind of primer or gateway drug to involve women in the audience in SF. If they like DG, maybe they’ll check out those copies of Firefly that I’ve been trying to get ‘em to watch, and then move on to something more substantial like Babylon 5 or what have you.

But maybe we’re looking at this all wrong: Maybe, just like there’s chick lit and guy’s lit, there needs to be chick SF and guy SF. Note to Syfy: Let us boys have our space battles, and we’ll let you girls have your Warehouse 13. Fair enough? And there can even be occasional shows that are intended for all audiences.

I mean, really, why does one size have to fit all? Why do we have to pretend that it should?

(Thanks to Neorandomizer for pointing this article out to me)

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