Pro-feminist or Feminist Sci Fi; thoughts?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by hrafnwasser, Aug 23, 2017.

  1. hrafnwasser

    hrafnwasser Well-Known Member

    Playing with constructs of identity, gender, sexuality, reproduction, biology and culture are the cornerstones of sci fi - here are some thoughts, suggestions and a request for discussion.

    1. Le Guin - Left Hand of Darkness - extraordinary ideas that reach out beyond the accepted views of gender and sexuality. Le Guin then goes on to examine, investigate and criticise her own language use in "The Language of the Night". Le Guin maintains the highest standards of literary integrity by never letting herself off the hook.
    2. Suzette H. Elgin - Native Tongue and The Judas Rose - conjures a world where contact with aliens creates the need to have "native" undestanding of language and culture. Elgin was a Professor of Linguistics. These books entralled me and challenge readers to see connections between language, thought and potentials within culture.
    3. Joanna Russ - The Female Man, The Two of Them, We Who Are About To... Writing that challenges biological determinism.
    4. Women's Press - published some extraordinary books in the 1970's and 80's.
    Any other additions or thoughts on this subject ?
     
  2. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    • Octavia E. Butler: Xenogenesis trilogy and Patternmaster collection. Butler's social concept of sexuality, gender and race are chameleonic as they provide ways to achieve what is really relevant in Butler's work. And that is the ultimate survival: empowering oneself to overcome extinction. Adapt to survive.Personal morals and collective ethical principles are redefined in Butler's stories.I have already commented about this in the Patternmaster thread, if the reader wants to find a moral in Butler’s stories, then s/he will have to carefully reflect upon the convoluted themes, which shape her stories as Butler delivers them free of judgment.

    • C J. Cherryh: The Faded Sun Trilogy. Once again, it is about breaking away from social conventions, pushing social and cultural barriers in order to survive. Is it justified to overcome extinction as a different, somehow corrupted being?

    • J Tiptree: Up in the Walls of the World. Reflexions about gender and species. Tiptree reconstructs the concept of communication as well as allows to embody sentiments such as love in the scientific universe.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2017
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Aside from some Ursula K. Le Guin, I don't think I've read any overtly feminist SF. I know of Elgin and Russ, but haven't read them. I've read a lot of Cherryh's SF, probably around 15+ books, and while her many female characters are psychologically very strong and capable of pushing through obstacles even with severely exhausted mental states and a lot of stress, I have never considered her SF to be feminist.

    I recently (meaning in 2015) read Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, and here there was an extremely well-thought out, feasibly relevant aspect of sexuality that took me for a spin. But this quite transgressive feature was only one minute aspect of the story in a book brimming with novel concepts and possibly some of the most spectacular and scientifically literate world-building I've ever read as a layman, touching on multiple aspects of society and human endeavour. The gender and sexuality motif didn't even really come into play until I was well into the novel, and it was written so nonchalantly and obliquely that my realisation of certain things happened only as they directly occurred on the page. Now this, in my opinion, is how to fluidly incorporate themes of gender and sexuality (and even ethnicity) into a narrative. By never really shining a light on it or constantly harping on about the issue, it made it all the more prominent. The opening of the novel is absolutely beautiful and stunning in its descriptive vigour, very smoothly merging together scientific language with literary metaphors which imbues the prose an almost poetic sensibility at times.

    I also read a massive omnibus edition of a trilogy by Storm Constantine when I was around 16 called Wreaththu (sp?) or something. This was actually my first foray into overt sexual themes in SF, even before I got onto some of Le Guin's work. Well worth a look if you're interested in the topic.

    That about sums up my experience of feminist SF. I would like to read both Elgin and Russ, but with Russ I'm more interested in her We Who Are About To... than her more famous The Female Man. I've heard it's quite depressing. Good thing it's very short.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2017
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  4. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Precisely. But wouldn’t be this the right approach to tackle any social issue that awakes controversy? Some authors have this tendency to sub-estimate readers ability to discern and extrapolate from the story. This can turn the reading into a clumsy and a very uninspiring experience.

    I agree on the fact that by today's standards, Cherryh would be considered a very lame, somehow fake feminist. However, because of your comment from above, I would consider her a very fitting candidate at least regarding The Faded Sun Trilogy.

