Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Evolution and Gender Equality in the Future

Although I really enjoyed reading Tiptree’s stories this week, I came away a little depressed at the dark themes which they addressed, most primarily the challenges women face living in a male-dominated society. In The Women Men Don’t See, despite being strong-willed and hardy enough to cope with life in the wilderness, Mrs. Parsons does not believe that there is any future for women in their society, and she prefers to leave with the aliens for an uncertain future, rather than stay and face an unchangeable, oppressive future. Similarly, the women in Houston, Houston Do You Read choose to kill the three male astronauts from the past, believing them too much of a threat to be controlled, rehabilitated, or successfully integrated into their way of life. Extrapolated from Tiptree’s personal views on gender equality, these stories certainly provide a grim depiction of the fears women have about life in a male-dominated society, and their setting in the present or near future suggests that Tiptree believes this state of affairs is not going to be changing anytime soon.

The body’s natural instincts also play an important role in Tiptree’s stories, which rather demoralizingly highlight the futility of attempting to resist these instincts. Lilliloo and Moggadeet attempt to do so by breaking from the Path, and avoiding the old traditions of having to kill one another in order to survive the winter, but in doing so end up giving in to it in their own way, just as the Old One predicted they would. Similarly, after the male astronauts in Houston, Houston have spent time aboard the Sunbird, surrounded by females who they were used to viewing as subservient to them, they give in to their aggressive fantasies, which are arguably the product of the male instinct to dominate. Bud, under the effects of the inhibition-reducing aphasia drug, attempts to sexually exploit Judy, whereas Dave attempts to seize control of the space station through violence. Both these examples portray man as being ultimately subservient to his most primal desires, suggesting that no matter how much we might evolve, these subconscious desires our ancestors once had will always be present in us as well.

Interestingly enough, Tiptree’s stories also address another aspect of evolution, namely the desirability of the “survival of the fittest” paradigm in evolutionary biology. In the original Time Machine text, Wells proposes that such conflict is desirable, as it forces mankind to adapt and evolve, and the lack of intellectual curiosity and physical fitness in the conflict-free Eloi society is depicted as being undesirable, as exemplified by the Time Traveler’s negative impression of them. However, in Houston, Houston, Tiptree suggests that such conflict is not necessarily desirable, as even though the women of the future have not made much technological progress in their time, they are certainly more at peace with one another and with nature, as evidenced by the wildlife and plants which their ship can successfully sustain in outer space. Thus through this depiction of a society free from the conflict male behavior purportedly causes, Tiptree raises a rather uncomfortable question: is the evolution which “survival of the fittest” brings about necessarily more desirable than the other kinds of progress we might make, following other evolutionary paradigms? Tiptree’s answer appears to be no, as the actions of the women who remove the astronauts from the past from their society suggest.


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