Quick hit: how are you ruining a perfectly good men-only geek interest today?

Anti-feminist site The Spearhead has published (note: anti-feminist link) The War on Science Fiction and Marvin Minsky, arguing that a push to market science fiction to women is going to destroy science as we know it:

Many men working in the fields of science, engineering, and technology have cited science fiction (such as the original Star Trek) for inspiring them when they were boys to establish careers in these fields.

The current generation of boys will not have this inspiration from science fiction, at least from science fiction on television and in movies.  That’s because there is an undeclared war on real science fiction on TV and in movies.  The former Sci-Fi channel, now “Syfy”, is a good example of what has been happening to science fiction on television.  In 1998 Bonnie Hammer took over the Sci-Fi channel and declared that “more female viewers were needed”.  Over the next several years, the Sci-Fi channel became increasingly feminized losing many of its traditional male viewers in an attempt to go after women viewers.  This included making the logos “warmer and more human” because the logos before were “too male and too dark”.  The biggest change was in the feminization of the programming shown on the Sci-Fi channel.  The re-imagined re-delusioned Battlestar Galactica is a good example… While the original series had its problems, it was more standard science fiction with men doing and accomplishing things.  The new series instead had lots of relationship drama, men whining, and men generally unable to find their way out of a wet paper bag.

It links to and seems to have been partly inspired by Dirk Benedict’s (note: anti-feminist link) Lt. Starbuck … Lost In Castration also bemoaning the current Battlestar Galactica.

There have been many critical responses:

So how long have you been sapping science of its energy, imagination and future, dear readers?

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About Mary

Mary is a women in tech activist, a programmer, a writer, and a sometime computational linguist. She writes at puzzling.org. Her previous projects include co-founding the Ada Initiative and major contributions to the Geek Feminism blog. She's @me_gardiner on Twitter.

47 thoughts on “Quick hit: how are you ruining a perfectly good men-only geek interest today?

  1. Erika

    I love how he singles out the new Battlestar Galactica as having been ruined by girls.

    Is he talking about the same Battlestar Galactica that garnered critical acclaim from every major media outlet, received a Peabody, Hugo, and Nebula award as well as a boatload Emmy awards, was a crushing success for its parent network, and sparked a special United Nations summit meeting?

    Ruined by girls, indeed.

  2. Peggy

    It makes me wonder if the author of the piece has really thought beyond “my favorite manly character who I love in a totally non-gay way has been recast as a girl” and combined that with his panic that “homosexual characters on current SF TV shows might make people think my man-crush on male characters makes me gay!”

    The original BSG may have had mostly male characters, but you don’t have to have watched more than a couple of episodes to realize it’s a really bad example of hard technology-based SF. He also seems to have missed the fact that, despite recasting Starbuck as a woman, the rebooted BSG also had lots of male characters doing important stuff too – or do Adama, Tigh, Apollo, Tyrol, etc. not count because they aren’t cigar-chomping, womanizing macho-men?

  3. Meg

    I get the idea that the only kind of sci-fi this guy likes is of the “Christopher Columbus Gets a Spaceship” variety, where you have a bunch of white dudez exploring space and colonizing the savage alien species of the “new worlds” they discover. IMO, that is the dumbest, poorest way to make use of the genre — if you want to write racist historical fiction, just write racist historical fiction and take your lumps for it, OK? Adding laser guns doesn’t make it any more interesting, and the idea that white people in 5000 AD will have the exact same mindset and culture as the white people of 1400 AD is not only ridiculous, but it pretty much defeats the purpose of building new worlds to play with.

    Some of the smartest, creepiest, most creative stuff I’ve read was written by women, and probably gay men too (harder to tell orientation through a name). Bigger talent pool = better stories. IDK if this is old news to you all, but a few months ago I stumbled across a couple of oldish sci-fi short fiction anthologies called Women of Wonder. There are bits about the history of feminism and women in sci-fi in the beginning of each; most of the stories are pretty good but a few are fantastic. If you happen to find a copy, I definitely recommend you check it out.

