Why Don’t Women Like Sci-Fi?


All this brouhaha over “John Carter” being a flop and the reasons for it hit a new low this morning. Here I was, minding my own business, reading my Twitter timeline, when I see a retweet saying “Men are from Mars, and Women are Nowhere in Sight.” I had a bad feeling but I went to the link and read the article. Sure enough, it’s a blog about romance in sci-fi.

The article started off promisingly enough, but quickly devolved into pointing out that the trailers for the movie had not shown the romantic angle, the relationship between Dejah Thoris and John Carter, and that was its downfall, and why isn’t Disney trying to market to women…

Seriously?

It has to have romance to be attractive to women?  Do you understand what you’re saying? This is exactly why studios do NOT market science fiction to women. Are we putting 2 and 2 together here? Not all sci-fi involves a romantic plot, or subplot. Nor does it need to. I just want to beat my fists on the wall here. Nothing other than romance is attractive to women? This is what the author seems to be saying, along with most of the commenters.

And then women wonder why there is such a small female presence in sci-fi books and movies.

IT’S. NOT. ROMANCE.

Science fiction is about exploration, space, science, the future of humanity. Look, read whatever you like, but if all you want is romance, don’t whine that everything else isn’t romance, and that you’re being left out accordingly. I, for one, do not want all my science fiction stories to be ‘romance in space.’ Women are capable of more than fainting and being ravished. John Carter showed that nicely.

It already kills me that women can’t see anything other than the romantic elements of Jane Austen’s books. My god, she was so much more brilliant than that. You short her, and you short every woman with this absurd reductionist outlook on literature.

It is no longer a mystery to me why sci-fi is marketed almost solely to men. I guess I must be less girly than I thought, since the marketing for John Carter worked for me. It’s just a shame that some women seem to have such narrow interests. John Carter may be a financial disaster for Disney, but it is still a very good movie. Don’t cheat yourself out of seeing it.

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44 Comments

  1. Agreed. I love Sci-Fi, and I don’t love it for romance, I love it for what it is. Even if something does have a romantic sub-plot, that isn’t generally my sole reason for liking it. William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, Ghost in the Shell. These are great pieces of work because of their plot and setting elements, and I don’t think you need to be male to enjoy them.

    John Carter didn’t do well for ONE primary reason: Today’s world is all about adaptation, and even though John Carter is *technically* an adaptation, no one really knew about it. Why risk the $50 it costs today to see a movie when you have no idea whether it’s going to be good? The marketing campaign needed to be deeper and more interactive, not more “romantic”. Also, it had the happenstance of being released near Hunger Games. Is Disney’s target market really thinking of anything else?

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  2. THANK YOU for writing this! I couldn’t agree more. I read widely in many genres and appreciate the books I read for their own strengths…generally a good story. And for the record, I LOVED John Carter. :)

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    1. Yay! :D I’ve seen it twice in the theater, that’s how much I enjoyed it. Harry Connolly said he’s seen it 3x in the theater. It seems to have broad appeal to both men and women.

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  3. Thank you! My brain would turn to mush if all I read was romance. I was just surprised that so few people knew what the movie was about, had never heard of John Carter of Mars. People don’t seem to be reading the classics anymore which is a shame. Yes, Burroughs wrote pulpy stories, but that was the time he wrote. His description of Dejah Thoris standing before Tal Hajus was almost mirrored in Star Wars when Princess Leia is a captive of Jabba the Hut. We miss a lot by forgetting the earlier stories.

    I was able to take in the movie during a matinee, get drink & popcorn and only shelled out $14. Yeah, it’s not $5 but you can see movies on the cheap if you plan it. I’m very tight with my money, I rarely go to the theater anymore, but I liked the action sequences that I saw.

    I was surprised they released both JC and The Lorax the same weekend. I don’t know why they sat on John Carter so long, apparently the filming was concluded in the summer of 2010.

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  4. I think there is a vast majority of women who enjoy sci-fi. My wife, and believe me I know how lucky I am, LOVES Sci-fi movies. With the exception of sci-fi horror. (mostly because they seem to be filled with the sudden bursts of action meant to scare you out of your sox) I think women just prefer to not be patronized by adding the obligatory sex scene/love interest. A lot of time it’s blatant and extremely out of place and has no real bearing on the story.

