Tue
Aug 17 2010 12:31pm

What Do Heinlein Women Want?

Right. Predictably, on cue, as on every panel about SFF, if you mention the words “Heinlein” and “women” in the same sentence or even in the same page, you attract screaming, ranting and accusations that Heinlein and by extension yourself cook babies for breakfast or perhaps eat them live on camera.

So, kind sirs—and particularly madams—why all this sound and fury, signifying by and large absolutely nothing? Why do some women feel required to stone Heinlein in effigy whenever his name is mentioned?

Oh, yeah, I know, he wrote women who like sex and all penetration is violation (my aching left foot) and all that rot. Which is why vast pickets of marching women have formed outside every theater showing Sex and the City, right? No? Odd.

Wait—it’s because he wrote women who wanted to have babies. And this, as we all know, is a gross lie. Liberated women do NOT want to have babies. This is why there is absolutely NO industry devoted to infertility, in vitro fertilization, and other techniques devoted to helping women who built high power careers first realize their dream of having babies. Also, older women who are educated and have careers do not EVER adopt from abroad, with or without the help/support of a husband. In fact these things were never heard of. Wait—WHAT? What parallel universe is this?

So it must be because his women characters were attracted to men and tried to be attractive to the male gender. Of course, he should never write things that do not portray the life of women in the current world. Women are NEVER attracted to men. As for dressing for men—why, you can’t find a pair of high heels anywhere on display in store windows. Dresses? What are dresses? They’ve long been abolished. The closest to dressing nice a woman goes is the pantsuit...unless one looks outside the Women’s Studies departments in colleges—but who would want to do that?

Okay—if everyone is done screaming, may we now speak as adults discussing adult problems?

Heinlein had some peculiar notions about women. Sure he did, though the two I found most peculiar are not ones most people complain about.

The first one was companionate marriage. I’ve mentioned in another post that I don’t think group marriage can work, generally. (Yes, I know a couple that do. But in general, most of us were simply not designed for it. Jealousy festers and competitiveness tears the group apart. Besides, no one ever does the dishes. Not that I think it should be forbidden. Marriages—all sorts—should be a matter for contract law. Provided all participants are adults and capable of consent, it’s no outsider’s business.)

The problem with companionate marriage and the assumption that women view sex the same way that men do (and here I’m talking specifically of Heinlein’s life as told by Patterson, not the novels. Those are set in the far future where this objection might not apply) is that women are the child-bearing sex. Beyond the fallibility of all means of contraception, right now we haven’t even adapted (psychologically, though we might have intellectually) to the existence of semi-foolproof means of contraception. This means evolution, psychologically, has shaped us differently. Women tend to want security in their relationships. (Look at the different mating patterns of lesbians and gay males, if you don’t believe me.) Companionate marriage, no matter how loved you might feel, strikes at that source of security, particularly as women start to age.

Not having made a study of the matter, I can’t swear that the greatest percentage of them follow the pattern of Heinlein’s second marriage. I can however say—anedoctal though it is—that all my friends who started out with companionate or open marriages had them either end the same way or revised the principles profoundly and saved the marriage by changing it.

Again, in my opinion this does not apply to Heinlein’s books set in the far future, when the human race might have adapted (there are studies that seem to show we adapt much faster than we’d thought so far) to different conditions. In fact, Heinlein is one of the very, very few authors who have extrapolated how advances in longevity/health/improved contraception, etc.—that are already shaping our lives—might shape our species in the future. And he might be the only one who put those changes in a positive light. It’s one of the reasons I like his future history. After all, the history of man has been one of overcoming biology in various ways. I don’t see why that shouldn’t continue.

The only other problem I had with his real-life treatment of women was his quixotic belief that married women shouldn’t work because they would be taking bread from the mouth of working men and their families. The idea that men would be supporting a family was statistically true in his time, but the idea that economics is a zero sum game and that adding more producers does not make the pie grow exponentially but only cuts it in thinner slices betrays a stunning ignorance of economics for such a well-read man. However, that stunning ignorance/distortion of economics was common in his day and still prevails today, underlying everything from people who wish to see salaries regulated to people who believe incoming immigrants—even educated and well-equipped—impoverish a country. In fact those beliefs underlie policy in most “civilized nations.”

I will admit to laughing—while crying—while reading that he excoriated universities for not training more women engineers, but then wouldn’t allow Ginny to work, even while they were starving. (On the other hand, having been there, I will say that being broke is a wonderful stimulant to the creative mind—so without that wrong-headed belief and resultant economic distress, he might not have persevered.)

I had the same argument with my father long ago—about married women staying home, not about the creative mind—and couldn’t move him from his opinion, even though it was never negotiable that I would get a graduate degree. The futility of educating a generation of women who never use their skill didn’t seem to bother him. It bothered me, which is why in both cases—my dad, and Heinlein—I chose to smile and say “ah, well, they’re men of their time” and leave it at that. Regardless of how much I admire them, I am an adult and I am able to separate my beliefs from theirs and still respect them while disagreeing.

In the context of their time one needs to understand that most of my dad’s life, in Portugal, where I grew up and he still lives, a woman needed her husband’s written permission to work (so the peculiar notion wasn’t his alone.) I’m not versed in U.S. law of Heinlein’s early decades, but I’d like to point out the other thing that shocked me was the idea that it was a crime for unmarried people to cohabitate. I don’t think this was a crime, ever, in Portugal—though I could be wrong. Adultery was a crime in most of Europe in the nineteenth century, but after that enforcement got spotty.

Knowing that merely living with someone you weren’t married to could lead to being arrested put all his remarks about Mrs. Grundy in perspective. It made me understand his hostility to traditional marriage and why he tried to write the most “scandalous” women possible. I’d grown up in that environment, I’d probably be much worse—since the last thing I can stand is mealy-mouthed conformity enforced without analysis or thought.

