Friday, October 07, 2005

"Heinlein's Female Trouble"

Serve me right for taking five days to get to the Times Book Review section. There's a back-page essay called Heinlein's Female Troubles, all about Robert Heinlein's treatment of women in his fiction. Understand, I once got booed from the floor at a panel at an SF convention when I suggested that Heinlein's treatment of women in his later books got in the way of my enjoying them (the books, not the women...), but I stand foursquare for his juveniles and a good number of his adult works (I think Time Enough for Love is the place where his work jumped the shark; you might have your own thoughts on the subject). M.G. Lord, the author of the essay, says that Heinlein's work is what made a feminist of her, and I can't argue with the examples she gives or the points she makes. And she does acknowledge that Heinlein's post-1970s novels are tainted "with a dated laciviousness and [impair] his ability to create three-dimensional women." But I'd go farther and say that with his later books Heinlein stops trying to create three-dimensional women at all; most of them are a catalog of abilities (starship pilot! mathematician! particle physicist! gourmet chef!) stapled to a Playboy pinup, with a pair of ovaries paperclipped to the packet. While Lord criticizes Friday, for example, as "a brazen disease vector, recklessly promiscuous, with a bizarre weakness for male engineers," what bothered me about Friday and the other women of Heinlein's last works was their status as mommies. Future mommies, happy incubators...not raising children (who seemed to be brought on stage to be cute for a moment, then retired to the nursery to get out of the way of the plot) so much as being in a pre-gestational or peri-gestational period. Nursing mommies. These works gave me a permanent distaste for being told that pregnant women are sexy (which irritated Spouse a little during those times when I was pregnant). And I won't even go into the weirdness of Lazarus Long going back in time to sleep with his mother...

I will go to my grave loving The Moon's a Harsh Mistress and The Day after Tomorrow and Double Star and a whole lot more of Heinlein's work. That's going to have to be enough.

10 Comments:

Blogger C. F. Blog said...

Is the Sci-Fi world of books becoming more for men like the Romance world of books are for women?

11:30 AM  
Blogger Jonquil said...

He's the father of us all, even though I have Issues, too.

Among other things, I'm very unhappy with the "real" ending of Podkayne, the one his editor made him change. In his letters he explicitly refers to it as the consequence of her crazy desire to have children and a career.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

C.F., I'm not sure what you're asking. Certainly SF is less a boy's club than it was when I was a kid, both for reading and writing.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

The "real" ending? I don't know about this. Whatzit?

11:52 AM  
Blogger C. F. Blog said...

Maybe I'm just picking the wrong books to read...

I had a guy tell me once that romance books were written for women and sci-fi books were written for men.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Jonquil said...

The real ending (as published in the postmortem revised editions with editorial changes removed) is that Podkayne dies and her brother takes over the care of her fairy.

Nasty details here.

Her brother takes over the narrative for the last chapter, and we learn that their uncle blames their mother for gallivanting around on space engineering jobs rather than concentrating on the proper upbringing of her children.

I read it once and am working hard to forget it. Given how much I loved Podkayne, I felt really betrayed.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

C.F. - romances (to some extent) select for women readers, though I know a good double-handful of men who read romances, or at least who read Regencies. There's no reason other than its historical roots that SF should select for male or female readers, and more and more it's an open field. There are still, alas, male readers who are afraid that if girls read SF they'll get cooties...their loss.

Jonquil--eeeew. I think I was happier not knowing that. Do you happen to remember when Podkayne came out? I remember reading it aeons ago--largely because I so loved her from "The Menace from Earth."

5:23 PM  
Anonymous L.N. Hammer said...

Um -- I just reread "The Menace from Earth" like two weeks ago. I don't remember any Podkayne in that story. Certainly she's none of the three named female characters.

---L.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

You're perfectly right, Larry. Brain hiccup.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Laura J Mixon said...

Well said, Mad.

9:14 PM  

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