Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Our Futures, Ourselves

The science fiction community is once again convulsed around the bad behavior of some of its members. In this particular instance, the bad behavior is some particularly ugly and unprofessional displays of misogyny. Part of me is furious that we as a field are not already past this, but part of me is glad that the uproar exists. The fact that people are loudly unhappy is - in a world where sexism still exists - a sign of progress. There are people willing to stand up and push back and say, "no, this is wrong, and this is not who we are."

One of the comments I've seen show up more than once in reaction to this mess is a variation on "But science fiction writes about the future. How come it's still stuck in the evils of today? Why is it still a sexist field?"

We build futures, yes. But they are futures that are recognizable to us. 

Here is the thing about being in power, about having privilege. Having those things gives you the luxury of not having to think about them, and what they give you. Because I am white, I don't have to ever think about what it means to live life as a person of color. Because I was fortunate enough to be born into a body that matches up with my gender identity, I don't have to think about what it would have meant if I hadn't been.

Now, whether I can write a good story (of any sort, not just SF) without taking into account the experiences and lives of people other than ones who experience life like I do is a different question. I happen to believe that the answer to that question is no. I have less and less patience for supposedly great literature that can only portray one type of human well, where the only people who look and act like fully realized people are the ones that tick the same boxes on the census as their creator does.

Thankfully, not all SF is like this. And there are writers - not just in SF, but in every field of writing - who work to expand their perceptions, to tell bigger stories.

But if you don't have to recognize your privilege, if you never bother to realize that there are people around you living very different lives, if you never choose to think about how those different lives will shape and be shaped by what happens next, then you are going to recreate the sins of the present in the stories of the future. You will continue show a world where there is only one type of person in power, and that person is going to look an awful lot like you, because who is ever going to write a future where they don't exist? Or where they are suddenly the ones who have to struggle and face oppression?

And so the futures that get written are the futures we have seen before - the presents of the powerful, with shinier props and new set dressing.

1 comment:

  1. I would disagree with the premise that SF is about the future - any more than Historical Fiction is about the past or fantasy is about magical worlds. Literature - well, good literature at least - is always about the here and now. And great literature should be about anywhere, anytime, and - as you've said - anyone.

    I agree, then, with the conclusion. :-)