    1. Bene

      Seconding those anthologies, they’re quite good (though I’m not sure about availability outside the US). Feminist SF author Pamela Sargent is the editor. A personal favourite of mine that I hadn’t seen elsewhere is Pamela Zoline’s The Heat Death of the Universe.

  4. FoolishOwl

    The odd thing about that complaint about the re-envisioned BSG was that I felt that with a few notable exceptions, most of the characters were grotesque hypermasculine caricatures.

  5. stuart yeates

    Science fiction has never been an exclusively ‘male’ thing. Consider “Anno Domini 2000; or, Woman’s Destiny” 1889 by Sir Julius Vogel (former Prime Minister of New Zealand). Also avaliable as an ePub for kindle / iphone / etc.


    It correctly predicted that a woman would eventually be Prime Minister (remember, this was before women got the vote).

  6. Brinstar

    I’m ruining the very dudely interest of videogames by being a woman whilst working in the videogame industry. I’ve also been ruining videogames since I was 8 years old.

    1. Natalie

      Bahaha. Feminists, painting the genre red – or something!
      The piece is sad and simplistic. As mentioned above, the most amusing aspect of the rather pathetic attempt at criticism is that in his attempt to decry the feminisation of the genre, he picked examples where brilliant examples of standard masculinities abound and are rewarded.

  7. Jacinta Reid

    I’m the head of my household and I do metalwork from time to time. Oh, and I repair my car and do other historically manly stuff like brew beer. ;-)

    I’m considering getting involved with a local Linux user group so I can spoil that for the men, too. (It’s probably been populated by a significant proportion of women ever since its inception, but let’s quietly ignore that.) I’m determined to make all geekiness feminine! Booyah!

    1. Mackenzie

      hehe I lost my thumbprint for a while in high school when I forgot to let the metal I had just poured cool before removing it from its mold. Metalwork is fun!

      Also: my first scifi would’ve been…hmm…not sure what I saw *first*, but when I was really little Star Trek, Doctor Who (4th Doctor), Land of the Lost (does that count? there’s time travel…), and Space Cases. Yes, the rainbow-haired Catalina in Space Cases is played by Jewel Staite aka Kaylee Frye from Firefly. She’s got a corner on the female-space-ship-engineer market, eh? Catalina was definitely an inspiration :)

  8. JakiChan

    Excuse me, BSG was “feminized”? RDMs BSG was dark, dirty, violent, and well realized. The original Starbuck was a 2D caricature of a womanizing sleazeball – RDM’s Starbuck was complex, three dimensional, and all around amazing as a character. How was it “feminized”, exactly? You can have nostalgia for the old BSG and that’s fine but to even pretend like RDM didn’t tell an amazing story is just being stupid. Dirk Benedict just wishes he could act half as well as Sackhoff.

    Meanwhile, it’s supposedly “feminizing” to have characters that have relationships with other characters. It ain’t SciFi if there ain’t battles and stuff. I’m sure these guys are gonna hate Caprica, and that’s before they find out it’s gonna have not only a gay gangster, but someone in a poly marriage!

    (Psst…don’t tell them about female SciFi authors. They might get even more upset.)

  9. Atrus

    Rather than “men unable to do stuff” BSG was more “men, women and robots unable to do stuff”; it was a rather equal opportunity incompetence.

  10. gord allott

    Its all true! thats why i failed woodwork at school! its all anyones fault but mine for sure.

    also since when was bsg targeted at women? it was just a drama that played out as the writers wanted it too without any particular gender in mind

  11. Sarah Stokely

    Oh lordy. From the author of Men are from Sci Fi, Women are from Fantasy comes the latest blockbuster from The Spearhead…

  12. Laughingrat

    I keep trying to come up with something to say about all of this that isn’t full of bile, but nothing seems to lower the bile-levels. Not even rum. As a friend pointed out, it’s difficult to offer intelligent rejoinders to someone who isn’t speaking rationally or from a moral position worthy of any kind of respect.

