The Feminization of Science Fiction (and Fantasy)

by Whiskey on October 19, 2009

The recent article by Pro Male/Anti-Feminist Tech on the “War on Science Fiction” generated a lot of heat and discussion. Among them, are Science Fiction (and Fantasy) being feminized, and secondarily, if so are these bad things? The answer to both is an emphatic yes.

The reason for both of course, is that majority or near-majority female creators in any literary genre “crowd out” male concerns, themes, and characters, which women find tedious to offensive, and produce essentially a “gay-female ghetto” that men flee quickly. Making said genres alien and irrelevant to nearly half of the population.

This is not to say that the feminized science fiction and fantasy genres of today are “bad” but they certainly are different, and mostly irrelevant to most men. Central to this fact are the profound gender differences in what men and women find appealing in literature, particularly science fiction and fantasy. Broadly speaking (there are exceptions), men prefer the traditional, “Big Idea” science fiction in which technology acts to radically change a society, and said changes are explored from a central (usually male) character. In fantasy, various historical events and allegorical tales are retold in altered form to produce a morality tale inter-mixed with entertainment, again usually in the form of a central male character.

Some of the literature of these genres are very good, with notable examples being “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” “War of the Worlds,” “the Hobbit,” “the Drawing of the Dark” by Tim Powers, and the stories of “Conan the Barbarian” by H. Rider Haggard. Much of it, like all genres, is very, very bad. Some of the female-oriented science fiction and fantasy novels and stories are very, very good. These would include, the Dragon Riders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey, the Wizard of Earthsea series by Ursula K. LeGuin, and “the Children of Men” by Doris Lessing.

However, with the exception of the Lessing novel “Children of Men” (Lessing herself writes in the manner of a male writer), the female written and oriented science fiction and fantasy is very, very different than that of male written or oriented science fiction and fantasy. Female oriented fiction tends to be very personal, oriented towards personal choices of women (and sometimes men) on the issue of children, families, relationships, and so on. This does not make this bad literature, on the contrary some of it remain classics, enjoyed and loved by women and men alike. Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” for example has no doubt entertained and delighted many men throughout it’s long history of publication. There is no doubt, however, that Austen’s tale is different from that of those written by and for men. Different does not mean better or worse, an apple is not better or worse than an orange. But it is different nevertheless.

Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” with its deeply personal concern about morality, science, and the corruption of power that science gives (in a debased mockery of God’s creative act of life-giving) does not touch the notion of “Big Ideas” the way the true first Science Fiction novel does. As classic and beautifully written as it is, “Frankenstein” remains the first horror novel, and a deeply moving and personal one, not a Science Fiction novel. “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” on the contrary, has the “Big Ideas” fully developed. Captain Nemo is an Indian Prince, uprooted from his throne by the British Raj. He uses technology, the weapon of the West, to take command of the seas from the Colonial powers, to force them to return his ancestral lands to him. But, his very embrace of technology cuts him off from the traditions, value, and culture of his homeland. His very love of country that led him to embrace technology makes him a man without a country. Eternally at sea, belonging to no one. Clearly Verne invites the reader to compare the West’s embrace of technology with that of Nemos, and understand that the power of technology comes with a cost ´╗┐— the power cuts one off from the traditions, values, and culture of one’s home culture.

This is the “Big Idea” that animates “Twenty Thousand Leagues” and can be seen in Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series (what if science allowed historians to predict and change the future, save a Napoleon-like anomaly, to prevent another “fall of the Roman Empire?”) Arthur C. Clarke’s prediction of communications satellites, or William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” series also cover large societal changes, instead of personal issues such as romance, love, sexual freedom, and so on. Even Huxley’s “Brave New World,” which focuses on family and sexual behavior, does so from a societal perspective. Rather than an extremely emotionally affective, individual tale.

If female oriented science fiction and fantasy is akin to Opera, with the aim of producing through intensely focused individual tales extremes of emotion, then male oriented science fiction and fantasy is akin to a Symphony, where the complex interplay of instruments is designed to produce a mood of general relaxation and contemplation. An imperfect analogy, perhaps, but one that makes the central point: the two genders want and create vastly different things in literature and tales. And too much “Opera” crowds out the “Symphony.”

