cover of The Battle of the Sexes in Science FictionThis book is about a type of sf story, the battle-of-the-sexes story, and how such stories provide insight into the role of women in science fiction, literally and textually, from the mid-1920s until the present. It is equally about the battle of the sexes as it was played out in what Samuel R. Delany calls “the vast tributary ststem of informal criticism” (Delany 1984: 238). In the pages that follow, you will see that letters, reviews, fanzines and marketing blurbs are as important as the stories themselves in understanding the evolving relationship between men and women in sf.

I take the term “battle of the sexes” as it applies to sf from Joanna Russ‘s 1980 article “Amor Vincit Foeminam: The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction”. Russ uses the term to refer to sf texts that are explicitly about the “sex war” between men and women and which posit as a solution to this conflict that women accept their position as subordinate to men. Many of the battle-of-the-sexes texts are overtly antifeminist, and frequently comically so. In her foreword to the reprint of “Amor Vincit Foeminam“, Russ discusses how bad they are:

Samuel Delany told me the stories were too idiotic to bother with, but they would not leave me alone until I gave them their place in the sun. Their crudity and silliness were worse than my representation of them, honestly; they were terrible. But it was fun. As a critic, a reviewer, and a teacher, I have spent my life reading a huge amount of extraordinarily bad fiction; sometimes the only way to discharge the emotion aroused by the incessant production of gurry is to beat the gurry to death, especially when it’s as marvellously foolish as this was. (Russ 1995: 41)

Russ discusses ten stories published in the United States between 1926 and 1973. I have concentrated on the same period but have broadened my study to include many texts not examined by Russ: those that fit her rubric as well as others that posit a range of different “solutions” to the battle of the sexes, including characters that are neither male nor female but hermaphroditic. I then take the discussion further, from the formation of the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award in 1991, to the year 2000.