Thursday, July 23, 2009

When is a feminist not a feminist?

A few more notes on Stranger in a Strange Land, so that I can purge this all and move on:

Said best in this article in The Stranger: "Are there people who call themselves feminists in this day and age who would actually call this book feminist?"

Okay, he was talking about a different book by Heinlein, but I think this applies to Stranger in a Strange Land as well. Stranger is supposed to deal in part with feminism. I know this is true because it said so on the back cover of the book. As I read the book, however, I kept wondering where the feminism came in to play. All those men who talk too much are often condescending to women while doing so. The women didn't seem to be full of liberation either; one of them says that rape is the woman's fault 9 times out of 10 (she did not explain why this is, by the way, and I wish she had).

My thoughts on the subject only stray from The Stranger insofar as I don't think feminists of any age would call Heinlein's writing feminist. This book was published in 1961, and I find Virginia Woolf's writing - in the 2os and 30s! - far more advanced in terms of feminism. I suppose he can be apologized for from a number of angles, such as being a mere sci fi writer compared with Virginia Woolf. But I reject the notion that higher thoughts and better writing are restricted to classic literature, which is part of the reason why I am reading this list of novels!

So I keep searching for evidence of feminism. The women had jobs, but they were nurses and secretaries. The women were fairly strong-willed, but they were also ordered around a lot, usually being told to go cook dinner. I just don't see it. Anyone who has a different point of view on this is welcome to share.


Following my completion of this novel, I felt like my brain needed cleansing. At first I craved Sherlock Holmes very badly. I guess I wanted the order and logic of his world, but I also didn't want to get fully involved in something that isn't on the list, short though the Holmes novels are.

I decided instead to read A Study in Emerald by Neil Gaiman. I think it is one of the most perfect short stories that Neil Gaiman has ever written. I'm a big Gaiman fan, and preferring this over some of his other works is like preferring that your favorite musician play cover tunes. Still, I have some favorite musicians who play very excellent covers, and likewise Neil Gaiman "covers" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle excellently. Or I should say, Doyle and Lovecraft - he was asked to write this as a story that combines the worlds of Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft.

You can read A Study in Emerald online for free. If you don't like reading stories on a computer screen you could print it - it's designed to be very attractive - or you could read it from the book Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, which is a collection of short stories.

Next up, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, which I think A Study in Emerald provides a good transition into. It mentions Dr. Jekyll, and a few other monsters from literature as well. I spent a few minutes today identifying them all, and I'm pleased and amused at their cameo appearances.

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