Does Science Fiction support or subvert patriarchy (or neither or both)? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, patriarchy is the ‘predominance of men in positions of power and influences in society, with cultural values and norms being seen as favouring men.’1 This essay will discuss patriarchy and science fiction’s treatment of it. This will be done by examining the treatment of gender and sexuality in science fiction texts such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War.
Brian Attlebury states that ‘science fiction is a useful tool for investigating habits of thought, including conceptions of gender. Gender, In turn, offers an interesting glimpse into some of the unacknowledged messages that permeate science fiction,’2 In other words, due to the nature of science fiction and its ability to remove conventional boundaries allows further exploration in to conceptions of gender and the ideas surrounding it. Gender itself is; ‘social expectations about behaviour regarded as appropriate for the members of each sex,’ science fiction allows for new and different societies thus allowing for different social expectations of gender.
A single definition of science fiction is difficult to pin down, Attebury suggests that, ‘storytelling is a way of thinking about things, and science fiction is a form of storytelling that invites us to challenge standard notions of nature and culture.’3 Therefore agreeing with the idea that, science fiction allows traditional notions of both gender and sexuality to be challenged. The Oxford English Dictionary says that, ‘sexuality is biological; it is the quality of being sexual or possessing sex,’4 it also offers a further explanation stating that it is ‘sexual nature, instinct or feelings; the possession or expression of these,’5 when accepting these definitions as true it is safe to say that gender is purely a social idea whereas sex and sexuality is innate.
What is significant here are the words society and biology within these definitions; these words apply to the human world and human biology, thus allowing science fiction to explore the society and biology of new worlds and races. This is one way in which science fiction authors tackle the idea of gender and sexuality, by exploring that of another species. However, authors such as Haldeman continue to examine the gender roles and sex of humans, but by placing humans in a futuristic environment where there have been significant technological advances. This essay will examine both these ways and explore how patriarchy is used and portrayed within the novels.
According to Michelle Green, Le Guin, ‘[rejects] the binary construction of sexuality, insisting that the gender defining characteristics of males and females are socially rather than biologically based,’6 By creating another world and introducing a human to it Le Guin is able to experiment with gender and sexuality whilst comparing it to that of the human amongst them. Le Guin’s protagonist Genly Ai cannot comprehend the differences he encounters when first meeting the Gethenians; ‘Cultural shock was nothing much compared to the biological shock I suffered as a human male among human beings who were, five-sixths of the time, hermaphrodite neuters.’7 Michelle Green believed that Le Guin, ‘[experiments] with biological androgyny as a means for ending the battle of the sexes.’8 However use of masculine pronouns, dominance of masculine narrator over entire text. Preponderance of masculine traits for the supposedly gender – free characters. ‘ The novel has been criticized for presenting a race of people who, while theoretically androgynous, appear to the reader to be male, a problem that arises in part because Le Guin refers to the Gethenians with male pronouns.’9
However, as much as Le Guin’s use of the male pro-noun seemed to support patriarchy her intended isolation of her male protagonist goes some way to subvert it, ‘ seeing a...
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