July 27th, 2004


on racism, heinlein, and bondage (in approximately that order)

There's a large group of people in the world who are convinced they're not prejudiced in any way. They will - at length - explain why it is that they're so open-minded, and demonstrate all the various ways that they're equal and fair and logical.

They're so convinced of their superior logic that they never quite realize how prejudiced and illogical they are.

I've been reading a metric ton of Heinlein recently, quickly approaching the stage of "Hey, have you read the Heinlein story where-" "Yes. I have." "I didn't describe it." "You don't have to." and it's really curious what kinds of recurring themes you pick up. For example:

Heinlein is a firm believer in equal rights, as long as women are subordinate.

It is *amazing* how often an otherwise-strong female suddenly starts agreeing with her husband's every whim. Marriage apparently involves surgical removal of the spine - in fact, any kind of relationship does. One minute she's fighting off evil people, the next minute she's, well, a piece of furniture. It's worth pointing out (and even stranger) that this amazing spine vanishing trick only applies to the person the girl's in love with - while obviously her husband has full command over her, nobody else does. (The "boyfriend" stage apparently doesn't exist in Heinlein's mind. There's "acquaintance", "friend", and "we're married, we just might not have gotten it formalized yet".) This isn't 100% accurate, especially in the early books, but it's so obvious as to be comical in the last few.

I don't think there's a single book where a main female character doesn't end up married, incidentally. I could be wrong on that.

Black people are totally equal. In fact, so equal that it's worth commenting on - repeatedly - whenever one shows up.

I tried not to show surprise. I hope I did not, for I have an utter horror of showing that kind of rudeness. There was no reason why the man should not be a Negro. I simply had not been expecting it.

-Magic Inc

Sex should be open and free. Really free. Really really free. No, really. Anything goes. Anything at all. As long as it's missionary position, of course.

"Oh. You haven't been in my room. A big bed. Because both my husbands often choose to sleep with me . . . and there is still plenty of room to invite a guest to join us."


But she could not know that I had never felt bound by the taboos of my clan and was as untroubled by the idea of incest as a tomcat is. Indeed, the greatest disappointment of my life was my inability to get my father to accept what I had been so willing to give him, from menarche till lost him.

-To Sail Beyond the Sunset

`Oh, oh! Here's one that Father did not care for.'

`Me, too. I prefer girls.'

'Yes, but you can do it to a woman, too. Father said that some day some man was going to want to do that to me... and that I should think about it ahead of time and be prepared to cope with it. He said that it was not immoral, or wrong, but that it was dirty and physically risky -'

(section removed since it's long)

'Oh, this next one does show something Father disapproves of. He says that anyone who mixes whips and chains, or either, with sex, is crazy as a pet coon and should be kept away from healthy people.'

-To Sail Beyond the Sunset

Because, you know. Promiscious incest? Nothing wrong with that! Just, you know, don't do that anal thing. It's wrong. Plus nobody should be into bondage.

Governments are always right and should be obeyed unquestioningly, except when they're not.

I'm not going to get into this one in great detail - but note that despite a ton of "defend ourselves against the invaders" stories, and "revolt against the evil oppressors" stories, there isn't a single "hey! This government sucks. Let's make a new one" story. In fact, at several points, he insists that any citizen of the country should be glad to lay down his life for the good of the people, or he doesn't even deserve to be called a man. (Females laying down their lives for the country is encouraged, but unnecessary, and even then it's only encouraged in his early stories.)


In fairness to all of this, it seems like he just got stodgier as he got older. His early stories are fantastic, with little-to-none of the stuff I'm talking about. There's a *reason* everyone associates Heinlein with Rocket Ship Galileo, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, and Stranger in a Strange Land. Those books rock (although Stranger in a Strange Land seems to be the first occurance of his old-perverted-guy schtick - it's still great despite that.)

I have the feeling it's something like the early Star Trek shows, though. Back then, the thought of having a black person or a female on the bridge of a ship was completely unheard of. So - they DID it! How amazing! The fact that they combined "black" and "female" into a single character, and then turned her into a telephone operator, was completely overshadowed by the fact that there actually was a black female on the bridge. It was worthy of note.

I'd like to think we're past that, though. I'd like to think that gender and race are unimportant, not in the sense that it's worth making massive efforts to include people in the poor downtrodden minorities, but in the sense that, hey, it's totally unimportant. And unfortunately a lot of the great authors were back in the days when, no matter how hard you tried, it *was* important.

Or, I don't know. Maybe Heinlein was just being clever in pointing out that his characters were prejudiced.