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Jul 25 2012

How not to respond to a Rethuglican

Ugh. Witness thuggish wingnut James Taranto’s comment on the killings in Colorado.


I hope the girls whose boyfriends died to save them were worthy of the sacrifice.

Perhaps he’d like to judge? Is he going to ask this question of every case where a person puts themselves in harm’s way to defend a loved one? What criterion is he going to use to define “worthy”?

That’s a repulsive sentiment he’s expressing, and seems to reflect a lack of empathy and an inability to imagine any kind of sacrifice without hauling out a ledger sheet to calculate its value. Not nice.

But then I read one of the first comments on the article at dKos highlighting Taranto’s sliminess. And I was ugh’ed out again!

I was prepared for a worthy rant. Apologies, should have known better. If another nitwit does something similar, refer them to Heinlein. Heinlein wrote “anycountry that does not place women and children first” as part of it’s values is a unethical country. (I am paraphrasing.)

Women take nine months to make a baby. Men take minutes. That fact prompted Heinlein’s writing.

Heinlein???!? Jebus, that man was an unrepentant sexist pig himself; I recoiled from his later books when I was 15, because they were too crudely horny and repellently attached to sexist stereotypes. When I was 15, and juiced on testosterone myself! Also, I was even then learning to dislike what would become a typical libertarian mindset.

But to respond to a challenge to women’s worth by declaring the importance of their baby-making abilities…talk about missing the whole point.

113 comments

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  1. 1
    ischemgeek

    ^ This.

    Being a fan of sci fi myself, I’ve had countless people recommend Heinlin to me. I’ve tried. I really have. But I can’t like his stuff. For the same reason I can’t like a lot of authors who are recommended to me as “classic” authors in not just that genre: I just can’t enjoy fiction that relegates my entire gender to four or five tired stereotypes.

  2. 2
    timberwoof

    My friends and I lauded Heinlein in high school, but I soon grew tired of him. I remember a scene where someone detected that some men were not right in the head because they didn’t react to a female character’s bodacious tatas (my sister’s term). I did not react as expected either … and a few years later I figured out why. There was a time when only a heretic would questioning the godhood of Heinlein, but that too has changed. Plenty of better writers have come along since then.

  3. 3
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Well, lookee here. I was just going to link to the Wonkette post about the same story over on TET. They’re doing an admirable job of cataloging the post-massacre asshole statements.

    Women take nine months to make a baby. Men take minutes. That fact prompted Heinlein’s writing.

    So… the women who were saved are only worthy if they intend to/are capable of having babies?

    I’m glad my worth is totally tied up in my fetus. I was getting exhausted acting like a really really real person all day!

  4. 4
    David Marjanović

    Piling on the Heinlein hate! With comparisons to Clarke and Asimov.

  5. 5
    Alverant

    I enjoyed Starship Troopers and read I Will Fear No Evil and Friday in high school. Looking back the female main characters did get pregnant and were subservient to men. In IWFNE the only way the female lead could have an orgasm was by being spanked. I didn’t realize it then, but those two books had some bad attitudes towards women. Small wonder I could only get part way into “the cat who walks through walls” before quitting. I believe it was the point when two characters got married just so they had some legal advantage (and after having sex where she was amazed at the size of his penis).

  6. 6
    PZ Myers

    They had bad attitudes towards human beings.

  7. 7
    michaeld

    And I’ll admit I hind Heinlein a bit of a guilty pleasure. In its defense his books at least have a lot of variety of ideas throughout his books having written pretty much every big type of scifi (colonization, space wars, etc). At the same time I totally understand people that can’t stand his views. He was born in 1907 and it shows at times (particularly with women though he did sneak in a bunch of minority characters). The libertarian views of his later books author surrogates are also something you have to work around. But anyway it’s not what I would go to for refuting jack ass politicians.

  8. 8
    Snoof

    What really soured Heinlein for me was one of his early works, an essay about nuclear warfare written in the 50s. I was prepared for depressing statistics, but I wasn’t prepared for the glee as he described how all the people who _didn’t_ listen to him would die horribly.

    It felt uncomfortably like revenge porn.

  9. 9
    Louis

    Audley,

    I’m glad my worth is totally tied up in my fetus. I was getting exhausted acting like a really really real person all day!

    SILENCE INCUBATOR!

    Peepee Havers are talking.

    Louis

  10. 10
    simonsays

    I bet the MRA headline would be: “Feminists Use Innocent Men as Human Shields”

  11. 11
    mythbri

    I hope that all of those electrons that sacrificed themselves in bringing James Taranto’s message to Twitter thought he was worth it.

  12. 12
    Louis

    Simonsays, #10,

    Check Man Boobz, it’s already been documented.

    Louis

  13. 13
    ManOutOfTime

    Perhaps he’d like to judge? Is he going to ask this question of every case … What criterion is he going to use to define “worthy”?

    That was my intiial reaction: he’s a journalist (or whatever), right? Why not do some legwork, interview these girls, determine their value, and then weigh that against what he finds out about the deceased boys, and let us all know what he finds. Can’t be that hard, but probably significantly harder than farting off a dumbass tweet natch.

    In a subsequent tweet, he invited tweeps to compare his comment to the statement l(paraphrasing) “I hope America is worthy of the sacrifices of her troops.” Well, the big difference of course is as an American, of course you are entitled to ponder the latter statement. It’s actually an important part of a public discussion about war. The former is meaningless applied to private people because it’s none of his frigging business. Beside being, you know, a dick thing to say about innocent people dealing with the double whammy of a near-death experience and loss of a loved one.

    And this piece of shit is with the WSJ? You don’t say …

  14. 14
    feralboy12

    I will credit Heinlein as one of the first writers to point me toward some of the really objectionable bits in the Bible and starting me on the road towards atheism.
    But I lost interest about the time Lazarus Long went back in time and screwed his mother.

  15. 15
    Arkady

    The sad thing is, Heinlein even seemed to show the occasional flashes of understanding sexism (thinking of a scene in To Sail Beyond the Sunset, where a female executive is assumed to be a secretary), which in some ways makes the fails worse. I still enjoy a lot of his books but often skip over the cringe/rage-worthy sections.

