Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tingly Tribadism And Other Twisted Tales

I figure I’ve lived a blameless life these last few weeks. The death threats and exclamations about my moral depravity and lack of social caring (read ability to toe the line) have slowed down to an almost imperceptible trickle. In other words – I iz doing it wrong.

The start of this post was something Dave put up. It’s not that far away, it’s not that inconceivable, and it’s not at all unlikely one way or another that at some point humans will find a way to do the reproduction thing without one of the genders. I grant you this is more likely to occur with women first since babies need a leasehold in a human body while growing. However, that too might not be insurmountable with a bit more biological research. Bio-wombs of some sort might do the trick.

So, we come to... Planets where the entire population is one gender. Yes, Bujold did it, and she did it, arguably, in the difficult way. But she was published by Baen.

Unless I missed something, the flood of these stories is mostly one way – mostly we’re in some idyllic future where men have been disposed of. All is peace, love and harmony. And that figure retching while reading is me.

Why? Because it’s stupid. And while a lot of science fiction is stupid – really? In the world of Star Trek no one gets paid? People just work because they want to? Behold homus novis! – this particular trope is something that drives me up the wall until I cling to the ceiling by my frayed nails.

So, why does it have this effect on me? Two reasons.

One is that it’s the suck-up’s route. (I don’t like suck ups. I used to wait for them behind the metaphorical bike sheds and beat seven kinds of... never mind. Like Pratchett’s character, I only ever managed to get six anyway.) These stories are easy to publish, they make you feel good and “progressive” with an added side of “speaking truth to power” WHILE at the same time the power – which for these purposes is the person publishing you – is cooing and billing over how wonderful you are for doing this. You want to impress me with an all-woman-peaceful world? Make it good enough that it will sell to Baen despite the publisher not being enamored of the idea. Then I’ll take my hat off to you.

Two is that it is such a gross violation of reality we know – with no explanation. And it gives people who have never experienced the unique female form of war and evil the mistaken impression that we born without a penis are some sort of angels. (It used to be most of the people who believed this were men, and that didn’t disturb me much, since deceiving them is just the nature of our game. However these days there seem to be a lot of young women raised on the fictions and neurosis of older women, who actually believe this. Unfortunately thinking they’re like onto angels, means they feel empowered to do ANYTHING: abuse, attack and attempt to destroy any victims of their collective wrath, for instance. The “mean girl” thing. Having seen this pulled on my son, I can neither endure nor countenance it.)

And if you’re wondering why I say it’s a gross violation of reality with no explanation, you’ve spent too much time in these books. And you might even believe in the original, primeval, matriarchal, all peaceful civilization...

Oh, boy. Get a chair. This is going to be a long one. I’m not going to pronounce on the original matriarchal civilization. It might or might not have existed. I suspect in some places it existed to an extent, in the dim future when the men traveled to “hunting camps” and women kept the fixed home-base. To the extent that women kept the place with its “memory” and ways of doing things, and raised the next generation of both males and females it’s quite possible they had the power in the society. But–

Peaceful?

I bring a tale of woe, my friends. Long ago and far away, I attended an all girl school. A terrible place, where I got to see the behavior of an all-girl society. One on one and woman on woman, women are less likely to pound and pummel. Too bad. Bruises heal and the friend you pounded last week becomes your friend again.

Women... sneak and betray. They tell tales. They build networks. They strive, continuously for dominance.

Pardon me if I sound mysogenistic. I’m not. This is the result of evolution too. Women gathered while men hunted. Our survival depended on manipulating the other women in the band so our children got priority and were watched very closely while we were busy with the berry bush. Bitch queens – bless their hearts – had a LOT of descendants. And their daughters did equally well if they bred true. Men, on the other hand, hunted. Yeah, they were more violent. On the other hand, a man who was unswervingly loyal to his mates knew a spear would rescue him form the mammoth’s tusk. Because he’d saved someone else last week.

(Yes, the patriarchal societies MIGHT have whooped the behind of the matriarchal ones, but my guess is the patriarchal ones were nomads, moving their whole tribe, and they waited till just the women were in the camp. It’s also possible the women didn’t have horses or the wheel. There are other explanations than women-good, men-evil. Not ALL losers were the good guys. In fact, in history... oh, never mind.)

