Discussion: Is Speculative Fiction gender specific?

I’m not sure if I have the right words down for the question(s) I’m trying to ask, but I couldn’t think of any better way to ask it, so let me take a moment to explain.
I haven’t read this review of The Game of Thrones HBO show the New York Times posted and I won’t, because it will just end up making me mad, and quite honestly, I’m not in the mood to be mad. I have, however, read the myriad of angry blog responses which, in one form or another, discuss the fact that, Yes, women can (and do) enjoy fantasy/scifi, too. (If you haven’t looked yet, do a google search. The list of angry responses is quite amazing.)
That being said, I’m not going to respond one way or another to the aforementioned review, because I haven’t read it and it wouldn’t be fair for me to spout off opinions on something I’m purposefully ignorant of. What this review did do, however, is start me thinking about gender in speculative fiction. 
While I realize that speculative fiction is not a genre that everyone will enjoy, it is a genre that has quite a large and diverse following. Here are my questions that these various retaliatory blog posts have sparked within me.

  • Do you think speculative fiction appeals more to one gender than another? If so, why? 
  • Do you think gender trends in speculative fiction are starting to change (by this, I mean both characters in books and reader base)? Why/why not? 
  • There are many subgenres in speculative fiction. Do you think any of them have/are changing to appeal more to a specific gender? OR do you think one gender prefers different subgenres more than others? Does this color the perception of that/those subgenre(s) in any way? 
I sincerely hope I asked those questions in an understandable way.
I usually try to ask questions that I have an opinion for, but I really don’t with these questions. I’m not sure what I think of them, or if they are even relevant in a discussion. I am, however, interested in what my fellow speculative fiction fans think. 
So, do you think speculative fiction is gender specific? 

6 Responses

  • Bibliotropic

    I think it can depend. I know a lot of books do have target audiences, as much as some people don't want to admit that. (The people who say that there's no such thing as chick-lit, for instance…) And when it comes to genre, there's usually a pretty visible line. Most epic fantasy seems to appeal more to males while paranormal romance seems to appeal more to females. So if you look at speculative fiction as a whole, then no, it has no gender attached. But break it down into further subcategories, and there are some gender lines that start to become apparent.

    That being said, it doesn't mean that females can't enjoy epic fantasy, nor that males can't enjoy paranormal romance. There are always people, authors or readers, who will cross the lines, which is awesome and can bring new life to a stale subgenre. And I don't just mean whether or not the main character is male or female, either. In terms of trends, males tend to prefer heavier action and females tend to prefer more than a dash of romance. It's not set in stone, of course (I'm technically female and prefer romance to remain in the background if possible), but when authors look at those trends and have an idea, it's not too hard to figure out whether the author, at least, intended the book(s) to appeal more to a gendered audience.

    But all that being said (and I hope I made myself clear, because believe me, I could rant for hours on gender issues in genre novels!), I think that when it comes to speculative fiction, more people should just ask themselves the following question: "Did I enjoy it?" If so, then what does it matter if the book was written more to appeal to males or two females. The ultimate question should be whether it appealed to you, as the reader, and then go from there. It would seem pretty silly for me to see somebody writing a review and saying, "Well, I liked this book, but since it was written more for males and I'm female, I can't give it a high rating."

  • Todd Newton

    No more than Romance is gender specific.

  • Weirdmage

    A difficult question. I'd say as a whole SFF (speculative fiction) is pretty much gender neutral. But it has to be broken down a bit.

    This is genre neutral. Personally I know more female than male horror fans. (With a slight exception for movies. But that has nothing to do with the genre per se, but with US censorship rules that only allow tits in movies with a level of violence that makes the average person slightly sick.)

    This is more of a male genre. But apart from military science fiction I don't really understand why that is. If you take away the scenery and the props (spaceships and technology) science fiction tends to be more about humans on a personal level than fantasy. So I think that has more to do with science being a male thing in society than anything else.

