The Moon is a Harsh Mansplainer (1966) by Robert A. Heinlein

TheMoonisAHarshMistress1The famous refrain: TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

More like…

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Fair Libertarian.

TANSTAAFH – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Feminist Heinlein.

TANSTAAHM – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Heinlein Masterwork.

TANSTAAHWBED – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Heinlein Without Boring, Expository Dialogue.

TANSTAAHFPPTDSLEOHFPP – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Heinlein First-Person Protag That Doesn’t Sound Like Every Other Heinlein First-Person Protag.

 


 

This is what I hear in my head when I read a book by Bob Heinlein:

[YouTube search: Family Guy “London Gentlemen’s Club.” Because I’m a copyright coward.]

(For the non-botherers, it’s just a cartoon clip of few old dudes clearing their throats in a men’s lodge.)

 


 

I could go on about the sexism,

“Man, this is a not-stupid?”
“For a girl, yes.” (64)

the pedophilia,

“…She’s below the age of consent. Statutory rape.”
“Oh, bloody! No such thing! Women her age are married or ought to be…

the sexism,

…Stu, is no rape in Luna. None. Men won’t permit it.” (164-165)

the blackface,

“Wyoh was now darker than I am, and pigment had gone on beautifully.” (39)

(but it’s not racism because she’s sexy both ways)

the abusive economics,

“It strikes me at the most basic human right, the right to bargain in a free marketplace.” (33)

(Is somebody pranking me? Somebody must be pranking me.)

the anti-intellectualism, the elitism, the sexism, the fascism, the militarism, the sexism…

I could go on about all that, but that’s not really what the book is about. The story could be full of problematic details and still be of value.

 


 

This is what the book is about:

“Suddenly felt tired. How to tell lovely woman dearest dream is nonsense?” (46)

The plot: Lunar colonists overthrow their paternal government.

The actual plot: Profit, profit, sexy ladies, profit.

The actual, actual plot: Mannie explains it all.

Man-splain.

*sigh* It’s so tiring to know everything. *temple rub*

 


 

I have a love-hate relationship with the term “mansplainer.” It’s a brilliant word mash-up; so precise, so essential. It’s occurred to me, though, that fewer good conversations might be happening because some men might be afraid of sounding like a mainsplainer, so they just don’t say anything at all. It’s a good word, but it can be paralyzing.

And then there’s my own fear: I think I might be a mansplainer.

I’d never deny that I might sometimes sound like arrogant know-it-all. I can bulldoze a meeting when I don’t like where it’s going. Sometimes, I think my colleagues see me as the Mikey from the ’80s Kix cereal commercial of saying things: “Tell Megan! She’ll say it! She’ll say anything!”

I’ve probably started a sentence with, “Well, actually…” more times than I’d like to admit.

So, I might be a mansplainer.

It takes one to know one.

 


 

TheMoonisaHarshMistress2My first Heinlein was Stranger in a Strange Land, and I thought, “Man, this Jubal Harshaw character is really a load of over-the-top male arrogance. I’m sure this is unique to the book because he’s a device to keep the characters together. Like a Dostoyevsky patriarch. I’m sure it won’t happen again.”

But it turns out Jubal Harshaw is every Heinlein protagonist ever. Sometimes he’s younger, sometimes he’s older, sometimes he’s Pavel Chekov. But he’s always a gross know-it-all.

And by golly, little girl, don’t you worry your pretty little head because he is going to demonstrate how he knows it all by talking through the problem and explaining the obvious—oh, it’s so obvious now—solution.

 


 

Robert Heinlein sucks, his brain sucks, his dinkum-thinkum bullshit sucks, but people keep promoting his books and douchebags like that guy who wrote that book that’s now a movie considers him a major influence. (And I could have told you that book-movie guy was a douchebag before his infamous “priority” quote because look at his face.)

(see, that’s me being a mansplainer.)

Because of the respect this book has garnered, I was expecting something a great deal more tolerable and nuanced than the other Heinlein books I’ve read, but instead, what I got was a book about an AI that thinks in depth and a man who thinks in strict binary.

TANSTAAFUCKOFF.

 

*Before the “well actuallys” come flying in, I should add that, yes, I am aware that this book predates Pavel Chekov. But still.

 

 

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68 thoughts on “The Moon is a Harsh Mansplainer (1966) by Robert A. Heinlein

  1. Rabindranauth says:

    Yeaaaaaa, I’m not even going to bother with the Heinlein hype. Thanks for eating the bullet where it comes to that guy so at least I didn’t have to, bahahaha.

    Liked by 2 people

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Well, actually… that’s a good call. He is bad for a lot of things, but becoming numb to his terrible male-female depictions is the worst side-effect.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Steph says:

    I love this. I bow to couchtomoon! You just made me very happy…and I will continue to avoid Heinlein

    Liked by 1 person

  3. marzaat says:

    I’m tempted to post my reaction to that book — quite a bit different than yours, but I sympathize with younger readers hating to be told they have to read Heinlein. I know I hated that when my friend did that to me in high school decades ago.

    Liked by 2 people

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Well, actually… tradition seems to show that you.will.post. I look forward to it 🙂

      I’ve seen lots positive reviews, but I’m so biased against him at this point, it’s like the words from positive reviews don’t even go in my brain. I cannot fathom good things about this book. It was just terrible.

