Traditionally, sf has been considered a predominantly masculine field which, through its focus on science and technology, 'naturally' excludes women and by implication, considerations of gender. To varying degrees over its history, sf has in fact functioned as an enormously fertile environment for the exploration of sociocultural understandings of gender. My use of the rather slippery term 'gender' here refers to the socially constructed attributes and 'performed' roles that are mapped on to biologically sexed bodies in historically and culturally specific ways. Rather than a comprehensive account of representations of masculinity and femininity, this chapter explores sf's potential to engage with gender issues, highlighting texts that have served to disrupt or challenge normative cultural understandings.
Despite populist notions of the overwhelmingly masculinist nature of sf, the problematic spaces signaled by ‘gender’ are crucial to sf imaginings. The presence of ‘Woman’ – whether actual, threatened or symbolically represented (through the alien, or ‘mother Earth’ for example) – reflects cultural anxieties about a range of ‘Others’ immanent in even the most scientifically pure, technically focused sf. The series of ‘self/other’ dichotomies suggested by ‘gender’, such as human/alien, nature/technology, and organic/inorganic, are also a central (although often unacknowledged) facet of the scientific culture informing much sf.