Science fiction has been described as a useful tool for examining society attitudes to and conceptions of gender. fiction genres encourage writers to explore the subject of biological sex and present alternative models for societies and characters with different beliefs about gender. science fiction has been said to present only ideas about sex and gender that are fashionable or controversial in the present day, which it then projects into a future or fantasy setting.
Portrayal of women
The portrayal of women, or more broadly, the portrayal of gender in the speculative genres, has varied widely throughout the genres’ history. Some writers and artists have challenged their society’s gender norms in producing their work; others have not. Among those who have challenged conventional understandings and portrayals of women, men, and sexuality, there have been of course significant variations. The common perception of the role of women in SF works has long been dominated by one of two stereotypes: a woman who is evil (villainess) or one who is helpless (damsel in distress). These characters are usually physically attractive and provocatively dressed, often in scanty armour,and require redemption and validation by a male hero.
The first critical work focusing on women in SF was Symposium: Women in Science Fiction (1975), edited by Jeffrey D. Smith, and other influential works include Future Females:A Critical Anthology (1981) edited by Marleen S. Barr.
Many male protagonists of science fiction are reflections of a single heroic archetype, often having scientific vocations or interests, and being “cool, rational, competent”, “remarkably sexless”, interchangeable, and bland.Annette Kuhn posits that these asexual characters are attempts to gain independence from women and mother figures, and that this and their unfailing mechanical prowess is what gives them fans. The “super-male” and boy genius are also common stereotypes frequently embodied by male characters.
Critics argue that much of science fiction fetishizes masculinity, and that incorporation of technology into science fiction provides a metaphor for imagined futuristic masculinity. Examples are the use of “hypermasculine cyborgs and console-cowboys”. Such technologies are desirable as they reaffirm the readers’ masculinity and protect against feminisation.This fetishisation of masculinity via technology in science fiction differs from typical fetishisation in other genres, in which the fetishised object is always feminine.
The book Spreading Misandry argues that science fiction is often used to make unfounded political claims about gender, and attempt to blame men for all of society’s ills.