Sex and Sexism in Space

Science fiction can act as a mirror for our society. Sometimes the reflection isn’t flattering. Take, for instance, the common trope of hooking up with hot anthropomorphic aliens. Now this wouldn’t irritate me in and of itself (or else Star Trek would’ve given me an aneurysm), but it always seems to cater to the straight, typically male audience who turn around and say “diverse” characters aren’t realistic.

I can hear you groaning from here. Oh, Christ. Not another SJW diatribe.

Well, no. Not quite. To paraphrase movieverse Mark Watney: “I’m gonna science the shit out of this.”

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Still here, eh? Interesting.

Now what is this oversensitive feminist jerk talking about? Simple. Bit of biology, bit of anthropology, bit of Conspiracy Keanu.

Look at a fruit fly. You see that annoying winged thing having a go at your food? You share more genes with that wee fly than you do with any species off-world (barring extraterrestrial cousins on Mars.) According to Nasa, almost 50% of its genes have mammalian analogues. We share the ultra conservative Hox genes, which make literal heads or tails of our bodies. Flies don’t have much sex appeal, do they? Well, they’ll probably be more recognizable than an alien.

Here’s the next hurdle: reproduction. Not all life on Earth reproduces sexually. Hell, not all life on Earth has a face. There’s no guarantee that another civilization would have DNA, never mind reproduce sexually, never mind display sexual dimorphism that we would recognize. How are you going to differentiate individuals based on your preferences if they literally have none of the cues you look for in other humans? Yeah, it’s going to be a weird time. Without biological sex, there is no gender. I don’t know what you’ve heard on the  wacky wonderful internet of ours, but gender is a cultural fixture.

Cultural, naysayers scoff. Gender is natural.

Well, no. It’s naturalized. It’s a cultural structure that camouflages itself as “natural” in order to stabilize and perpetuate itself. Although I’d caution against the natural = right, unnatural = wrong dichotomy since Ebola is also natural but your phone is not. If gender is indeed a direct product of biology, then it would be universal like male, female, or intersex. However, you can find two or seven genders depending on what part of the world you’re in. People made that shit up, bruh.

And here’s the big C-word: Culture. Now I would argue that culture is an intangible, but overarching interorganismal structure that defines our species. We’re so social, we’re almost a superorganism like ants. Culture allows us to transmit information not only from relatives, but between groups. That includes norms, mores, body language, social cues; the fundamental ways in which people interact with each other at every level. We keep adding to it, too. That’s why we have such a tremendous cache of knowledge. We’re only 200,000 years old . Compare that to horseshoe shrimp, which haven’t changed in 200 million years. But because of our culture, we have a continuity of knowledge that no other species on this planet has. (We also have theory of mind, advanced cognitive development, bipedalism, a symbiotic microbiome, and so on but that’s for another day.)

So what if your incomprehensible faceless alien love interest has no culture? I’m not talking about manners. I mean 0 social scripts. No enculturation. Nothing. How do you deal with that? How do you even communicate? Assuming, of course, you have senses that overlap on the electromagnetic spectrum and can share some sort of atmosphere. (No air, no waves, no sound.)  These are big assumptions based on what we know about life on our own planet. You’d have no reference point. No language, no cues, no references to each other’s most fundamental and instinctual behaviour. Maybe throwing you into a death orbit around a star is a compliment. You don’t know.

Culture to humans is like water to fish. We don’t notice it because we’ve never lived outside it. We’re a social mammal. Even short stints of isolation are devastating. It’s absolutely integral to how we function and no other species on Earth shows they have a culture as we do. There are a few close contenders like elephants and whales, but not equals. And remember: we all share a common ancestor. An alien might not even be social. They might be a superorganism like the borg. They might blast radiation out their anatomical equivalent of an asscrack.

Maybe that’s what GRBs really are.

Alien arse rays.

conspiracy

So no. Extraterrestrials won’t be hot, probably not bipedal, and definitely not compatible with your protagonist’s…anything.

What in the goddamn does this have to do with sexism? Well, it goes to show how much is taken for granted for the benefit for a very small sliver of our species, which is itself a very small sliver of life on Earth, which is (presumably) a small sliver of life that does or will exist in our universe.

Sexy aliens in scifi isn’t a crime against humanity, but if you can accept that trope then a few not-white, not-male, not-cis, not-straight characters shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. They don’t violate every known principle of biology to exist.

They’re…oh how do those snide keyboard warriors put it? Oh, yes!

They’re more realistic.

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