The War on Critical Thinking and Evolving Social Mores

I’ve read some truly hilarious “Science fiction has become nothing more than romance novels in outer space!” arguments in my time, but I don’t think I’ve read one quite as poorly-written and outright hysterical (word used with all due irony) as the article on The Spearhead about “The War on Science Fiction and Marvin Minsky.” (Thanks to Eric Selinger for the link.)

As far as I can tell, the argument in the article can be divided into the following premise and conclusion:

1. Science fiction has been egregiously feminized. Witness the new Battlestar Galactica, where Starbuck is now a woman. (Sidenote: Dear Dirk Benedict: Both Starbucks as played by you and Katee Sackhoff possess gonads. Gonads are not, as you seem to think, strictly male. If they were, that would lead to really interesting results, because assuming humans still reproduced sexually, there’d be a lot more gay sex in the world. Is that really what you’re trying to push for? Think about it.) In short: science fiction is now about stupid relationship drama, and males don’t like stupid relationship drama, they like doing things and exploding things and exploring things and exploding the things they’ve just explored. (I would just like to state for the record that writers like Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Vernor Vinge and Kim Stanley Robinson have never hinged works on the intricacies of human relationship and experience, because that would make them writers of stupid relationship drama, and therefore pansy boys and not at all true purveyors of science fiction.)

2. At any rate, because of this egregious feminization of science fiction, the—ah, fuck it, I’m just going to quote the article verbatim, because it’s JUST THAT GOOD:

As we know science fiction has inspired boys to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology as men.  With women killing science fiction on television, the current generation of boys won’t have this opportunity to be inspired to work in these fields.  There is still a great deal of written science fiction that is real science fiction so all is not lost.  However, many boys who would have gone on to make scientific discoveries and invent new technologies will not do so since they will never be inspired by science fiction as boys.

I’m not going to attempt to dissect this article line-by-line, because if nothing else, the commenters are doing a decent enough job, but I do want to make two observations:

1. Beneath the anger in the article is a true undertone of fear. This was written by a deeply insecure person, one who sees the world changing around him and is frantic to keep the world static as opposed to adapting to the new realities. This fear is based on a foundation of outraged privilege. When a majority in power has to give up its special privileges, or when it has to share those same privileges with everybody else (therefore making it resemble a basic right, as opposed to a privilege), the majoritarian take is always to cast these losses of power as evidence of bullying, and the sharing of rights as the gaining of special rights by the other minority. As the default milieu changes, the majority will fight to keep things static, because the majority see things as neutral or balanced instead of weighed in their favor. One of the hallmarks—one of the greatest perks, in fact—of societal and cultural privilege is never having to think about it. You just take it for granted. This struggle happens over and over and over again: whenever inroads are made towards equality between the races, the genders or sexual orientations, those who are deeply invested in keeping the things as they used to be start lashing out, with “things need to stay in their place because that’s where they’ve always belonged” being one of their greatest rallying cries.

2. It doesn’t matter that things have never stayed where they belong, and they certainly never stayed in the place envisioned by the people fighting change. Many of the appeals to history or authority by these people are strangely ahistorical. A lot of the appeals to a return to tradition or the right order are typically based on relatively recent history—the pattern I’ve noticed for appeals for a return to traditional womanhood or traditional marriage seem to pinpoint either middle-class white mores of the 1950s or the late Victorian as a desirable era to emulate. And even that’s filtered through a very particular lens: nostalgia, which gives the past a rather nice, fuzzy glow and a pretty gloss over all its intricacies, difficulties and inconsistencies. What’s more, a lot of our current view of the relatively recent past is informed, not by documentarian depictions, but by Hollywood and advertising. We think of John Wayne and Cary Grant; we don’t think of blue-collar families in which both parents worked and scrabbled to make a living. Picking some inchoate time in the past when “men were men and women were women” allows you to ignore things like like how at various points in time, manly men used to wear satin and high heels, or wrote epic poetry about falling in love, and women worked in factories.

I don’t have a good way to end this, other than to point out this bit of absurdity: Starbuck being played by a female, the blurring of old gender roles and the advent of people acting like, y’know, people in science fiction means we’ll have fewer scientists. I know, I know, the article writer specified boys, but really, male scientists are what really count. How’s that for a conclusion?

Edited to add:

One more point I’d like to make. The definition of “male” and “masculine” as used by masculists such as those at The Spearhead are self-reflexive, and it drives me nuts. When you point to men who enjoy the new incarnation of BSG, or who enjoy gender subversion, the first counter is almost always “Well, that’s because they’re not REAL men. Real men are defined by what real men enjoy.” STAB STAB STAB.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sarah W says:

    Oh.  So it’s science fiction’s fault that boys aren’t entering the scientific fields, and not No Child Left Behindpooly paid teacherspoor school districtsemphasis on sports over academicslack of parental guidanceprohibitive school loansetc.

