Gender and Science Fiction

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In her 1996 book on Anne McCaffrey, Robin Roberts writes that:  “Science fiction is usually considered a masculine genre, written by men for a male audience. As its name suggests, science fiction has been associated with science, and science has been and still remains an arena dominated by men. However, science itself, its practice, and the technologies it produces are not exclusively male. Because science is frequently used to justify social customs and practices and government policies, it is very important that the group of writers who most influence our attitudes toward science reflect the full range of human beings. While the field of science still does not contain representative proportions of women [remember that this book was written 15 years ago], science fiction begins to do so. Unfortunately, science fiction still has to live up to its potential to include other groups, but there are important African-American science fiction writers like Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney. While science fiction cannot predict the future, it can and does shape our thinking about what scientists should do. Certain ideas such as space travel were once only fiction; perhaps ideas like equality between the sexes and races will someday also be reality.

As in other fields, gender shapes and defines our understanding of science and science fiction. Science and science fiction are still divided into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ categories that reflect a masculine perspective that ‘hard’ is better. The hard sciences – natural sciences such as biology – are supposedly more objective and rigorous, while the so-called ‘soft’ social sciences such as anthropology are considered subjective. Science fiction explores the social sciences, and expands them to include psionics, which can be defined as mental sciences – telepathy (mind reading), telekinesis (the ability to move objects using only the powers of the mind), teleportation (the ability to move your body through space without using your muscles), and so on. McCaffrey helps confound the artificial and sexist distinctions between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science and science fiction by clearly identifying psionics as scientifically verified and amplified in her fictions. Careful readers of her novels realize, for example, that the dragons she creates are genetically altered creatures. Even their telepathic qualities were carefully bred into them.

What may seem magical in science fiction may just be science that is beyond our contemporary reach or understanding.” (17)

Ref: Robin Roberts (1996) Anne McCaffrey; A Critical Companion. Greenwood Press: Westport, CT

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