[GUEST POST] Kim Curran Says No One Ever Told Her That Women Didn’t Write Science Fiction


Dublin-born Kim Curran studied Philosophy at university with the plan of being paid big bucks to think deep thoughts. While that never quite worked out, she did land a job as a junior copywriter with an ad agency a week after graduating. She’s worked in advertising ever since, specialising in writing for video games. Her first book Shift was published in autumn 2012 with the sequel Control out August 2013. You can find her on her website kimcurran.co.uk and on Twitter as @kimecurran.

No One Told Me Women Didn’t Write Science Fiction

No one ever told me women didn’t write science fiction. Or that it might be odd for me to want to. It simply wasn’t an issue. My mother bottle fed us while watching Star Trek. I grew up on Dr Who, Space 1999, Ulysses 31, Back to the Future, E.T, etc.

I was also obsessed with science; with understanding the world around me and spinning tales using whatever snippets of science I had gleaned. My primary school teacher even called me her ‘poet scientist‘ when I was nine, in a strange bit of foreshadowing.

So when it came to reading, it made sense I would reach for the SF shelves. And when it came to writing, the same thing applied. I never stopped to think ‘this isn’t something for a woman.’

In short, I was blissfully unaware that gender even came into it. So to have arrived in the community of SF writers and readers and realised there is a battle raging between the genders, well, it came as a bit of a shock.

I had always assumed that SF, which so often imagines possible futures, would be a forward thinking field. One that would welcome all, no matter what their gender, sexual orientation or race. As a niche interest, SF automatically attracts ‘outsiders’. And so I naively assumed that as many SF fans probably grew up being excluded they would never aim to exclude others.

And yet, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

While I personally have never experienced any resistance or had any sexist comments thrown my way, the presence of this issue is inescapable. Only 20-30% of SF books being published are by women, compared with 51% in other genres. Fewer women are reviewed, awarded and bought.

Then there are SF conventions. At each one I go to there is still a ‘Women in SF’ panel. There are arguments over panel parity and whether it’s a good thing for women or not. Plus, the disturbing revelations over ‘creepers’ in cons and the vitriol thrown at those who’ve been strong enough to speak out is nothing short of disgusting.

So it’s clear the misogynistic beast is very much alive and stomping around the SF world.

Mostly, I scratch my head to try and understand why this might still be the case. SF should, by its very nature, be progressive. There’s no clear reason to me that the field should be so dominated by men. I assume it’s something to do with the science part of SF and the fact that girls have, historically, not been as encouraged to study or enjoy science as boys. So maybe there’s a feeling that if you don’t hold a science degree, you can’t fully understand SF. And dear god, don’t attempt to write it!

And yet, so many women are writing it. And writing it wonderfully. Lauren Buekes, Margret Atwood, Madeline Ashby, Tricia Sullivan, Aliette de Bodard, Jo Walton. Cassandra Rose Clarke. And those are just the names off the top of my head.

So why are so many men still spitting at the idea of ‘girls playing in their sandpit’? Why are women facing even more resistance than they were ten years ago?

I like to believe it’s because we’re so close. We’ve come so far, we’ve made our mark on their territory, and we’re not going anywhere. And that scares them. By them, I’m not of course talking about all men. I’m talking about those few individuals who are holding on to the legs of patriarchy, like frightened children, wailing because someone is sharing their toys.Well, yes, we are sharing your toys and we’re going to keep on doing it. Because you know what? They’re cool toys. Spaceships! Robots! Lasers! Time machines! And above all IDEAS! They’re not ‘boys toys’, nor have they ever been. Since Mary Shelly speculated on what would happen if Galvanism might one day restore life, these ideas have belonged to both genders equally.

Society has tried, in various, pernicious ways, to divide the genders. To place men in the blue corner and women in the pink corner, and keep us fighting. But we’re starting to see through their schemes. To refuse to play by their rules. Women and men are joining forces to try and make SF a healthier place for everyone. It may take us time, but we’ll get there.

So, yes, we’re still fighting. And we’ll keep fighting till there’s no need for ‘Women in SF’ panels or sexual harassment procedures at conventions.

Until we can all return to the blissful state I existed in as a child, where gender simply wasn’t an issue.

