*Sorry guys. Between the stress of the house closing and the vacation-that-wasn’t, I came down with the mother of all sinus infections, so I’m on a pot of coffee and STILL not functioning. I’m going back to bed.*
A BLAST FROM THE PAST JAN 2012 Blowing Steam — or The Counterfactuals Can Harm You
Okay, before I start this, I’m going to warn you I’m going to utter several heresies. It’s not anything I’ve never said before, but we’re so cocooned in a nest of false reality, that these things still have the power to shock.
When I was little, my mom had this gargantuan pressure cooker. I mean, I’ve never seen another one that size. Because mom tended to feed the entire extended family on weekends, I think she bought some of her cooking implements from restaurant supply stores.
I was terrified of the d*mn pressure cooker, because there were stories of people getting their faces blown up in them, and I’d run across the patio when mom brought it out, set it in the middle of the patio and opened the steam valve and let the steam escape, before she opened the pot.
You could hear that thing whistle a mile away, like an oncoming train.
That’s sort of what I’m doing today.
A con is a social situation and a wise man taught me that only a fool or a sadist tells the truth in social situations. My blog on the other hand is my blog, and if you guys aren’t used to the steam by now, I’ll eat my hat.
So this is my blog post to avoid blowing up in someone’s face and/or taking half the room with me.
Today at noon I’m scheduled for a panel on how YA has changed since Heinlein and Clarke wrote for Boy’s Life. Note that there, the “boys life” slipped in – not “the golden age” but “Boy’s Life” – pretty clever, uh? That tells you the direction they want this panel to go. Nifty, uh?
I don’t find this stuff amusing anymore. At the back of my mind, clanging like a funeral bell, the thought goes “What can’t go on, won’t.”*
And guys, let’s face it, this can’t go on. It just can’t. We made some joking comment to older son yesterday. You see, he had one more humanities requirement to fill and after despairing of anything interesting (no, they don’t have any classical history, which was his first and abiding love) he settled on Jane Austen. He likes Jane Austen. He grew up on Jane Austen.
We teased him that he would be knee-deep in girls in that class. Both boys looked at us like we were nutbars. They’re knee deep in girls in EVERY class. These are stem classes, and boys are maybe ¼ the class, at best.
I’d guessed it was somewhat like that – I’ve seen our friends’ SONS fall by the wayside since middle school, while their SISTERS, not notably more endowed with brains than themselves, had As. I’ve seen my own kids’ classes. It’s not just that the teaching style, the demands on timeliness, putting tab A in slot B etc are far more suited to girls learning styles, it’s that many of the teachers – almost all female – have an ax to grind, and their ax ALWAYS grinds on the boy side.
But I didn’t realize that college ratios in stem were that out of whack, too.
So, do let’s talk about YA fiction – and why I’m on this panel except to start a fight I don’t know. I don’t WRITE YA fiction, except for the novel I’m trying to re-write, and I haven’t read any specifically YA fiction since Harry Potter. (Pratchett doesn’t count. I’d read his laundry list.) – and Saturday morning cartoons, and commercials, and– DO let’s.
So in Heinlein’s time there were a lot of male main characters. Yeah, okay, fine. If you think that women and girl characters weren’t treated with respect, then truly, you haven’t read Heinlein. What you have read are the feminists ranting about Heinlein. NOT the same thing.
Oh, yeah, I forgot, Heinlein’s women wore aprons – therefore eeevil. (Not, in the fifties clothes were way more expensive, therefore aprons, and people CLEANED a lot more intensively than we do. Heck, I still clean that way, Look kids, I hate aprons for OTHER reasons – as in, they catch and bind, and I can never find one when I need it. But I buy my clothes at the thrift store, so I can afford to replace the $5 pairs of jeans when I can’t find any non bleach-splattered.)