  13. lc224

    It’s the capitalism stupid! Women are market share. Women work, make money and buy things. (Books, movie tickets, things advertised on TV). Marketing to women is smart. If these knuckle-draggers want Sci-Fi with no women in it, they should write their own books and make their own TV shows. (Which will fail for being boring, boring, boring).

    People with similar views to these guys keep going on and on about the virtues of unfettered capitalism, but when it steps on their tender feet the whining starts.

  14. Jakub Gedeon

    Isn’t it great when something is to terrible and wrong, it becomes hilarious? I never liked Star Trek and “traditional” science fiction; what got me into science (specifically computer science) was my love of logic and understanding how things work, not some fake-science endless series with mediocre storytelling at best. Battlestar Galactica did not go far enough in my opinion, but it was definitely an improvement.

    Good science fiction is a metaphor that tells us something about ourselves, about the nature of mankind.

    Did I mention I am a guy?

  15. Christine

    You know, I think they’re right… women just ruin science fiction. It’s not like the old days when women had nothing to do with it. Star Trek, ST: The Animated Series, ST: The Next Generation, ST: Deep Space Nine, The Six Million Dollar Man, Logan’s Run, Babylon 5, Earth: Final Conflict, Land of the Lost, He-Man and The Masters of the Universe, Beast Wars: Transformers, ReBoot… such great and manly works of science fiction… pristine… untouched by the soft, weak, corruptive, unclean hands of woman.

    These had great writers like Michael Richards, J. Michael Bingham, D. C. Fontana…

    Huh? What? No that can’t be right… someone’s lying… those are all pen names for Dorothy Catherine Fontana? And she wrote episodes in ALL of those series? But… that can’t be… women are BAD! Wait, she co-wrote the PILOT for TNG?? No! Not “Encounter at Farpoint!”

    And people wonder why I’m a lesbian… sheesh.

  16. Asad

    “Spearhead”, people. “Spearhead.” The concept is worth a weeklong ride on the LOLlercoaster.

    1. FoolishOwl

      One thing this brings to mind is how the mass media versions of a genre will have much of the interesting content bled out of it — quite deliberately, I believe. In mass media science fiction, it’s precisely the conventional, “Let’s colonize America and Australia Mars or Proxima Centauri and enslave mentor the indigenous people aliens into our European and American Terran way of life” that predominates. But get away from that a little bit, and there’s all sorts of interesting things going on.

      Has a movie been made based on any of Ursula LeGuin’s novels?

      I was given, as a gift, an anthology of short stories by Anthony Bouchard, a pulp science fiction writer of years past. A few of the stories were okay, but most were unimaginative, cliched, and had a dumbed-down vision of human history and politics. In every story (with one important exception), if there were any characters at all who were women, they were passive, weak, and incompetent. Particularly irritating in this regard was a short story involving time travel, in which one minor character was described as an “Amazon,” from some future matriarchy, wearing a suit of high-tech armor. When a fight broke out, she collapsed, sobbing.

      But what was really striking was the one exception: a story that was never published, about a writer’s relationship with an editor at a science fiction magazine, a single woman who was raising a child she’d adopted, an orphan from the Spanish Civil War — this was clearly an allusion to her political views — and, while the details weren’t spelled out, the relationship between the two was limited by the constraints of social expectations and their working relationship. It was the one story in the book that was written intelligently, which portrayed a woman as intelligent and competent and independent — and was the one story that hadn’t been published in the author’s lifetime.

      I had a minor job at a cable TV station once, and one thing that was striking was that the women and men I worked with were by and large intelligent, educated, and socially aware, but the folks at the top of the chain closely resembled the author of the Spearhead piece. It’s a general problem, I think.

