Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters – Part 5
Part of an ongoing rant where your humble author chews the scenery. In our last episode, we discovered that Political Correctness is not political program but a cultic worldview with no particular center and no particular goal, bound together only by a general discontent at the sufferings of the world, and the belief that a rebellion destroying the legitimacy of all prior institutions and the erection of a totalitarian utopia will solve everything.
We left asking whether this had anything to do with science fiction. The answer proposed was that it does not, or rather, it has about the same relation that commercial advertisements have to the magazines in which they appear.
The cult wants to put leftwing messages into stories to influence the minds of the reading public and make their leftwing worldview seem like the norm, the default view, so that everything natural and decent and traditional and rational seems unbearably wicked and disgusting.
Speaking of magazines, I feel the an answer to the charge that women in the bad old days before the Women’s Liberation Movement were portrayed in SF as weaklings and ninnies is merely to glance at covers circa 1940-1950. This is hardly a scientific or thorough survey, but then again, we are talking about what subconscious impression is left in the minds of young women reading space adventure stories. I invite anyone to compare them to the same number of images from current SF paperback or trade paperback covers of adventure stories.
The cult operates by a very simple formula defined by Marx: Find something that does something good, and blame it for not being perfect, identify a victim group, preferably one actually being benefited by the good, identify their benefactors as witches, that is, as the wrongthinking people. Then, make windy claims that the imaginary victim group will have its imaginary problems obliterated once the witches are burned and the witchhunters get all the property, material or spiritual, once belonging to the witches, and then everything will be copasetic.
Of course, all this is total bullshit, and even most of the cultists, those in the outer ring, know it, so it is better to imply it without saying it.
In the case of Marx, the good thing was the industrial free market. He made up a bad sounding word to describe it, calling it capitalism. Ironically, the free market is such a good thing that the insult term came to be a term of endearment, and many of the wrongthinking witches now use the term proudly, and call themselves capitalists, and call the freedom to own property and trade without permission from the state ‘capitalism.’
The victim group was the factory hands and farm workers. Of course the free market benefited them so enormously that there is no parallel in history. Poverty in the West was once the same as it was in the undeveloped world, a matter of near starvation. Now a man below the poverty line in America, is more likely to be overweight and own a cell phone and a used car than he is likely to starve to death. Marx called these men the proletarians, a Roman word referring to those who served the Empire only by producing children.
Marx made the stupid and unsupported argument that the proletarians were a class or category of persons, who, by virtue of the fact that Marx used one word to refer to them all, therefore had a unity of interests.
There is of course no unity of interests. Ask a sailor on a whaling ship put out of business by a field hand working on an oil rig, whose boss has found a way to bring petroleum oil to market more cheaply than whale oil. Ask the blacksmith’s apprentice who no longer can find work shoeing horses because of the efficiency of the factory hand working in the automobile plant.
Marx identified the men who made this explosion of wealth and long life possible as the deadly enemies of the poor as the bourgeoisie, a word from the Middle Ages referring to those who occupied Burgs, or walled towns, and primarily engaged in trade. They were also asserted to have a unity of interests, equally as foolishly. Ask Mr Macy about Mr Gimbel.
The interests of the bourgeoisie and of the proletarians was asserted to be a Darwinian competition to the death with no quarter and no peace possible or desirable. The proles were supposed to hurt the bourgeoisie as much as possible in any way possible, and hurt them more and more until each and every one of them died.
And, of course, this theory was enthusiastically adopted by the middle class intellectuals and students and the newly minted millionaires who were the prime beneficiaries of industrial capitalism, and they sought with the eagerness of a young bridegroom on his wedding night to have the proletarians kill them in a worldwide bloodbath. Or, rather, they wanted to pretend to be proletarians so that they could engage in the worldwide bloodbath. It is not clear which. Sadists are often masochists and visa versa.
Now, there are of course in reality real problems caused by industrial capitalism. Anything in reality has a cost. That is the nature of reality. All Marx did was reverse cause and effect and blame the free market for all the problems it was solving, because the solution was not perfect.
In the case of Feminism, the victim group was women, all women, and the oppressor group was men, all men. The fact that male babies need and want and love female mothers to raise them and the fact that male fathers need female wives to make more male babies never enters into this enrapturing vision of the eternal war between the sexes. The feminists are not as clear as the socialists about the need for a worldwide bloodbath, but they are even angrier about it.
Most women I know, who are, to be frank, Christians of a rather traditional strength of mind, do not buy into this feminist agitprop, but most of the men I know, who are Wiccans and Atheists, do. This indicates once again that a certain degree of deranged masochism is present, perhaps prompted by nebulous feelings of guilt and a need for propitiation by sacrifice, or just a weary desire not to shoulder the burdens of manhood.
Now, there are of course in reality real problems caused by specialization into sexes or organization of society into sexually differentiated roles. Anything in reality has a cost. The suffragettes of our grandmother’s time, or, if you are younger than I, greatgrandmother’s time, had a real problem that was open to solution by legislative change, namely, to afford the each member of the fairer sex the right to vote and to own property in her own name.
The feminists in our time have also reversed cause and effect, and blame on the existence of sexual roles problems which either are caused by the lack of such roles, or problems that do not exist at all.
By any measure, feminism have won an absolute triumph and swept the field of all opposition. They have more freedom, if by that we mean the lack of legal or cultural restriction or restraint, than ever did any of their mothers for all of time.
So why are they in despair? Why are women killing themselves in record numbers, killing their babies in the womb in record numbers, getting divorced from their spouses in record numbers?
Now, I have taken all this time to describe at length — tedious length, so I know that no one has read this far except for my one fan (Hi, Nate!) — how the Cult works, so that I can briefly —briefly for me, which means an orotund and endless pontificating for an ordinary mortal — say how the Cult works in reference to science fiction.
Let me use an example from my own writing, not because it is the best example, but because I happen to have it to hand:
I wrote a book where the expedition to the nearby dwarf star V886 Centauri had an all male crew. I did this because I wanted to have one character born aboard the ship without there being a clear explanation as to how exactly she was born; it was part of the mystery.
One of the cultists pretended to review the book. Pretended, because checking a book for cult-loyalty is not a review. Telling the readers whether the book performs the meaningless ritual gestures and genuflections of political correctness does not tell the readers whether they will like the book or no, which is what a review is. The cultist was shocked into gibbering Nyarlathotepian insanity by the fact that I was capable of imagining a ship with no female crew aboard. After all, such a thing has never happened before in all of history, nor has it been imagined, nor is there any excuse for such a thing. The fact the mysterious child born aboard ship was female, and is the savior of mankind and the galaxy, the first superhuman, et cetera and ad nauseam did not restore your humble author to the good graces of the Cult member.
So why are the ladies in despair? Why do they commit suicide in record numbers?
Is it because of me, John C Wright, internationally recognized science fiction author, failed attorney, retired newspaperman, savant and scholar with my fat belly and outrageous beard and nearsighted eyes, my glorious bald spot, my dull swordcane?
Did I suppress you, my dear ladies?
You see, the moment the question is asked, it sounds ridiculous. No one man can be blamed. The Cult belief does not permit that. It only deals with collectives: all men as a whole must share this guilt.
The logic goes as follows: We all, except for the males who have joined the screaming witchhunters, caused the crop failures. The crop failures do not show up because of natural causes. It must be because of the witches, the wrongthinking people. I am one of the wrongthinking people. Ergo, QED.
As far as science fiction goes, the theory here is that all the unfairness and unhappiness of history is cause by some sort of undefined and dim half-subconscious miasma or influence of thought, an attitude of which even we are half-unaware, which is fed by seeing stories where the women characters are in the stereotypical weak female roles of being feminine.
Sorry. My sarcasm gland became inflamed. The theory is that stories cause or at least influence the subconscious mind with a set of expectations, so that if little boys read stories where Superman saves Lois Lane from a radioactive moon robot or something, the little boys will grow up to be rapists, therefore little boys should read stories where women are Amazons fully able to rescue themselves from radioactive moon robots without male help.
I am not clear on the details of how the theory goes. The practice is that you can be accused of sexism for any reason or no reason, and once you are accused, there is no defense and no verdict other than guilty. There is no example in the history of the world of a sexist reforming and becoming a properly orthodox lover of feminism. The only way to escape accusation is to be a witchhunter yourself, and accuse others.
