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Random thoughts on Misogyny

I just finished reading a couple Gene Wolf books (the first two in the "New Sun" series) and was irritated (and appalled) by the misogyny therein. Appalled, naturally, but also irritated because they are otherwise very interesting, fairly well-written fantasy / sci-fi novels. Set (I think, now that Iíve finished) on Earthís moon tens of thousands of years from now, after humanity has risen to great heights and then lost almost everythingóSwords + Sorcery + Laser Beams. So, in other words, itís the Virconium series. Except that if Virconium is Dickens (well, perhaps letís say Poe, then) this "New Sun" is merely Edgar Rice Burroughs. Nothing wrong with pulp, but itís not at all in the same class as literature.

But I digress. What I hated about these two books was not just the misogyny, but rather the casualness of it. For example, there is one character in the Aubrey / Maturin novels who claims to hate all women, and when pressed he says that he could never see them as equals because (paraphrased) "Like Jews, they have been beaten down for so long that they can only hate their oppressors". So this is a character motivated by his experiences with women, which have probably not been very promising, and one who even has a theory about why the women heís known act the way they do. As with many such theories in the Aubrey / Maturin novels, it is certainly far too enlightened for 1814, but I canít say I really mind.

Then thereís Shakespeare who, while always maintaining an undercurrent of sexism, reserves his most memorable hate speech for characters that one is not meant to sympathize with. At least, not entirely. When Hamlet goes off on his tirade at Ophelia, for example, it really says much more about Hamlet than about Shakespeare*. Itís a big scene, full of passion and hatred, and (probably) madness.

These Gene Wolf novels, however, arenít "about" misogyny or sexism at all, that stuff is incidental. Gene Wolf, who probably professes to love women (as in "some of my best friends areÖ") fills his novels with a passive kind of hate. This wasnít so bad in the first book because one of its manifestations was that no woman could possibly be important to the story, and so almost all of the characters were male. In the second book, however, female characters become more common, but still exist to be desired, to be screwed, to be capricious and petty, &c. &c. They are punished for being weak (the idea that they might be strong doesnít even occur), for not being beautiful, for being beautiful, and for wanting to be beautiful. I wonít go into too many details because I think itís sick.

What is interesting, however, is that without analysis, Iím sure this book seems quite tame. For example, one women is magically transformed into a "beauty", but her new body is only suited for sexóeven walking is difficult for her. Compared to American Psychoís flayings and mutilations (and long paragraphs that I skimmed and then repressed) equating "beauty" with over-done sexual fantasy in that way doesnít seem so bad, really. And yet, American Psycho was written by someone who was clearly very angry. The violence and misogyny are absolutely central to that text, and evoke extreme feelings of revulsion in the reader. Wolfís book, on the other hand, presents it all as just another part of the story, or not even a part of the story, but a part of the landscape. A female character getting beaten with a cane, or the male character casually hitting his lover (but "only with the flat of his hand") are no more important to the plot of the book than a description of a strangely curved tree, or the fact that another character wears a wide-brimmed hat.

Anyway, itís sad and casual and deeply sickening, and a great pity because apart from that, itís a fine couple of novels. Not, as I say, Virconium, but also much more accessible than they are.

While weíre on the subject of misogyny, I thought Iíd run my new political campaign by you. I passed a newspaper this morning that said, in perfectly neutral language, "States set stage for bans on abortion", which made me mad. Thereís a chance that the anti-abortion movement is largely racist (having too many children that cannot be supported is a good way to keep minorities in their place) but it also seems to be part of a movement to restore "chattel" status to women.

Do people really believe that itís all about "the culture of life"? Surely not, thatís too ridiculous. What would they do if there was a more far-reaching campaign, though? If anti-abortion is one of the first steps, how would they react to one of the later steps? How would people react to a nation-wide "Take Back the Vote" campaign?

    For millennia, everyone has agreed on the meaning of democracy. Since its very birth in Athens no one has questioned that "voting" is, by definition, "male citizens electing leaders". And yet, a short time ago (compared to the long, long history of this noble institution) a group of un-American radicals and activist judges tricked the public, and overturned thousands of years of tradition with their liberal interpretations of the law. But itís not too late to reverse this travesty!

    Now is the time to repeal womenís sufferage! Just look where itís gotten us--since women have been allowed to run the country there have been two world wars, a Nazi holocaust, and the Enron debacle. American leaders who have been elected by women (in part) have lied, cheated, and illegally invaded foreign countries. Sweden, another woman-run "democracy" has practically become Communist! Here in America, freedom of religion is a key value, and yet the Bible, the Talmud and the Koran all have clear positions about womenís role in government which these radicals refuse to acknowledge. Itís time to stop the madness, and Take Back the Vote!

*And Opheliaís character throughout probably says more about the Elizabethans than about Shakespeare, as well. As usual, I find it surprisingly difficult to tell how that author himself feels about women, or Jews and Moors, for that matter.
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