One of my favourite zines, Lightspeed, is running a kickstarter for a special issue: Women Destroy SF. They achieved their initial goal almost as quickly as their name, but the kickstarter’s running for a few more weeks as they try to reach their stretch goals. Anyhow, to support their efforts they’ve got a few women to write them mini-essays about women in science fiction, and being a science communicator, mine was linked with perceptions of women in science.
Apparently, women are destroying science fiction. The historically minded will recall that we used to destroy science. We’re branching out, it seems.
It started in the test tubes, the bright labs, the white coats, with Ada Lovelace in clockwork heels and Rosalind Franklin in spiral stilettos, and both of them following behind, because their footwear was all so flimsy they couldn’t possibly hold up by themselves, without help. With Lise Meitner in windup shoes, a dolly working on automatic in a lab that didn’t want her. With Marie Curie in shoes that glowed like ruby slippers dipped in uranium, turned away from the Academy of Sciences because men don’t wear pretty slippers and they’d taint the very threshold, they would, leave little traces of woman with a half-life too desperately long to ever be scrubbed away.
Still a place was made, if grudging. We clawed our way up and into science in our pretty, silly, sensible shoes, and stuck there, because people couldn’t very well bitch about women in science when Rebecca Lancefield was helping them see off Streptococcus in sequinned, sequenced sandals and when Gertrude Elion was doing the same with leukemia, with her toenails peeping red-painted out of open-toed marrowbone shoes. When Henrietta Lacks became science, her feet shod in Petri dishes, and legion. And the bigots read outside in the waiting room, their feet in concrete blocks and granddad slippers, and suddenly there’s this whole new world of women with feet that could be stepped on, that could be bound up and turned away.
There’s Mary Shelley with electricity zipping through her iron-toed, hobnail boots. And Margaret Atwood with her decoupage slippers, handmade with pages from Genesis, and Octavia Butler in boots embossed with teeth and feathers … And beneath all the shoes, upon all the soles, is stamped exception—making, for the prints that can’t be scuffed out, and taking, for the ones that can.
And this new army of shoes, of bright, pretty prints, are tracking in mud. They’re bringing in blood and dead birds and flesh-eating bacteria and sex, all come to topple, to bring down, and the poor deluded things don’t seem to realise that they’ve missed the Golden Age, all right, and it was back when their owners were barefoot. And would they mind going back, please, to the sad, superficial corners of the wardrobes from whence they came, because gold is best when not part of a spectrum and their presence just might drown it out. Those heels are noisy, understand? And science is a single experience, and limited, and you should sit back and let other people talk about it, because those tongues in those shoes can have nothing valuable to say. (Do you hear that, Marie? Do you hear it, Ada and Mary and Margaret?)
I hear it. And stomp all over that, I say. Science belongs to us all, and so does science fiction.