Monday, January 18, 2010

My Name Is Inigo Montoya

(Administrative note, as previously promised and following hard on the most recent review...may I present...Sarah A. Hoyt in the first guest posting at this blog!)

My Name Is Inigo Montoya

Sarah A. Hoyt


I'll start this blog by coming clean and admitting I swiped the title from a speech given in Johannesburg by my friend Dave Freer. I swiped the intention of the title, too. Dave used it to mean that the pseudo-literary aspirations of science fiction had killed what was different and interesting about the genre. He meant that classical science fiction had "fathered" him and that he meant to carry on its legacy, regardless.

My reference is more specific. Years after Robert A. Heinlein had died, my husband and I managed to—yes, it did take some work—have the child we’d been trying to conceive for six years. He was—still is!—a boy, so we named him what we had always planned to name him: Robert Anson Hoyt. Because he’d been due on the Fourth of July (I spent months singing Yankee Doodle Dandy to my belly!) when—incidentally—labor started, we didn't realize the significance of his birth date on the seventh. Not until my husband called my brother and told him the name of his brand new nephew. My brother said, "Oh. And on Heinlein's birthday."

The coincidence was too much for my husband who forced me (trust me, it took forcing) to send a birth announcement to Mrs. Heinlein. This initiated a correspondence between us which—eventually—extended to my having her AIM handle. This handle was Astyanax. In one of the last conversations we had I asked her about its significance.

I was, of course, aware that Astyanax was the offspring of Hector and Andromache and supposedly thrown from the walls of Troy after the sacking of the city. But in some versions of the story Astyanax lived on to found settlements in Corsica and Sardinia.

Ginny—I could never call her that while she was alive, though she asked me to. Respect forced me to call her Mrs. Heinlein—told me that was exactly what she meant. Just like the Greeks thought that they'd successfully put Hector down and that no one would survive to avenge him, so the establishment thought it had successfully put Heinlein down and no one would survive to avenge him.

On the face of it, this seemed absurd. After all Heinlein died in his eighties, after a successful career. He was not murdered. His city was not sacked. Even for a metaphorical city, where it referred to Science Fiction, you could attribute falling readership to myriad conditions, including changes in US retail.

However, I knew exactly what she meant. You see, I'd come at Heinlein from an odd direction. In fact, it was many years before I realized that the first book of his I read must have been when I was nine or so. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. At the time I didn't realize it was science fiction. I had no concept of Science Fiction. To me my Science Fiction reading started with—of all things—Out of Their Minds, by Clifford Simak. In fact, when I first read Heinlein after realizing what science fiction was, something about the way his characters acted and talked, scared me a little.

I was more comfortable in Clifford Simak's quieter universe, with its more docile heroes. Except some books of Heinlein’s would demand to be read again and again—Puppet Masters; The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress; Starship Troopers. Little by little, Heinlein grew on me. The first time I encountered the notion that taxes were a form of extortion was in his books. First argument against gun control, too, in Red Planet. First argument for individual freedom—The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. First statement that the future is always better than the past—The Door Into Summer. Growing up in a country that had been a monarchy for most of its existence, a country where in fact, the citizens were held to owe something to the country, not the other way around, this seemed like insanity. But it stayed with me. And it took root.

By the time I was in my early twenties, I knew that Heinlein was not only my favorite author, but—hands down—the greatest influence in forming my mind and spirit. (This, by the way reading mostly his adult books, as only about half of his juveniles were ever translated to Portuguese and available at the time I was buying.)
I was very shocked when I came to the US and found that it was not fashionable, and—in some quarters—not acceptable to be a Heinlein fan. Considering his beliefs, and his work, ranged from hard left to pragmatic right, not just because he was not captive of a view point, but because his beliefs changed through his life, Heinlein is, like the Bible, something in which everyone can find something to criticize. There were, for instance, the people who objected to what seems to be the militarism of Starship Troopers. (Never understood that one. Starship Troopers is if you're hit, hit back and you have a right to survive but that's me.) There are people who object (oh, of course. Even Heinlein saw that more than the rest, I think, because he expected it) to the sex which ran the gamut of everything people might consider offensive. There are people who object to his views on religion. There are people who object to his female characters wearing high heels. I'm sure I'm leaving a lot out.

(Though I never heard anyone object to Puppet Masters, which is odd, since the story questions our perceptions; our ability to know we're our own people; media behavior and, incidentally, the limits of Constitutional liberties. No, I don't object to the book. You see, like Heinlein I believe scary subjects are the ones that should be explored. In an entertaining manner. To make money and make people think, too.)

However, over time, criticism in the field I aspired to enter coalesced around objections coming mostly from the left. This happens possibly because with obvious and clear exceptions the writers and critics in the field, range from left-of-center to left-of-Stalin. (This is not a criticism, merely an observation.) So we hear that Heinlein was unfair to women, too militaristic, too pro-business, too pro-space-colonization and of course, that one thing he could never escape forever (given that if he’d lived he'd now be 102) a dead white male. And yes, we DO hear that he has too much sex, from people who clearly haven't read their field for a while. Needless to say those who think the proper place of genre literature is competing for space in college reading lists find him "too simplistic" and not nearly "nuanced" enough.

By far though, the shrillest criticism I’ve heard of Heinlein—perhaps because being female I move in female circles socially and sometimes professionally—comes from college-educated women. A female friend told me she'd gotten furious when reading Friday's rape in the beginning of Friday and had never read him again. The idea baffled me, since lots of authors write about rapes—lots of romance authors, who are mostly female. Mystery, too—and it doesn't mean they enjoy them or approve of them. It was clear from the raid after Friday's liberation that the rapists were killed and their organization destroyed. (Yes, one survives, but he was constrained to rape her, which changes things. And at any rate, he undergoes his own trials by fire. And he was like Friday, an artifact, so not a free man.) There was punishment for the act, so why the outrage?

And then I started hearing it from everywhere. Heinlein was anti-woman, they said. This despite the fact that he always maintained in his books that women were superior to men in most ways, and my having first encountered the concept of "date rape" in his books. Heinlein didn't even write real women, only men with tits. This last baffled me even more since, on a smaller scale—I was never built on the heroic scale. Emotionally and mentally, at least. The hips are getting downright monumental, these days—I'd always identified with his women. And I knew lots of women like them. Ironically some were women who didn't like him because—they said—he wrote men with tits. At the same time, while being accused of being too masculine, his women were attacked for liking men, for enjoying sex and wanting to be pregnant and for not having ever been told that "all penetration is violation." (Like a lot of Heinlein criticism, the contradictions can make your eyes cross and your head spin around three times.)

Sometimes the very fact that his women were larger than life was brought up as evidence that he hated women. A puzzling idea, since his men were also larger than life. It's what made his books so appealing. Very few people—outside college reading lists—want to read about average Joe getting up and struggling with the heart break of Psoriasis.

Sometimes the fact that his women liked men and were willing to dress and behave to please men was brought up against him. Children, if you don't know what's wrong with that reasoning, I can't help you. (Though I might find you some diagrams and a couple of very good manuals.) Women will always dress and behave to please men (even when that includes pretending they won't) and men will always dress and behave to please women.

Yeah, there are the exceptions, but then they're really only playing on the opposing team and the same rules apply. Heinlein himself said that everything from poetry to nuclear physics were only variations on the old game. Humans—mirabile dictu—are driven to mate and will go out of their way to make themselves attractive. (Shame on Mr. Heinlein for making his women human, instead of poreless rubber dolls with agendas.)

I soon realized none of these people—mostly women, though also a few men—had ever actually read Heinlein. Certainly no more than a few pages. They had heard how terrible he was and made up their minds about him before they read the first sentence. But they knew...just knew...all that they’d been told was true. And possibly more.

Which is how we came to the sad state of affairs where pros in panels can dismiss Heinlein by saying that like any old man he was obsessed with sex and politics.
The true reason for all this—though I won't say it was coordinated. Most of it can be attributed to stupidity, a wish to belong and fear rather than malice—is that Heinlein scares the living daylights of those who would restrict the operation of human reason. And so he should.

Yes, his politics varied over his lifetime. He tackled themes that no sane human being would tackle, for fear of retribution. Themes in which powerful elites have a lot invested. Power. Sex. Money. Religion. The definition of human. Obliquely and sideways, race. The changes technology can bring to all of those.

Now, some of the themes were less than elegantly handled. Sex for instance. But when you're examining the effects of extreme longevity on the incest taboo, it is quite possible there is no delicate way to tackle it.

However, more important than his themes or his political inclinations, or his preoccupation of the moment was his determination that the human mind should be free...free to examine and discover. Free to know. Free to find the truth. Which is why I perceived him—first in rejection, and later in embrace—as the quintessential American writer. His values were—always—of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The primacy of the individual over the state or the church or the coercive group. It could be argued that having been educated in Heinlein I had to become an American citizen. In fact, had become one, in all but name and law long before I landed on these shores.

As he said it, himself When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, "This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know," the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, - not anything - you can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.

He never anticipated...or perhaps he did (he did after all mention the crazy years)—an ideology (political correctness) that would make it impossible for anyone to talk about anyone else's problems, particularly for a man to write about the problems of women without oppressing them by his very act of "usurping" their "victimhood." An ideology—or perhaps merely a belief—that would make it impossible to disagree with the verdict of the cognoscenti once they’d declared any person’s ideas forbidden, any person’s reasoning offensive.

Mighty little force is needed to control a man—or a woman, or a child—whose mind has been hoodwinked.

They've managed to lock Heinlein's ideas, his thoughts, his persuasive, infectious insistence on individual will and free reasoning, behind walls where most people won't dare trespass. They have killed him as dead as they can, because—to quote Shakespeare, possibly talking about Marlowe—When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a/man's good wit seconded with the forward child/Understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a/great reckoning in a little room.

They think they are safe. The man's words are dead. His wit is not available to the new generations. Even his gallant wife is gone.

