What Chicks Don't Like About Science Fiction

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I love when clueless humans tell me to my face that women don't like science fiction. Usually they tell me this at a science fiction convention, after we have talked about scifi for an hour and I have said that I edit a science fiction blog. These humans have an amazing ability to not believe their eyes, which is the only way I can explain what's happening when somebody says to my face that women like me don't exist. And unfortunately, the SciFi Channel seems to have the same problem: There's an article in the New York Times today about how the channel boosted its ratings among women by de-emphasizing spaceships in Battlestar Galactica ads and airing supernatural horror movies. I cannot believe the stupidity here.

According to the Times:

The network has expanded its audience, especially among women, chiefly by stretching the definition of science fiction . . . It is not just "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" that would fit the definition. Superheroes, Indiana Jones and even the baseball fantasy movie "Field of Dreams" would all be considered part of the genre as defined by Sci Fi's programmers . . . The network has drawn more women by making subtle tweaks to marketing and programming. In marketing materials for "Battlestar Galactica," for example, there are no spaceships, and the story lines try to create more of a balance between action and emotion. . . .

"There were a lot of misperceptions that Sci Fi was for men, that it was for young men and that it was for geeky young men," said Bonnie Hammer, the president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, which oversees Sci Fi. "We had to broaden the channel to change the misconceptions of the genre."

One of the shows that did this was Steven Spielberg's "Taken," a miniseries shown for two weeks in 2002 that dominated those nights in the ratings. While the series "literally put Sci Fi on the map," Ms. Hammer said, it also exemplified the network's notion of the genre with its main characters as human beings living on earth, not aliens on some far-off planet.


OK, so let me get this straight. A woman (Bonnie Hammer, quoted above) ran the Sci Fi Channel for several years. Octavia Butler (yes, a woman) won a MacArthur genius grant for her science fiction novels, and many of the editors at scifi mega-publisher Tor are women. All of io9's editors are women. A woman (hi Bonniegrrl!) runs StarWars.com. But women aren't interested in science fiction? You need to drain the spaceships out of BSG to attract women? (Though apparently you also attract women with spaceships, as Taken demonstrated.)

Sorry, but this kind of wacky logic says a lot more about people's misperceptions of science fiction than it does about science fiction itself. It's true that there's been a stereotype that science fiction is for men, just as there's a stereotype that science itself is for men. And those stereotypes are wrong.


If there's something keeping women away from enjoying science fiction, it's not spaceships. It's not "aliens on some far-off planet." It's the fact that people on our very own planet keep telling us that women aren't supposed to like science fiction. It's a self-confirming prophesy, because the more that scifi creators are told this, the more they imagine that their audience is all boys. So they write rich, believable male characters and boring, cookie-cutter lady characters. They organize conventions with panels devoted to shit like "the hottest women of science fiction" and nothing devoted to female heroes — or the kinds of hotties that straight women might want to see (i.e., men).

Women who do love science fiction see all this going down, and they are ashamed to admit that they like science fiction. I'm not saying this happens to all of us, but many women wind up assuming that there's something wrong with them for liking SF. After all, everybody keeps telling them that SF is for boys, and the only reason why women would like it is if the definition of SF is "expanded" to include magic and romance. (Nothing against magic and romance, mind you — it's just not typical of SF.)


And on top of all this load of crap, women who like SF sometimes get the impression that men don't really want them to like it. After all, if men really wanted women to hang out and talk to them about SF, those men wouldn't write exclusively about male characters and make jokes about how the fun thing to do at SF cons is hire hookers (haw haw haw).

Luckily, it would appear that most people interested in SF do consider women to be part of the genre at this point. Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example of the kind of SF that appeals to women and men equally because the show offers both male and female characters in positions of power (and positions of yuck). Women are gobbling this show up without shame not because ads eschew pictures of spaceships (WTF), but because there are cool women characters in it. Women love Joss Whedon shows like Firefly for the same reason.


And you know what? Women love tons of science fiction, regardless of how many boys are main characters, because they like good stories as much as the next guy. They just might be ashamed to admit they like SF because they don't want people to give them the old "you don't exist" speech. Or, worse, give them the old hairy-eyeball that really means "there is something wrong with you."

So if the SciFi Channel is really concerned about courting women — which it really doesn't have to be, since tons of women watch it — then maybe they should consider airing more shows about women. In space. On other planets. Fighting monsters. And maybe they should consider acting like it's NORMAL for women to like stories about aliens ripping people's faces off. Instead of behaving as if they've discovered fucking faster-than-light travel because they noticed that tons of women enjoy SF, create SF, write about SF, and goddamn live and breathe the stuff. Hell, I'm heading to an ENTIRE CON devoted to women and science fiction on Friday.


Next time somebody tells you that women don't like science fiction, just send them to io9. Our phasers are not set to stun.

At SciFi Channel, Universe is Expanding [New York Times]