    I still want to see JC for myself though, just need to find a time to get it done.

    As for reading the classics, I’ve gone back to reread Heinlein. Started with Stranger in a Strange Land, then I think I’ll move on to Time Enough for Love. Not sure where to go from there but I do want to save Starship Troopers for last it’s a shame what they did to that story to put it in movie form. Actually that’s a good example, when they made Dizzy into a female love interest for Johnny. No real reason for it, and it didn’t really fit to anyone who read the book. (well neither did a lot of the rest of the movie.)

    I desperately want to get to Gibson’s new book. But I suppose it will have to wait. I read extremely SLOWLY mostly because of time restraints. More or less only about an hour before bed each night.

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  5. I know I’ve been in the minority with women in the workplace as far as who is conversant in sci-fi movies and tv shows. Obviously there are lots of women who do love sci-fi. I was just disappointed (and frankly a little horrified) by the comments on that site by women who only took an interest in John Carter when they heard there is a romance in the movie. You are indeed lucky that your wife is also a fan. I don’t think these women felt they were being patronized by gratuitous sex, it was more that without that element there was nothing in the movie that interested them. That’s what I found so dismaying and appalling.

    Your comments have given me a great idea for another blog post, though. I want to dig up some older titles that newer fans of the genre may not be familiar with.

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    1. Great can’t wait to read about it!! I do find I have a hard time getting my wife to read sci-fi books that I have read.

      It appears that she doesn’t find Sci-fi literature to be very appealing. Heaven knows I’ve tried to get her to read Neuromancer more than once. I wish they would make a damn movie and then I might have a shot at getting her to read it.

      But, as I’ve already said about Starship Troopers, I hate to see my beloved stories twisted on the big screen.

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      1. Neuromancer might be a tough sell, that’s not an easy read and if she’s at all reticent about sci-fi, starting off with heavy-duty cyberpunk might not be the way to go. How about Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber? Those were way fun. Or Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy? It’s not hard sci-fi, but it might be a way to ease her into it. There’s also Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. Joan D. Vinge has some stuff she might like. Ray Bradbury is another fav of mine, Your wife may never develop a taste for Heinlein. Let me go through my collection, see what else I can suggest.

        I don’t think we’re likely to see a Neuromancer movie anytime soon. I follow William Gibson on Twitter, I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

  6. “Romance in Space: Now With More Soft-Focus Alluded-To F**king!!!” :D

    I thought the female draw for JC was the whole “shirtless beefcake” thing? If they’d just kept Dejah’s wardrobe true to the souce material, they could have highlighted her in the trailer without alienating the male audience.

    Hee… I was just musing to myself today that the next time James Cameron hops on down to the bottom of the abyss, he should take all the copies of all the iterations of the Twilight Saga, locked in a heavily-warded iron box, and leave them there where they can Do No More Harm. Might as well SMeyer in with the lot – that’s what you do with malicious spirits, right?

    Sadly, _that_ is the female audience that makes the studios money.

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    1. Just read the Jezebel article on “50 Shades of Grey”, complete with excerpts. Oh dear gods, why? WHYYYY??? My brain – she is brokken from the literachur.

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      1. LOL You’re braver than I. I haven’t been able to bring myself to check it out. I am APPALLED that a publishing house like Knopf gave her a contract for that drivel. I thought they held themselves to a higher standard. I guess they can get over themselves now.

    2. Just noticed – WordPress ate my “sarcasm” tag – the whole “I thought…” paragraph is deeply sarcastic. Obviously WordPress is a lady who likes romantic movies ;)

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  7. True. I’ve been trying to avoid using the word ‘pathetic’ because yanno, to each his own and who am I to judge, but seriously if Twilight is the limit of someone’s interest in books and movies, it’s very sad. Yes yes, straight to the bottom of the Marianas Trench!