But, alas, they counted without Astyanax. We are legion. And as long as there is a library standing, as long as the net remains reasonably free and gives us access to his works and those of other believers in freedom, more of us will appear.

I am not going to pretend I am equal in greatness to Heinlein. Would that I were. It was in full humility and sense of my own ineptitude that I dedicated my book Darkship Thieves to him. I hope there is in it at least a spark of his genius, but I know there’s probably no more than that.

But I was raised by Heinlein through his books, and I hope at least the spirit and the intention of the search for truth and individual freedom remains in my work. As well as the certainty that it's always easier to be a live lion than a live lamb or a dead lion.

I am sure many stand ready to kill me—or at least my career—I'm sure I'll be held to have despicable personal habits and low mental prowess. Heaven knows, I quite often feel tired and dispirited, as though I'm bleeding from multiple wounds.

But the need to awaken people drags me up again. I start writing to remind others of their innate freedom to think beyond the boundaries imposed by any ideology, any government, any church, any in-group, any literary current. The belief animates me that, so long as we keep fighting for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and using our minds to improve the present, the future will always be better than the past.

And then, like Inigo Montoya, the mad Spaniard in The Princess Bride, I rise again and resume my search for those that killed my father: that intransigent refusal to think; that serf-like willingness to believe the wisdom of the self proclaimed "betters"; that boneless, spineless conformity that goes along to get along.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

66 comments:

Consul-At-Arms said...

Excellent column.

I too am one of his "children."

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Sarah! Very well put.

I have a great deal of trouble with anyone who can't see the interest in Robert A. Heinlein -- or in Poul Anderson, another writer who often gets put down for his sexist character Dominic Flandry. (I _love_ Flandry. Anderson wrote with such a sly wit; Flandry finally does figure out that he'd better start respecting women, or else, by "A Stone in Heaven," though my favorite is still "A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows.")

There are so many great novels by Heinlein; even his "minor" novels like "I Will Fear No Evil" have huge ideas in them. And "Time Enough for Love" built upon many of Heinlein's earlier novels and transcended them all.

I think ideas matter. That's why I read Heinlein. And that's probably why you do, too -- because really, in SF, it's all about the ideas. (Otherwise, why bother?)

Barb C.

Crotchety Old Fan said...

absolutely fantastic

Fred, Sarah, if I may, after a suitable time frame, I'd like to reprint this piece on my blog.

In the meantime, I'll post a notice of it and then, later, some commentary

Barbara Friend Ish said...

Very well said, Sarah! His greatest crime was blowing so many of our minds wide open. The finest tribute we can offer is to carry dangerous ideas forward. It seems to me that the perpetration of infectious ideas should be the mission of SFF.

Sneakily, though; with Trojan Horses of story. They won't know what hit 'em. :)

Leona Wisoker said...

Yes. I agree. Heinlein was terrific, no question. I do have some quibbles with various aspects of his writing, but that comes from my changing preferences in reading material, nothing more. I have never argued the fact that he was a giant in the field and we would all be far poorer without his influence. Great post. Thank you!

Cambias said...

Well said! The only tragedy is that ALL SF and fantasy readers don't think of themselves as Heinlein's children.

Carl V. said...

Great post! I came to Heinlein late in my love of science fiction and have only begun to read his more well known novels in the past few years. I'm currently on a big Heinlein kick right now. I think his work holds up remarkably well and am convinced, in large part because I see it happening among my peers, that Heinlein is an author that can and should be enjoyed today. He was an amazing talent whose influence even I, as a relative Heinlein newbie, can see in more contemporary sf that I read. Thanks for the wonderful post.

Fred Friendly said...

A thoughtful and interesting post that raises more than a few issues.

When you paraphrase your friend's assertion that "the pseudo-literary aspirations of science fiction had killed what was different and interesting about the genre" you seem to be saying that either SF is not a literary form, which I would argue it is, or that attempts to experiment with the genre, are psuedo-intellectual posturing. I don't know if you pay much heed to genre theory, but it's exactly this experimentation that keeps the genre alive rather than becoming a bunch of strict rules and conventions that one must obey. I would argue that Heinlein himself ignored these conventions, especially in the latter novels that were overflowing with SF genre innovation. You cite his use of sex in his novels, and I'd put that right alongside similar work in the New Wave.

On a more troubling note, while I respect the passion of your position, it does seem slightly contradictory. When a singular author such as Heinlein works in a genre like SF - or indeed any author with a commanding literary presence - it's almost unavoidable that their "position" becomes polemical; the nuance of their ideas becomes lost in one's reaction to that position. While you argue against such a blanket reading of Heinlein, you commit exactly the same sin when describing those with "problems" about Heinlein. I'd describe myself as someone with a liberal, left view, but I too like Heinlein and see the value in his work. I don't subscribe to any particular view on the great man's work, but even the most die hard fan would have to agree that STarship Troopers is, er... problematic. No one position, or point of view can be explained away with absurd simplifications, so do us the favour of the same nuanvced view you ask for your child's namesake.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Note I used pseudo-literary. Perhaps it should have been italicized, but our formating got interesting the transference.

I have a degree in Modern Literature (and Linguistics) and the definition of Literature varies. For general purposes, literature is anything that is written. For the purpose of a college degree, literature is -- in general. I mean, I had friends taking Contemporary Literature who studied commercials and blue-grass lyrics -- also in practical terms, something that's assumed to have stood the test of time and have something important to say about its times and/or the human condition.

There is, however, another use of "Literature" as applied by critics and some literature professors. If I wanted to be cruel it would be "stuff no one wants to read and therefore must be great." I could say it is "Stuff that wins Nobel prizes" though that would be painting with too general a brush, since I loved The Name Of The Rose (the book, not the execrable movie) and was honored to attend a special philology class taught by its author. However, if we define it as "things college professors would find worthy and which they think capture the human condition" we'd be close enough to the mark.

Unfortunately over the last ten years, I've seen a tendency for science fiction authors and editors to want to enter this "exclusive" and "rarified" environment. They WANT to be taken seriously and understood to say something important about the human condition. Noble aspirations. Unfortunately most try to do it by pleasing literature professors. This means entertainment takes a WAY lower seat to sounding enlightened or profound or whatever.

YMMV, but for my money, message should come dead last, after making money, entertaining and exciting the imagination. Oh, there will be message. At least for me there always is. But if I hit you over the head with it and bore you, I've failed. Most pseudo literary SF fails.

I'll stop here. I could go on for hours. BUT I'll add the sad thing is the chances of pleasing the lords of "literary worth" are very, very low. Regardless of what sf/f does or doesn't do, we will always, with rare exceptions, be the redheaded step child. So, why bother?

As for Heinlein being controversial, this is fine. Controversial is, I'm sure, what he was aiming for. Having people refusing to read his books because he's "sexist" that is what I object to. I'm trying to remove the boards with the "don't go" in front of that door. After that we can debate each of his books worth ad nauseum. Heck, I often do. (Don't get me started on The Cat Who Walked Through Walls.)

KrazyK said...

I too grew up reading Heinlein, but in my case I started with his mid-period, then his juveniles, and finally his later period works.

I would agree that RAH wrote about difficult and challenging things, and that his choices made me think about things that other SF did not. For this I am thankful.

I would only add to your article by saying that I felt that his stories were less engaging in his final books:
- the incest was a deal breaker for me that the lens of longevity did nothing to assuage.
- Redheads and Lazarus Long (rinse and repeat) became painful in the reading.

Sadly, great writers are often remembered posthumously for their best and worst works. In my opinion, his weaker works play a strong part in how RAH is remembered.

My 2 cents...Karlo

Carl V. said...

Interestingly enough, my first two experiences with Heinlein were about ten years ago, when I was about 30, and they were with Friday and then Time Enough For Love. While the sexual content seemed like something I would have enjoyed when I was a hormonal teenager and found a bit silly as an adult, there was so much more going on in these stories, for me anyway, that I feel very fond of these novels and considered myself right then and there a fan of RAH. Since then I've been reading more of his juveniles and other earlier work and my appreciation for him grows and grows.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

KrazyK,

The incest wasn't a deal breaker for me, possibly because when I read it I was too steeped in myth and Jungian psychology (oy, I grew up, okay?) for it to bother me. Or maybe I'm just more cerebral about this stuff. It's hard to know if it would bother me encountering it now. As for redheads, since I always had a healthy appreciation for those of the male gender... eh. Didn't bother me.

About two months ago, I'd have said the sex didn't get a bit silly in the later books, but I was exposed to The Cat Who Walks Through Walls in audio form by a reader who -- I swear -- drooled everytime he mentioned anything even vaguely sexual and this underlined it till it became annoying. OTOH Heinlein wouldn't be the first -- or the last -- author whose cohesion and ballance went a bit shot at an advanced age. (One of my favorite authors is going that way now, and it's heartbreaking to watch and also scary because... well, I too will get older.)

OTOH I'd submit that even the most slurpingly sexual Heinlein work (well, read by this guy I heard, at least) is not a patch on the hard-core male objectification in a lot (NOT all) of the current Urban Fantasies (which have made my friend Kate Paulk nickname the authors 'undead pornettes'). I read those "oh, hot, baby, hot vampire" stories when I was younger, but my boys are teens now and my reaction is "EW". I hate the idea of any woman seeing them as pieces of meat and nothing else. (They, being male, might not mind, though.)

And the only ones I'd put beyond the bar for excess (though not exclusive) emphasis on sex would be TCWWTW (interestingly, the cat whom we named Pixel was by far the sweetest of our fuzzies. Petronius, otoh was a hellion) and maybe To Sail. In Time Enough, in Number of the Beast and especially in Friday there is a LOT of reason for the sex. In TCWWTW -- a book already on my wrath list because he killed the cat d*mn it -- not so much. Though this too might be influenced by the "slurp, slurp, juicy" reader delivery.

Peggy said...

>> Having people refusing to read his books because he's "sexist" that is what I object to.

