Postings to the Feminist Science Fiction Mailing List, 16 April 1997 to 21 October 1997

The Female Man | Science and Sexism | Children's Fantasy | So who is on this list? | Elizabeth Hand | Woman on the Edge of Time | Woman on the Edge of Time | Elizabeth Hand | SF and Ecology | Event Horizon / Star Trek | Le Guin and Literary Silences | On Femininity and SF | Off Topic – Wage Gap | *On* Topic  Wage Gap | Jessica Atreides / Dune | Women in Dune | Women in Dune | What do women want? Power? | *On* Topic – Wage Gap | Women and Nature | Raising Kids | Tolkien | Tolkien

Subject: Re: The Female Man
Date: Wed, 16 Apr 1997 00:13:26 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

Tanya Wood wrote:
>I lectured on The Female Man last sumester. The reactions varied wildly
>from stunned shock (mostly young men- I don't really think the book is
>addressed to men actually, although having them read something that is not
>addressed to them (which women have to do all the time) is in itself

I think that Russ was writing to whoever might be interested, rather than to either sex in particular. As she once wrote (re: the "deadlock" of sexism: "I think breaking the deadlock has to take many forms, one of which is political action, of whatever kind one feels congenial. I tend to Write Letters myself, to magazines, Congress, NYS versions thereof, newpapers, even fanzines. There is nothing like public protest to lift the spirits." I don't know if she considers The Female Man as such a protest, but to me it sounds appropriate.

By the way, that quote came from an excellent written symposium called Khatru 3 & 4, which took place in 1975. Some of the more well-known participants included Russ, Suzy McKee Charnas, Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany, James Tiptree Jr., and Kate Wilhelm. A reprinted booklet of the symposium can be obtained for $16.00 from the James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award Council.

She also wrote:
>As the book itself states, when it is no longer
>relevant, then its task will be completed. I think its very relevant in
>these neo-con times, but many may disagree....

To which Michael Levy responded:
>Yes, you're right, but tell this to a room full of female college students
>who insist that they themselves have never been victimized by sexism and
>never will be.

This especially strikes me after getting the latest alumni magazine from my alma mater, Hamilton College. The theme of the magazine was "Women on the Hill", with particular focus on Kirkland College, a "sister school" to Hamilton that existed for less than 10 years before it was subsumed by Hamilton. The various perspective pieces by women graduates have barely anything to say about sexism, instead denying it's an issue with statements like, "I never had a class in which I felt uncomfortable speaking because I was a woman..." That may be true, but it leaves the impression that there's nothing left to do, and that ALL women are doing this well. (The alumni magazine's editorial policies obviously have something to do with this imbalance.)

Of course, it's not very convincing to tell someone they're being oppressed if they simply don't feel that way. But speaking personally, it took me some time to develop as a feminist. I loved The Female Man when I read it the summer after graduating from college. I might not have felt the same way if it had been assigned reading.

-- Janice Dawley

Subject: Re: Science and Sexism
Date: Fri, 2 May 1997 14:39:17 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

I've been observing this stimulating discussion for some time and thought I'd contribute my own thoughts about objective/subjective reality and science fiction.

I agree with Heather MacLean that "objective reality" has, in the past and somewhat even now, been decided upon by a majority of men in academia, politics, the sciences, the media, who were often little concerned with the realities of women. There has been an ongoing debate in the philosophy of history, for example, as to whether "objective reality" can exist in the study of history. Philosophy, similarly, is still grappling with the idea of social construction of reality (after all, all anyone has to go on as far as "reality" is what they can perceive, and no two people perceive alike).

In college I took a course called Sociology of Intellectual Life, in which we learned how fraught with bias much scientific research is. One of the enduring lessons of college was that I really shouldn't believe anyone just because they are considered an expert by others.

At the same time, there are many generally accepted "objective truths" which I regard, for practical purposes, as being True. My thinking is that if all the experience I and others have indicate that a particular statement is true, then it is. But I try to remain aware that the realities I've cobbled together could be radically challenged at any time. It's an approach I'd describe as "the golden mean" between objective and subjective world views. Not to say that I've achieved the golden mean, but I try to.

Thus, objective vs. subjective for me is largely a matter of certainty. It seems that women are urged to distrust themselves and qualify themselves much more than men are, so it follows that they are less likely to believe that they are objective, or to be perceived by others as objective. So I believe there is a certain amount of sexism that women have to overcome to enter into the scientific discourse (which is largely concerned with "objective reality"), but the concept of objective reality is not inherently sexist to me. Perhaps a little too rigid if relied on too much, but not sexist.

As for the distinction between "hard sf" and "soft sf", I don't believe there is any reason to categorize science fiction as either. I, personally, have a hard time seeing what defines science fiction itself as a discreet body of literature, so I have an even harder time trying to decide what hard vs. soft might mean. So I'm in favor of scrapping the terminology entirely, especially considering the metaphorical resonances of "hard" and "soft", which ARE laden with sexist baggage. (I'm certain enough of that to say it's objective truth!)

I hope this has all made sense. I've been composing this message on my lunch break next to a busy break room. I look forward to feedback.


Subject: Re: children's fantasy
Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 13:50:26 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 03:55 PM 5/20/97 +0100, Berni Phillips wrote:
>...Le Guin came out with a fourth
>book, Tehanu, which is really not for children. Tehanu is much
>darker than the first three and carries the hero and heroine of the
>first three books (Ged and Tenar) into middle age. Ged has lost his
>powers (this happened at the end of the third book) and Tenar is
>widowed, having married an ordinary man and rejected any power she might
>have had. The two of them try to live ordinary lives along with an
>abused child whom Tenar has rescued.

I have to disagree that Tehanu is not for children. It may be a little more gritty, but I think that it gives a good balance to the Earthsea series by representing in some detail the life of the average woman in Earthsea. As several people (including Le Guin) have pointed out, the first three books were unquestioningly sexist (there are no woman mages, women are portrayed as being incapable of learning anything more than weak love spells or tapping into sinister natural forces, as in Tombs of Atuan).

I really like the entire series, but I am troubled by the sexism of the first three books and think that Tehanu, while being less cohesive and formal in its style, provides an important counterbalance which children would really benefit from experiencing.