  16. 16
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Why not do some legwork, interview these girls, determine their value, and then weigh that against what he finds out about the deceased boys, and let us all know what he finds.

    Uh, no. I don’t want him anywhere near those women. You’ve seen what kind of shit he’s written, I’m afraid he might tell them something in that vein.

  17. 17
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    Heinlein works better in hindsight, I guess. Lots of interesting ideas, lots of ridiculously bad characters and interpersonal situations.

  18. 18
    simonsays

    @Louis: Thanks for the tip. You are right! Sure enough (emphasis mine):

    “But I think we can all agree that men generally make great meat shields.”

  19. 19
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Oh, boy. I predict this thread will eventually erupt in the NERDRAEG of HEINLEIN IS TEH BESTEST THING EVAR U POLITICALLY CORRECT MANGINA!!

    Just about everybody I’ve encountered who’s been a big Heinlein fan has had, shall we say, some major blind spots. Some bigger than others. Also, who was it who said of him, “Bob can write just about anything, but sometimes I’d wish he’d take his hand out of his pants while he’s writing”?

    I should point out, though, to Ischemgeek that s/f has gotten a lot more diverse than the “classic” books in recent years, in terms of both author and plot.

  20. 20
    robro

    What in the world could this ass mean by “worthy of the sacrifice?” Join a convent?

    Also, there are several adult women among the dead, and probably many more among the injured (including the mother of the 6 year old girl who died). Suppose any of them were helping someone to safety when they were shot.

  21. 21
    Inaji

    Women take nine months to make a baby.

    Ugh. Not all women have children, fuckwit. Also, whether or not a woman does have a child has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she is a human being who has worth, not counting the uterus.

    Christ, what a slimebag.

  22. 22
    alasdhair

    I rather enjoy some Heinlein.

    If only for the sensation of relief you get slamming the book down at the end saying “Life is just not like that!”

    Perhaps ironically, according to Asimov, Heinlein’s political views changed rather sharply when he changed wives. Sadly, for the worse.

  23. 23
    Inaji

    feralboy12:

    But I lost interest about the time Lazarus Long went back in time and screwed his mother.

    Yeeeaaaaah, that was some serious WTF, even for Heinlein.

  24. 24
    Rip Steakface

    I love sci-fi, but I’d rather play Knights of the Old Republic than read Heinlein.

  25. 25
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    I read I Will Fear No Evil and The Chronicles Of Lazarus Long when I was fifteen.

    I pity my teenaged self.

    I have not read anything else by him in about thirty years.

  26. 26
    robro

    I just can’t grok the Heinlein mystique. I was attracted to Stranger in a Strange Land in the mid-70s because of Leon Russell’s song. It’s obvious Christian metaphor appealed to me (I was just out of that cocoon), but the puff-ball Martian females and human women as generally air heads, and all females as sex toys, left me cold.

    The cult like reaction of some, even my own, was also troubling. I’ve wondered if Heinlein had visions of imitating L. Ron Hubbard. Or perhaps the book was a thinly veiled account of Hubbard’s new religion.

    In any case, I left that religion behind, too.

  27. 27
    tyrannical

    Expecting men to sacrifice themselves to protect women is misogynistic.
    Understandable from an evolutionary standpoint, as one male may impregnate many females of it’s species. Game animal management follows the same practice by only allowing hunters to kill bucks.

  28. 28
    hieropants

    Yeah I remember when I read that story about the woman who died protecting her baby during an earthquake my first thought was THAT BABY BETTER BE A GODDAMN PRODIGY OR SOMETHING, HOPE IT WAS WORTH IT LADY.

  29. 29
    Fred Salvador, Onion Jumbler

    Understandable from an evolutionary standpoint, as one male may impregnate many females of it’s species. Game animal management follows the same practice by only allowing hunters to kill bucks.

    I assumed people went after stags because there’s more meat on them, ergo they’re worth more money. Shows what I know. About a lot of things.

    “But I think we can all agree that men generally make great meat shields.”

    We’re also worth more money than women if you shoot us and take us to a butcher’s shop.

  30. 30
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    Ugh..one of my “nice guy” friends was always telling me how wonderful Heinlein’s novels were. I never could finish one. Blah!

  31. 31
    truthspeaker

    Also, “Starship Troopers” is the biggest load of war-glorification propaganda it’s ever been my displeasure to read half of.

    Some sci-fi fans think he’s the shit, but even his non-sexist stuff does nothing for me.

  32. 32
    Menyambal

    As a young person, I enjoyed the science-fiction aspects of Heinlein’s juvenile books, and even most of his characters. Later, though, it got weird.

    I still being totally befuddled by one of his later essays where he recounted a woman getting her foot caught in a railroad track. Her husband or boyfriend stayed with her, trying to free her, until both were killed by the approaching train. Heinlein described that as simply his duty, and highly praised a hobo who had jumped in to help and also kept trying until he died. Apparently that was a man’s purpose in the world. (I felt bad for wondering why they didn’t jump at the last second.)

    Women, in some of his later books, simply wanted to get pregnant by the hero. Heinlein was the first to describe what has since been called “spermjacking”, with the women working at getting pregnant despite the man’s efforts to avoid that.

  33. 33
    cyberCMDR

    I must admit I grew up reading Heinlein, and a number of his works shaped my views of religion. He also provided a number of quotes I drag out periodically (e.g. “Man is not a rational animal, man is a rationalizing animal”). Perhaps if he should be recognized for anything, it would be his impact in popularizing science fiction.

    The rest of it, such as his views on biological imperatives and the use of guns as a sign of manhood/citizenship, I didn’t think much about. I imagine that the time he grew up in (going through the Depression and two world wars) left its mark on his world view. Of course, there are a lot of things I didn’t think about through my life that I’ve only recently become aware of, such as the endemic misogyny in our culture. A sign of privilege, I guess.

    Damn it PZ, are you going to make me question everything I took for granted or enjoyed in my life? I liked Heinlein! It’s as bad as missionaries coming into an area and informing the natives that their lifestyle was sinful and they had to change. Worse, because you use reason and logical arguments! How can I ignore that?

