In meeting and greeting at WisCon this past weekend, I was asked if I would participate in Hack Gender, perhaps regarding my dissertation…which, if for some reason you didn’t know, is a self-reflexive documentary exploring women and the identity of being a science fiction fan. Fortunately, in a preliminary review of the eleven (!) interviews I managed to get, I found a common thread or two, which I think will form my argument later on in the documentary. Therefore, if you don’t want to be spoiled for the doc itself, or you don’t want to have my initial mindset influence your later interview, stop reading now.
Also, a disclaimer: these thoughts are not fully fleshed out, and I haven’t had a load of time to chase them round to conclusions yet. I may overgeneralize, I may run into problematic areas, and I may mess up, but I hope to have at least uncovered a little theory by the end of it. Comments and thought and calling me out, all welcome.
Admittedly, all of my artifacts are from a group of people with a specific interest, but choosing to go to a feminist SF convention does not necessarily mean a uniformity of political POV or even interest within the SF genre. I talked with people from a lot of different backgrounds, many marginalized in some other way besides gender: people of color, people with disabilities, queer people…ten women, one man, many of whom would disagree with each other if I put them into one room.
And one of the things that came up, over and over again, was how vital representation of marginalized identities was in the SF they consumed.
Maybe not in so many words, though some people were explicit about it. And, I suppose, you could argue that I’m reading too much into these things (but that’s my right as the filmmaker, SO THERE). But I saw it, and I’d never been able to articulate it very well before, which was probably why I started doing this project in the first place, rather than something else; I’ve been trying to figure myself out, and words aren’t cutting it.
The truth is, in my mind, that as much as we want to say that SF is being made for everyone, and much as authorial intent can insist that it is, there is a definite sense of alienation among women and other marginalized people from a good portion of the genre. Doesn’t mean they don’t like it or enjoy it, but they want more. More realism, not just your Strong Woman or your Fragile Badass or your Mothering Caretaker. Multi-leveled, deep, of all the types of women there are in the world, race and gender presentation and disability and…you get the idea.
And there just aren’t enough out there.
I cannot and will not say that marginalized people (including women) MUST have a marginalized character to identify with to like a work of SF. That’d be disingenuous, because I seriously identify with the Tenth Doctor on so many levels (one could possibly put forth the argument that he is othered, but I digress). Nor will I say that tropes are always negative, and I will not say that marginalized people’s needs are never met when consuming SF.
But at the same time, I cannot look at what I’ve been told and say that there is no problem, even in written SF, and that that problem is not, on a certain level, gendered. This goes into the ‘hard’ vs. ‘soft’ SF problem, Men Like Science, Women Like Humanities. That was another underlying theme of my interviews…science is great and women like it, they want it! But there need to be reasons and nuances and consequences with the whizbang parts, and they need to reflect or expose our world’s issues.
So to answer the question of what do women want? in this case: realism, details, and sociocultural impact, in characters, situations, and narratives. And there are men who want this too, for so many varied reasons.
Which leads me to ask why the hell, even within a genre that proclaims such openness in thought, are so many creators’ hands still tied by the dominant paradigm, including that of gendered topics and concepts?
Well, okay, the answer’s obvious…it just doesn’t mean I have to like it.