Which, I guess is the problem with Heinlein and the reason he brings out so much seething and irrational fury from otherwise rational people—because he makes us think (which was his stated goal in writing) and makes us uncomfortably aware that customs and attitudes change.

This is odd, since we are of course absolutely sure that we have the one right attitude and that the future will never deviate from what we think/know/believe now. After all, every period of liberalization in attitudes and mores continued, unabated. Every social trend is irreversible. Which is why the Regency period in England was not followed by the Victorian period.

Oh, you mean it was? You mean our descendants might find our attitudes very odd from perspectives we don’t think about? And you mean one of the reasons Heinlein is both relevant and infuriating is that he makes us think these things over?

Who would have thought it?


Sarah A. Hoyt grew up in rural Portugal, which is probably why she's so fond of tipping sacred cows. When she runs out of those, she can be found at her desk writing science fiction and fantasy, mystery and historicals. Her latest of each are, in order: Darkship Thieves, A French Polished Murder (as Elise Hyatt), and No Will But His: A Novel of Kathryn Howard. What this particular woman wants—or would very much like—is a vacation up at the Nature and Science Museum. Herself, her drawing pad and some dinosaur bones to commune with. 

Robert A. Heinlein: The Tor.com Blog Symposium: ‹ previous | index | next ›
64 comments
Pamela Adams
1. Pam Adams
And yet, Heinlein's women characters did work outside the home. G.Brooks McNye is only the first in a long list of women who are able to make it in a 'man's world.' Looking to the earliest Heinlein, For Us, The Living, Diana works as a dancer and works hard- this in a society where work is unnecessary. Heinlein and Heinlein's women characters aren't perfect, but they're certainly out there trying.
David Dyer-Bennet
2. dd-b
You're not averse to stirring up a little controversy sometimes, are you? :-)

I think the number of people I know in closed marriages may be smaller than the number of people I know in open marriages. All the ones I can think of at this point being of more than 10 years duration, some twice that. At least setting aside work people where I haven't inquired! However, I don't know many that I think of as group marriages; I know households where some members of the household are involved with multiple other members of the household (and, often, others as well).

I know that we assembled a group to work on a local fannish issue (a decade ago) with around a dozen people in it, and realized that we had one person who was monogamous involved (we'd given it no thought).

But back to Heinlein.

He seems to be projecting the theory that women have superior social skills into a future where they have equal opportunity (and don't so desperately need social skills to counter other disadvantages), and frequently portrays a smart woman somewhat managing her man (or men). He does this often enough that it's not completely crazy to think he may have actually thought it was biologically determined. That's something that one can object to -- especially if, say, you're a woman who doesn't WANT to do all the social work.

I do find it strange how upset people are about a relatively few characters (perhaps just one: Dora) who are sexually aggressive. Wyoming Knot wasn't like that, and Hazel Meade Stone wasn't like that, and even Friday wasn't like that (she had different ways of being sexually aggressive). So it's NOT a pattern, it's one character. But people seem to take that one character as being the author's true view, and then hate it. It really gets under their skin.
Scot Taylor
3. flapdragon
(there are studies that seem to show we adapt much faster than we’d thought so far)


Deliberately trying not to take sides, but sources, please?
N. Mamatas
4. N. Mamatas
So, exactly where are all these panels at science fiction conventions packed to the gills with radical feminists who think all penetration is rape again? I mean, given the sheer amount of fucking at WisCon, it can't be there. Is there some place else?
Ben H
5. dripgrind
"you attract screaming, ranting and accusations that Heinlein and by extension yourself cook babies for breakfast or perhaps eat them live on camera."

None of the comments have even come close to this! The only one who has come close to ranting is you, about how mean everybody else is being to you.
Kyle Aisteach
6. kyleaisteach
Thank you. This is the first intelligent discussion of these issues in Heinlein's work I've seen.
N. Mamatas
7. N. K. Jemisin
Wow. This post should start off with a disclaimer: "For today's post, the role of feminism will be played by whatever Focus on the Family and Men's Rights advocates think feminism is, rather than, y'know, the actual thing." Because it's stunningly clear that the OP knows little about feminist theory and has not actually paid attention to feminists discussing Heinlein's work -- like here. Instead she's addressing what she thinks feminists object to. Which, I guess, a few might, since feminists aren't a monolith. But most don't.

I actually had some stuff to say about Heinlein and women's agency and three-dimensional characterization... but I'd rather not try and have a straightforward discussion amid a forest of straw men. And women.
N. Mamatas
8. N. K. Jemisin
Ah, crap. I tried to post a link in my last comment and it didn't show up. The feminist discussion of Heinlein's work that I tried to point to was at "Alas, A Blog"; it's a few posts down on the main page.
N. Mamatas
9. Mark Plus
Heinlein apparently thought that if radical life extension becomes possible, men could handle it better than women. Notice the absence of a female equivalent to Lazarus Long. But then, given the value system in Heinlein's vision of "the future," what rejuvenated woman would want to pump out dozens of babies every century? I can see why these women would prefer to die instead.

Which leads to my second point: Heinlein couldn't resolve the cognitive dissonance between his aggressive natalism and his belief in recurring Malthusian catastrophes. How about preventing overpopulation by not making so damn many babies?
N. Mamatas
10. Captain Button
Sarah A. Hoyt:
"The only other problem I had with his real-life treatment of women was his quixotic belief that married women shouldn’t work because they would be taking bread from the mouth of working men and their families." (Emphasis added)

Pam Adams @ 1:
"And yet, Heinlein's women characters did work outside the home."

Were G.Brooks McNye and Diana married when they were working?