  34. 34
    Inaji

    Game animal management follows the same practice by only allowing hunters to kill bucks.

    Go take a short hike off of a tall cliff, Cupcake. Ugh.

  35. 35
    davec

    eh, Heinlein’s ok, but I prefer Stella, Spaten, Becks … nevermind.

  36. 36
    QueQuoi

    Do misogynist assholes like Taranto realize that comments like this, while trying to devalue women, take away the agency and choices of the men who died as well? Just more evidence that feminism is better for humanity overall.

  37. 37
    DLC

    My memories of Heinlein’s works are different than yours, I guess.
    I have to say, I was mystified at some of the ridiculous ideas he put forth in some of his later books. I offer no defense of them.

    The proper response to the tweet (I hate the shit out of that word) captioned above : “Worthy” ? WTF ? who are you to fucking judge, asshole. STFU and STFD. “

  38. 38
    mythbri

    You know, I actually loved Starship Troopers when I first read it. I thought it was a brilliant, Poe-ish take-down of military culture and jingoism.

    And then I found out why Heinlein wrote it. Color me embarrassed!

  39. 39
    Fred Salvador, Onion Jumbler

    Do misogynist assholes like Taranto realize that comments like this, while trying to devalue women, take away the agency and choices of the men who died as well?

    I don’t imagine “thinking” has much to do with the viewpoints of Taranto’s ilk.

  40. 40
    CT Chimako.27

    Heinlein works better in hindsight, I guess. Lots of interesting ideas, lots of ridiculously bad characters and interpersonal situations.

    :: le sigh :: Improbable Joe, why do you always fucking say what I was going to say? Can I have my brain back please? I have code to write. /obligatory smiley :)

  41. 41
    Randomfactor

    I remember a scene where someone detected that some men were not right in the head because they didn’t react to a female character’s bodacious tatas (my sister’s term).

    Those particular men were disguised aliens. Got a better example?

    Disclosure: I loved and still love “Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” Have read most of Heinlein’s stuff once. Heinlein was ahead of in some ways but still a product of his time, which was the EARLY 20th century.

  42. 42
    Randomfactor

    For what it’s worth, I decided while reading “Number of the Beast” that it was Heinlein showing he could laugh at himself. He’s always been accused of having stock characters–towards the end of the book his own CHARACTERS are mistaking each other for someone else.

    I finished “To Sail Beyond the Sunset.” Barely.

  43. 43
    dsmwiener

    First – RAH was a product of his time, just like Edgar Rice Burroughs. That being said, I really loved his young adult novels, such as Starman Jones, Between Planets, Have Space Suit Will Travel. And many of his later novels until he went off the rails with Lazarus Long and the crap after that. Oh – and his short stories are still great: By His Bootstraps? Classic. Citizen of the Galaxy?

    Don’t throw the baby out with bath water, and keep some perspective. Plus, IIRC, he had some circulatory disorder in his later years that kinda affected his work.

    Like any other author, I really look at each novel, and not the author. The books should stand on their own, and many of his still do. In fact, I’ve read about 10 of his best to my kids over the last several years and they ate them up.

  44. 44
    jthompson

    @tyrannical: No one is expecting men to act as meat shields. They chose to act as meat shields, and good on them for their courage.

    @Caine: Until I hit that line, I assumed he was joking. It’s so bad I didn’t even know how to respond to it. I think you got it about right.

  45. 45
    Paul

    Those particular men were disguised aliens. Got a better example?

    The fact that they identified aliens has absolutely no bearing on the observation that the author considered it a valid line of inference that “man not interested in breasts, must be an alien”. The example is fine unless you have a better complaint about it (I say, not having read that particular book).

  46. 46
    mcwaffle

    The real news here is that PZ’s over on the GOS (Great Orange Satan) aka the Daily Kos. I saw that same comment over there and had the same reaction.

  47. 47
    grignon

    Clearly those who died thought they were worthy. I’ll take their judgement over that of a pus-brained hack.

  48. 48
    Moggie

    mythbri:

    You know, I actually loved Starship Troopers when I first read it. I thought it was a brilliant, Poe-ish take-down of military culture and jingoism.

    That would be Verhoeven’s cheesy “Nazis in spaaace” version. I’m kind of grateful to the book for making that movie possible.

  49. 49
    otrame

    Heinlien was a man of his time. Yes, he wrote what we consider misogynist shit. He also wrote in outrage that his mother, according to him the smartest, most compassionate human being he ever met, could not vote until she was in her 40s or 50s (I think–roughly that time anyway). He did not have the advantage of a culture that nominally (only nominally) avoids sexism. Heinlein had his faults, but overwhelming misogyny is not one of them. I am old enough to remember how much I liked the way he wrote women when I was a teenager, compared to most writers of the time. They were not brainless hussies or brainless cows. Were they treated as perfect equals? No. Was the importance of women as bearers of children over stressed? You bet. Was the underlying misogyny of his culture evident in his works? Sure.

    He also said

    A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

    Not exactly sexist. The truth is if you are going to avoid all literature that is sexist, you are going to have to avoid all literature before about 1970 and a very high percentage of literature since then.

    By our standards, yes, he failed to rise completely outside his culture. Don’t be so sure that in his place you would have done better.

  50. 50
    otrame

    On the other hand I won’t even attempt to defend his libertarianism. Just shows how smart people can be stupid too.

  51. 51
    'Tis Himself

    But I lost interest about the time Lazarus Long went back in time and screwed his mother.

    Shortly after screwing Mommy, Long is going off to fight in World War I and Mommy gives him a lock of her pubic hair as a keepsake. It was at that point I stopped reading Heinlein.

  52. 52
    Randomfactor

    The example is fine unless you have a better complaint about it

    The specific observation was made that the reaction was not the way a human male would behave, and I kinda agree. I try to be an equalitarian type, I’m not even particularly attracted to breasts as such–but if unexpectedly flashed I’m going to go “wow!” before catching myself. The alien’s reaction was likened to how a horse, for example, would notice motion but not an unexpected flash of skin. (It was noted in passing, by the way, after the alien, if that’s what she was, was no longer a threat.)

    Look, this has no bearing on just how silly it is as PZ notes to criticize an idiot’s ramblings based on something you read in a work of fiction, however good or bad. Heinlein wrote a lot of his fiction for juveniles. IMHO his “adult” fiction, for lack of a better word, tends to beat people over the head with the failings of an overly-puritanical outlook on sex. Yeah, he went way overboard (especially in “Stranger”). I guess it was more important to Heinlein, based on how he was raised. He was born in an era when heavier-than-air flight had just barely been achieved. He ain’t literature, but he ain’t all THAT bad.

  53. 53
    johnfraser1

    a person’s value is intrinsic. if you value women because of their baby making abilities, they would be of lesser or even of negative value now because the planet is overpopulated. reproduction has become destructive.

  54. 54
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    I hope you are kidding, johnfraser1.

  55. 55
    Ingdigo Jump

    Heinlien was a man of his time.

    Horseshit.

  56. 56
    interrobang

    Heinlein was the first to describe what has since been called “spermjacking”, with the women working at getting pregnant despite the man’s efforts to avoid that.

    Yeah, it’s a damn shame that out here in the real world, it usually works exactly the opposite way. Of course, Heinlein mostly lived in a millieu where it was simply understood sub rosa that men ultimately dictated how many babies women would have, so the idea of the reverse probably seemed quite innovative to him…

  57. 57
    Ingdigo Jump

    The specific observation was made that the reaction was not the way a human male would behave, and I kinda agree. I try to be an equalitarian type, I’m not even particularly attracted to breasts as such–but if unexpectedly flashed I’m going to go “wow!” before catching myself. The alien’s reaction was likened to how a horse, for example, would notice motion but not an unexpected flash of skin. (It was noted in passing, by the way, after the alien, if that’s what she was, was no longer a threat.)

    You realize a plot point actually relies on the fact that hetero is so much the default aliens are more likely than gays?

    And you’re defending it?

  58. 58
    otrame

    Ing, I love you. I do. Now name me one piece of literature written by a man during the time Heinlein was publishing or before that was not sexist.

  59. 59
    Ingdigo Jump

    @otrame

    It’s not sexism it’s the degree of WTFness that isn’t excused by his generation.

  60. 60
    Nick Gotts

    Expecting men to sacrifice themselves to protect women is misogynistic. Understandable from an evolutionary standpoint, as one male may impregnate many females of it’s species. – tyrannical

    So much stupidity and ignorance in two short sentences. How does xe do it? For one person to sacrifice themselves for others is, in general, admirable: their sexes are irrelevant. There’s no such thing as an “evolutionary standpoint”, if by that is meant the derivation of how people ought to behave from the facts of evolutionary biology. And if, as is implied, the “good of the species” had any effect on what evolves, and that good makes males more expendable, one would expect strongly skewed sex ratios in those species where “one male may impregnate many females”. In fact, such ratios are found only in unusual circumstances, as in social ants, wasps and bees, where males are haploid.

  61. 61
    Randomfactor

    And you’re defending it?

    Half-heartedly, yes. For better or worse, hetero or bisexuality IS the default, not because it’s better but because it’s more common. Sure, they could’ve explicitly wondered whether the adversary were simply a homosexual male.

    I suspect THAT also would’ve raised hackles. (Heinlein doesn’t really deal well with homosexuality either.)

    The original poster suggests that a relatively minor plot point (they’re speculating over an alien’s behavior AFTER he’s already dead) in a book he hasn’t read defines a man’s career. I’m simply saying it’s not as straightforward as it’s being portrayed.

  62. 62
    Matt Penfold

    Robert A. Heinlein, 1907-1988. Certainly he grew up times more sexist than now, but that is not much excuse. Other authors of his generation managed to avoid his misogyny.

  63. 63
    Ben Goren

    Heinlein was a sexist pig, yes, but far less sexist and far less piggish than most men of his era. Hard as it is to believe to those who read his works in a modern context, he was actually something of a radical feminist for his society. Imagine a modern Saudi prince who advocates for letting women get driver’s licenses, to get something of the idea of what Heinlein was doing.

    And I’m surprised nobody’s yet mentioned Job: a Comedy of Justice. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more biting and stridently anti-religious work in all of modern literature.

    No arguments about the idiocy of his Libertarianism, though.

    Cheers,

    b&

  64. 64
    tricycle

    I have wonderful conversations with a co-worker/friend about misogyny, rape culture and the war on women. She shows me how to make adjustments to my thinking and also serves as a safe sounding board for me. One day we were discussing how geeks got messed up regarding women. I suggested to my friend that she read some Heinlein.

  65. 65
    Ingdigo Jump

    Half-heartedly, yes. For better or worse, hetero or bisexuality IS the default, not because it’s better but because it’s more common. Sure, they could’ve explicitly wondered whether the adversary were simply a homosexual male

    Dude, if it’s only half-heartedly and it’s a plot point that is both minor, stupid, and sexist why are you defending it?

  66. 66
    Ingdigo Jump

    Heinlein was a sexist pig, yes, but far less sexist and far less piggish than most men of his era.

    Not really, that’s why I call horseshit. Seriously did you people even know anyone else from his generation? How skewed is your view of it?

  67. 67
    Paul

    Ing, I love you. I do. Now name me one piece of literature written by a man during the time Heinlein was publishing or before that was not sexist.

    Why do people get all pissy when people identify sexist tropes in their cherished books, feeling the need to defend the author? Here’s a tip: the people reading the books are people now. The author is dead. His intentions and views really don’t matter at this point. The contents of the book have relevance and influence to these people, and these people only. Is there not value in ensuring that they don’t absorb toxic memes unconsciously just because they’re reading a book by someone who wrote in a manner fitting their cultural milieu?

  68. 68
    Moggie

    Heinlien was a man of his time.

    Why do so many people think this is a reasonable defence? It’s tantamount to saying “he was incapable of change, and remained stuck in an outdated way of thinking”. This would be insulting of anyone; applied to someone as intelligent as Heinlein, it’s downright preposterous.

    His ideas certainly evolved over the course of his lifetime: consider his political trajectory, for example. And, far from being “of his time”, he’s often said to have been ahead of the curve on race. So why give him a pass over his attitude to women?

