Out of Everywhere

A James Tiptree Jr. Critique

“The Women Men Don’t See” Review

“The Women Men Don’t See” (Copyright © 1973 by Mercury Press, Inc., for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December, 1973)

First Published in Warm Worlds and Otherwise – (cover art is from this story)

Also appears in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

This is the other story we read for my Science Fiction Literature class. And like “With Delicate Mad Hands,” I had already read this story in HSRUF. Also like with With Delicate Mad Hands,” I was disappointed when I saw we’d be reading this story because I remembered not liking it the first time I read it. However, I did not reread this story and suddenly like it. I still didn’t like it. After having a class discussion about it, I can appreciate what the story is doing, but I still don’t like it. My main problem with it is that it is a story told by a male character who is societally sexist, who encounters female characters he doesn’t like. This makes this a story about characters who are unlikable to the narrator, told by an unlikable character. There are no likable characters. And I have a problem with this. It is exactly the reason I don’t like Wuthering Heights. How can I sympathize with characters who I despise? While I don’t hate these two nearly as much as I hate Catherine and Heathcliff, it still has the same problem.

Spoilers up ahead. You have been warned. The story starts with the narrator pointing out his “manliness” by talking about “serious fishing” and how he is not like the normal American tourists. It is supposed to be satiric and obnoxious. This is one of Tiptree’s stories that takes place in “modern” times (i.e. the seventies). It is set in Mexico, because I think Tiptree went there once, or lived there. Many of her “modern times” stories at least partially take place in Mexico or around it. The Tales of the Quintana Roo is all about stories that take place in Quintana Roo, which is a state of Mexico, on the Eastern part of the Yucatan peninsula. This one even mentions Quintana Roo, as the characters pass over it in a small, private plane. The Man (he has a name, but it doesn’t matter to the story) is trying to get to his fishing and two women (a mother and a college-age daughter) are trying to get to Chetumal. They get caught in a storm in a small plane, but the pilot manages to land them on a sandbar along a coast of jungle. The mother and the Man head to the coast in a attempt to find fresh water and get stuck over night. All is fine and normal until the Science Fiction comes blasting in. That night, some aliens come to investigate their camp, and the next morning the woman barters with them to take them back to the sandbar and then take her and her daughter with them off Earth while the Man freaks out.

The details aren’t really important, because it is not the story that is important. Here, the symbols are very important. Again, the male character is the symbol of society. He is not overwhelmingly sexist, as the captain in “With Delicate Mad Hands” is, but he is still a product of his society. He feels women should feel helpless or threatened by a man. He wants to be the valiant protector. He wants to be desirable to the women because he is A Man. So when the women a) do not go into hysterics when they crash, b) show no interest in him, and c) end up helping him because he breaks his leg freaking out about the aliens, his world sort of gets turned around. Also, there is a subplot about the fact that the mother isn’t married, and comes from a long line of women who would go on vacation, find a hot guy, sleep with him, get pregnant, and go back with a baby. (Her daughter’s biological father is Swedish. She leaves her daughter alone with the pilot so that she can get pregnant and continue the tradition.) This completely blows the Man’s mind. He can’t comprehend women not needing men — the women men don’t see. In the end, the women are bored with Earth, and its never-changing social sexism, so they go off with the aliens. Here are characters who feel “alienated” and connect with the “aliens” more so than with humans. In this way, the “alienated” character becomes the “alien” character. The Man cannot comprehend the women to the extent that they become alien to him, even as much as the real, satellite dish-headed aliens are (check out the cover of WWaO — the cover art is from this story).

Overall, this story gets a 2 out of 5 from me. I appreciate what it is trying to do with the alienation=alien concept, but it still has the problem of dually unlikable characters, which is something I personally don’t enjoy. I need to find a 5 star story to do next, otherwise you all will think Tiptree writes crap. I promise you, there is a reason she is my favorite author.

P.S. You can read this story online! Just click here.

Advertisements

February 16, 2011 - Posted by | Books, Feminism, Her Smoke Rose Up forever, Review, Soft Science Fiction, Warm Worlds and Otherwise | , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: