Science Fiction, Canonization, Marginalization, and the Academy

By Gary Wastfahl; George Slusser | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
The Things Women Don't Say

Susan Kray

No matter how seriously we try to challenge “patriarchal” assumptions, we often end by defaulting to them. What began as innovation ends by reinforcing the familiar. Hence, as Robin Roberts notes, “feminist science fiction… [is] informed by what has been identified by psychologists as a feminine sensibility.”1 Feminist science fiction is also informed by politics directly based on a traditionally patriarchal or “masculinist” agenda.

For example, consider the emphasis on difference in “real life.” As Catherine MacKinnon points out, the interests of male dominance are well served when we dwell on differences, because the female is always marked as “different”—different from a male standard—rather than the other way around. Men, of course, are just as different from women as women are from men, but “For each of their differences from women, what amounts to an affirmative action plan is in effect, otherwise known as the [taken-for-granted] structure and values of American society.”2 Languages (to overgeneralize) even create feminine grammatical forms by adding feminine markers to masculine default forms (hero + “ine” = heroine). Societies struggle to decide how different women are or should be from men, assuming a normative male standard and asking what protections or restrictions should apply to women. Societies do not ponder how men deviate from the normative female standard or ask what protections or restrictions should apply to men.

Feminists generally build on this same debate, many insisting on difference, a few denying it. And science fiction and fantasy are if anything more fanatically gender conscious than other genres, including romance; even attempts to break away merely reaffirm the politics of gender. On the whole, even works of science fiction and fantasy blessed by feminist critics take the archetypal gender underpinnings of American society much as they find them. After all, no genre can explore everything. Some factors must be held constant while one varies the others. Celebrated works of science fiction and fantasy usually assume the immutability of familiar gender arrangements, often speculating that they imply deep truths about

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