Podkayne's mother worked during marriage as an engineer, I think it was. But if I recall one of Heinlein's letters in Grumbles From The Grave correctly, one of the messages hidden in that book was that neglecting your children for your career is a bad idea, because you end up with a dead daughter and a sociopathic son.

In To Sail Beyond The Sunset there is a bit where Maureen explains that she never spent any of her stash of money even when times were tight, because in that day and age a man's ego and/or reputation would be destroyed by any hint that he couldn't support his wife. Or something along those lines. Hearing that Heinlein didn't want his wife working outside the home casts that passage in a new light.
N. Mamatas
11. Amy McLane
I hate to burst your bubble, but mocking feminists as a pack of hysterical peen-haters is not a transgressive thing to do in American culture. Incendiary, yes. Transgressive, no.

Anyway, as a sex-liking, child-having feminist, the reason I have not enjoyed the few Heinlein books I have read is that the female characters are flat and exist only to forward the social-agenda-as-plot, and the SAAP tends to revolve around the male character. So it ends up reading quite a bit like the female characters exist only for the male characters. I don't object to the SAAPs themselves, as they are usually the most interesting part of the book.

I am sure there are Heinlein books that are not like this, but how many do I have to read to decide I've misjudged a deceased writer firmly ensconced in the SF pantheon? I'd rather spend my time exploring and supporting the work of up-and-coming SFF writers such as yourself.

You're rebelling for the status quo. It's a little weird, but I'm sure it'll get you heaps of traffic.
David Dyer-Bennet
12. dd-b
Mark Plus@9: I think you're drawing conclusions not supported by the text; not even faintly suggested by the text.

Lazarus Long is unique. He's a mutation, not a result of the Howard breeding program. And we have no idea if Heinlein originally expected him to outlive all the other Howards; the initial story has him as a somewhat junior family member. I don't think his being male is any sort of statement by Heinlein about gender and long life.

I don't see anything in either that or the later Long stories to support your point that men would handle long life better.

As to Malthusian catastrophes -- the families in Heinlein's stories aren't mostly big families. There are a few examples in the Long books -- Lazarus' own original family, and some immediate descendants; but those are all Howards in the early times, where the foundation is making significant cash payments for each child, and they're also in a historical time and place where large families were the norm. Later on, you have protagonists like Kip and Peewee, who were both only children, Oscar Gordon who had no siblings ever referred to, Manny's line marriage which didn't seem to have more than one child per parent (the accounting wasn't gone into in detail, though). (The Rolling Stones were an unusually big family, four children.)

I'm hoping the biography will eventually confirm or deny that Heinlein himself (and not just many of his characters) wanted children. With three wives, it's very unlikely that it was just an accident he had no children; either he was infertile, or they actively avoided children. (If he was infertile, that might explain how strongly the wanting children came out in his fiction.)
John Adams
13. JohnArkansawyer
the initial story has him as a somewhat junior family member.


Small correction: He tries to be junior, but it turns out he's the senior member of the Howard Family.
David Dyer-Bennet
14. dd-b
JohnArkansawyer@13: That's right, that story takes place late enough that he's senior by then. Sorry for the goof!

Hmmm; that opens the possibility that Heinlein DID foresee him as living absurdly long after all, which means I can't rule out his sex being intended to be relevant, drat it. I still don't really see it, though.
Rigel Kent
15. rk3001
I'd like everyone to play a drinking game. Get a fresh bottle of your favorite spirits and take a shot every time Ms. Hoyt mentions feminism or feminists in her article. (Non-drinkers feel free to substitute the fruit juice of your choice.) Don't worry, I'll wait.

Done? Didn't even have to open the bottle did you? But reading the comments one could be forgiven for thinking this was an all out attack on feminism. I know some will say that the attack was implied rather than direct. But I don't think it was an attack on feminism at all.

I think she was criticizing certain attitudes and ideas rather than feminism as a whole. Many people consider these attitudes to be stereotypically feminist and I think she was trying to avoid implying all feminists think this way by not mentioning feminism at all but rather attacking the attitudes and ideas directly.

I note that those who are upset with Ms. Hoyt's "anti-feminist" article have so far only criticized the supposed attack on feminism (which exists far more in the aggrieved individuals minds than in the text) rather than debating the ideas presented therein.
King Rat
16. kingrat
Straw men. Lots and lots of straw men. Ugh.
Nancy Lebovitz
17. NancyLebovitz
Here's my first comment about Heinlein and women at Amptoons.

Sarah, I don't think you're doing objections to Heinlein women justice. I'm annoyed about Maureen because she seems to want sex with any man who doesn't smell bad.

Women in the later Heinlein novels seem to not just want children, but to want as many as possible-- a relatively rare desire. A lot of the time, the women are much less characterized than the men-- consider Jubal's secretaries, except for Ann.

Example of married woman working outside the home: presumably the mother in The Rolling Stones did-- she was a doctor, even though what we see on stage is her doing volunteer work. On the other hand, I'm annoyed that she's so uncharacterized.

And iirc, the married couple in "The Unfortunate Profession of Jonathan Hoag" were both detectives.
Greg Morrow
18. gpmorrow
Paragraphs 3, 4, 5, and N-2 are appalling straw men arguments and leech credibility from all your other remarks. Paragraph 6's claim that you are the rational adult is itself remarkably immature.

On the whole, your style of rhetoric is unlikely to change any opinions. In part, because I honestly can't tell what position, opinion, or critical approach you're advocating.

ObHeinlein: There's a lot of good stuff in there: stories, characters, pithy and clever writing. There's a lot of troubling stuff in there: various isms inherited from the larger culture, and a lot of quirky stuff, like the incest fetish and the attitude toward family women.

