Saturday, September 09, 2006

Tiptree again

This is a cross posting from a discussion of the new Tiptree biography on the FEM-SF discussion list. It's a slow difficult process for me to write nonfiction. If I can use something more than once, I will...

Why do I see Tiptree as lost through much of her life? Look at her career -- the first marriage when she and her husband played at being artists while living on money from their parents, then her time in the WACS, then her second marriage and working for the CIA, then getting a PhD in psychology, then becoming a science fiction writer. This is a lot of different activities. My sense from the biography is that she was marginal in all of these -- until she found the SF community, and then she did first class work and became a full member of a community, but not as herself and not as a woman.

She may have been marginal in part because she was a woman, but she was also marginal because she didn't commit fully to these different activities, except maybe the SF writing. This is what the biography suggests, at least. She didn't work consistantly at the art, and she didn't learn the politics involved in getting a PhD. She also dropped both activities, which suggests a lack of continuing commitment. (I can't believe, by the way, that she took a lab rat home as a pet and let it go outside. How clueless can you be? Lab rats are inside animals, raised in antiseptic environments and trained to run mazes, not live in the wild. They are terribly vulnerable outside.)

She had two things going against her -- she was very gifted and able to do many things, and she always had an income, either from her parents or her husband.

This brings us to the famous Tiptree quote:

"Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. … When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We'll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You'll see.

"We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world machine."

This was written by a woman who was (for most of her life) dependent on her parents or a husband. Whatever her personal feelings, she did not openly struggle for women's rights or anyone's rights.

Yes, she did try to make an independent life for herself -- as an artist, a soldier, a CIA analyst, a psychologist and finally a writer. But she seems to have always acted alone.

The women in the Tiptree story quoted above are hiding in the chinks of the world machine. But many women in the 20th century did not hide in chinks. Instead, they fought the machine.

I'm not trying to put Tiptree down. I'm trying to figure out what bothers me about her life.

Post script: One of the women on FEM-SF jumped up and down on me for saying Tiptree didn't commit to her various careers. Her analysis is -- Tiptree, who was hugely gifted, gave various activities a serious try and then moved on.

This may be a better way to look at Alli. I am lucky in that I am really good at one thing: writing fiction. I have friends who are multi-talented. Many abilities can be a distraction.

I still think Tiptree was too alone. She felt close to her parents and her husband Ting. After her parents died and Ting (who had always cared for Alli) became blind and dependent on her, she had only herself -- and the friends she made through the letters she had written as James Tiptree Jr. But those people were friends with Tip not Alli, or so she apparently thought.