Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Yesterday's Feminist

I found a paperback book that I bought when I was in grade school. I couldn't have been older than 5th grade. It was a collection of short stories by Robert Heinlein, The Green Hills of Earth.

The first story is "Delilah and the Space-Rigger." It recounts a conflict between a typical, paternalistic male-chauvinist construction supervisor and a young lady who goes to work on his space station. The story was published in 1949 when societal attitudes toward women in non-traditional vocations were more congruent with a non-ironic interpretation of Women Know Your Limits.

There has been a significant change in social attitudes in the last 65 years. So much so that even Rush Limbaugh would not defend the sexist attitude of the construction supervisor. Nor would any other Conservative I know. But in 1949, Robert Heinlein was "out there" on the cutting edge of societal evolution.

If you know anything about Robert Heinlein, you'll know he was neither a Republican nor a Conservative. He worked for Upton Sinclair and he ran for the California State Assembly as a Democrat. Most people nowadays don't know anything about Robert Heinlein. He was a Liberal in good standing with the Democrat party--in the 1940s.

But to hear some people talk nowadays, he was a Fascist. A lot of reasonable ideas that Liberals used to believe have become reasonable ideas that Conservatives believe. And other Liberals who were once in good standing have grown old and now they face attack and mau mauing by the Liberal tribe who think them not doctrinaly pure enough.

If you talk to a contemporary Liberal science fiction writer, s/he'll quickly point you to Heinlein's later works in which a character takes enjoyment from being raped. This might mean that Heinlein was endorsing rape, or that Heinlein's character who didn't regard herself as fully human, was so because she was female, OR it might mean that she erroneously thought she was not fully human because she was a clone.

Never misunderestimate the ability of people to miss the point. Or obtusely replace the point with something they can turn into a straw man. When Huckleberry Finn uses the n-word and begins his novel as a racist, does this mean that Mark Twain was a racist? If Mark Twain was a racist, then why does he depict Huck Finn growing out of his racism? And then there's A Clockwork Orange wherein the novel's protagonist brutally rapes and murders multiple women. Does this mean that Anthony Burgess endorsed rape and murder?

When I was at MSU there was a Liberal
professor who made some sarcastic remarks attacking racism. But the black community had an irony deficiency and thought he'd made a sincerely racist remark. It was patently obvious that the man had no intent toward racism. For years I thought this was due to stupidity on the part of those complaining.

Now, I think something different: I think it's obtuseness. "Sure, there are multiple interpretations of the other person's words, but I will reject the fair reading and substitute one that I can spin into an attack." Such it is with Robert Heinlein's so-called misogyny.

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