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I has a feminist science fiction class!
A while ago, I proposed a feminist science fiction class at the university where I'm studying next semester. I didn't know if they'd actually accept it, as most of the women's literature classes focus on historical periods instead, but I thought it couldn't hurt to try.
They accepted it!
Next semester I will be teaching:The Left Hand of Darkness
, Ursula K. LeGuinWoman on the Edge of Time
, Marge PiercyThe Two of Them
, Joanna RussHer Smoke Rose Up Forever
, James Tiptree, Jr.Bloodchild and Other Stories
, Octavia ButlerDaughters of Earth
, ed. by Justine Larbaleister (this is a collection of both stories and critical essays about the stories).
I know some of the supplementary material I'll be adding to the class, like the two essays LeGuin wrote about gender in The Left Hand of Darkness
and her short story "Winter's King," set in the same world. I'm looking forwards to finding more essays, well-written blog entries, and so on (though the class is mostly about older SF, I'd like to encourage my students to take a look at the online feminist SF community).
If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be more than happy to look at them.
Tags: feminist sf class
I'm probably the stupidest person in the world but: why is Left Hand of Darkness feminist? It doesn't have any female characters and it even has a society which doesn't have any women. Or is it enough that the writer is a woman?
Otherwise, excellent news! Congrats!
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 12:32 am (UTC)|| |
It has characters that are male or female depending on circumstances. (If you say that it doesn't have any female characters, you also have to argue that it doesn't have any male characters, either, except for Genly Ai, the male outsider). In effect, it gets rid of sex most of the time and then sees what happens to gender roles. One tenet of some kinds of feminism is that gender is socially constructed, not biological in the way that sex is; Le Guin describes this as her attempt to step beyond gender and see what happens.
"(If you say that it doesn't have any female characters, you also have to argue that it doesn't have any male characters, either, except for Genly Ai, the male outsider)"
Yup, I fully agree with that.
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)|| |
Something a bit earlier, from a writer who's sometimes considered anti-feminist; from the Internet Speculative Fiction Data Base (http://isfdb.org
Title: Delilah and the Space-Rigger
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
* The Past Through Tomorrow, (date unknown, Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, 0-441-65304-9, $5.50, 830pp, pb, coll)
* The Green Hills of Earth, (1951, Robert A. Heinlein, Shasta, #51-8740, $3.00, 256pp, hc, coll) Cover: Hubert Rogers
* The Robert Heinlein Omnibus, (1958, Robert A. Heinlein, Sidgwick & Jackson, hc, coll)
* A Robert Heinlein Omnibus, (1966, Robert A. Heinlein, Sidgwick & Jackson, L1.50, hc, omni)
* The Past Through Tomorrow, (1967, Robert A. Heinlein, G. P. Putnam's, hc, coll)
* The Past Through Tomorrow, (1967, Robert A. Heinlein, SFBC, 0-7394-1051-2, 785pp, hc, coll) Cover: Bruce Jensen
* The Green Hills of Earth, (1967, Robert Heinlein, Pan, X679, 3/6, 189pp, pb, coll) - [VERIFIED]
* Wide-Angle Lens: Stories of Time and Space, (1980, Phyllis R. Fenner, William Morrow, 0-688-22241-2, $8.95, 223pp, hc, anth)
* The Green Hills of Earth, (Nov 1987, Robert A. Heinlein, Baen, 0-671-65608-2, $3.50, 270pp, pb, coll) Cover: John Melo
* The Past Through Tomorrow, (1988, Robert A. Heinlein, Ace, 0-441-65304-9, $5.95, 830pp, pb, coll) - [VERIFIED]
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 01:47 am (UTC)|| |
I haven't read enough Heinlein (really, I don't think anything except Friday and Stranger in a Strange Land) to use him in a class. It's something to keep in mind for the future, though. Thanks!
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 01:48 am (UTC)|| |
I don't tend to like her. I think the books I chose are doing interesting things with gender, its constraints and potentialities, and, where applicable, anger. A book like Tepper's Singer From the Sea was far too shrill and polemic for me.
