Tag Archives: feminism

[July 6, 1962] Enjoy Being A Girl? (Gender and Possibilities in the 1960s)

[The rush of modern technologies has created whole new industries, one result of which has been the breaking down of traditional barriers, as Ms. Lucas will illustrate…]


by Victoria Lucas

As a child I learned that there were expectations.  Not so much rules.  I don’t remember being taught rules except for rules of grammar or other school subjects, including physical education class.  Those Expectations determined What You Did, Who You Were, and other facets of one’s life including Who You Know.

My encounters with Expectations came to a head on two occasions that I remember in my childhood, one when I was somewhere between 6 and 8, and one when I was 12.  When I was 6, maybe 7, I remember sliding out of bed on the way to getting up and, with my head touching the floor but my legs still on the bed, having the epiphany that I was responsible for my own actions–not my parents or anyone else.  Obviously it took me some time to work out the ramifications of this, but I had the basic concept, anyway.

When I was 12, I discovered that I was A Girl. 

This hit me like a heavy blow.  Suddenly lots of things were excluded from my future.  Girls didn’t do science or compose music.  Girls were nurses, assistants, secretaries, and so on, but not generally People of Importance unless they were actresses.  Even then they were inferior to Actors, and people didn’t really take them seriously.  I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr, and I don’t remember knowing anything about Eleanor Roosevelt or any of the women who have been resurrected from European
culture as having had something to do with their own futures.

As a teenager I ran into the Girl thing again when my high-school counselor specifically delimited my career choices: secretary, wife and mother, waitress, teacher, or nurse.  That was it.  I had to choose among those.  Since I had no boy friends, couldn’t remember a food order even after I myself had made it, and was squeamish about blood, that left secretary and teacher.  I kind of held onto “teacher” for awhile since there was nothing I could do about it till I finished college.  So I took secretarial courses, sacrificing a third year of my beloved Latin to be sure I could get a Job after high school.  A Career?  Now that was something totally unknown.  Mostly those were Men things.  I haven’t got the hang of those yet.

I was never given the results of the intelligence test I took when I was in school.  I don’t think anyone paid any attention to it (possibly the Girl thing, but it never occurred to me it might be a “Spic” thing too, given my name.) I tended to be a Teacher’s Pet, but that wasn’t an advantage.  Socially it was a bad disadvantage, and it took getting through a few grades to latch onto that concept.  So I accepted my father’s preference of a nickname (“Vicki” for “Victoria”), learned to be very vague about answers to any question like “So how’d you do on that test?” and was careful to be ready to expound on anything we had to have read before class. 

This gave me the reputation in high school for being happy to explain anything to anybody in the minutes before class started so they could rush it onto paper and onto the teacher’s desk, making homework out of it.  And the further nickname “Encyclopedia.”  Classmates would tackle me on the way to class, and I would move slowly to the classroom door followed by people asking me to regurgitate the day’s book report or lesson.  So I was trying to avoid other peoples’ Expectations – for instance, being smart made one Stuck Up. 

I tried to go to parties, but my Expectations that these would be rational and enjoyable events were ruined the first time someone drove me to a drunken high school shindig.  I think I went to two parties
during high school and regretted going to both of them, not because anything bad happened, but because I realized I didn’t know what Fun was, and I was terrified of the driving my rides exhibited.

My idea of Fun, as it turns out, has a lot to do with foreign movies (including British “Carry On” comedies) and some few American ones, along with reading, writing, research, and intellectual company.  Also with interesting music, and my idea of “interesting music” turns out to be very strange.  Last summer at Stanford I took an Introduction to Music course to round out my summer units. 

Sitting at the back of the practice theater in the basement of Dinkelspiel, I would nod off to the strains of Beethoven or others of the (to me) boring 20th-Century Canon—which was mainly what was being taught.  I should explain, since like as not the “20th-Century Canon” will not be a term with which most people are familiar.  It refers to the works in Western culture that are considered to be worth teaching.  In music it refers to what people call “Classical Music”– the “three Bs,” Bach, Beethoven & Brahms, but also the rest of the “important” male composers who made European music from about 1600.  From the time I began to occupy my own piece of the house (built for my uncle and aunt before they left) I played records, starting with my mother’s 78s and finishing with all the ones in the public library—over and over.  I knew all the stuff in the course.  I just was having it organized and analyzed for me.

But, as the last thing he did in the class, the instructor introduced “tape music” to us by telling us that it was the latest thing, putting a tape recorder on a chair in the middle of the stage, starting it up, and walking off.  Now, I know what a tape recorder is.  Here’s the little portable number I used to do sound for Bob Hammond’s “Solitaire” and “Bon Voyage” and Robinson Jeffers’s “Cretan Woman” at the Playbox Theatre.  It only weighs 25 lb.

My friend and mentor Barney Childs wrote the incidental music for those.  But this …

As I sat listening, the music spilled out of the machine and over the apron, into the orchestra pit.  Since music has no gravity, only levity, it went UP the aisle stairs all the way to me in the back and swirled around my ankles before it receded.

I haven’t been the same since.  Neither have my Expectations.  This time, the only thing that being A Girl has to do with it is that I don’t even remember whether the composer was male or female.  It didn’t matter.  Whoever it was spent perhaps hundreds of hours recording, rerecording, treating recorded sounds, whether music or any sound, as material to be distorted, slowed down, twanged and edited with the same little razor-blade kit that I use, then rerecorded onto a final reel of tape that would bear all the machinations of the composer.  This was new. 

It was a hallucinatory hopestorm that drove that music up the aisle.  There is still room for the new, even if it’s female.  Even if it’s me.

[February 14, 1962] St. Valentine’s Update (The Second Sex in SFF, Part V)


by Gideon Marcus

It’s not quite time for a funeral, yet!

Nearly a decade ago, the Chicken Littles of our genre scribbled at length in our magazines and buttonholed each other at conventions to voice their fears that science fiction was dying.  Well, it is true that we are down to just six American sff digests per month, off of the 40 magazine peak of 1953.  On the other hand, I’d argue that we’re not that much worse off for having lost the lesser monthlies.  Moreover, sff novels still seem to be doing a brisk trade.

In the three years since I started this column, I’ve seen a cadre of new writers burst onto the scene; clearly, no one told them that their field is dead!  And while sff continues to be something of a man’s world, this fact is changing, slowly but surely.  Since just last year, when I wrote 18 mini-biographies of the women authors of science fiction, I’ve become exposed to a whole new crop of female bylines.  Some of them are just new to me, having been in the biz for a long time.  Others are genuinely fresh onto the scene. 

Without further ado, the supplemental list for early 1962:

Doris Pitkin Buck

Currently an English teacher at Ohio State University, at least two authors that I know have enjoyed her tutelage: John Jakes and Harlan Ellison.  Mrs. Buck is a comparative rarity in our genre.  Not many manage to balance unabashed love for sff and a “respectable” career in academia.  Said career includes an active college writing stint, a cluster of stories written in the early 50s and a couple of recent pieces, of which I was not particularly fond, but that nevertheless suggest a high degree of literacy. 

Mildred Clingerman

Like Buck, Clingerman is a veteran with ten years of professional sff experience under her belt.  Her consistent career has produced 16 stories, most of them published in the pages of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Sadly for my readers, her last one came out in 1958, just before I started this column.  However, she recently released A Cupful of Space, a collection of all of work to date, so you can enjoy her quirky, often whimsical, occasionally macabre stylings all in a sitting.  Like Buck, she’s a teacher, at the University of Arizona.

Kate Wilhelm

The elusive Ms. Wilhelm has enjoyed a prolific career that started in 1956 and yet has rarely crossed my path.  I first encountered her excellent The Mile-Long Spaceship in the April 1957 Astounding.  This tale of a telepathic contact across the stars was impressive despite its extreme shortness; it must have really impressed Astounding editor, John Campbell since his magazine tends to be the most staggish of the digests.  Her latest work, A Time to Keep was not in the same league, but everyone is entitled to periodic variances.  Here’s hoping she publishes more works in the magazines I cover – there aren’t many that I don’t these days…

Otis Kidwell

Otis Kidwell, who acquired the surname Burger some time after her birth, sprang onto the sff scene just last year with the compelling The Zookeeper.  However, it was hardly the first publication of this noteworthy New Yorker (great-grandaughter of famed abolitionist, Sydney Howard Gay) – her short pieces have appeared in The New Yorker since 1957. 

Sydney J. Van Scyoc

“Joyce,” as her family and friends know her, took on her mannish first name to help her break into the science fiction market.  It took several years of writing for her work to see print, but her premiere tale Shatter the Wall, which came out just last month, shows real promise. 

Maria Russell

Ms. Russell (real name, Mary R. Standard) is a true newcomer.  Her first (and currently only) story is The Deer Park, a haunting, surreal tale that was a fine addition to the F&SF in which it appeared.  Details on her non-writing career are scarce, but I am given to understand that she is computer systems analyst in Connecticut, a fine career for a science fictioneer. 

Anne Walker


Picture courtesy of the Vassar Chronicle

Ms. Walker (also known as Mrs. Gutterman) is a Vassar graduate and New England resident with but two stories to her name, but boy were they good ones.  She’s newish, coming on the scene in 1959, so she has plenty of time ahead of her if she wants to continue.

Joy Leache

I’m afraid I know even less about Joy Leache, whose career started in 1959, and whose latest story, Satisfaction Guaranteed was a good’n.  Does anyone have a clue?

Rosemary Harris

A nurse during World War 2, Ms. Harris is Londoner whose first work, Hamlin, appeared in F&SF last year.  Hamlin is a derivative of the Pied Piper Tale, so it’s no surprise that Ms. Harris also writes childrens’ books.  Will she keep toes in both genres?

At this rate, we’ll soon reach gender parity in scientifiction, which I think will be to its benefit.  After all, that will mean we are finally seeing the best efforts of our entire population, not just one half.  I can’ wait to see who will be on the 1963 supplement!

[August 10, 1961] A Fair Deal for the Fairer Sex (Women, politics, and The Andy Griffith Show)


by Gideon Marcus

A woman on the City Council?  Say it ain’t so!

It’s not news that there just aren’t a lot of women in politics these days.  Universal suffrage is now 40 years old, but women comprise just 18 out of 437 members of the House of Representatives and 2 of 100 Senators – about 4% and 2%, respectively.  For most of us, that’s not an alarming statistic.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  But for some of us (including this columnist), equal representation can’t come soon enough.  After all, when women make up half the population but only 4% of the government, that’s a crisis of almost Revolutionary proportions.

I’m not the only one taking a stand, but sometimes support for the cause comes from the unlikeliest of places.

I watch a lot of television, maybe too much.  There’s plenty of dross in this “vast wasteland” behind the screen of the idiot box, but there’s also gold.  To wit: The Twilight Zone, Route 66, and, surprisingly, The Andy Griffith Show.

I didn’t expect much when I started watching this strange little slice-of-life program set somewhere in the southern Appalachians.  It’s a broad comedy on the face of it, with Sheriff Andy Griffith’s drawl and wide smile and Deputy Barney Fife’s pretentious bumbling, but after a few episodes, it became clear that the comedic elements are a sugar coating for deep thoughtfulness.

The other night, I happened to catch a summer rerun from early in the series, back when Griffth’s stuttering yokelish portrayal was at its least subtle.  It opens on a picnic where Elinor Walker, the town’s new pharmacist (and Andy’s recently acquired sweetheart) articulates her disappointment that there are no women running for city council.  Andy slights her concern, noting that the position is called “Councilman,” and it’d be silly if a woman held that title.

Ellie, no timid soul, is emboldened rather than discouraged by Griffith’s disparagement.  In short order, she acquires the 100 petition signatures needed to put her on the ballot, the first provided by none other than Griffith’s own Deputy Fife (speaking of unlikely support)!  The affronted men of Mayberry, North Carolina attempt to stop Ellie’s candidacy through supra-political means, refusing the women access to charge accounts at local businesses.  This tactic backfires when the women stop cooking, washing, ironing, and mending (and presumably work a little Lysistrata action in there, too).

The episode’s climax begins with a rally downtown.  The women (and a few supporting men) wave signs and shout “We want Ellie!”  Most of the men jeer.  Upset at the strife her running has caused, Ellie visits the Griffith home and tells him, “You won,” and that she will withdraw her candidacy because, “It’s just not worth it…when I decided to run I had no intention of starting a Civil War in Mayberry.”

Young Opie Griffith, steeped in his father’s latest comments, cheers, “We won, we beat them females!  We kept them in their place.  Us menfolks don’t want women running our town, do we, Pa?”

It’s a powerful moment that sharply drives home the effect of Andy’s ill-considered words.  Ashamed at the example he’s set, instead of accepting Ellie’s surrender, he heads to the rally in support.  Addressing the assembly, he notes significantly: “We men are against a woman running for council.”  The men cheer and applaud, but the sheriff continues, “The woman in this case being Ellie Walker.  Now we’re against her because she’s a woman.  But, now, when you try to think of any other reason, you kind of draw a blank.”

This proves the shot that deflates the balloon, the men acknowledging the point.  Ellie wins the election – how could she not with all the women and many of the men backing her? 

Now, if you’re from one of the more progressive parts of the nation that happens to have women in government, you might think the whole problem silly and overblown, the events of the episode a caricature.  But think about the 96% of the country without female representation.  Remember that, in Alabama, women aren’t even allowed to serve on a jury!  It’s not the situation in The Andy Griffith Show that’s implausible — it’s the happy ending.

So let’s applaud Andy Griffith for showcasing the bias against women in government, and then let’s keep working to overcome it, so that one day, some little girl who saw Ellie Walker win a seat on the Mayberry City Council might be inspired to run for Representative or Senator or, dare I say, even President of the United States. 

It’s an outcome worth the long fight, even if it takes half a century.

[June 28, 1961] The Second Sex in SFF, Part IV

Many years from now, scholars may debate furiously which decade women came to the forefront of science fiction and fantasy.  Some will (with justification) argue that it’s always been a woman’s genre – after all, was it not Mary Shelley who invented science fiction with Frankenstein’s monster?  (Regular contributor Ashley Pollard says “no.”) Others will assert that it was not until the 1950s, when women began to be regularly published, that the female sff writer came into her own. 

It’s certainly true that a wave of new woman writers has joined the club in just the last few years.  If this trend continues, I suspect we’ll see gender parity in the sf magazines by the end of this decade.  Right around the time we land on the Moon, if Kennedy’s recently expressed wishes come to fruition. 

Come meet six of these lady authors, four of whom are quite new, and two who are veterans in this, Part IV, of The Second Sex in SFF. 


Photo generously provided by the author

Kit Reed: Born in my hometown of San Diego, Ms. Reed happens to be the one person on these lists with whom I am friends.  Like me, Ms. Reed was previously a reporter.  She’s been a rising star in sff since her debut in 1958 of The Wait in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF).  Interestingly, she does not consider herself a “woman” author and thinks the distinction superfluous.  I’ve only read the four stories she’s published in F&SF, so I may not have a complete picture of her talents.  Nevertheless, I’ve liked each successive story I’ve encountered more than the last.  She’s going to be famous someday, I predict.

Jane Dixon Rice: I understand Mrs. Rice was a fairly prolific writer during the War, but so far as I can determine, she has written just three stories in recent past, all of which came out in F&SF, and all of which were pretty good.  The last was over a year ago.  I hope she hasn’t disappeared for another decade-and-a-half long hiatus.

