Thursday, May 31, 2012

Science fiction writers and misogyny past and present

The current issue of the New Yorker contains essays by science fiction writers.

Here is old man Ray Bradbury waxing nostalgic:
At the end of the Fourth of July, after the uncles had their cigars and philosophical discussions, and the aunts, nephews, and cousins had their ice-cream cones or lemonade...
Philosophical discussions were not something that children or women engaged in.

I'm sure that this passage didn't trouble the New Yorker editors for a moment. Certainly not in the way that something like this hypothetical passage might:
Ah yes, those good times in the South in the 1920s. I remember the end of the Fourth of July, when the adults finished their cocktails and the coloreds and children ate watermelon...
Contrast this with Ursula K. Le Guinn's memories of the olden days, the kind of olden days that evolve from the world of Ray Bradbury's childhood:
In the late sixties, Robie Macauley, the fiction editor of Playboy - "Entertainment for Men" - was publishing stories of literary interest. My agent, Virginia Kidd, who couldn't be kept in a ghetto of any kind, sent him one of mine. It was pure science fiction, and all the important characters in it were men. Virginia submitted it under the discreet byline of U. K. Le Guin. When it was accepted, she revealed the horrid truth. Playboy staggered back, then rallied gamely. The editors said that they'd still like to publish "Nine Lives," Virginia told me, but that their readers would be frightened if they saw a female byline on a story, so they asked if they could use the initials, instead of my first name.

Unwilling to terrify these vulnerable people, I told Virginia to tell them sure, that's fine.
Playboy thanked us with touching gratitude. Then, after a couple of weeks, they asked for an author biography.

At once, I saw the whole panorama of U.K.'s life as a gaucho in Patagonia, a stevedore in Marseilles, a safari leader in Kenya, a light-heavyweight prizefighter in Chicago, and the abbot of a Coptic monastery in Algeria.

We'd tricked them slightly, though, and I didn't want to continue the trickery. But what could I say? "He is a housewife and the mother of three children"?

I wrote, "It is commonly suspected that the writings of U. K. Le Guin are not actually written by U. K. Le Guin, but by another person of the same name."

Game to the last,
Playboy printed that. And my husband and I bought a red VW bus, cash down, with the check.
But hey, it's all ancient history and who cares? We live in a perfect, misogyny-free world now.

Except meanwhile, in the very same issue of the New Yorker, Anthony Burgess writes:
"Man," said G. K. Chesterton, "is a woman"
Burgess continues, explaining -
-he does not know what he wants. There are few of us who do not reject outright both the Orwellian and the Huxleian nightmares.
He is quoting from Chesterton's omniscient narrator from The Napoleon of Notting Hill:
For human beings, being children, have the childish wilfulness and the childish secrecy. And they never have from the beginning of the world done what the wise men have seen to be inevitable. They stoned the false prophets, it is said; but they could have stoned true prophets with a greater and juster enjoyment. Individually, men may present a more or less rational appearance, eating, sleeping, and scheming. But humanity as a whole is changeful, mystical, fickle, delightful. Men are men, but Man is a woman.
Man is a woman. And women are children. I guess that's why only men get to discuss philosophy.

The only valid reasons to reference the Chesterton passage is to demonstrate either "some people had douchebag attitudes in Ye Olden Tymes" or "G. K. Chesterton was an asshole."

But Burgess, who is actually three years older than even Bradbury, is writing this in 2012 my error - Burgess died in 1993 - which makes it even more mystifying why the New Yorker would publish this piece with its outdated attitude towards gender. Were they really that hard-up for science fiction writers to contribute to their Sci-Fi issue? 

And as I said originally - is it really so important to share with us G. K. Chesterton's opinions on the subject? Who gives a flying faeces what G. K. Chesterton thought about anything?

Well, if Anthony Burgess and the New Yorker wanted me to stop reading Burgess's essay at that point, out of sheer contempt, they succeeded.