So, are all males loyal, etc. ? Oh, please. There’s a spectrum. Just as there is for women. They are just differently VILLAINOUS. And differently violent. We know for a fact that most mass murderers who kill strangers are men. Most of the mass murderers who kill their nearest and dearest – particularly children in their care – are women. And it might be oppression making them do it, but I doubt it. The behaviors seem to hold true in every society.

So if we did away with me, what would we have? As it happens I have a novel plotted called Starsong, in which women are the dominant gender (there are reasons. It’s alternate history.) What would happen would be the Borgias writ large. At least that’s my opinion. Perhaps no armies in the fields – maybe – but a lot of inexplicable mass poisonings.

Given that, you see why the peaceful all-fem planet makes me ill. But, as announcers say, there’s more: to a vast segment of the male public (most of them in positions of power in publishing) this meme is even more of a win-win. Because not only do they get to don a feminist mantle and completely betray truth, but – even better – they get to have scenes of girl on girl sex. (Which at least one male editor [who, surprisingly, went on to buy me afterwards, for which he has me respect, considering the response I gave to this,] assured me “even girls like”. My response had to do with “only a small percentage.”)

And that ANNOYS the living daylights out of me. I have nothing against lesbians. Some of my best friends are lesbian. I wouldn’t mind if my (adopted) sister married one. BUT I do mind this sort of thing being used to scratch an itch and not even acting like honest porn but instead disguising itself behind high-minded nonsense.

If you don’t find this glorification of women at the expense of males, if you don’t think it infects society to a ridiculous degree, do me a favor. Next time you’re watching TV, take one of the commercials featuring a family. Change the roles of husband and wife. Now, are you offended? Should women be portrayed like that, as total dunces and men as all knowing?

If you tell me current commercials are more realistic, then you’re too far gone...

What memes seem to you to violate reality as we know it? What do you think has caused them to become entrenched? Which of them are just silly and which of them potentially reality-distorting in their ubiquity? And what do you think can be done about it?

*Crossposted at Classical Values And According To Hoyt*

30 comments:

Lucius said...

I'm happily married, and father to three beautiful girls.

This evidently makes me a rabid misogynist. Female characters are supposed to be idealized icons of virtue, not fallen creatures living in a fallen world.

I freely admit that I largely avoid females as major characters in my writing. I want to entertain the reader with a story they'll enjoy. Writing a believable female character is not only hard, but *extremely* unappreciated.

danielocasey said...

See, now here's where I get all sideways and turned about. I've no preferences gender-wise, strong female leads, strong male leads, but make them real, not some cookie cutter typeset.

As for females or males in an absolute society, I'm going to have to side with Sarah here, such a concept is not only frustratingly maddening, but naive as well. Men _can_ be violent, but not always: Women _can_ be sweet and nice (but not exclusively), the norm is that people will be people. Yes women are by and large more subtle in their conflict, not as directly aggressive (sometimes), while men are.
Personally more than half of my writings are led by strong female leads, (odd I know, my being male after all, but I write what I like about who I'd like to see), But it makes not much difference who's who in the end, it's all about the individual characters interacting in ways that are ultimately human and understandable to the reader.

And finally, Sarah, Yes I do find the current portrayal of men and women in popular culture to be grossly unfair to both genders. I have a wife, wonderful girl, who's less "all knowing" than anything you can imagine, and personally I'm insulted that the men are portrayed (STILL!) as dunderheads when it comes to anything but hunting and business (ok, most of the guys I know are also dunderheads where business is concerned)

alright, enough preaching... I'll go be quiet for a while.

Dan.

MataPam said...

When you take a good hard look at society today... Once you've recovered and thought about it a bit...

There are lots of women living alone and raising children alone. Even in a highly mechanized society they have a much harder time than the women with husbands, both with and without children.

Don't mistake me, I'm a natural hermit. I lived alone for the first eight years of my working career. I don't mind a bit when my husband is overseas for weeks at a time.