Jane Roberts: Ms. Roberts popped on the scene in ’56, writing for F&SF, and she was a regular for the next several years.  The only woman invited for the first science-fiction writer’s conference in Milford, PA (also in 1956), her work is beautiful and haunting.  She hasn’t published anything in the genre since the ’59 piece Impasse, which is really too bad.  I hope she comes back soon.

Joanna Russ: An English graduate of the distinguished universities of Cornell and Yale, Ms. Russ has to date published just one story in the genre, the quirky Nor Custom Stale.  It’s something she squeezed in the cracks in between studying for her Masters’, and it shows great promise.  Now that she’s gotten her advanced degree, I’m hoping we’ll see more of her work!


From Fanac

Evelyn Smith: Ms. Smith has been writing in the genre since 1952, back when she was Mrs. Evelyn Gold (wife of Galaxy editor H.L. Gold).  In fact, much of her early work was featured in Gold’s magazine – editor Gold was always keen on publishing at least one woman author in every issue to garner female readership.  I understand that Gold’s increasing agoraphobia broke up their marriage, but they remain friends.  In any event, Smith is now a regular in both Galaxy and F&SF, and her stuff is always worth reading.  She is truly one of the pillars of the sf authorial family.

Margaret St. Clair.  Last, but certainly not least, is an author who has been around under one nom de plume or another since just after the War.  Her work bespeaks a broad-ranged talent.  If you know her as Ms. St. Clair, you’ve no doubt enjoyed her playful sense of humor.  If you are acquainted with her alter-ego, Idris Seabright, you’ve seen her more somber, fantastic side.  She regularly appears in Galaxy, IF, and F&SF, and she’s also turned out several novels (which I’ve unfortunately not yet had the pleasure to read.) I expect she’ll continue to be a household name for a long time to come.

Thus ends the last of the list I’d compiled as of the end of last year (1960).  Just in the course of creating this series, several new (to me) woman authors have made it into print.  Thus, this installment shall not be the last of the sequence

Stay tuned!

[May 11, 1961] Spotlighting Women (The Second Sex in Science Fiction and Fantasy, Part 3)

Here’s a question I’ve gotten more than once: what is the point in spotlighting woman writers?  Shouldn’t I simply point out the good stories as I find them, and if they happen to be written by women, bully for them?  Why should I create an artificial distinction?

Those are actually fine questions, about which I’ve given much thought.  I make no claims to being an expert, or even someone whose opinion should matter much to you.  All I have is my taste, my gut and (lucky for me) my own column in which to voice my opinions.  So take my words as strictly my viewpoint.

We live in a particular kind of world.  Men are the default: the default heroes, the default writers, even the default pronoun.  Open a history book, and it will be filled with the names of great men.  Women are a seeming afterthought.  You may not even have thought twice about it.  It seems “natural” that movies should star men, that books should star men, that men should be the generals, the presidents.

But, there is a change a brewing.  Black men universally won the right to vote in 1865.  Women secure duniversal suffrage in 1920, fully three generations after the least privileged men.  The gap is narrowing.  This year, a Black man became skipper of a U.S. Naval vessel.  1961 also marks the year a woman became a shipboard U.S. Naval officer for the first time.  Women are now just one generation behind the least advantaged of the men.  Someday, we may be on a level playing field, all races of men and women.

Science fiction is supposed to be forward-looking, yet socially it seems stuck in the present, or even the past.  One almost never reads about woman starship captains or woman presidents or woman…well… anything.  I don’t think this is the result of deliberate collusion by the science fiction writing community.  It’s just that society is the air we breathe.  We are unconsciously bound by its rules and traditions.  Unless something shakes up our viewpoints, we’ll stick in our ruts and continue to accept this male-dominated paradigm as the natural order of things.

So when I spot something unusual that I think should be universal, I note it.  I encourage it.  I enjoy it.