Now, since stories, like industrial capitalism, do exist in reality, they do have drawbacks. Boy’s adventure stories since the days of TREASURE ISLAND tend to be an all-boy’s affair. Earlier stories had more heroines in them, such as FAERIE QUEENE, because romance was a part of Romance. The tale goes that the boys of Stephenson asked him to write a tale with no women in it because (being little boys) they did not want to hear about love and romance.
Science fiction sprang out of the tradition of TREASURE ISLAND and the like, since Jules Verne did not want to add any romantic subplots to his tales of technological wonder. I am sure HG Wells has some female characters somewhere, but I cannot bring any of them to mind aside from Weena the Eloi from THE TIME MACHINE.
So, as far as I can tell, the complaint about Science Fiction having at one time being an all-boys club where women were scarcely ever seen is a perfectly reasonable complaint. There were and are stories where the only female characters are fodder for abduction (see below) or some worse fate.
And there have always been stories with two dimensional characters, cardboard and unconvincing, and women in those stories have been portrayed in unconvincing ways.
If the kind reader recalls, there is an inner and an outer circle to the cult. The inner is the liars and the outer is the suckers. The suckers are sincere but ignorant. They don’t know what the cult wants or what is wrong with it, but they have been warned not to listen to any criticism of the cult, because the wrong-thinking people are so horrible.
The suckers are completely honest when they ask for stronger female characters either in SF or in mainstream fiction. They look at cheesy unconvincing females character, at the lazy use of stereotypes, or plain old bad writing, and they demand better.
Good for them, say I. Nothing wrong with their demand. I applaud it. I myself do not care to read stories where all the female characters are victims with nothing to do, who have no role in the plot. That is not my idea of feminism or of femininity. That is just bad writing. Away with it.
My argument here is that they are asking for realistic female characters and calling it strength, or the are asking for females characters in starring roles, whose decisions are central to the plot, and calling it strength, because they don’t know any other word for this quality.
Marx analyzed all human behavior as a contest of strength between oppressor and oppressed, and a certain hefty percentage of modern feminism adopted that analysis as the analysis of the man-woman dynamic, and so the only thing that matters to them is strength: The strength to do without men, to achieve without men, to overcome men, to despise men, to walk away from men. To be not dependent. Independence. There is no nobler goal, is there?
But the analysis overlooks the same thing in both cases. Marx overlooked that a situation of mutual benefit can be found when labor is free to seek employment and investors free to seek return on investment. The investors seeking profit will buy stock in ventures that hire laborers seeking to sell their labor for a wage. Marx characterizes these mutually beneficial relationship as a master-slave relationship, a one-way zero-sum game where the investors gain and gain and the laborers lose and lose. Likewise, modern feminism, or this branch of it, characterizes the male-female relationship as a master-slave relationship, a one-way zero-sum game where the males gain and gain and the females lose and lose.
And surely there is sufficient evil done by the greed of investors or the lusts of men to lend more than a little credence to either view.
The argument looks reasonable to anyone kept in a pitch of perfect anger and envy and resentment and hate and contempt against the other partner in the mutually beneficial relationship.
So the cult, to maintain the falsehood of the analysis, simply has to tell half the truth, paying attention only to cases where one partner betrays the other; or else has to tell outright lies.
Likewise the cult, in order to maintain the atmosphere of hysteria needed for the pitch of resentment to be maintained, has to devalue the use of reason. This is the reason why the cultists adopt what I call the unreality principle, the principle that make-believe is real and reality is optional. It is to halt the possibility of rational discourse. It allows them to tell outrageous lies without the slightest twinge of shame. This in turn is the reason why the cultists never argue: they only accuse. There is no groundwork to argue in a purely subjective world, because there is no evidence to consult, no objective rules of logic. Whatever seems to be a persuasive argument can be rejected unread based on the accusation that the person giving the argument, no matter who he is and what his argument is, is a wrong-thinking person, the source of all evil, a witch.
So likewise the perfectly reasonable desire for better writing with more realistic female characters turns into a weird ritualistic demand to strengthen females in society by means of creating inspiring role models in SPACEMAN SPIFF novels.
This would be fine except that the inspiring role model means and only means a female who repeats the bromides of Political Correctness.
Am I wrong? I would be delighted to hear about contrary examples.