      1. Mary Post author

        Has a movie been made based on any of Ursula LeGuin’s novels?

        You may have known this (I’m not sure if you’re talking specifically about feature films), but A Wizard of Earthsea has been adapted to a TV miniseries, and she wasn’t much impressed.

        1. FoolishOwl

          I think I may have heard about it, and forgotten. My sympathies are definitely with LeGuin on this — her thoughtful handling of gender and race are the very reason I brought her up in this context, and by rendering Ged as white, they deliberately stripped it out.

      2. Li

        RE: LeGuin film adaptations

        Studio Ghibli did an animated version also, but she was still disappointed, but it seems like it may have been less of a travasty.

        I don’t know, really, I haven’t seen the Ghibli one. I did watch the American miniseries adaptation and was kind of horrified.

  17. Carla Schroder

    “So how long have you been sapping science of its energy, imagination and future, dear readers?”

    All of my adult life, with passion and verve.

    1. Mary Post author

      Hi Sarah and others,

      I don’t think I’ll edit links into the post: I didn’t intend this to be the canonical link roundup on the subject. If someone is able to volunteer to send me nicely formatted links by email every few days over the next week or so, I could add those but collating from comments is a bit too much work right now.

      As folks discover links feel free to let us know in comments.

  18. Meg Thornton

    I’ve been ruining both science fiction *and* fantasy for red-blooded males (despite the fact that my Dad was the one who got me into both genres and I spent a lot of time competing with my younger brother to see who grabbed the library books first) since before I can remember. I grew up watching Dr Who on the ABC most weeknights; caught the final series of Blake’s 7 when I was about 8 or 9; devoured The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with glee; and the only reason Red Dwarf was safe from me was that it wasn’t actually, y’know, amusing or anything to me. Oh, and my favourite science fiction (in the sense of “space opera”) writer used to be Robert A Heinlein – it’s now Lois McMaster Bujold (I prefer her characters, since they’re a bit more believable).

    Oh, and I’ve been ruining perfectly good RPGs for male players since 1988. I’m surprised nobody has noticed.

    1. Cheile

      yea my dad introduced me to sci-fi too. OH NOES…A MAN introduced his DAUGHTER to the boys’ club!! :gasp: well i’m just gonna have to call him up tomorrow and tell him of the heinous crime he’s committed, LOL.

  19. Carolyn

    As a little girl in the early 1980s, I latched on to Uhura in Star Trek. I loved it when she got something to do, and she was a big figure in my invented episodes. I found it much easier to imagine myself in her place (despite my being a ghostly pale little thing) than in any of the men’s place, and I just knew she would kick ass and take names. I devoured each novel, no matter how horrible (and if you read them, you know those star trek novels are very varied in quality), in which she had a role.

    She fueled my interest in space travel (though the closest I’ve got is a work term at the Canadian Space Agency), and she helped hook me on science fiction.

    How horrible for the poor men to be robbed of even one such character of their gender to sympathize with…oh, what’s that? They just don’t get the novels, movies, and TV series where the only women are love interests and damsels in distress? Darn. They can grow up, then.

  20. moose

    I watched original Star Trek when it first aired from my playpen (or so my mother likes to remind me). In the 70s I watched and loved reruns of it, plus the original Battlestar Galactica [where there was so much backlash against a female being a “socialator” (read: legal prostitute) that she quickly became a med tech], Space:1999 (where most of the women seemed to be whiny wimps or get indecisive when put in charge, unless they were cartoon aliens), and Buck Rogers (Wilma Deering: Bimbo Boss) among the fare. Yet there was one big outstanding show, a British show called UFO (which was the pre-cursor to Space:1999, but that’s another tale). Although most of the main cast was male there were strong women within, including the staff of the Moonbase. Despite the purple wigs they could and would take charge and make tough decisions when needed.