Without further ado, part #3 of my encyclopedic catalog of the woman writers active as of this year of 1961:

Zenna Henderson: It should come as no surprise to any regular reader of my column that I love Zenna Henderson.  While her The People stories do not comprise all of her work, they are representative — unabashedly personal tales, bittersweet and feminine, utterly unlike anything else.  Henderson’s science fiction career began early last decade and is one of the most vivid hallmarks of the divide between the digest and pulp eras.  I strongly recommend Rosemary Benton’s recent article as a introduction to his brilliant author and her work.

Katherine MacLean: One rarely forgets first impressions, and MacLean made a significant one on me with Unhuman Sacrifice, single-handedly saving the November 1958 Astounding, the first magazine I ever reviewed for this column.

This was actually a sort of a rediscovery — she has been publishing stories since the late ’40s, many of which I read in Galaxy.  I wonder if she’s now near the end of her career.  Once a prolific writer, her pace slackened after 1953, and I’ve only seen one of her stories since Sacrifice, the good Interbalance.  Perhaps she’s just busy with other things, or maybe she publishes in the few remaining magazines I don’t cover on a regular basis.  In any-wise, Ms. MacLean is highly regarded, both by me and the general community.  Check her out, and don’t miss her early work published under the name of her former husband, Charles Dye.

Anne McCaffrey: Speaking of first impressions, one of the fun aspects of my job as surveyor of our genre is spotting new authors as they arrive.  Ms. McCaffrey hit the ground running with her 1959 story, The Woman in the Tower.  She topped herself with the recent The Ship who Sang.  Two points make a line; if we continue the trend, it is clear that Ms. McCaffrey is destined to produce some pretty spectacular stuff.  I can’t wait!

Judith Merril: There once was a SF club in New York City.  It was called the Futurians, it only lasted 8 years (ending around the same time as WW2), and it had an outsized impact on the genre.  The 1st WorldCon was a Futurian event, for instance, and its members included future famous personages such as Isaac Asimov and Fred Pohl. 

And Judith Merril (who was Mrs. Pohl for a little while).  She has been a pillar of the community ever since, both as a writer and a prolific anthologizer; she has produced a series of “Best of” books since 1956, and her taste is sharp.  My experience with her own writing has been mixed.  They comprise just two stories and a novel.  The stories were good, the novel was terrible (though Fred Pohl and P. Schuyler Miller liked it; what do I know>).  I suspect Judy will be around for a long time, so I imagine I’ll have more on which to evaluate her by the next time I do one of these.

C.L. Moore: I may be stretching a point in calling Ms. Moore a current writer.  A veteran of the pulp era, Ms. Moore wrote most prolifically in partnership with her late husband, Henry Kuttner (who I knew best as Lewis Padgett).  He died in 1958, and I’ve not seen hide nor hair of her since.  For this reason, the Journey has covered none of her works, and while I’m sure I must have read some of Moore (psuedonymously, collaboratively, or solitarily), I couldn’t tell you about any of those stories off the top of my head (though I do own the Galaxy Novel, Shambleau; perhaps I shall try it out.)

Andre Norton: Despite the name, Andre Norton is a woman, and she has enjoyed a burgeoning career since her debut a little over a decade ago.  She is given to florid, adventury prose, filled with strapping folks and derring-do.  In a recent review of one of Ms. Norton’s latest books, Alfred Bester opined dismissively that perhaps women just can’t write action.  Well, he’s wrong.  Now, mind you, I haven’t yet read much Norton.  I started Stargate, which failed to grab my interest, and I finished Crossroads of Time, which I quite enjoyed.  She’s got a new one coming out this Summer, which I’ll call the tie-breaker. 

Meanwhile, Bester hasn’t published a story since 1959.  Maybe men just can’t write science fiction anymore…

I’ll have the fourth (and final) installment in this series sometime next month.  Cheer-i-o!

(Part one is here!)

(Part two is here!)