    How marvelously masculine to be able to pinpoint the very cause with such precision!  I am all aflutter . . .

  2. 2
    liz m says:

    I think many boys would go into science if they thought they could meet a chick like Starbuck.

    Y’know, I was in the hospital a lot over the last two years and once I was watching a marathon of the original (and crazy sexist) BSG. My admitting DR said “When it starts to piss her off, she’s clear to leave.” Hours later, it started to piss me off, and they let me go.

  3. 3
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    That article reads like it was written by a whiny fourteen-year-old boy in the throes of homosexual panic.  Bleah.

  4. 4
    Lovecow2000 says:

    I loved this Candy, thank you!  Your point 2 very eloquently expressed what is behind white male panic.  : )

  5. 5
    kaigou says:

    You’re absolutely right it’s written from a position of fear. Hell, maybe even stark raving terror, because there’s certainly a fair bit of raving in there. Thing is, raving about SF/F is an attempt to shove back into the box what, in the real world, is halfway out of the box and not looking to take the shoving back. So, instead, shove down on the fiction—which isn’t a stupid way to do it, if you think of how much fiction (in all its formats) does impact our views of the world. If you can control the artists, the visionaries, then you can influence a lot of our perceptions about How Things Are (or even how things should be).

    When a majority in power has to give up its special privileges, or when it has to share those same privileges with everybody else (therefore making it resemble a basic right, as opposed to a privilege), the majoritarian take is always to cast these losses of power as evidence of bullying, and the sharing of rights as the gaining of special rights by the other minority.

    Nail. Hammer. Bang.

    Reminds me of one my all-time favorite letters to the editor.

    from LA Times

    My 4-year old son, Ben, is a big fan of the space shuttle. We ate breakfast in front of the TV a couple weeks ago to see it take off, and Tuesday morning we watched a replay of the landing. We also watched some footage of mission control on NASA TV. The voice of mission control was a woman, and we could see her as she communicated with flight commander Collins up in space somewhere. I asked Ben if he would rather pilot the space shuttle or work at mission control and he said, “I thought only girls could do those things.” I found myself uttering words that would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago: “No, Ben, boys can do those things too.”

    People say this shuttle mission wasn’t much more than an expensive garbage pickup from the International Space Station. But the lesson it taught young girls across this country made it worth every penny.

    TRACI MANN
    Los Angeles

  6. 6
    HelenM says:

    Candy, when I grow up, I want to be half as articulate and awesome as you.

  7. 7
    Lyssa says:

    Wow… First very well said Candy! Your verbal critique was well spoken, unfortunately I doubt that the writer of that ‘cough’ article will be able to read Smart Bitches, trashy books as it may threaten his masculinity too much.

    I am stunned however at the collection of people complaining about women in Science Fiction.  They seem to forget that for years academics have divided Science fiction into “hard science fiction’ which deals primarily with the techinical aspects and ‘soft science fiction’ which serve as a ‘literary sandbox’ for exploring issues of race, gender, and relationships under various scenarios. Presenting in the Science fiction stories philosophical thought puzzles for the masses. These frontiers are just as valid and dangerous as any we as humans would discover in space, for they are the frontiers for our own morality.  But this author seems to disregard those stories as unimportant.

    But back to BSG ,Starbuck was not just a character for young men, he was the hottie. Who cared if he could fly, he looked good. So I think it is great to have a female character to inspire young women, and young men.  And this country NEEDS, (heck the WORLD needs) young gifted individuals of both sexes to be inspired by science fiction to discover the limits of what we can do.  Thank you for tossing the current whirlpool of bigotry regarding gender in Science Fiction to my attention.

    spam word dark65, (these people have been living in the dark since 19 err 1865.)

  8. 8
    Candy says:

    Holy crap, I’ve just read John Scalzi’s take, and it’s fantastic. My favorite bit:

    Well, actually, the thing to do is trap such creatures in a dork snare (cunningly baited with Cool Ranch Doritos, Diet Ultra Violet Mountain Dew and a dual monitor rig open to Drunken Stepfather on one screen and Duke Nukem 3D on the other), and then cart them to a special preserve somewhere in Idaho for such as their kind. We’ll tell them it’s a “freehold” — they’ll like that — and that they will be with others of a like mind, and there they will live as men, free from the horrible feminizing effects of women and their gonad shriveling girl rays. And then we’ll tag them with GPS and if they ever try to leave the freehold, we’ll have them hunted down by roller derby teams with spears. That’s really the optimal solution.

    I’m enamored with the idea of a spear-wielding roller derby team. That shit is HOT.

  9. 9

    Well, at least now I’ve got an entirely putrid theory to underpin my “I should’ve been a sheik’s mistress rather than a scientist” lament.

