The Changing Role of Women in Science Fiction: Weird Tales, 1925-1940

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The Changing Role of Women in Science Fiction: Weird Tales, 1925-1940

Mary Hemmings
Science fiction pulp magazines have long been considered an entertaining pastime that appealed exclusively to male interests. Their covers generally evoked ideas of adventure, strange machines, bizarre alien creatures and all those other images designed to appeal to male readers. Above all, it was the sensational images of women on those covers that created a market for sales. It is difficult to imagine women being involved in the production and consumption of pulps at all and yet women played an important role as readers, writers, editors and illustrators in the early years of these magazines.1
Between the years of 1925-1940 the cultural and social roles of women in society were changed. The interwar years produced flappers, feminist activists, and adventurers such as Amelia Erhardt, (aviator); Dorothea Lange (photographer); Katherine Hepburn (actress). These women and many others captured the spirit of self-confident accomplishments. By contrast, the 1940’s saw a shift valuing domesticity in preparation for war. Similarly, the history of publishing shifted from hard-cover books, giving way to the pulps, then to comic books and paperbacks.
One of the most important and prominent pulp magazines in this period was Weird Tales. Its letters-to-the editors (“The Aeyrie”) provides some understanding of its readers. Contrary to what some researchers claim, its geographical base was broad (Taraba 124). Letters arrived from the United States, Britain, and even from rural towns such as Ponoka, Alberta. For the most part, the letters were intelligent and literate. They praised the craftsmanship of the writing, as well as the exciting plots. Each issue contained at least one letter from a woman reader and almost every issue had a story that could be easily identified as having been written by a woman writer. This suggests that women writing for Weird Tales in this period did not require male pseudonyms in order to have their articles bought by an influential magazine. All this considered, it was still the female form on the cover of pulp magazines that attracted sales.

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