Moreover, there is the question of gender stereotypes and roles in female oriented science fiction and fantasy. Generally (there are exceptions), men are either sniveling beta losers (think Pete Campbell in “Mad Men” or most of the male characters in “Dollhouse”) or hunky but violent Alpha males that treat women badly (but the women love them). Women are “beautiful victims” who love the men who abuse them, even if they are capable of kicking their asses. This is of course in direct contrast to the Western literary tradition begun in the Odyssey, where the man is neither a villain nor milquetoast schemer, and the women (Penepole in particular) are strong without being ass-kickers. Indeed, the whole point of the Illiad and the Odyssey is that Penelope is a far better wife and mother than Helen. She is in fact worth fighting for, where Helen is not. From this we get to … hunky undead vampires who are incapable of human life.

How did we get here? Science Fiction and Fantasy were originally very male oriented. Tales of adventure dominated both, from Verne’s Victorian heroes with a can-do attitude, to that of the pulp fiction and serials in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Even the 1950’s had very male attitudes, of “Big Picture” issues such as nuclear fears of giant mutated insects, Godzilla, and so on. A few of it good, much of bad, as with anything else.

What changed was the rising affluence of women, willing to pay extra for often porn-light tales of fantasy (Anita Blake’s vampire series here stands out) and the domination of women in the reader, Agent, and Publisher roles. In my post The New Mass Media Ebooks and the End of the Brandon Tartikoff Strategy I note one of my reader’s comments. His view is that the low pay but high prestige for readers leads to high turnover (but also advancement for the lucky few who stick it out into either Agent or Publishing ranks, eventually) and domination of young women ages 22-24 in the critical gatekeeper role of first reader. Truly, most of the submissions to Agents and Publishers are awful. But they must please the young female readers who are, to put it mildly, far different in preferences to men, young or old. The reader cites Baen Books, which had a submission rejected by a first reader (a young woman) by John Ringo. Fortunately for Ringo, the readers on the Baen Website had read his stuff and pestered Jim Baen to read the submission. Which he did, and loved, even though it had not pleased the young female reader.

The end result is something like this:

The Twilight Panel at Comic-Con had the traditional male attendees arguing that “Twilight ruined Comic-Con” and they may be right. You may find a full account of this at my site here. It is hard to square a genre that is filled with the people like the following:

Twilight Moms at Comic-Con

Twilight Moms at Comic-Con


… with anything that will appeal to men and boys. Novelist Elizabeth Hand (“Waking the Moon”) wrote in the Washington Post about how science fiction has been feminized.

´╗┐Writers like Ellen Kushner turned the sword-and-sorcery genre on its head — her novel Swordspoint has a swashbuckling bisexual hero. (A sequel, penned by Kushner and fantastist Delia Sherman, will be published later this year.) Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Suzy McKee Charnas, Kate Wilhelm, Lisa Tuttle, Leigh Kennedy are all prolific and established writers who continue to produce invigorating work, along with Pat Murphy, Lynn Flewelling, Pat Cadigan and Robin Hobb.

Men, young and old, find gays and bisexuality (among men at least) about as attractive as a “fabulous” Broadway show followed by a viewing of all three of the “High School the Musical” movies. In fact, the more “gay” Broadway has become, (and the more technically excellent), the more repellent it has become to men and boys. Indeed, metal and rap’s popularity stem from the hostility both have to gays, making male sexuality not “questionable” the way the love for Broadway showtunes would be.Women generally like gays, and find gay sex fascinating the way men do lesbian sex. However, men know well that most young women, if presented a magic button that would make most men (average joes) “gay” they’d break their fingers pushing it. The chief objective of attractive young women being turning off male desire of all but the most Alpha of men.

This feminization of Science Fiction and Fantasy extends to movies and television. As I noted in my column on Disney’s aim to grow with men and boys, the recently appointed Rich Ross, an openly gay man cited by AfterElton.com as one of the most powerful gay men in Hollywood, to run Disney Studios is not likely to work out well. Ross has shown a solid touch in developing princess fantasies aimed at tween girls. He’s quoted as saying the Disney XD channel, explicitly aimed at boys, will be inclusive of girls. However, that’s a proven recipe for failure. the article notes that all the audience growth has come from girls. Boys just are not attracted to “fabulous” bisexual swashbucklers, princess fantasies, or hunky vampires. Disney princess-essing Marvel, with themes of rich, spoiled princesses choosing hunky guys is basically the full-scale rejection of the deeply assimilated, nerdy Jewish guys who created power fantasies of decent guys who through superheroics finally got the girl. Which of these things is not like the other: Captain America, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Edward Cullen?