  10. 10

    If someone thinks that the young male will be turned away from science because, suddenly, he thinks that guys that do science get to discover, explode, *and* have sex, instead of just discovering and exploding, I suspect there is something broken about his model of male thought.

    I’ve never thought that men were the cold, grunting, relationshipless loners that some men (and some women) seem to think they ought to be.  But hey, I only grew up reading men’s writing—all that “male” sci fi and fantasy.  And once you get beyond the dragons and armies of doom and spaceships, I think you’ll find that men and women are both romantics at heart.

    After all, there’s a reason J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife have “Beren” and “Luthien” engraved on their tombstones.

  11. 11
    Nadia says:

    Hoo boy, shades of an argument had with my FIL several years back when he was bemoaning the stats that more women than men were going to college.  Seems that all us edumacated females were going to take the good jobs from men who really need them, and also scare off men from going to college because it was becoming “girly”.  After scraping my exploded brain off the wallpaper, I informed him of how smugly happy the boys at my college were with the 3:2 girl-boy ratio because of the target-rich dating environment, and reminded him of his four granddaughters who might want to support themselves one day.  Jackasses abound.

    Spot on, Candy.  I can smell the fear from here.

  12. 12
    Phyllis says:

    “As we know science fiction has inspired boys to pursue careers in science, engineering, and technology as men.”

    And GOD KNOWS we don’t want girls to do any of those things! Their brains are too soft. They *want* to sit and pet kittens and wash my gym socks all day. No place for kittens in a intergalactic laser battle!

    (And totally LOL at the roller derby!)

  13. 13

    Awesomely ignorant link, awesomely smart and sharp critique. Love point 2 of your observations enormously – I have never been able to articulate this as succinctly and clearly as you have. I may even print that bit off and keep it in my purse to counter any anti-feminist arguments I encounter in the future (and there will be some, oh yes). Also, would like to point out that Dirk What’s-his-name was cast because he was a hottie, as was Richard Hatch who played Apollo. I work in TV, and I can tell you right now that that was for The Ladies, not the future generation of male scientists. The original BSG also had lots and lots of romance – sooo much, and I should know, I loved it and I write romance for a living – and a freaking-cute-as-hell robot dog and a little homeless kiddy.  None of these things strike these nostalgic scaredy-cats as being designed to appeal to The Ladies?

  14. 14

    Candy, between you and Scalzi you’ve covered it all.  Thank you.

  15. 15
    PK says:

    Oh thank God someone took that article to task (that would be you, Candy and the Scalzi) because I thought my head was going to explode when I read it earlier today.  My eyebrows began their journey to my hairline when I got to the sentence about the feminizing of the ‘SyFy’ channel.  Um, like the rest of us, including women, don’t think that was a dumbass move.  So he’s mad that Starbuck on the new BSG is a woman?  Wow.  Dude’s got issues.  And now this guy wants to blame women for all the evils in and around the current state of science fiction or the study of science?  I got to enraged that I missed the point he was trying to make.  Oh, that’s right.  He didn’t make one—just an ass out of himself.

  16. 16
    Janicu says:

    Have you looked at the rest of that website? It creeps me out. It talks about empowering men but it feels like it’s at the expense of women. And.. the about page says the blog “combines the talents of some of the Anglosphere’s best bloggers on men’s issues” . Anglosphere’s??!

  17. 17
    Laurel says:

    My IQ might have dropped twenty points just reading that drivel.

    That is a guy who has never gotten laid. His prospects might look up if he would sully his bookshelf with anything that might give him some insight into heterosexual interaction. Fembot android sex doesn’t count.

    Also, has he ever heard of Star Trek? The original series was misogynistic but always had a little romance. The spinoffs all have romantic subplots.

    Sci Fi has always been the first place to have alternative characters, inter-racial dating, even inter-species dating. And here I thought it was ‘cause sci-fi fans were all open-minded and stuff.

  18. 18
    Laurel says:

    Oh! Is anyone else reminded of Dwight Schrute?

  19. 19
    AngW says:

    There are so many ways I can pick apart that infantile rant, but instead I’ll just comment on one of the funnier notations:

    The first slash fiction was about the original Star Trek series where women wrote stories about Kirk and Spock in a homosexual relationship.

    When I was a wee young lass cruising about the intarwebs, long before Google existed, one of the first eye-gouging experiences was Kirk-Spock slash.

    It was written by MEN, all of it. (Aside from the eye-gouging the writing was so poor I wanted to whip out the internet red pen.)

  20. 20
    CaroleM says:

    Went to read the article -holy crap -it’s an offensive site all around, and the links away are jsut as bad (try finding the “Feminism and The Economy” one.  I hope all the little girls that read scifi and grow up to be scientists find a way to leave these idiots on another planet.

