Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Women and Writing

The following is a cross-post from Ambling Along the Aqueduct. The strain of posting on three blogs is getting to me, so I think I will use some material twice.

Timmi has a post on spelling bees in school and girls being better than boys, which meant (to the boys) that spelling wasn't important. She ends:
Because that was the way the world we lived in worked: the work women did wasn’t important, and so it was fine for women to be better at it than men.

This reasoning is so familiar that though I can just about manage to laugh wryly when I hear such an anecdote, it almost makes me want to cry. The Russ-ian literary equivalent would be: If women are good at writing a certain kind of story, it must not be either profound or interesting and is certainly not worth reading.

Of course, that was exactly the attitude toward novels in the late 18th and early 19th century England. From the Gothic novels on, novels were a women's art form, and considered frivolous, trivial, possibly immoral and so on. Serious people -- men -- read collected sermons or poetry.

Jane Austen, who loved novels and wrote some of the greatest, has scenes where men -- guys like Mr. Collins, that idiot -- sneer at novels or are offended by them.

At some point, probably with Dickens, men became dominant in the writing of novels, and they became a serious art form. Though Dickens was madly popular and kind of trashy. True seriousness for the novel probably came later. At that point, women writers tended to disappear from discussions of The Novel. My friend Ruth mentioned a book she has just read, which is about ideas of The Frontier or some such thing. The author did not mention any women writers, not even Willa Cather.

(I may revise the above, after checking with Ruth. I'm not sure I'm remembering correctly.)

The same thing happens in discussions of hard science fiction. Women never make the list of hard SF writers. I think there is a double prejudice operating here. One is a prejudice against the life sciences as opposed to physics and engineering.Women tend to write about biology. If you don't think biology is a real science (in this era of biotechnology and genetic engineering) then books by Joan Slonczewski don't make the list. However, there are women who write about machinery. C. J. Cherryh and Melissa Scott come to mind at once. If they don't make lists of hard SF writers, then I think we are looking at the idea that hard SF -- real SF, serious SF -- is and has to be male.

I prefer to call hard SF "very large, hard machinery SF." I think this captures much of what is going on.

I'm not too offended by having women excluded from the hard SF lists. I mostly don't like hard SF, because the social science is so terrible. A society 1,000 years in the future is just like our society today. Most of the characters have English last and first names. People talk the way they do now. And social relationships have not changed, even though science is hugely advanced. How likely is this? Science changes technology; and technology changes the way people live and think; and we are not the same as our ancestors.


Blogger delagar said...

This is one that gets on my last nerve. I keep picking up those books with BEST SF OF -- whatever, and there are 27 stories by men and none or one or two by women, and if the introduction says anything about that (usually it doesn't) it's some sneery comment about women not wrting "real" SF; or it's (worse) a congratulation to the women who made the cut for *having* written "real" SF.

Then I read some essay by some tool who claimed LeGuin's collection, that Norton Book of SF, was flawed b/c it contained so many stories by women. He claimed that LeGuin let "PC" concerns guide her choices. Right. Because when male SF writers selected all male writers, why, they're just using superior taste to guide them. When a woman selects women writers, she's being PC.

Because everyone knows women can't write (real) SF.

Also? Month after month after month I pick up that Analog and that FSF and it's got nothing but men published in it. What is up with that?

End rant now.

6:25 AM  

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