But he causes immense polarization -- far more so than his contemporaries and peers. I suspect that's because of the juvies -- coming-of-age type stories, which Heinlein did more of than his peers, influence how readers think and set expectations about what correct behavior is, more than other sorts of works. Accepting or rejecting RAH then becomes much more significant, and there's less room for indifference.

A good friend of mine dislikes Heinlein, not because she's read much herself, but mostly because many of the young men in her peer group were big Heinlein boosters -- and behaved in sexist, juvenile ways. From her perspective, a diet rich in Heinlein produced people with significant deficiencies.

You can learn great stuff from Heinlein, but you can also learn appalling stuff, and it takes a robust critical faculty to be able to distinguish.
N. Mamatas
19. Captain Button
Straw men. Lots and lots of straw men. Ugh.
So we need more straw women for equity!
N. Mamatas
20. Bearpaw
I guess all that screaming was so loud that it blew out my eardrums before the sound had a chance to register, because I never heard any of it. Impressive.

Oddly, my ears seem to have completely recovered, though there's a persistent noise that sounds like the passing of a small group of people with brooms or animated scarecrows or something like that. How curious.
David Dyer-Bennet
21. dd-b
NancyLebovitz@17: How many sexual partners for Maureen can you actually identify? (Is limiting it to TEFL too stringent?) I can think of two, with an implication that there were more, and a very strong statement that she worried about disease and hurting her husband and hurting her family (that she took those into account in choosing whether and with whom to stray). That doesn't seem excessively libidinous to me.

In Stranger, yes, the secretaries aren't so fully characterized. But compare them to Duke, rather than to Jubal; they're supporting characters.
Compared to Duke, they're about the same, aren't they? Gillian and Patty are both fairly extensively characterized, I'd say to about the same level as Ben Caxton.
N. Mamatas
22. DavidA
Discussions like this are pointless unless you clearly distinquish between Classic Heinlien (anything up through Moon is a Harsh Mistress) and Late Heinlein (anything after Moon). I yield to no one in my admiration and enjoyment of Classic Heinlein, but Late Heinlein is self-indulgent and unreadable as far as I'm concerned, and the treatment of women in Late Heinlein is only one reason why.

So: When you talk about views of women in Heinlein's work, which Heinlein do you mean?
N. Mamatas
23. ipsafictura
Why do you allow no middle ground for feminists who have a problem with the way Heinlein characterizes women, but don't suggest he (or his fans) should be dismissed out of hand as a result?

I enjoy a lot of sci-fi, I read a lot Heinlein's books when I was a young teen and I enjoyed them. I enjoyed the fact that women were often portrayed as sexual beings, as you mention. But his work is not without its problems, and I'm not going to pretend it is in order to avoid offending other Heinlein fans. If someone raises the subject of Heinlein and women, I will talk about the problems there, because I think it's important to discuss feminist issues in relation to literature, especially in relations to genre literature where women are particularly marginalized as writers and fans.

You've drawn a lot of inaccurate conclusions here, working from inaccurate information, which is why the dreaded Straw Man keeps coming up. Feminists -do- in fact, have a problem with Sex in The City, and a cursory google search will show you that. Broadly speaking, feminists are not anti-childbearing either. But I think you know these things, because you don't strike me as an extremely stupid person, so my best guess is that you were simply being deliberately inflammatory. Which I guess, well done?

It's a shame though, as a feminist I would really enjoy having a nuanced discussion of how we put Heinlein in the context of his time, and how we separate his positive messages from his negative ones. I think thoughtful debate could make people on both sides of this issue reconsider their assumptions, rather than resorting to sneering dismissal and learning nothing.
N. Mamatas
24. ilya187
Heinlein is one of the very, very few authors who have extrapolated how advances in longevity/health/improved contraception, etc.—that are already shaping our lives—might shape our species in the future. And he might be the only one who put those changes in a positive light.

Back when Heinlein was writing, that was probably true. Today so many SF writers are extrapolating in on these advances (often in positive light, though not always), there is a special term for it: Transhuman fiction. Alastair Reynolds, Peter Hamilton and Ian Banks come to mind. Greg Benford touched on it back in 1980's.
N. Mamatas
26. rachel-swirsky
N.K.:

"I actually had some stuff to say about Heinlein and women's agency and three-dimensional characterization... but I'd rather not try and have a straightforward discussion amid a forest of straw men. And women."

I'd love it if you'd post about this on your blog or wherever you feel like *would* be a good place.

ipsafictura:

"It's a shame though, as a feminist I would really enjoy having a nuanced discussion of how we put Heinlein in the context of his time, and how we separate his positive messages from his negative ones. "

That'd be cool. I bet there are a bunch of websites that would be interested in having you host something like this, if you wanted to. And yes, I'm volunteering one if you're interested (my email is my first name dot my last name at gmail dot com), but there are probably others.
N. Mamatas
27. DaveF
ddb@21: (Is limiting it to TEFL too stringent?)

Probably it is, actually. TSBtS is basically Maureen's bio, and at a rough guess, she has more than 10 specific partners in that book, and "sex with anyone that doesn't smell bad" isn't too far from the mark. (And the phrase itself is very much from TSBtS).
N. Mamatas
28. Lori S.
On top of all the hay in this article, I think you've misunderstood the concept of and thus misused the phrase "companionate marriage." Look it up and then tell me what the heck it has to do with group marriage, polyamory, open marriage, &etc.?
Rose Fox
29. rosefox
Why on earth are you using "companionate marriage" as a synonym for "group marriage"? All it means is that the people in the marriage share the same goals and are more focused on the pragmatic aspects of family-building than romance.

