Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Did anyone ever say women are destroying science fiction? No.

 I shared this on Facebook and Twitter:
Has anyone in the last fifty years actually said women are ruining science fiction? When I was a boy in the early '60s, one of my first faves was the ubiquitous Andre Norton. By then, her readers knew she was female.

Because of her, I thought Andre was a girl's name.
A lot of discussion follows on both sites, but after several days of discussion and googling, the answer seems clear. No one ever said that. Based on the evidence, no one ever even thought it.

Some readers suggested one of the Sad Puppies might've said it, but two of the five most prominent Sad Puppies are women, Sarah Hoyt and Kate Paulk. Their Hugo Award lists include winners like Nnedi Okorafor, Hao Jingfang, and Naomi Kritzer. It couldn't have been said by a Sad Puppy.

Others have suggested Vox Day or one of the Rabid Puppies must've said it. But a glance at the Rabid Puppies' slates show VD also recommended women every year, including one winner, Hao Jingfang. So if anyone associated with the Rabids said women were destroying science fiction, it had to be someone who disagreed with VD's slate.

If no one said it, where did the idea that someone believed women are destroying science fiction come from? It's especially odd since most scholarly fans believe Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was the first modern science fiction novel. Who would say women were destroying a genre begun by a woman?

The phrase was bandied about in 2014 (see Women Destroy Science Fiction! - Lightspeed Magazine and Review: 'Women Destroy Science Fiction!' : NPR). It appears to have come from a speech by Pat Murphy in 1991:
What seemed significant about my friend’s confusion was that it related to a persistent rumbling that I have heard echoing through science fiction. That rumbling says, in essence, that women don’t write science fiction. Put a little more rudely, this rumbling says: “Those damn women are ruining science fiction.” They are doing it by writing stuff that isn’t “real” science fiction; they are writing “soft” science fiction and fantasy.
The people who cite Pat don't seem to notice that she said "put this a little more rudely"—she was commenting on her impressions, not on what anyone actually said. The end of her paragraph reveals the real source of the disagreement: fans of hard f&sf dislike soft f&sf, regardless of the gender of the writer.

For as long as the genre has existed, subsets of writers have loved their subgenre and thought the others ranged from foolish to destructive. But those writers didn't make their division on the basis of gender. Andre Norton was SFWA's sixth grand master, chosen before Clarke, Asimov, Bester, or Bradbury. For decades, everyone knew Leigh Brackett was female—she was the first woman to make the short list for the Hugo in 1956. Three years later, three women were finalists: Zenna Henderson, Katherine MacLean, and Pauline Ashwell. The idea that science fiction was for men could not be defended after the 1950s, and as more women entered the field, the Hugo Award reflected their presence—see the list of women who won Hugos at Hugo Awards | Geek Feminism Wiki.

Does this mean women didn't encounter sexism in the last fifty years? Of course not. The field still has sexists of all genders. It only means that "women are destroying science fiction" is a meme, and like all memes, it obscures at least as much as it reveals.

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