Friday, June 7, 2013

Sexism in the SF community

This past week, discussions of what and what does not constitute sexism have roiled the Science Fiction writing community. The controversy initially began as a response to a two-part column on women in SF by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg, which appeared in the Winter and Spring 2013 editions of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Many SFWA members objected to the first column's condescending title, "Literary Ladies," as well as to the second column's discussion of a now-deceased female SF editor's looks. Even more objected to the art used on the cover of SFWA #200, in which the second column appeared. When Resnick and Malzberg wrote a follow-up column in their own defense (issue #202), said defense—that anonymous critics who deemed their writing, or the cover of #200, sexist were simply "liberal fascists" advocating censorship—sprayed lighter fluid on an already sky-high fire.

The offending Bulletin cover
Hundreds of SF writers, many of them women, blogged expressing their frustration and outrage (see a partial list here), including author Ann Aguirre, who detailed the many sexist attitudes and acts she's encountered in the SF community during her career as a female SF writer. A handful of hateful, obscene comments in response to Aguirre's post clearly demonstrate that a belittling, denigrating attitude toward women writers is still alive and squirming in small pockets of the SF world.

What's encouraging, though, is that the silent majority of SF-writing men, those who do not agree with sexism but who, by not calling their sexist brethren on their egregious behavior, indirectly benefit from it, seem to finally realize that they need to speak out. Including SFWA President John Scalzi, who offered a letter of apology to the membership on June 2. And on June 5, SFWA Bulletin editor Jean Rabe (a woman, ironically) tendered her resignation.

At its best, Science Fiction celebrates the possibilities of the future, the wonders of technology, how we as human beings can create progress, both social and political. It doesn't seem too much to expect that some of that progress be in the realm of gender relations.

I've not reviewed very much SF romance on this blog. But this controversy has made me eager to read more, written by either women or men, to see what their visions of gender relations in the future might be like. Surely Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness isn't the only SF title to tackle this issue. Any recommendations of new (or classic) feminist SF romances are more than welcome.



Next time on RNFF
When adolescent male fantasy and
slut shaming collide:
Tom Leveen's manicpixiedreamgirl



21 comments:

  1. I don't know about romances, but tons of SF books deal with gender. Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series includes a third gender and people's (initially hostile) reactions to it. Divine Endurance by Gwyneth Jones suffers from some exoticism but is a slow (tragic I should add) love story in a world of reversed gender roles. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a classic all-women's-society novel, and so is The Female Man by Joanna Russ (Russ, in particular, is a rough read if you want romance, though). I think Marge Piercy's He, She and It also deals with third genders, as do some of Melissa Scott's novels.

    There's a lot out there on alternate genders/sexes and gender roles! Though most of them don't include a HEA romance aspect.

    Oh, Nicola Griffith's Ammonite is a future all-women's-world novel with some love. And The Cage of Zeus, by Sayuri Ueda, translated from the Japanese, looks at a program in which people have engineered human beings with both male and female sex organs, and reactions to that.

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    1. Thanks, anonymous, for the recommendations. This blog does focus on romance, so I'm particularly interested in SF that portrays a romantic relationship in feminist-friendly ways. Have been thinking about a post about all-women societies, though, including HERLAND and other more recent iterations. I'll check out AMMONITE.

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  2. The first book that comes to mind is Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. Bujold's Sharing Knife series is worth a read as well, although it is more alternate history/fantasy than SF. Another good one is The Ship Who Searched by Anne McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey.

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    1. Thanks, Vicky, for the recs. SHARDS OF HONOR is on my current TBR pile. Wasn't that crazy about the SHARING KNIFE books. Will check out the McCaffery & Lackey.

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  3. You should check out the Tiptree award books: http://tiptree.org/ They're linked by year from the top menu and include the "honor list" and "long list" as well.

    You can read "The Women Men Don't See" by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon) here: http://www.wvup.edu/rphillips/The%20Women%20Men%20Don%27t%20See.pdf

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    1. Thanks, Victoria, for the suggestions. I'm looking forward to browsing the Tiptree Award list.

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  4. Read Linnea Sinclair's books. They are science fiction romances and great fun. I love Finders Keepers and The Accidental Goddess most myself. Bujold's Shards of Honor is a classic and many of her other books have a solid thread of romance in them. David Weber's Honor Harrington books are space opera but have elements of romance in them. Doris Egan's The Gate of Ivory is the beginning of a trilogy and definitely a romance. Joan Cox wrote two oldies, Mindsong (1979) and Star Web (1980). I could go on and on....

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    1. Thanks, Jenny, for the recs. For someone who taught a class on YA and children's fantasy and SF, I'm embarrassed at how NOT well-read I am in adult feminist SF...

