Many of us were happy to see 2013 in the rear view mirror, not least because we could say “good riddance” to all the controversy and upheaval that churned through the science fiction literary world. Not only did we no longer have to endure the seemingly endless online snarking back and forth about the validity of romance in SF, but that glimpse we had of the slimy underbelly of misogyny exposed in the science fiction community—among both writers and fans—was not pretty.
Those two issues not only arose at the same time; they were related in a fundamental way. But I’m not here to stir that pot again. In fact, I’m here to put it in context. Judging from the statistics that have circulated through the media recently, the dinosaurs in the SF community may have been justified in throwing up their hands and crying, “What?” The Jurassic Age, it seems, has been recreated everywhere while those of us with feminist sympathies (or maybe just those of us who are women) were busy trying to have lives.
Check out these numbers from Media Report to Women, a quarterly research publication established in 1972 to provide information on how various forms of media depict women and treat them on the job:
--TV News—Men reporting the news, 48%; women reporting the news, 40%; teams, 12% (2010). That’s good right? BUT female directors of the news broadcasts, 28.3% (2011). And only 24% of those interviewed on the news broadcasts—for any reason-- were women; 81% of “experts” and 82% of spokespersons were male (2011). Only 16% of stories focused solely on women (2010).
--TV Entertainment—Women accounted for just 25% of all producers, writers, creators and all other behind-the-camera personnel in 2010. In case you were wondering, women made up only 15% of television writers.
--Film—For the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2010, women were a mere 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors. For those keeping score at home, females chalked up a measly 10% of the writing credits on those films, and only 7% of the directing credits.
--Online—Now here’s a bright spot. Women outnumbered men on the Internet in 2010, by 51.8% to 41.3%. According to Media Report to Women, men prefer to use their (longer) online time to network for business; women use their (shorter) time for social networking purposes. Men prefer user-generated sites like YouTube; women stream TV programs. Hmm.
We already know the bad news about women in traditional publishing—how male writers outpublish females by an overwhelming margin (at least by the legacy publishers) and are reviewed by the hoary old institutions of the New York Times and others at disproportionate rates. But as writers of genre fiction we have tended to think that is not our fight. We have to pick our battles. It’s not like the Sunday Times will ever be waxing lyrical about spaceships and aliens. Let Jodi Picoult go to war over that one, right?
The trouble is, I begin to see a pattern. Not just in our little corner of the literary world. Not just, perhaps, in my job (teaching), or in yours (law enforcement or the military, or you name it). Not simply in those places where the law may exist to mitigate it, but is seldom enforced because, well, who can afford to rock the boat these days? But most glaringly in the media where all of us “live”, vicariously and 24/7.
What is the effect on our common culture—on our community—when for every GRAVITY we see, there are 50 LOCKOUT’s or RIDDICK’s? How can we tell our daughters they can be anything they want to be when their most visible role models on television are dancers, models, underage pop singers and underpaid reporters who will soon be out of a job? How do we protect them when one in five college women is a victim of sexual assault, when the military at its highest levels is rife with sexual harassment, when our highest officials are sexting pictures of themselves to staffers barely out of their teens?
Our job as writers of science fiction is to envision the future. Those who have gone before us have imagined rocketships to the moon, landing on Mars, genetic manipulation, instant communication, computers with unbelievable capabilities. But they have also seen populations controlled by their governments, constant surveillance in the guise of constant entertainment, World War replaced by the world at war, disconnection and despair, poverty and plague. What is amazing is that so much of what they saw has come to pass.
Many of our modern “New Age” thinkers believe your thoughts create your reality. To put it (very) simply, you can think the future you want into being. By this theory, what was written has come to pass because the authors and their readers, believed in that vision sufficiently to lead us in that direction. In a very simple example, the inventor of the cell phone, Martin Cooper, has said his inspiration for the device was the communicator used by Captain James T. Kirk in the original STAR TREK series. He made that fictional vision a reality.
My point here is this: We need a New Revolution, and we, as mostly female (and sympathetic male) authors of science fiction romance, must lead it. If we can envision a future that ensures women have an equal role with men—in leadership, in the use of technology, in relationships—then we have a responsibility to argue for it. We should make it a rallying cry, not for the worn-out tenets of feminist legalism, which seems to have met its limit, but for a new and more relevant visibility for feminine heroism, in all aspects of our lives.
If we believe it, we can write it. And if we write it, we can make it happen.