    When the new BSG aired I was sure I’d hate it. 5 minutes in the new, female, Starbuck punches out a colonel. 10 minutes in she’s visited in the brig by her ex-fiance’s little brother who asks what the charges are this time. “Striking a superior asshole,” she growls. It was love at first growl.

    70s television was a time of pushing boundries, and not always in a good way. The 50s and 60s was a lot about family and so-called “wholesomeness”. In the 70s sponsors no longer controlled things the way they did in the days of live-on-the-air dancing cigarette packs & networks scrambled to make money, leading to crap like “jiggle television” and a strong push for more sex and violence on the screen.

    How utterly horrible is it that the current wave is to have things more lifelike. Let’s not just give them fantasy, let’s give them things they can relate to! Women who are geeks and neither bookish nor bimbos! Leaders of any gender, including, *gasp* the transgendered! Gays, lesbians and bisexuals treated as people instead of objects of scorn, jokes, or plot points. Deities forbid we should ever hear, “$character is GAY!” “What does that have to do with how he does his job?”

    [and let me just state for the Nth time, as a BSG-TOS fan, how utterly appalled I am at Dirk Benedict’s rant: He originally did PR for the new BSG and was encouraging, and if you listen to the 1st season commentary tracks Moore originally was gonna cast him in a fun role and then decided not to (for good reasons not to do the role, nothing to do with Benedict). Apparently it wasn’t until his ex-costar got more and more work on the show and he got nothing that he seemed to bend out of shape & go on such a silly, stupid and sexist rant.]

  21. Jennifer Jacobs


    These retro Star Trek convention photos posted recently by Newsweek directly contradict the idea of sci-fi being an exclusively male domain that is only recently being infiltrated by women. In fact, they have been a sustaining force of the genre. (the second pic in particular reinforces this)

    And in the interest of full disclosure, when I was 10, i dressed up as ensign R0 from TNG

  22. Scott Marlowe

    Wow I like how in this guy’s mind it’s an either-or proposition. Either boys can be inspired to become great scientists by male role models, or they’re doomed to a lifetime of cultural enslavement where women are dominant in all roles.

    Maybe he didn’t notice, but in most modern science fiction the only thing really happening vis-a-vis role changes is that the roles are broadening for both men and women. Admiral Cain in BSG reimagining being a women worked and it worked really well. Not because or in spite of her being a women, but because she was played ruthlessly by a fantastically talented actor by the name of Michelle Forbes. The lack of adherence to sexual stereotypes makes the new BSG better, not worse.

    Starbuck doesn’t work because the role is played by a man or a woman, Starbuck works because that role was played a an actor who played the part of a cocky, confident asshole. It’s part and parcel of the role. To believe that thousands of years in the future, with women having been set free of the confining role of mother and nursemaid there might be more than a small number of them in the military flying fighters should surprise no one.

    Real life fighter pilots are around today, like Kim Campbell exist today,
    Wouldn’t you just expect the trend to continue?

  23. Caytin

    I find it amusing that the author of the article actually believes that! (LMAO, actually.) I take it that this person never went to a SciFi con in his life worth going to. All the ones I go to have an equal population of both genders. Just because SciFi is thinking outside of their box of normal tricks doesn’t mean that they are being geared towards women or being feminized. Also, SciFi channel changed the logo and spelling to get the copyright, because you can’t copyright a genre. Wow, that was a much need laugh.

    Been “ruining” the genre since 1987, and will continue to do so long after death once my SciFi novel is finished and published.

    Women are from fantasy? Please, don’t make me gag, give me a laser over a magic wand anyday.

  24. Katran

    Just came across this today.

    As a woman who was inspired by science fiction to go into science as a career, I wonder what he would have to say about people like me. Arguably, the science fiction I was inspired by was reasonably feminist (Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy–wow, half the original colonists were women and they did stuff too…IN SPACE!) and also “hard” SF but I don’t know if I count as a scientist because, you know, I have ovaries.

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