Heinlein (off-topic)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Aug 29 18:59:33 EDT 2000


Very good comments, Tanaqui.  I'm going to add just a little, and then I
think I'll stop veering off track (though you're welcome to rebut if you
wish; I don't mind at all).

On Sun, 27 Aug 2000 03:43:05 +0100 (BST), Tanaqui wrote:

>+ >I'm going to end up the sort of sad old mad bird who shouts at the telly.
>+ 
>+ With your teeth in a glass of water by the sink, no doubt. :)
>
>Yes. And a cane: I must have a cane.

You're going to be Diana from "Waiting for God"!  Can I visit you in the
nursing home?

>+ Well, sorry, but speaking as one of the conservative breeders, 
>
>Not like that. Barefoot in the kitchen? Here you are, discussing books in an
>awesomely cogent way. Heinlein's women change personality when it's time to 
>breed. It has nothing to do with their native intelligence: that's shown as 
>atrophying as the baby-factory directive takes control. And *that's* what I 
>hate (not being such a misogynist/misanthropist as to watch the whole human 
>race fade into oblivion).

I thought it was strange until it happened to me. :)  To be more specific:
I was extremely surprised to find how much my desire to write and do
critical analysis of complex texts dwindled when I was faced with having a
child to raise.  Naturally, this wasn't permanent, but it's common (*not*
universal, of course) for biology to take over.

But then (and I completely agree with you on this) we never do see real
children being raised by real people:

>Yeah: I knew that there was some problem on the whole child front, but
>making breeding the Holy Grail that can heal our ruling geniuses... um...
>definitely Fishing
>
>what we see of the raising of children (the Shakespeare-cadenced kids that
>one of Lazarus Long's bucolic personae raises &c) aren't realistic. Adoption,
>extended families, fostering, and the complex gamut of actual human existence
>give way to hilarious incestuous incorporation and rejuvenation of relatives.

Oh yes.  Definitely.  Other than this unreality, Hazel Stone comes closest
to this in that we see her at three different stages in her life--but still
not her actual upbringing.  _The Rolling Stones_ only gives us a glimpse
into a short period of that family's life.  And naturally most of the
juveniles are more about children leaving family behind to become adult.  So
all we have are Heinlein's very odd theories...very odd.  I really wonder if
he believed we'd all be better off in group families.

(Oh, and on the subject of _Farnham's Freehold_ again, which I otherwise
detested, that book had the most fascinating snippets of actual history,
like the theories about pregnant women not exerting themselves for fear of
miscarriage, etc.  Some books are like that, where it's supposedly science
fiction but really it's about the author's time and contemporary issues.
That was very interesting.  I was pregnant at the time I read it so it was
all very apposite, heh heh.)

>+ On the other hand, _Podkayne of Mars_ is fundamentally an indictment of
>+ parental abdication of responsibility and of institutionalized child care.
>
>See? Having careers is Naughty. Parental responsibility is crucial, but I
>don't think it demands constant interventionist dominance. I know people
>who have raised smart, socially responsible children without being there
>constantly... they are there for the kids when they can be.

Being there for your children, as in being at home all day, isn't
necessarily interventionist.  And I know you're not suggesting that it is.
But I do hear this argument a lot from mothers who feel generally guilty
about their careers: that the choice is either going to work or hovering
over your child 24/7, so naturally they're picking work because then they'll
be so much more fulfilled themselves and be better mothers than if they
hover.  But these are not the only options!  It's not an either-or
proposition.  There are days that I barely see my children because they've
been involved in some extended game and they only need me to provide food
because they can't reach the peanut butter jar.  And I *am* home all day,
more's the pity (wish I lived in the local copy center, which has VERY nice
air conditioning).

But the point is not about whether parents are working.  The point is
whether or not their main focus is their career.  And I absolutely don't
approve of that.  Kids don't want their parents hovering because it is
unhealthy and unpleasant.  But they do need them to be there when they need
them--and it is my opinion that the responsibility of having a child,
whether biologically or by adoption, entails being there when they call for
you.  Not necessarily subjugating your needs to theirs (sorry, if I'm on the
can, they'd better be bleeding for me to get right up) but remembering what
is more important, ultimately.

Admittedly, my perspective comes from my unusual upbringing.  As I said
elsewhere, I'm the oldest of nine children and I had a mother who
consistently proved that she believed we were the most important thing in
her life.  She became a skilled craft painter and calligrapher while I was
growing up, and I can barely remember what she did when I was young because
we were always out playing with friends (ah, those long-gone days when that
was a safe thing to do).  She volunteered at school and in church.  But if
something came up for one of her kids, that superseded other obligations.
Yes, this sounds like more pedestal-worship; you'll have to take my word for
it that she was not perfect, because I would rather not rat out my mother
for the many mistakes she made in raising her kids (especially her
guinea-pig eldest).  At any rate, this is where I learned how good this kind
of family can be.  And, knowing that I preferred it myself, how in good
conscience can I do less for my family--or encourage less for other
families?  

I am not nearly as hidebound as Heinlein.  I don't feel safe passing
judgement on families who do things differently.  But this is not, for me,
about how kids turn out; children have personality and desire sufficient to
overcome all the faults or virtues of their parents.  It's about what
parents are responsible for in the long run.  I know a lot of women who
provide home day care (not something I'm constitutionally able to do, it
would drive me nuts and I *would* feel like I had to hover, ugh) and they're
all very good women who provide a loving environment for the children in
their care.  But Heinlein's example is an institutional nightmare that isn't
very likely to happen, unless (in the US of course) certain people in
Washington succeed in making preschool mandatory at age 4.  But this is a
messy situation; there are bad examples on every side.

