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Is Heinlein Sexist? 
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Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2010 5:42 pm
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Post Is Heinlein Sexist?
Heinlein's Female Troubles
Heinlein's Female Troubles - By M. G. LORD : "Given Heinlein's apparently feminist ideas, you'd think he would be enshrined as a champion of women's rights. And had he stopped writing with his young-adult novels, he most likely would have been. But the sexual revolution took a toll on him, tainting some of his post-1970 novels with a dated lasciviousness and impairing his ability to create three-dimensional women. In Heinlein's earliest stories - the ones in which lady scientists used their initials - Heinlein eroticized his women. But the prim conventions of 1950's fiction precluded doing this explicitly. By the 1980's, however, he felt licensed to reveal more - or, in the case of Friday, to describe sexual experiences from a woman's point of view. Friday is an 'Artificial Person'; she was conceived in vitro and brought to term in an incubator, which in the book's fictive world is a terrible stigma. To today's AIDS-conscious reader, however, Friday bears a worse stigma: she is a brazen disease vector, recklessly promiscuous, with a bizarre weakness for male engineers. (Heinlein trained as an engineer.) This gives unintended meaning to the idea of Artificial Person; Friday exists only as a mouthpiece. Heinlein has so thoroughly objectified her that her subjectivity falls flat.

Sometimes I wish Heinlein were a less complex writer, that I could cheerlead for his early novels"

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Last edited by JCarlin on Sun May 08, 2011 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sun May 08, 2011 4:50 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
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As a result of this paragraph I am rereading Friday. So far MG's criticisms seem a little dated and shrill. I find his later novels, while sexually explicit in conformance with the popular fiction of the time, Heinlein was above all a popular fiction writer, still had that unusual emphasis on females as competent fully participatory humans, who just happened to be the half that got pregnant. I think some of the problems feminists have is that Heinlein's women are interested in having babies. Many of his explorations of family structures are setting up child care situations for women who are not dedicated child care providers. In all his families in the later novels, the men are expected to be involved in child rearing coequally with the women. Radical for the time.

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Sun May 08, 2011 4:58 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
Friday was far from the first time Heinlein described sex from the female viewpoint. He did it in I Will Fear No Evil.


Sun May 08, 2011 5:03 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
Friday
Friday reread from a perspective of gender philosophy causes cognitive dissonance until you realize that Friday is simply a James Bond type larger than life heroine with all the human foibles that larger than life characters normally display including a tendency to use sex as recreation and manipulation. Put the artificial person Friday in a male case and change the gender of all the other characters and you have a fairly conventional spy thriller, with the hero bedding all the interesting characters of the opposite sex.

Heinlein at least gave a nod to STDs by having Friday immunized and sterilized so that promiscuity which was a designed in characteristic of her artificial personality would not have unwanted results. Heinlein is turning the design aim of female artificial persons as doxies, upside down in Friday's case as she uses her sexuality and sexual favors for manipulation as well as her own gratification. But like a conventional male hero her own sexual gratification is accepted as a integral part of the story line.

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Sun May 08, 2011 5:07 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
FWIW I found Friday one of the most believable of the Heinlein heroines - she actually had a few flaws. (Though forgiving the rapist will NEVER feel believable to me).


Sun May 08, 2011 5:11 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
Female Competence
A common theme is a male character assuming incapability in a female only to have the capability shoved down his throat in the next paragraph.

Zeb said, "Huh? Sharpie, there's no time for that; there's something dangerous around! You girls get inside before I--"...
"Chief Pilot, there are no 'girls' here; there are four adult humans." The Number of the Beast, 1980. (NOB) 219.

She goes on with a chain of command explanation, she being on top by being the most competent for command by consensus.

The first two thirds of NOB is an exercise in sorting out competence without regard to gender assumptions, and not incidentally how this sorts out in the context of conventional marital expectations. Both wives get pregnant early in the story which adds the spice of continuation of the species of super competent humans to the mix. It is also an extended lesson on how even pregnant competent females can believably achieve their designated roles in an adventure story.

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Sun May 08, 2011 6:11 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
Don't really have anything to add, just want to say I like this thread and look forward to seeing it develop.


Mon May 09, 2011 6:57 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
audrey wrote:
FWIW I found Friday one of the most believable of the Heinlein heroines - she actually had a few flaws. (Though forgiving the rapist will NEVER feel believable to me).


Maybe there more to that than just the obvious. What that would be, I don't know.


Mon May 09, 2011 6:58 pm
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
RAH's depiction of women in the juveniles STILL included a large sprinkling of invisible/worthless females - mothers, generally.

He also included Hugh Farnham's wife, who was a caricature, I felt, even if she was modeled after Leslyn.

But by far his most glaring issue with his females was that they were not believable because they were so hyper competent - they did not typically even rise up from a more normal stage to get there, they were always that way.

A typical Heinlein Heroine would build a star ship out of three sticks and a coconut in the back yard while simultaneously raising infant twins and some genius 6 year old errant nephew, all the while maintaining runway model looks, acquire a PhD in a hard science and master 4 or 5 languages before they turn 25....

Come to think of it I can't think of ANY heroine older than about 30 - there were no female Jubal equivalents.

And he had whole flocks of these creatures running around ready to drop everything to pine after some guy.

Not the usual definition of sexism - but he did seem to paint women as all alike for the most part.


Tue May 10, 2011 6:26 am
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Post Re: Is Heinlein Sexist?
audrey wrote:
come to think of it I can't think of ANY heroine older than about 30 - there were no female Jubal equivalents.


My impression has always been that Wyoming Knott is somewhat older, but I don't have anything concrete to back that up.

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Tue May 10, 2011 8:14 am
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