Friday, October 30, 2009

A Hard SF Version of The Female Man?

The October 2009 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction features an article of Aqueductian interest by Shery Vint, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Scientists? Gender and Genetics in Gwyneth Jones's Life." The title, as many people will probably guess, is inspired by Linda Nochlin's 1971 essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" As Vint notes:

Ramone, a character in Gwyneth Jones's 2004 novel Life, makes a similar point about the talented women in history: what "these women had in common was the same as any women struggling to have power in a man's world. The eating disorders, the mysterious illnesses, the hysteria. If you were Albert Einstein and born female in the fifteenth century, you'd end up in some convent fasting yourself crazy, writing liturgical music, or reforming the Carmelites."

Life demonstrates the degree to which our institutions and education continue to shape women's and men's lives in distinct ways, focusing on the world of professional science.

Vint suggests that--
In many ways, the novel seems to be in a dialogue with a classic feminist text of gender identity, Joanna Russ's The Female Man, a work that explores the consequences of social institutions on female subjectivity in patriarchal society.

--and explores that dialogue, concluding

In some ways, Life seems to be a hard sf version of The Female Man, though its depiction of the continued psychological and material problems of institutionalized sexism gives us cause for lament instead of rejoicing. But we might more optimistically see Life as part of what Geoff Ryman has characterized as the mundane sf movement. Mundane sf begins from the premises [sic] that interstellar travel and communication with other species and alternative worlds are all unlikely for a variety of reasons, and that an investment in such fantasies can encourage a wasteful attitude toward Earth; it calls for sf to consider likely futures and to apply its speculations about technology and alternative humanities to possible futures materialized here on Earth. Jones's focus is on not only a possible genetic shift in gender identity but further on the politics of dominance and resource allocation that must be differently configured if feminization of the disencranchised is no longer the ideological axiom.

The NYRSF doesn't put its stuff on line, so if you're dying to read this, you'll need to buy a copy of it (for $4) from Dragon Press, P.O. Box 78, Pleasantville, NY 10570.

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