[April 4, 1961] Do women do it better?  (the Second Sex in SF, Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 in this series on the women actively writing science fiction and fantasy in 1961.  This installment will be a bit different, but don’t worry — we’ll go back to the original format with the next one.

After I wrote the first part, my wife asked me why I have a preference for woman-penned stories.  That brought me up short.  Why did I look forward to seeing a woman’s name on the cover or in the table of contents of one of my science fiction magazines?  After some mental wrangling, I think I’ve got the answers:

1) I rarely see female characters, and women tend to be more likely to write female protagonists.

H. Beam Piper’s Omnilingual, starring Dr. Martha Dane in a role that featured brains and science rather than beauty and romance, opened my eyes to a new world of characterization.  Most science fiction and fantasy is written by men, stars men, and women generally exist to be romantic foils or scenery.  I wasn’t even consciously aware that things could be otherwise. 

It was like discovering Japanese cuisine.  Completely alien; thoroughly desirable.

2) Female authors tend to write in a different style and from a different perspective.

With the exception of some, like Norton and Bradley, who are deliberately composing in a male-pulpish style, women write in a manner shaped by the context in which they live.  Their work tends to emphasize emotions and relationships.  There is often the bitter tinge of the downtrodden (for who would argue that the female is the less privileged of the genders, even in our modern time).  They will write about issues unique to them; for instance: motherhood (e.g. Henderson’s The Return) and workplace discrimination (e.g. Smith’s Softly while you’re sleeping).

This phenomenon is common to all minority viewpoints (whether the group be in the numerical or cultural minority) — people write what they know.  When a White man tells a story, it is told from the perspective of power, of a world-conqueror.  Many of the more nuanced and cynical stories come from the pens of the less societally advantaged — for instance, Jewish authors like Sheckley and Davidson.  I have yet to read a story by a Black author (that I know of).  I can’t imagine they aren’t writing, so I look forward to getting another fresh perspective when they are published.

3) Female authors have to try harder.

One of my readers noted that women do not necessarily write better than men (e.g. Judith Merril’s The Tomorrow People).  But women-penned stories, on average, tend to be better than those written by men.  Why is that?  My wife speculates that the prejudice against woman authors causes there to be a higher bar, which women must hurdle to be published at all.  If the playing field were entirely even, we would see parity in the quality of stories written by men and women.

But here’s where things get interesting, and it’s a secret F&SF has probably figured out.  No matter what, any group of writers is going to obey Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of anything is crap.  By limiting the pool of authors, consciously or unconsciously, to men, science fiction publishers necessarily restrict their access to good stories.  Women may write 90% crap, too, but if only the top 2% gets published, there is room to expand.  So, when the bar to women (and Blacks, and Latins, and Asians, etc.) be lifted, my wife asserts, the overall level of magazine quality should rise.  I think she’s right.

In Conclusion

It is a truism that once you see something, you cannot “un-see” it.  Discovering the dearth of women and female characters in my favorite genre has colored what I value in it.  Stories with and by women are precious because of rarity, like anything else.  A woman’s byline is no guarantee of quality or uniqueness — but the odds are pretty good.  So I smile when I find woman-penned stories.  I am delighted when I read about well-developed female characters.  I am dismayed when I read a magazine devoid of woman authors, of woman characters. 

I am hopeful.  F&SF did offer a nearly 50/50 gender split in the April 1961 issue (to its benefit).  Moreover, twenty years ago, one rarely saw characters of non-European origin.  Now, most who write about the future tend to include Asians, Latins, sometimes even Africans, among their cast. 

Women will be next.

[March 24, 1961] The Second Sex in SF

1961.  The year that an Irishman named Kennedy assumed the highest office in the land.  The year in which some 17 African nations celebrated their first birthday.  The air smells of cigarette smoke, heads are covered with hats, and men run politics, industry, and much of popular culture.