Why is that a problem, exactly? If some people don't enjoy reading Heinlein because of the way he portrays women, why shouldn't they just skip his novels?

Or are you really arguing that Heinlein isn't at all sexist, and so anyone who believes that is wrong? Because I'd have to disagree with that.

I personally enjoy a lot of Heinlein's stories but I do find that the way he portrays women is problematic. It's fantastic that his female characters are smart and competent - I wouldn't argue with that. They are also usually attractive too, which again is fine with me.

What I find annoying is that smart, competent, attractive female characters seem to appreciate having their bottoms pinched, lack sexual "inhibitions", and are highly maternal and love getting pregnant. And Heinlein strongly implies that women who aren't like this have something wrong with them.

For women who have worked hard to earn respect in traditionally male occupations - especially the kind where the male employees are provided lap dances - the idea that they should be tapping into their inner sex kitten and/or getting themselves knocked up is pretty unappealing.

Add on top of that Heinlein's ever present emphasis on self-reliance which seems to push anyone who is concerned about discrimination into the category of a whiner, it does indeed feel pretty sexist.

As for Friday, you seem to have really missed the reason why so many reason find the rape seen to be appalling enough to throw the book across the room. It's not because it's a rape - as you point out, lots of authors write about rapes. It's because Friday is so "no big deal" about being raped, and even pretends to enjoy it. I found it disturbing when I read it and I imagine anyone who had been sexually assaulted would probably have a visceral reaction to that scene.

And what makes it worse than it could be because that's pretty much the first scene in the novel. We don't know that Friday is an artificial person, et cetera.

I suspect many of the women in Heinlein's novels are variations of his own fantasy female - both smart and ready for sex (and to please a man) at all times. I don't think at all that Heinlein hated women or treated women badly in real life, but I do think his depiction of women was often sexist.

And Heinlein isn't helped by the fact that he seems to be a favorite of libertarianesque geeks who spout sexist nonsense. It's not always fair to judge a book by it's readers, but it happens.

Carl V. said...

While I don't feel qualified to disagree with most of what you have to say, and on the surface certainly agree with a lot of it. I feel your comments are weighted towards only one portion of what Heinlein wrote, and in many respects this is the lesser awarded works.

"It's not always fair to judge a book by it's readers, but it happens."

I completely agree. My own personal experience with the people I live around and blog regularly with who read Heinlein is that their favorite books, the ones they read over and over again and talk about the most are his juveniles and his adult work that happened before the stories filled with sexual situations. In many of these stories there are strong female characters who don't live for sex, don't want their bottoms pinched, and in fact sex doesn't really enter the story at all, or if it does (like in the case of The Puppet Masters) it is between two consenting adults and is handled in a fair and tame manner.

For me personally, if people say they are put off of Heinlein because he is sexist and they've never bothered to read Podkayne of Mars or The Menace from Earth or any of a number of his fantastic works that aren't filled with sex, then they are doing him and his fans a disservice.

Amanda Green said...

Peggy, it always amazes me the vitriol that comes from some people whenever Heinlein is mentioned. First off, take a breath. Now, go back and read what Sarah said. Not what you think she said. Not what someone told you she said. But read what she said.

I'm not going to dissect your comments point by point because I feel sure you'll just decide I'm one of those libertarianesque geeks who spout sexist nonsense which I'm not. For one thing, I've worked in jobs where being a woman isn't necessarily a bonus. For another, I also realize that women can -- and quite often do -- spout as much sexist nonsense as men. What I will do is remind you what Sarah said about Friday

A female friend told me she'd gotten furious when reading Friday's rape in the beginning of Friday and had never read him again. . . I soon realized none of these people—mostly women, though also a few men—had ever actually read Heinlein. Certainly no more than a few pages. They had heard how terrible he was and made up their minds about him before they read the first sentence. But they knew...just knew...all that they’d been told was true. And possibly more.

At no point does Sarah attack or condemn anyone who has read and formulated an opinion on the book. What she does is comment on how baffled she was by those who either read only a few pages and did not finish the book or who simply relied upon the opinions of others to decide that Heinlein was a sexist pig.

Finally, I can only shake my head at your last statement And Heinlein isn't helped by the fact that he seems to be a favorite of libertarianesque geeks who spout sexist nonsense. It's not always fair to judge a book by it's readers, but it happens. How sad. That's almost as sad as deciding you won't read anything else an author writes just because you don't like one scene in one book. I guess folks like that don't go back to a restaurant when your steak is a bit too rare and you never watch a movie directed by someone (or written or starring) just because you didn't like one they'd done before.

Finally, look at what he wrote in historical context. His women were ahead of the time...for then. If you condemn him for not being as enlightened as society demands now, do you also condemn all the other authors whose work reflect the beliefs of their times? Or maybe we should go back and rewrite those books that don't meet our standards today as they were in 1984, just as so much history is being rewritten.

Anonymous said...

Peggy – You certainly are within your rights to avoid reading sexist books. However, this brings up the obvious question: How do you know which books to avoid? How do you know which books are sexist *before* you read them? Are you relying on something someone else has told you? No wonder you seem to have a problem with self-reliant female characters, since, intellectually at least, you appear to be inordinately reliant on someone else’s opinion of books you’ve never read. Which means, Peggy, that you're turning your choices and intellectual freedom over to someone who apparently thinks any act of intimacy between a man and a woman is *defined* as violence. This means there's pretty much no heterosexual literature you can read; and if you do accidentally read it, it's been poisoned by the person who told you it's sexist.

And, just out of purely morbid (which, in your case, is literally true – a mind is a terrible thing to allow to die of atrophy) curiosity, how did that salacious hyperlink to some site that gloried in showing people in degrading positions of bondage have *anything* to do with women who are comfortable in their bodies, and aren’t afraid to use the full scope of the plumbing they were born with? That, Peggy, was uncalled for. Somebody should explain to you what sexual exploitation means, in the real world, instead of just those feminist focus groups you apparently spend your time in.

I hope you rediscover your own individuality, Peggy, and escape the collective.

Lin in Longmont

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Dear Peggy,

The problem with refusing to read a book because you heard something about it, or not evaluating it fairly if you do read it because you heard something about it, is that you have surrendered control of your mind to someone else's opinions, thoughts and desires. Of course, if that's what you wish to do,it's entirely YOUR choice.

HOWEVER I prefer it not be a fad that takes hold. And I will try to convince people this mind set and the thought-totalitarians it engenders is both sick and despicable. I will try to convince people to use their brain which sets them above mere apes following social signals. And I will oppose anyone who thinks he or she should be allowed to condemn writing by fiat without reading it.

As for women who are smart and like having their bottoms pinched, or whatever it is... uh? I THOUGHT we were for sexual freedom. Have you read the latest books? Lots of people like having their bottoms pinched and spanked, and... I fail to see your issue, or what this has to do with inteligence. Are we now bound to our sexual desire/orientation by means of intelligence? Really? How fascinating. I must find a link to this breakthrough psychological research.

And if you're going to use libertarianesque as an insult, (What in bloody hades does that mean, btw? "Somewhat inclined to be fond of liberty and individuality"? Um... yeah. Sounds dire to me) perhaps we can use "totalitarianesque" to refer to idiotish people who judge books without reading them, no?

As for sexist -- I'm sorry, you're not helping your cause when you accuse those who oppose you of being sexist and THEN provide them with ample justification.

I was born in a country where women still DID have to fight for their rights -- like the right to walk the streets alone, after dark, in a SAFE area. I believe people -- men and women -- should be free.

Creatures who choose to deliver their brain in toto to some movement that would control them, though -- creatures who choose not to read forbidden books or think forbidden thoughts should be classified as infants and kept somewhere padded and away from sharp objects, lest they injure themselves or others. And they should never be taught to type. At least not without being taught reading comprehension FIRST.

The CO said...

Hi Peggy,

While I don't hold RAH to quite the heights others do, I think you're a touch off base. I mean it's well known he based most of the women he wrote off his wife. I can hardly imagine his not having an enormous wellspring of support for her, one does not after all stay with someone they hate for so many years. And how can you call writing women who just like men are able to fully enjoy family and career 'sexist'? I'm something less than a fan of rape scenes as character growth catalysts, but in the book you're speaking of he didn't even use a 'real' person (by the standards of the books universe) so I can hardly fault him for that particular event. I think you really need to ponder how much of your reaction is based off of what is _really_ there and how much is off inference, based on conjecture that is heavily drawn from someone elses biases and hangups and both bolstered and watered down by anything as murky and prone to misunderstanding as the written word.

Mike said...

I'm amazed at how few people grasped Friday.

The rape was no big deal BECAUSE SHE DIDN'T THINK OF HERSELF AS HUMAN.

That was the whole point of the book. She had to learn to become a person, rather than a fabricated analog, who'd been taught never to show emotion, never to respond, never to argue.

Anonymous said...

It’s funny how the same old pieces of evidence get brought up endlessly to support Heinlein being sexist. What’s more interesting is the fact that the argument is consistently mislabeled. It is true that Heinlein acknowledges a difference between the sexes, but defining this as sexist is a quick shortcut to the sort of silliness from the Monty Python “Life of Brian” sketch where the group agrees to fight for a man’s right to get pregnant, despite the fact that it is impossible. More interestingly still, some of the earliest feminist pioneers (here, most noticeably, Carol Gilligan) in psychology were fighting *for* women to have differences in psychology and physiology recognized (because about a third of women use a completely different mental paradigm from the overwhelming majority of men, and were getting misclassified by research failing to take the differences between the sexes into account) , so it’s counter-productive, which probably explains why it can only survive by being mislabeled.