Commander Data himself, Brent Spiner, denounced the article by PM/AFT. So did Sci-Fi writer John Scalzi. Yet the continual decline of male participation in science fiction and fantasy, crowded out by female themes and characters, threatens their bottom line. The original Star Trek, had a decent dramatic structure of choices offered by the Stoic-philosophy of Spock and the humanist philosophy of Doctor McCoy, which Captain Kirk had to find a solution to. Which was parodied as “Kirk beams down to the planet, blows up the computer, and bangs the green skinned alien babe.” Yet the shows, at their best, did posit a choice between freedom and security, liberty and predictability, with Kirk teaching the natives a lesson, not the other way around.

By the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation, all conflict had been drained out of the series conception. Now, the natives gave the explorers one giant PC/Multiculturalist lecture, complete with “feeling” empaths (who seemed to have stomach aches) and a huge dose of feminism. Most of the conflict that existed was the result of the characters of the Borg, who resembled a replicating virus rather than the obvious Cold War proxies the Klingons and Romulans (the Russians and Chinese respectively) in the original series. This trend only worsened in the succeeding shows, with Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and finally Enterprise devolving to opening teasers ending on the dreaded words “Pass the salt.” The writers of Enterprise could not even tackle the subject of 9/11 adequately, being afraid of violating feminine driven PC sensibilities.

Nothing points out the failure of feminized science fiction, even with it’s many able practitioners and sensitive personal stories, than the inability of Star Trek’s last series to actually tackle perhaps the most important issue of our time when the original tackled racism, communism, computerized societies, and more head on. A female-driven PC/Multicultural consensus rather than a male risk-taking one was ruling. Once, Captain Kirk told audiences that America and its values mattered. Now, Commander Data and the rest were a mushy mess of value-absent globalism, standing for a meaningless “niceness.”

Novelist Scalzi writes “hard” science fiction, aimed at exploring warfare, technology, and anti-aging technology. Yet he cannot exist in a world where science fiction is focused on the adventures of “omni-sexual” character “Captain Jack” from the BBC series “Torchwood,” aimed at titillating the desires of a mostly female and gay audience. The personal may not be the political, but it drives out the political discussions that have historically been the province of science fiction. Both Verne and Wells used the genre to criticize colonialism and imperialism, and others have used it to critique the communist and socialist tyrannies they saw in the making: Huxley, Orwell, and (in the fantasy realm) Kafka.

Borders is dumping its DVD and music to focus on tweens, with an emphasis on Stephanie Meyer and Sarah Dessen. Tween appealing literature means “Reading is Gay” ala the infamous South Park episode. The more “gay” and tween female science fiction and fantasy becomes, the less Scalzi will receive in royalties and advances as the readership turns exclusively female and gay.

One need only look at television, which as late the 1970’s featured shows like “the Rockford Files” which had a male lead that was to put it mildly, a very different conception of a male lead than today’s TV. Older, not very glamorous, living out of a trailer, often beset by money problems, and involved in cases where the main motives were stupidity and greed, Jim Rockford was a far cry from the hunky male vampires, doctors, and lawyers who are the “Alpha Males” of today. Not the “older guy who looks young and can beat anyone up” the character was instead often the target of beatings. He rarely got the girl, even if he did often get the last laugh. Now, television is a gay-female ghetto. Arguably with better writing, acting, directing, and music, but emotionally empty and with stereotypical depictions of men in particular. As either conniving beta schemers or terrible cads women love. The female characters are little better, being mostly “beautiful victims” who suffer at the hands of the bad, mad, cads they love. AMC’s “Mad Men” which relies mostly on the outstanding art direction, is a prime example of this. Complete with a female dominated writing staff (seven of the nine writers are female), that includes both Marti Noxon (former show runner and writer for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) and Kater Gordon (since fired/resigned) who was promoted to writer from show creator Matthew Weiner’s personal assistant. Don Draper and the rest in “Mad Men” bear not a smidgen of resemblance to the complicated and compelling male and female characters on “the Rockford Files.”

