MALE CHAUVINISM IN HOUSE OF ZEOR
Letter from Jean Lorrah to Halkan Council: (#17, April 1976)
I've just read House of Zeor by Jacqueline Lichtenberg. The novel grabs me at gut level, and I respond whether I want to or not. However, I would like to make two comments; first, the theme is presumably that mankind cannot survive if we continue our "us and them" mentality. Yet the novel perpetuates that mentality in two ways. First it is the old men versus women; despite the inclusion of Evahee, the women in the novel are there to provide children, to be raped, or to be killed. I could expound further on this, but I think almost anyone can see it if he looks for it, and the most obvious example is in the last pages, when Hugh is ready to hand Aisha over to Klyd if he wants her (and Klyd's attitude is ambiguous; he might have accepted her if she hadn't fainted). Yes, I know this is supposed to be an example of the new relationship between the men, but really! The second example is that, in trying to show that the relationship between Hugh and Klyd is not homosexual, Lichtenberg goes to the extreme of introducing a homosexual, Narvoon, and creating another "us and them" between the straight Simes and him.
Second, I would like to pose a question: why is it that women writers write about close relationships between men instead of close relationships between women? LeGuin, Bradley, Lichtenberg, and all of us fan writers who have lovingly detailed the Kirk-Spock relationship. Anyone want to suggest why we do this? After all, experience should tell us that when men in real life become close to one another, they shut us out (and Hugh is willing to hand Aisha over to Klyd . . .).
Letter from Jacqueline Lichtenberg to Halkan Council: (not yet published)
Jean Lorrah's comments on House of Zeor move me to answer. Fascinating that it "grabs" her at gut level and she responds whether she wants to or not. This is, of course, just about the single most coveted praise a writer can receive - on par with "I stayed up 'till 5 am reading the damn thing!"
HoZ doesn't, to my way of thinking, perpetuate the male chauvinist mentality in any way at all. I describe it without comment. It takes recognition of the ORIGINS of male chauvinism. In a subsistence economy, where the belt buckle is to the backbone, childbearing is the only role women have the capacity for. I don't mean that women can't function on any other level, I mean that since women must do what men cannot do, they haven't enough left over after childbearing/rearing to do anything else.
The Sime series is not a male chauvinist series. Nor is it a women's lib series. Each woman in it is herself and herself only. If anyone is really interested in the discussion of sex roles, culture, and the Simes, I'd be glad to go into it at length in a future issue.
In the process of evolution, the one-celled creatures eventually underwent a "mutation" into sexually differentiated life forms. This basic differentiation occurred quite late on the evolutionary clock and added tremendous vitality, survival potential, and, eventually, intelligence to life on this planet. The Sime/Gen mutation is viewed as another evolutionary step of the same type, the second time in all history that a differentiation of such a basic sort occurs. It is a differentiation equivalent to, but different from, the male/female differentiation.
How a given character in the Sime universe reacts to male chauvinism depends not only on when in the history of rebuilding the human race she lives, but also on her social status and whether she is Sime or Gen. In Unto Zeor Forever I have a few women characters who may be sexy but who are not sex objects for any male.
Letter from Jean Lorrah to Jacqueline Lichtenberg:
. . . no men that I know of are working on the themes in Star Trek fiction that the women are working on. But why do we express ourselves in writing about relationships between men? I've done it -- what I want to know is, why? I find an interesting dichotomy between my Treklit and this year's main theme, however: at SekWester*Con it became very apparent that many people are either taking for granted a homosexual relationship between Kirk and Spock or carefully writing stories detailing such a relationship. Now I look at my own Treklit over the years, and I find that much of it deals with other characters (notably Sarek and Amanda), or creates situations in which Spock and Kirk are separated by circumstances and go on to other things. I wonder if, years ago, I saw something in that relationship that seemed to my then-unliberated mind unhealthy? Today, although I am still not interested in writing about sexual relations between people of the same sex, I am at least consciously determined not to regard any love relationship which is satisfactory to both parties as being unhealthy.