Thusly, when you argue that there is a problem with his female characters being highly maternal or liking getting pregnant, your qualm is with thousands of years of evolution, and not with Heinlein. To do a quick overview of the key points from gestation: There are various hormones over the course of a pregnancy that are related to functions such as combating stress (cortisol would be an example of a more commonly known one), and if the labor itself is not looked on with fondness, the gestation period is hormonally designed to be at least above-average. You could debate psychological states, or the various levels in women, but the reason that we evolved that way is because those female ancestors who enjoyed pregnancy more were more predisposed to having large numbers of children and outcompeting those who did not. As for a strong maternal instinct, again, that’s an evolutionarily sound thing to have. It’s assisted by the chemical oxytocin, which is designed to create a bond between a mother and a child by similar euphoric or stress relieving effects as the above-mentioned hormones, typically released during breastfeeding. To paraphrase, a woman is psychologically conditioned to experience happiness in the presence of the child.

Your other two claims have the potential to be quite serious. Lacking sexual inhibitions and enjoying having their bottoms pinched has potential to be meritous of concern, but isn’t really grounded. The first is a difficult case to make by itself. His female characters are certainly not nymphomaniacs, and are generally in close relationships with the people with whom they have intercourse. By modern standards, that actually means they are above average in commitment and reserve; the list of modern sitcoms featuring regular one night stands and outrageous promiscuity is only growing. The only way this argument could make sense would be if you expected people in a relationship, or more importantly, in a marriage, to have absolutely no physical attraction to each other. For all that this view is hawked by pop-culture, the continued existence of humanity is a fairly good disproof of it, as are the regular reports pointing out that happily married people are often more optimistic and successful. The second, more generally, would be “enjoying the advances of men”. We will leave aside the necessary implication in this issue that women, generally, have no interest in forming a relationship with a man. It is far more important that we determine that, regardless of predisposition, the woman takes umbrage with either the method or the intent of the advances. That said, it’s interesting that no small number of the scenes viewed as sexist by the many, many critics of Heinlein are between consenting individuals. It takes a lot more than an incredibly remote chance of a bruise on the bottom to cause a problem here. (Continued In Next Post)

Anonymous said...

And as for the matter of Friday (which is a complaint from further along in your post, but relevant to this topic), you are going out of your way to bend the fact that the writing is effective into a proof that Heinlein is being sexist. As often as this scene is used as evidence, I am flabbergasted by how little analysis is done on it. Heinlein has the honor of causing some of the most extreme emotional reactions in me of any author, and I say that because emotion is the bread and butter of the craft. You’re SUPPOSED to feel that there is something wrong with the rape scene. In fact, this beginning is distinguished because Heinlein both causes a violent emotional reaction, and through the incongruousness itself hints at Friday’s true nature. As for people who have been sexually assaulted, it took an enormous amount of increasingly paranoid and illogical social restrictions to get the statistic for that group to become considered significant (insofar as you can now be identified as a sex offender for insulting a woman). It is not a target group significant enough to be considered for products other than support groups specifically for those victims. The only real purpose it serves in the argument is as a rationalization of your own kneejerk reaction to the scene; and it’s not an unexpected or unnatural reaction, but it cheapens the situation of people who have actually been sexually assaulted to use them as a defense for your emotional response.

Given all that, your conclusion that this was Heinlein fantasizing (which is an unoriginal indictment in any case) really seems like more of an ad hominem attack than a reasoned argument. Quite beyond which, even if it was, (with the exception of Friday, since it is unreasonable to consider it by the same standard), it would be a fantasy about women who are responsive to partners they are in a relationship with, and who within the constraints of that situation act according to the evolutionary imperative to create the next generation. Unless we’re going to argue that a female significant other should be distant, or that the human race should not be perpetuated (which would be a tough sell in a story, insofar as humans constitute the entire target market), its hard to find fault with this. But maybe the more worrisome thing is that this WOULD be considered a fantasy in modern society, or that we would NOT consider anything wrong with a woman who had this self-defeating and poisonous mindset.

In closing, in consideration of how counter to women’s rights, human evolution, or relationship dynamics your argument is, we could just as soon say that it is composed entirely out of “sexist nonsense”. The implication is no different from that of any other Heinlein critic in your vein: that women should be barred from a certain form a behavior, by force, without reference to any of the intrinsic biological differences or actions of a well-adjusted human being. And while it may not be the usual approach to sexism, the restriction of the sisterhood is no better than that of a patriarchy, for indeed the same exact goal could be applied to either. The association with libertarianism that you made, therefore, is quite understandable. Freedom from rigorously enforced social castes is counter to the ideas of the sisterhood mentality, so the natural reaction is to label it sexist.

You are free to say that Heinlein is sexist. People are free not to read Heinlein, as they are free not to read the masterpieces of any literary master. But given the enormous amount of evidence contrary to your argument, in the interest of defending the artistic principles of the writing field, one should not be allowed to lead to the other without challenge.

Kate said...

Peggy,

Did you actually think about this, or did you just go off in a frothing rage? I've seen intelligent arguments over the quality of Heinlein's works, and this isn't among them. In fact, it reads as though you didn't actually read the post, you read what you wanted to see. If that's the case, I'm spitting into the wind here, but I can't stop myself trying to help someone who so obviously needs it.

You said:
Why is that a problem, exactly? If some people don't enjoy reading Heinlein because of the way he portrays women, why shouldn't they just skip his novels?

I don't see anywhere that Sarah is saying people who don't enjoy reading Heinlein - and the reason they don't enjoy it doesn't matter a damn - can't just skip his novels. She's saying that she objects to people who don't enjoy Heinlein trying to stop everyone reading his novels. The former is freedom of choice. The latter is the thought police censoring anything they don't want people to see. Your attitude throughout your post reeks of the latter. If that wasn't what you intended, I suggest you consider lessons in writing.

You said:
Or are you really arguing that Heinlein isn't at all sexist, and so anyone who believes that is wrong? Because I'd have to disagree with that.

Now you're arguing on what the definition of 'is' is. If your standard of 'sexist' is anything acknowledging or (horrors!) celebrating a difference between male and female then yes, Heinlein is 'sexist'. Of course, by that definition so is nature. A little detour into neuro-biology here: all the evidence to date suggests (rather strongly) that personality and sense of self is an emergent property of the interaction between the biochemical soup in the brain and the configuration of the brain cells. Psychoactive drugs, legal and illegal, alter the biochemical properties and hence the observed personality and thought patterns of the person taking them. It's also well known that the sex hormones are present in the brain - so why is it so difficult to believe that male and female are going to have different thought patterns and emotional triggers? And what, precisely makes that sexist? It's like saying that it's 'heightist' that there aren't any short Olympic high jumpers. Or 'mathist' because the math-illiterate can't work as accountants.
(continued next post)

Kate said...

You said:
I personally enjoy a lot of Heinlein's stories but I do find that the way he portrays women is problematic. It's fantastic that his female characters are smart and competent - I wouldn't argue with that. They are also usually attractive too, which again is fine with me.

What I find annoying is that smart, competent, attractive female characters seem to appreciate having their bottoms pinched, lack sexual "inhibitions", and are highly maternal and love getting pregnant. And Heinlein strongly implies that women who aren't like this have something wrong with them.


You must have read a different Heinlein than I did. I got the smart, competent and attractive part, but the rest? Weirdly enough, most of the women I know don't have any objections to sex with someone they love - which is the context I saw. Since when is that a lack of inhibition? I must have missed the women doing it with anything and everything in the street. For that matter, I clearly missed them doing this in a society that disapproves of public sex. Funnily enough when sex in public is accepted and even encouraged, a lot of people are going to do it (yes this does happen - it's called 'no concept of privacy'). On bottom-pinching, well, most women I know will appreciate and welcome advances from their husband or significant other that they wouldn't tolerate elsewhere. Is that so very unusual? Maternal and love getting pregnant tends to be a necessity in the half of the species that incubates and does the bulk of the work of raising the offspring, otherwise we'd be long extinct. Ergo, women who aren't and don't are abnormal. If abnormal = "something wrong" then yes, they have something wrong with them.

You said:
For women who have worked hard to earn respect in traditionally male occupations - especially the kind where the male employees are provided lap dances - the idea that they should be tapping into their inner sex kitten and/or getting themselves knocked up is pretty unappealing.

Oh, puh-LEEZE. I happen to be one of those women. At work I am "one of the guys". At home with my husband, it's different. This is normal behavior, for men as well as women. One adapts one's behavior and manner to the environment one happens to be in. Big deal. I have no objection to tapping into my 'inner sex kitten' with my husband. A co-worker or stranger isn't ever going to see that. It seems to me that your education was sadly deficient if it failed to include the notion that it's necessary to act in different ways depending on context.

You said:
Add on top of that Heinlein's ever present emphasis on self-reliance which seems to push anyone who is concerned about discrimination into the category of a whiner, it does indeed feel pretty sexist.

I see projection here, not anything Heinlein wrote. Are you saying that being concerned about discrimination is incompatible with self-reliance? From everything I've seen in a varied career - most of it in ultra-masculine fields - the best answer to discrimination is to demonstrate that you're capable of handling the job and everything that goes with it. In my case that included several months as the only woman in a small mining camp where all of the men were bigger and stronger than me. They were as sexist as they come - but they respected me because I demonstrated that a short, slender (then, but alas not now) woman could do the job and wasn't going to ask for any concessions - for anything.
(continued some more)

Kate said...

You said:
As for Friday, you seem to have really missed the reason why so many reason find the rape seen to be appalling enough to throw the book across the room. It's not because it's a rape - as you point out, lots of authors write about rapes. It's because Friday is so "no big deal" about being raped, and even pretends to enjoy it. I found it disturbing when I read it and I imagine anyone who had been sexually assaulted would probably have a visceral reaction to that scene.