But a female _or_ male only society is going to have to figure out how to share the time and expense of raising children. The two-person jobs of minor repair or simple furniture moving that home ownership entails.

The job site is going to have to be a mom-and-baby friendly as is consistent with safety and reasonable productivity.

Lois Bujold's all male society turned homosexual quickly, with married couples raising the children of each

Or, of course, there's the ultimate financial Daddy, the Government, who pays women to stay at home and raise their chidren. Any fictional society taking this route needs to admit to high taxes in support of full time parenthood.

But I just can't see a whole society that is capable of supressing or diverting opposite-gender-crazed-teenagers.

It would require a complete erasure or brutal censoring of all past literature, art, movies, and jokes. All livesock would have to be artifically inseminated or from artificial wombs--must not raise questions in enquireing young minds. Wildlife would either be alien or set a Really Bad Example. Biology, beyond a certain point, and medical texts would be closely guarded secrets.

I can see it being tried, but a sucess? Not once the first generation of kids hits 14.

Geoffrey Kidd said...

Your essay reminds me of a comment Poul Anderson made in his novel "Satan's World" in regard to a similarly pacifist view of herbivores:

The vegetarian sophonts do not have purer souls than omnivores and carnivores. But their sins are different.

or Heinlein's in "Puppet Masters":

Listen, son—most women are damn fools and children. But they've got more range than we've got. The brave ones are braver, the good ones are better and the vile ones are viler, for that matter.

MataPam said...

Oh, and to answer Sarah's last question - what memes seem to violate reality?

The fundamentalist Christian attitude toward science. Especially evolution, but that immobile belief leaks out into carbon dating and astronomy to the point where one is inclinded to assume they think their computer runs because their deity wants it to.

Scientists abandoning their vows of open-mindedness and biasing their output according to a politically driven agenda is an emerging meme, in the end, I think, more damaging to science than a mere clash with spirituality.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sarah. Great science fiction is about pushing limits, but some authors forget that if you're going to push limits, that you'd better have good reasons within your fiction for it all. Readers will set their expectations and stereotypes aside if given good motivation. Hell, I could be movitivated to commit murder if given the proper push. And motivation is unique to each person (though there are human commonalities), so here's where the storytelling gets good.

It continues to amaze me how many people (male and female) assume that women are the more docile gender. I think, given the more proper motivation, we are much meaner than men, maybe not more violent, but meaner. In American Indian culture, it was common at one time for the captured enemies of tribes to be given to the women of the winning tribe which so did not bode well for said enemies. I'm sure these enemies would've chosen a more violent but faster death at the hands of the warriors.

Yes, men bring a certain perspective to the world that I don't think would or could be filled by women if they were to suddenly drop off the edge of the earth. There are many women who could fill certain roles both emotionally and physically, but they will never BE men. I believe that each gender has a certain perspective to bring to the world, even if only by BEING that gender.

That is for humans though. Alien cultures? I'm open minded about other worlds and biologies, but when writing science fiction regarding humans, there's only so much you can change without radical notions. Science fiction readers are generally more open minded to these sorts of things, but they are still people. As writers, we have to write for people if we expect to sell our work.

Linda

Anonymous said...

I also hate the trope where everyone has the same standard of living. There will always be the ones with, the ones without and everyone in-between. In fact, the future may likely widen those gaps.

Linda

Jason Cordova said...

I didn't have many problems with having a strong female lead who isn't afraid to also be a woman. One of the things I hate is when authors write an asexual personality and slap a woman on top of it.

Chris L said...

Frank Herbert touched on a lot of this in Dune: artificial wombs, devious sisterhoods, a man rising to the head of a basically matriarchal society.

All very good, except as a teenager he scared the hell out of me. Was this what women were really like -- backstabbing, scheming, cutthroat, with mad martial arts skills?

Thankfully, I later discovered he'd exaggerated a little. Not all women have mad martial arts skills :)

One thing I've noticed recently that I wasn't aware of while I was married, is that they hunt in packs, highly organised packs in fact. But hey -- who's complaining?

MataPam said...

And in the future, how many genders will we have, when we can change them to whatever we wish?

