Heinlein old fashioned and sexist?

iansales

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You can't ignore books that disprove your point, Conn. RAH wrote Stranger in a Strange Land; any discussion on his views on gender politics should include it. Not having read Farnham's Freehold, I can't comment on the racism, or lack thereof, in it (though I've heard it described as racist a number of times).

Yes, it's true that applying modern sensibilities to books written when different attitudes held sway is not entirely fair to the authors. But that doesn't stop them from being sexist and/or racist. And yes, while RAH held strong views on women and their roles, he was also a product of his time. But some of his opinions regarding women are woefully old-fashioned and borderline offensive, and it's right to condemn them as such.

RAH gets singled out because a) he was very, very popular, b) he wrote female characters, c) he possessed strong views on most things, including women, and d) his fans have made a point of advertising his views on women. He was by no means the most sexist sf writer of his generation, but neither was he a paragon of gender equality. Given that many sf writers ignored, or avoided writing about, women all together, I suppose he should be celebrating for at least giving women in central roles in his books....
 

Connavar

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Yes, it's true that applying modern sensibilities to books written when different attitudes held sway is not entirely fair to the authors.

I dont ignore books i just cant talk about a book i havent read yet.

I just dont like RAH gets singled out because he was so popular. I dont forgive him,ignore his old views but at the same time why is when its other authors its oh they are from another time while RAH is sexist,racist.

Its more interesting he actually has female characters,black characters no matter how outdated his views are. While i read other SF from his times there are not many female characters that play an important role in the stories, characters of other colors.

As you say i celebrate him for giving women central roles in his books atleast.

Its just too much double standards when Asimov,ACC and co are saints while RAH is sexist, old fashioned when he was ahead of them when it came to characters, issues he wrote about.
 

ghost8772

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the one downside is RAH's female characters always seemed to be constructs of his fantasies. my opinion there obviously, but that was the feel.
 

clovis-man

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Shoot. Everybody was racist in the 1950s (There's a straw man to snipe at). I graduated high school in 1960. I played on the football team with a number of African-American athletes. They were roundly admired for their physical prowess and skills. When one of them told me that the town in which the school was located was a little biased racially, I didn't understand. I had never seen any overt evidence of it. He only replied, "Just try to get a haircut if you're me."

Andre Norton was racist. Read Voodoo Planet if you disagree. Going back further, read E. R. Burroughs and A. Merritt. Flaming racism. We've already had a lengthy discussion about H.P. Lovecraft's tendencies. If there are many writers from Heinlein's era who avoid the ethnocentrism stigma, it's likely because they avoided the issue by not including "minority" characters.

Any exceptions? I'd be interested.
 

Southern Geologist

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Having just read a partial biography of Heinlein (vol. 1 goes through to '48) I want to make a few notes on this subject:

1. While the area he was born into was quite backwards his family's church was out of lockstep with that area, generally speaking. Their church taught that all people and all races were evil and they were all (Heinlein in particular) advocates against racism.

2. He treated all of his wives as equals, even insisted on using the term 'companionate marriage', and unlike many men who are into 'free love' he did not object if his wives chose to engage in the 'benefits' of an open marriage.

3. Here is a quote from the biography I find relevant to this topic. For perspective, this took place during World War II:

The AML was expanding so rapidly that Heinlein had to recruit engineers everywhere he could--a very scarce commodity when all the young men were in the services. But he knew there would be an untapped source: he spent the last months of the academic year scouting technical schools all over the East, looking for female engineers. Female engineers would be draft-exempt. He amused himself between interviews checking-and refuting (to his satisfaction) Doc Smith's idea that a woman could have either brains or beauty, but when he saw at first hand the unfair treatment women were accorded by universities, he became incensed. At the university of Delaware, he found that female engineering candidates were not even permitted into the School of Engineering:

I almost went through the roof...then took nasty pleasure in chewing out the President of the University in the presence of a large group of people, by telling him that his University's medieval policies had deprived the country of trained engineers at a time when the very life of his country depended on such people.
Now, am I saying that he engaged in no sexism whatsoever in his fiction? No. I haven't read near enough of his work to make that kind of judgement. I will argue that for a man born in 1907, though, he was pretty damned progressive and should be credited for that.
 
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DarkTrin

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I'm sorry, but the author gets to make all of these decisions, and if you don't particularly like a choice an author has made then switch authors. One of my favourite books is also completely racist, but that doesn't get me undone, because a book is what it is, and what I love the most about old scifi is how different it is, and often how timeless the stories can be. Reading the books under a different light or time.

Sometimes when I read scifi, I wish the world today was more like that world, where a mans role always seems to be so much bloody better then it is today.
 

j d worthington

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I'm sorry, but the author gets to make all of these decisions, and if you don't particularly like a choice an author has made then switch authors. One of my favourite books is also completely racist, but that doesn't get me undone, because a book is what it is, and what I love the most about old scifi is how different it is, and often how timeless the stories can be. Reading the books under a different light or time.