I want to transfer to your university now (no matter how impractical that actually IS....)
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 01:48 am (UTC)|| |
Well, rest assured that there will be updates on how the class is going!
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 01:57 am (UTC)|| |
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 01:59 am (UTC)|| |
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 02:14 am (UTC)|| |
Ei! That sounds like an utterly fascinating class! Both to be teaching and to be attending. ('fraid I can't offer you any suggestions, but I do want to stress that it sounds like an utterly fascinating class. I wish my university would do something like that.)
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 07:36 am (UTC)|| |
Thank you! I'm kind of surprised they let me teach it, as it's definitely not the usual thing. But maybe the very difference of the concept intrigued them.
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 02:49 am (UTC)|| |
Whatever reason they accepted it for, they did and that's the important thing. I hope you'll get some great student responses to the course as well!
*pulls up a chair to watch*
I've only read the first two (and found Woman on the Edge of Time bloody depressing . . .), but your class's reactions will be interesting.
And I still wanna get you to read the Holdfast Trilogy. ;-)
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 07:35 am (UTC)|| |
I think that book probably will depress my students (assuming that LeGuin's genderless society does not freak them out before then). But then, since this is a class that a lot of people take just to fulfill the "intensive writing requirement" my university has, a lot of them will be coming in with no background in women's literature/feminism at all, let alone these concepts. That is why the first class is going to be a lecture with basic concepts like the difference between gender and sex, etc. :) I can prepare them a little.
The Holdfast trilogy is Charnas, right? I've read the first two! Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines. They were excellent. I haven't acquired the third one yet, but am waiting for it to ship.
Actually, four of them (I can't count, obviously). You still need The Furies and The Conqueror's Daugher, then -- but yay! You've read the first two, and seen the realism of the world Charnas builds!
I remember reviewing The Furies on my "vanilla" website (under my real name), which provoked a response direct from the author herself, remarking on how hard it had been to write.
Geez, they haven't yet even ever heard about the difference between gender and sex? This should make for some interesting classroom tales, though I hope we're not all chipping in to pay for your medication by the end. ;-)
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 02:29 am (UTC)|| |
Yep, The Furies is the one I'm waiting on at the moment.
I found it fascinating. I didn't expect the level of brutality, maybe because most post-apocalyptic novels I've read assume that many more animals and much more technology survived. (Well, and many more humans, too). I liked Motherlines better, though, because I loved the intricacy of the Riding Woman culture.
Some of my students might have heard of the concepts. It's just not something I can take for granted.
Yeah, it's pretty horrific. I suspect part of what Charnas was doing with the first book was to build the most vicious, horrible patriarchal society she could and still see if she could make it work (and if she could avoid focusing simply on how horrible and evil it was). For the record, I think raising the female children in pits 24/7 for several years would create non-functional human beings, useless for anything -- assuming they even survived such treatment. But for the most part, it's scarily plausible.
Don't know how much and how many spoilers you want, but in The Furies, the post-collapse patriarchal Holdfast culture is not quite as vicious. It no longer has the means or the organization to be.
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 06:02 am (UTC)|| |
Were you able to find Kate Wilhelm's The Clewiston Test, in connection with Russ's The Two of Them?
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 07:33 am (UTC)|| |
No. Other than the one story that's in Daughters of Earth, I haven't read any Kate Wilhelm. What's the connection to The Two of Them?
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 11:53 am (UTC)|| |
I've already brought this up here
, a few months earlier, when you first posted about the book.
In The Two of Them
, Russ explicitly references Wilhelm's novel. On page 142 of my Women's Press edition, Irene says to Ernst: "Give me the Clewiston Test when we get back to Center; see if I'm mad."
Anne Clewiston, the title character and protagonist of Kate Wilhelm's novel, published a few years before Russ's, is a scientist whose sanity is put into doubt by her husband, during a period where she's forced to be dependent on him (while she's recoving from severe injuries). It's *really* really interesting to see the dialogue between the two books. They both describe the collapse of a partnership between a woman and a man, when she finds out that she can't trust him, but in very different ways. And the whole theme of captivity and insanity, for the animal test subjects in Wilhelm's book, and Aunt Dunya in Russ's book. And the political dynamics at work when captors ascribe insanity to captives.
You really should take a look at that book.
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)|| |
Thank you for the recommendation. At least it would probably make some interesting context for the Russ book. (I'm not able to put it on the class list both because I'm sharply limited in the number of full-length books I can put on syllabus and also because it looks to be out-of-print; the only reason I didn't use The Female Man instead of The Two of Them is that it really didn't as though my students would be reliably able to get hold of a copy).
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 09:53 am (UTC)|| |
At least it would probably make some interesting context for the Russ book.
It's a shame that it's out of print. I don't even have a copy of The Clewiston Test myself -- I'd read one I borrowed via an inter-library loan. If you can find a copy, maybe you could hand out a paragraph or two to your students. Perhaps from Anne's husband's point-of-view, to a comparison to Ernst's point of view. I'm sorry I can't give you any quotes from it.
Another intertextual connection would be the Suzette Haden Elgin short story "For the Sake of Grace" whose premise Russ borrowed for her novel -- I haven't had a chance to read it, though, because it's even harder to find.
But I'm rather happy for The Two of Them to have been your choice, if only by default, because it makes a change from the singular focus on The Female Man that usually leaves the rest of her work in shadow. (ObHow To Suppress Women's Writing...)
That's pretty cool! So American unis let students teach too?
-- jedi_amara (LJ)
(IJ needs to fix its coding so it doesn't think LJ OpenIDs are IJ users...)
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)|| |
I'm studying for my Ph.D., so I'm a graduate student. They don't usually let regular undergraduate students teach courses.
|Date:||December 5th, 2007 05:52 am (UTC)|| |
They tend to be special cases, but a good student can usually manage it. :)
In my program, the tech writing department shifted so it had their graduate students in charge of classes.
Their focus had changed to 'teaching technical writing' rather than the industry-focused perspective found in several other colleges.
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 09:53 am (UTC)|| |
This is outstanding! Congrats to you (and your students--what a great course this will be! Wish I could take it :-) *throws confetti*
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 02:28 am (UTC)|| |
"The Handmaid's Tale", by Margaret Atwood.
"Cordelia's Honor", by Lois McMaster Bujold
Frankly I found "The Left Hand of Darkness" to be intensely tedious, and think LeGuin's "The Tombs of Atuan" or "Tehanu" would be better selections from that author -- if only you were teaching a scifi/fantasy class instead of just scifi.
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 02:24 am (UTC)|| |
Well, I think we're evenly matched, there, because I found The Handmaid's Tale to be intensely tedious in turn. I think Tehanu's ending is extremely weak, even though I like most of the book better than I did when I first read it. And I wouldn't want to use the later books of a series without using the first one, even if I were teaching a mixed SF/F class.
Cordelia's Honor never struck me as feminist SF in the same way the other works are.
Oh I didn't say that "The Handmaid's Tale" wasn't tedious too; just that for some reason it seems to be mentioned every time feminism is juxtaposed with science fiction (usually in the same breath as "Left Hand of Darkness").
Anyway, while the first book of Cordelia's Honor is not quite as blatantly feminist (though it has its moments), the second book has more meat in that regard. The book has a strong, proactive female protagonist, who (shock! horror!) actually becomes pregnant and is concerned primarily with matrimonial issues (i.e. the survival and health of her child) without becoming weak (which is a break from female characters who have to mimic male warriors in order to be 'strong'). There is also the clash of a gender-egalitarian person with a patriarchal society, which generates some interesting friction and insights. Also, there is the notion of uterine whatshamacallems, and their role in changing society towards gender equality. Finally, there is some rather interesting commentary on how sometimes rapists can be victims too....that should inspire some controversy and debate!
Also its just a fun book.