"I think I'll be a hermaphrdite- trending-male for the party. Do you think I'd look good with red hair?"

"No, red hair is best with trending female. And you ought to think about adding a bit of arch to your nose, it looks so neuter."

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Lucius,

I'm a woman who thinks she wasn't born a victim. Clearly also a rabid misogynist. Pleased to meet you. Are we still having the RM meeting down at the old Legion hall on Fridays? Which of us is supposed to bring th booze?

I used to avoid females as main characters, because you know, apparently I did them wrong. It was an acquired skill.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Daniel,

Most people are dunderheads -- or as RAH called them "custardheads." The unexamined life is SO MUCH easier. You sleep better at night. Unfortunately I think we might be dying from it -- as a civilization.

And note how I bravely avoided making a joke out of "I have no preferences gender-wise". Not that there would be anything wrong with that. (Smiles happilly at own sensitivity. :) )

Actually a lot of my characters have NO problems with gender preference (head>desk) but they usually are adamant about what gender they are. So far I have been able to successfully change ONE -- Thena in DST. And it required a more careful surgery whereby I twinned her giving her nicer characteristics (still with an edge) to a male. For extra points guess which male in my works (yeah, published.) Only the unreasonable levels of anger remained the same in Thena, really. She also is more confident as a female, which probably is weird.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

It could be done, in new colony. Yeah, people would pair. But what you'd see is deprivation homosexuality. It's not just in prisons -- look at boarding schools.

Of course, the genders would blur after a while, even in a one-gender society. I mean, a sub-gender would appear, socially if not physically. I think it's what Cordwainer Smith was hinting at.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Geoffrey,

Actually Heinlein seems to have it exactly backwards. Although perhaps not.

What I mean -- in most characteristics women cluster solidly in the middle as makes sense for a group for which group approval is important. Of course, there are outliers.

The maybe not -- I suspect those of us who are outliers are MORE outliers than outliers men, because we had to fight other to be who we are, against social model (as it were.) So to an outsider we might give the impression of greater, or perhaps broader range. Our extremes are fewer but more extreme.

Of course he was married to one of the most brilliant women in the world (I was very fortunate to get to correspond with her) so it might have distorted his perception a bit. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

Actually both fundamentalist Christians and Scientists are doing what humans do. Most humans can't stand questioning all the time. When any group becomes "the establishment" in any sub-population, they become a de-facto "religion" in the sense that no dissenting views need apply.

It is in this sense that the Hegelian model applies to society -- because when a model is at its most entrenched a resistence amid those excluded will get very strong and eventually topple it. (What Marx took from it, otoh, is greatly a fairytale for atheists.)

But those aren't usually used as memes for SF. Well, maybe the second, but not recently, because I'm afraid most people CAN'T evaluate the science anymore. (It's got very complex.) So, instead, they believe whatever comes from on high. This includes publishers and they probably wouldn't want to cast any doubt on this system. Uh... maybe Baen. See Kicking The Sacred Cow.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Linda,

In Afghanistan, also, the tribeswomen would do the same. I suspect in many other places also. Particularly in a society in which women are second class citizens, it would give a safety valve to take out their frustrations on males (even if not those oppressing them.) Um...

Aliens -- who the heck knows? On Earth sexual reproduction with two sexes seems to work, but a short talk with Dave Freer (particularly when we are both very tired) can make me think of more combinations/modes (which he bases on marinne biology) than I WANT to think about. (It also results in cool names for fictional publishers, like Necrophiliac Duck Press)

And LOL -- my first thought when reading these hyper-tech societies is "I wonder what the zones I gravitate to would look like?" I tend to either hang out in ultra-dry places, like museums, or working-class-cozy like diners. The first sometimes appear in fiction, the later rarely.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Jason,

You CAN make the assexual personality work, provided it is for good and sufficient reason. In currently half-finished-and-shelved I have a character who is male but who "reads" asexual -- but there are very good reasons for this.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris L,

Some of us (Hi, Amanda) do have the mad martial arts skills. :)

As for hunting in packs -- studies have shown that women will find males cute or interesting BY GROUP CONSENSUS. I.e. if you flash pictures and tell them this male was coveted by x number of their friends, they'll covet him too.

