Male Authors Discuss Sexism in Sci-Fi Fiction in New HeForShe Video
In the latest video for HeForShe, male sci-fi authors discuss the rampant sexism in sci-fi literature (all literature, for that matter), heap praise on legendary female sci-fi writers, and name-check the Bechdel test.
First, the authors very insightfully discussed blatant and more insidious examples of sexism in science fiction. Todd McCaffrey, author of Dragonholder, said that in 50's science fiction, the purpose of a female character "was to make the man look good, and scream when the bug-eyed monsters came in. My mother [Anne McCaffrey, the first woman to win a Hugo award] hated that trope; and she said, you know, 'If a bug-eyed monster was invading my home, I'd find the nearest frying pan and beat the crap out of him!'"
Samuel R. Delany, author of the Nebula Award-winning Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection, discussed a more subtle type of sexism, in which women simply don't get to be three-dimensional characters: "Writers writing about male characters, whether they be male writers or female writers, are quick to give characters purposeful actions, habitual actions, and then completely gratuitous actions. For some reason, they don't use the same palette of actions when they're writing about female characters."
The authors also paid a very genuine homage to great female writers, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, and Andre Norton. The best quotation probably comes from Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War: "Anybody who's writing sociological science fiction is in the ring with Ursula Le Guin. You don't get into that ring expecting to win."
They also discussed the Bechdel test, which applies to all works of literature:
1) It has to have at least two women in it,
2) who talk to each other,
3) about something besides a man.
According to Delany, sci-fi novels have trouble passing this test (I just read Foundation, and it barely even acknowledged that women existed, let alone had any talking to each other). But sadly, so do all other types of fiction.
It's wonderful that HeForShe made this video, as this is a subject that should be discussed more often. As a feminist, I didn't necessarily agree with everything the authors said (Delany's assertion that all other forms of oppression are modeled on sexism was particularly arguable). But discussions about gender should be a back-and-forth, and the fact that HeForShe is encouraging men to engage in the conversation can only be a good thing.