Gah, I meant to say "maternal" instead of "matrimonial"....
|Date:||November 21st, 2007 11:27 pm (UTC)|| |
I'm not sure if this meets the standards of 'feminist,' but I'd reccomend Jennifer Government by Max Barry. It's really attacking the selfish inherent in corporations, but it also has an extremely equal view of men and women. It's also very funny and cleverly written, so it's worth reading anyway.
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 02:25 am (UTC)|| |
Unfortunately, I've tried to read that one and really didn't like the style it was written in.
|Date:||November 22nd, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)|| |
No Mary Shelley's Frankenstien? At my university that would have been like required. I had it in like 4-5 classes.
|Date:||June 1st, 2009 01:12 am (UTC)|| |
How is Frankenstein feminist?
|Date:||November 23rd, 2007 09:20 am (UTC)|| |
Congratulations on getting permission to teach the class! That's marvelous!
I recommend "Even the Queen" by Connie Willis. Here (http://scifipedia.scifi.com/index.php/Even_the_Queen) is some information about the short story, including:
"Willis wrote "Even the Queen" as a tongue-in-cheek response to criticisms that her work does not address women's issues... the story has been widely controversial, particularly among feminist science fiction readers."
|Date:||November 24th, 2007 05:35 am (UTC)|| |
I suppose you're not going to tell us the name of your university? Because, no joke, I would consider transferring there.
Incidentally, have you read S.L. Viehl's StarDoc series? I don't think it would work well for this kind of class (far too playful), but she did some interesting things with gender in a couple of her later books.
That's just about ten kinds of awesome.
I doubt A Song of Ice and Fire would count as feminist, even if it's a semi-realistic depiction of not only women in quasi-medieval times (Cersei, Catelyn, Sansa, Dany), but how women would defy gender roles in such a society (Brienne, Arya). But most of the protagonists are male, and sadly, it's my only suggestion.
COngratulations, and good choices! I would love to atted your class!
For upcoming seasons I would like to suggest Joan Sloncewski´s "A Door to ocean"
Also Elanor Arnasson`s "A Woman of the Iron People"and "Ring of Swords" Both deal with alien races and their reproductive habits (and biology)which deeply mark their societies and the role of women in them. "A Woman.." tells the tale of a female alien, humanoid, who contravened her people´s habits and remained with her male beyond the mating season. Of course, she is exiled, and while wandering she meets a n anthropologist from earth who has just arrived in an exploration spaceship and is studying the planet´s population.
In "Ring of Swords" you see an apparently all-male race of aliens bent on looking for enemies across the galaxy on whom to vent their warlike tendencies. Truth is that back at home it is women who rule. Women are the leaders, politicains,people of power, and they consider males too irresponsible and aggresive to be kept close to women and children. It depicts a society in which the worst insult is "product of an ill-considered insemination" for intercourse between male and female is forbidden by law, and disgusting to all...except secrent deviants. Their society is interstingly shown through the eyes of a human prisoner (male)who now works for them as interpreter and a human biologist (female) who is among the team involved in setting up a truce between earth and the aliens. I liked them both.
I'd like to suggest the colllected work of Robin Hobb. Seeing as this is for a feminist class, though... the Liveship books would be more relevant, as they feature more female characters.
(Books are The Liveship Traders, The Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny)
|Date:||September 2nd, 2008 08:05 pm (UTC)|| |
Picking up a few of these. Looking forward to see how they read.
|Date:||June 1st, 2009 01:08 am (UTC)|| |
It'd probably be worth at least mentioning some of the really early proto-sci-fi, like Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland. (Though I'll admit I can't think of anything else early enough that's both feminist and sci-fi).
Otherwise, sounds very interesting! Do give us a few reviews of how it goes
|Date:||June 1st, 2009 01:10 am (UTC)|| |
(By the way, I haven't actually read Herland: The premise (that everything would be better if women were in control) is... one of the more annoying.) Still, if you're doing an academic study, covering the development is probably required, to some extent.
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