That scene is supposed to be disturbing. It and what precedes it set up that Friday is not anyone we would recognize. She kills a man on the first page and her concern isn't that she killed a man, it's that she killed him when she'd intended to knock him out. The message there is that she's been trained to kill when necessary, and in the rape scene, that she's been trained to 'handle' rape by doing exactly what she does. This should be setting off alarm bells about what kind of society this is and who is this woman. Her response, incidentally, is historically documented. It's exactly what one expects from someone who's been abused at a level that she regards this as normal treatment. The implication is that it's not the first time this has happened, and that Friday doesn't see herself as worth better treatment. That's hardly 'sexist' - and yes, I do agree that someone who has been sexually assaulted would have a bad reaction to that scene. The clinical term is PTSD. And the healthy end result is where Friday ultimately ends up: happy, loving, and loved. It does take a lot of time to get there - which again, Heinlein shows.

You said:
And what makes it worse than it could be because that's pretty much the first scene in the novel. We don't know that Friday is an artificial person, et cetera.

We don't know - but we get an awful lot of hints that something is not what we would consider normal. If you can't parse those hints and see that something deeper is going on, that isn't Heinlein's fault.

You said:
I suspect many of the women in Heinlein's novels are variations of his own fantasy female - both smart and ready for sex (and to please a man) at all times. I don't think at all that Heinlein hated women or treated women badly in real life, but I do think his depiction of women was often sexist.

This is clearly not the Heinlein I read. Smart, yes. Ready to please a man at all times? Hardly. I'm not going through the multitudinous examples, simply because there are too many of them. Aside from which, a lot of Heinlein's women led men around by the little head. I don't see that as a normal male's fantasy. In certain select clubs of a rather exotic nature, perhaps, but the average man likes to think he's got a bit more control than that.
(continued even more)

Kate said...

You said:
And Heinlein isn't helped by the fact that he seems to be a favorite of libertarianesque geeks who spout sexist nonsense. It's not always fair to judge a book by it's readers, but it happens.

'Libertarianesque geeks who spout sexist nonsense'... You must deal with substandard geeks, because none of the ones I know spout anything except excess caffeine and the usual bodily functions. In fact, every geek I've ever met is much more interested in competence than anything else, and respects people who are competent elsewhere as much as competence in their chosen fields. Or perhaps you think that competence is sexist? I know you haven't said this, but the implication is in your word choices and your complaints about Heinlein.

Frankly, Peggy, in my experience the people who complain most about any kind of "ism" be it sexism, racism, ageism or even the dreaded org-ism (sorry! I can never resist a really dreadful pun) are the people who are least competent and least willing to acknowledge that perhaps they just might maybe have some responsibility for their own situation. I hope you're not one of them.
(and that's all. Sorry about the length but this had to be said)

Fred Kiesche said...

Proud to be a "libertarianesque geek"!

:)

Just a request folks...please keep it friendly and clean.

And don't panic if you make a comment and takes a while to post. I do have to sleep now and again!

;)

physics geek said...

Excellent post. I've been reading and rereading Heinlein since the age of seven or eight, when I first stumbled onto Starship Troopers.

Oh, and as for the title of your post? I recently replaced my dog-eared copies of Doc Smith's works. Fortunately, the scifi book club published hardback compendiums.

jc said...

"(M)ost try to do it by pleasing literature professors. This means entertainment takes a WAY lower seat to sounding enlightened or profound or whatever.

YMMV, but for my money, message should come dead last, after making money, entertaining and exciting the imagination".

Nail, hammer. Dead on description. RAH never pretended to be an artiste - seem to recall something about "the most beautiful words in the English language are 'pay to the order of'".

Jeff Greason said...

Ms. Hoyt.

I'm a life-long reader of science fiction and of Robert Heinlein. I won't recapitulate here what his work meant to me; I said what I had to say at the Heinlein Centennial.

But I will say that I was greatly impressed with your remarks. I am always eager for more good SF and I had not yet come across your own work. Based on your comments above, I just placed an order for several of your books and I look forward to reading them!

-- Jeff Greason

Peggy said...

Amanda Green: I did read what Sarah wrote.

You didn't actually quote the part of the paragraph about Friday I was responding to:

A female friend told me she'd gotten furious when reading Friday's rape in the beginning of Friday and had never read him again. The idea baffled me, since lots of authors write about rapes—lots of romance authors, who are mostly female.

I don't think I was off base commenting on why the rape in Friday can be particularly upsetting.

You also say At no point does Sarah attack or condemn anyone who has read and formulated an opinion on the book.

But the very first sentence of Sarah's paragraph about Friday describes someone who had read the book and disliked it. True she doesn't "condemn" that particular reader, but it doesn't really follow that every other person who strongly dislikes Heinlein's novels hasn't read them.

On my comment about some of Heinlein's fans being annoying, you say:

"How sad. That's almost as sad as deciding you won't read anything else an author writes just because you don't like one scene in one book. I guess folks like that don't go back to a restaurant when your steak is a bit too rare and you never watch a movie directed by someone (or written or starring) just because you didn't like one they'd done before."

It is sad, but it's human nature. If someone whose opinions you strongly disagree with told you that they thought a particular author was fantastic, wouldn't you suspect that that particular author wouldn't be to your taste? And I think your analogy is a bit flawed: it's more like having a friend rave about how great a restaurant is and deciding not to visit it yourself because your taste in food is so different.


You also say:

Finally, look at what he wrote in historical context. His women were ahead of the time...for then. If you condemn him for not being as enlightened as society demands now, do you also condemn all the other authors whose work reflect the beliefs of their times?

Of course Heinlein was a man of his times. I don't think it would be at all fair to condemn him for his attitudes, and I never suggested that he should be. But most people read novels for pleasure, and many women don't find old-fashioned depictions of women pleasurable reading.

Peggy said...

Anonymous at 00:29:

Sorry about the link. I didn't notice any women in bondage there, and I sorry you found it offensive.

I also don't know where this came from:

No wonder you seem to have a problem with self-reliant female characters, since, intellectually at least, you appear to be inordinately reliant on someone else’s opinion of books you’ve never read. Which means Peggy, that you're turning your choices and intellectual freedom over to someone who apparently thinks any act of intimacy between a man and a woman is *defined* as violence. This means there's pretty much no heterosexual literature you can read; and if you do accidentally read it, it's been poisoned by the person who told you it's sexist.

If you read what I actually wrote:

- I have read Heinlein myself, and I enjoy most Heinlein (despite being occasionally annoyed by him), so my choices aren't being limited by anyone.

- I actually said I thought it was great that Heinlein's women were smart and competent and attractive.

- I never wrote that I thought the sex in the novels was a bad thing so the "intimacy is violence" bit seems to have come from your own imagination.

Just to be clear, the problem that I have with the way Heinlein has characterized some of his female characters has nothing to do with the fact that they have sex. Sex between consenting adults is a good thing.

The problem I have is with Heinlein's characterization of women who love the bum-patting and who love taking off their clothes and having sex with whoever as the way women SHOULD be.

Peggy said...

Sarah A. Hoyt: As for women who are smart and like having their bottoms pinched, or whatever it is... uh? I THOUGHT we were for sexual freedom. Have you read the latest books? Lots of people like having their bottoms pinched and spanked, and... I fail to see your issue, or what this has to do with inteligence. Are we now bound to our sexual desire/orientation by means of intelligence? Really? How fascinating. I must find a link to this breakthrough psychological research.

You are right that there is nothing wrong with liking your bottom pinched. And you are right it has nothing to do with intelligence. I think you missed my point that what I find annoying is that Heinlein seems to suggest that all women SHOULD like having their bottoms pinched.

"Libertarianesque" wasn't meant as an insult to libertarians. It was meant as an insult to certain individuals who like to think of themselves as "libertarian", but really are just assholes. Since what I meant by that was obviously only clear to me, I should have worded that differently. Anyway, for some reason the people I've met who are like that frequently seem to love Heinlein - probably because his novels do feature successful self-made individualists, and they like to think of themselves that way.


As for sexist -- I'm sorry, you're not helping your cause when you accuse those who oppose you of being sexist and THEN provide them with ample justification.

I haven't accused anyone of being sexist, so ??? All I said is that I thought the depiction of women in some of Heinlein's novels is sexist. And we can disagree on that point.


Creatures who choose to deliver their brain in toto to some movement that would control them, though -- creatures who choose not to read forbidden books or think forbidden thoughts should be classified as infants and kept somewhere padded and away from sharp objects, lest they injure themselves or others. And they should never be taught to type. At least not without being taught reading comprehension FIRST.

Is this directed at me? If so, LOL! If not, I don't know what the heck you are talking about.

Peggy said...

THE CO:

And how can you call writing women who just like men are able to fully enjoy family and career 'sexist'?

I don't call that sexist at all. I call that awesome. And that wasn't at all my objection to Heinlein's characterization of women.

I'm something less than a fan of rape scenes as character growth catalysts, but in the book you're speaking of he didn't even use a 'real' person (by the standards of the books universe) so I can hardly fault him for that particular event.

But when the rape scene happens, we don't know that Friday isn't a "real" person. And that makes it especially hard reading.

I think you really need to ponder how much of your reaction is based off of what is _really_ there and how much is off inference, based on conjecture that is heavily drawn from someone elses biases and hangups and both bolstered and watered down by anything as murky and prone to misunderstanding as the written word.

Of course my reaction is based on my own biases, how could it not be? I'm not sure why you would think I'm basing my reaction on anyone else's biases.

Peggy said...

Anonymous @ 2:12

Thusly, when you argue that there is a problem with his female characters being highly maternal or liking getting pregnant, your qualm is with thousands of years of evolution, and not with Heinlein.

Well, I would disagree with that. Yes, some women are naturally maternal, but not all are.

Lacking sexual inhibitions and enjoying having their bottoms pinched has potential to be meritous of concern, but isn’t really grounded. The first is a difficult case to make by itself. His female characters are certainly not nymphomaniacs, and are generally in close relationships with the people with whom they have intercourse.

Again, the problem I have with Heinlein's characterization of women not that they like sex. It's that Heinlein implies that that "uninhibited" nature is the way that women SHOULD be.

And as for the matter of Friday (which is a complaint from further along in your post, but relevant to this topic), you are going out of your way to bend the fact that the writing is effective into a proof that Heinlein is being sexist.

