May 4, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Does Gender Make Any Difference In How Aging Is Depicted In Speculative Fiction?


Gender makes a difference in how aging is depicted in EVERYTHING.

My favorite quote from a chick-flick (Confession: I like chick-flicks) comes from FIRST WIVE’S CLUB, a movie I watch with my wife or wife and daughter every four or five months. Elise Elliot is a has-been actor played by Goldie Hawn and near the beginning of the movie, she says, “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood - Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.” Another two lines from THE HOLIDAY: “Severe stress makes women age prematurely because stress causes the DNA in our cells to shrink until they can no longer replicate. So when we're stressed we look haggard. This is just women not men./Ben: Sorry.” (Note the picture above...)

How does specfic come out in this?

First of all, there are relatively few science fiction novels with female main characters. Goodreads lists 404. Some that leap to mind are Katniss Everdeen (duh…), Lessa (DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN), Kris Longknife (series of the same name), Jenny Case (series of the same name), Meg Murry/O’Keefe (WRINKLE IN TIME quintet), Honor Harrington (series of the same name), Cordelia Vorkosigan (VORKOSIGAN series), Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil (STARDOC series), Mackenzie Connor (SPECIES IMPERATIVE series), Lilith Iyapo (XENOGENESIS series), Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins (ACADEMY series)…there are more (though the list of 404 boils down to considerably fewer when the books are consolidated under an author’s name. I am also going to arbitrarily and in general, dismiss male authors who write female characters. No one has any way of knowing – and I doubt that a confession would be forthcoming – what their initial motivation for creating said characters and I suspect it to be in essence, mercenary. I also wonder at the acceptance of these characters by women readers.)

At an rate, for the purpose of this exercise, and JUST of the characters listed above, I’d like to use Goldie Hawn’s categories to shake this down some.

Babes: Katniss Everdeen, Lessa, Kris Longknife, Meg Murry, Honor Harrington, Cordelia Vorkosigan, Priscilla Hutchens

District Attorney: (later) Meg Murry, (later) Cordelia Vorkosigan, Mackenzie Connor, Lilith Iyapo, Dr. Cherijo Grey Veil

Driving Miss Daisy: none – they don’t exist as far as I can see.. Cordelia Vorkosigan comes closest...

Science fiction has been touted as many things, Damien G. Walter, podcast participant (and a man) says that: “Science fiction is a literature of change, which is the perfect reading material in a rapidly changing world. ‘The faster the world changes, the less familiar it feels, and the weirder it becomes, the more impossible the task of directly describing our experience of it.’”

So in answer to my question above, in our much-touted and shown-off “literature of change” I’d have to say a simple, “Yup.”

Lots of things have changed, apparently. Too bad the depiction of older women in science fiction isn’t one of them.

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