Subject: Re: So who is on this list?
Date: Sun, 6 Jul 1997 23:34:54 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 04:08 PM 7/4/97 -0500, Kate Bolin wrote:
>I am beginning to wonder what type of people sign up for this
>list...Do we have a lot of professors? College students? Random people?
>Writers? Computer geeks? Et cetera?

Well... I guess I would fall squarely in the "computer geek" camp. Though when I graduated from college seven years ago I was decidedly NOT a computer geek. My degree was in Anthropology, with a minor in English. Rather than go on to grad school, I decided to get a job -- my BA did not help much, especially in 1990 at the beginning of a recession. But, several years later, I work as a computer tech support person.

I've been reading science fiction for as long as I remember, though I didn't count myself as a fan of the genre itself until college. I have to admit that I was obsessed with Anne McCaffrey's Pern books when I was in my teens; some time during high school that fascination waned. Though I wasn't aware of the term "feminist science fiction" until a few years ago, I have always been frustrated by books that portray women in a sexist way (although it took me a while to see how McCaffrey limited women in her own work). I remember reading Podkayne of Mars when I was 15 or so and thinking "no girl I know would act (or think) that way!" Le Guin has been a favorite writer of mine for several years. I've also picked up quite a few books in response to mentions on Usenet and at the couple of conventions I've been to. I'm currently reading Woman on the Edge of Time, which is quite good so far. I recently finished A Door Into Ocean, which was somewhat interesting, though the bad guys were cut out of cardboard, and the 3rd Native Tongue book, which was patently absurd and very bad. Next on my list is the rest of Joanna Russ' Extra (Ordinary) People ("Souls" was great!) and her novel And Chaos Died.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Loop Guru, Duniya; Shonen Knife, Brand New Knife
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: elizabeth hand
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 20:27:44 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 02:45 PM 7/18/97 -0500, Erik Tsao wrote:

>Has anyone read Elizabeth Hand's Awaken the Moon (recently published by
>Harper in mass market paper)? I just finished it and passed it on to a
>friend. Thoughts on the book?

I believe you mean Waking the Moon. I read it last summer and was quite disappointed. I absolutely loved Hand's earlier novel Winterlong, and was hoping for something as good -- instead I found a heavy-handed (and much too lengthy) saga whose earthshaking insight was that women can be really evil. The faces of Kali, Othiym, whatever -- how new is it to symbolize women as either devourers or saints? I kept hoping that she would attempt to stretch the boundaries of gender definitions and portray something new, but my persistence was not rewarded. Frankly, I was amazed that this novel won the Tiptree award. Anyone have insight as to why? Or can anyone show me how I'm wrong in my reading of the novel?

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Feed Your Head, Volume 2; The Best of Márta Sebestyén
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: Woman on the Edge of Time, was re:Mars/social justice
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 20:27:52 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 09:06 AM 7/16/97 +0100, Joan Haran wrote:

>I must confess, the "kenners" were something I didn't think very clearly
>about. I was too focussed on how the "brooder" might fit into their
>society, and the idea that to be equal women had to give up the power to
>give birth naturally. Now that we all know about how IVF works, I would
>question whether the brooder would fit. "Harvesting" the raw materials
>required to create babies outside the womb does not seem to me to be the
>choice that would be made by radicals wresting the control of science from
>the oppressors. What do you think, Janice?

Yes, I should have mentioned the brooder as well. The idea that the "power" to conceive and bear children necessarily creates an imbalance between the sexes is not very convincing to me. It seems akin to the belief that since men on average have a higher percentage of muscle mass than women they will always hold the "power" of physical force over women. Power in either case is largely a matter of perception and social convention. It might have been more plausible to envision a society whose views on childbearing were radically transformed than to come up with a technological fix to the whole issue (which is fraught with its own "power" issues, such as who decides which genes to mix, and what happens if a person doesn't want to be sterilized, etc.).

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Feed Your Head, Volume 2; The Best of Márta Sebestyén
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: Woman on the Edge of Time
Date: Sun, 20 Jul 1997 12:50:50 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

I wrote:
>The idea that the "power" to conceive and bear children necessarily
>creates an imbalance between the sexes is not very convincing to me.

At 05:27 PM 7/19/97 -0400, Anne V Stuecker wrote:
>If I'm remembering the book correctly, the purpose of the brooder was to
>allow men and women to perform whatever tasks they chose without any
>tasks being specifically applied to one sex.

As Luciente explains after the tour of the brooder: "It was part of women's long revolution. When we were breaking all the old hierarchies. Finally there was that one thing we had to give up too, the only power we ever had, in return for no more power for anyone. The original production: the power to give birth. Cause as long as we were biologically enchained, we'd never be equal. And males never would be humanized to be loving and tender. So we all became mothers." (page 105 of the Fawcett paperback).

That is all the explanation the book ever gives for the brooders. But with that one snippet, Piercy raises many fascinating questions:

1) What does it mean to be "biologically enchained"? Some, such as St. Augustine, would argue that having a body at all (with its attendant lusts) means that we are enchained.
2) If equality means erasing differences between people, why isn't everyone in Mattapoisett exactly the same?
3) What does Piercy mean by the word "power"?
4) Is it really impossible for men to be loving and tender while women have the ability to bear children?

There are more I can think of, but those are the most obvious questions. I want to stress here that I really loved the book and agree with Joan Haran that "its flaws are as stimulating to debate as its successes." I also just bought a copy of He, She and It and will be interested to compare the two.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Feed Your Head, Volume 2; The Best of Márta Sebestyén
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: elizabeth hand
Date: Sun, 20 Jul 1997 12:52:23 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 03:04 PM 7/19/97 +0100, Berni Phillips wrote, regarding Waking the Moon:
>What I thought Hand was doing there was playing against the modern
>ideal of the nurturing, all-benevolent goddess. If we're to be full
>human beings, we need to acknowledge that we are wrong at times. One of
>the things that is wrong is the myth of the superwoman: the successful
>career woman with the perfect family who is Martha Stewart on the side.
>Most of us can't do that, and we shouldn't feel inferior if we don't
>measure up to this impossible standard. I thought Hand was knocking the
>goddess off her pedestal in the same way. She was giving her characters
>the right to be wrong and the goddess to be a bitch in the same way that
>male gods so frequently are cruel and capricious.

I think this is exactly what frustrated me about the book: it's already a common belief that any woman with a drive to succeed, who doesn't let others step all over her and coopt her, is a bitch (that is, cruel, manipulative, egotistical). So I didn't enjoy Hand showing how, indeed, this was the case. (I gave up hope right about when Angelica started sacrificing people, though I did finish the book.)

