James Tiptree, Andre Norton, and C.L. Moore all have in common that they were science-fiction writers. They also were all female and they began writing in a time when it was difficult to sell science-fiction books under a female name.
At least that's what editors and publishers (who were almost all male) thought.
Whether or not they were right, I can’t say. Perhaps there were studies done to prove the point, but maybe it was simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can only buy what’s on the market and if most or all of the books available are by authors with non-female sounding names, the sales records will show that male authored books are what sell.
We are supposed to be past all that kind of foolishness in the science-fiction field now and women are valued, respected, have equal opportunities to men, and all that good stuff. In getting writing jobs, that's generally true both in book publishing and scriptwriting. The trouble is that while it’s not much, if any bit, harder for a woman to get a scriptwriting gig in Hollywood than for a man, female characters on screen have not come such a long way, baby.
How many woman spaceship, starship, space station, etc. captains or senior officers of any kind, from television and movies, can you name? Even if you can come up with more than just Capt. Janeway from "Star Trek: Voyager," I’m guessing it’s not many.
One other female leader comes to my mind. There is Dr. Weir from "Stargate: Atlantis" but by the end of the show, the position of expedition leader was given to a male character.
Way back in the day when "Babylon 5" was having its identity crisis and there was to be a change in captains, the show had, and blew, the opportunity to be the first science-fiction show to put a female captain in place. It still annoys me, all these years later that J. Michael Straczynski didn’t put Susan Ivanova in as the new captain. She was strong, capable and would have been a great role model for female science-fiction fans. Instead we got John Sheridan. Same old deal.
So, it was left to Star Trek to be, once again, the show that did something not done before on television. The original "Star Trek" gave us a crew of a diverse nature and we saw the first interracial kiss on American television. This might not seem big now but in the late 1960s, it was a ginormous.
When Capt. Janeway appeared on the scene in "Voyager," it seemed to be a sign that the wall that female characters hit in terms of having positions of authority had fallen. For a while, we thought things had changed.
Nope. That wall is still there.
I can’t deny that there are many strong female characters in science-fiction on film and television but they are not in the positions of power in their stories. They sometimes seize the power temporarily but they don’t get the titles.
For our purposes here, when I use the name Hollywood, it encompasses the whole of television and film making no matter what the true geographical locations of the productions are.
And, oh yeah, forget art for art’s sake. This stuff is big business and as such, is going to follow the money. Market research, for which a lot of money is paid, tells Hollywood that it’s a young audience that buys tickets, and cars, and phones and iPads and such. Television’s target audience extends the upper age to a whopping 49 (yes, do read sarcasm into that) and movies aim mostly at the 18-24 audience. This means that most of the female characters have to be young and hot.
Young heterosexual men and young gay women want to watch young and hot women, and the armchair psychologist in me thinks that young women of both orientations may want to identify with young and hot women characters.
It’s often said that if you want to learn about a culture, go to its fiction. I think this is a valid notion. Film and telly don’t often lead us to new ideas. Mostly, they mirror the current state of the culture. Our culture has made some strides in male and female equality but we all know most of the power positions are held by men. So, women in the media will not be in many power positions either.
This is a bad thing for science-fiction, which is the genre that is supposed to give us new and different ideas and to look toward the future and change in culture.
I didn’t make this stuff up out of thin air. I have had these thoughts for a long time but they were backed up recently when I was on a panel called "Why Aren’t There More Captain Janeways?" at Gallifrey One. My panel mates, Jill Sherwin and Gillian Horvath, who are working scriptwriters, told the audience over and over that female characters in science-fiction film and telly have to be young and hot. Even they who are in the business can’t do much to change things because the driving force is economics. It’s all right to have a woman kick ass in a film or on the telly but she will have to be the underdog and she will have to be young and hot. She will not likely be the starship captain.
The big question I put forth to the audience at that panel, which was mostly young people, is this. When you are twenty or thirty years older, who will you be able to identify with in the media? It’s not that science-fiction fans over the target age ranges don’t want to watch people younger than themselves. That’s fine but when nobody is past thirty, it begins to be off-putting for many fans who are no longer young.
When I am at conventions where the audience is young, I often tell them that they should not let anyone convince them that they have to stop doing what they do when they get older. I think that if they don’t, and if many other fans, don’t quit their interests in science-fiction, change will come. They’ll be the older audience that will be courted by the media because they have the money and spend it on science-fiction entertainment and on the cars and phone and whatever. Then, they will be a driving force and we’ll get more Capt. Janeways.
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