Sometimes when I read scifi, I wish the world today was more like that world, where a mans role always seems to be so much bloody better then it is today.
Unfortunately, that is a terribly simplistic view of both literature and life.* "A man's role" was never as clear-cut as all that, nor was a woman's. Life is, and has always been, messy, complex, and often a pain-in-the-neck. Simplistic solutions tend, in the main, to lead to oppression, abuse, and ignorance, rather than any genuinely workable solution to life's situations. It can, of course, be enjoyable to read about, and reassuring... but I'm afraid it is a very insidious sort of reassurance, much the same as occultism, mysticism, fundamentalist religions, or isolationism.

And just because a writer (or a particular book) reflects the fallibilities (as well, one hopes, as the strengths) of its time, is no reason to not form a "dialogue" with that writer or work. Quite the contrary; to do so often forms a very useful and informative tool for better understanding both the work and oneself; for challenging one's own opinions and prejudices, as well as theirs (or its). Certainly, when it comes to Heinlein, had I not had such a reaction to books such as Starship Troopers, I'd never come to regard them as highly as I finally did. And it doesn't matter how much I like or admire the writer; even my very favorites often present me with things I dislike or disagree with, and that provides an opportunity for learning and honing my own thinking. Hence, despite my fervent regard for Heinlein, Lovecraft, Asimov, and Tolkien, I also admire in equal degree Moorcock, Ellison, Ballard, etc. At the same time, I frequently disagree with each of them, sometimes quite vehemently. It certainly doesn't prevent me respecting their work or their talents.

Literature (at least anything which really deserves that name) isn't a passive experience; it is very much an interactive one, and the best writers fully expect it to be so. This is how they do engage in (to use the subtitle of that Heinlein biography) dialogue with their times. I'm certain I'm not getting the quotation quite right, but Ellison is fond of citing one which says that a man isn't engaged in writing one book, or one story, or one poem, or even one line at a time; he is engaged in writing down his life, saying "This is where I am today, and this is what it looks like"... and I tend very much to agree with that sentiment. It is this that makes the best writers the most interesting, whether one agrees with them or not.

And speaking of that biography... I find that it does reconfirm impressions I had gathered on this topic from Heinlein's writing overall: to call him sexist or racist is itself an extremely simplistic and (more often than not) simply dead wrong assessment. There's a lot more going on there, and one should not automatically assign such sentiments to Heinlein himself. Sometimes there is some truth to the matter; quite often there is not. Heinlein's attitude on "racial" discrimination was frankly quite heated, but it was most certainly not in support of; he was vehemently opposed to it. He also had little use for those who saw women as in any way inferior to men, certainly when it came to intellect. Again, quite the contrary. Certain elements of such antiquated attitudes are present, yes; though to a much slighter degree than many suppose; and he was always a proponent of women's equality and liberty to develop and improve themselves and their lot. He did, however (at least through much of his life) see a woman competing in the workforce against a man who was supporting a family as unacceptable, all other things being equal. This was not, however, a position against women as a hard-headed realistic attitude that, in our society, it was men who were the breadwinners, and a man in such a position took precedence over a woman (at least women who had working spouses) because other lives were at stake. Whether he would have seen it differently in a society where this was not the case, I am not sure; but the fact that he seldom made any objection to women working when they were single or their spouse was unable to do so. Again, he tended to be quite supportive of them.

As I said, it wasn't a simple thing, but rather a very complex issue which, frankly, I don't think Heinlein ever quite resolved to his own satisfaction. But to use these labels so broadly, in my opinion, tends more to show a lack of understanding of the man (and his work) rather than a clear perspective based on the facts.

*If what follows comes off as offensive, my apologies. It is not meant as such, but a challenge to this sort of thinking. I add this to make it clear there is no animus toward you, but rather at this idea itself. This comes from someone who has been in the position of subscribing to that view himself, and learned just how narrow and confining it really is.
 
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JimC

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"(2) "Heinlein can't create believable women characters.""

Hazel Stone was the spitting image of Ginny in appearance, personality, and competence. She was very believable. Only difference I ever noticed was that Ginny was a lot more straight laced.
 

JimC

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I would suggest that Ralph, Eleanor, and Ginny were the only three who had a good handle on what Robert actually thought toward the end of his life. Bill based most of his opinions on what Ginny told him, but some of Bill's content was intentionally designed to peddle books. Of the three, Eleanor is the only one still with us. Personally, I tend to accept what Ginny told me at face value, but we didn't often talk about Robert or their little cottage industry.

As an aside, I was with Ralph when he got the telephone call that the Flash Forward TV series had been given the go-ahead, and I have never seen him more excited. He was a good man, and I miss him. Still miss Bill too. When I get to missing Ginny, I re-read The Rolling Stones :)
 
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