25 June 2008

How to Geekify the Women in Your Life: A Primer

Megan McArdle, responding to an inquiry from a reader, offers a few tips on helping the wives, girlfriends, daughters, and other important females in sci-fi geeks' lives to enjoy science fiction, if not as much as their geeks do, then at least enough to good-naturedly tolerate the genre. She certainly has the bona fides:
I love me some Doctor Who, some Firefly, just caught up on BSG, own two copies of the Oxfor [sic] Book of Science Fiction Short Stories, have four first edition Sandmans, and really haven't emotionally come to grips with the fact that I am never going to have superpowers.

What I'm saying is, there's hope. A love for feminine frippery can be, and frequently already is, paired with a love of laser guns. But even if it's not already there, I think it can be awakened. You just have to explain it right.

. . . .

You might . . . try to ease her into something with a little more human emotion and a little less space opera--I'm very fond of George R. R. Martin's current gigantic series. As far as television goes, start with Firefly, then maybe BSG, and then slowly work your way up to Dr. Who. Do not, under any circumstances, unveil Sliders until you're sure she can handle it. Same with movies: Gattica [sic] before Blade Runner. Graphic novels: Sandman, not V for Vendetta. You get the idea.

. . . . I think science fiction is a habit that can be acquired if you go about it the right way.

[Links added.]

Fortunately, my wife indulges my love of Doctor Who and Star Wars, watches episodes with me frequently, and even discusses them. When you come to think of it, isn't that the geek trifecta -- indulgence, viewing, and discussion of sci-fi? She's a keeper.

While the wife may not share my level of fandom, she's at least agreeable when I attempt to indoctrinate my daughter. Thus far, the results of my efforts have been somewhat mixed. She enjoys the Lego Star Wars video games and will watch the movies from time-to-time; she also liked the younger kids' version of Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures. I'm hoping that as she grows older, she'll come to appreciate (as George Lucas unfortunately did not) that Jar Jar Binks is a travesty and that Yoda's primary importance to the saga is not that he's the cutest Jedi, but we'll work with what we have regardless. Frankly though, the prequels haven't given me that much to build on and, even as a fan, the "New Jedi Order" and "Legacy of the Force" book series are a bit of a slog. Perhaps the forthcoming Clone Wars film and series will pique her interest like the original series has.

After all, it takes a galaxy far, far away to raise a child.

UPDATE: At The Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin has an interesting take on McArdle's post:
Somewhat surprisingly, Megan doesn't mention the most common explanation for the relative paucity of female SF fans: that the genre is mysogynistic and/or lacks strong, well-rounded female characters. Although this conventional view probably had some accuracy forty or fifty years ago, I doubt that it accounts for the gender gap in SF today. Over the last several decades, many left-wing and libertarian writers have entered the SF and fantasy fields, portraying women very differently than in the early days of the genre. And even those early days weren't quite as completely sexist as some think. Say what you will about Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, which has plenty of flaws; but it did portray women serving in combat units on an equal basis with men back in the 1950s. Today, there are even quite a few prominent explicitly feminist SF and fantasy writers, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler, and Ursula LeGuin.

. . . .

That said, recent data suggest that the gender imbalance in SF fandom may be overstated. This 2001 National Science Foundation surveyshows that 31% of men say they read science fiction books or magazines - a number statistically indistinguishable from the 28% of women who claim to do so.

The NSF's results are so contrary to conventional wisdom that I wonder if there's something wrong with the methodology. The most obvious potential flaw is that many of the women say they read SF only do so on rare occasions and aren't real fans of the genre, whereas the men read more often. However, the NSF did a follow-up question in which 17% of female SF readers say they do so "regularly" compared to 16% of the male ones. The NSF data do still suggest that SF has greater appeal to men than to women. Other studies reveal that women generally read far more than men do, especially in most fiction genres. So if men and women read SF at roughly equal rates, that suggests that the genre is of greater interest to men once you control for their generally lower propensity to read.

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