9 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Kim Curran Says No One Ever Told Her That Women Didn’t Write Science Fiction”

  1. I try to ignore the gender problem but some have reversed it on me claiming by ignoring the problem, I’m adding to the problem. I say “damn if I do, damned if I don’t”

  2. Some men will always try to stop aquality between the sexes, but just to this point is really childish behavior, as you say, crying because someone else is playing with their toys! They are the unfortunate males, who’ve grown up being taught that just because they’re male, they have certain superior qualities to preserve. With time, and a few generations of good education, if it’s available, they might grow out of it. In the mean time such attitudes remain irritating, to say the least; dangerous in some cases. I only hope that women SciFi writers will persevere, as some of the best, most imaginative and realistic stories are written by the ‘gentle’ sex (an expression I HATE!). This shows how little influence male writers have on the division of the talent, and I must admit that some of the worst SF I’ve read has male authors, whereas I’ve not yet read a really bad SF story written by a woman.
    Quantity doesn’t replace quality.
    So please, ladies who write SF, continue. you’re good in my humble opinion, as an SF addict, and I don’t read by the sex of the author, but by the quality of the work.

  3. I agree with absolutely everything you have said. It sickens me that some men still have these misogynistic attitudes towards women in all various aspects of life. Literature is for all, gender should not come into it.
    I found it really interesting that you wrote in your novels from a male point of view, breaking boundaries even further :).

  4. I read many books by woman authors when young.
    Ellen MacGregor and her scientific tourist, Miss Pickerell. Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary. And Astrid Lindgren. Pippi is great! I think she must be related to Popeye.
    P. L. Travers. There may have been a bio in the copy of Mary Poppins for even with those vague initials I always knew she was a girl and probably British.
    Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty horrified and fascinated. I read The Wonderful Flight To The Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron several times although I still don’t care for mushrooms. And many more fondly remembered writers.
    As I recall, at the age I never cared which gender wrote a book. Girls were strange for other reasons.
    Maybe the best we can do is to give our kids lots of books and stories by many different kinds of people. It cant’ hurt.

  5. So many fascinating sociological possibilities to explore in this subject. :) I didn’t actually realize that books were created by *humans* until I was about 13. But since I read mostly sci-fi and fantasy, I figured that was what I would write.

    And it *should* be progressive, shouldn’t it(I said the same thing in a blog post on something creepy said by Orson Scott Card, re. homosexuality). Science-fiction can encompass people with one sex or six. You’d think *women* would seem downright commonplace by comparison.

    Are male SF fans really the socially-inept nerds they are stereotyped to be, that they are so attached to the adolescent male orientation of the early genre? Those had some truly weird attempts at creating female characters who were slightly more than alien-bait. I think it was the first Lensman book that featured a heroine who was a “muscle-reader.” By draping herself all over some guy and pressing her throbbing bosoms to his breast, she could practically read his mind by detecting minute muscle contractions. That was about as far as I got in that story. Or the heroine of The Puppet Masters whose superpower was being able to tell when somebody was possessed by an alien because he didn’t get aroused at the sight of her.

    @Starlyte: At least the men doing most of the writing means they are responsible for a larger volume of crud. ;)

  6. For anyone in London this weekend there’s a celebration of feminist SF –

    http://www.thehorsehospital.com/now/women-on-the-edge-of-time/

    “The inexhaustible and speculative realms of science fiction have traditionally and continue to be an effective and vital arena to play out the various potentials of feminist politics and ideologies, a platform to re-imagine and critique the current structures, norms and gender/identity constructs and lay bare the most fundamental and pervasive of injustices.

    “No other genres so actively invite representations of the ultimate goals of feminism: worlds free of sexism, worlds in which women’s contributions (to science) are recognized and valued, worlds in which the diversity of women’s desire and sexuality, and worlds that move beyond gender.” – Elyce Rae Helford”

  7. The only moral way not to get to a point where we don’t have to think about actual problems is to fix them. Not seeing problems (which isn’t something Kim is doing at all, but some here are talking about) does make them worse. It allows them to continue. The problem might not affect you, but it does others.

    Imagine taking a train and noticing a broken stop light every morning where people have to dodge to avoid traffic. You’re in a train, so even if a car hits someone, it’s not your car, not your life. So you say nothing, because why bother?

    That’s what not noticing or talking about this issue in literature is like for male readers. It’s an effort. You have to stand up and make things happen, you’re not going to directly benefit, and to add to it, other men are going to treat you poorly. But never as poorly as they treat the women. The easy, safe thing to do is to say nothing.

    It’s not a traditionally heroic path. You have to wonder why more heroes in literature don’t actually make that point in books. Heroes stand up against dark empires, or mad killers, or alien invasions. Standing up against systemic sexist BS isn’t the sort of thing you see in genre fiction that often. It’s not very glamorous is why. It’s a long uphill fight against a culture, not an evil robot form the future.

    Fighting to change an non-fictional culture is serious work.

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