Actually, I was explaining why women might find that part of Friday to be disturbing in ways that rape scenes in other novels are not.

You’re SUPPOSED to feel that there is something wrong with the rape scene. In fact, this beginning is distinguished because Heinlein both causes a violent emotional reaction, and through the incongruousness itself hints at Friday’s true nature.

I agree, but again, that doesn't make the scene any less disturbing.

As for people who have been sexually assaulted, it took an enormous amount of increasingly paranoid and illogical social restrictions to get the statistic for that group to become considered significant (insofar as you can now be identified as a sex offender for insulting a woman). It is not a target group significant enough to be considered for products other than support groups specifically for those victims. The only real purpose it serves in the argument is as a rationalization of your own kneejerk reaction to the scene; and it’s not an unexpected or unnatural reaction, but it cheapens the situation of people who have actually been sexually assaulted to use them as a defense for your emotional response.

I believe you misunderstood what I wrote. I said that I had a strong reaction to the scene, and that I would imagine women who had been assaulted would have even more reason to feel that way. That isn't rationalization, that's empathy. And you might be surprised at the number of women you know who have been assaulted.

The implication is no different from that of any other Heinlein critic in your vein: that women should be barred from a certain form a behavior, by force, without reference to any of the intrinsic biological differences or actions of a well-adjusted human being.

What? I never said that women should be barred from sex with whomever they like.

Peggy said...

Kate: I'm not sure how you got "frothing rage" out of what I wrote. Annoyance, yes, since it seems to me that Sarah hasn't taken the effort to understand why some people don't like Heinlein's characterization of women.

She's saying that she objects to people who don't enjoy Heinlein trying to stop everyone reading his novels. The former is freedom of choice. The latter is the thought police censoring anything they don't want people to see. Your attitude throughout your post reeks of the latter. If that wasn't what you intended, I suggest you consider lessons in writing.

Who exactly is doing that? I know there are people who say they hate Heinlein and would never read his works, but I haven't heard them argue that other people should stop reading him. And if you read what I wrote, I never said no one should read Heinlein either. Heck, I read Heinlein.

It's also well known that the sex hormones are present in the brain - so why is it so difficult to believe that male and female are going to have different thought patterns and emotional triggers? And what, precisely makes that sexist?

I wouldn't disagree that women - on average - are different then men - on average. But that wasn't what I was arguing. The problem I have with many of Heinlein's female characters is that they behave in similar ways and that there is the suggestion that that is the way women SHOULD behave.

I got the smart, competent and attractive part, but the rest? Weirdly enough, most of the women I know don't have any objections to sex with someone they love - which is the context I saw. Since when is that a lack of inhibition? I must have missed the women doing it with anything and everything in the street.

I don't have objection to sex in the least. It's a natural part of life and also, when done right, quite fun. I don't have any objection to women being uninhibited about getting naked or whatever.

Are you saying that being concerned about discrimination is incompatible with self-reliance? From everything I've seen in a varied career - most of it in ultra-masculine fields - the best answer to discrimination is to demonstrate that you're capable of handling the job and everything that goes with it. In my case that included several months as the only woman in a small mining camp where all of the men were bigger and stronger than me. They were as sexist as they come - but they respected me because I demonstrated that a short, slender (then, but alas not now) woman could do the job and wasn't going to ask for any concessions - for anything.

Yes, this is what I was referring to. It's great that you got the guys to respect you. But the experience of many women is that even when they are demonstrating their competence they aren't given respect or the credit they deserve. It's not a matter of asking for concessions, it's a matter of some people needing a metaphorical whack on the head to get over their biases.

That scene is supposed to be disturbing. It and what precedes it set up that Friday is not anyone we would recognize.

Again, I don't disagree. But that makes it different from rape scenes in romance novels and murder mysteries and other books - and more disturbing. Not everyone likes that in their pleasure reading.

This is clearly not the Heinlein I read. Smart, yes. Ready to please a man at all times? Hardly..

OK, I did overstate that "ready to please a man" bit - it's more that Heinlein's women are usually quite overtly sexual. Again, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. It's just that that a significant proportion of his women are that way, and there is the suggestion in what women SHOULD be that way.

Peggy said...

In fact, every geek I've ever met is much more interested in competence than anything else, and respects people who are competent elsewhere as much as competence in their chosen fields. Or perhaps you think that competence is sexist? I know you haven't said this, but the implication is in your word choices and your complaints about Heinlein.

No, I don't think competence is sexist. It's great that you have met non-sexist geeks. I guess it's my misfortune to have met some who pay lip service to caring about competence, but then turn around judge female colleagues using a different set of standards than they judge their male colleagues.

And part of that different set of standards is the expectation that women should be "sexy" as well as competent. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being both sexually attractive and good at your job. The problem I have is with the expectation that women SHOULD be both.

Jamie said...

Fred Friendly, way up-thread: you say, "even the most die hard fan would have to agree that STarship Troopers is, er... problematic." Why? Starship Troopers posits that citizens may earn a vote by participating in public service - not just in the military, but in some area of public service - for two years. Seems a lot better than a poll tax to me. I'm not saying I want to move to that system, but why is it so "problematic" as a science fiction plot point?

Fred Kiesche said...

Actually, Physics Geek, the name of the blog is "The Lensman's Children" as I am a long-time fan of "Doc" (having first read them during a spring and summer in the mid-1960's when my parents would dump us in front of the book racks of a place called "Packard's Market" in Hackensack, NJ--the Jack Gaughan covers with those wonderful "bug spaceships" in brilliant covers!). Previously the blog was known as "The Eternal Golden Braid" but I wanted something with a more SF-ish touch.

Chris Gerrib said...

What I haven't seen in this discussion is why some people will always have a real issue with the rape scene in Friday.

A surprising number of people have been abused as children (if only for a few incidences). For those people, abuse / rape scenes can trigger PTSD flashbacks.

JSinAZ said...

Thank you for the post. Heinlein was the first author I remember thinking of as "favorite". I grew up in a household of science fiction fans - we all attended the MidWestCon (I was young enough that the shrimp at the banquet were the most impressive thing), and supposedly I was introduced to Mr. Heinlein at the age of three in the early sixties. I remember none of that, natch (but I do have pictures of my young sknny father talking to a young skinny Asimov from before I was born).

The first Heinlein book I read was a signed first edition of "Rocketship Galileo" - looking back it is amazing how fortunate I was to be surrounded by all those first editions and original cover art. My parents also collected art at the cons and thus had emsh and Bonestell and Hannes Boch and and far more others than I can remember. I have vivid memories being very young and having the crap scared from me nightly by a very creepy Boch painting...

Anyway, I wanted to remark about your comment:

"Obliquely and sideways, race."

Actually, I think he dealt quite explcitly about race (and in a way, the yet-to-be reparations movement, depending on how you want to view the hero's threatened castration) in the book "Farnham's Freehold". It has been many decades since I read it, and I never actually owned a copy so I don't know if it's even in print. I would like your take on it, if your are familiar with it.

Fred Kiesche said...

"Obliquely and sideways, race."

JSinAZ, while Farnham's Freehold explicitly dealt with race, I have a feeling that the reference here was to some of the more subtle mentions of race in the YA books. For example, Johnny Rico. I seem to recall two or three others where hints are dropped that the main character was not your Average White Guy. Maybe "Tunnel in the Sky"?

Kate said...

Peggy,

First up, I need to apologize for taking so long to get back to you here. Life is a tad overloaded right now, so I don't get much in the way of discretionary time. Also, I should probably apologize for making too many assumptions. I've got a tendency to forget that I don't think outside the box - I have yet to find the room (and possibly the universe) the box is actually in. This has, as you might guess, caused one or two misunderstandings.

You said:
Kate: I'm not sure how you got "frothing rage" out of what I wrote. Annoyance, yes, since it seems to me that Sarah hasn't taken the effort to understand why some people don't like Heinlein's characterization of women.

The first paragraph of your previous post is a strident demand that doesn't, as a rule, come from anything less than frothing demand. The paragraph reads as a rhetorical "How dare you state anything that does not match my opinion?" - "Why is that a problem, exactly?". This is a classic demand of the style used to shut down debate. It denies that the stated problem exists, and challenges the person making the statement to provide iron-clad evidence of said problem (the use of "exactly"). Possibly you didn't intend to use rhetorical tools that were this strong - I'm not inside your skull, so I couldn't say. All I can say is the emotional tone your words conveyed, and why.

You said:

Who exactly is doing that? I know there are people who say they hate Heinlein and would never read his works, but I haven't heard them argue that other people should stop reading him. And if you read what I wrote, I never said no one should read Heinlein either. Heck, I read Heinlein.

I agree that you never said no-one should read Heinlein. You did, however, echo the "received wisdom" that Heinlein is a sexist dirty old man - and no, you didn't do it in those words. As to who is preventing others from reading Heinlein, I recommend you look at two cogent facts: 1. Despite Baen Books having a program of reprinting all Heinlein's out of print works, you will have a hard time finding him in most bookstores, particularly the chain bookstores; and 2. On Amazon.com, Heinlein is the #2 ranked SF/Fantasy author. If you go to any SF/Fantasy convention and attend the obligatory Heinlein panel, you will hear people on that panel say that they have never read a Heinlein book from beginning to end, but this doesn't stop them telling their audience that Heinlein was a dirty old man who wrote men with boobs. When the people making these accusations are the editors that authors wish to sell to, the message is that if you are seen with a Heinlein book in hand, you too will be tainted by his evil, and therefore not a suitable author. In SF/Fantasy circles, it's made being seen with Heinlein books equivalent to wandering into a synagogue with a copy of Mein Kampf.
(continued)

Kate said...

I wouldn't disagree that women - on average - are different then men - on average. But that wasn't what I was arguing. The problem I have with many of Heinlein's female characters is that they behave in similar ways and that there is the suggestion that that is the way women SHOULD behave.

