Sunday, May 18, 2008

I got your Utopian Vision Right Here

I finished grading my finals, and I put in my grades, and I have been having wandering the 'sphere and having me an episode.

Because what a bad semester this was, and what a rotten year the world is having, and what bad finals I had, and o o o o, I could go on.

Apparently I taught almost no one anything this semester. This is always so depressing. In one of my classes, where I swear I can remember explaining at length what feminism was and how to related to literature, and why it was so important to humanism and the Enlightenment experience in general, one of my smartest students, and yes, I swear, I swear to you this is an intelligent woman, she wrote in her final exam, the very first fucking line, well, she says, I am not a feminist myself, you know, because I don't hate men and I don't want them all to die....

I got another story rejected from yet another magazine, though this one sent me a really nice letter (we almost bought your bit of crap, see, but it was just not good enough, was it?), and mr. delagar is actually writing his dissertation, the bastard.

While brooding and sulking, I have been reading feminist blogs, because, you know, I don't feel quite bad enough; I came across this link where Dorothy Allison says interesting things about language and feminism -- go have a look, it's worth the read -- but one of the things she talks about is the first feminist work she read. It made me try to remember what my first feminist work was.

I wasn't always a feminist -- well, who is? No one is born a feminist, surely, so I should not get so blistering furious at those women in my classes because they haven't been enlightened yet. In fact, I clearly remember being fifteen or sixteen and reading that story by Robert Heinlein, Menace From Earth, where our heroine has her epiphany -- you remember: she is, like all the hero(ine)s in Heinlein's works, a brilliant young thing, able to blaze through every math course and knock through engineering problems with a flick of her little finger. Wants to design space ships when she grows up. But --alors! -- she's a girl!! Well, that won't stop her! She'll just be the bestest ever and they will have to hire her!

But she grows up and faces facts! No sense being the bestest ever if no one will hire her because she's a girl! She'll just, well, maybe she can be a stewardess instead! (Though in the end Heinlein has her marry her boyfriend and hints they will be designing spaceships together -- good thing he's there to be her daddy!) I remember reading this story and swallowing down its worldview whole. Yes, indeed. Them's the facts, ma'am.

My first feminist book was Joanna Russ's The Female Man. Do something for me, gentle readers: go from Menance from Earth to The Female Man sometime. Read the back to back. Just as a tiny exercise. Then look up cognative dissonance. Ai, I tell you. You will know what I felt at fifteen, with Russ's novel in my fist. Well, you probably remember it.

I was furious. What an evil book! Who could want women to be like that! That was -- that was-- that -- and not at all realistic!! Idiot, stupid, stupid book! Men weren't like that!

Then about six months I read it again.

Then I read it again.

Then I started reading other books -- not feminist books, mind you, because I don't think there were any other feminist books in my world yet: it would be another ten years before any of those showed up -- but I started reading other books through the lens of that book, and other books that were like that book, other books that kicked apart the world I had been living in: I started looking for that sort of book.

In a sense I still am.

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