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Feed Your Head, Volume 2; The Best of Márta Sebestyén
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: SF and Ecology
Date: Thu, 28 Aug 1997 13:43:28 -0400
Sender: "For discussion of feminist SF, fantastic & utopian literature"
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 01:43 PM 8/28/97 +0400, Emrah Goker wrote:
> SF utopias, to be good fiction, to have literary value -though "literary
>value" is dangerous waters- must not be in _stasis_. They must not lose
>their dynamism. Take Orwell's 1984: The time seems stopped at 1984,
>nothing moves, nothing changes. Even for a so-called "totalitarian"
>communist society, be it in 20th century or in 24th, stasis is improbable.

1984 was a dystopia, not a utopia. The extreme rigidity of the future society was part of what made it so frightful. It's not likely that such a society could exist, but the book nevertheless points out possible end results of certain trends by exaggerating reality.

>Or take the wonderful The Dispossessed, Le Guin's masterpiece (by the
>way, is she still an anarchist, or an utopian socialist?): A most
>essential part of an organized society, social control, is mostly ignored.

I'm not sure what you mean by social control. If you mean coercion by means of a police force, no, Anarres does not have social control. But if you mean peer pressure and communal expectations, Anarres does have social control. I recall that children from very early on are taught to share and are criticised harshly for being materialistic. In all of her works, Le Guin emphasizes the power of other people's approval or disapproval to shape an individual's behavior. She takes pains to show the downside of this means of social control -- simple-minded conventionality and suppression of difference -- but I do think she prefers it to hierarchical styles of governing.

>Why do not the masses revolt during the periods of hunger? What prevents
>them from crime? In Anarres, it seems that some mystified virtues of the
>human nature, like "freedom", "sharing" has been turned into a kind of
>religion. Anarres's fate seems to rot in stasis.

As far as revolt -- who would they revolt against? There is no government! Crime in general is a more vexing question. I can't remember if Le Guin really took the issue on, as did Marge Piercy in Woman on the Edge of Time or Slonczewski in A Door Into Ocean. In both of those books, people who are violent or antisocial are encouraged to seek healing and if behavior does not improve are shunned. When it comes to murder, the authors diverge -- murderers on Shora are exiled to distant rafts, but in Mattapoisett they are simply killed. This approach takes for granted a society based on small villages where people's behavior can be fairly closely monitored by those around them -- for an industrialized economy based in cities, it obviously has its drawbacks. But for both of these authors, cities in themselves are an invitation to social collapse.

Finally, I think one of the major concerns of The Dispossessed is whether a society like the one on Anarres could survive, given human nature. There are signs of change (for the worse) in the book, so I did not perceive that the society was in stasis. It certainly is an "ambiguous utopia."

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Songs of Faith and Devotion, Depeche Mode
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Re: Event Horizon/Star Trek
Date: Fri, 29 Aug 1997 14:54:35 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 10:43 AM 8/29/97, Teragram wrote re: Star Trek, the Original Series:
>It seemed clear that there was nothing for me to aspire to in
>their roles - I feel the same dissatification when I see a current movie or
>series that runneth over with heros and villians with the few women
>characters reduced to pretty wallpaper and comfort bearers. I can't see
>myself - nor anyone I'd want to be - I don't exist in these scenarios, and
>neither does any other women I know. Why would I want to watch them?

True, The Original Series and The Next Generation both suffered from this pattern. tOS only had Uhura who rarely did anything but expectantly wait for the Captain to give her an order. Apparently, the fact that she was a regular on the show and was stationed on the bridge was a breakthrough in itself, but I certainly didn't feel empowered by Uhura's example.

The Next Generation had Crusher, Troi, Tasha Yar and Ensign Ro. Crusher and Troi could both be classified as "comfort bearers" as Crusher was the ship's doctor and Troi was the Counselor (and in fact never seemed to do anything but "sense" things that were obvious anyway). Yar was new and different for Star Trek -- she was a competent and aggressive Security Chief, but of course the actor decided to leave the series and that was the end of Yar... The only other decent female character was Ensign Ro, who I believe was only on temporarily ...? I was not watching much Next Generation at that point. Oh -- and there was Guinan, who was pretty interesting, actually, though she did not appear too often.

Things are a bit different on the two current series, though. There's been much argument about Kira and Dax on Deep Space Nine being "feminized" from their original personas, but they are still complex, assertive, physically competent characters who are often the focus of individual episodes of the show. And god knows Voyager sucks, but the captain IS a woman and there is B'Elanna Torres, who is impetuous, aggressive and even, occasionally, lusty!

So there has certainly been progress in Star Trek's treatment of women characters over the years, though I would love to see a lot more.

At 12:17 PM 29 Aug 1997, Tracy Zollinger Turner wrote:
>about Star Trek
>being part of a military complex. It's true... but I think (in Next
>Gen., etc.) we find a military that is primarily focused on scientific
>research, and reluctant to go into battle. Plus, I think to write off
>the show for that reason would be shortsighted, simply because the
>writers use that environment to explore very human relationships between
>the crew characters themselves and with other species.

Though there is not that much battle in any of the Star Treks, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the military hierarchy and "direct orders". On tNG especially, conversations often seemed like mere shouting matches. Part of the reason I like Deep Space Nine better than any of the other shows is that Star Fleet really is not the only game in town. There is Bajor, an independent planet whose inhabitants seem to value mystical experience more than military or technical prowess. There is the station itself, which was originally Cardassian and has been occupied by Star Fleet. There are the various merchants whose interests do not necessarily coincide with Star Fleet's (Quark, Garak) and the very interesting Star Fleet rebels, the Maquis. The show seems much more realistic to me as a result.

May the next season stretch the boundaries further...

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Songs of Faith and Devotion, Depeche Mode
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Re: Le Guin and Literary Silences
Date: Fri, 5 Sep 1997 15:16:08 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

Emrah Goker and Martha Bartter wrote:

>>So a child in Anarres cannot become a citizen until he/she undergoes an
>>implicit rite, I refer to the imprisonment game, symbolizing Odo's own
>>pains; it was described in extreme detail in the book.
>As I remember this, Shevek and several of his friends literally invented
>this game -- it was not imposed from above (although the teachers did
>act in authoritarian ways; e.g. when Shevek added a 'new' idea he was
>accused of egoizing).

