Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Ineluctable Masculinity - stories of matriarchal societies

James Tiptree, Jr. was famously the pen name of Alice Sheldon, the SF writer, in the late sixties and nineteen seventies.  When it was first rumored that James Tiptree was a female, Robert Silverberg remarked, "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing."

And that I find odd. I don't recall reading anything of hers during the period it was believed she was a man; I probably first read her in the anthology Again, Dangerous Visions, the introduction to which called her "the man to beat this year", but I most likely read the anthology a few years later. However, all the stories I read of hers were about as ineluctably masculine as a week spent scrapbooking in Utah with 12 nieces. The themes are sometimes humanist, but always feminist.

A radio play version of her story Houston, Houston, Do You Read? is available for streaming at Archive Org if you have an hour to spare on the classic story. The theme is a familiar one - a crew of male astronauts on board an American spacecraft become "lost" after a solar storm, and find themselves not off course in space but off course in time. Houston mission control does not answer their emergency calls; the voices who do respond are female. The astronauts then encounter the most alien menace of all (dun dun dun!) A Planet of Women!

The story strikes me as rather strident, but it's the 21st century now, where almost half of all American men think that women should be given some small measure of autonomy over their own bodies. Tiptree at the time was responding to such pieces as John Wyndham's Consider Her Ways,  in which the women develop a society based on ants...because you know, women are a lot like insects and stuff. Given that, it's surprising she actually wrote at all, and didn't just lay into the population at large with a baseball bat instead. You can read Consider Her Ways here.

1 comment:

Bruv said...

Hi Sis

Talking about female SF writers I haven't seen any new work from yourself, is the blog taking up your mental and physical spare time?



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