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.”