Heinlein's female characters were mostly, as I recall, raised in environments where their skills were valued independently of their gender, and where their behavioral choices - being ultra-feminine, 'one of the boys' or whatever - were not considered a big deal. In that structure, I posit that the majority of women, whether smart or not, would behave more or less the way Heinlein's women do. I can't say if this is really what would happen because our culture's view of gender and behavior is seriously warped, if not actively psychotic. One look at practically any popular TV show is enough to demonstrate that (and is one of the reasons why I don't watch TV - most of them boil down to 'it stinks more than week old shrimp shells in Texas midsummer').


I don't have objection to sex in the least. It's a natural part of life and also, when done right, quite fun. I don't have any objection to women being uninhibited about getting naked or whatever.

Then why did you say that you find Heinlein's females so irritating? I don't understand this: you said "What I find annoying is that smart, competent, attractive female characters seem to appreciate having their bottoms pinched, lack sexual "inhibitions", and are highly maternal and love getting pregnant."
The combination of the two statements seems to suggest that only women who aren't smart, competent and attractive should enjoy sex, enjoy suggestive and 'naughty' sexual play with their partners and so forth. Or maybe there's something here that I'm not seeing and I'm really an alien from another planet (which isn't something I'd rule out. People who know me know all about Kate-weird).

Yes, this is what I was referring to. It's great that you got the guys to respect you. But the experience of many women is that even when they are demonstrating their competence they aren't given respect or the credit they deserve. It's not a matter of asking for concessions, it's a matter of some people needing a metaphorical whack on the head to get over their biases.

If it's not a matter of asking for concessions, how do Heinlein's self-reliant women - in an environment which lacks the entrenched biases of our world (not just the sex ones, either) - make people concerned about discrimination whiners? I really don't see how Heinlein's preference for writing self-reliant men and women in a culture where the default appears to be 'men and women might go about things differently but that doesn't impact how competent they are at actually getting things done' makes any kind of statement or judgment on today's social mores beyond the obvious one that Heinlein probably wouldn't like them.
(continued some more)

Kate said...

Again, I don't disagree. But that makes it different from rape scenes in romance novels and murder mysteries and other books - and more disturbing. Not everyone likes that in their pleasure reading.

And again, it's supposed to be. I fail to see why this is such a huge problem. I understand that those with PTSD would find the scene difficult and possibly not be able to read it. That doesn't mean there is anything intrinsically wrong with the scene, or that Heinlein having written it makes him a dirty old man. Contextually, the scene makes it clear that the rape was ordered with the goal of traumatizing Friday - at a time when the horrors of Kosovo and the Sudan weren't even thought about. I don't find that scene pleasant - I do find it frighteningly accurate (on the part of the perpetrators), and it and what follows have a lot of bearing on the rest of the story.

OK, I did overstate that "ready to please a man" bit - it's more that Heinlein's women are usually quite overtly sexual. Again, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. It's just that that a significant proportion of his women are that way, and there is the suggestion in what women SHOULD be that way.

I honestly don't see "should be that way". I see "without the social pressures saying a woman must be X, most women will behave this way.". It may be that the difference between the two is one of those things that's in that box I can't seem to find.

No, I don't think competence is sexist. It's great that you have met non-sexist geeks. I guess it's my misfortune to have met some who pay lip service to caring about competence, but then turn around judge female colleagues using a different set of standards than they judge their male colleagues.

I guess we do know very different sets of geeks, then. I guess it takes all sorts.

And part of that different set of standards is the expectation that women should be "sexy" as well as competent. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being both sexually attractive and good at your job. The problem I have is with the expectation that women SHOULD be both.

Er. I'm confused? This is a problem here and now, although I'm fortunate that it's not an issue where I work. I don't see that issue in Heinlein - just an acknowledgement that when given the freedom to be sexy and good at the job without the "sexy" incurring an automatic IQ deduction, a lot of women will choose it.

Kate said...

Chris G,

I have actually mentioned this, but it probably got lost in the very lengthy series of posts that's forming my discussion with Peggy.

Roberta X said...

Rod Porter is (probably) of African descent; there are a very few lines that suggest it.

Johnny Rico is probably Filipino. And then there's the Davis family, which exhibited "enough range of color" to irk a local judge and get Manny some jail time for miscegnation.

As for the sex-lives Heinlein's heroines, he read Kinsey and, at least with one of his earlier wives (Leslyn?), was very active in the California nudist community. Figure it out, remembering that a man who learned his bedroom manners in a time when a shot of antibiotics would take care of any known STD might have a different slant on sex than we moderns.

Anonymous said...

You ARE equal to Heinlein. You've got guts to say what you think, and wits to say what's true, and that's enough. Stunning courage on your part, and a damn good choice of literary inspirations. I'll repeat to you what I said to my wife once:
"You know what women like about men? They're men. And men feel the same way about women when they're women."
Bravo!

JSinAZ said...

Thank you for the reply. My personal take on the way Heinlein dealt with what could be thought of as contraversial issues of ethnicity and race is that there were the normative cases [Jonny Rico, Rod Walker (wasn't he Ba'hai?)] - these represent the cases in which the protagonists' race/ethnicity were deliberately incidental to the actions they performed. My take is that Heinlein wished to emphasize just how irrelevant a focus on ethnicity/race really is.

In contrast, there are the stories in which culture, race, ethnicity are at the heart of what drives the story. The most obvious is "Stranger .." since the experience is that of a complete outsider to every ethnic / cultural / racial tradition described, so there is lots of tangents to the book. A more focused telling of a story about a cultural stranger would be somthing like "Citizen of the Galaxy", since that describes the cosmopolitan world from the point of view of a low-caste slave.

And then there is "Farnham's Freehold" which deals (I think - this is my impression from more than thirty years ago!) with the boiling racial rage simmering in the world, and what happens when racial vengence is allowed to run to it's complete end. I think there is also an aspect of instruction to it - teaching his largely white middle class audience to think about just about how horrible the institution of Slavery really was. He did this by making the caucasian of the future be on the receiving end of the most demeaning sort of cattle-like treatment imaginable. A mile in a 1860 Mississippi slave's shoes, so to speak.

But, like I said, it's been more than thirty years since I read the novel so my memories of it could easily be confused with my musings on it.

Mule Breath said...

Not since the late 60's have I read such impassioned pleas for reason and liberty.

Sarah, I am glad I found you.

Ornithophobe said...

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this column. I grew up on Heinlein; my first encounter was probably in middle school, but not with the juveniles. No, I stumbled over TEFL and it has been one of my favorite books every since. But I am always shocked by how many women seem horrified that I can love this writer so much. They decry him as antifeminist, sex-obsessed, pervy. The unspoken message is that women who like sex, who like men, and who actually revel in the fact they can create life- are somehow not real women. They're caricatures of women, or the fantasies of dirty old men. And I hear these things, and I think, "is there something wrong with me?" Because I have always identified with Heinlein's females. For me, Heinlein's women were a revelation; smart, strong women, who were also wholly feminine. Nurturers, lovers, and mothers, as well as competent professionals. His work is the first place I ever encountered the idea that women could be as smart, or smarter than men, while still being wives and mothers.

I'll tell you another thing, too- TSBTS is the first place I ever came across a teenaged girl who was curious and proactive about sex, without there being an undertone of hostility about it. Maureen was depicted as healthy, curious, and lusty- and decidedly not slutty. I read that book at sixteen, and recognized myself in her. Not that I was as, erm... determined? as Maureen. But I did recognize that my own strong, physical interest in boys was normal and healthy, and not wicked or bad, as a result of reading that book. One of the many, many gifts Heinlein left me with- a healthy attitude towards my own body and sexuality.

perlhaqr said...

Some may be ready to declare you unfit to lift a pen, but I'm going to go out and buy your book.

Good call on the quote. Chills at the end. Since we seem to be accelerating the pace of the Crazy Years" here, maybe it's time to dust off the bookshelf and re-read all those Heinlein novels I grew up with, myself.

John B said...

Main thing that has torqued me off over the years, is the batch of Heinlein Haters who NEVER READ ONE OF HIS BOOKS.

I usually make them go read 5 of his books before I will even discuss it with them.

This usually keeps them away for a month....

Peggy said...

Kate: I agree that you never said no-one should read Heinlein. You did, however, echo the "received wisdom" that Heinlein is a sexist dirty old man - and no, you didn't do it in those words.

I didn't say that because I don't think that.

1. Despite Baen Books having a program of reprinting all Heinlein's out of print works, you will have a hard time finding him in most bookstores, particularly the chain bookstores

I doubt that has anything to do with what some women think about his writing. The collection of science fiction at my local big box store is pretty poor overall, with a collection dominated by media tie-ins. There just isn't much space for novels that were originally published 30 or more years ago. I thought most of the Baen reissues were of Heinlein's juveniles, which might very well be stashed in the YA section anyway.

2. On Amazon.com, Heinlein is the #2 ranked SF/Fantasy author. If you go to any SF/Fantasy convention and attend the obligatory Heinlein panel, you will hear people on that panel say that they have never read a Heinlein book from beginning to end, but this doesn't stop them telling their audience that Heinlein was a dirty old man who wrote men with boobs.

If someone hates a book enough to put it down before they finish it, they have a right to say they hated it. However, I'd be quite surprised if every Heinlein panel turned into a hate fest, or if every panelist felt that way. (And if that's true then whoever assembled the panel was an idiot).

In SF/Fantasy circles, it's made being seen with Heinlein books equivalent to wandering into a synagogue with a copy of Mein Kampf.

This bit of hyperbole just isn't true, at least in online SF circles. I've read a number of interesting and reasonable discussions of Heinlein online which involved many people who have read and appreciated Heinlein's work, even if they didn't enjoy all of his novels. And yes, the discussions included SF/F editors and authors.

