Lions and Women Writers of Science Fiction

Everyone knows that most book readers are women. There’s all kinds of documentation on that fact, but nothing beats documentation like experience out in the world.

My experience came last week at a meeting of the local Lions Club. I had been invited to give my talk “From Frankenstein to Earthsea: Women writers of science fiction.” You spot the flaw immediately. The Lions is traditionally a male only organization and why would they be interested in that subject?

Actually the Lions have apparently started to integrate. Apparently the Lioness clubs are dwindling in number in some parts of the world and so the she-Lions are being allowed in with the he-Lions.

Before my little talk I knew very little about the Lions. I had seen their signs around town, but I thought they were like other male-only organizations like the Elks and Moose. The only experience I had with those groups was back in high school. One winter my drama club was invited in to do a Christmas play at the Elks lodge. While we were performing for the kids and moms, the Elks members were in the back watching skin flicks. That’s what I assumed male bonding type clubs do: hire a babysitter to entertain the kids and the wives and then escape to the real party somewhere else.

The Lions are not like that. They are a service organization, consisting of volunteers that band together to help the disadvantaged in their home communities. Back in 1925, Helen Keller convinced the Lions to get behind the American Foundation for the Blind and so today helping the vision-impaired around the world has become one of their primary goals.

Despite the fact that Lions are letting Lioness’ in, my meeting was attended mostly by males. I’ve never given a talk to a mostly male group. They were polite but it was obvious that the names I was mentioning: Andre Norton, Ayn Rand, Virginia Woolf went unrecognized. In the last year or so as I’ve given talks in libraries, tea rooms, and bars, the audiences have been all or mostly women. As such I can always count on someone in the room recognizing my authors. Someone will add to the conversation. If I forget Margaret Atwood’s titles, somebody will fill in the blank. Somebody will disagree about Marion Zimmer Bradley’s place in the spec fic world. Someone will have read “The Female Man.” Women love books and read them voraciously. They know who the authors are, the players in the game. And they’re up for anything related to that.

Men–at least Lions–aren’t. I’m sure they read, but not the good stuff. I suspect they are more into the sports and business sections of the Reading Eagle. They want results and statistics, hard facts and educated predictions. They’re not interested in possibilities or fantastical situations.

I knew I was doomed when my opening bit about Mary Shelley being the first science fiction writer instead of Jules Verne or H. G. Wells passed unnoticed. No one in the room contested the idea. No one was surprised. No one was amazed. They just courteously accepted my proposition as a fact. I’m sure in their heads they said that crushing word that implies ho hum: “Interesting.” Nothing pops a balloon faster than the use of the word “interesting.”

To be fair there were a number of fiction readers in the audience. And one or two were actually interested in science fiction. At one point, someone asked a pertinent question and we did have a nice discussion. But I got the feeling that it was only because the Lions are in the habit of being polite to their speakers. They didn’t know I would have welcomed an argument, a disagreement, a hint that someone was maybe going to go and do a quick Internet check as soon as they got home.

Oh for a pride of Lionesses at high tea. Something to get your blood going, your heart pumping, and your fur flying. Something that would be anything but “interesting.”

Sue Lange
Visit Sue Lange’s Bookshelf at Book View Cafe.

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Lions and Women Writers of Science Fiction — 9 Comments

  1. I can’t help but wonder why clubs of this ilk have to choose animals such as Lion – Elk – Moose – Buffalo etc etc. Why aren’t there any Gerbil – Dugong – Sloth or Duck-billed Platypus Clubs etc, that’s what I want to know…

  2. I actually was a Lion member for a few years, Sue – back in the 90’s. I elected not to join Rotary when female membership opened up in the early 90’s. I remained a Soroptimist member and eventually became President, an ethical choice that probably cost me $15-20,000 in annual income by not joining the ladies who had no such qualms, and took advantage of the access to the greater money and higher positions held by the Rotarians.

  3. You’re upset because a bunch of guys at a service club meeting declined to argue with you about whether or not Shelley was the first SF writer, or whether Cherryh or LeGuin was the more feminist SF author, or whatever?

    Seriously?

    No, really . . . seriously?

    You wanted robust argument with “fur flying” after you give a presentation at a service club meeting?

    Again . . . seriously?

  4. Yeah, maybe I’ll start a club called the Dugongs. We’ll do mostly underwater type services. Repairing the speedboats of the underfunded or something.

    Thanks, KS.

    Amy, you continue to amaze me and filbert you are amusing me.

  5. You should understand that Sue, like James Bond, lives for danger. It’s just that writers have a very different view of what is really risky!

    Brenda

  6. I was intrigued by your line “They’re not interested in possibilities or fantastical situations” being applied to male readers since in my experience SF&F readers are often male – in fact the ignorant like to poke fun at the genre being a refuge of males who cannot speak to women (sadly a prejudice even in bookselling, more than once colleagues made such remarks about the SF&F reading group I set up, despite the visual evidence each month of 2/5 of the regulars being female).

  7. Alas, it is not just groups named for animals that have their biases. I was asked to give a talk to the California Fiction Writer’s Association, a huge and very active writer’s organization.

    I gave a talk on the strengths of science fiction and fantasy as genres. My basic premise was, as Ray Bradbury says, “Science fiction is a way of making reality behave by pretending to look the other way.”

    i discovered immediately CFW rather subscribed to the prevailing wisdom that “science fiction is an escapist genre of fiction calculated to take the reader to strange new worlds and leave him there.” (Don’t recall who said that).

    My entire presentation was met with incredulity and a refusal to suspend disbelief. The obvious truth was that SF and fantasy were not worthy to be considered as actual literature by such a “serious” writer’s organization. I had one gentleman tell me afterwards that he found my presentation somewhat bemusing. He could see why I thought SF actually had something important to say, but he firmly believed I was wrong—it was mere escapism, after all. Surely no one actually put as much thought into it as I suggested people like Ray Bradbury did.

    I had been considering joining the organization. i decided to spend the $50 membership fee on books.