It is a truth universally acknowledged that Science Fiction and Fantasy are genres dominated by straight white men. This has been the norm for decades and not until the 21st century did this dominance get called into question in prominent and visible ways.
Science Fiction and Fantasy as a whole still have a lot of progress to make when it comes to representing women and people of color. Writers of these genres who are not straight white men do exist, but they may experience more obstacles to getting published, and when they do their work may be overlooked because sci-fi and fantasy media coverage is dominated by white men. Especially in literary magazines, where the majority of reviews are written by men about books written by men as well. I won’t even go into how little coverage books written by people color get — it’s too depressing.
Speaking of depressing, do you all remember how horribly cringe-worthy, racist, and sexist the Hugo Awards Sad Puppies fiasco was last year? Goodness, that was a mess. If you haven’t heard about this, please do read up on it, as I will reference it frequently moving forward.
The point I’m trying to make is that Science Fiction and Fantasy have a complicated relationship and history with women and people of color. Which is why the Nebula Awards over the last 5 years have been one of the few rays of hope and in 2016 a cause for celebration. (Sad Puppies will remain sad, however.)
On May 14, 2016 women swept the all awards from the four main categories:
Uprooted – by Naomi Novik
Binti – by Nnedi Okorafor
Our Lady of the Open Road – by Sarah Pinsker
Best Short Story
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers – by Alyssa Wong
This is wonderful and welcomed news, of course, as the Nebula Awards are one of the most prestigious honors for the genre. But it’s also important to note that this year’s awards were not the only time women have swept the major categories. Actually, women have dominated the these awards over the last 5 years! 15 out of the last 20 winners of the four main categories have been women. Proof: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.
The Nebula Awards are critically important today because they recognize and validate the work of women in a genre that has historically marginalized, excluded, offended, objectified, and so many other terrible things. Women deserve equal and fair representation in Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Nebula Awards are true believers of that.
I cannot wait to see the men complaining about how women are stealing all their awards. The Sad Puppies are probably sobbing rivers of petty man tears because their tired old ideas of what Speculative Fiction should be have been rejected, or perhaps forgotten. I wouldn’t be surprised if they redouble their efforts for the 2016 Hugo Awards and offer even more cringe-worthy, sexist, and racist nonsense.
The myth that only men consume and genuinely understand Science Fiction and Fantasy needs to be debunked and eradicated entirely. Men who perpetuate this myth do so because they want to hold on to something they believe belongs to them. To these people, all I have to say is this — men are not inherently entitled to anything, yet they control and own so much. When will they be satisfied?
So why does all of this matter? Why is it important that women are winning some awards for genre fiction?
Because women created Science Fiction. Mary Shelley popularized the genre in 1818 with Frankenstein, and over the last several decades, women such as Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle, Robin Hobb, Nalo Hopkinson, and many more lent their voices to the Science Fiction and Fantasy literary canon.
The victories of women at the Nebula Awards are important because they’re signaling a shift in the culture of Speculative Fiction. Representation truly does matter, and if young writers see women commended, recognized, and awarded for their work in the genre, then they may also be inspired to write their own stories. That’s because diversity and visibility of underrepresented communities only begets more visibility and acceptance. Nothing will change if nobody speaks up and speaks out.
As a society, we should always strive to progress, not regress. Women are invariably at the forefront of progress, so we should listen to their unique voices and perspectives. I literally cannot think of any literary, artistic, political, or social movement that would not benefit from the contribution of women. Perhaps if the Sad Puppies actually understood women they wouldn’t be so sad and miserable. I fear they are a lost cause, though.
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