In a field (and world) dominated by men, it is easy to assume that science fiction is as closed to women as the local Elks Lodge.  Who are the stars of the genre?  Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Sheckley; these are household names.  But if there is anything I have discovered in my 11 years as an avid science fiction fan (following another 20 of casual interest), it is that there is a slew of excellent woman authors who have produced a body of high quality work.  In fact, per my notes, women write just one ninth of the science fiction stories published, but a full fourth of the best works. 

For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of female science fiction writers active in this, the second year of the 1960s.  These authors are just the tip of the vanguard.  They are blazing a trail for women to one day share equally in the limelight…and the Hugos!

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Pauline Ashwell: This young British author is unusual in that her works are confined exclusively (so far as I can tell) to the usually rather stag Analog, the most conservative and widely distributed of the digests.  Her Unwillingly to School, and its recent sequel, The Lost Kafoozalum, were both Hugo-nominees.  Deservedly so, as they are both unique and a lot of fun.  They also feature a creature about as rare as the female author: the female protagonist!  Ashwell also wrote the off-the-wall alien/human friendship story, Big Sword, under the transparent pseudonym, Paul Ash.  More, please!

Leigh Brackett: A Californian, Brackett was a staple of the pulp era, writing a myriad of short stories and novels all the way through the middle of the last decade.  For some reason, she seems to have fallen off the genre radar in the last few years, but I understand she’s making a living at Hollywood and television screenwriting.  I am chagrined to report that I’ve not read a single one of her stories, and I worry that I’d find them dated.  I’d be happy to be wrong.  Recommendations?

Marion Zimmer Bradley: Young Bradley has been writing for at least a decade, but her works have tended to appear in the magazines to which I don’t have subscriptions, with the notable exception of The Wind People, which appeared in IF at the end of Damon Knight’s short-lived tenure as its editor.  She’s just come out with her first book, The Door through Space, which is sitting on my “To Read” shelf.  She’s a bit of an odd duck, having recently founded her own occult religion, the Aquarian Order of the Restoration, filled with trances, discovery of past lives, and clairvoyance.  I guess if L. Ron Hubbard can do it…

Rosel George Brown: I’m on firmer ground with Ms. Brown, an author whom I have watched with avid interest since she first appeared in Galaxy in 1958.  Her stories hinted at a great talent, and her stories had something to recommend them, even if they were not perfect successes.  Her talent flowered with the excellent Step IV, which appeared in Amazing, and her recent Of all possible worlds was even better.  An unabashedly feminine, inarguably terrific writer; I can’t wait to read what she pens next.

Miriam Allen Deford: One of the eldest (ahem…most seasoned!) of the woman authors, Ms. Deford has been writing since the 1920s, though she did not enter our genre in a big way until Fantasy and Science Fiction inaugurated in 1949.  Since then, she has turned out a steady stream of stories.  Their common elements are her slightly quaint style, her versatility (writing horror, mystery, and “straight” sf with equal facility), and her consistency.  She is solid, if not brilliant, and generally a welcome addition to any magazine’s table of contents.

Carol Emshwiller: Say the name “Emshwiller” and you probably first think of the illustrator, Ed Emshwiller, whose drawings have appeared in hundreds (if not thousands) of magazines.  But Carol Emshwiller, who married into that improbable surname, has also appeared frequently in scientifiction magazines.  I am once again embarrassed to confess that I’ve only read one of her stories thus far (this is what comes of only having time to read three digests a month; curse my need for a day job!) Perhaps one of my readers can tell me if A Day at the Beach was representative of her work; I recall enjoying it.  In fact, while I called it forgettable, I still remember it two years later, so I must have been wrong!

I’m going to pause at this point because the list is actually quite lengthy, and I think it merits presentation in multiple parts.  I apologize for the scantiness of my knowledge in places; until one invents a comprehensive Encyclopedia for science fiction works, whereby one can retrieve information about, and stories by, any given author, any one person’s viewpoint will be limited.  I do hope I’ve whetted your appetite, however, and that you will seek out these authors’ work.

See you in a couple of days!