  69. 69
    otrame

    You realize a plot point actually relies on the fact that hetero is so much the default aliens are more likely than gays?

    I think it was more that homosexuality was almost never mentioned in any popular literature at the time and the few exceptions (e. g. The Big Sleep and Dune) were very creepy bad guys. Most of his readers at the time would never have stopped to think “Maybe they were just gay’. And the characters didn’t decide they were aliens based on their non-response to a beautiful woman. They just decided there was something strange about the situation (they didn’t know about the alien bit until they actually caught one). Over-the-top “analysis” of body language that is not realistic, sure. Evil anti-gay propaganda? No. Just the bias inherent at the time, a bias people of good hearts are trying to get away from these days.

    Look, I am not saying the man wasn’t sexist. In fact, I think it is a highly valuable exercise to go back over books like his and see the way straight white male privilege, even among those deliberately trying to step outside their own culture, diminished their creativity and limited their expression of the human condition.

    I do agree that his later novels were awful. A perfect example of what happens when a) it suddenly becomes acceptable to mention sex in mainstream science fiction; but b) you have become so popular that you can no longer be edited; and c) you are still being published even though it is clear that you have lost the plot because your publishers know people will still buy what ever you write and they will make their money.

  70. 70
    Paul

    I find it curious and somewhat disturbing that some people are judging his libertarianism on an absolute scale (no arguments about the idiocy, etc), but find it important to stress the sliding scale of feminism to show that he’s “not that bad, really, others were worse”. It’s odd that there’s no “well, Libertarianism wasn’t really a tested concept and his social circles were pretty big on it, so you can see why he’d fit in with his environment”. That gets reserved for his treatment of women, something that ostensibly doesn’t effect the people making these comments.

    Something to think about, you guys, perhaps? Or maybe it’s nothing, but since multiple people have replied in the same manner, it stuck out like a sore thumb.

  71. 71
    Matt Penfold

    Ing, I love you. I do. Now name me one piece of literature written by a man during the time Heinlein was publishing or before that was not sexist.

    Why insist it be a man ? That seems rather sexist, don’t you think ?

  72. 72
    Matt Penfold

    Ing, I love you. I do. Now name me one piece of literature written by a man during the time Heinlein was publishing or before that was not sexist.

    And really, how ignorant to do have to be of feminist writers in the mid C20th to write this ?

  73. 73
    Matt Penfold

    For example, does “Cold Comfort Farm” mean nothing to you Otrame ?

  74. 74
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Paul

    You can’t say Libertarianism was untested for anyone who lived after or through the Victorian era.

  75. 75
    Randomfactor

    Dude, if it’s only half-heartedly and it’s a plot point that is both minor, stupid, and sexist why are you defending it?

    Dear sir, you may be right.

    Perhaps because the original poster appeared to be making quite a bit about something which, in the long run, isn’t all that important and doesn’t make the point she/he thinks it does?

    As another character in the same book says “Nolo contendere…I’m prepared to let it lie.”

    The original point of PZ’s post is not to make one’s case based on poorly-written fiction, is it not?

  76. 76
    imnotandrei

    @otrame #58 Now name me one piece of literature written by a man during the time Heinlein was publishing or before that was not sexist.

    I refer you to Samuel R. Delany’s work: Nova, Babel-17, “Aye, and Gomorrah”.

    Just off the top of my head.

  77. 77
    Matt Penfold

    You can’t say Libertarianism was untested for anyone who lived after or through the Victorian era.

    Indeed not. The reason why have the welfare systems we do, and the health and safety legislation we do is no small part because we learnt that private enterprise was unequal to the task.

  78. 78
    Evader, the parasite-infested branch on the evolutionary tree

    Not to defend him (why the f would I?) but the way I read his snarky comment was that he implied the girls were sluts.

    That’s the way my faulty component of a brain read it.

    I’d die to save my cat.

  79. 79
    Paul

    You can’t say Libertarianism was untested for anyone who lived after or through the Victorian era.

    Considering the grasp of English culture that modern-day Americans have, do you truly expect early-to-mid 20C authors to have such political/economical knowledge? Besides, the claim would simply shift to “they weren’t true Libertarians, the gubbmint is preventing real Libertarianism because they are control freaks”.

    I don’t support anything I put into quotes in my previous post. I was simply pointing out that guys were coming onto this thread to explain away his “feminist” problems as cultural ones while ignoring any cultural issues that informed his Libertarianism to unambiguously denounce it. Where is the lack of ambiguity when it comes to women being treated as if they are people, no different than men? It’s too much to note that and say that he wasn’t perfect (and that they don’t support his gender politics, despite enjoying the books or whatever), they need to waffle and point out how really he’s not that bad. It seemed awfully privileged that they want to excuse the sexist stuff that doesn’t directly affect them while ignoring the same cultural and environmental influences to unambiguously and clearly come out against his Libertarianism. “He was a product of his times” is only brought out regarding his handling of women.

  80. 80
    otrame

    Why insist it be a man ? That seems rather sexist, don’t you think ?

    You are absolutely correct. It was a stupid thing to say. The gender of the author is irrelevant. Hell, I was just wincing at some sexist nonsense in one of Agatha Christie’s books the other day (though I more often wince at her classist nonsense). I should know better. My bad.

    So why give him a pass over his attitude to women?

    I am not giving him a pass. I want to know why he is supposed to be so much better than anyone else in his time. Yes, he was a sexist. But like I said above, he was better about it than many. Many of his female characters were smarter than his male characters and very competent in non-traditional jobs–not mere baby-makers at all.

    Am I supposed to sneer at everything anyone wrote in the past that isn’t up to our modern standards? Reject the whole thing because the culture they lived in was so completely sexist and they were a part of the culture? Really? We have enough trouble trying to deal with sexism today, with the advantage of the work done by feminists in both the past and the present having seeped, however slowly into the mainstream. How easy do you think is was to get past all the sexist assumptions that they swam in in 1940, or 1960?