Indeed, this is the case. Regarding the prison game:
     They had picked up the idea of "prisons" from episodes in the
     Life of Odo, which all of them who had elected to work on History
     were reading. There were many obscurities in this book, and Wide
     Plains had nobody who knew enough history to explain them; but by
     the time they got to Odo's years in the Fort in Drio, the concept
     of "prison" had become self-explanatory. And when a history teacher
     came through the town he expounded the subject, with the reluctance
     of a decent adult forced to explain an obscenity to children.
     (p. 27, Avon paperback)
Shevek and four peers are so fascinated by this strange concept that they decide to try it. The situation gets out of hand, and one of them ends up closed in the makeshift cell for 30 hours. The incident is traumatic enough for all of them that only one of them ever mentions it again, and they never return to the site. Le Guin uses the situation to point out the snowballing effect of power differentials. It starts out as a game, but by the time Kadagv is pushed into the cell, "They were not playing the role now, it was playing them." Psychologically, I'm not sure I agree with her conclusion, but it's thought-provoking.

>> Following Terry Eagleton, questioning about a literary text's (in fact,
>>writer's) "silences" would help us read the text deeper. And Benford says:
>> "The principal ignored problem of Anarres is the problem of evil and
>>thus violence... Guilt (social conscience) simply overcomes such
>>discordant elements. In the middle of a drought in which people starve, no
>>matter how evenly shared, somehow no one thinks of taking up arms with
>>some friends and seizing, say, the grain reserves." (p. 77)
>> So no criminals, no insane people, no naturally violent types.
>The playwright who puts so much of himself into playing the
>"beggarman" may not actually go insane, but he does get treated as
>though he had. I don't think Le Guin sees Anarres as a Perfect Place.
>>And I remember a prison camp in Anarres for unwanted people.
>Here, I read the text to make an analogy to Solzhenitsyn's _Cancer
>Ward_ rather than an actual prison camp -- adjudging those who fail
>to follow the party line as "insane."

With all this talk about crime on Anarres, I decided to track down whatever Le Guin may have said about it. She does, in fact, take a position on the matter, and it's a very interesting one. Early in the novel, Shevek is attacked by another man and beaten. There are other people nearby, but seeing that Shevek is capable of defending himself, they do not intervene. It is implied that if he had asked for help or the situation was obviously skewed the others would have stepped in, with no shame or gratitude attached.

Later in the book, the subject of the Asylum comes up between Shevek and Bedap, when it is revealed that their childhood friend Tirin has been forceably sent there because his criticism of Annarean society has been judged "unbalanced." Rather than paraphrase, I will quote, once again:
     Bedap hunched his knees up to his chin and wrapped his arms
     around them, as he sat sideways on the chair. He spoke quietly
     now, with reluctance.
       "Tirin wrote a play and put it on, the year after you left.
     It was funny -- crazy -- you know his kind of thing. [...] It
     could seem anti-Odonian, if you were stupid. A lot of people
     are stupid. There was a fuss. He got reprimanded. Public
     reprimand. I never saw one before. Everybody comes to your
     syndicate meeting and tells you off. It used to be how they cut
     a bossy gang foreman or manager down to size. Now they only use
     it to tell an individual to stop thinking for himself. It was
     bad. Tirin couldn't take it. I think it really drove him a bit
     out of his mind. He felt everybody was against him, after that.
     He starting talking too much -- bitter talk. Not irrational, but
     always critical, always bitter. And he'd talk to anybody that
     way. Well, he finished at the Institute, qualified as a math
     instructor, and asked for a posting. He got one. To a road repair
     crew in Southsetting. He protested it as an error, but the
     Divlab computers repeated it. So he went."
       "Tir never worked outdoors the whole time I knew him," Shevek
     interrupted. "Since he was ten. He always wangled desk jobs.
     Divlab was being fair."
       Bedap paid no attention. "I don't really know what happened
     down there. He wrote me several times, and each time he'd been
     reposted. Always to physical labor, in little outpost communities.
     He wrote that he was quitting his posting and coming back to
     Northsetting to see me. He didn't come. He stopped writing. I
     traced him through the Abbenay Labor Files, finally. They sent me
     a copy of his card, and the last entry was just, 'Therapy, Segvina
     Island.' Therapy! Did Tirin murder somebody? Did he rape somebody?
     What do you get sent to the Asylum for, beside that?"
       "You don't get sent to the Asylum at all. You request posting
     to it."
       "Don't feed me that crap," Bedap said with sudden rage. "He
     never asked to be sent there! They drove him crazy and then sent
     him there. It's Tirin I'm talking about, Tirin, do you remember him?"
       "I knew him before you did. What do you think the Asylum is -- a
     prison? It's a refuge. If there are murderers and chronic work-
     quitters there, it's because they asked to go there, where they're
     not under pressure, and safe from retribution. But who are these
     people you keep talking about -- 'they'? 'They' drove him crazy,
     and so on. Are you trying to say that the whole social system is
     evil, that in fact 'they,' Tirin's persecutors, your enemies, 'they,'
     are us -- the social organism?"
       "If you can dismiss Tirin from your conscience as a work-quitter,
     I don't think I have anything else to say to you," Bedap replied,
     sitting hunched up on the chair. There was such plain and simple
     grief in his voice that Shevek's righteous wrath was stopped short.
     (pp. 137-138)
Sorry for the extremely long quote, but I felt that it illuminates much that has been discussed in this thread. It is clear that:

1) There is violence and "crime" on Anarres and it is dealt with by the people closest to the offender. Thus a murderer or work-quitter can expect "retribution" for their behavior unless they leave and go someplace like the Asylum. "Retribution" is unspecified, but I would imagine something similar to the situation in Woman on the Edge of Time where offenders are criticised, shunned or even killed to prevent further damage to the community.

2) The decay of Odonian principles into the stifling reign of "public opinion" (p. 134) is a major concern of the novel. Bedap is a harsh critic of the society he sees around him, and his questioning of conventional wisdom literally rocks Shevek's world. Ironically, I think that the sense that Anarres is in stasis and thus not a "real utopia" is taken straight from this character in the book!