> I 
>prefer the realistic picture in DWJ where we adults are flawed. Some of us
>have good intentions and some of us do not, and the world is properly
>ambiguous. If Podkayne's parents had chosen to raise her with a bit more
>involvement on their part, they might well have been no better at it than
>Mayelbridwen Singer's mother (and, occasionally, father).

That's the problem with the extremist position.  Podkayne's problems and her
brother's sociopathy are probably the direct result of neglect (not just by
the parents, but also by the creche system--think Heinlein would have been
so critical if they'd given their kids to a sister-wife to rear?) but
knowing the result of that path doesn't tell us what all the other possible
paths might have led to.  I can think of three families with stay-at-home
mothers who have little hellions despite all their parents can do.
(Horrible me, I'm still very critical of their parenting methods.  Not
overtly, of course.  The minute I start thinking details--"I would NEVER let
my child do that!"--my own kids do something antisocial to remind me that
God is omniscient.)

The example I like best from DWJ is the Sykes family from _Archer's Goon_.
Both parents are working, but their jobs aren't the center of their
existence; in fact, Catriona arrives home every day as if reaching
sanctuary.  That's a family first and a couple of wage-earners second.
_Archer's Goon_ is still my very favorite DWJ book; there are others I
admire more, but that's really the only one I can pick up at any time and
just dive right in no matter what mood I'm in.  What a great book.

>I suspect Heinlein would have bought into the Neo-Victorian society fully, and
>never understood the Equity Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw's concern
>for society to be dynamic as well as stable. 

Almost definitely.  I can't find that book either.  I keep losing books, and
what a bad one to lose....

>Heinlein's women are very extremely committed in most cases (we don't see 
>Podkayne's parents as characters). Of course, in his stories, devotion and
>dedication are enough.

Of course!  Because we never get any further than pregnancy except in
peripheral characters!  It's all idealized.
> 
>+ >Once I started identifying what I hated about Heinlein, I found him easier to
>+ >bear. _Grumbles from the Grave_ had me cackling.
>+ 
>+ You're both too opinionated to live together, so to speak.  Too bad he's
>+ dead; we could put you both in a room and sell tickets to watch the ensuing
>+ fireworks.  :)
>
>Too true. Might be fun: he hated critics, of course. Everyone should just read
>the goddamn stories, as he just wrote them. If he had his way, I'd be stuck in 
>the logical maze at the big trans-world party. 
>
>I might even be too opinionated to live, period <exclamation mark>

Nah, we don't let Heinlein choose who gets to live.  Or who comes to his
party.  (Though I would be in that logical maze as punishment for not being
a trufan, probably.  That party irritated me SOOO much, but I just don't
know enough about fandom.)

>+ >If any Heinlein heroine had a career as well as kids, that would be cool.
>+ >It's the monomaniacal sprog-dropping that I find wearing.
> 
>+ You're so right.  I should go out and get me one of them careers right now
>+ so I can fulfil my full potential as a woman.  Four kids in six years?  How
>+ very...monomaniacal...of me.  :)
>
><looks around forum, sees the gallery of readers who admire Melissa's spot-on
> analyses and feels doomed> 

Sorry.  :)  I guess you're not the only one around here who is loud and
opinionated.

>I still don't think you exhibit the characteristics
>of Heinlein heroines, Melissa. There's definitely no evidence of sessile
>consumption of your own brain!

I don't suppose you'd be willing to write a letter attesting to this to my
thesis advisor, would you?  :)

Seriously--I am tense on this subject because I have only just begun to
realize how much sentiment in the US is against the idea that women can have
marriage and parenthood as a "career" so to speak.  In Heinlein, in a very
opinionated, extremist and limited way, I see attitudes that speak to the
contrary.  I do wonder why I enjoy his books so much when there are really
only three or four of them that I can...well, approve of.

>Heinlein's the monomaniac; although we know that one of the women of
>civilised Tertius wants to be constantly pregnant (as one is a very good i.e.
>considerate whore), we never find out just how many babies a woman with access
>to rejuvenation tech. can manage. 

And again we see that Heinlein had no idea how awful pregnancy can be,
despite the cautionary tale of Hugh Farnham's women.  There's the unrealism
I object to, and now I can agree with you about sprog-dropping, because
that's what it is.  Pregnancy doesn't change these women in any way; they've
got access to medicine that alleviates the physical changes, so Wyoh Knott
can be a professional birther and never show it. But worse, they go on being
perennial children in a lot of ways.  If the human race is to be saved by
breeding long-lived supermen, let's at least give them artificial wombs.  Or
something.

Thank you, Tanaqui, for the chance to have this lovely discussion.  I do
enjoy this forum even when we disagree on some things, because it never
comes down to "I am right because I'm right and I don't have any evidence to
back it up but you should just believe me anyway."  Except for me--but then
being Always Right sometimes amounts to recognizing Truth when it's been
stated by someone else.  :)

Melissa Proffitt
(wishing it were cold enough for grilled cheese, because it's gonna be a
sandwich night for all the little crib lizards here)
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