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  5. Personally I think the Honor Harrington books are not feminist and are perhaps the opposite. The women have abstract names like 'Honor' or names shortened into male names e.g. 'Michelle' becomes 'Mike'. We learn over the books that Honor as a heavy worlder is stronger than other women. What unfolded for me in reading the series was a sense of Honor being 'a woman alone of all her sex'. Yes, there a are lots of named women in roles but at the end of the day Honor's inner coterie is a male one.

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    1. The thing that always stuck out to me about the Honorverse is its attitude to attractiveness. Early on, Honor herself had a major self confidence issue about her looks. The idea that somebody could find her attractive was unimaginable to her. And every single time this was brought up, the response of her friends was "Oh, it's alright Honor, you weren't all that attractive as a teen but you are quite attractive now."

      Over the course of the series the descriptions of Honor's attractiveness became more and more flattering - several books in one of her bodyguards was calling her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

      The idea that a woman who doesn't fit the societal standard of beauty too well might still have a sense of self-worth, or that others might find her beautiful in her own way, or attractive for reasons other than straight physical beauty, is simply never considered as a possibility. Nor is the idea that Honor was perhaps mistaken to place so much of her self-confidence in her looks in the first place.

      Honor is a woman who is incredibly - some would say absurdly - accomplished in virtually every single field she turns her hand to. Yet the implication seems to be that she would be a failure if she was ugly. And the only counter offered is "Don't worry, you're beautiful too!"

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  6. Back in the day I read Suzette Haden Elgin's 'Native Tongue' women are oppressed and controlled but a gender revolution through language is happening. I don't know how it stands up nearly 30 years later though. But the back story premise of women’s rights regressing in the later 20th century in a bout of religious fervor and neo-conservatism rings sadly possible e.g. the current war on women.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/285563.Native_Tongue

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  7. Some readers assume romantic scifi or scifi by female authors is soft scifi, but there's plenty where that's not the case. That may contribute to some of the scoffing. (Which is bizarre to me because there is little to no science in Star Wars, and that's always held up as a scifi staple, LOL.)

    I've read:
    The Rowan
    Shards of Honor (I didn't like Bujold's fantasy either; her spare, practical style's not suited to the genre)
    Gabriel's Ghost (if you have patience- she's not fast-paced)
    Song of Scarabaeus, Sara Creasy (technically not HEA as it's a two-parter, is that okay? Definitely an important element though and an awesome book)

    Recommended by others:
    Outback Stars, Sandra McDonald
    In the Company of Others, Julie E Czerneda
    A Thousand Words for Stranger, Czerneda
    Beyond the Rain, Jess Granger
    Valor's Choice, Tanya Huff
    Jaran, Kate Elliott
    The Silver Metal Lover, Tanith Lee
    Primary Inversion, Catherine Asaro
    Mistwalker, Denise Lopes Heald
    Ghost Planet, Sharon Lynn Fisher

    Also, look at Carina Press, and are you including series where the relationship gradually develops? Btw, Honor Harrington is the worst case of infodump I've ever seen- and I read epic fantasy.

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    1. The Silver Metal Lover is wonderful, though not a tradional romance.

      I have two Linnea Sinclair books which I'm hoping to get to for this month's TBR challenge, which is RITA nominees/winners.

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    2. I want to second Valor's Choice and The Rowan. Huff is a great writer; I would recommend anything by her. McCaffery was one of my favorite authors growing up, but she lost me with the Acorna series.

      Has anyone read The Lovers by Phillip Jose Farmer? I read it as a teen, so I'm not sure how it holds up to feminist analysis.

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    3. Thanks, anonymous, Willaful, and Vicky, for all the great recommendations. I'm looking forward to plunging into the feminist SF romance world this summer!

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  8. I have not read The Lovers, though the Goodreads description makes me curious, LOL. Special needs of his lover... The year of pub makes me leery, however. I'm afraid I'd be plunging into a vat of sexism (although that happens even reading modern romance!)

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  9. I haven't read the novels myself, but they are sci-fi romances, not just sci-fi with a romantic subplot, though the first one is more of a fantasy(?):
    A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer
    Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire series

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    1. Thanks, Kupo, for the recs. I've read A BROTHER'S PRICE and found it pretty conventional -- just inverts the same old gender constructions. I'm not familiar with Asaro's books -- look forward to checking them out!

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  10. Karen Lord's ''The Best of All Possible Worlds''
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15743440-the-best-of-all-possible-worlds?ac=1

    Kage Baker's ''In the Garden of Iden''
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/270490.In_the_Garden_of_Iden

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