Le Guin certainly does not ignore the problem of evil. The character of Sabul, the physicist with whom Shevek works early in his studies, is a shining example of someone who uses influence to keep people out and advance his own position. Even though, according to the structure and principles of Odonianism, he can't and shouldn't do this, in reality he does, and Shevek has to work with and/or around him in order to keep in touch with physicists on Urras and get his work published.
I have just realized that this message is becoming much too long! So I will send it now. Looking forward to more discussion --

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Feed Your Head, Volume 2; The Best of Márta Sebestyén
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: On Femininity and SF
Date: Tue, 16 Sep 1997 23:59:22 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

On Wed, 10 Sep 1997, Eleanor Arnason wrote:
>I suspect that male dominance originated early in human history and
>derives from the kind of size dominance hierarchies that seem typical of
>many mammalian societies. I also suspect that male dominance now is
>Anyway, I think control of reproduction is THE big issue between men
>and women; and I wanted to create a society where women had
>absolute say in this area. But why did they have absolute say? Because
>-- like female hyenas -- they were larger than the males.

At 10:39 AM 9/16/97 +0400, Emrah Goker wrote:
>I am afraid your first suspection will not be justified --though there may
>be some clues-- until _homo sapiens sapiens_ develops the Time Machine
>(GOD SAVE SF CLICHES) or some really revolutionary methods are found
>in anthropology. Yet, shamefully, there are (at least here in Turkey) Muslim
>sects justifying the (especially physical) dominance of women by referring
>to the so-called fact that Allah had created them small, weak, and less
>intelligent, so they need protection. Using physical differences (e.g. size)
>for domination of women is, unfortunately, not buried deep in the early
>history of the humankind.

I also have reservations about the "size is dominance" theory when applied to humans. As far as I know, there is no evidence at all for it, and some against it. In my Sex Roles in Comparative Perspective class in college we learned that -- taking yet another species as an example -- in chimpanzee society a male's status is closely linked to only two things: 1. age and 2. his mother's status. Not size. What this means in relation to humans is a matter of debate. When I look at the world around me I see that a person's parentage is the most telling influence on future economic and personal success. And, as people age, they generally amass more contacts and economic resources. (Much more the case for people who already have the advantage of high-status parentage.) Then there is sex -- most men, regardless of parentage, will benefit from advantages in the workplace that women don't enjoy. (Do women still make $.65 to a man's dollar, or has that ghastly disparity begun to close?) None of these things seem related to size.

If it comes down to physical confrontation, I think it's fairly obvious that a little skill and/or some tools (i.e. a gun, a knife, even a key) will easily overcome whatever advantage size confers. The dawn of tool use in humans occurred so long ago that it seems silly to attribute our current sex roles to some ancient wrestling match that women lost. Eleanor: I loved your novel Ring of Swords. It was subtle, funny, thought-provoking... and the power that the women wielded was very interesting to me. I just would not have explained it in the way that you did.

Emrah also wrote:
>However, glorifying mystical experiences of femininity (in SF or in
>social-scientific literature) is also dangerous waters. A feminist school
>of thought must critically analyze sex, gender, and patriarchy; both
>masculinity _and_ femininity must be critically approached. OK, it is
>fantastic to read about a planet of androgyne humanoids (which is SF), or
>it is insight-giving to learn how "I am protecting the forest" becomes "I
>am part of the rain forest protecting myself. I am part of the rain forest
>recently emerged into thinking," which consequently leads us to the
>worship of Gaia the Goddess (which is social science)... However,
>metaphysics (for me) cannot construct an agenda of real life, of political
>struggle. We should not exaggerate what SF gives us.

I agree that idealizing womanly virtues has its dangers. The concept of "Mother Earth" for example. The earth simply has no sex! Rather than trying to subsume all that is life-giving, balanced, context-sensitive, cooperative, etc. under the name of "woman" we might do better to free ourselves of sex definitions altogether. But perhaps society must first pass through the dialectical stage of negating manly virtues before we can reach the synthesis of androgyny. (Except, according to Marx, we would then start all over again, right? Incidentally, for an interesting SF critique of Marxism, I recommend Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang.)

Regarding SF's power to change "real life" -- I add my testimony to the many I have read/heard that my behavior and opinions have been altered many times in my life by the written word, some of it SF. Perhaps I was predisposed to change in those ways and what I read merely pushed me along. Regardless, I have been affected, sometimes in bad ways, sometimes in good ways.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead, OK Computer; Tricky, Pre-Millennium Tension
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: off topic - wage gap
Date: Mon, 22 Sep 1997 14:41:09 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

On Thu, 18 Sep 1997, Sean Johnston wrote:
>Does the article say what they figure is going on? Some kind of
>backlash, perhaps?

On Thu, 18 Sep 1997, H. Tytel wrote:
>I can't speak for Laura, but most of what I've seen suggests that this is
>the result of gender segregation in college and other post-High school
>education - most new high-paying jobs
>are in high tech or related fields (such as graphic design, etc.). WOmen
>tend to study humanities, and to come out with little computer
>training, so we don't qualify for these jobs.

At 09:58 AM 9/19/97 -0700, Denise Borgen wrote:
>Admittedly, I came out of college with a History /Library Degree, and my
>sister with Art/Teaching. We are both working in the computer field now
>and where I have worked it is at least 50/50. I think the computer
>field is so desperate for people that can actually produce that gender
>prejudice is crumbling. I don't have any statistics but I suspect that
>part of the drop in % is due to A) the Baby boomlet taking women out of
>the market temporarily and /or dropping out of the fast track, and the
>current backlash against feminism ( a backlash which may finally be
>ending, I hope)

Well, I was browsing The Mismeasure of Woman the other day at the bookstore and the author claimed that the closing of the wage gap was due not to women's rising salaries, but men's FALLING salaries (due to downsizing, etc.). Perhaps now that the economy is recovering, men are making back what they lost and the disparity is growing again.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead - OK Computer
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Re: *On* topic -- wage gap
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 1997 10:13:44 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 09:27 AM 9/23/97 -0400, Heather MacLean wrote:

>The focus of our attention should not be on _money_, but on subsistence
>(since that is what we use money to obtain). Every human being is involved
>in obtaining subsistence through hir personal effort. The homemaker does it
>at home, the day-laborer does it out of the home. The homemaker provides hir
>own subsistence through hir efforts at home, the day-laborer simply has hir
>subsistence provided through the intermediary of money. Why should the
>homemaker get double subsistence?

