Friday, July 11, 2008

not yet a meme

One of the bloggers that I read regularly, Punkinsmom at Idle Musings, does something I really enjoy. She reports briefly on one of the books that she has read that week. She goes to the public library every week, checks out a pile of books and reads through them, then chooses one that she thinks is worth commenting upon. A nice idea that might catch on with others.

My big basket of books comes from friends and bookstores rather than the library, and I don't read quite as many books in a week as Punkinsmom does. I don't think I could come up with a review each Friday, but I like the idea of semi-regular reporting on reading.

Right now (for last week) I've been reading my way bit by bit, once again, through Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love originally published in 1973. My love affair with science fiction began with Robert Heinlein's Red Planet a children's book that my mother read out loud to us when I was about 8 or perhaps 9. Several of Heinlein's books for youth, Citizen of the Galaxy and Tunnel in the Sky became favorites in adolescence which I read repeatedly -- I have reread them in middle age and find that they still stand up quite well. I adored the short stories in Green Hills of Earth, and other collections, but I was never fond of Star Ship Troopers with their relentless focus on war with aliens.

Time Enough for Love, like Stranger in a Strange Land is an adult novel, not because of the focus on sex, but because the themes in Time Enough for Love are themes that one can appreciate far more in middle age than one can as a youth. In it Lazarus Long (a.k.a. Woodrow Wilson Smith) more than 2,000 years of age reflects upon his long life, and tells key stories on the themes of love and survival as a pioneer, as he tries to decide whether to undergo rejuvenation for yet another thousand years.

Not as well crafted as some of his other books (especially compared to Stranger in a Strange Land), Time Enough for Love is Heinlein's expression of his own thoughts and philosophy on life and love. Many places in the book he reacts to the feminism of his day (1973). The following quote sums up his views: "Whenever women have insisted on absolute equality with men, they have invariably wound up with the dirty end of the stick. What they are and what they can do make them superior to men, and their proper tactic is to demand special privileges, all the traffic will bear. They should never settle merely for equality. For women, 'equality' is a disaster." When I first read that in 1973, I thought "what an old chauvinist pig." Thirty five years later, I'm not so sure he didn't have it right, because today as then our greatest poverty problem is still single mothers and their children.

Reading the book now, I realize that the first time through, I skipped over a lot of the "boring" details. Now I see the genius in those details. If humans ever do venture out among the stars and become pioneers again on frontier worlds, the sections of this book where Heinlein, though Lazarus Long, describes in depth exactly what equipment one should take and the issues one should consider (about pack animals, wagons, scouting, water, and many other things) for successful pioneering, ought to be required reading.


Qaro said...

Ooh, Heinlein. It's been a while since I've read anything by him. I always end up with Asimov.

My booklist is, um, booked, but I will add it to my Amazon shopping cart (which I print out and take to the library).

For a second, the line about not settling for mere equality sounded kind of good... Then I started wondering about some people being more equal than others... And then your last sentence throws me back for a loop.

Because I don't understand, so let me think... I think maybe chauvinism would only work as a protection for women and children if it was an accepted value across the whole society. If every man treasured his wife and kids and divorce and abandonment was shunned, every family should have at least one income, hopefully. Which might get the family above poverty. And it would need to be a modified chauvinism so women can get equal jobs for equal pay... And if this is a good thing, I don't know how it would be achieved. The avenues for change seem to be government, religion, schools and entertainment. The government could get rid of the head of household status, but that would be a disaster for many and I don't think taxes even play into it, even a huge divorce tax would probably backfire (if it got passed). Religion is more for the religiously inclined, kind of insular. Entertainment has pushed the envelope so far, I would venture to say that they are the most influential worst model for how to maintain a good relationship. But what can be done, censorship? Schools can choose positive models and encourage discussion, but need to include how things really are. Leaving is such an "easy" solution. Maybe conflict resolution education would be helpful in making people more mature?

Sue said...

qaro, good points!! I was probably a little too cryptic in my comments, since I try to leave long social analyses to my other Sociological Stew blog. I didn't mean to make it sound like I thought that chauvinism was the solution (even if it was universal).

I certainly support the idea that women should be paid equally with men, and not just the same pay for the same job, but the same pay for equivalent jobs. I grew up at a time when it was perfectly legal for California to have different (lower) minimum wage for female agricultural workers than for male agricultural workers (I know because that's how I earned money during the summers in college). That's just wrong. It's also just wrong for there to be barriers to women entering fields like medicine, law, engineering, etc.

One thing I find problematic with the feminism of the 1970's and 1980's was that the absolutist emphasis on equality meant that they had a hard time arguing (and therefore often simply ignored) that women had special needs (related to things that only women can do -- i.e., give birth and nurse) that need to be accomodated. As a consequence, although pregnant women do have far more protections today than they had 50 years ago, women who have children suffer measurable negative economic consequences in pay and promotions compared to men and women who do not have children.

The other problem I have with the feminism of the 1970's and 1980's is that so much of their energy was put into reproductive freedom and "choice" (i.e., abortion rights), to give women control over their bodies, that it created a notion that if you did have children it was an individual "choice" and therefore the entire economic responsibility of that choice should fall on individual women and families rather than on society. A major reason why the U.S. feminist movement never fought for publicly subsidized childcare or health care. While I'm for reproductive freedom, I think its a huge mistake for any society to caste childbearing as an individual choice rather than as service to society. Our society has come to treat children as though they were consumer goods -- a family chooses to have children rather than buy other things (boat, vacation home, etc.). Where as I believe that children should be seen as a public good, like highways, airports, and harbors, that benefit all of us, and that their needs (food, clothing, care, health care, schooling etc.) are costs we should all support, not just their individual families.

I think the American feminist movement did a lot for middle class and upper middle class women who wanted to go to college and graduate school and become professionals, and who were willing to delay until age 40 child bearing or forgo it entirely. Lot's of opportunities in higher education and the professions opened up for women in the last thirty years. But I'm not sure that the feminist movement did much for poor, working class and lower middle class women, or any women who want to be full-time mothers.

I think that a strong trade union movement that extends to white collar, clerical, and service occupations, that fights for women's pay, paid parental leave, etc. would be more successful at serving the needs of the majority of women.

Although this book is a bit dated, you might be interested in Sylvia Ann Hewlett's A Lesser Life in which she compares the American feminist movement with the European trade union movement in terms of the benefits to women and children.

Oh yes -- Asimov! I think that my favorites are the novella's The End of Eternity and Pebble in the Sky, but the original Foundation trilogy is high up there.

punkinsmom said...

I have just now gotten around to reading the few comments on my blog this week and noticed yours, so I popped over for your review.
While SciFi is my least favorite genre, you did make this book sound interesting.
I'm glad to hear about anyone who truly reads (as opposed to paying it lip service). I certainly don't expect people to read as I do (about 8 books a week), but spending the hour you would normally watch "Big Brother" with a book has got to be an incalcuable improvement!

Qaro said...

I read a few posts on Sociological Stew and I will keep reading that. (Sorry to drag your day job into your night life. HeHe.)

Really interesting points. I will see if I can find that book. Thanks.

Sue said...

Qaro-the thing about being an academic, especially one that teaches on-line, is that "day" and "night" all seem to mingle together. :)

Qaro said...

A few times a week I can't keep my work from following me home. I envy my husband who is a house framer. No way to bring that home!