Also, thanks so much for evopsyching me out of existence, along with the millions of other women in polyamorous and open relationships of various sorts. Good to know that once we're no longer conventionally attractive (because all of us were young and gorgeous when we signed up for this) we'll come to regret our follies and realize we should have nailed our men down (because we're all interested in men, and it's all about female tolerance of male philandering) while we had the chance.
David Dyer-Bennet
30. dd-b
DaveF@27: I've read even TSBtS more than once, but my rereading level goes down fairly sharply as we get beyond TEFL. I was hoping to limit the scope to what I can reliably remember :-) .

10 partners over how many years? I've managed considerably more than that myself, in far fewer years. So it still doesn't sound excessively randy to me.

And I think she's presented as an outlier.

Lori@28 & rosefox@29: I got a very different idea of what "companionate marriage" might mean from the biography this whole symposium is in support of. I may have misunderstood the book (i.e. the author may have used it perfectly accurately, and I just inferred wrong); but perhaps that's why many other people have the same idea in their heads that I did. (I checked other sources beyond the one linked, and they do seem to agree on the definition as much as one can expect.)
Jeff Soules
31. DeepThought
The post itself was long, digressive, and unaccountably aggressive. I suppose I've learned all kinds of things about why caricatured radical ideas are not a good lens through which to consider problematic literature.

But I think there's a much simpler reason that Heinlein's women frequently aren't good, even though they in many cases *should* be empowered, they're in roles of more responsibility than was usually permitted at the time, and they're usually good for something or another besides sex:

He's patronizing.

I mean, look, I got this even as a kid (and I say that as one of very few people under 30 who read Heinlein while he was alive). Podkayne was a fluff-head. The women in many of the other stories, no matter how smart and capable and brilliant they are, are frequently told what to do by the male characters, and they take it. Hazel is simultaneously a wonderful example of how a man could imagine a woman to be brilliant and capable, and also the intellectual equivalent of Joss Whedon's kung-fu-girl fetish (and let's remember once again that fetishizing a "safe" or "controlled" form of female agency isn't empowering, it's patronizing).

In my opinion, Heinlein's women set many women on edge because he couldn't write them for beans, without making them a supporting cast in some boy's story.

And before someone flames me (as I'm sure many will), keep in mind I love the guy, I've read most of everything he wrote. I don't agree with all of his politics and opinions, but I think most of them merit considerable thought, and I think on balance his choices of who to include in his stories make him in the more progressive third of even most genre fiction published today, let alone for his time -- though that doesn't mean it isn't problematic.
David Dyer-Bennet
33. dd-b
DeepThought@31: Problematic, yet ahead of his genre even today in some regards? Yeah, that's about where I come down.

You could call that depressing, if you wanted to (about SF in general obviously, not about Heinlein).

("I've read most of everything he wrote" isn't the way to convince me how much you love the guy, though; I'm from the re-reading end of SF fandom, so my report is that I've read the books of his that I think are pretty bad (*cough* NOTB, IWFNE *cough*) more than twice. Maybe more than five times for IWFNE. I'll happily just accept your word, though, and accept that the example means a real commitment by your standards; you're probably not as much of a re-reader in general as I am.)

Sorry, which book is your "Hazel" from? The Hazel that comes to my mind is in at least three books, but they're not convincingly the same character so it really matters which book. Or there could be another Hazel I'm not thinking of.

I see his women controlling the men as much as the men control the women (Captain Roger Stone did NOT get to tell his wife she couldn't go over to the War God, for just one example; he piloted the ship closer and ran the operation to get her over there), so I don't see the denial of agency you refer to. I'm a mid-fifties guy, though, so my receptors for condescension to women may not be as sensitive as they should be.
N. Mamatas
34. Foxessa
With apologists such this, RH, rolling in his grave, is probably begging for a some actual feminists with whom to discuss matters. Straw feminists don't, well, stand up very well.
David Dyer-Bennet
35. dd-b
Foxessa@34: Well, you can sit on the sidelines and be insulting in unspecified directions, or you could sit down and actually do the work of saying something substantive.

Your choice, of course.
N. Mamatas
36. Lori S.
dd-b@30: Or it may just be another symptom of a biography that I hear is just not very good.
N. Mamatas
37. Foxessa
Also, what do any of this person's post have to do with the newly published biography, and how the biography and biographer deal with the earlier eras of RH's life, and then how these played out in his writing?
N. Mamatas
38. Foxessa
ddb -- why don't you give us instruction on the usefullness of writing point-by-point analysis of straw arguments and why we would want to?
Torie Atkinson
39. Torie
@ 35 dd-b and @ 38 Foxessa

Please, no personal attacks.
N. Mamatas
40. DavidF
ddb@30: I also don't remember TSBtS in enough detail to want to quote chapter and verse (or liaison!). But for sure, she has many more partners than in TEFL, and the picture you get of her is quite different.

To be honest, I'd say Nancy's description is pretty much as I recall the book. The issue isn't so much the number of partners but the way it does come across as "anyone with a pulse" (who smells good).

Anyhow, I was only really delurking to interject that the Maureen of TEFL was not at all the same as the Maureen in TSBtS, and that I was fairly sure Nancy was referring to the latter, so I'll let you get back to your regularly scheduled postings now!
David Dyer-Bennet
41. dd-b
Foxessa@38: I'm not asking you to refute straw arguments; I'm suggesting that the way to make a discussion more substantive is to post substantive things into it.

LoriS@36: I've read it, and I think it's at the upper end of what we had any hope of getting. But a) it's a matter of opinion to some extent, and b) that doesn't exactly contradict what you heard (it may well be that your standards for biography are such that they don't really overlap with anything we had any hope of getting).
Robert James
42. DocJames
36. Sigh. People need to read the biography before they start passing around comments like "I hear it's not very good."

