In Finland’s Science Fiction fandom everyone is treated equal: men, women, authors, artists, and hang arounds.

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The fiction workshop attended by Johanna Sinisalo and Leena Peltonen in the early years of the 90s. Pictured also Vesa Lehtinen, Tapani Ronni, Johanna Vainikainen, Eeva-Liisa Tenhunen and others. Image: © Juhani Hinkkanen

 

American Finncon-visitors have often been surprised by the equality of the Finnish SF-scene. This includes gender balance and equality between genders, but also authors and fans, two veterans of the Finnish fandom, author-scriptwriter Johanna Sinisalo and Hannele Parviala, lecturer in visual arts.

“It’s all due to all of our science fiction fans,” praises Johanna Sinisalo.

“Yes, you can’t really talk about any special effort being made to raise gender equality awareness. It’s almost always been self-evident that men and women do everything together. No extra work has been done to make that happen,” adds Hannele Parviala.

Sinisalo and Parviala think the rest of the Finnish society is slowly catching up and has now reached the state of equality the Finnish fandom had in the 1980s. They say the equal tendencies of the fandom were reflected in their daily lives. For example, child care and housework were shared in their families in the 1980s, when equality at home was not the norm.

“A conservative mindset is generally quite impossible to keep up in a community where people speculate on anything you can imagine,” analyzes Sinisalo as the reason for gender equality within the SF community.

Equality is rooted in the early days of Finnish fandom

In the 1980’s all Finnish fandom’s functions were dependent on the science fiction magazines Portti, Tähtivaeltaja and Aikakone as well as fanzines, which you could buy from a book store or borrow from a library. Without them it would have been very hard to find people with similar interests. When Sinisalo found the magazines, she offered a short story to Leena Peltonen at Portti magazine. This was the beginning of both her attendance at the SF community and her literary career.

At that time the Finnish fandom already had several strong female authors, such as Sirpa Pasanen, Eija Elo, Liisa Rantalaiho and Eeva-Liisa Tenhunen, in addition to Peltonen. They soon formed a tight knit community of their own.

The women who wrote and translated science fiction made a conscious effort to ensure that short stories written by female authors were published steadily in the magazines. They thought it crucial that all sorts of SF-literature could be read in Finnish.

Yet, sometimes the female authors who were presented with Atorox awards for best short stories got some awkward comments.

“Some of the oldest men understood science fiction very narrowly, and thought that women take adventure and science out of SF. We countered those opinions by publishing stories that were critical of traditional views on masculinity,” says Sinisalo.

Gender equality is the culture of the community

Eventually smaller communities began to mushroom within the fandom. One of these generated heated discussion.

“In the late 1980’s a group established a “Club for Mature Gentlemen’s Enjoyment”. One of its founding ideas was that it tried to prevent the degeneration of sci-fi in hands of certain people, like women. They later claimed it was a joke, but the whole thing upset a lot of people,” says Sinisalo.

“I thought of it as a joke, though. Didn’t realize it was a feminist issue. If they did conscious work in the 1970’s to equalize the fandom, I already was enjoying the equality,” tells Parviala.

It is a norm in the Finnish fandom, that even a heated discussion never goes so far as to use ad hominem attacks. The community also disapproves of gender and sexual harassment, although it was generally noted with sniggers in the 1990’s that a lonely female entering the fandom won’t be lonely for long. People of all genders have been accepted, as everyone has actively taken their place in the community. Even hang arounds get equal respect.

Hannele Parviala came  to the fandom to just hang around. She also found her partner and comics artist Petri Hiltunen there. Image: © Juhani Hinkkanen

Hannele Parviala came to the fandom to just hang around. She also found her partner and comics artist Petri Hiltunen there. Image: © Juhani Hinkkanen

“There are a lot of people, who just hang around, like myself. I don’t write and I don’t draw science fiction. When I first came to fandom, I was once asked, what I’m doing here as I don’t write or draw. I said, “I have you lot as my hobby”. That was that”, says Parviala.

Equality in the Finnish fandom crystallizes in the idea of meritocracy. Anyone can write or draw anything. Nobody exists solely as their gender.

“Gender or sexual inequality or harassment is not the norm. It is a disruption, and everyone must intervene,” stresses Parviala.

Equality between genres

Equality in the fandom has developed on par with the diversification of sci-fi literature. Also the acceptance of all SF-genres can be seen as a question of equality. The greatest dividing line within the Finnish fandom does not concern gender issues, but who has read or seen the latest work and who has not.

“In Finland you can’t even imagine you’d have to think seriously, whether, as a female author, you should have your initials, rather than your first name, to be printed in the cover, in order to get men to read your work. Science fiction is written to scientists the same way ghost stories are written to ghosts,” declares Sinisalo.

Equality in the Finnish fandom means that anyone can join in. This makes for a very fruitful environment for creativity, as can be seen in the success of Finnish Weird.

Top tips for equalizing your community:

  • Dare to be great: Gender does not matter, when you do great stuff
  • Take responsibility: Do things that matter.
  • Network with like: You are not alone in this.
  • Get a life outside your hobby: Life outside your hobby gives perspective to life inside.
  • Make sure to maintain equality all the time: Regression is a constant threat.
  • Do not accept the role stamped on you: Define your own character, let not others define it for you.
    Fandom picnic at Viikinkisaari (Viking Island) at Tampere in 1994. Picutre Johanna Sinisalo, Leena Peltonen (facing away), Eija Elo (facing away), Petri Hiltunen, and others. Image: © Hannele Parviala

    Fandom picnic at Viikinkisaari (Viking Island) at Tampere in 1994. Picutre Johanna Sinisalo, Leena Peltonen (facing away), Eija Elo (facing away), Petri Hiltunen, and others. Image: © Hannele Parviala

    A special thank you to Juhani Hinkkanen and Hannele Parviala.