Eh? The only people who obtain sustenance at home are farmers or homesteaders. There are very few of those in the United States these days. And even they can only obtain SOME of the things they need in this way -- for the rest they must trade, either via barter or the use of money.

The archetypal 50s-style homeworker obtains all her sustenance from the wage earner of the household. In economic terms she is the dependent, and since she produces no food and cannot buy with her own money, she is in a position of diminished power in relation to the wage earner. In a fair number of cases, the woman ends up being, in effect, the prisoner of the wage earner. The pay-for-homemakers idea is an attempt to reduce or eliminate this disparity in power. I haven't given much thought to whether it would work or what the obstacles are, but I agree with Suzette that it would be a great theme for a science fiction novel. (Of course, there are a number of science fictional works which postulate a world or worlds entirely without money. But I wonder how we can get there from here.)

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead - OK Computer
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Re: Wonder Woman (was Re: Are we talking about Feminist SF?)
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 1997 15:01:42 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

Tanya Wood wrote:
>> Jessica also
>>channels most of her energies into her son: the mother figure self-
>>sacrificing so that her son can become a real hero. And how about
>>Irulan's misery because Paul doesn't love her? She channels all that
>>repressed passion into books and language, but 'really' just desiring to
>>be a 'real' woman (ie loved and desired by Paul).

Sean Johnston wrote:
>Isn't that what mothers do in their mother context: make sure their kids,
>male or female, do better than they? As for Irulan, I felt pretty bad for
>her, too. She, I can say honestly, was a true pawn, but I still don't see
>that as sexist, just sad for her.

The point about Jessica being that the "mother context" is the context in which she is placed most often in the books. You have said before, Sean, that a parent's most important priority ought to be his/her children. Frankly, I don't agree. When I was growing up, I never had the impression that I was the cherished center of my parents' existence, but I never felt that they were bad parents because of it. Of course they wanted me to succeed. They supported me economically for the first 15 or so years of my life and were sympathetic and interested when I had things to say. But after all they were simply people, like me, with their own interests and hobbies.

Parents like mine are fairly common in fiction -- but primarily as fathers, not mothers. In a book of intrigue such as Dune, it would take a lot of work to imagine what it would have been like if Jessica had been portrayed differently, but it is certainly possible that Frank Herbert could have written the story in a different way. Let me make a very stretched analogy by comparing Dune to A Door Into Ocean. In aDiO, the character of Merwen is portrayed as a builder of consensus, a rallying figure for the Sharers in a time of world-threatening crisis, analogous (stretching...) to Paul Atreides. She is also a mother and source of advice, analogous to Jessica. Two roles in one person! In that book she is not forced to choose between the two. Both are quite important to her, and she seems to act well in both roles.

With the many possibilities in mind, my thinking is that even if Jessica could not have been both messiah and mother, she could have had a little more selfhood. Not that I am decrying Dune -- in its paranoid way, I found it interesting and entertaining. I even liked the second book, though I never read any further than that. I was not offended by the portraits of women I found there, but it also seemed that Herbert was not very aware of gender issues.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead - OK Computer
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Women in _Dune_ (was Re: Wonder Woman)
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 1997 19:48:27 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 15:01:42 Wed, 24 Sep 1997, Janice Dawley wrote:
>Not that I am decrying Dune -- in its paranoid way, I
>found it interesting and entertaining. I even liked the second book, though
>I never read any further than that. I was not offended by the portraits of
>women I found there, but it also seemed that Herbert was not very aware of
>gender issues.

At 05:15 PM 9/24/97 -0500, Sean Johnston wrote:
>Perhaps he wasn't, but consider that this was the early sixties. Were very
>many people like Frank Herbert very aware of gender issues as we define
>the term ('aware') today? I think that, were he writing today, you'd be right,
>but to apply a nineties sensibility (I'm assuming yours is a nineties
>sensibility) to a thing written in the sixties, and probably from a sixties
>sensibility, isn't fair to the person who wrote in the sixties.

Come now. I believe I was very fair. The United States at the time Herbert wrote Dune had had a long history of feminism of which he was probably aware. I'm not particularly upset that he did not infuse his work with feminism, but neither am I going to turn a blind eye on the grounds that he was kept ignorant by society. There were science fiction authors writing at the time who WERE conscious of gender issues. Samuel Delany's Babel-17 was published one year after Dune. The main character of that novel is a woman named Rydra Wong, a spaceship captain with an extraordinary gift for languages. A smart, strong, competent character -- even a role model.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead, OK Computer; Tricky, Pre-Millennium Tension
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: Women in _Dune_ (was Re: Wonder Woman)
Date: Thu, 25 Sep 1997 13:48:01 -0400
To: Sean Johnston
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

Sean, I write this directly to you because I think it's a little too specific to be of interest to the rest of the list members.

At 10:07 PM 9/24/97 -0500, you wrote:
>Herbert was born 22 years before Delany, which puts him in an
>entirely different generation, that being the Old School. My dad's from
>that generation and being from then informs who he is now. He'll say
>things that aren't offensive to him but are to me and my sisters. They
>aren't offensive to him because they weren't offensive to people he grew up
>around. The point is this: consider where the author's coming from and
>you'll understand him more.

Well, if I knew a little more history, I'm sure I could come up with scores of feminists who are of your father's (and Herbert's) generation. There are people in every age who pay a little more attention and see the offenses around them. Some of them work to change things. If you want to talk about Old School, what about London in the early twentieth century? Yet women organized, fought for and won the vote. Virginia Woolf wrote A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas, works which are often assigned in women's studies courses today and were widely read in her own time. One can hardly claim that she had a "nineties sensibility" (unless you mean the 1890s!). And what about John Stuart Mill, whose Subjection of Women was published in 1869?

I agree that people who are illiterate or for one reason or another have never developed the habit of reading may be limited by the beliefs of the people they know or the movies/TV they see. But if I know that someone had the means of educating themself about important issues and declined to do it, I hold them accountable.

>Btw., in my opinion, comparing Delany and
>Herbert is like comparing the clichéd apples and oranges. They're very
>different people from very different backgrounds. I think parts of _Dune_
>are sexist, but not considering where, as far as I know, the author was
>coming from and

Your claim was that Herbert was very liberal for his time. Time being the variable, I provided a counter-example. Now it seems that you're saying, okay, time isn't the variable, the variables are x, y, z. Yes, when it comes down to it, Herbert and Delany are two different human beings. But that doesn't mean that because of their backgrounds they are locked into writing in a certain way.