Take a look at the praise writers like Silverberg, Brin, Bear, and Haldeman are heaping on it.

As for the rest of the posts, all I can say is that people really, really, really care deeply about the kinds of things Heinlein wrote about, and this is why they get so argumentative (and I include myself here).

Tells us again why his writings are so important -- they're actually about important things.
Eric Nelsen
43. ohagyo
@3 flapdragon: I don't know the scientific literature, but I have seen a recent spate of news articles concerning evidence that evolution happens much more rapidly at times than was previously suspected, including in human beings. What I could find quickly (I'm not including bbCode URLs because my last attempt was flagged as spam):

NY Times 20 Jul 2010 Adventures in Very Recent Evolution

NY Times 02 Jul 2010 Scientists Cite Fastest Case of Human Evolution (genetic adaptation to high altitude in Tibet)

NY Times 02 Mar 2010 Human Culture Plays a Role in Natural Selection

io9 dot com post 05 Aug 2010 by Alisdair Wilkins linking to Royal Society of Biological Science, regarding a fish species (stickleback) evolving to cope with colder water in three years' time (3 generations).
Vicki Rosenzweig
44. vicki
"Companionate marriage" may be similar to what a later era called open marriage, but that's not the same as group marriage. (I assume most of the people reading this don't need polyamory 101; if you do, google is your friend.)

On the idea that married women shouldn't work, if his concern was depriving other families of food it should have been "only one paid job per family." That he didn't want his wife to work when he was unemployed and they were broke suggests that this was at least partly about his ego: and maybe it was easier for him to say "married women shouldn't work" than "I don't want you to work because people will think less of me."

(If you don't want a screaming argument, it's probably best not to walk into a room and start screaming at the people there assembled. But now that you've stopped, I can address a couple of your points.)
john mullen
45. johntheirishmongol
Nice controversy, however, some seem to take as written doctrine that modern sensibilities are the only correct sensibilities,when it's highly doubtful that is the case. Otherwise we would have reached Utopia and no one would argue about anything.

I read writers whose attitudes I agree with, ones who I don't, historical writer, scifi writers, conservative writers, liberal writers. You have to have information to make judgements of your own, but dont ever assume your judgements are perfect.

However, flame wars can be fun
Madeline Ferwerda
46. MadelineF
I am impressed at the level of commenting on this. I would have expected the ignorant flames of the post to have been met with flames in the comments, but instead there is either disengagement (meh) or discussion that ignores the main post. Looks like almost everyone here has been on the internet long enough to have internalized "don't feed the trolls".

Also, Sarah Hoyt, do yourself a favor and google "all sex is rape". The first two results, a snopes page and wikipedia's Intercourse_(book) page, you'd do well to read. You'll be less likely to embarass yourself if you stop spreading calumnies about feminism.
N. Mamatas
47. Harry Connolly
I expect better than this from Tor.com.
N. Mamatas
48. Melospiza
Thank you 31 Deep Thought.

I agree. I love Heinlein, but he couldn't write women for beans. I could say the same of Tolkien, f'rinstance. The best are clones of his all-conquering male heroes. Most are stuck in the gender roles of the time they were written. But mostly, as you said, he's patronizing.

It's not a failure of politics, but a failure of imagination about the other. A very common failing. I still love the early books.

Favorite Heinlein woman: Amanda Todd Jennings, the old lady witch of Magic, Inc.
N. Mamatas
49. Cobalt_Whiptongue
Heinlein seems to fail a lot less often where his mature women are concerned. If they're above the age of being objectified as airheaded sex kittens, then suddenly they're allowed to have personalities and opinions again.

I mean, look at Wyoming Knott versus the Heinlein-Self-Insert's mother/first wife. Totally different, considering that Wyoh spends the whole novel being instructed by menfolk with more sensible (but less pretty) heads on their shoulders.

See also every woman in Stranger except Ann, and Ann herself.

I think that Heinlein might have been capable of writing women provided he wasn't actually thinking about them as women. Once the ol' gonads got revved up though...
N. Mamatas
50. Naamah
Okay—if everyone is done screaming, may we now speak as adults discussing adult problems?

Sure, but if you want to have an adult discussion, it's probably better not to go waving around the straw (wo)man arguments and angering people who might otherwise be interested in having a discussion with you, and then asking people to ignore your behavior.

The first several paragraphs here are not adult at all. Whether she uses the word "feminism" or not, they're a thinly-veiled attack on what the author believes to be the substance of feminism/women's lib/whatever those crazy bra-burning kids are calling it these days, using silly arguments that I -- and every feminist I know -- would never use, because they are obviously wrong.

You want to talk to me? Don't put words in my mouth. You do that and you can talk to yourself, thanks.

I'm with Amy @11 -- this is not controversial or transgressive. This is SSDD. There is nothing new here.

If the space taken up by the way-off-target beginning had been used to elaborate the points discussed on in the last half, now that would have been interesting, and would possibly have sparked valuable discussion instead of a bunch of people saying, basically "Dude, what the hell?!"

As it is, add me to the list of people who expected better than this from Tor. Excuse me. I'm going to go look at pictures of lolcats instead.
N. Mamatas
51. Cobalt_Whiptongue
Hey! Sometimes those lolcats are making insightful political points. You really might have an idea there... *follows*
N. Mamatas
52. HelenS
(Apologies for cross-posting)

Well, one scene that's always given me pause is the one where Winnie, in _I Will Fear No Evil_, blames herself for having been gang-raped while she was drunk. " 'Nobody teased me about it. But it was a gang bang, and I didn't make the slightest move to stop it.' She added thoughtfully, 'The thing that worries me is that I might do it again. I know I would. So I don't drink at all anymore.' "
N. Mamatas
53. Slnewton
What intrigues me is that every time I read a feminist criticism of RAH's depiction of women, I almost always read a disclaimer from another feminist that the first writer was not putting forward a true feminist argument. I am left with the impression that there are few, or perhaps no, feminist criticisms upon which the majority of feminists agree.