Indeed, much of the female-oriented “science fiction” (it isn’t science fiction, really) and fantasy is comprised of not much more than “you go girl” kick-ass waifs who are the butt kickers and pitied victims, simultaneously, of “the Man.” Men being horrible jerks, which is just the way the women in the shows like them. From “Buffy” to “Xena” to “Tru Calling” to “Firefly” to “Dollhouse” this theme shows up like a bad cough in winter. Indeed, “Buffy” probably hit the nadir, when Marti Noxon had lead character Buffy raped by the hunky vampire Spike. Said rape causing Buffy to only love him more, and have (later) off-screen implied sex. Sadly, only “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” ever dared to even dance around the question of female hypergamy and the dark side of female sexuality. “Buffy” asked the question about what would happen if ordinary girls were given physical superpowers? The answer being, they’d seek out the most physically powerful men around, questions of character, decency, compassion, and everything else being irrelevant to that lust driven feeling that danger and domination creates (and their new-found powers allow them to exploit).

Almost all of culture is female/gay oriented. The the New Girl Order observed by City-Journal.org writer Kay Hymowitz, with enormous amounts of wealth accruing to young women who are single for much (and perhaps most of their lives) and therefore spending far more on consumer goods, has along with contraception, anonymous urban living, and rising female incomes, created a mostly female-driven advertising and retail market. The site claims (though I’ve not seen underlying research) that women account for 85% of all consumer purchases. While I find this suspect (longer times for single women means longer times for single men, implying male purchases at higher rates), there is no doubt that advertisers and retailers focus on women with men as an afterthought at best.

Television is female/gay dominated. It is estimated that about 80% of sitcom audiences are female, and anyone doubting the gender numbers for network television need only watch the ads. Advertisers don’t waste dollars on ads for Pantene shampoo or feminine hygiene on mostly male viewers. Broadway went from being male friendly to a mostly gay ghetto (though a technically excellent one). Movies, outside of action summer blockbusters and comic book movies, are either limited appeal female-gay art movies (Milk, Brokeback Mountain, Margot at the Wedding), chick flicks, or low-grade horror movies.

Fantasy has gone from Edgar Rice Burroughs, JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Tim Powers, to “Lonely Werewolf Girl,” “Twilight,” the Anita Blake novels, and “the Vampire Academy.” Science Fiction has turned from Isaac Asimov, A. E. Van Voght, Robert Heinlein, and “Blade Runner” to “the Left Hand of Darkness” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

Now, what is changing things for the better is the rise of the e-book. Already, classics are available for download, for free. As I noted here, people with devices as varied as Palm Pilots and Iphones can download free apps and works (from Project Gutenberg). Jules Verne’s work compares favorably to anything smacking of Lonely Werewolf Girls or hunky vampire bad boys and the stereotypical women in thrall to their own hypergamy who love them. Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” explores the uses and limits of technology compared to a medieval society. As well as the wonders of the modern world. Most importantly, e-books are cheap. This means you won’t find niche stuff, and the relentless focus on the New Girl Order (helped along by the depression) will end. Men now have for entertainment, absent the gender stereotypes, focus on domesticity, and female themes, professional sports and video games.

By allowing authors to self-promote and by-pass traditional publishing houses, like Taylor Swift using social networking media to bypass Nashville’s traditional structure, men-appealing authors have a chance to become the next Jules Verne. Rather than explore issues of personal sexuality or hunky Alpha males, they can address pressing social issues such as nuclear terrorism, selective sex abortion, and more. Fantasy writers can explore the fall of the Roman Empire (still the most historically traumatic event in Western History, and the most grievous loss) within the context of today’s decadent society (where leading cultural creators support freeing Roman Polanski). All without the soft tyranny of feminized PC/Multiculturalism, and crowding out of the “Big Ideas” for domestic issues. There will still be a place for women in science fiction and fantasy. But it will no longer be “theirs” — an exclusive clubhouse where expressions of nerdy male ideas are as welcome as a Star Trek Convention at a Sorority House.

In some ways, it is a brave new world.

Previous post:

Next post: