“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
— all round champion bloke Robert A. Heinlein
It is belittling to call Heinlein a science fiction writer. He is more appropriately a revolutionary philosopher, freethinker / libertarian1, futurist and owner of one of the 20th century’s finest minds. So it’s only to be expected that he has been variously labeled fascist, chauvinist, communist, racist, mysogynist, right wing, belligerent, authoritarian, anarchist, elitist, militarist, jingoist etc. from the very first instant he began making a name for himself. Nobody likes a tall poppy.
The above quote is attributed to his character Lazarus Long in Time Enough For Love written in 1973. What is of interest is his wording, “a human being should…”, not “a man should…” Remember, this was penned nearly 40 years ago, long before the collective lunacy of peecee even began to form in anyone’s mind (not that he would have given a flying fuck about such concepts anyway). Heinlein is always terse and precise with his wording, and his precision refers to us as a biological species, not as a social construct. Gender is not relevant. This was not pandering to the proto-feminists forming at the time. It was just a cold, hard statement of expectation, his own personal take on the Übermensch.
Heinlein is in fact one of the world’s unlikeliest, most unacknowledged feminists2. From the moment he put pen to paper he has been pushing the idea that women are more than capable of holding equal footing with men anywhere and with anything, even (and especially) in the military. This was groundbreaking stuff, as exemplified in his early novel Starship Troopers, written in 1959, decades before the first bra was even burnt. The quote not only reinforces this belief, but it is also an open invitation for women to step up to the plate and prove it.
So to Heinlein, the quintessential man’s man, the whole concept of gender and role was an artifact of absurdity best left behind like other historical absurdities – biblical literalism, racial superiority and medicinal bloodletting etc. It is certainly not worthy of its current status of a festering, unhealing scab being eternally picked at by those who’s mouths are bigger than their brains.
Why is Heinlein’s message lost? Well, most of it has to do with the fact that his readership is almost exclusively alpha male military jocks and middle age nerds who’d rather jerk off over anime than attempt to have relationships with real women. The message goes in one ear and out the other. The other problems are that basic common sense and decency lack sensationalism, attention spans are short and most people would rather concoct elaborate dramas out of trivia and confirm our evolutionary roots by behaving like baboons flinging dung at each other. As was indeed the case this week, courtesy of the Queensland tabloid-that’s-not-really-a- tabloid, The Sunday Mail –
# By Helen Pow # From: The Sunday Mail (Qld) # January 30, 2011 3:07AM
- Gender roles now being forgotten
- Life too fast and busy for DIY skills
- Generation Y less able than others
BASIC “female” skills are becoming endangered with fewer young women able to iron a shirt, cook a roast chicken or hem a skirt.
Only 51 per cent of women aged under 30 can cook a roast compared with 82 per cent of baby boomers.
Baking lamingtons is a dying art with 20 per cent of Gen Y capable of whipping up the Aussie classic, down from 45 per cent for previous generations.
Social researcher Mark McCrindle said: “Women of today tend to be busier, juggling more roles, and are quite prepared to compromise a bit of the homemade just to save some time.
“They also have a lot more disposable income compared with their mums and their grandmothers so buying a cake mix or lamingtons ready-made is not a big deal.” [full article]
I have no idea who Ms. Pow is, nor do I care. I can only hope she’s a cadet compromising her way through a journalism degree, destined for better things, and not someone who is currently at the pinnacle of her career. Nor do I care who Mark McCrindle is or what his qualifications are, or how and to what extent his “research” is being twisted up for junk media consumption.
This is raw trash journalism which sullies the very name of journalism. An article of the lather-rinse-repeat variety that resurfaces in a newspaper somewhere every 6 months to a year and will continue to for as long as we retain the ability to print or the sun burns out and dies. This is material which is not “news”, it’s filler, and its value lies not in its content, but the reaction which it provokes – the theory is it is somehow beneficial to newspaper circulation. It’s far better simply ignored and put to use as barbecue kindling or packing crockery when moving house. That’s too much to hope for though because you know, of course, some member of the concerned sisterhood is going to notice. They always do –
# Sunili Govinnage # From: ABC The Drum Unleashed # February 01, 2011
As the youth of Egypt (and their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and so on) marched in the streets calling for democracy and freedom, Aussie Gen-Yers were given a rude awakening on Sunday morning by a story out of the Courier Mail bemoaning young women’s lack of ‘female’ skills.
With garish photos of an American preppy girl beaming with her egg-beaters and a perky 1950s housewife with her Hoover & heels (both in aprons! Because keeping your outfits splatter/dust-free is an Important Female Skill™!), we were told that “basic ‘female’ skills are becoming endangered with fewer young women able to iron a shirt, cook a roast chicken or hem a skirt”. [full article]
If you are going to follow the link for the full read, here’s some complementary mood music to accompany it –
Yes it’s ’70s retro, but so is the article. Alternating sarcasm with look-how-far-we’ve-come breast beating and bragging about personal achievements that, were it to come from a male, would be dismissed as “dick waving”, and you can’t click the browser back button quick enough. But I was strong, I persisted, fueled by the possibility of new angles presenting themselves (there weren’t any) and the resignation of knowing that sooner or later, usually in a bar and with boozy bravado, some chick will throw the same shit in my face expecting some kind of supreme “ahah, gotcha!” moment. I always disappoint. This is an arms race, and if you are a male that makes a point of not ceding ground, it is best to be armed against all possibility. Just because you make it a point to refuse to give this dumbness any merit doesn’t mean it won’t blow up in your face when you least expect it. Hell hath no fury like an insecure woman.
But sadly no, there are no surprises here. Especially not from comments page – you have the girls chiming in with the “right on sistah!”‘s, alternating with the horndog guys tripping over themselves trying to out-SNAG each other, the mandatory snark and the usual divorced fathers adding their bit about the inequities of the family court system. It’s all rather like what one of Dante’s Circles of Hell would look like were he alive and writing his Divine Comedy today.
This is a perpetual motion machine, it’s what you heard before a thousand times – the words change but they say exactly the same thing and it really just becomes like nails scratching on a blackboard. It may be a month, it may be a year, but you *know* you will be reading this all over again some time; it’s as inexorable and inevitable as death itself.
Ultimately, Ms. Govinnage has constructed a piece, which she no doubt believes to be fresh and covering new ground, complaining about a “researcher” promoting archaic stereotypes by responding in a stereotypical “enlightened, freethinking new woman” manner. The irony, to say the least, is delectable. And the benefit to all concerned is nil.
What would Heinlein make of all this? Well, he died in in ’88, so perhaps, mercifully, he has been spared the last quarter century of gender politic derangement. I suspect he would have, on realising that as a species we are incapable of moving beyond, deliberately begun churning out outrageous misogynist bait with wickedly ingenious booby traps for the unwary to walk blindly into. It would have made interesting reading. We’ll never know. I think I’ll just leave the final word on this to one of our greater contemporary gender relations gurus –
1 – I really wish the Teabagger brownshirt peabrains and their GOP loonie fringe masters would sit down, read Heinlein and try and reconcile their idea of “libertarianism” with his. Hint: Heinlein’s version is not interchangeable with authoritarian corporatist crypto-fascism.
2 – for a brief and interesting article on Heinlein from a feminist perspective see Heinlein’s Female Troubles (NYT). Yes I know he’s not perfect. Never said he was.
3 – there is no 3, but look Ma, I wrote a post that wasn’t about surveillance.