The Yin-Yang / Yang-Yin Binary

When we were first introduced to James Tiptree, on the first day of class, we were told that his fiction was “gender-bending.” And that held up well enough, until I discovered from reading the back cover of my book (at last), that he is a she. So, actually in a way the characterization sticks better than ever…but, oddly, at the same time the identity of the author makes the stories somewhat disappointinly stereotypical–at least when it comes to gender roles (I’ll admit, there’s nothing stereotypical about the plots, which are nothing short of shocking). In the stories I read, men were always portrayed as some sort of agressors. Whether for sex, blood, power, or some combination of those, men’s will to power always catalyzed the climax of the stories, and left the reader (me) feeling dazed and confused when the dust finally settled. Sadly, I felt men were reduced in the stories to grunting, sex-starved sociopaths. And therein was the stereotyping, for me. Oh! and the best part was that the women drove them to it. Men cannot help their libidinal drives, we learn in “Screwfly,” “Houston,” and “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.” If the object of their desire cannot be had/possessed, all hell literally breaks loose. So here again we see a power reversal which is not novel: men think they control women, but the moment women withold sex, it becomes clear who’s *really* in control. Or does it? That’s usually were the “revelation” stops. But I wonder if Tiptree isn’t going one step further in these stories. I wonder if gender relations aren’t being pushed a little more than meets the eye…That is, if there’s a sort of yin/yang theory at work, in which what’s actually being posited is a as-yet-undiscovered equitable or egalitarian bond between the sexes. Men clearly need women–not just for sex, but for family, companionship, and the creation of a soft corner around life’s otherwise harsh edges. And women need men for opposite reasons–for the creation of harsh edges around an otherwise ambivilant world (witness the stagnation of the all-female future in “Houston” and Ruth’s desperate need to escape her quotidian, single life in “The Woman Men Don’t See”). But, of course, yin/yang, while wonderfully zen, is a binary. And to me, this book simply reinforces gender relations, even if it inverts them at times, or villifies one sex at the expense of the other. In between the curvaceous plot lines, there’s still this idea that beauty is a young, blonde, slight female (e.g. Delphi from “Plugged In”), manliness is the boistrous redneck jock Bud from “Houston”, and all anyone wants in the end is a good lay. Disappointly, my feelings about the stories were perhaps best expressed by Ruth in \”The Woman Men Don\’t See\” when she says, \”Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us…When the next real crisis upsets [men], our so-called rights will vanish like–like that smoke\” (134). As I was trying to figure out the title of the collection, I wondered if Tiptree\’s vision wasn\’t in response to that. If \”her smoke rose up forever\”, then there is a strong definance of \’fate\’ insomuch as the smoke does not \”go quietly into that good night\” (to quote Dylan Thomas). But, how does such bouyant definance manifest itself? Do we have to exile ourselves like Ruth and her daughter, to an alien world, in order to truly be free? I\’m as in favor of 3rd places as the next RCID-err, but more and more SF is striking me as a copout. Well, we can\’t fix our problems here on earth so it\’s off we go! Into the wild! Surely things will be better there. But, so far, I haven\’t seen any other <em>topia</em> in the works we\’ve read which gives that satisfaction… (for kudos, <em>The Dispossessed </em>comes the closest. I did enjoy LeGuin\’s carefully rendered prisim of perspectives.)


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