>I don't think he was anti-feminist (not that I'm trying to
>put words in your mouth). I think the steps he took toward including women
>in powerful roles are wonderful for the time.

I think our impressions are not too far apart, actually. I never perceived Herbert as being anti-feminist (I think I said this). I can believe that he made an effort to include women in powerful roles in his work. I found his characterizations of women to be still somewhat bound by sexism. Oh well. I never said that I thought he was a crappy author because he wasn't a thorough feminist. I think it's interesting to critique his work re: depictions of women partly because he was making somewhat of an effort. Of course, he's dead now, so my constructive criticism isn't going to help him, but hopefully it will help other people to think about the issues and perhaps firm up my own thoughts.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead - OK Computer
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Re: What do women want? Power?
Date: Sat, 27 Sep 1997 14:24:39 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 12:24 AM 9/27/97 -0400, Marilyn Nulman wrote:
>Reading the posts about women in Heinlein and Dune made me think that many
>people (men?) seem to assume that women in general want the same kinds of
>power that men usually seem to want, visible power, power over others, power
>as an end in itself. That they try to get power over others by stealth
>because they're not strong enough to get it by force. I think of the
>powerful women in sf and find some who do this, like the women behind the
>Gate to Women's Country, and others who don't, like the old woman of Remnant
>Population who only wants to be left alone to cultivate her garden.
>Must a strong female character always want power? Or do circumstances
>thrust the need for it upon her?

This was something that occurred to me after reading Woman on the Edge of Time: what exactly is power? In that book, Luciente seemed to think that power meant "power over", the means to coerce others into doing what you want (which was a bad thing). But my own idea of power is "power to", the means of doing things for yourself. So, I have the power to grow my own garden, to direct my own thought process (shaky sometimes), to do any number of things. In my last job as a manager I also had power over two subordinates -- to tell them to do things, rate their performance and decide whether or not they got raises. I wasn't very comfortable with that sort of power, especially when it confronted MY manager's power over me and I was forced to pass along decisions I didn't agree with to my subordinates.

In science fiction I've seen women portrayed with both sorts of power. Alldera, in Suzy McKee Charnas's The Furies, definitely has power over her army, though Charnas makes it clear how unstable such a hierarchy is. Alldera is continually in danger of betrayal and has to be aware at all times of the emotional tenor of her followers. It seems like a lot of work and not at all fun. A contrasting example, once again, is Merwen in A Door Into Ocean. She has quite a bit of power to bring Gatherings to consensus and to influence people with cogent argument. However, she has no power over them. If someone is unconvinced by her argument, that's it, she's run out of ways to influence them.

I definitely prefer "power to", in books as in real life. I liked The Furies because Charnas was exploring how victims of a rigidly enforced, brutal hierarchy would react if they suddenly had power over their oppressors. (Not well, it turns out.) But books which take for granted a military-industrial complex and spend a lot of time detailing people's efforts to advance in the hierarchy or gain power over their enemies... bore me. I guess I've seen too many of them, some with female protagonists.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead, OK Computer; Tricky, Pre-Millennium Tension
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: *On* topic (probably not on topic anymore =)
Date: Sat, 27 Sep 1997 15:36:57 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 10:59 AM 9/23/97 -0400, Heather MacLean wrote:
>Well, I didn't use the term sustenance for a reason--there are different
>means of subsistence, some of which, exactly, are barter (home child care,
>baking, errand-running, etc.). There are other elements, such as the
>raising of children (future providers of subsistence), and facilitating (to
>use a nice term) the primary subsistence provider's existence. In any case,
>the latter function can also be seen in terms of barter. Certainly if I
>ever have children and get to stay at home to raise them during their early
>years, I will be so extraordinarily grateful to not have to work that I'll
>even do the windows. =) And I will expect my partner to provide my
>sustenance for the most part: that will be my salary. Not to mention the
>benefits I expect (perhaps idealistically and certainly egotistically) for
>my children from having so much time with them.
>In that sense, these homemakers are getting paid. Some of them may even
>garden, and provide a little sustenance too.

Well... this makes me uncomfortable because marriage is NOT viewed as barter by a lot of people. At least not as a fair system of barter. For example, a man might think that because he "brings home the bacon" he ought to be able to have sex with his wife whenever he wants to, regardless of her own wishes.

And if a woman wants to reenter the work force after several years at home, she will most likely return to the job market with a significant skills deficit. Maybe she won't be able to find a job at all. She might be forced to put up with the unpleasant behavior of her spouse just to keep out of poverty.

Neither of these scenarios is that common in America today, but they are not unheard of. There are safe houses of course, and welfare. But both of these seem like treatments of the symptoms, not the cause. Sexism on a larger scale is responsible in part, but I think the artificial division of the world into "public" and "private" worlds is another contributor. My .sig file seems particularly appropriate right now. :)

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley.....Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead, OK Computer; Tricky, Pre-Millennium Tension
"...the public and the private worlds are inseparably connected;
the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and
servilities of the other." Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas

Subject: Re: women and nature...
Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 17:31:34 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

At 08:49 AM 9/30/97 -0500, Mary K. Bird-Guilliams wrote:
>Pardon my ignorance, but I have been reading these posts hoping someone
>will define essentializing. Is this seen as a common fallacy in literary
>trends? I have read Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia, as well as tons of
>SF literature, she definitly theorizes that western male civilization
>equates women with nature - by definition: scary. Is that what you mean?

"Woman is to man as nature is to culture." It's not only a western concept. There are many cultures around the globe which maintain the same thing. The Sambia, for example, hold that women need no help to reach maturity, since they are closer to nature, but in order to become men boys must consume their male elders' semen, as well as go through a traumatic initiation ceremony to wrest them from the influence of women.

A couple of references that occurred to me immediately while thinking of this in a western context were that scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail when a noble exclaims about a possible bride, "She's got VAST TRACTS OF LAND!" with a clear double-entendre re: her physical body as well as her holdings of land. I also thought of several reviews of the movie The English Patient which described the opening shots of the desert as being like the "sensuous curves of a woman's body" (something which had simply not occurred to me while watching the same movie).

