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Where are the women of SF?

OHOTSCoverWhy are people focusing on this question so much lately? Is it some weak tie-in to women’s history month (March)? Does this happen every time spring rolls around? Or has something reached epidemic proportion and now it’s time to Do Something?

I don’t know but there does seem to be a rash of blog posts on the subject. There’s this. And then there’s this. And finally there’s this. Regardless, as Kathi Kimbriel pointed out on Facebook (I would include the link but I’ll be damend if I can figure out how to find anything at Facebook) the answer is: we’re here at Book View Cafe; can’t help it if no one is bothering to look. (For those who don’t know I’m a member of Book View Cafe although I don’t spend as much time over there as I should.)

Perhaps the larger question and the one the Strange Horizons post seemed to be asking is why aren’t the women being reviewed? Which actually translates to: why isn’t women’s writing being taken seriously? I’ll let the academics, the people that study science fiction, answer that. They’re the ones falling down on the job.

Meantime another question that has more relevance is: where are the female space heroes? One answer is that people don’t seem to like ‘em. When I workshopped my story, “Mission of Greed,” before submitting it to The Other Half of the Sky anthology (mandated to contain only stories of women space heroes) one comment was: “I can’t see a woman being in this position.” Basically my hero was a captain on a space faring vessel. Not much of a stretch after Captain Janeway.

Now it might have been more complicated than that. Maybe it was because my captain had hidden a tiny weapon in her commode and the only way she could get to it secretly was to pee in public so everyone would turn their backs. I’m not sure I would have the balls for that either, so maybe my co-workshop-participant was right. That might not be womanly behavior. But I don’t think that’s it. I just think people are uncomfortable having women in command. And the only way you can be a space hero is to take command. Either be assigned a leadership role through the story’s invented hierarchical structure, or usurp the ineffectual deadbeat sitting on the throne. However it happens people are uncomfortable with a female leader.

Which leads to the wider world from which the problem stems. Not with literature, writers, reviewers, and publishers, but with ourselves and our culture. As pointed out in 2011’s Sundance Film entry, “Miss Representation,” female leaders in our culture/country (Western/US) are bashed, abused, unrecognized, beaten down, or just plain ignored more so than their male counterparts. (Watch the trailer for this most excellent documentary.) You can believe this just from your own witnessing of Internet behavior. Women’s voices and opinions are scoffed at relentlessly, even if they amount to the same things coming from some guy.

Out in the traditional media, this situation is more dangerous than here in Internetworld. Out there opinion has an ungodly reach. And it’s respected more than a random face slap on a blog. It’s as if because Rush Limbaugh gets time and space on the air every day, he’s much closer to God and therefore the truth.

So in our culture, women heading up a surveillance operation, an undercover spy mission, a seek and destroy, a reconnaissance foray, or military maneuver usually go undocumented, glorified, noticed, or praised in public. Even though these things are going on all over the place. These women are either invisible or spat upon. How then can the public react when they read space opera run by women? That uneasy, queasy feeling creeps in and pretty soon our reader is all sweaty and itchy. They’re just not comfortable.

Fortunately our heroines just keep on keepin’ on any ol’ way, anyway. They do not have time to stop and ponder the consequences of their actions. They’ve got to deliver the ammo, hunt down the predator, kickbox the alien, kill the enemy at the door, find the closest pitstop because the antimatter drive is getting cranky and we’ve got a Vogon on our tail. And as long as our heroines keep on, us authors are going to keep on writing about them keepin’ on. So roll over Beethoven, cowboy the heck up and take the e-news like a man. There’s a new sheriff in town and she don’t need no balls. That’s how effing tough she is.

For a good dose of female space leadership check out The Other Half of the Sky. Here’s what a few people have been saying about it:

Library Journal: “Freed from many of the male-oriented clichés, the selections present vividly depicted male and female, human and alien characters as fully fleshed individuals coping with a wide variety of issues.”

Publishers Weekly: “Space opera aficionados of all persuasions will enjoy these and the other stronger inclusions.”

Read more at Goodreads.

Sue Lange
This essay was first posted at the Book View Cafe blog on April 29th.

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