When Marshall was three he came to me and told me he wanted to be a girl. I get alarm bells at the back of my head, the sort of incoming signal you get when you start going “Is this serious?” and “Is it something I did?” So, very carefully I ask him why, trying to look perfectly neutral. (And here you guys have to trust me, but Marshall, in both learning style and presentation and play was my very much boy son. In fact, he was the most MALE child I ever saw growing up.)
He answered quite easily, “Well, it’s just that girls get to do ALL the fun stuff.” So I sat down with him for Saturday morning cartoons. Yep. Girls have all the adventures. And boys are either dumb or evil, and sometimes both.
In fiction it’s not that naked (it is in commercials) but you get it nonetheless. 100 pound females take out armies QUITE routinely. (Oh, fine, but Athena is bio-engineered. And her husband is her equal. Deal.)
I have a friend who thinks this is good. She also thinks it’s a pendulum and this is the “revenge” for the times when “the boys got to have all the adventures.”
She is missing the point. She is missing the point by a mile and a half.
Those stories were REAL – i.e., they fit with the universe around us – and ours aren’t.
(I told you I was going to be a heretic. Oh, and the kid got over this impression. More on that later.)
Look, men and women are not the same. They can be equal before the law, but they can’t be EQUAL. They serve different functions in society, or in a sane society at any rate.
Or look at it another way: men and women were shaped by different evolutionary pressures. I remember reading that human ancestors first formed in bands because of pregnant females, who needed someone to look after them, and who couldn’t walk as far as the males. I don’t know if that’s true, (I read it in Scientific American) but considering how complicated our pregnancies are compared to most animals, it might very well be. Our young CERTAINLY require a lot more care and vigilance than most young. And for a longer time. It’s the price we pay for the brain.
What this means is that in general, the pregnant women and the old ones, and perhaps the juvenile males or the older males, stayed behind in camp and looked after the littles, while the men went out and hunted. We do know from primitive tribes, most women forage. The men hunt.
BOTH functions are essential. Yes, meat in the diet is important, particularly for large brains. BUT often the men come back empty handed, and it’s the women’s berries and tubers that allow the tribe to live to hunt another day.
Would a female who wanted to hunt be accepted? I understand in some tribes they are, at least while unmarried. BUT would it be practical to encourage all the females to hunt, and all the men to gather berries and look after toddlers?
Let’s leave aside for a moment the fact that violent exercise of that sort while pregnant might not be the smartest idea and that frankly you don’t FEEL like doing it. Also that women athletes, who run miles every day often stop ovulating.
Let’s instead look at me. I don’t think my husband is strange. He’s the best of husbands (trust me) and he adores the boys. He’s FAR more patient than I am with them. BUT when they were toddlers, he did not have the “psychic” bond. (It’s not really psychic, of course, but it might be instinctive.) What this meant was that – we shared an office – I’d get up from my desk, go running down the stairs, come back up and he’d be all like “What?” and I’d go “Marshall was about to overflow the bathtub again.” And he’d go “What?” And I’d have to say “Well, there was silence, then a very quiet sound of running water, which meant he was being stealthy. And he was breathing fast.” “How can you hear his breathing in another floor?” And I couldn’t explain. I just could do it. The bond slowly dissolved, over time. I mean, I still pay attention to them, but I’m not connected by a sensory tether.
The explanation might be as simple as women being naturally multi-taskers, while men concentrate better (hey, studies show this.) He concentrated better on his work, but I could hear the kids.
A tribe that sent the toddlers to the bush with a bunch of men would shortly have no toddlers.
In fact, maybe some tribes did this. It’s like my son and I the other day, trying to sort out why most people aren’t individualists. Heredity. Imagine the proto-tribe composed entirely of individualists. “Come on man, today we hunt mammoth.” “Who is gonna make me? You and whose army?” Yeah… if there is a tribe that did that, we’d NEVER know.
“But Sarah, we have the pill and all sorts of modern stuff, and women should be encouraged to break out of their traditional roles. Why should you be tethered to child raising? Let’s free that half of humanity. That’s why it’s important to present women as leaders and—”
Brother! You’re not listening.
