Monday, January 08, 2007

Dorris Lessing, Cleft not Squirt

I always had a sort of ignorant respect for Doris Lessing. Many years ago I bought one of her science fiction novels but never got very far. It was too difficult, or something. I knew she'd written books called things like "The Good Terrorist" which title appealed to my paradoxical tastes, and I knew that she was highly thought of in the stratospheric heights of educated culture. It was basically true that I liked reading more than I liked literature, so I assumed that it was me who was deficient in being unable to engage myself with the book.

So via Angry Harry, I learn from the London Times that she's now 88 years old, was probably dropped from the Nobel prize's unofficial list because she committed the sin of writing science fiction, and is one of a "cabal" of women writers who, er, "defined the latter half of the 20th century". Er, yeah, OK, whatever.

So what's she up to now? She's written a book in which a purely female society, calling themselves the Clefts, which has had only female children, suddenly starts having male children. They are horrified by these "monsters" and call them the Squirts. (The Times feels the need to tell us that "Clefts" and "Squirts" refers to reproductive equipment. I'm so grateful, I'd never have figured it out on my own.)

Lessing seems to be surprised that this could be taken as disparaging to men (The Times still hasn't discovered the word "misandrist"). “There’s no judgment of men. If women had been producing clefts for centuries and they give birth to a boy they would call it a monster." How is this not a judgment?

It's a little difficult to wonder about the opposite claim, but we can try: that if we'd only been breeding men for centuries and suddenly a girl appeared, would we think of her as a monster? Now that I come to think of it, the female-only society is something of a (feminist) science-fiction staple, is it not? But not male-only. Which makes the imagining all the harder. But let's ignore the details of how reproduction might take place, this is science fiction after all, and imagine anyway. Here we are, surrounded by men, and we have been for generations. It's all body odor, holey T-shirts and testosterone, even in the kitchens and laundries, but it's stable (it has survived, after all), it's making progress, it's out there adventuring in the dark. I doubt they'd call themselves the Squirts, (the Dicks?), nah probably "human" will do.

Then suddenly this other creature appears, and it's got slot B where everyone else has tab A, not to mention the bumpy bits. How might we react? Is it a monster? A curiosity? Something to try and understand? Or is it something too different, something to fear? Quick, call it a Hole and kick it out? That seems unlikely. Perhaps Ms. Lessing reveals a deep-seated issue here.

She goes on: "Well, you must have seen a baby boy: it’s all genitals. It’s quite a shock when you have a baby boy.”

Can we imagine a male author claiming "Well, you must have seen a baby girl: it's all genitals."? I think we would rightly worry about such a man, don't you?

Ms. Lessing "remains a feminist", but thinks it "the most self-indulgent movement there has ever been", and doesn't like being one of its icons. She sounds positively conflicted to me and, methinks, doth protest too much.

Ludicrously, The Times seems to think that Lessing is serious about a parthenogenetic, female-only society, citing virgin births among komodo dragons (puh-lease!) and quoting her: "I think men were a new invention. They have new ideas, but they’re erratic, you can’t count on them. They haven’t settled down yet." Well, thanks, missus, I'm glad you think of us as immature fools who can't be relied on. Generations of bread-winners, home-defenders and family-raisers will have to bow to your superior knowledge.

She goes on: "You have to agree, there’s a kind of solidity about women. They’re sort of heavy and rooted, even if we don’t think like that.” Fortunately, we don't have to agree to a damned thing. Heavy and rooted? What the hell does that mean in an era when two thirds of divorces are initiated by women? Disingenuous cant, if you ask me.

At least I feel a little better at never having gotten into her writing.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A male-only science fiction society can be seen in:
Ethan of Athos, by Lois McMaster Bujold