by Kathryn Brining
In 2013, President Barack Obama championed initiatives encouraging women to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), fields where many feel women are underrepresented. Publishing and media is another arena where men seem to outnumber women, so it should come as no surprise that sexism seems to reign where these two interests meet: science fiction.
Both science and science fiction have long been considered masculine, male-dominated pursuits and the reluctance for some to embrace women working in technical fields may be closely linked to their exclusion when writing about the sciences. Though some might argue this is simply a case of genre, not gender, inequality, all too often, the aspiring female science fiction writer feels stranded in a hostile alien world.
Male science fiction writers outnumber female writers. That much is clear. The reasons for this, however, are readily debated. According to Arit John in Science Fiction’s Sexism Problem, “Part of the reason is that women’s speculative fiction gets treated as ‘fantasy,’ while the imaginings of men are deemed ‘science fiction’” (2013). Likewise, John highlights that 29 out of the 33 "Grandmasters of Science Fiction" have been male.
However, people in the publishing industry dispute that this imbalance is based on submission numbers and not sexism. According to a chart published in 2013 by Julie Crisp, the editorial director for Tor UK (a publishing company with a sister company in America), males submit more in most genre categories, particularly science fiction, which explains why there are more males being published than females.
An article published on the website TeleRead in 2013 counters Crisp’s comments: “publishing execs are not bound by the slush pile: they can build their own. And if they want to go against the bias of their genre when developing writers, without descending into affirmative-action commissioning, they are quite at liberty to do so.”
One of the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke and British Science Fiction Award (both 2013 winners were male, by the way) Liz Walters, stated, “female speculative fiction writers are embracing fantasy because they know they won’t be respected in the science fiction community” (John 2013).
As a female writer (who has dabbled in science fiction), I don’t want to "embrace fantasy," or any other genre, just because I'm told that that's my place or feel I will be more respected there. I have many ideas, just as males do, and I should be free to write them without having to worry about criticism based solely on my gender.
No wonder women aren’t submitting as much as men! They’re afraid of being bullied or having their work misrepresented. Honestly, the genre's uninviting atmosphere makes me reluctant to submit science fiction. There are many good female authors out there and I want to read what they have to offer in whichever genre they choose.
As writers and readers, we should accept those who deserve to be published and recognized. Writing should be a community where all are welcomed to share and grow. No one should be discouraged from showing the community their ideas because of gender, and women should not have to feel that they are excluded from certain communities. Science fiction is not specifically a “man’s genre.” It can be enjoyed by everyone, so why are they limiting those who enjoy writing it?