Which brings me to the problem of the unconscious, or subconscious, both yours and mine. I know you did not mean to mistreat women in your novel, and that you made a conscious effort to have a female doctor, for example. But unconsciously, there it is: women are raped, killed, used. There is the Kraith pattern, too: Klyd has already lost one wife when the novel begins, and he loses another in the process of the tale -- both times offstage, just as happens with Spock (did T'Rruel die in his arms? If so, we didn't see it, and so to the audience it is an offstage event -- and when we see Spock's response . . . he's hungry?) . . .
I am sorely disappointed to hear that the sequel to HoZ does not elaborate on the suggestions of the first novel. I was ready for the further adventures of Hugh and Klyd -- Hugh in particular. The discussion of the way Gen and Simes are still mutating, combined with Hugh's dreams, his feelings about himself (particularly his feeling that he ought to have tentacles), and the final experience with Klyd (which Klyd says is something new to him), convinced me that Hugh is a new mutation, part Gen, part Sime. I thought you would build over a couple of novels the new Householding, the story of Hugh's mother, and the meaning of the starred-cross, etc., with plenty of adventure -- and oh, yes, some explanation of all those channel-companion terms as Hugh is trained as a companion. Then, it seems obvious to me, comes the day when Hugh, undoubtedly while deep in Gen territory, undergoes changeover. Really socko scene, right? Look out -- if you don't write it, someone else may!
Letter from Jacqueline Lichtenberg to Jean Lorrah:
. . . the questions you've raised regarding women writing about male/female love and/or sex have been a major topic between MZB and me for some months now. Your observations are not new, though they may be original. They are certainly things I hadn't been equipped to think about when I wrote HoZ.
I do know that as a woman sf writer, there are pressures on me to write in a certain idiom or not get published. Especially as a beginner. Had I written the female roles less stereotypically, that book would never have been published. (you must realize it was written, let's see -- 1971-72, not so long ago, but things have changed rapidly in our corner of publishing just in the last couple of years.) HoZ is a peculiar thing. The Simes are so very exotic a notion, all by themselves, that to use ANY other exoticness in or around them puts the book so far out it wouldn't get published.
This is one reason the "plot" is so cliche (boy loves girl, she gets kidnapped, boy rescues girl). Not only was I unable to handle anything more profound at that time, but it would have been a blunder to try.
And there's this. As a beginning writer, one learns how to characterize by reading "good books". Well, in my field there ISN'T any literature from which to learn to characterize a female hero. MZB is only just now able to write such women. (she's got a backfile of unpublishable stuff with female heroes, 10-15 years ahead of the industry.) For my money, MZB is the only writer today who knows how to write a female hero. I forsureasheck don't. And the militant feminists write propaganda caricatures not characters.
But with MZB to teach me, I firmly expect to develop my own style with women. Meanwhile, I continue to learn how to handle male characters. And since I'm trapped by incompetency into making most of my major characters male, naturally the heavy emotional relationships occur between them. *sigh*
I don't think you're going to be too desolate with UNTO ZEOR, FOREVER. Though the characters aren't the same, a Farris is a Farris and a natural donor is a natural donor in any century. Their personal problems are different. People who cope with future shock are different from people who live on the frontier. But they're just as fascinating.
And you will learn the story of Hugh and Rior, even more of it than Hugh lived to see, because it's part of the historical background. Consider if Hugh were a woman for Klyd to be interested in. Well, in UNTO, one of Hugh's descendants, likewise a natural donor like Hugh, but with Farris blood too, gets involved with Digen Farris, Sectuib in Zeor.
As for the notion of Hugh's going through changeover -- that's weird. A Gen is a Gen is a Gen and there's nothing that can be done about it. But yes, Hugh is a new sort of mutation, a Natural Donor, the first of the breed to yet be identified.
I'd love to discuss Hugh's feeling that he ought to have tentacles. It's the tip of one of those famous Lichtenberg icebergs that are so famous in ST fandom.
I'd love to get into the whole homosexuality thing. I think I've almost got it whipped into UNTO -- I have to devise a way to make it dramatically clear that the emotional relationships between transfer partners are not sexual in connotation, but can sometimes be more powerful than sex even. (Sex is a pleasure that takes a backseat to raw survival in the biology life processes list.)
Oh, and UNTO is told from the point of view of Digen Farris, so we see the world through Sime eyes this time. It should make rereading HoZ into a whole new adventure once people understand what really was going on inside Klyd.
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