By now, many of you have probably seen some of the recent issues going around the SFF world related to gender. If not, there was a backlash in the SFWA regarding recent bulletin issues. Some of this is explained by E. Catherine Tobler and a list of links was compiled by Jim C. Hines and his, Miscellaneous Thoughts on the Sexism Mess. Many authors stepped forward and told of their treatment in the SFF community, and that segues into the next kurfluffle. Ann Aguirre shared how she’s faced sexism, here. And wow, it’s a powerful post. In this, she mentions a post at the Story Hub, entitled, Talking Sci-Fi romance by Stuart Sharp.
So. Taking a step back, does it matter if a particular person meant to say something that another author took as sexist? And if it wasn’t meant that way, should it be taken that way?
Well, yes. I had my own emotional reactions to much of this, one of which was a bit of disappointment that authors who write about the future, advanced governments, failed utopias, and a variety of social commentary would seem to be stuck in the past. And of course, I felt commiseration with the women who’d faced blatant, in your face, mistreatment.
As for Mr. Sharp’s first article, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to denigrate all SFR authors in one fell swoop, the issue comes to this: if you take his name off of it, so many SFR authors have heard it before. Someone else’s name could easily be put there. We’ve heard too many times that the Romance part of SFR means it’s inferior in some way. Or it’s not Science Fiction. This is why it struck such a nerve with many of the SFR authors who commented.
It’s a stereotype seen again and again. and placed side by side with the denigrating view many have of Romance, as by women for women, it takes on a flavor of sexism at times. (Yes. I absolutely know some wonderful SFR is written by men. One is a fellow blogger here! *Waves to Robert* Yet another stereotype that overlooks the individual).
Since we’re all here because we have a love of SF, I wondered, what is the science behind stereotypes?
For some time, researchers have said that humans have a need to categorize and label to make sense of the magnitude of data we all receive on a daily basis. On NPR, this issue is addressed in Stereotypes Are Only Human. The basis for the discussion is the premise: “Researchers say that our brains seem hardwired to create social categories that influence how we see others.”
What does that mean, if we seem to need to label and shelve all the data coming in, including other people? Are we all biased? Maybe. In Where Bias Begins: The Truth About Stereotypes Psychology Today posits: “Stereotyping is not limited to those who are biased. We all use stereotypes all the time. They are a kind of mental shortcut.”
Yet, aren’t we all taught stereotyping is wrong? It is wrong if it put someone else at a disadvantage.
Creating the expectation that women aren’t into science or math–or science fiction–is dangerous. A recent study on the “stereotype threat” show how if people feel the pressure of a stereotype, they are in danger of underperforming. The research into this is astounding. For instance, giving college students a standardized test with the expectation all will do well will produce equal results no matter the ethnicity of the student. However, that changes simply by asking for “race” at the beginning of the test. Those who feel the pressure of a racial stereotype will underperform.
If we continue to segregate women and give this sense that women don’t like science fiction, we are creating a self-fulfilling stereotype. If we’re implying women aren’t as valid in some way as science fiction authors, we’re buying into a hurtful stereotype that needlessly adds a burden to those authors. And perhaps we’re driving away other authors and even readers, with this stereotype. I certainly believe it’s true of readers. We see time and again from some women that “they don’t read scifi.”
Even an author who’s never been groped at a SF con, or cut off, or called the “token female” on a panel, will feel this pressure applied to the group. If one woman is treated this way, then as a group, it impacts us all. All SFR authors will feel the pressure of the negative view and incorrect view that there’s no science rigor in SFR. (ha! have they seen my research pile? Or Kim Knox’s for that matter. She regularly tweets pics of her stacks and stacks of research books).
And yet, in SFR, the fiction itself should be considered on its own merit, despite the sex of the author or the genre label. Rather than being immediately labeled for being “lighter” because a Romance is involved, or even not techy enough or rigorous enough, as one whole group rather than as a critique of a particular work, is stereotyping in a negative way.
In the end, when we make negative sweeping generalizations about a genre, it impacts all the authors unfairly. What do we do? Recognize the problem and address it. We stop it. We speak up if we see another author treated unfairly, spoken over and disregarded on a con panel. Because if we’re denigrating others of our own group, we bring us all down. Yes, if we make negative stereotypes amongst ourselves, we are all brought down.
As individuals, women are as likely to be good at math, science, and author science fiction as the men. Men are as likely to be good at writing Romance. All authors, no matter the genre, research. They read the authors who came before them. They hone their artistry. They research black holes, hyper-drives, and quantum physics.
And we all stand on the shoulders of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, frequently considered the first science fiction author, and… a woman.
Ella Drake is a dark paranormal and science fiction romance author. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, & Goodreads. Her Science Fiction Romance, Desert Blade is a near-future post-apocalyptic romance from Carina Press. Currently available SFR: Silver Bound, Jaq’s Harp, Braided Silk & Firestorm on E’Terra. And now from Lyrical Press, MetalMark.