You missed the part where we were SHAPED by evolution. Evolution is a funny thing. It takes a LOOOOOONG time. Oh, fine, okay, we’re self-tamed, and we might change ourselves faster than nature intended. It’s still not something you change between a generation or the next, or even two, or three or ten. NOT when evolutionary pressures have been changing male and female brains FOREVER and picking the most successful.
And then, even if that were your goal, you’re going about it ALL WRONG.
Heinlein’s women were accomplished and they were good at many things (if you read him you know he often showed them smarter at book learning and abstract thinking than men. They were also wives and mothers. It is their being wives and mothers that excites the hatred of our “feminists” who, of course, are the establishment voices and who control publishing and entertainment and even our news – either de facto or the screaming at being “offended.” To them the perfectly “liberated” woman is a male. Always.
And thereby hangs the inanity. First, our most “accomplished” women aren’t reproducing. Well known fact, and something that frankly I wrestle with everyday. Part of the reason we only have two kids was probably the high stress I put myself through trying to break into publishing in our best reproductive years. Women’s bodies aren’t BUILT for continuous high stress. (Men’s aren’t either, but weirdly their sperm production gets better. We stop ovulating, because, well… For men it’s “pass it on before you die.” For women it’s “We’re always threatened, no time to have babies we have to carry and share resources with.” We are not EQUAL. Not before nature.) Even women who are married (and a lot of our high achievers don’t have time for that, or lack the courage to buck the establishment) among our best performers, will rarely have kids or many kids. The women who ARE reproducing still and in droves are either from very traditional segments of the society or being supported by the government.
If your goal is to change evolutionary direction – brother, you’re doing it wrong.
But let’s go with your goal just being having a bunch of women in power, and a bunch of men as their toadies. I often thing that this is the goal of most boomer “feminists.”
I even understand them to an extent. Remember, I was raised in a country that was at least 20 years behind the US. My first big trouble was for refusing to clean up after my brother who was 10 years older. I thought he could take his own fargin banana peel to the trash can and it wouldn’t hurt him.
The fifties were an aberrant time because so many middle class women could afford to make no money, which meant middle class men were important as sole bread winners (no, this is not normal, historically, and partly had to do with affluence, part with societal dynamics.) That meant the culture in the forties and fifties here – and sixties and seventies in Portugal – picked up all sorts of junk about men being more “important.” No, not in fact, I know. There were all sorts of protections built in for women and girls, too. But when you’re a pre-teen you don’t see that. You just see boys lording it over you, and you want to make them eat dirt.
And a lot of the women ten to twenty years older than I never got over it. This is all about getting their own back, and never mind what it does to the world.
I’m going to be blunt and heretical again: men’s and women’s brains are not the same. There is a reason men engineers are more “natural” than women engineers. There is a reason, even now you find fewer women than men working in engineering, though we’re training more women than men. It’s not discrimination. It’s that men are better at spacial visualization.
There is a reason most nurses are female – women have been shaped through evolution to be better at perceiving non-verbal signs of distress and at dealing with the sick.
Now keep in mind that I’m not talking about ANY individual. This is “statistical likelihood.” The best nurse I ever had was a guy. And I’m so awfulbad at dealing with sick anything, that I even shy away from sick cats – while my older son (you know, looks like a Mafioso, is built like a brick sh*thouse) is a natural caretaker, gentle, attentive and kind to those who are sick, old or impaired, human or animal. (He comes by it naturally. My dad is like that too.)
No, I don’t think all women should be nurses or teachers. I also don’t think we should push all of them – or most of them – to be doctors or engineers and push the boys to the caring professions. And I PARTICULARLY don’t think we should shape our YA fiction that way – i.e. telling lies to the young.
And that’s what our YA has been doing.