    There was certainly eye-candy for everyone in JC :) I read somewhere that using a higher-profile actress for Dejah Thoris might have helped, and there may be some truth in that, but Lynn Collins turned in a fine performance. Must we always have the same handful of actresses? I’d never seen her before but she was quite good. And Taylor Kitsch could not have been anymore charming or swoon-worthy ;) *MWAH*

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    1. I’ve ended friendships over Twilight; I’m not kidding. When a 30+ woman tells me they are the greatest works of literature and they really speak to her, it’s over. I don’t care how long we’ve been friends; I don’t care how many degrees you hold; I don’t care how otherwise intelligent you are – your argument is invalid. I am unapologetically judgemental in this area. The end.

      At least we have “The Hunger Games” (strong female lead) grossing it big time – that gives me some hope.

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      1. Oh thank the Gods. Delivering us from Sparkling Vampyres should be everyone’s goal at heart. :)

    2. Oh dear god, great works of literature??? Am speechless. I just… can’t… NOOOOOOOO!!! There’s a real disconnect there between what constitutes teen fantasy and what constitutes good literature. How can anyone who’s ever read anything else possibly call that stuff ‘great’?? The mind reels. Thorazine for everyone!

      I still haven’t read The Hunger Games, and honestly it’s not real high on my TBR list. But from what I know of it I have to agree, at least it’s a step in the right direction.

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      1. “How can anyone who’s ever read anything else possibly call that stuff ‘great’ ??” I Hell, how can they call it literature at all? Y’know what – if people want to call it crap and say “I’m tired, I’m not feeling very ambitious, andI want to entertain myself by reading some crap,” I might have some respect for that – but don’t think the fact that a lot of people read it qualifies something as “literature.” That’s more bizarre than science fiction, if u ask me!

        haven’t read HG, but Rosie really enjoyed and she is a pretty discriminating reader who has rarely given me a bum steer.

  8. I think the whole idea that women are only interested in romance focusses on a very narrow sample of the female audience – the flawed reasoning seems to proceed along the lines of “OK, The Notebook and Twilight were v. popular with women; those movies were romances; therefore, all women want to see are romances.”

    I won’t turn down a well-acted, well-written romance like “Casablanca,” or a clever one like “Shakespeare in Love,” or charming ones like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” or “The Artist,” but the fact that I’m female doesn’t automatically mean I don’t despise cheap sentiment and crummy, preposterous “happy” endings in which the greatest thing that can ever happen is that a blandly goodlooking woman bags a blandly goodlooking man in circumstances that are so photogenic the audience is willing to overlook all the things these people will never have in common. I haven’t seen J Carter, and I’m extremely picky about my sci-fi, but that has nothing to do w/the absence or presence of romance, or the fact that I don’t have a Y chromosome.

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  9. Witness the popularity of Nicholas Sparks’s “The Notebook” and the other one that came out recently where the wife had amnesia and the husband had to win her all over again. These comments about wanting romantic elements were from women, I don’t know if you clicked through to that blog that started my whole rant. All the commenters were saying “Oh, if I’d known there was romance in it I would have wanted to see it.” Too many women out there who still have the Cinderella complex.

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    1. That’s true for sure, but I still think the idea that “oh, we’ll throw in some cheezy romance and the chicks will dig it” is a myth that was created by filmmakers with little repect for their audiences, and perpetuated by women too dumb to know there’s more to life than that. don’t forget that the last woman to win an Oscar for Best Director won it for “The Hurt Locker,” and the woman who won for Best Actress this year won it for playing Margaret Thatcher – clearly the women with talent have something besides just flimsy romance on their minds!

      “The Notebook” – blech, I won’t touch that tripe w/a 10′ pole.

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      1. I haven’t read “The Notebook”, but I saw the film on tv awhile back. Almost put me in a diabetic coma and as you know I don’t have diabetes. I think that was the flick that saw Ryan Gosling’s inexplicable rise to ‘heartthrob’. Even while I was watching I was thinking to myself, “what does she see in him?”

        I think a lot of women have just gotten it into their heads that sci-fi is a ‘guy thing’ and it’s either beyond them or just not for them without even giving it a try. I think you’re right about the studios being dismissive of the female audience by tossing in the romance here and there.

  10. Plenty of women love sci-fi, including myself. Just as I know plenty of men who love romantic comedies. But you’d never know that from the media. All these “women love x”, “men love X” stuff is just stereotypical nonsense.

    I enjoy a good romantic subplot, too. IF it fits and adds something to the story. For example, Sarah and Reece in the first Terminator film.

