Feminist SF The Blog! Poll for best sci-fi book not kowtowing to obsession with white men

I’m a bit late reporting this, but Feminist SF – The Blog! is running a poll in two phases to determine the Top 10 Obscure Sci-Fi Books. As Draconismoi pointed out to me, the titles all seem to share something in common besides obscurity: they don’t feature a white heterosexual male as the lead.

The film industry is not alone in its belief that we won’t buy something that isn’t about Whitey. Hollywood people often (and I’m not supposed to share this) argue that most people who watch TV or see movies are intellectual vacuums, and this is why they’re just too lugubrious and easily-threatened to watch something that isn’t safely ensconced in stereotypes. But sci-fi readers? Surely that’s an audience that would clock in with a reasonable average IQ, if only because it can read.

Of course, there is some truth to the belief that people are only interested in stories about Whitey. But mostly because for centuries, they’ve only had stories about Whitey. Everyone else is a special genre.


  1. says

    I’ve always been a sci-fi lover, but one thing bothered me from Star Wars forward: the constant, loud, impossible to ignore affirmation that yes, even in settings where Earth and our culture doesn’t exist, you have marriage, nuclear family units, wives taking the last names of husbands, and so on. OMG, some of these customs aren’t even that old here on earth!

    And no, I have never found that books do a much better job than movies. I think most of the last 40 years of sci-fi writers and filmmakers have been jammed so far up Joseph “Women Don’t Have a Heroes Journey, But It’s Okay, I Made a Pedestal for Them” Campbell’s ass they have no idea what sci-fi is.

    UGH! GAH! Makes me want to rip someone’s hair out! And American-style wedding ceremonies in Totally Other Galaxy sci-fi movies actually cause death rays to come shooting out of my eyeballs and rip apart theater movie screens.

  2. Death Worm says

    I’ll have to check out this list the next time I’m looking for some novels to read.

    You know, when I think about it, it’s odd that science fiction should be so dominated by HWM characters. If you can stretch your imagination to believe in time travel or spaceships, or to feel empathy with robots, then it shouldn’t, in theory, be hard at all to relate to people with more mundane differences (race, gender, sexuality, able-ism). Never underestimate privilege, though.

  3. Death Worm says

    I agree about the persistence of the Heteronormative Nuclear Family in sci-fi/fantasy stories. And that it’s almost always a vaguely American Christian wedding scene. Like in Star Wars: Episode II (if anyone actually made it to the end of the movie) – even a galaxy Far Far Away, it’s an American-style wedding, complete with a lacy white dress for Padme (I mean, the costume designers had already appropriated costumes from practically every culture on Earth for Padme’s wardrobe – why not try something different for a wedding dress?)

  4. Loki says

    How much of the domination of white males in scfi is because, as a genre, it’s second only to the Western in the proportion of its writer that are, you know, white males?

    It’d be interesting to see this measured on a graph over time…

  5. Death Worm says

    Oh, and I think the predominance of the Traditional Nuclear Family is especially troubling when a science fiction story blatantly says that this family structure enshrines a society’s core values. You see this in dystopia narratives where polyamory and reproductive freedom are considered signs that society’s gone down the tubes. For example, in the movie “Logan’s Run”, we’re supposed to think Logan and his girlfriend are heading back on the right track for humanity when they decide they like calling each other “husband” and “wife”. “Brave New World” is another dystopia where Sexual Freedom Is A Bad Thing. Now, I don’t think living in a shopping mall and having random sexual partners teleported into your room is the perfect model for how relationships should work, but the idea that alternatives to heteronormative nuclear family = a selfish & degraded society bothers me.

    (Sorry for the double post, but there wasn’t a way for me to edit my original comment)

  6. says

    Loki, the problem of SF editors somehow just coincidentally finding only male authors to be good enough has been a huge argument the past two years especially – K. Tempest Bradford has been in the van of the charge on this, with many other female SF writers, and the amount of defensive waffle thrown up by various male editors to the challenge of why they can put together a “representative” anthology that only has one or two non-male and/or non-white people in it, and then go and do it all over again the next year having learned nothing at all, excusing themselves by saying that it was pure coincidence, even as one of them puts up a reading list of recommended SF authors that doesn’t have a single woman on it, is instructive.

    Funnily enough, editors (XX or XY) who have made a conscious effort to be egalitarian and actively encourage/recruit submissions from other than the likes of Sir Richard of Albion are *not* having any trouble finding plenty of female/minority authors to include in their SF zines and anthologies…

  7. says

    How much of the domination of white males in scfi is because, as a genre, it’s second only to the Western in the proportion of its writer that are, you know, white males?

    Also, it’s not just SF. So how do you explain the *increasing* trend in mainstream publishing?

    a) Women just aren’t interested in writing for magazine publication (despite being biologically programmed for communication and inherently better at it because of the soft fluffy nurturing XX chromosome, per the gender essentiallists, tho’ this claim would shock the Western patriarchy for most of written history) unlike all those white guys whose Competitive Nature just catapults them into it without any active choice on the part of the people who put magazines together;

    b) The (overwhelmingly white, male) gatekeepers are only letting in their buds, and a few tokens who validate their system, either by being carefully non-threatening and stereotypical or by using their “masculine” aggression and outward-directedness to bash women and thereby proclaimthemselves Honorary Men.

    Hm, how to decide?

  8. Loki says

    Bellatrys – I believe we are talking somewhat at cross purposes here, and that’s my fault for not being clearer in my original comment. I was thinking more historically, across the century or so of SF, while my impression is that you are thinking more of the current state of play in the field.

    On that matter, I defer to your greater knowledge.

  9. says

    That’s cool, Loki, it’s just been a huge deal in feminist fandom the past couple years, with all these editors shouting “but I’m a nice guy! I can’t be sexist! We editors just want to make The Best Product Possible, so we’d be stupid to discriminate on purpose! So it’s gotta all be those random numbers forcing my hand!” (or sometimes, “He’s a nice guy! He can’t be sexist! I’m a woman and I should know!”)

    It’f’s been exacerbated by the dual fact that magazine subscriptions are going down, down, down and have for years, while the sausage-fest aspect is actually *up* from the ’90s, and yet they refuse, many of them, to even *ask* if they’re doing anything to discourage people who aren’t older white dudes from submitting, let alone treating their stories differently. (And that’s leaving aside whole HEAPS of skeezy race/gender issues in some of these stories that are chosen, btw – again with the defense of “But X is a Nice Guy who I like to have beers with, and so couldn’t be racist/sexist!”

    The perception that Women Just Don’t Belong In The Genre, in fact, has made the perception that there were fewer women writing sf even back in the day – C.L. Moore, C.J. Cherryh, Andre Norton are just a few of the female authors who were required by their editors to publish under masculine nyms or gender-neutral initials (since The Default Human Is Male it might as well have been a masculine nym, which is what the editors intended) because they believed that No Man Would Buy A Book Written By A Chick, unless he was tricked into it…

    So yeah, heaps of exploitation in the mandatory closeting of female sf writers, *and* the perpetuation of the stereotype that Women Don’t Write/Aren’t Interested in the genre.

  10. Ray says

    “And American-style wedding ceremonies in Totally Other Galaxy sci-fi movies actually cause death rays to come shooting out of my eyeballs and rip apart theater movie screens.”

    I really, REALLY want to write sci-fi solely so that I can write alternative marriage customs and rituals. …now I just plots.

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