    Taken as a whole, and especially if you include paranormal romance, I think this has become a slightly female oriented genre at present. But when the UF/PR wave is over I think it will go back to being almost gender neutral, leaning slightly towards male friendly.

    I totally disagree with Bibliotropic about epic fantasy. I think that is gender neutral, and it is certainly the sub-genre of traditional fantasy that has the most female fans.

    Sword and sorcery is more a male sub-genre, but that is mostly down to historical reasons I think. There is a lot of women in need of rescue in sword and sorcery's history.

    All that being said, I think it is mostly traditional gender roles that dictate that SFF is a male genre. And we really should have come away from that in present society.

  • Beth Woodward

    Short answer: no, I don't think speculative fiction is gender-specific. You hit the nail on the head: it's a genre that, as a whole, has a very large and diverse following. I also think that trying to narrow down fiction into "boy books" and "girl books" is silly and terribly limiting. People should, and do, read what they want, regardless of gender. Honestly, has that reviewer buried her head in the sand for the last 15 years? Did she miss Harry Potter? That was hardly gender-specific? And Twilight had a much greater female audience.

    Yes, some books have more male readers, and some have more female readers. But to imply, as the NYT reviewer did, that females would only read/watch epic fantasy if it had a lot of explicit sex, is insulting.

  • Brian Wood-Koiwa

    Thanks for introducing the subject. I would like to expand this and ask about being sexual-orientation specific. Lately, I have been feeling like Davvyd from Little Britain as the only gay in the fantastical village. I cannot seem to get away from what I find is the overwhelmingly heterosexual viewpoint of scifi/fantasy; not necessarily in the actual writing (there are of course writers like Mark Charan Newton, whom I have not had the pleasure of actually reading yet, and Clive Barker who do write gay/transgendered characters) but in discussions on the genre, particularly in the podcasts that I listen to. Just the bantering that goes on just turns me off and makes me feel that I do not really belong in this community.
    I do try to read and do enjoy fantasy/scifi written by women and/or include strong female characters, but I tend to read the more weird forms that are currently writhing up from the depths and tend to be more welcoming to writing gender-bending/queer characters and plots.
    I think that an even further diversification of scifi/fantasy will only help bring in a mixture of diverse voices (authors/characters) to the genre. Diversions, offshoots, and actual breakaways are the best things that could happen in terms of blurring the gender/sexual-opientation divide in a genre that is at least perceived as being gender specific. the more sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that are born, the less likely it will be to easily fall into the trap of a static perception for the genre as a whole.
    If there is a perception of scifi/fantasy being gender specific in its major sub-genres, then there must be at least some truth in it. The only way to alter this perception is to actually write in a way that will not feed that perception and allow it to fester into a kind of rigid monster. This goes for anyone, even for me. Since I am a gay male, I need to be sure to include and sincerely write about heterosexual relationships, especially from the straight male perspective, which is what I feel is the furthest from my own. This is a challenge, but I feel it is easier for queer writers to do this since we are constantly surrounded by heterosexual relationships, but I feel this is necessary for any writer to be confident and well rounded.

  • Heloise

    I do not think there is such a thing as "gender specific". There are quite obviously things perceived as gender specfic, but there's a vast difference between the two. The first would imply that there's some essential quality inherent in (in this particular case) speculative fiction that would appeal to some essential quality inherent in females or males. The mere existence of such qualites is a pretty steep assumption which I don't think can be proven in any meaningful way.

    On the other hand, contemporary Western society (which I'd guess is where most readers of this blog live) is to a large part structured around the gender divide, so anyone with a vested interest in perpetuating that society and its power structures will do their best to proclaim perceived gender specific any chance they get.

    This is of course a gross simplification and all I wanted to point out is that there's a larger issue involved here and that the genre literature angle is very incidental to it and could be (and has been) replaced with pretty much anything else and hoping to gain any insights on speculative fiction by a discussion on the level prescribed by that review is like hoping to get milk from a bull.

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