But here is what it looks like to me, given my limited experience: I have heard CS Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien denounced, even though Queen Lucy, even as a little girl, had enough strength of character to stick to the truth and keep the faith despite the jeers and disbelief of her older siblings, in the first volume, and despite that no one else, in the second volume, saw the Lion she saw. Is Galadriel of Lothlorian a weak character? In addition to be a queen, and immortal, and wise and far-seeing and morally upright, has greater strength of character than the warrior prince Boromir, AND she has magic powers. So how is this weak?
I will repeat my examples from A PRINCESS OF MARS of Burroughs and GALACTIC PATROL of E.E. Smith, books that are hardly on the Shakespeare level of great literature, but also books from before the Women’s Liberation movement. Princesses get kidnapped with the clockwork regularity of potboiler writing on Barsoom, but not a single one of these dames faints, or screams, or complains, or shows anything but ironclad resolve worthy of a mother of a Spartan. I have already mentioned girls knifing guards who are too familiar and space-dames blasting away at drug-runners with their white-hot ray guns. Weak? In what sense?
Now, again, it may be my limited experiences, but the only female characters I hear being complimented as strong by the Left are the ones in traditionally male roles, such as military officers, vampire hunters, and vigilantes.
I keep thinking there must be some common ground of characters that anyone can admire. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, or Saint Joan of Arc, are ones I would assume would seem perfectly ‘strong’ to anyone seeking a strong female lead to admire.
Now, I do not mean to sound cynical, so I will ask rather than speak my opinion. Is there any strong woman character which meets with the approval of the Politically Correct who also happens, as the characters in Lewis and Tolkien, to reflect a Christian worldview, or, as happens, as in Burroughs or E.E. Smith, to reflect what one might call the traditional heroic worldview, a worldview reminiscent of the Stoic and military virtues of the ancient Romans and Greeks?
I have heard some Leftists praise the female characters of Robert Heinlein, who, with one exception, I myself find to be somewhat demeaning to women. (The one exception is Cynthia Randall in ‘The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag’, perhaps the only honest portrayal of a woman throughout his whole oeuvre.) Others despise his portrayals.
My cynical question is this: when they ask for ‘strong’ female characters, are they actually honestly asking for strong female characters, Deborah from the Bible, Antigone from myth, Britomart from poetry, or are they only asking for Leftist female characters, that is, for poster children for Leftist causes?
If so, what they are asking for is Political Correctness, which means, substituting true narratives about the real glories and sorrows of the human condition for a false narrative, an advertisement for Leftwing political causes, which tell lies about the glories of man, bemoans with crocodile tears only the sorrows of their particular mascots and special causes, and makes false promises about the cure for the world’s pain.
If so, they are giving up art for an ad.
Myself, I want to see women writers not because they are women, but because I would like to have the genius of the distaff half the human race writing new and brilliant science fiction stories for us to enjoy.
In sum, as far as I can tell, the complaint that Science Fiction lacks strong female characters is akin to the complaint that Science Fiction is meant for juvenile audiences. That has not been true during my lifetime. I have not seen even the slightest trace of the all-boy club mentality ever, neither in any writer nor in any editor nor in any reader.
I have seen plenty of people like me, who are annoyed with the cheerless preachy monotony of Political Correctness and would like the dullards to stop ruining good stories with their sucker punches and pauses for their political advertisements, but, hey, the PC types answer any criticism of PC by calling the complainer a sexist, or saying he is paranoid, or saying that PC does not exist. Any lie will do, just so long as it is an accusation.
To tell the truth about what they are doing, which is informal censorship, that is, thought policework, is the one thing they fear.
As I said before, the PC-niks think they are fooling us into thinking they are honest and compassionate people, and we know they are not, and they know they are not, but they do not know we know, so when one of us mentions, for the umpteenth time, that the Emperor has No Clothes, they react with exaggerated fear and fury. This is because they are afraid of anyone, no matter how humble or obscure, who punctures their little daydream of make-believe, their land of colored cloud where they are the effortless saints and the cost-free saviors of the world.
But the complaint about the way too many female characters are treated in SF, especially earlier SF, is either reasonable or is an understandable exaggeration of a reasonable complaint. No one wants or like boring or silly characters, or characters who rest on lazy stereotypes.
What is not reasonable is PC, for which the reasonable complaints ought not to be confused, any more than a sheep should be confused for a wolf in sheep’s clothing.