  21. 21
    Tina C. says:

    And here I thought it was ‘cause sci-fi fans were all open-minded and stuff.

    Well, many of them are.  Unfortunately, there are also a lot of “Nice Guys” that are into sci-fi, too.  “Nice Guys” can always be recognized by their mating call:  “Girls don’t want to date “Nice Guys”, like me—they just want some guy that treats them like shit!”  Of course, “Nice Guys” are never really nice.  They always expect a quid pro quo arrangement—they listen to your problems and act like your best friend and, as a woman, you’re supposed to be so overcome with gratitude, you become their sex doll.  When this does not happen as it did in their late-night Lora Croft fantasies, they get pissed off.  Instead of looking at their own behavior and misplaced expectations, they place the blame where it really belongs (in their secretly misogynist minds)—women.  “Nice Guys” tend to age into bitter, angry, openly misogynist losers, but it’s not their fault.  Just ask them.

    From what I read that Candy quoted here, I can guarantee that this guy tells absolutely everyone that he’s a “Nice Guy”.

  22. 22
    Brandi says:

    MightyGodKing did a brutal dissection of “Nice Guys” in this post:

    http://mightygodking.com/index.php/2007/12/16/the-internet-nice-guy-rears-his-ugly-head-once-more/

  23. 23
    Kelly says:

    Oh yeah. Because shows like Star Trek: The Original Series were all about boys killing and blowing up shit and not at all about relationships and the human condition. And totally didn’t inspire millions of words of slash fiction. Nope. Not at all. *insert sarcastic eye roll here*

  24. 24

    I find this funny, as does my husband. I’m quite proud to know that what I write is causing such a stir, that I’m “helping” bring about the downfall of “Real Men” in science. (insert eyeroll) So what? I’m a woman and I LOVE a good sci-fi film or TV show, whenever a good one rolls around. Why can’t women love science, too? And my 7y/o son is a scifi nut. Why does he love scifi so much? Because his father and I taught him to. It’s all about what the child is exposed to. He’s been around scifi more than the other three, so he’s the most into it.

    I read the post by Dirk, and I hate to say it, but I agreed with some of what he said. He pointed out exactly what I didn’t like about the NEW BSG. I, personally, preferred the original, and though my husband watched the new (he only liked the actual science in it [ships]) I never paid it any attention because all it did was piss me off. I hated every character on it. I hated how dark it had become, how blurred the lines between good and bad turned.

    It’s all about “men” who are afraid of a change that’s already happened and passed them by without their realizing it. They’re “behind” and it drives them crazy, so they have to toss out these asinine ideas and childish rants to make themselves feel “real” and “manly.” All it does is show how little they really know about the real world around them.

    Spam word: Fear99, how appropriate. :)

  25. 25
    LG says:

    “The Spearhead”?  Complete with an image of a spearhead?

    Maybe I’ve been reading too much Judge a Book by Its Cover (very funny book cover blog), but I can’t help but think of Phallic Phridays.  Even their site design continues the whole scared, “men are men and women who can talk give manly men cooties” thing.

  26. 26
    Karen S. says:

    Courtney: But women like fantasy/paranormal more, which is why SyFy is showing more of it—because the network is going all girly!  Ergo, Lord of the Rings = girly.

    Yeah, I think something just exploded in my brain a little at that.

    Laurel: LOL.  “Bears.  Beets.  Battlestar Galactica.”

    recaptcha: progress54.  The rest of the world has progressed quite a bit since 1954 but these guys stay firmly entrenched in 1950s fantasyland.

  27. 27
    AM says:

    A general rule of thumb:

    If someone (of either sex) feels the need to explain to you how “nice” they are, they aren’t.  Ditto for “tolerant”.  Or “generous”.

  28. 28

    On the upside, I can’t see him enticing a woman to reproduce. Gotta love Darwinism!…wait…that’s science and now my poor girlie brain exploded.

  29. 29
    Atsiko says:

    Thanks for pointing out this article, Candy.  It was indeed “hilarious,” and the snarky responses really made my day.  Normally, this isn’t my kind of topic, but I was so incensed I had to blog about it.

    Honestly, we can (almost) always use more “romance” in science fiction.  And character.  That helps, too.

    Great post.

  30. 30
    Tina C. says:

    Having read the article and the subsequent comments, I have to say that those are some of the saddest, angriest, loneliest group of self-loathing misogynists I’ve seen in a while.  Wow.  Women just take everything good away from them and even use shaming language like, “You spend too much time on the internet” to keep them from finding like-minded losers from which to learn the Truth!  I knew I was powerful, but who knew that when I complained about my ex spending 15 hours a day playing WoW instead of finding a job, I was holding down the ENTIRE MALE GENDER!  Damn, I’m good.

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