The Sexism of Hard Science Fiction
You know there were significant figures in history who thought women just weren't capable of learning. Confucius didn't intend for schooling for women even though he extolled the virtue of learning for everyone. Our modern ideal of education wouldn't exist without his contributions. But then he was a product of his era. And that is the issue. For too long women have been excluded from certain areas with the fake concern for our ability or health. Some historical figures either thought our minds couldn't handle difficult concepts or others feared our minds would overheat. Any time a woman pointed out how ridiculous this was they were often labelled mad or hysterical - the medical term not what it has been reduced to today. Hard science fiction is plagued still with these issues.
While female authors have flourished in Science Fiction many of them explore our relationships with each other in this new speculative future. To the point that if women want to make money in the science fiction genre they tend to have to be writing erotica. Don't get me wrong I love romance as a genre but it is like saying it is awesome that women are getting jobs out of the house but can only be teachers or nurses. There seems to still be restrictions of what is considered a 'woman's place' in science fiction.
We are starting to see some break-out authors who are writing hard science fiction which means it focuses more on the technical aspects of science fiction and they also then have realistic relationships in their stories. But their journey has not been an easy one or will be an easy one. We see a lot of backlash from fanboys. I want to roll my eyes at everyone that complains that they were enjoying a book until it got to the kissy stuff. Or those who defend misogynistic characters or storylines. Yes, he is trying to be all noir but does he have to be such an ass about it?
I literally read a post today about a man complaining about women and periods. That he found them gross and only wanted a woman that didn't do any bodily functions. Others commented about objectification. The first thing I thought of was sexbots. How often do we have sexbots in science fiction? Or even holographic romantic encounters. Yes, Star Trek I'm looking at you. Or that my spell check knew how to spell sexbots better than I, it blows my mind how often hard science fiction objectifies women and throws the male gaze around and then defends it as somehow more superior because it has more realistic science. Coughrubbishcough.
I recently read Gini Koch's Kitty Martini series. I think if I hadn't read them one right after the other I might have gotten further through the series but because I did read them all in a row I started seeing patterns. And I actually blame people like Anne McCaffrey and others like her for the issue. You see her strong female character is too smart. Now don't @ me. I mean she stumbles along and then near the end of the book she pulls a lets-gather-in-one-room scene where she explains everything. There have been no foreshadowing or any clues that a reader could pick up along the way to feel superior about because they figured it out. Also, she puts up with a very clingy alien who is a bit of an airhead. I would have ditched him for the brother, to be honest. If you check out the covers for the book you would also notice just how scantily clad she is. I love dressing up on occasion but these books make a point of how ridiculous everyone is dressed for the type of work they do. They are alien hunters and they are all wearing designer clothes that seem endless. I do my own covers so I am often on stock image sites. And I can tell you there aren't your average woman on there. Only skinny girls. I have a plus-size character - I had to use the warp tool to get the size - and that was after two whole days (I'm not exaggerating) looking for an appropriate image.
All of this is overly depressing when you realise that some of the pioneers of the genre were in fact women. Look at Frankenstein. Written about a woman. Reflecting on real science that was happening at the time. There were literally people digging up bodies and electrocuting in order to make them move at the time she wrote the novel. She was worried about the implications so wrote Frankenstein. This is a Hard Science Fiction novel and yet it deals with relationships and the need for connection that is intrinsic to human nature. This is over fifty years before women could vote and she was writing classics.
So what happened? It was subtle to start off with. I can understand why Anne McCaffrey was so mad at being called a fantasy author with her Pern novels. Because that was one of the tactics. If it was science fiction and had any fantastical elements it was put into the fantasy genre. Most got bumped into the Young Adult section and the rest if it had the slightest romantic element often got put into Romance. The last was the birth of a genre which is one of my favourites now. Gatekeepers pretty much only let men through and used that as a reason to honour men because they would say only male authors were doing well.
So I reckon we need to stop giving gravitas to Hard Science Fiction and instead give it to ALL SCIENCE FICTION. And the best place to start making it a bit more equal is to support female authors who are writing amazing stuff. We can read books where women aren't routinely kidnapped. Where trauma isn't the default backstory to every female character. Where female characters can act instead of always having things happen to them. Where females are actually listened to - seriously love the meme about Ridley and Alien where it boils it down to a bunch of men who don't listen to reasonable advice and only people who survive are a kid and a cat. Because they listened. And lastly can we stop raping our female characters and calling it romance.