So, what are the feminist criticisms of RAH's work? Can we get a list (including supporting citations)? Has no one done a PhD or Masters thesis to which we can all refer?

Otherwise, I am left with the uncomfortable impression that, for most, criticizing RAH's depiction of women is a quick and easy way to generate comment and web traffic, without merit, and little integrity.
David Dyer-Bennet
54. dd-b
HelenS@52: Winnie doesn't describe or think of what happened to her as anything like what "gang rape" means to me. As I understand it, she feels she consented, and regrets it (and she thinks she'd make the same mistake again under the same circumstances, so she avoids what she considers the key circumstance, being drunk).
John Adams
55. JohnArkansawyer
Slnewton,

I think you've just tarred with a very broad brush on grounds which are, if you'll think for a moment, unfactual. People have been discussing Heinlein's treatment of women, the good (Amanda Todd Jennings, Leda Rudbek, Mary Sperling, M. L. Martin, Hazel from The Rolling Stones--there are more) and the bad, from long before there was an interwebz and they haven't all been doing it for publication. Of course, there are many feminisms, just as there are many different ways to appreciate Heinlein. You should be no more surprised that feminists disagree about Heinlein than that you and I disagree about him.
N. Mamatas
56. jonquil
"So, what are the feminist criticisms of RAH's work?"

I think the women in Heinlein are wish-fulfillment projections. Although they are generally competent and resourceful, they are also, on the whole, eager to put aside all their other skills in order to become mothers. A characteristic of Heinlein Woman is that she is in the mood for sex at all times -- Eunice in IWFNE actually wants sex while she's in labor. Several times, with FRIDAY the most obvious, Heinlein's attitudes toward rape are trapped in his youth. Yes, I'm generalizing here, but this space isn't big enough for a thesis with citations and examinations of each individual case.

One glaringly obvious example is the original ending of Podkayne, in which she dies as a lesson to her working mother. Heinlein's letters talk about her unrealistic ambition to be a spaceship captain and a parent. As it happens, a feminist friend of mine posted just today about reading Podkayne for the first time. Quoted with permission:

"three pages of Podkayne of Mars, which was all I could get through before I was overcome with the urge to vomit and/or hurl the book across the room. Those pages consist of 15-year-old Podkayne talking about being a giiiiiirl and going on about how pretty she is and giving her exact measurements and how she's smart enough to not reveal that she's smart because why would any giiiiiirl want to do things herself when she can bat her eyelashes at a man twice her age and have him do things for her? ICK ICK EW. "
N. Mamatas
57. jonquil
ARGH. I hit post before I got permission to include the link. I was quoting Rachel Manija Brown, at her Livejournal.

People who wonder what feminists find annoying about Heinlein may find the discussion enlightening.
N. Mamatas
58. HelenS
Dang, my comment seems to have gotten eaten. Re Winnie: she's so drunk she has no idea whom she's in bed with (she has to piece together what happened out of fragmentary memories afterward), so it's pretty obvious no consent was possible.
N. Mamatas
59. Cobalt_Whiptongue
Slnewton:

Part of what makes "feminism" not a blind faith-based dogma like so many other "-isms" is that there's a lot of inquiry and debate among people who all call themselves feminists. This makes it much harder to put together an easy archetype of The Feminist Reader, but I think that's a fair price to pay for keeping dialogue alive within a movement.

If you're really having trouble figuring out what a "feminist" position might look like, I suggest starting here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism

Feminism is really a lot more intuitive than the portrayal of an oversensitive sex-hating man-hating happiness-hating shrill babykicking dyke that people get fed from those who've got an active interest in ensuring that feminists aren't taken seriously. So you've read a lot of critiques that address something feminists don't find familiar, or even recognize at all. Maybe this is less a sign that feminists are prone to shouting No True Feminist at every critique, and more a sign that there's a lot of misrepresentation out there.

After all, if feminists shouted No True Feminist at every critique, none of us would ever be able to talk to each other about anything, since as I said before... there's a lot of debate among feminists. We seem to be able to talk to each other without devaluing and revoking each other's Feminist Card. Maybe the difference is that people like the OP are rambling incoherently and dishonestly and we've dared to say, "Hey. Quit misrespresenting."

I've given a feminist critique of Heinlein. Scroll up to find it. In fact, you can find lots of feminist critiques of Heinlein right in this comment thread. Do any of them even remotely resemble what the OP seems to have gotten so sick of hearing?

No? Then maybe we're being accurate when we say that the OP is responding to the kind of critique that, by and large, simply isn't coming from feminist readers. In fact, the OP is choosing to ignore the kind of critique that's showing up in the comments to this post (probably because it doesn't make feminists look appropriately crazy).
Eric Nelsen
60. ohagyo
@59 Cobalt_Whiptongue: With respect, I think the argument of what is and isn't feminism is ultimately fruitless. A categorization that says "feminists can debate among themselves without accusing each other of being No True Feminist" simply excludes from the definition those people who do make such accusations--which in itself is a form of saying those people are Not True Feminists. And such accusations are certainly made by a not-insignificant number of people who call themselves feminists.

But 'feminism' just doesn't seem to me to be the point of Ms. Hoyt's post. She did not mention feminism even once in her post–though clearly she offended many people who call themselves feminists by some intemperate words at the beginning and ending of her post.

