The Rise in Popularity of Feminist Science Fiction

Feminist science fiction is a subgenre of science fiction which engages with themes pertaining to the feminist movement such as gender inequality, race and reproduction. The speculative narratives of contemporary feminist science fiction differ from those which have been explored in previous years as they typically feature the concerns that constitute the feminist agenda during the time at which they are written. This report analyses feminist science fiction’s current status regarding the literary marketplace, with reference to its audience and recent increase in popularity. The report then concludes with a summary of the market predictions for this subgenre based on literary and cultural trends.


In 2017, Statista conducted a survey to determine the preferred book genres of people in the United Kingdom.[1] While the survey did not include subgenres such as feminist science fiction, the statistics showed that 32% of respondents read science fiction on a regular basis. Another survey, carried out in 2012 in the United Kingdom by the National Literacy Trust, indicates that the majority of science fiction’s young readership is male, as girls are 7.4% less likely to enjoy reading science fiction.[2] Arguably, this is a response to science fiction having traditionally been considered a male-centric genre, as discussed by John Clute and Peter Nicholls in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.[3] In an article for the New Statesman, Liz Lutgendorff considered why this might be the case, concluding that “there is a problem with science fiction and fantasy novels when it comes to representation of women and minorities.”[4] Although there is no conclusive evidence that the readership of feminist science fiction is comprised of more females than traditional science fiction, the prevalence of complex female protagonists and more evenly distributed amounts of dialog and role-importance among characters of different genders provides reasonable grounds for speculation.

The Rise in Popularity

The increase in feminist discourse on International Women’s Day and during Women’s History Month in the United States of America subsequently generates increased discussion of feminist literature, including feminist science fiction.[5] In addition, as a result of the correlation between the prevalent themes of feminist science fiction and the agenda of the feminist movement, the popularity of this subgenre has steadily increased with each new wave of feminism. For example, the subgenre was notably popular during the second wave of feminism of the 1960’s, with the emergence of authors such as Joanna Russ and Ursula K. Le Guin.[6] Furthermore, statistics indicate there has been a steady increase in the amount of women writing science fiction over the last century. In 1948, women comprised only 10-15% of science fiction writers, but by 1999, 36% of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s professional members were female.[7] In an article for Bustle Magazine published earlier this year, E. Ce Miller acknowledged that while the subgenre has been in print for generations, “the mass appeal of [feminist science fiction] is relatively new [as] the last two years alone have seen the publication of dozens of titles”.[8] Miller’s statement is underpinned by the fact that in 2018, Naomi Alderman’s novel, The Power, became the first work of science fiction to be awarded the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.[9] The novel, published by Viking Press in 2016, also ranked fourth in The New York Times’ list of The 10 Best Books of 2017 and has been praised by critics from The Guardian and The Washington Post.[10] This recent increase in popularity appears to correlate with the emergence of the Me Too movement, proving that “although the genre may be fiction, the issues that feminist dystopias explore are all too real”.[11] Alexandra Alter of the New York Times considers this notion, acknowledging that feminist science fiction channels “the anger and anxieties of the present, when women and men alike are grappling with shifting gender roles and the messy, continuing aftermath of the MeToo movement.”[12]

This rise in popularity may then be due to the genre’s credibility as a tool for encouraging feminist discourse. According to Anna Gilarek in ‘Marginalisation of “the Other”: Gender Discrimination in Dystopian Visions by Feminist Science Fiction Authors’, contemporary feminist science fiction “attempt[s] to challenge the patriarchal status quo in which gender-based discrimination against women [is] the norm.”[13] One of the ways the subgenre does this is by opposing the androcentric tendencies of traditional science fiction, which often confines its female characters to one-dimensional roles. Feminist science fiction’s tendency to critique society in this way makes it a political genre. Furthermore, works from the genre often feature a dystopian setting. Patricia Melzer considers this in Alien Constructions: Science Fiction and Feminist Thought, asserting “Science fiction is valuable to feminists because of its particular narrative mode.”[14] Melzer goes on to note that the “worlds” or systems of representation characteristic of science fiction “create the freedom to voice assumptions otherwise restricted by a realist narrative frame”.[15]

