Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Like Jasmine, Michael and Kai, I came away from reading Tiptree's fiction feeling depressed and terrified by her visions of the world. However, when reading Houston, Houston, Do You Read?, I found myself more afraid of the present and the past than I was of the future.

In his Introduction, Michael Swanwick comments that this short story is a twist on "a familiar thought-experiment," which went on to demonstrate the "wrongness" of a world without any men. With his comment that "Humanity, despite all final solutions, remains what it has always been" (xi), Swanwick seems to suggest that humanity has a natural inclination to repress and dismiss the "other," that whether man or woman is dominant, they will always consider the other sex as "irrelevant" (216).

However, as I read this story, I had to wonder whether the world Tiptree presented was a utopia or a dystopia, or something in between. Each man on the ship seems to have a different interpretation, as Bud thinks of a utopian world with himself as the only man, where all the women will "worship" his penis (209), and Dave, considering the women "lost children," decides that he also shall "rule over them" to bring them into God's dominion (212). Yet how do the women feel about their own world? Aggression is gone. Wars are gone. There are no struggles for power, and everyone seems connected and content. The only problem with this world, in fact, is that progress is not as fast as the time-travelling men would prefer (although they seem to dismiss the progress that has been made, including great leaps in bio-engineering and space travel, based only upon their biases that "women are not capable of running anything" (212).) Indeed, from our limited glance at the world, there don't seem to be any problems, except the ones created by bringing men forward in time to disrupt this peace.

I therefore think Tiptree's conclusion is even more complex and uncertain than Swanwick suggested. Both Bud and Dave eventually explode in fits of their own superiority, and attempt to dominate over the women, despite their status as outsiders and guests, because they feel themselves naturally superior. Without men, "nothing counts" (211), and so to make things count, they both attempt to commit acts of either sexual or physical violence against the women to bring them in line. Even Dr. Lorimer, the more sympathetic character, explodes in a fit of lost privelege, as he shouts, "I'm angry. I have a right. We gave you all this, we made it all" (215), assuming that his legacy of oppression was a gift. Furthermore, when he bursts out that men built "your dreams," he suggests that even the women's thoughts and goals could only have been created by men. Men "gave" all this to women, not because women were oppressed and forbidden from contributing, but because they would have (in his opinion) been unable to create it themselves, unable to conceive of anything without the other sex. Now the women are literally conceiving by themselves, and conceiving of advancement, of a new structure for society, the men find themselves unable to cope with the hint of irrelevancy that was felt by women for centuries. "They mustn't do that to Dave, treating him like an animal, for Christ's sake, a man - ", Lorimer says, suggesting that Dave deserves better treatment, not because he is a person, but because he is male. He makes no such protests while Bud is abusing Judy.

The short story therefore seems to present the bleak outlook that only one sex can exist without oppression developing. Tiptree cannot conceive of a world where men and women are equal, because men, it seems, will naturally attempt to dominate if found in world where women display any kind of power. If any man finds himself in this utopian world for women, he will have to be removed, or else he will bring back violence, pain and oppression. Similarly, however, women also cannot be trusted not to be oppressors if given a position of power. When Lady Blue confirms that there is no point "taking the risk of giving [men] equal rights," because "what could [they] possibly contribute?" (216), Tiptree presents a role reversal that suggests that humanity has a natural inclination to belittle and dismiss. One sex, no matter which, will always consider the other inferior. There is no "utopia" for one sex, without a dystopia, if not an utter lack of existance, for the other.


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