These recurrent metaphorical constructs of "woman" are not clear-cut at all, however. If women are "natural" why does it take so much time and so many products to bring the average woman's appearance into agreement with the societal standards of attractiveness? I suppose this could be merely another devaluation of nature -- that is, women are natural and that's not okay, so they must wear makeup. Who knows? It seems like a doomed effort to search for consistency here, because most conceptions of what is or isn't natural are fraught with faulty assumptions and/or circular reasoning. (One of my favorite examples of circular reasoning is an ad on, I think, the Nature Channel, for a program of bloody hunting footage, which ended with the announcer intoning dramatically, "Tune in and find out WHY we call them ANIMALS." It makes me laugh inwardly whenever I think of it.)

Needless to say, I think any claim that women are close to nature is meaningless. However, I can see that there is a valid, somewhat empowering, strategy behind goddess worship. I just happen to prefer strategies that eliminate dualities rather than enforcing them. This is part of the reason I really did not enjoy Waking the Moon. Of course, that book was much concerned with the "dark side" of goddess worship, but Angelica's Othiym sect seemed to be cartoonishly over-involved in a power struggle with the male-identified Benandanti sect. At least at the end there was some hint of an alternative in the Adonis character's brief reappearance (an androgynous figure).

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead - OK Computer
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Re: raising kids (not sf?)--long
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 1997 11:38:00 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

Yvonne Rowse wrote:

>I think children are currently in the position women were in at the
>turn of the century; only allowed self-determination, property etc at
>the whim of the grown-ups. Great. No wonder so many of us take such
>a long time to grow into sympathy/empathy.

This has struck me too. Over the past few years in the US there has been quite a controversy over "obscene" content on the Internet and its possible effects on children. The recently suspended Communications Decency Act was one attempt to deal with the issue, but... it trod upon the free speech rights of adults. What's scary to me about the debate over free speech and Internet content is that it takes for granted that children need to be "protected" (with parental screening controls, etc.) It does seem to be the same condescending attitude used to excuse the denial of formal education to women in times gone by. "Their fragile psyches cannot handle the shock of reality!"

>How about someone writing a novel about the empowerment of children?
>Completely, unbelievably utopian?

Hm... I have a feeling that there are such works, but none come to mind. Ironically, an oft-assigned book in high school is William Golding's Lord of the Flies, which takes the dystopic view that children, without the civilizing presence of adults, will become monsters. (It has been a while since I read it -- there may also have been some commentary on adult barbarity and warfare.)

Actually, Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time portrays relatively empowered children who engage in most of the same activities as the adults. This aspect of Mattapoisett society goes hand in hand with their belief that learning and play should continue throughout life and not stop at adolescence.

Any others?

-- Janice

Subject: Re: Tolkien
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 1997 13:13:06 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

MARINA YERESHENKO wrote, re: The Lord of the Rings:

> There was this great powerful character,
> Eowyn, and she did not even die in the end, but the guy she was in love
> with, of course, married a half-elven beauty who hardly said a couple of
> words throughout the story and spent most of it in a safe, protected place of
> her father till "bad times" were over. The former was ready to die for the
> man she loved, the latter would not even marry him unless he won the war and
> became a king, and she's got the guy in the end.
> The only unusual part was that the hero was blonde, and the bimbo was
> dark-haired. Usually, it's the other way around.

Arwen as bimbo? *Laugh* There is very little about Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, so Aragorn's devotion to her does seem a little strange. If I remember correctly, it is more thoroughly dealt with in the Silmarillion.

> By the way, since we were talking about suicide lately ("Atrocity in
> England" thread), does anyone remember _The River_? It's a short story by
> a guy whose name slips my mind, I think his last name was Young, and he
> also wrote _There Are Thirty Days In September_. In that story, a guy who
> tries to poison himself with gas, ends up floating down the river on
> something like a boat but flat and made of a bunch of tree trunks (I
> forgot the English word for that), which was exactly how he had always
> imagined death. And he meets a girl on that river, who was also trying to
> die, so they travel together, talking about what made them do that.
> Reaching the waterfalls that they an hear all the time would mean the end
> of the journey, but right when they come close to it, they decide that
> it's not what they really want, but it might be too late. It was a nice
> story, I wonder if anyone else here has read it.

I have not read it. However, it sounds remarkably like "Slow Music", a story by James Tiptree, Jr. In "Slow Music", a man and a woman make their way to something called The River, an alien energy field which will sublimate their physical bodies and absorb their consciousnesses into a greater whole. (Going to the River, in the context of the story, comes across as a really peaceful form of suicide.) Most of humanity has already disappeared into these Rivers, several of which hover around the Earth. The bulk of the story recounts their journey and growing lust for life. When they finally arrive at the River, they must decide what to do in the light of their new knowledge. It's a well-written, depressing work, as are most of Tiptree's stories.

> And what [do] you all think about Tolkien?

It's true that there are very few female characters in Tolkien's books, but... the few there are are not portrayed as weak or lesser than the men. And I do not find the male characters to be "macho" overall. My sense of Tolkien is that he did not think there are constitutional differences between women and men that relegate them to separate spheres. (I base this opinion on The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, not on Tolkien's actual beliefs, of which I know nothing.) His men are capable of loving, nurturing behavior and his women are capable of physical bravery and firm decision-making. As a feminist I don't have much of a problem with him. However, there are some fairly obvious racist elements in his works (the orcs, the Southrons, etc.). I still enjoy Tolkien (unlike Yvonne, I find him a joy to read aloud), but I am mindful of his faults.

-- Janice

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead - OK Computer
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

Subject: Re: Tolkien
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 1997 13:21:48 -0400
From: "Janice E. Dawley"

Yvonne Rowse wrote:

> Incidentaly, while we're talking about Oxford dons, how about CSLewis for a
> woman hater? His women are all evil or unpleasant and his girls have to be
> pretty and boyish (as opposed to girlish), able to follow orders and not
> blubber. I still have some affection for the Narnia books but they are full
> of petty nastiness that I could well live without.

I am not fond of the Narnia books, either. However, you might try Till We Have Faces, which is a first-person narrative from the viewpoint of a woman. It is really much better than anything else I've read by Lewis, and does not come across as anti-woman at all.

Janice E. Dawley ............. Burlington, VT
Listening to: Radiohead - OK Computer
"Reality is nothing but a collective hunch." - Lily Tomlin

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