Did any science fiction predict feminism?

This is something that has often struck me, but I was reminded if it by a comment of Baldwin in this thread.

It is always kind of amusing reading old SF and seeing how the authors could imagine the most outlandish technological and sociological changes, but somehow gender roles always reflected those of the time in which the stories were written. Or, at least, if the roles were different, it was because of some unnatural event like all of the men dying off, or something in the water making the women behave in an “unnaturally” masculine fashion.

Does anyone know of an SF story that did a pretty good job of predicting the way that gender roles are viewed in modern life? A hypothetical example would be something written in, say, the 40’s where a man has a female boss, but the story gives no hint that this is an unusual or pathological arrangement.

SF was a little further ahead of the curve when it came to race. I remember some stories written during the Jim Crow era in which black were in positions of leadership. While naturally the author was consciously making a social statement by doing this, he would also self-conscously try to introduce the arrangement in as off-hand a manner as possible. Was there anything similar with gender before, say, 1960?

It has been a long, long time since I read it, but, IIRC, Eugene Zamyatin’s classic ‘We’ had female heroine. In addition, the dystopia that it described underscored the similarity between the state’s power over the individual and men’s control over women.

Especially given the time that’s passed and my faulty memory, I must say: YMMV.

James H. Schmitz had plenty of strong/assertive/adventurous female characters starting in the 50s ( he was known for it ). I don’t remember any characters thinking it was bad for a woman to act like that. In some ways it was almost post feminist, since no characters made any positive comments either; it was just how things were.

Of course, women themselves discovered feminism somewhat eariler. The Declaration at Seneca Falls was 1848.

Or, if you want writing, Herland, published in 1915 and written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:


I don’t doubt that there were early examples of this, but I can’t think of any cases where the plot revolved around gender equality, or even depicted such a society. I do know of a few examples where women get to be rulers or have more significant accomplishments than they’re usually given credit for.

A few years after Mary Shellet published “Frankenstein” as a teenager, another English teenager published an unjustly overlooked science fiction novel. jane Webb’s 1827 novel “The Mummy”, which is set in 2126, features steam-powered everything (early steam punk!) and a Mummy revived by electricity (before Poe’s story “Some Words with a Mummy”). IIRC, it features a female president (although women still can’t vote).

Robert Hdeinlein’s Operation Moonbase is a weird exercise – it has so many good touches, but a lot of embarassingly bad ones. MST3K bashed it in a very early episode. But among its other nifty ideas, it has both a woman president * and* the first human into space is a woman pilot. Heinlein often featured feisty and accomplished women in his stories, some say based on his wife Virginia.

I was going to say Heinlein, but Heinlein’s women, while almost to an individual as strong as the men intellectually and emotionally, all seem to be just incredibly assertive 1940s housewives, “a lady in the living room, a wizard in the kitchen, and a tiger in bed”-kind-of-thing.

To me, even though Heinlein has accomplished women, they are still not realistic. They’re intellectual male fantasies, I think. They’re often super-competent in one area at least, but they don’t outshine the men. they like sex, but aren’t afraid to use sexiness to gain an advantage. They have a disconcerting habit of wanting to get pregnant fast (although Heinlein never had any children with any of his wives, AFAIK). But they don’t seem like reral people. Pepper Mill really dislikes them.

Also, keep in mind that a lot of Heinlein’s juveniles were written for boy’s magazines like “Boy’s Life” so they almost always had their main characters as young men. The exception being, of course, Podkayne Of Mars.

Susan Calvin was pretty unremarkable for being a woman. Of course, she was almost neuter - but almost all of Asimov’s characters were. Still, I don’t remember it ever being a big deal that she was in a high position in a technological field.

Certainly not the sole exception. Look at the “Puddin’” stories and “The Menace from Earth”, for instance.

Here’s a useful guide to feminist science fiction. Most titles are recent, but you’ll find many oldr ones here. Some of them much older. I’m really not familiar with most of these, so I can’t comment.

If I remember correctly, Gene Roddenberry tried to include a little feminism in Star Trek. The pilot episode-turned-flashback with Captain Pike had Majel Barret as “Number One” the first officer. Majel herslef said that it generated a lot of backlash. Surprisingly, the strongest negative comments were mainly from women who asked “Who does this woman think she is to have such an important, manly job?”

IIRC Starship Troopers had females as pilots because they were capable of the necessary computations for star flight and men weren’t.

Was the backlash not chiefly amongst the executives viewing the pilot who thought “Who does this Roddenberry think he is to have his girlfriend in such an important, manly job?”

One of the biggest knocks against science fiction has always been its treatment of women. In a way, this is culturally odd since many of the younger writers of the 1940s (those in the group known as the Futurians, e.g.) were politically leftwing and they were growing up in an era in which Hollywood had a number of especially strong roles for women.

On the other hand, they were also being influenced by the engineering and to a lesser extent science cultures, which were at the time extremely conservative, overwhelmingly male, and loudly resistant to change.

Even more importantly, their audience was young nerd males, who would not have appreciated feminist stories, and their editors were older nerd males who catered to the audience. The authors weren’t writing art for themselves; they were creating product that would sell. It’s no different from Hollywood today. There may be plenty of females in lead action roles but they sure ain’t feminists and they seldom do anywhere near the box office of the movies with male leads.

The frightening thing is that, as others have said, some of them seemed to have honestly thought they were writing strong female characters. Says a lot about about society and how far it’s come so fast.

Wasn’t the female pilot also in command of the mission (over men)? And did she marry one of the male crewmembers on the Moon (in a wedding conducted by the President)?

Yuppety yup.

To continue on the slight hijack, I’ve generally been astounded at Heinlein’s treatment of women; his own fantasies and prejudices come out clearly in almost every woman he writes.

In God Emperor of Dune, Emperor Leto Atreides II’s personal elite guard, the fish speakers, are all women. The reason was that an army of men would inevitably prey on subjugated citizens, or something like that.

Come to think of it, in all of the DUNE universe, the Bene Gesserit are arguably the most powerful faction, though they are, in the traditional role of women, primarily manipulators and schemers. Though they are certainly deadly hand to hand combat specialists.

The execs had a lot of issues with the pilot. But the negative feelings about “Number One” seemed to be from women, not men.

As for Dune, those books are extremely laden with misogynist thinking. Like you say, women are portrayed as schemers and manipulators who use sex to control men. The “ggod” woman is the one who disobeys her sisterhood out of love for a man. And ultimately it is a man who is superior because he can go to that place within himself where women cannot. In one of Princess Irulan’s tracts about her father she relates how strong he was because he was able to resist the temptations of a dancing girl who had “special training” in seduction. The fish speakers (gee, no insulting symbolism there) were women because they would be loyal to the leader personally. Men would be loyal to the institution (the empire) rather than the emperor himself.