Thursday, February 24, 2011

What is it to Write as a Man?

James Tiptree Jr. aka Alice Sheldon is able to explore topics of female inequality through her adoption of the male pseudonym. Julie Philips refers to this adoption of a male pseudonym as raising "questions [to] all our assumptions about writing and gender" (Philips 6). Tiptree was thought of as an oddly pro-feminist writer. The mystique surrounding Tiptree was rather large, Sheldon claimed, "My secret world had been invaded and the attractive figure of Tiptree-- he did strike several people as attractive-- was revealed as nothing but an old lady in Virginia" (Philips 3). That this constructed pro-feminist male writer could be considered

Sheldon's work often deals with the gender binary, especially in the story of The Screwfly Solution.  Sheldon switched from the penname of Tiptree to Racoona Sheldon for this story, a woman who was believed to be a student of Tiptree. The story explores the concept of a global catastrophe stemming from a mixing of the pleasure gained from "agression/predation and sexual reproduction in the male... shown by (a) many of the same neuromuscular pathways which are utilized both in predatory and sexual pursuit, grasping, mounting, etc., and (b) similar states of adrenergic arousal which are activated in both" (Tiptree 25). Through the letters and correspondence between Ann and Alan we are able to see the degeneration of a loving husband and father as his psyche switches from love and desire to feelings of violence and a lust for blood.

The impact of the title, and of Alan's position as scientist studying how to remove parasites, comes to a head with the conclusion of the short story and the reveal of the "angels." Starving and feverish, Ann encounters one of the fabled angels that motivated the mad ravings of the Sons of Adam Cult. This angel takes samples of the earth, and utilizes a system they used to eradicate the screwfly population: "Pinpoint the weak link, wait a bit while we do it for them" (Tiptree 31). The angel clears the earth of the parasite, in this case man, for reasons unexplained. Ann speculates that they have taken on the role of "a real estate agent," but it is never explained whether the angel is either magical or alien. Based on the evidence in the short story we can determine that the aliens are clearing the world of humanity, yet for what end we cannot tell.

The use of angels, God and the cult's name referring to Adam all hint towards the aliens reverting the Earth back to a prelapserian sort of world and the inevitability of man's destruction. A world before the fall and the spread of humanity throughout its border. Something resulting from the change the aliens brought about drives Alan, a former loving father, to murder his daughter. This inevitable movement towards sin, as if it is within man's nature to destroy himself, serves as a forceful embodiment of the gender divide and the essential nature of women in society in order to temper these destructive impulses.


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