Market Predictions

Since the observed cultural phenomenon of ‘binge-watching’ television series’ has been popularised by the likes of Netflix and Hulu, an increasing amount of feminist science fiction is being adapted for television.[16] For example, The Power is due to become a television series following an eleven-way auction for the production rights.[17] While the Me Too movement may have widened the gap in the market for this genre of viewing, the high demand for The Power’s production rights may also be due to the recent success of The Handmaid’s Tale.[18] This mode of adaptation offers a contemporary way to advocate feminist ideology to a wider audience, as television provides divergent means of exploring gender roles.[19] The knowledge that feminist science fiction is capable of generating a combined revenue of books and television series adaptations illustrates its success as a genre, while the interest generated by feminist science fiction television series’ will likely boost the sale of the corresponding books.

In Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives, Carole McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim note that the common narratives of feminist science fiction pose questions such as “How do structures of gender difference subordinate women as women?” and “How can women resist subordination?”[20] While there is no substantial evidence to suggest that this subgenre will continue to increase in popularity, so long as society’s desire to pose these questions exists, the speculative narratives of feminist science fiction will continue to hold relevance.

by Amber Patterson


[1] Statista [accessed 15 February 2019].

[2] Statista [accessed 15 February 2019].

[3] The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, 2nd edn. (London: Orbin, 1993), p. 1088.

[4] Liz Lutgendorff, ‘I read the 100 “best” fantasy and sci-fi novels - and they were shockingly offensive’, New Statesman [accessed 13th March 2019].

[5] Lauren Hubbard, ‘20 Essential Feminist Books to Read for Women's History Month’, Harper’s Bazaar [accessed 7 March 2019].

[6] Clute and Nicholls, p. 424.

[7] Eric Leif Davin, Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965 (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006), pp. 69 -70.

[8] E. Ce Miller, ‘5 Female-Centered Dystopian Novels To Read In 2019’, Bustle [accessed 7 March 2019].

[9] Kristian Wilson, ‘This Feminist Sci-Fi Book Was Just Awarded A Prize For Best Novel Written By A Woman Last Year’, Bustle [accessed 28 February 2019].

[10] ‘The Best Books of 2017’, New York Times, [accessed 14 March 2019]; Ron Charles, ‘’The Power’ is Our Era’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’, The Washington Post, [accessed 14 March 2019]; Claire Armitstead, ‘Naomi Alderman ‘I Went Into the Novel Religious and By the End I Wasn’t. I Wrote Myself Out of It’, The Guardian, [accessed 10 March 2019].

[11] Miller, [accessed 7 March 2019]; Leigh Anne Jasheway, ‘The #MeToo Movement and Its Impact on Women’s Writing’, Writer’s Digest, , [accessed 6 March 2019].

[12] Alexandra Altar, ‘How Feminist Dystopian Fiction is Channeling Women’s Anger and Anxiety’, New York Times [accessed 14 March 2019].

[13] Anna Gilarek, ‘Marginalisation of “the Other”: Gender discrimination in Dystopian Visions by Feminist Science Fiction Authors’, Text Matters, 2 (2012), 221-238 (p. 221).

[14] Patricia Melzer, Alien Constructions: Science Fiction and Feminist Thought (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), p. 1.

[15] Melzer, p. 2.

[16] Kelly West, ‘Unsurprising: Netflix Survey Indicates People like to Binge-Watch TV’, Cinema Blend, [accessed 13 Match 2019].

[17] Katherine Cowdrey, ‘Alderman’s ‘The Power’ to be TV Series’, The Bookseller , [accessed 7 March 2019].

[18] Dana Feldman, ‘Hulu Subscriptions Surge Past 20M With 'The Handmaid's Tale' And Lineup Of New Shows’, Forbes, , [accessed 3 March 2019].

[19] Veronica Hollinger, ‘Feminist Theory and Science Fiction’ in The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 125–134.

[20] Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives, ed. by Carole McCann and Seung-Kyung Kim (United Kingdom: Routledge, 2013), p. 1.