Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Society's Influence on Women and the Genre
 
Tina and I will post two original messages each over the next week. One a day. Writers are invited to connect the topics to their own artistic interests. And if you don't write, there's life, reading and media examples to draw on. Today is one of Tina's posts.

Yesterday's post by Lynda was a great way to start things off. We spoke about the social sphere of influence that women in our history had and how society changed to take that away.

Society is funny like that. The 1960’s were really the decade for Science Fiction. It was popular, Star Trek and Outerlimits were on the television, and more mainstream people where becoming interested in "those kinds" of books. The changes that started in the 1950's with Rock 'n Roll (which had a profound effect on society) continued into the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. Racial segregation or integration, women in roles other than the damsel in distress, and the space race/exploration were all things that North American audiences wanted to see and so the genre catered.

In the 1980's and 90's it became more common place for women to be seen in what once were traditional male roles. Women became leaders in industry, medicine and finance. Women have a dominating presence in the office/ corporate world, but can be found in positions like welder, pilot and labourer. Women have integrated into the “man’s world” but most are still responsible for the “woman’s world”. Child rearing, cooking, cleaning.

Today, women are learning how to balance their lives in a completely new way. What’s interesting is that statistics show that more women are watching Science Fiction shows. They are reading more genre books. Is this because they are finding something in the genre that they want, or is it because they are looking for something and hoping that the genre will provided it?

During this chaos, a funny little subgenre called "women's fiction" popped up. Danielle Steel made her millions selling books about strong female characters, timeless values (love, children, home, family), and women's issues (cancer, divorce, children problems). Her characters are women who face tragedy and emerge stronger. This is a genre unto itself now and it's picking up speed.

Is this what all those women are looking for? Or is it that they are looking for something similar but mixed in with something fantastic?

For decades, Science Fiction and Fantasy have shown us what could be, what might be. They have been tools for escape, places of retreat from the real world. But perhaps it's time for a little realism to show through into the genre. Perhaps it's time for a little bit of "women's fiction" to find a place within Science Fiction and Fantasy just as Horror, Mystery and Romance have.

What do you think?

Tina Hunter
http://www.tinahunter.ca

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Comments:
Confused. Time for a 'little' women fiction? Trivializing women? Are you ignoring icons like Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia E. Butler, Margaret Atwood to name a few??
 
I think I'm looking for something in the genre. Something that upholds those timeless values but is, indeed, a bit fantastic. You've got me thinking about what it is, exactly. But I believe it is both why I read and why I write - and also why I get depressed about the constriction of the market these days to ten-second sudden-death moments in commercial arenas. To me it is about something too fundamentally important - in an ill defined way - to reduce to commerce. Something I believe in. And need. The courage to face tragedy and emerge stronger? Maybe.
 
Epheme - I would never trivialize women. I truly meant that perhaps it's time that we (authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy) took a look at the values and female characters portrayed in "Women's Fiction" (the genre) and apply them to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

There are many female authors of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres who have already done this (to varying degrees) and their characters are the ones we are talking about...

Women characters who are strong without needing a sword or alien kung fu to "kick butt".

I hope that clarified my point for you. Let me know if not.
 
I think "Women's Science Fiction" is here but just coming into its own. It usually takes a critical response (reviews, essays, etc) to articulate a movement and I think that is coming. It would be interesting to ask Lisa Dickson and Stan Beeler if they teach a separate unit on women's science fiction in their classes . . .
 
Interesting idea Rob. And thanks for dropping int! "Women's Science Fiction" would be almost antithetical to the classic era where women almost never read the genre and problems were solved by "out teching" the other guy. There WERE values. But they were taken for granted. We're the good guys, so the only challenge here is figuring out how to defeat the bad guys with a better ray gun.
 
Women's Science Fiction. I love it.

I'm using that coin of phrase (with your permission Rob) on my blog.

Thanks for the comments.
 
"Women's Science Fiction" already has a long and honourable history, but like a lot of women's endeavours, it seems to be subject to being overlooked or slipping out of sight again.

Sitting on my library loan shelf right now - Lisa Yaszek, "Galactic Suburbia: Recovering Women's Science Fiction", 2008. It's a survey of the work of North American women SF writers, including Judith Merrill, Carol Emshwiller, and Alice Eleanor Jones (and a goodly number of others whose work I had not heard of), who were writing post-WWII.

Bonnie Noonan. "Women Scientists in Fifties Science Fiction Films", 2005. Little off the mark, but her picking through the plot and symbolism in terms of the cultural ambivalence about women taking up the culturally potent tools of science is just plain good fun.

Jane Donawerth. "Frankenstein's Daughters". Her first chapter, on "Utopian Science in Science Fiction by Women", 1997, takes the philosopher of science Hilary Rose's ideas of a feminist science as one that is relational and subjective (expressed in Rose's book "Love, Knowledge and Power", which has a chapter on the possibilities inherent in SF), and examines a number of stories and novels by women writers from that perspective.

Pamela Sargent's "Women of Wonder" anthologies, including their long introductory essays - they're what gave me my introduction to feminist SF.

And the bibliographies therein.

I like all of these because they're broad surveys and look beyond the canonical works of SF written by women. NOT to dismiss the canon (not least because some of my all-time favourite writers are in there), but Joanna Russ' "How to Suppress Women's Writing" made an early impression on me.
 
Alison - Thank you for sharing. All of these are now on my list of books to read on this subject. I'm happy to hear that "Women's Science Fiction" is not new, but I do hope it's time for it to become a little more prominent (at least to the general public, if not publishers and writers alike).

Cheers.
 
So what's with that "subject to being overlooked or slipping out of sight again" business? That's the crux. I'm going to make that the topic of my 2nd and last post on this discussion topic. Thanks for the recommendations, too!
 
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