    I believe that “rising above” your culture is possible–but only to an extent, because few of us can examine absolutely every assumption we make. What happens here on Pharyngula all the time is people being shown where some of those assumptions we missed are. It’s good for all of us, but let’s be honest. Such examinations are a fairly new phenomenon within this culture. They sure as hell were not being done anywhere but in feminist literature in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

    You cannot avoid the sexism in popular literature. You’ll have to avoid virtually all popular literature ever written, even much written today. Your choice.

  81. 81
    wondering

    Farnham’s Freehold.

    Racist, sexist, homophobic, and all around disgusting. The wikipedia entry doesn’t give it justice, as it skips over:

    - lead character abandons his wife (and scorns his son for caring for his mother (not to mention that Heinlein gleefully had the son accept castration in order to continue to care for his mother, nothing subtle there),

    - lead character has an affair with his daughter’s friend and impregnates her (clearly a “real man” in Heinlein’s eyes, unlike his son),

    - black Muslims are portrayed as cannibals who feed on the flesh of white babies

    Heinlein supporters call the book “allegorical” but given that the lead male acts pretty much the same way all of Heinlein’s lead males do (and is rewarded with the love of the pretty young woman), it’s pretty damned hard to see as a significant departure from the rest of his sexist, libertarian crap.

  82. 82
    Paul

    Am I supposed to sneer at everything anyone wrote in the past that isn’t up to our modern standards?

    Nobody said you should. It wouldn’t hurt to stop sneering at people who identify and discuss sexism in said works, though, just because you’re a fan and your fee-fees are hurt by extension.

  83. 83
    Matt Penfold

    Considering the grasp of English culture that modern-day Americans have, do you truly expect early-to-mid 20C authors to have such political/economical knowledge?

    Yes.

  84. 84
    Ingdigo Jump

    Considering the grasp of English culture that modern-day Americans have, do you truly expect early-to-mid 20C authors to have such political/economical knowledge?

    This may surprise you but America was not in a separate time stream from England. They also had an industrial revolution and existed in the Victorian era.

  85. 85
    Paul

    This may surprise you but America was not in a separate time stream from England. They also had an industrial revolution and existed in the Victorian era.

    My mistake. This is still completely tangential to the point I was making.

  86. 86
    Matt Penfold

    Not least because the failure of private enterprise to protect workers was not unique to the UK (not England, because Wales, Scotland and Ireland had the same issues). There are plenty of examples in the US of employers failing to protect their workforce until forced to do so by the authorities.

  87. 87
    Ingdigo Jump

    @Paul

    No it actually isn’t. I’d expect the generation who saw the failure of private enterprise and of the depression and all that shit to be more clear on the concept rather than the privileged later generations who benefited so much from reform they’ve forgotten why it was needed.

  88. 88
    Matt Penfold

    My mistake. This is still completely tangential to the point I was making.

    Not really, since it is evidence your point is flawed because it contradicts reality.

  89. 89
    Matt Penfold

    You are absolutely correct. It was a stupid thing to say. The gender of the author is irrelevant. Hell, I was just wincing at some sexist nonsense in one of Agatha Christie’s books the other day (though I more often wince at her classist nonsense). I should know better. My bad.

    Thanks. I thought you had probably just fucked up, and your acceptance you did is gracious.

  90. 90
    Matt Penfold

    No it actually isn’t. I’d expect the generation who saw the failure of private enterprise and of the depression and all that shit to be more clear on the concept rather than the privileged later generations who benefited so much from reform they’ve forgotten why it was needed.

    True. At the time Heinlein was born and growing up this would have been in living memory for a good many people.

  91. 91
    otrame

    I refer you to Samuel R. Delany’s work: Nova, Babel-17, “Aye, and Gomorrah”.

    Ah, some of my favorites. Yes, though it has been a very long time since I read them, my memories are that there was little overt sexism in them.

  92. 92
    Paul

    No it actually isn’t.

    Is there a citation for the lack of a Libertarian movement during Heinlein’s lifetime? There were libertarian cultural influences in his circle, much like there were sexist cultural influences. Why is it only the latter that we’re supposed to care about and treat as “mitigating factors” for what he put into his books?

    To be honest, I’m surprised you weren’t making the same general observation I did in 70.

  93. 93
    Matt Penfold

    Is there a citation for the lack of a Libertarian movement during Heinlein’s lifetime? There were libertarian cultural influences in his circle, much like there were sexist cultural influences. Why is it only the latter that we’re supposed to care about and treat as “mitigating factors” for what he put into his books?

    Heinlein was born in 1907. Whilst curbs had been placed on the free-market by then, they were by no means complete, and in any case, many people alive would have direct experience of laissez faire attitude to welfare and health & safety. Much the same way people of my generation learnt about the second war from people who lived through it.

  94. 94
    imthegenieicandoanything

    See, I don’t see much to get more than slightly wide-eyed about when reading some nameless guy at DK referring to Heinlein. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t do it, and I might sound out the individual who did, first to see if they were pulling my leg and secondly to see if they had the faintest idea how silly they sounded.

    And the “Republican” comment is just par for the course: they are ALL shits posing as fellow human beings, and even citizens! I fully expect them to exercise their callousness and petty, mean, cruel cowardice 24/7, so only when they do NOT do so am I taken aback. Momentarily only though (sadly), since they, being “Republican,” can never admit a mistake of the smallest kind, even if they delete it.

    Mistakes are always the fault and resposibility of people like me.

    In short, finally, I’m not impressed by this particular observation.

    Oh, and “Libertarians” are 10 times or more as awful as simple sexists: they have a “philosophy.”

  95. 95
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I do have some mixed feelings about Heinlein. His later works were a crock of shit; some of the earlier ones are worth it as long as you treat it as a period piece.

    But back when I were a lass, most SF featured women as varying between non-existent; a shiny reward for the hero; and 1950s housewives-in-space. Heinlein’s women were super-smart, and capable, and did stuff that I was constantly being told in real life were for men only, not for me. Computers, robotics, all sorts of geeky sciency stuff. Yeah, they were there because Marty-Stu wanted superwomen to be adored by and to fuck – ordinary women not being good enough for his total awesome dudeness. But they were *there*, and that mattered.

  96. 96
    Ingdigo Jump

    But back when I were a lass, most SF featured women as varying between non-existent; a shiny reward for the hero

    …and?

  97. 97
    saberwoodard

    I saw Heinlein and Clark and Asimov, I started rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune series recently… wow. In the first novel the emperor of the universe has three or four daughters and no sons. And somehow it isn’t even imaginable that at least one daughter wouldn’t be trying for the throne the way every other royal male person in the whole universe is? Same thing through the whole series, the only kind of authority a woman may possess is mother, witch woman, or agent of the man.

  98. 98
    oddree

    Well, apparently their boyfriends thought so. And who the hell is he to question their judgements? Also, it is pretty frackin’ sleaze to post a tnetennba which utilizes the Colorado tragedy.

  99. 99
    Jadehawk

    reading Starship Troopers was a painful experience to me. I think I spent most of that time actively arguing in my mind with the book, alternatively with wanting to throw it at the wall. (but at least it’s not John Ringo fiction)

  100. 100
    Hairhead, whose head is entirely filled with Too Much Stuff

    Talking about scumbags abusing women, I surfed to Rationalia today, and looky what a found: a brand new thread!

    Postby Animavore » Wed Jul 25, 2012 11:36 am
    Well we can’t slag them for being women. We can’t laugh at the thought of them being harmed in anyway.

    I think they have stupid hair. Also, their irrational fear of dissenting t-shirts makes them lose face. Which is fortunate because, have you seen their faces? They look like a pack of bulldogs slurping piss off a thistle.

    Feminists are *ugly!* Well, that’ll show them! What eloquence! What originality!

    OR:

    Re: What’s the most appropriate way to ridicule a Skepchick?

    Unread postby Audley Strange » Wed Jul 25, 2012 12:35 pm
    Give them a Miggs.

    (See Silence of the Lambs.)

    Nothing like following up a rape joke with a sniggering semen-in-the-face joke.

    Honestly, is anybody there over the age of fourteen?

  101. 101
    psanity

    I grew up reading this stuff: Asimov, Clarke, de Camp, Kornbluth, Cordwainer Smith, all those guys. There are few women in most of those stories; they were written by guys about guys, right? Of the few women characters, they are mostly minor characters, and as I remember them, mostly ciphers, really. The supportive wife, the “spunky” girlfriend — they were types. There were some exceptions; Asimov, for example, wrote into Foundation two of the best female characters of the period.

    But Heinlein? Please. I’ll give him “Green Hills of Earth”. Melodramatic as it is, it’s a very moving story, eliciting much the same emotional response that the “Earthrise” photo would many years later. So, the man could tell a story — and what stories did he choose to tell? Bleh. You could dumpster the whole lot, with the exception of A Door into Summer*, which should be nailed to the wall as a warning to anyone who thinks that monumental jerk was a great writer, or even just, y’know, a product of his times, poor fella.

    Ick.

    *that’s the one about the hero who is betrayed by his harpy wife into suspended animation, and wakes up in the future, but he manages to time-travel back, see, because revenge, and also he’s in love with this 5-yr-old girl, so he goes back and deals with things, then does the deep sleep again for a few years so the kid will be 17, right, and ready and waiting to be his sweet wifey. Oh, and cats don’t like to go out in the snow. Oh, for cute. As best I can recall, since I have no intention of ever reading it again.** Creepy-creepy-creep.

    **and if someone recommends this book to you, you know a lot about that person.

  102. 102
    2leenelson

    I really love Heinlein. His books take me back to the wonder of my youth. As I’ve grown older I found that his works aged better than other science fiction I enjoyed. In particular I found his writings on the religious right to be prophetic. This does not mean that we should agree with everything he said. Also I think its dangerous to ascribe moral values to the heroic acts of strangers. They made a decision in a hurry. It showed a commendable love for the people they were with and it cost them their lives. The only thing worse than putting words in the mouths of dead heros is filling the heads of the people they rescued with survivors guilt.
    In short boo on the Heinlein quote, but it should be drowned out by massive catcalls against this James Taranto jerk. Where’s my tar and feathers when I need them?

  103. 103
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    @Ing, “and”???

    The sentence continues to “and 50s-housewives in space”? But perhaps you are suggesting that Heinlein’s women were also shiny rewards for the hero – which is true, but not the contrast I intended to draw. Let me rewrite:

    But back when I were a lass, most SF featured women as varying between non-existent; a pretty kewpie-doll to reward the hero; and 1950s housewives-in-space. Heinlein’s women were super-smart, and capable, and did stuff that I was constantly being told in real life were for men only, not for me. Computers, robotics, all sorts of geeky sciencey stuff. Yeah, they were there because Marty-Stu wanted superwomen to be adored by and to fuck – ordinary women not being good enough for his total awesome dudeness. But they were *there*, and that mattered.

    Intelligent techy women being attractive and desirable was not even a trope at the time. Smart women were ugly, frumpy and presumed frigid. They were career women only because they couldn’t get a man for teh baybeez. Contrast Asimov’s Susan Calvin, for instance.

    So yeah, Marty-Stu Heinlein-Long deserved only the Very Best Women for his awesomeness. But his definition of the Very Best Women meant women who were intelligent and capable, and not for a moment pretending to be dumb – and that definition was counter to the times.

  104. 104
    M can help you with that.

    imnotandrei @ 76 –

    Delany, IIRC, actually started writing SF because of complaints from friends about the lack of good female characters in the genre. That was definitely also part of the inner logic for Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr., etc…

    Of course, even mainstream male SF writers of the male-focused sort often didn’t have anything like the misogynist edge of Heinlein. Some of Asimov’s female characters sound like they’re written by someone who had very little actual contact with real-life women, but one gets the sense that he at least wanted to have stories about brilliant and innovative women. Ray Bradbury wrote some sexist crap at times; but it never felt (to me) as gloatingly nasty as in Heinlein.

  105. 105
    mikee

    I bet Taranto is they type of guy who woudl throw his girlfriend in front of him if confronted with a gunman, which is why he is questioning the sacrifice of some of these men

  106. 106
    andymulhearn

    SM Stirling, another Sci Fi author of note, has said “There is a technical term for someone who confuses the opinions of a character in a book with those of the author. That term is idiot.”

    The origin of the quote is lost in the mists of time, it’s not an original Stirling, but I can’t help feel it’s correct that it is rather stupid to malign an author a person has never met based on the concepts he uses in his works.

  107. 107
    Ray Ingles

    To be fair, the actual Heinlein quote is: “All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.”

    Interpreted in the most charitable light, protecting pregnant women and children would seem to be kind of a critical thing for human societies. (Other animals have other arrangements, of course.) That doesn’t mean he’s right about “racial survival is the only universal morality” but the quote doesn’t quite mean what the original commenter mis-paraphrases.

  108. 108
    kexkex

    SM Stirling, another Sci Fi author of note, has said “There is a technical term for someone who confuses the opinions of a character in a book with those of the author. That term is idiot.”

    The origin of the quote is lost in the mists of time, it’s not an original Stirling, but I can’t help feel it’s correct that it is rather stupid to malign an author a person has never met based on the concepts he uses in his works.

    But a concept is not the same thing as an opinion of a character. Characters can be good or evil, shown to be right or wrong. A recurring concept is a totally different thing and I find it extremely ignorant to say that concepts in books do not have anything to do with the writer. Book tells us things about their authors. That would be like reading Atlas Shrugged and saying, “Hey, let’s not jump to conclusions, Ayn Rand COULD be a communist!”

  109. 109
    emburii

    Heinlein wasn’t just sexist, his attitudes were terribly abhorrent in a lot of ways. Alexei Panshin discussed the ways he was authoritarian, for instance. In ‘Stranger In A Strange Land’, his personal insert character referred to gay men as ‘those poor half-men’ and said that nine out of ten rape victims deserved it (but he put in plenty of lesbian sex for ‘Friday’, so I guess gay women aren’t so ‘damaged’). In ‘I Will Fear No Evil’, it’s totally okay that the main character’s black bodyguard can’t read because he’s found his place in life of stopping bullets for the nice white woman. In ‘To Sail Beyond The Sunset’, a father has sex with his…fourteen-year-old? daughter and, while it’s portrayed as consensual, power balance plus the mother’s kink of incest make that a shaky case. (I read ‘To Sail Beyond The Sunset’ when I was ten. It was…an experience.)

    He had some beautiful works, too; ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ is one of the best books ever written, largely issue-free, and Hazel Stone is one of his really awesome female characters who isn’t a trophy for some man (and she remains awesome even in ‘The Rolling Stones’. ‘…Where Did All You Zombies Come From?’ is a marvelous thought exercise. And the story about Nehemiah Scudder’s rise to power, how and why, is bone-chilling. But there are people even today who see Heinlein as utterly without flaw, counting the hits and ignoring the misses, and they’re just plain wrong.

  110. 110
    pipenta

    I am going to have to get in the habit of reading your posts when they first go up, so I don’t feel guilty about jumping ahead and posting before I read the whole comment thread.

    But Ima gonna do it again:

    YES YES YES, this is EXACTLY the way I feel about Heinlein and exactly the arc of my transition from enjoying his space adventure kiddy stuff without thinking too hard, to being seriously squicked out by his adult (and I use the term loosely) literature (very loosely). I still read his books, but I’d have to clean out my head afterwards by reading Brunner or Dick or, if I really needed a purge, Harlan “I was in the room when Hubbard invented Scientology” Ellison.

    Jump ahead forty years and still I bump into people, grown-ups, who are big Heinlein fans, There are people who take what he had to say seriously and I must say, it sends a shudder down my spine. Scary.

    He had some interesting one liners though. My favorite was always “The deepest darkest hell is reserved for people who abandon kittens.”

    The calamari are on their own.

  111. 111
    tigtog

    It’s a long time since I’ve been a fan of Heinlein apart from a very few specific earlier works, for all reasons the OP and others mention.

    I do quite deliberately deploy one of his one-liners against the sort of people who whine about “free speech” when a blog owner declines to publish one of their submitted comments, because the odds are that they are fanbois, and I’m nasty like that.

    The quote is “Hire your own hall. We paid for this one.”

  112. 112
    prtsimmons

    emburii @109: I love “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and I occasionally have to tell people TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). I agree that some of Heinlein’s female characters seem to exist largely for male wish fulfilment (and some of those wishes are pretty messed up) but I don’t see why that should detract from enjoyment of his other stories. “Stranger in a Strange Land” is certainly full of buxom, nubile, available women who are very interested in serving the male characters, but it was written in the middle of the 20th century, when popular images of powerful women were usually defined in relation to an important man in popular movies and books(nurse to a surgeon, First Lady, secretary to an executive, auxiliary to the air force, love interest to the hero, etc.). Heinlein is fairly progressive compared to most of popular culture at the time. I do not want to excuse any sexism, misogyny, or one-dimensional female characters from Heinlein, but dismissing an individual’s entire body of work due to their sexism (or libertarianism) seems short-sighted. I still love Heinlein, but I would never defend his rampant sexism or libertarianism or sheer perversity. In much the same way, I think Newton was one of the most elegant thinkers of all time, but I can’t understand his attitudes towards women or religion. I don’t need to endorse all of Heinlein’s views on women, incest, guns, homosexuality, and race to enjoy his books. I can understand why some people are creeped out by guys who can’t stop going on about what a genius Heinlein is (I think I probably did this when I was 16) but we need to recognize that people can get different things from the same piece of art; many of us were impressed with Heinlein’s scepticism, distrust of authority, strong female characters (seriously), amusing aliens, anti-religiousness, etc. Anyway, I’m not trying to convince anyone that Heinlein is great and that they should all re-read him (there are many better sci-fi authors working now, women and men) but I do think you can enjoy his books without endorsing every one of his weird, often regressive, ideas.

  113. 113
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    I met Heinlein a couple years before he died.

    I didn’t like that he said hello to my tits, not me.

    And I didn’t think “He always does that”, which was what the friend who introduced me to him said when I remarked on it said was a good enough excuse.

    Good discussion here about Heinlein’s sexism. The OP is ludicrously uninformed in the usual way of male baby-boomer dK’ers.

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