Brenda Cooper

On Female Futurists

Last month, my name showed up on the cover of The Futurist magazine.  I didn’t think much about it at the time. They asked me for a brief essay, the request was interesting, and so I wrote about an issue that has been bothering me for a while:  that we are no longer inching toward being stewards and gardeners of the ecosystem, but rather we’re forcing that role on ourselves.   Glen Hiemstra  – my futurist mentor – complimented me on having my name listed (with a number of others) on the cover.  I still didn’t think much about it.  It’s not like it’s my first cover appearance.

But maybe it is even more important than my science fiction stories.

Women are under-represented in science fiction and as futurists.

We are being published in SF, but there are still way more men, particularly on the bestseller lists.  But women do have strong anchor models in the science fiction world.  Margaret Atwood.  CJ Cherryh.  Nancy Kress. We have our up and coming writers like E. Lily Yu, who just won the Campbell recognizing the best new writer in the field.

In the futurist world, there aren’t many anchor role models.  The most successful futurists that come to mind are almost all male.  Alvin Toffler. Jules Verne.  Ray Kurzweil.  Michio Kaku.  Rachel Carson, the author of the 1960’s game-changing book Silent Spring, may be the most influential female futurist.  There is one woman on Jack Uldritch’s list of top ten global futurists. My informal search on YouTube and internet browsers turned up a few more.  Melissa Sterry. Anne Lise Kjaer.

I’m not suggesting that I will become a top female futurist.  I don’t do this full time, at least not right now.  But adding my name to respected women in this field may be even more important than being respected in science fiction.  I truly believe that discussing our future, exploring the possibilities, and then trying to create the best ones is critical.  It is also terribly important that these discussions include women.

I’m looking forward to the day when half of the names of the cover of The Futurist are women (There were about forty contributors to 22nd Century at First Light, the excellent group article my essay appeared in; five were women).

7 Responses so far

  1. 1. Jack Uldrich

    Brenda:

    I couldn’t agree more about the need for additional female futurists.

    Jack

    P.S. If I didn’t mention it in my article, I should have stated that my list of top futurists was an informal list. I’m sure there are a number of fine futurists (female and male) of whom I’m simply not aware.

  2. 2. Jennifer Jarratt (@jenjarratt)

    Hi Brenda

    I’m tempted to take you on for the female futurists you missed–I think there are six on The Futurist list you mentioned–for the female SF writers you didn’t mention, Ursula LeGuin, for one (Lathe of Heaven, The Dispossessed, etc.) Also for “successful futurists” Donella Meadows (Limits to Growth) Hazel Henderson (Politics of the Solar Age, 1988), Elise Boulding (who coined the “200-Year Present” concept). However, I appreciate that women are not front and center when it comes to the “well-known” and/or successful futurist label.

    Mostly when you ask men for lists of people they name their buddies, other men they’ve seen and admired. For some reason women do not seem to do that, which is why I’m commenting here.

    It’s always been difficult for women to fit into whatever model men have chosen to categorize the notables in their fields. Over the years, we’ve had many sessions with women at WFS meetings, trying to get at why there aren’t women on all the platforms as speakers and moderators. WFS has certainly done better at this over time.

    In 1986, Annie Cheatham and Mary Clare Powell published a book: “This Way Daybreak Comes,” attempting to show how women were influencing the future, if not as “recognized” futurists.

    So my conclusion is, if you expect women to step up & match the male model of what a futurist is, it probably won’t happen.

    Good luck to your writing career–I’m looking forward to reading your piece in the magazine.

  3. 3. brenda

    Hi Jennifer — thanks very much for adding to the list. I’d actually love to hear from or about others! If female sf writers are fair game, there are a lot of possibilities (and I did list Jules Verne if I remember right!). Ursula does do some non-fiction essays, and I would call that a futurist bent although I don;t think she applied the word to herself.
    I also didn’t include a few that I found who are only addressing women’s issues. That is valuable, but what I’m specifically lamenting in the article above is female voices in the larger cultural discussions about the future. Until I went to look, I really expected to find more of us.
    Thanks for commenting!

  4. 4. brenda

    Hi Jack,

    Thanks for dropping by. Of note I don’t disagree with your list; there are not enough working successful women in the futurist business. I don’t even count myself since it’s the smallest time-slice of three things I do (I have a tech job, write SF, and do futurist articles for various places and the occasional speech.

    Any list of influential futurists (people who have seemed to make an impact on society) is mostly male. My own lists would be mostly male.

    — Brenda

  5. 5. Patrick Tucker

    We really honored you participated. Hope to see more of your work on THE FUTURIST magazine blog.

  6. 6. Claire Nelson

    Here I am.. One of the Female Futurists and a Black Female to boot.. Been at this since around 2004 when I realised that what I was doing in my spare time had an official name and a whole community…
    I am working on a Publication for the World Future Society and would love you to consider doing an Article or Essay…’ I look forward to hearing from you..
    Regards,

  7. 7. Merle O'Brien

    Hi Brenda (and fellow Futurists)

    Good to read your articles – and would love to be part of a platform where female futurists can discuss our/the future, explore the possibilities for a more balanced gender coding of our field and create a list of women futurists leading 21st century thinking.

    As one of Africa’s few qualified women futurists – who has served as deputy president of the World Future Society SA Chapter – there has been a historical absence and less appreciation of the value of the voice of female futurists – especially of the developing world – in global discussions about the future.

    It would be good to connect with other women futurists within a network – so please count me in and keep me updated!

    Regards from South Africa,
    – Merle