    But anyhow, I enjoy pretty much all genres and couldn’t care less what the media thinks I might like or dislike.

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  11. Oh, I know, as a woman who loves sci-fi. :-) But they are out there and unfortunately because of it the entertainment industry paints us all with the same broad brush. And that blog I linked to with the commenters who all agreed they had no interest until they found out it had a romance… :::shudder::: Maybe they were hoping for “Twilight in Space.”

    I do care what the media thinks I might like because it affects what they produce (metric tons of garbage like “The Notebook” and “Twilight”, and let’s not forget “Lifetime Television for Women” which is nothing but sappy melodramas). Sure I can turn it off, but I think crap like that programs women to think that’s what life is, or should be. It’s must mind-numbing.

    Reece and Sarah were absolutely essential to the film, it was poignant and bittersweet because it was so short. There were no hearts and violins, they were under such stress it was almost a foxhole romance. There was no happy ending, but her character arc was one of the best.

    Or maybe I’m just becoming Sarah Conner. Hand me another magazine for this AK-47, willya? ;)

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    1. Sarah/Reece is a good example – I can see you in your aviators and fatigues, packing up the Jepp with chocolate and cat food, and heading out into the desert.

      Also Karen Allen & Jeff Bridges in Starman – “the baby will know.” I know I’m showing my age but what a sweet little movie!

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    2. Ahaha :) I gotta get these arms in shape. I wish I had the physique Linda Hamilton had in T2.

      Oh, Starman was fantastic! I haven’t seen that in ages. Of all the crappy movies HBO has been showing lately, you’d think they could dig up a few gems like that.

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  12. “I do care what the media thinks I might like because it affects what they produce”

    Ah. I do agree on that. I had just meant I’m not concerned what others think about my taste in things. I can enjoy a hard-edged sci-fi just as much as I can enjoy a classic 40s weepy melodrama or whatever, depending on how well it is done, and the mood I am in.

    But yes, the media has driven me batty for years with their stereotyping. It’s like they’ve spewed the same limiting nonsense for so long that they don’t stop to think for a moment that they might be wrong. That it’s not amazing that a male might enjoy Jane Eyre and a female might enjoy Game of Thrones. Or that, many can enjoy both!

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    1. The web was on fire re: Game of Thrones when it debuted last year. Did you see that (non)review in the NYT that claimed it would only appeal to fanboys? WOW. Touched off your basic firestorm. ;)

      Unfortunately the success of the Twilight franchise seems to reinforce the stereotypes. That made the studio obscene amounts of money, so they think they’ve got it all figured out. Even still, they completely botched the marketing with “John Carter.”

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  13. *nods* Yups, I read that idiotic article, I couldn’t even begin to call it a review. And I loved the immediate hell-fury it caused. I don’t care of *you* love, like, dislike, or despise something. Feel free to share your opinion on something. But please don’t assume I’m going to feel the same way just because I’m of the same gender. We’re not the Borg.

    Submerina, thanks for that link. Gave me a good laugh. :)

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  14. Perhaps the issue is not why science fiction allegedly appeals less to women than to men, but why sappy romance seems to bring women out in droves. I’m doing research in the neurosciences and please don’t blast me for this (because I’m a woman and I love science-fiction as much as I loved “Lorna Doone”), but men and women’s brains tend to be wired differently. My sister hated science fiction and I only have one girlfriend who’ll go see anything scifi with me or read scifi books with me(so long as they aren’t too military scifi which she hates). On the other hand, I don’t know many guys who love “Jane Eyre”. Part of this is cultural, though I increasingly believe that most of it is genetic.

    As far as the “Twilight” debate, *sigh*. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed “Twilight” but it’s not like I thought it was the greatest work of literature ever. For the audience it targeted, for the pseudo-gothic romance it was supposed to be, it was fine. And I feel similarly about “Hunger Games”. To me both series lack the dimension found in characters in the works of Austen or Sienkiewicz. Which is fine. It’s not like everyone should aim for that. And while Katniss was a physically stronger person than Bella, (and as someone who has been a very competitive athlete yet who still manages to trip seemingly over a puff of air I don’t find Bella’s helplessness when facing vampires that much of negative to her, come on they’re vampires), I found Katniss to be more stunted emotionally and as about as unwilling to grow as the character Bones from the tv show of the same name. Sure Bella pursued her relationship with and stuck to Edward with a determination not approved of in today’s world, which was part of the point. Bella and Katniss both have their different flaws but I wouldn’t my daughter to model herself on either character.

