Spock Among the Women

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News Media Commentary
Title: Spock Among the Women
Commentator: Camille Bacon-Smith
Date(s): November 16, 1986
Venue: newspaper article
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
External Links: abstract; archive link
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Spock Among the Women was a one-page article in the New York Times Book Review on November 16, 1986 by Camille Bacon-Smith, at the time an archivist at the University of Pennsylvania's Archive of Folklore and Folklife.

An excerpt is quoted below:
"This partially explains the predominance of women in the community: male fans of the show generally balk at the restriction and prefer to engage in activities such as costuming or crafts, for which payment is not a traditional reward. Women, who traditionally spend large portions of their lives working in relative isolation for little or no pay, bring a differentset of motivations to their writing and art. They want to talk to other women, to express themselves in the science fiction form that until recently has all but excluded them. The writers cannot sell their work, but they don't have to meet commercial criteria for success either: they must please only the predominantly female Star Trek fan community. For the past 10 years, at least, women have accounted for over 90 percent of the writing and graphic arts and for almost all the editing of the Star Trek fan publications. Together the writers, editors, artists and reader-critics form an artistic community that shares work and appreciation.

The first thing I discovered about Star Trek is that individual, unique creation is not as important to these women as sharing a fantasy universe in which real-life concerns such as sexuality and equality can be discussed in the metaphorical language of Star Trek. This sharing may take the form of a story tree, a group of stories, poems, pieces of artwork, or novels by one or more authors. The most characteristic feature of the story tree is that the stories do not fall in a linear sequence. A root story may offer unresolved situations, secondary characters whose actions during the main events are not described or a resolution that is unsatisfactory to some readers. Writers then branch out from that story, completing dropped subplots, exploring the reactions of minor characters to major events."

She then goes on to discuss the following stories:

Reactions and Reviews

Camille Bacon-Smith, an Archivist at the University of Pennsylvania's Archive of Folklore and Folklife, starts this article with an experience she had several years ago while taking a course in writing fiction. She stated that a professor made a statement that was meant to 'console' the women in the class, who were over 30 and had not yet sold a work of fiction. The professor pointed out, that 'women commonly break into print in their 30's, rather than in their 20's as men often do, Men write in the linear style recognized as fictional narrative at a much earlier age than women, who must learn linear narrative slowly and with much greater difficulty.'... Ms. Bacon-Smith herself wrote, 'As a social scientist, I found the idea that women learn linear narrative slowly and with greater difficulty intriguing, If women weren't, writing "correctly," was there a consistent pattern to their "error"?'. I was beginning to wonder about it also. Do women actually write in an errorous pattern? And if they did, could other women recognize those patterns as pleasing? The answers to these questions, Ms. Bacon-Smith wrote, could not be found in published serious fiction if women publish later than men, after they have 'learned how to do it properly.' She concludes that the answers, '... if not the answers', to the question about the ability of women writing in the narrative form did exist, But in the most unlikely place. STAR TREK. Star Trek, invokes the images of a masculine world. Admiral (Capt.) James T. Kirk and his First Officer, Captain Spock promenading all over the galaxy up holding truth, justice, and the monetary way. It is not the world of TV or movies that, can answer the questions to the writing style of women, but a world that we are more familiar with. A world that permeates our very existence. A world that 'close to 10,000 fans, most of them women, have created over 30,000 pieces of fiction, poetry, song, criticism, commentary and graphic art based on the television show and movies.' These works will often appear in amateur publications called fanzines. Because they use the copyrighted products of others as a basis for their art., story line and creations, they are obliged not to make a large profit. Male fans of Star Trek will normally balk at such restrictions and will try to tame another animal: Costumes and/or crafts. This being that, the pay is much better. Women, who can spend a large portion of their time, write and create for an entirely different reason. And this is the important part; 'They want to talk to other women, to express themselves in the science fiction form.' I thought this was fascinating. Women were passionately devoting what little time they had in other but commercial works. It wasn't that they had difficulty in learning to write in the 'Linear Narrative' fiction. They didn't want to write in that form. Then it hit me. Most of the books that are out, are only one track and one minded. They take the hero and pit him/her through existence, fight, flight, conquest, happy/sad ending. That was it, Have you ever asked yourself, what happens after the villain dies? Who gets the guy/gal? What next? Women want to see characters change and evolve, have families and experiences, rise to the challenge of internal and external crises in a 'NONLINEAR . . .tense, tapestry of experience.' Men see their lives as one dimensional. Birth, live, love one plot at a time. Women perceive their lives in a 'NONLINEAR, tense, tapestry of experience,' and they like to see that structure reproduced in their literature. To end this article, I would like to quote Ms. Bacon-Smith. I hope you agree with what she says. I do. 'Fan writers, as a group, are highly educated and verbally skilled (the average educational level attained is that of a master's degree). These women are not satisfied to accept passively the creations of others but exercise their esthetic preferences in their own stories, art, poetry and commentary, The writing experience then becomes one of participation in the lives of the characters. It is living day to day that matters, not the single events that make up individual plots (Linear Narrative), anf esthetic preference these artists share with the wider community of women readers. Experiences shared with a like-minded community take priority over the status of the solitary individual laboring alone on her art. It is to communicate, within the code of Star Trek, that the community expends so much creative energy'. [1]
recall a meeting at a More Eastly in 1985, in which several of us talked to someone about the state of Star Trek fan fiction; Camille was the one we spoke to. The article, for the most part, speculated that fanzines arose out of the female storytelling perspective of a 'non-linear narrative,' a narrative of relationships, as opposed to the male view of the 'linear narrative.' The author also claimed that 10,000 fans had created 'over 30,000 pieces of poetry, song, criticism, and art,' although I do not know how she came by those figures unless she had a complete set of Trexindexes and made an actual count. It was an interesting article; it avoided the K/S issue entirely. The only item missing in the analysis was that Bacon-Smith did not tell readers how to find fanzines, either in this article, or later in her book, Enterprising Women. [2]
I read an excellent article in the New York Times by Camille Bacon-Smith entitled 'Spock Among the Women.' Ms. Bacon-Smith does the best job I have ever read of explaining what media fans do and why they do it. The points made apply to all fandoms, not just Star Trek. If you're tired of reading about Trekkies in pointed ears who attend huge profession conventions only to be celebrities, read this article. [3]


  1. a fan (male) comments on "Spock Among the Women" in The Propagator 28, December 1986
  2. from Joan Verba in Boldly Writing
  3. from Comlink #32 (1987)