And there is clear evidence that "liking Heinlein" is not some kind of kiss of death: there's Baen, for example, that is reissuing Heinlein's novels and that publishes dudes like John Ringo (who is much more likely to be on people's hate list than Heinlein). There is Tor, which recenly published Spider Robinson's "collaboration" with Heinlein. And there's Ace, which published Charlie Stross's Saturn's Children which Stross has openly said is a tribute to Friday.

I can't see any evidence that a positive opinion of Heinlein's novels is some kind of career-killing move.

Peggy said...

"What I find annoying is that smart, competent, attractive female characters seem to appreciate having their bottoms pinched, lack sexual "inhibitions", and are highly maternal and love getting pregnant."
The combination of the two statements seems to suggest that only women who aren't smart, competent and attractive should enjoy sex, enjoy suggestive and 'naughty' sexual play with their partners and so forth.


That's not what I meant, and I'm sorry that the way I wrote that sentence wasn't clear. It's not that I don't think those characteristics don't or shouldn't go together - it's that in many of Heinlein's novels those characteristics seem to always go together. And the way the characters are portrayed suggests that there is something wrong women who aren't like that.

If it's not a matter of asking for concessions, how do Heinlein's self-reliant women - in an environment which lacks the entrenched biases of our world (not just the sex ones, either) - make people concerned about discrimination whiners?

"No whiners" would be a good two-word description of Heinlein's world view.

My problem is that, again, it seems that Heinlein's women are expected to be sexually "open" too. In the real world women are placed under that expectation too, but it isn't coupled with the respect that Heinlein's characters give each other. And for me, personally, my experience in the real world color my appreciation of the fiction.

I would also argue that in Heinlein's novels that the world beyond his group of protagonists is usually not nearly so "enlightened", and yet there is still the message that anyone who is competent enough will excel and be justly treated.

One of the things I find most appealing about Heinlein's novels is that the smart people win. But after a while the message seems to be added that "if you don't win, you aren't smart". Maybe that's me reading too much into what's written, but that's one of things I find irritating about his works.

Peggy said...

Re: Friday: I fail to see why this is such a huge problem. I understand that those with PTSD would find the scene difficult and possibly not be able to read it. That doesn't mean there is anything intrinsically wrong with the scene, or that Heinlein having written it makes him a dirty old man. Contextually, the scene makes it clear that the rape was ordered with the goal of traumatizing Friday -

Since I didn't argue that I think Heinlein was a dirty old man or that the scene wasn't meant to be disturbing, I don't think we are disturbing.

What I was responding to was Sarah Hoyt's confusion as to why someone would put the novel down after reading that scene, and why it not the same as the way rape is treated in, for example, romance novels.

And there are many women who don't care for novels that use a disturbing rape scene as a plot device.

I honestly don't see "should be that way". I see "without the social pressures saying a woman must be X, most women will behave this way.

That's the "should be that way" right there. My own feeling is "without the social pressures" some women will behave that way and some won't. It's hard to say whether it would be "most" women, because we live in a world with those social pressures.

And given that the novels were written for consumption in such a world, it reads to me as a mostly male fantasy version of sexually uninhibited women.

Peggy said...

(I got an error message when I posted my last comment, if this is a dupe, I apologize.)

I honestly don't see "should be that way". I see "without the social pressures saying a woman must be X, most women will behave this way.

That is the "should" I'm talking about. Without current social pressures I'd agree that some women will behave that way, but I disagree that it would necessarily be most women.

And we can't know that because we do have those social pressures now. And since the novels were written for a society with such social pressures, Heinlein's female characters often seem to me a male fantasy version of how such women behave.

pdwalker said...

*clap, clap, clap, clap*

(how else can I give a standing ovation in a blog comment section?)

Lupus Solus said...

"Starship Trooper" was the first Sci-Fi that I ever read when I was in junior high. I've read a lot of Heinlein's works over the years. Some of them were great and some were just strange.

I'm sure that Heinlein helped influence my somewhat libertarian leanings.

BTW, I like the idea presented in "Starship Trooper" about qualifications to become a voting citizen. At first I struggled with it because of the propaganda that "everyone has the right to vote". It was true at the founding of the US and still isn't true today. I've come full circle and believe that there should be more qualifications than just turning 18.

Kate said...

Peggy said:
And there is clear evidence that "liking Heinlein" is not some kind of kiss of death: there's Baen, for example, that is reissuing Heinlein's novels and that publishes dudes like John Ringo (who is much more likely to be on people's hate list than Heinlein). There is Tor, which recenly published Spider Robinson's "collaboration" with Heinlein. And there's Ace, which published Charlie Stross's Saturn's Children which Stross has openly said is a tribute to Friday.

Oh sweet lord. I'll make this easy for you. Name me one - just one - new author published by any of the major houses except Baen in the last 5 years who openly admires Heinlein. One first novel with Heinleinian themes and an author who openly admires Heinlein. If "liking Heinlein" isn't the "kiss of death" there should be at least a dozen of them, right?

Peggy said:
One of the things I find most appealing about Heinlein's novels is that the smart people win. But after a while the message seems to be added that "if you don't win, you aren't smart". Maybe that's me reading too much into what's written, but that's one of things I find irritating about his works.

Allow me to put this in perspective. Heinlein was a triple-niner. A true genius and polymath. In real life, they don't win. Regular - normal - people squash them. Normal people are scared of Heinleins. How do I know this? Trained teacher, specializing in gifted and talented. You get to know the signs of a triple-niner if you keep your mind open and don't just assume the high-normal kids must be gifted. There's a reason gifted kids suicide way more often than regular kids.

And the losers? Heinlein didn't think not winning made you a loser. He thought giving up and then whining about it made you a loser - and you don't want to talk to me about "don't whine". Just try whining about Heinlein letting the smart people win to someone who knows what it's like to see children self-destruct because they are forced into the "normal" mold. The touchy-feely people who think everyone should have role models of their color/size/gender, should consider that smart kids need role models of their IQ too. And need to see that winning is possible if they don't give up. Oh, yeah, and smart adults who were once smart kids need this too. Otherwise it's too easy to fall into the "why am I losing even though I'm brighter", which doesn't help anyone. Not one more word about Heinlein letting the smart people win, or I'll get angry. You don't want that.
(continued)

Kate said...

Peggy said:
What I was responding to was Sarah Hoyt's confusion as to why someone would put the novel down after reading that scene, and why it not the same as the way rape is treated in, for example, romance novels.

You didn't read what Sarah wrote. She was confused that someone would put the novel down and never touch that author again. I might put a book down because I couldn't read a scene. I would give the author at least one more chance before deciding he, she, or it, was beyond redemption.

Kate:I honestly don't see "should be that way". I see "without the social pressures saying a woman must be X, most women will behave this way.
Peggy:
That's the "should be that way" right there. My own feeling is "without the social pressures" some women will behave that way and some won't. It's hard to say whether it would be "most" women, because we live in a world with those social pressures.


So a simple majority has automatic moral force? Wow. You live in a scary place. Where I live it takes more than just "most people do this" to get to "everyone should do this".

Fred Kiesche said...

O.K., kids. The blog owner lost his father this past Sunday. Maybe he is just tired and cranky, but it seems like maybe comments are trending into a tad tense mode of things. Y'all play nice now, while I'm dealing with all this family stuff.

Peggy said...

O.K., kids. The blog owner lost his father this past Sunday. Maybe he is just tired and cranky, but it seems like maybe comments are trending into a tad tense mode of things.

I am very sorry for your loss. My dad passed away nearly a year ago and it still hurts.

One first novel with Heinleinian themes and an author who openly admires Heinlein.

I guess Scalzi is too established to count? I'm sorry that I don't follow enough first-time authors to be able to come up with someone off the top of my head. But certainly being a Heinlein-lover doesn't seem to hurt established authors any.

I won't continue the conversation because we seem to be talking past each other.

Again, my condolences.

Carl V. said...

I'll jump right in the fray of the whole Heinlein "Kiss of Death" thing and throw out an author:

John Scalzi. Not only has the author been favorably compared to Heinlein but has himself made the connection. He was one of the guests at the Heinlein Centennial a few years ago. His first book, Old Man's War, which has a Heinlein comparison quote smack dab on the cover, helped win him the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer. It was also Hugo Nominated. Two of the sequels were also nominated for Hugos. This has all been in the last 5 years.

So there's one!

And who was it who said you couldn't find Heinlein books on bookshelves? I live in Kansas City, MO where Borders and Barnes and Noble bookstores are all over the place and every one of them has multiple copies of Heinlein books on the shelves, and not just the Baen reprints.

These "facts" are really just "opinions" not supported by any worthwhile evidence.

Carl V. said...

Allow me to offer my condolences for your loss. I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a parent but I have no doubt that it puts things like this in perspective. Please accept my prayers for comfort and peace for you and the rest of your family during this time.

hblanchard said...

Well, I guess I'm one of those whom you rail against. I am as baffled by people who lionize Heinlein as much as you are incensed about his critics. When I first read Starship Troopers, the book ended up covered in marginal red ink, I couldn't believe an sf writer could be such a fascist and warmonger (I did read it in the early 70s - Vietnam War - to provide some of my mental context). I wouldn't single out Heinlein for cardboard portrayal of women, it was common (compare to Asimov for example) - although his earlier work is esp. guilty of this - but come on, there's no way to sugar coat this: a major thread in Friday is about a woman who falls in love and marries her rapist. And what's up with dysfunctional relationships with father figures (e.g. The Puppet Masters). This man needed some therapy. Okay, somewhat ad hominem on my part, I'll take that back ... but surely there must be some way to put the man in context, eh? The worst for me is I think he gets credit for creativity, defining new themes and genres, which he does not deserve (stealing the limelight from others I think). Just consider me the loyal opposition...

Bill Wade said...

Bravo! I grew up on Heinlein, (and Doc Smith, and Asimov, and Simak, and...)

Heinlein still overshadows the entire genre. Is there any author writing in the field today that didn't grow up on his works?