Monday, November 5, 2012

"53% of the Brotherhood of Man is the Sisterhood of Woman", and other thoughts by Ursula K. LeGuin

The opening line of Ursula K. LeGuin's “America Sf & the Other” sums up the tone of the article perfectly: “One of the great early socialists said that the status of women in a society is a pretty reliable index of the degree of civilization of that society. If this is true, then the very low status of women in SF should make us ponder about whether SF is civilized at all”.
Meet-the-author Q&A session;
Bookworks bookstore, Albuquerque, NM

Photo taken by Hajor, 15.Jul.2004.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Much of LeGuin’s article makes an argument on behalf of all Others, as she acknowledges that there are many types of Others, such as sexual, racial, class, and cultural. She goes on to insist that the patriarchal SF establishment is the tip of the iceberg, not only in literature, but in society, leading to a greater ill: women are portrayed (and not just in SF) as LeGuin describes them, “squeaking dolls subject to instant rape by monsters”.
Real people, as in neighbors, teachers, the poor, and the like are rarely ever present in SF (or at least they weren't present in LeGuin’s generation of SF). People of LeGuin’s SF are simply masses, described as ‘they’, never as the individuals that they are. Thus, the reader is indoctrinated, becoming desensitized to the needs of the un-described and faceless ‘they’ that are constantly harmed in SF stories.
Another point LeGuin makes about the masses in SF is this: “The people, in SF, are not people. They are masses, existing for one purpose: to be led by their superiors.” Imperialism is a turn the article takes for the better, going on to compare Galactic Empires with Roman Empires. Early pulp SF always made sure to conquer the alien invaders and to never portray them in a sympathetic light. The problem with that, in LeGuin’s view, is that SF has not really strayed from that old pulp notion that ‘the only good alien is a dead alien’, creating the sense that anything unknown =something not good (kill it, kill it!).
What’s worse is the creation of the godlike aliens of SF, that come to Earth with wisdom to better our sorry species. It may seem better to revere a being rather than kill it, but either way, LeGuin suggests that these two ideals only serve to distance human consciousness from one another. Or, to put it more eloquently, LeGuin states that with the distance from the other entity, either through hate or reverence, “You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And thus you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.”
The article ends with LeGuin surmising on the state of a male-led SF community, and her call to readers and writers of SF alike to end their longing for a return to Victorian standards, and instead to remember that “53% of the Brotherhood of Man is the Sisterhood of Woman”.  

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