I apologize for not posting sooner everyone! I am the new blog editor and there has been a bit of an upheaval setting a routine. I hope we can get back on track now. Have fun reading!
This is a part of a Darts and Letters podcast episode where Dr. Batya Weinbaum was invited to participate in a discourse about feminist presence in the Science Fiction space. The Darts and Lasers episode aired on June 11, 2021, and also features Cory Doctorow and Nalo Hopkinson.
The host of this episode, Jay Cockburn, talks about the tendency of feminism to be squeezed out of science fiction despite the genre being about giving a voice to the marginalized. He talks about the divide between “hard sci-fi” and “soft sci-fi,” with the former focusing mainly on technology without much regard for the characters, while the latter focuses more on the characters and how the technology may affect them. Cockburn opines that there is a distinct patriarchal slant to the division between both types of science fiction and how women have often dreamed up societies that have catered to their needs, leaning towards a matriarchal system rather than a patriarchal one over time. Dr. Weinbaum is invited to then trace the history of feminism within the science fiction genre.
Dr. Weinbaum talks about the first article she wrote about Leslie F. Stone, who was one of the first science fiction pulp writers, and which she submitted to one of the major genre journals, Science Fiction Studies. The article was returned with comments that showed a lack of awareness for what radical feminism was about because it was suggested that Stone was a radical feminist and that should be included in the article. Dr. Weinbaum talks about her disagreement with the notion that the writer was a radical feminist because she had been producing works twenty years before radical feminism became a movement, and the content of her work had no radicalism. The lack of recognition of the science fiction genre within academia led to the reduction of feminist content within the writing of Dr. Weinbaum and some of her colleagues than they would have liked. They, therefore, decided to start their own journal and include creative works.
In talking about the beginning of science fiction, Dr. Weinbaum talks about the belief among many feminists that Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein was believed to be the origin. However, while she was ignored as a sci-fi writer, her work was centered on the creation of man using a machine which is the basis of science fiction. In the 1920s, women winning the right to vote came with the saturation of the typically male-dominated workspace with female bodies. This led to women and men questioning the gender roles in science fiction that were being reflected in society, which led to a lot of stories that criticized gender roles. Then, in the 1930s, women were cast out and the jobs went to men prompting a more pronounced reflection of male dominance in science fiction. There were stories of this change happening as a result of women publishing under male pseudonyms, or the dictator stories replacing stories that questioned gender in Europe as sci-fi started to reflect the war.
In the 1940s, the atomic bombs changed what people started to look at, with Judith Merril making the connection between gender, science, and war and being known as the originator of soft sci-fi. She wrote about a mother whose baby was deformed due to the radiation from the nuclear bomb, but who still saw beyond the deformity as a mother. There was also Marion Zimmer Bradley who wrote stories in the 1950s-60s that reflected feminist views even while she did not adopt the label herself. One of her stories was about a woman whose rocket ship stopped on an alien planet where she gets impregnated by the alien wind. In the 1970s, there were a lot of feminist utopian novels that featured women as the sole survivors of the holocaust because males started to die from a disease. This male-killing virus theme was also very prominent in the 1920s-30s. Dr. Weinbaum shares her belief that these novels helped progress the feminist agenda because most people’s exposure to sci-fi was through television, citing season 3, episode 1 of star trek as an example. While those episodes might have been reflecting changes of the time in which it was aired, it was a time bomb that influenced the views of people who were born years after.
Dr. Batya Weinbaum is an artist, poet, scholar, critic, professor, founder, and editor of the FemSpec Journal.