Is Science Fiction Feminized Or Is It Sexist? Both.

Is science fiction "feminized"? Do women exist to destroy all that is cool and inspiring about space opera? That's what one blogger argues in a post that's stirred up controversy this week. But is his opinion really the problem?

The hullabaloo is over an anonymous essay about the "feminization of science fiction" published on a conservative "men's issues" site called The Spearhead. The author writes, in part:

What has happened is that science fiction on television has for the most part become indistinguishable from most other television shows which are written for women filled with moronic relationship drama. Sure the moronic relationship drama is in space, but . . . its not science fiction anymore, and men are not interested in moronic relationship drama in space . . . As we know science fiction has inspired boys to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology as men. With women killing science fiction on television, the current generation of boys won't have this opportunity to be inspired to work in these fields. There is still a great deal of written science fiction that is real science fiction so all is not lost. However, many boys who would have gone on to make scientific discoveries and invent new technologies will not do so since they will never be inspired by science fiction as boys.

The author singles out the new Battlestar Galactica as a prime example of feminized SF, and adds that this trend has led to the glut of paranormal romances filling science fiction aisles in bookstores.

Science fiction author John Scalzi had the right idea when he responded:

What? An insecure male nerd threatened by the idea that women exist for reasons other than the dispensing of sandwiches and topical applications of boobilies, mewling on the Internet about how girls are icky? That's unpossible!

Indeed there is nothing surprising about the fact that you can find hardcore sexist commentary on a site devoted to "men's rights." Give me a break. Unearthing this post and then pointing fingers at it is just as silly as when conservatives find a radical leftist site, link to an essay on it, and crow about how there are people who actually believe America should be destroyed. Congratulations: You found extremist ideas on the internet.

The thing about this guy writing on The Spearhead is that he's not the problem. He's not a science fiction editor or producer; he's just a guy writing his extreme opinions on a tiny blog. He has no ability to influence the course of science fiction publishing and broadcasting, and in fact that is precisely what he's complaining about in his commentary.

People are piling onto this guy in a giant hatefest not just because he's an easy target. He's also a safe target. And that's what worries me. Because sexism still exists in the world of science fiction, but it is just more politely masked than this guy's overt outlier opinions. Anthologies of "great" SF are still routinely published without a single woman's contribution included. Publishers often push women in a subtle way to focus on fantasy and paranormal writing. Even among so-called enlightened SF literati it is not uncommon to hear people say that women can't write hard SF.

The weird thing is that Spearhead guy is right in some ways. The movement to "feminize" SF has resulted in an attenuation of what science fiction means. The SyFy channel is planning to air a cooking show and tone down the spaceships. Fantasy publishing is exploding partly because it's one of the genres where women authors are valued by the publishing industry, and so women interested in speculative writing are fleeing to fantasy when they find the SF clubhouse doors locked. Where are the great new female hard SF writers and space opera directors and showrunners? We aren't hearing from them because the SF community doesn't believe that women truly love SF. And so people with power - unlike Spearhead guy - aren't publishing women or giving them development deals.

Women are being welcomed into science fiction, but it's though the back door. Let's not start patting ourselves on the back because we can recognize rank sexism when we see it written by an anonymous guy on a radical right wing opinion blog. We can celebrate how far we've come from our sexist past when women and men are equally represented in the pages of science fiction anthologies. And when the next big, blow-em-up spaceship movie is written and directed by a woman. Until then, we have a lot of work to do. Work that involves challenging people who actually have the power to alter the course of SF as a genre. Work that is a lot harder than ridiculing an anonymously published blog post.