Unfortunately that also sidetracked many of the comments (though by no means all) from her main topics: (1) that in her experience and observation, group marriages and open marriages tend to destabilize and either disintegrate or change into paired monogamous relationships more often than not; and (2) she has a real problem with Heinlein's insistence that a reason married women should not work outside the home is that they deprive men of means to support their own families. The comment thread also introduced (3) Heinlein's treatment of women's attitude toward and desire for sex.

Your post @49 certainly made sense to me, though the trigger point for his female characters losing their wits seemed to me to be marriage rather than maturity. Thinking in particular of Mary in The Puppet Masters. Though the counterexample is Hilda in The Number of the Beast, who married Jake and then proceeded to demonstrate superior competence at command and leadership, to the point of besting Lazarus Long by the end of the book. Maybe Heinlein didn't find Hilda very attractive, hey? :)
N. Mamatas
61. Cobalt_Whiptongue
ohagyo:

As far as the whole "she didn't actually say that feminists are crazy and unreasonable," bit: No she didn't, but after a while you learn when one of your stereotypes is rearing its ugly head. This is part of what makes these kinds of goads really passive-aggressive and obnoxious. The "feminists are manhating, family-hating, screaming unreasonable crazy people who think all sex is rape" trope is common enough that at this point it doesn't have to be explicitly connected to feminists any more than someone would have to specify that they're talking about black people in a screed about car-stealing, watermelon-munching, fried-chicken-obsessed, white-woman-seducing drug dealers.

You get the same crap long enough, you start to know when you're being discussed, even if people who aren't being insulted can sort of try and pretend for a moment that you're not. Maybe not much longer than a moment, but long enough to call the people who notice and get ticked off that they're being way too oversensitive.
Eric Nelsen
62. ohagyo
@61 Cobalt_Whiptongue: You're right, I'm wrong; it's not necessary to use the word "feminist" in order to construct an attack on a negatively-stereotyped "feminist." The attack itself relies on readers' automatic/involuntary/cultural connection of the stereotype to the label, which clearly worked in this instance.

And, also in fairness, your post was a response to @53 slnewton, who had upped the OP's ante by claiming that the feminist critiques of Heinlein he (I assume "he") had read almost all said that some other conflicting critique wasn't truly feminist. Somehow I doubt that; but it's easy for someone to wrongly summarize "I am a feminist and I disagree with X's opinion" as "X is not really a feminist." But slnewton also tried to treat "feminism" as a monolithic thing, just as the stereotype evoked by the OP is monolithic.

And I think that was the point you wished to address, yes? Same as @55 JohnArkansawyer--that feminists can disagree about things involving feminism and its goals and application but still all be feminists?

As for your final sentence, if that is intended to refer to my comment@59: I did not say and I do not think that you are being oversensitive. It seems natural to me to be pissed at Ms. Hoyt's name-calling and slnewton's pile-on. But I do think that responding in anger and arguing about who is or isn't a feminist just plays the game at their level of "defining a monolith" and allows them to further bait you into getting furious, to the point that you may more and more resemble the ranting "feminist" they want to dislike. That's how the stereotyping game works. The point at which people start saying ridiculous things in line with stereotypes is when the emotional charge has overridden thoughtful response.

Better to disengage at that level and address the substantive points, I think. More in line with your comment @49.
Torie Atkinson
63. Torie
@ 62 ohagyo

Let's keep it on topic and move on from this semantic debate.
N. Mamatas
64. Bill Patterson
One of the things I find somewhat surprising in this . . . er . . . discussion is that there is very little acknowledgment that "feminism" is not a univocal term, and what might loosely be called the "public face" of feminism has gone through some whiplash-inducing changes in the last forty years.

The feminism of Betty Friedan ca. 1963 is somewhat different from the feminism of Shulamith Firestone -- or Wittig, for that matter. Or Betty Friedan ca. 2000, for that matter. And that's only the so-called "second wave" of American feminism.

At various times and various places, I'm pretty sure _all_ of the described behaviors occurred, even those I haven't witnessed personally. Feminism, too is large and contains multitudes.
David Dyer-Bennet
65. dd-b
Bill Patterson@64: Some of the behaviors, however, were never mainstream feminism, they were at the radical fringes. Others were mainstream.

It's certainly true that, within "the radical notion that women are people", there were a lot of divergent positions competing to be "feminism".
N. Mamatas
66. Jonquil
"Wait—it’s because he wrote women who wanted to have babies. And this, as we all know, is a gross lie. Liberated women* do NOT want to have babies. "

Some women -- me among them -- want babies. Some women don't. There's a wide range of women, from people who passionately desire children from teenagerhood to people who stumble into them and love them to people who take steps to prevent childbearing throughout their lives. Heinlein doesn't write that last class as heroines. And that is the problem; it's not that no women want babies in the real world, it's that some women want no babies, but not in Heinlein-land.

Consider Podkayne, who's a YA heroine, and spends a good part of the book agonizing about whether a mother can work, a question that the book answers authoritatively "No". Many 21st-century teenaged girls aren't even thinking about motherhood; they're thinking about sex, and, one hopes, about contraception. Podkayne's strategies for dealing with a world she sees as owned by men are very different from a modern teenage girl's; for one thing, a modern YA that had a teenager "almost-sit on his lap and I almost-let him" to get favors from a spaceship captain would be seen as creepy.

My daughter didn't read Podkayne. She read Tamora Pierce, whose adventurous heroines are independent and brave and fierce and dangerous. Some of them don't want to get married. Some of them do. Many of them -- and this is a big shift from Heinlein's era -- think about and have sex, before marriage. Tamora Pierce's protagonists reflect a broader spectrum of modern teenage desires and ambitions.

Note: I haven't known a feminist, or anybody else, use the phrase "liberated woman" since, say, 1985. Nowadays we just talk about women. Saying "liberated woman" is a bit like saying "groovy".

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