Saturday 20 October 2012

What Women Want

The new Bond movie, Skyfall, is out, and Bond's boss is still a woman. There was a bit of a stir when, several movies back, 'M' was slated to be played by a woman, but it's all part of the fashion of portraying women in fiction in the way that feminism would like them to be in fact.

It might have been a big deal in a Bond movie, but science fiction can take the credit for leading the way on this one, breaking down gender stereotypes and portraying women in just the same way as they would men, even when placed in an adventure setting. Ripley, from Alien, was a trend setter, but even there Hollywood was somewhat behind literary SF. The fictional future is presented as a place where social changes can really happen, so SF has long been replete with female scientists, female presidents, female soldiers, assassins, dynastic matriarchs, etc. Indeed, any male SF author who fails to present an impressive list of 'strong' female characters in their work is swiftly accused of misogyny.

Gender divisions, it is said, need to be wiped out altogether. There is, it seems, no need to even think of men and women as different. So we get the famous mixed-sex shower scene in the Starship Troopers movie, where everyone is so casual about the sameness of the sexes that nobody cares that the object of potential romantic desires may be standing naked next to them.

It's a form of magic really. In fantasy, a spell written on a scroll can alter reality. So it is with the politically correct gender portrayals in science fiction. The idea is that, if it's written often enough, and widely enough, then maybe it will come true. This, essentially, is what is at the heart of popular feminism today.

Feminism's main theory is that gender differences are created by nurture, rather than nature, that they are inculcated and perpetuated by male-dominated society and that they are, essentially, a lie. They are also an obstacle to women reaching their 'full potential'.

Feminism wants women to be equal. But because feminism is, paradoxically, a form of gender sectarianism, there is also the need to show that women are in fact superior to men, and that the reason the world is in such a mess is because there aren't enough women running things. And if women aren't currently up there, then they should be put there.

It is said that the Victorians kept women separate by elevating them on a pedestal, making them 'special' and, by implication, vulnerable and in need of help. The practice of opening doors for women is said today to be patronising to women, who should be quite capable of opening doors themselves.

But what we call the Victorian era has not really ended. In fact, it's gone into overdrive. Affirmative Action in the US, and Positive Discrimination in the UK, are in fact door-opening policies - praised and insisted upon by the same people who condemn earlier practices as patronising to women.

The fact that women are in a minority in Company board rooms (Barbie notwithstanding) has attracted a lot of attention. The fact that they are a minority in, say, road-sweeping or sewage work is, oddly enough, never mentioned at all. Recently Alastair Reynolds tried to generate a buzz over the issue of there being 'not enough women in science fiction'. Is that the fault of women for not going into science fiction? Heaven forbid. No, of course it's the fault of 'society' or male dominated publishing, or male writers who don't do their bit to encourage more female readers by giving them female protagonists.

It's the same as when, in a recent education report, it was noted that there are far fewer girls than boys taking physics. Quite how much research was undertaken to find out why girls had made that choice was not made clear. But the BBC headline made it clear who's fault it was: "Schools fail girls."

Yeah, stand up for your rights sisters. Make them make you take physics.

Oddly enough, I've never seen a reciprocating call for more male writers in Romance - possibly the biggest and most lucrative genre in the publishing business. Nor is the notion floated that female writers should write more from the male point of view.

 Still, it is a fact that no genre better displays gender-blindness when it comes to assigning character roles than science fiction does. You'd think then that women would be flocking to science fiction. I mean, breaking the doors down to get into it. Surely it has everything that feminism says women want.

But instead they flock to fantasy, that so-called backward looking and conservative genre.

That, and bloody vampires.

Which I shall discuss in the next post.

Not the vampires themselves, of course.

But that book.

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