    I think the marketing was horribly done for “John Carter”, and it was a horrible weekend for such a movie. JC is more of a summer feel, or at least more of a spring break movie. Releasing it right after Valentine’s Day with a highly touted Seuss movie was just plain dumb. It would have done better in July or August.

    And if they’d marketed it as “from the author of Tarzan” that also would have helped.

    But really, does science fiction do well in the theatres compared to romance, romcom, marvel comics adaptations and so on? There’s still the perception that “science fiction is for people who live in their parent’s basements and have bad hygiene but who are great at fixing computers”. That stigma continues to hurt how science fiction will do on tv or in the theatres (and before you say “Star Trek” or “Avatar” or whatever, look at the ratio to how much scifi movies generally make compared to other movie genres and get back to me).

    Sorry, I guess I needed a break from research.

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    1. Oh jeez, Genevieve, we never flame people around here for disagreeing with us, and in any event, I would never disagree with the idea that female and male brains may well be wired differently. But there are many other variables, both physical and environmental. For example, righthanded and lefthanded brains are wired differently, as well and I have never in my life heard of a study that adjusted for that fact: so would my choice of enternment have more in common with that of a righthanded woman, or a lefthanded man? I have noticed that men are just as likely to fall for cheap sentiment if it is packaged and marketed correctly – who around here is old enough to remember all the men who “thought they had something in their eye” at the end of films like “E.T.,” “The Champ,” and the all-time SaccharinePallooza movie of the week, “Brian’s Song” – the heartwrenching tale of a dying NFL player and his NFL BFF? The theme music alone was enough to make your teeth hurt, and I’m telling you men of all ages LOVED that shit. Ditto that Notre Dame moive “Rudy,” and all those cheezy sports movies, nearly all of which are based on the myth of David and Goliath, and nearly all which were adored by manly male filmgoers. IMO it’s not that only women want romance, it’s that men have been socialized to call it something else.

      [p.s. - I redact everything I just said about sports movies when it comes to the greatest one of all time, the exception that proves the rule, "Pride of the Yankess" starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, #4 the Iron Horse. No cheap sentiment or hackneyed plot there - the speech Cooper makes in Yankee Stadium at the end of the film is based almost word-for-word on Gehrig's real words, and I am not ashamed to admit that I cry every time I hear it ! ;) ]

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  15. LOL thanks for that Genevieve :) That’s a good question about why the sappy romances seem to be almost universally popular with women (yours truly excepted). Is it genetic? If so, it would seem not all women are cut from the same cloth since there are those like myself who would rather claw themselves than watch that brain-dulling tripe. My beef with Twilight is not only the insipid storyline, but the truly BAD writing. For someone to defend it as ‘great literature’ as that commenter did on the other blog shows how far we have fallen in our literary standards. I’m not saying everyone needs to read Kafka or Nietzsche, but there are less-badly written books out there that are good stories.

    I agree, science fiction does still suffer from the stigma of ‘über-geekdom’. Still, there must be enough of a fan-base in general or the studios would have given up on the genre entirely long ago. We have “Prometheus” coming up later this year and that I expect will do very well, although that may be due more to the ‘horror’ element than the science fiction.

    Absolutely the marketing and timing of the release of John Carter were terrible. And dropping the “of Mars” from the title didn’t help. A lot of sci-fi fans didn’t even make the connection with Edgar Rice Burroughs, which is probably a secondary issue in that people are not reading the old classics these days

    Thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment!.

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  16. I love all the comments you get. I never go by reviews. Some of my favorite films were trashed by critics. John Carter clearly has a following and those that only listen to what others say miss out on an awful lot.

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  17. That is so true! Come to think of it, I’m not sure I read any actual reviews of the movie itself. All I kept seeing was how much of a financial disaster it was, which has nothing to do with the quality of the movie itself. Everyone who’s seen it seems to love it.

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