I think it has to do with that "social" feature of females. Weirdly, I think it's also what superficial people who aren't female or were brought up not to see things as they are, identify as "peaceful."

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Matapam,

Other than APPEARANCE, I find that hard to believe. Perhaps if we can send our conscience into VR bodies? But our "real body" would still be there.

Reasons: unless you go one-gender for ideological reasons (peace? Equality?) two genders are what we're comfortable with. Also I view a whole-body as a long term growing project. Perhaps real (as opposed to cosmetic/non fertile sex changes, as part of very long lives. I could SORTA see that.) But I suspect each of them would stay the same for twenty years or so, all the same. Strikes me as labor intensive and pricey.

Now, having robotic/VR/android bodies to which we project our consciousness and which change genders at the drop of ... wel... er... ahem. that's quite possible.

Kate Paulk said...

Women as the "sweet, peaceful" ones really hits my hot buttons. What I've experienced is that female is much better at being nicey-nice up front, while committing social and psychological torture.

Males are much more up-front. If they have it in for someone, chances are, they'll attack straight up. They're also more willing to accept deviation from the norms - if you meet one of the "inclusion" criteria, the rest get overlooked. With females, heaven help you if you diverge even the teensiest bit from the trend-setter.

MataPam said...

Like "Surrogates" everyone walking around in a perfected body, their own ageing and sagging bod left safe at home.

I dunno if that will ever be "real" enough to be satisfying. All the sex change and augmentation is just body-stem-cell engineering, at this point. It won't be as fast and easy as dropping into an avatar. But when you look at what people do to their bodies in the way of piercings, tatoos, and plastic surgeries, up to and including cosmetic sex change w/hormone therapy, it's just one more giant leap that afterwards looks like such a small step.

Wait a generation or two and then we'll see who's adventurous and who's not.

Brendan said...

When you first mentioned a single gender planet my first thought was for David Brin's Glory Season. While not strictly a single sex planet, Dr Brin did tinker with the genetics enough to make them almost separate species. And he certainly wasn't silly enough to make the world a utopia.

On the science side: 'Niceness' partly genetic, say scientists

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Kate,

"Males are more upfront"

ur ur ur. That's all...

Brendan said...

Sorry, link broke.

'Niceness' partly genetic, say scientists

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan,

I don't have problems with those that don't make it a lovely utopia where everyone survives on unicorn flatulence and nice thoughts.

As for "everything is genetic" crap -- AH! "Even if it were true, it would be imoral." No, seriously. They can take my belief in free agency when they pry it out of my cold, dead hands.

I'm not saying there isn't/shouldn't be genetic determinants. As far as I can tell my youngest is my dad's clone. I'm saying that if belief in the individual human's ability to change himself collapses, we're done for and headed for a Dark Ages so dark we might never climb out again.

There is a Jewish traditional tale that Moses, in his meanderings through the desert, was spied by the feature-reader of some local leader, who brought word to his sovereign that here was a murderer, a thief, an adulterer and a man capable of all evil. In fear, the king met with Moses and found him completely different. So he told Moses of the reading and said he would punish the physiognomy reader. And Moses said "No. Don't. You see, I really am like that. I just fight it every day."

And that is the point.

Brendan said...

Kate,

The headline does say "partly":-))

But there is evolution of the body and evolution of the thought. And since I think the evolution of thought is a much faster process than that of the bod, quite often the two can come into conflict as in your Moses story.

Chris McMahon said...

Great post, Sarah. Thankyou for writing this! As a man I could not without getting cyber-thumped. As usual I am reading this late in my work day, which is is the US wee hours.

The meme that irks me? Complex spaceships that don't need crew. An an engineer I know everything always breaks down. And the more complex and intelligent the machines, the more skilled the tech - but you still need them.

Kate Paulk said...

Brendan,

Actually that was Sarah, but I'm not complaining ;) And there's more on evolution of thought and culture vs physical evolution in my post this week.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Chris,

Oh, yeah, or the super-efficient enterprises where things are always built to spec. As a jack-of-all-trades builder/handywoman it always makes me giggle.

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