    Thank for this! I love stories that explore language and communication, so I have bookmarked Elgin
     
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  5. hrafnwasser

    hrafnwasser Well-Known Member

    Glad to have provided a signpost!

    Re: Cherryh, and "lame" and "fake feminist" - without having read Cherryh and therefore arguing from a weak position, is it possible the imperative of the narrative might impinge on the imperative of ideology?
     
  6. hrafnwasser

    hrafnwasser Well-Known Member

    We Who Are About To... is rather sardonic and frankly funny whilst incorporating anger towards gender/ sexual stereotypes. Perhaps all humour falls under the aegis of anger? This certainly does.
     
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    You make a good point, but I certainly hope it isn't a universal case! Even if it is humour, that would be soul-crushing in the long run, or perhaps the humour mitigates the potential soul-crushing? I think it falls more under the aegis of cynicism, and while it is definitely related to a deeper wrath and can have substantial overlap, I tend to think of them as two different states of mind.
     
  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    As for gender and sexual themes, didn't Michael Moorcock and David Gerrold contribute to this ongoing conversation with the satirical Jerry Cornelius stories and trippy time-travelling, respectively?
     
  9. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    The way Cherryh conveyed feminist values in The Faded Sun Trilogy, was achieved, as Boreas pointed out, by being subtly woven into the story.
    These values are, in my opinion, the following:
    • She places males and females as equals but they are not the same. She acknowledges physiological and psychological differences intrinsic to each sex. Therefore, males and females will develop different roles better suited to their respective sexes within this matriarchal society.
    • Cherryh also places value in the singularity of the individual. Collective generalisations are taken into account but she makes a point of breaking away from these dangerous assumptions, such as "all males make better fighters” or "all females are more caring and sensitive” well, often but not always.
    • Finally and rather relevant in my view was the concept that female freedom from male control automatically translates into assuming individual responsibility for defending and standing for oneself, as any male is expected to do. It is not true feminism when playing the feminist card when I feel like it and then calling for male support/protection from figures such as husbands, fathers etc when it suits me.
    Now, I have to tread carefully, as we have lost forum members in the past when discussing issues off the PC path. And considering the small size of this discussion group, I wouldn’t like to piss anybody off. So, this is my personal opinion.
    When I said, Cherryh could be easily labeled as a lame or a fake feminist, what I meant was that the current and loudest feminist views tend to come across as rather aggressive and dismissive of the opposite sex. They tend to state that females are simply better than males because they are born females: A very collective assumption, which dismisses altogether the differences within the equality of the two sexes.
    Therefore, I suspect they would tag Cherryh’s feminism as submissive, watered down, wishy-washy: Make your pick...
     
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  10. hrafnwasser

    hrafnwasser Well-Known Member

    With no hint of sycophancy I can say that being on this forum, for only a very short time, has been extraordinary. Being able to discuss, hear and be heard with openness is rare.
    Thoughtful and considered expressions of opinion should never "piss anybody off".
    I went through the 1980's in Thatcher's Britain and the idea "that females are simply better than males because they are born females" was utterly quashed by experience!
     
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  11. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    Not SF admittedly, but the Wheel of Time world created by Robert Jordan (and finished by Brandon Sanderson), very much takes the females > males 'because they are born female' approach, without a hint of feminism in sight. In fact RJ often gets criticised for his portrayal of female characters, although it didn't bother me.

    Anyhow, I digress, sorry :)
     
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  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I remember reading many of those books. The only problem is that those most of those women were extremely annoying characters. The exception was the older Aes Sedai, the one who had Lan 'bonded' to her, can't remember her name.
     
  13. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    What I meant was that I feel Cherryh simply writes strong, complex and nuanced characters, whether male or female, without intending to make a specific point with regards to a specific societal or topical issue. Her characters and stories are...full-bodied, not serving any kind of ideological purpose or agenda, and not easy to pigeonhole as this or that. That's why I've never thought of her as a feminist writer.
     
  14. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    You are right. Nevertheless, it is all there even though her feminist values are not slapping you on the face. Can they be easily missed? Absolutely.
    In a way, this is why I enjoy her style so much.
     

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