Sometimes I wonder what future civilizations will think of this psychosis, (then I remember there won’t be any – at least not any adhering to our culture.) What will they think of 100 lb girls taking out men four times their size in books and movies. What will they think of all the girls who are great warriors and brilliant engineers while the man are doltish knuckle draggers.
What besides saying “couldn’t they tell reality isn’t like that?”
Which brings us back to Marshall. Once, when he was in fifth grade, we were shopping together (groceries. I hate shopping – deal – so I take my kids along as comedy relief. They hate it too, but they’re funny.) I don’t remember why I reminded him of his “I want to be a girl moment.” He looked at me and curled his lip. “Yeah, I got over it. I realized it wasn’t real. There was no relation between girls on TV and in books and real girls. Most real girls just want to talk about hair and clothes and go shopping. The fun ones will play space-games, but mostly they just want to treated like they’re a space-princess and rescued and stuff. I’ve yet to meet one who likes fighting and running.” (And here, kids – I LIKED fighting and running as a girl. Of course mostly I played with the boys, markedly increasing my female relatives’ white hair.)
But this is all a fantasy, because once Islam takes over, all the books from our time will be burned. After all, there’s no need for any reading outside the Koran.
What’s that you say? Well, it will be Islam or something very similar. Perhaps a new form of it.
What can’t go on WON’T. You can’t keep lying to the young. For one they notice. For another those who don’t, those who buy the culture lock, stock and barrel don’t reproduce.
If I thought Islamists were half as intelligent as they think they are, I’d assume they were investing in our publishing houses and pushing the crazy feminists, so that when the revolt comes – it will come. What can’t go on forever won’t – the boys would all be attracted to Islam and the girls all ready to lay down the burden of being disapproved for wanting to do what women want to do – have kids. Nest. Have a safe place to retreat to. – that they’d convert in droves.
I don’t think they’re that smart. BUT I do think a correction will come. And since it’s not a pendulum but a sort of crashing reckoning with reality, I think it will be terrible and might destroy us.
And no, that’s not what I want. What I want is Heinlein’s world, with maybe a little more flexibility – he was working for fifties publishers, after all – where, you know, women could be brilliant engineers and work from home while raising six kids (our tech will help with this, too.) And where men went out and had adventures, but usually in the service of women, children and civilization. It’s a lesson boys need.
If a little more flexibility is applied, and men can stay home with the kids and not be frowned at, all to the good (though please, G-d, have technology augment their ability to monitor toddlers.)
I want a world where you can be what you want to be, regardless of what’s between your legs and some desiccated woman’s revenge-agenda.
We can have it. All that’s standing between our world, where we’re turning men anti-social in droves, and making women so neurotic most teen girls I know are on heavy anti-psychotics (wouldn’t you be? Grrrrrl power, but the men are keeping you down. How do you even reconcile that?) is giving up on the stupid fantasies of stupid people.
And we might not. We might not correct in time to save the future.
But I’d like to. And now that YA doesn’t have to go through NYC, maybe we can.
Perhaps we should, at the very least, try.
How about some boys who are bluff, protective and adventurous? How about some women who are smart, capable and feminine?
Or how about YAs that have kids that seem real to you, without pushing anyone’s agenda? Isn’t that worth the trying?
*And we’ll leave for another day the fact that Heinlein’s day YA dealt with revolution, societal organization and other important issues, while ours deals with sparkling vampires. Mind you considering the wretched preparation – educational and social – we’re giving these kids, and the debt they’ll inherit, perhaps we don’t WANT them to learn revolution.
UPDATE: Credit where it’s due. The feminist stuff was NOT brought up. The idea that what is being written now is just as good was… and some of it is. Some of it appallingly bad, of course. All in all not a bad panel, but I took issue with the claim that freezing out sf (versus fantasy) is NOT a publisher thing. At least, I’d like someone to explain my numbers, otherwise. OTOH — hard sf doesn’t fly with kids, no. BUT it flies with precious few adults.