Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Linkage and Translation

There's an interesting essay at F&SF by Susan Elizabeth Lyons, called "Women Writing Science Fiction: Some Voices from the Trenches," which came about because Lyon's eight-year-old son wondered if he should read a book about a girl.

Lyons first fulminates specifically:
How can it be that the son of a feminist, a woman who shares a rough and ready equality with her husband, who works outside the home and shares in decision-making, could ask such a question in 2008?
One might note that perhaps the mental landscape of children is not as entirely created by parents as one might want to believe. Just because she is a feminist doesn't mean her son -- even at the age of eight -- will be.

(And his question isn't "Are women important," which is how Lyons seems to be taking it. His question is somewhere in the range of "is this right for me to read?" or "will I like this?" And that does have an individual aspect to it, as well as the more general cultural question of what it's appropriate for Person X to do.)

But then Lyons goes very general:
How is it that, in our modern world, which claims to believe in gender equality, a young boy of eight could feel it might be inappropriate for a boy to read a novel about a girl?
If she actually believes that she lives in a "modern world" which "claims to believe in gender equality," I would be greatly surprised; she's saying this for effect. But let me be blunt: the majority of the people in the world do not believe in gender equality, or anything close to it. The number of people in North America who believe in gender equality may be a majority, but I wouldn't bet on that.

Lyons goes on from that flight of rhetoric to ask specific questions of specific women actually working in the SF field...about a purported gender bias in SF. There doesn't seem to be any relationship between the cause and the effect here. Lyon's son -- affected by whatever societal factors, which certainly do not include the adult written SF field -- expressed doubt that a children's fantasy book about a girl was something he should be reading...and so Lyons decided to investigate whether adult SF is biased against women.

Wouldn't it make more sense for her to try to find out where her son got the idea that books about girls aren't for boys to read? Wouldn't that actually have something to do with what she was concerned about?

So Lyon's results are useful...but have nothing to do with her premise. There are some serious social-science studies about how boys grow up, though, if she wants to investigate those. And the responses to her questions, from about a dozen female writers, are varied and bring up many points to consider.

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