Women and Hard SF

This was supposed to be a comment on Lori’s blog entry about a discussion at Electrolite partly involving the statement:

Women do not write hard science fiction today because so few can hack the physics[…]

But Lori’s blacklist plugin appears to be broken, so I’m not sure the comment went through. I’m preserving it here for posterity.

Lori said:

Im not sure which assumption bothers me more the assumption that women are incapable, or the assumption that we dont find science interesting enough to bother with it.

I wanted to say:

I don’t think either is an assumption. They’re both somewhat-independent deductions from the number of women in physics. Either one may be an incorrect deduction, though the only other likely explanation seems to be continuing bias against women in the academic community and that doesn’t seem terribly likely either.

To summarize: Women don’t study advanced physics in the numbers men do. Either they can’t hack it and our merit-based system boots them, or they can hack it but they’re not interested, or they can hack it and they are interested but the academic world keeps them out somehow. I’m curious what you think the explanation is, if not one of those three.

As for women writing hard science, that’s an even harder number to explain away since women in general have better verbal skills than men, which ought to balance out men’s greater talent for physics (or whatever other factor results in more male physicists).

2 Responses to “Women and Hard SF”

  1. Lori Says:

    My trouble with the guy’s stance was this: he boldly states that women don’t write hard SF because most can’t hack physics. He’s assuming 1) there are no women writing hard SF, which is wrong 2) women can’t “hack” physics, which is a general statement of “all women everywhere lack the ability because of genetics” — a position he clarified in the comment thread — and is also wrong, and 3) as evidenced by further blathering on his part, he also believes wholeheartedly that the instant you correct him you have proved yourself inferior to him, as anyone of superior intellect would agree with him because he is Perfect and Right. Much condescension and distracting waving of hands ensued with each fact-check issued by other commentors.

    Women have been “hacking” science for centuries. A case could be made that women are going into the sciences in greater numbers now that schools no longer counsel them into “soft” majors and teachers no longer treat them like they can’t do the math. Statistics were quoted, anecdotes cited, and all around it was generally determined that women can go there and do that. If the guy had looked at SF books on Amazon for a few minutes, he would have found Elizabeth Bear and others like her. If he had paid any attention to current literature on studies being done and statistics taken in schools, he would have noticed an upswing in female students in engineering or other scientific pursuits. He didn’t even do that. Of course, if he had noticed those SF books written by women, he would have dismissed them as not being hard SF - they were written by women, after all. Or at least that’s what I gathered from his comments, oblique as they were.

    My explanation is a combination of things - mostly lack of interest and gender role expectations passed along to girls by parents/teachers/friends. It’s people who do things like decide that something is “genetic” without the science to back it up and then preach it around loudly and insistently that promote adherence to the stereotyped gender roles.

    BTW, Catharine Asaro weighed in at the end of the thread, and she can hack the science. She just chooses to write romance. Also, she reassured those gathered that Vox Day/Beale would not be on the Nebula 2005 novel jury, as was previously suspected. Nice.

    And your comment did come through. I’m not sure what the script is doing, but it does it to me too.

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