      It’s like he commits all of my SF crimes: too genre, too didactic, too bland, too archaic, too grandpa tryna be cool but not. And he’s always so behind the times compared to his peers, but he tries to wrap it up in sexuality to make it seem subversive and cool. It’s never subversive and cool, though. It’s just as stifling as the status quo.

      Like

  4. wildbilbo says:

    I’ve never read any Heinlein…not really inclined to after this review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You know, I was kind of hoping that this one would be at least tolerable, since it’s held in such high esteem by so many people. (Usually the “why isn’t there a Heinlein on this best-of list, have you not read Moon is a Harsh Mistress?” crowd.) But deep down I know better, and besides, this was a better rant than your “meh” review would have been.

    The thing I’ve learned, the more classic SF I read, is how precious it is when a work ages gracefully. Or, better, has aged as well as certain fanbases think it has. Heinlein is touted by many as the pillar of the golden age. Yeah, he can push a sentence together better than many of his contemporaries, but every novel of his I’ve read has had some “wait, did that just—was that morally acceptable back then?!” moment. (You think this one is bad? I raise you one Farnham’s Fucking Freehold.) His juveniles are interesting but facile, boys’-own adventures in space. His older short fiction can be fascinating, but that’s respective of the times, so there’s a lot of engineering dudes doing engineering.

    It feels like the younger crowd, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, are less likely to put up with his shit “for the story” or whatever and won’t give Heinlein a free lunch (see, he was right!). I’m wondering if it’s a generational thing, showing how expectations and cultural/societal norms have shifted between generations. Or maybe it’s just a rebellion against the establishment, like the New Wave of yore.

    Let’s see, you’ve already read the one about an always-right Gary Stu figure who screws his mom, so you could try the one with an always-right Gary Stu who convinces a minor to cryogenically freeze herself so he can legally marry her (yes, she’s now 47, but her body and mind are still 16!), or the one with slave-owning cannibalistic black Muslims in the future, or the tract about the awesomeness of oligarchies that readers would consider a relic of the Mussolini regime if it hadn’t been written in the States in the ’50s, or…

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Well, actually… I should have known better, but I really thought I would be eating my typical Heinlein insults for this review. Well, actually, I WAS WRONG. Frankly, I think Stranger in a Strange Land might be the more of his works, and I say that with the most high-pitched, nasal-toned stink-face possible. Because that’s really overselling it.

      You and Joachim and Hestia have all warned me off of Farnham’s Freehold before. Which means that I will eventually read it. And people keep trying to steer me toward his juveniles but I just cannot. (which sounds dirty anyway, when you’ve read enough of him. “His Juveniles.” Yuck.)

      Pillar-schmiller. Being the pillar of “Golden Age Science Fiction” isn’t exactly a compliment. It sounds like a kind of cheese I have in my fridge, not something I want to read.

      “It feels like the younger crowd, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, are less likely to put up with his shit “for the story” or whatever and won’t give Heinlein a free lunch (see, he was right!).” LOLOLOL, too funny.

      I don’t know if it’s a generational thing. That book-movie Martian guy isn’t much older than me. Then again, I kind of wonder if he’s read many sci-fi books, including the authors he touts. Sometimes, I think people mention those Golden Aged & Fried authors in order to sound legit. That’s the reason I read them 😀

      But yeah, I am basically just rebelling against the establishment… the very tiny, ineffectual establishment of readers who venerate Heinlein and the other ones who pretend to have read him.

      Wow, so many Heinlein choices! Which one has the always-right Gary Stu? Because I bet that one will be stimulating and refreshing to read!

      Like

  6. “Pillar-schmiller. Being the pillar of “Golden Age Science Fiction” isn’t exactly a compliment. It sounds like a kind of cheese I have in my fridge, not something I want to read.”

    “Golden Aged & Fried”

    Hahahahaha. Hahahahahaha. *laughs forever*

    I remember The Book Smugglers doing a joint review of this one a couple years ago and reading it being like daaaamn, I was REALLY distracted by the revolutionary elements huh? Cause I didn’t notice fucking anything. And now thinking back I remember that I was fucking in the middle of a literature BA at the time AND I DIDNT NOTICE THIS SHIT AND WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT THE EDUCATION SYSTEM? And my brain. Cough cough.

    Anyway, I agree with what another commenter said up there about being glad you read the Heinlein and tell us about it in amusing ways so that we don’t have to read it. He isn’t a pillar of any house I would live in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I’ll have to go look at the Book Smugglers review. I’m not surprised at all that they didn’t like it.

      As for not noticing fucking anything problematic: I think this happens to all of us. I was a good deal nicer on my first two Heinlein reviews because… I dunno, his reputation, the times, subconscious apologetics? I think we’ve conversed enough by now for me to conclude that you are probably like me, in that we are uber-progressive lefties, but with enough caustic cynicism to make us pretty much impervious to hurtful, problematic stuff, which means sometimes hurtful, problematic things need to be pointed out to us. I BET YOU’RE A MANSPLAINER, TOO 😛

      Like

      • WELL ACTUALLY MEGAN…

        Hahahahahahaha.

        Ehem.

        I was going to argue that well actually I am more of a shy type when it comes to confrontational opnions in real life, but hey, mansplaining found its name on the internet, and here we are.

        “we are uber-progressive lefties, but with enough caustic cynicism to make us pretty much impervious to hurtful, problematic stuff” You know I think you pretty much nailed it there. And I actually never even considered how my chain mail of cynicism probably protects my brain from bullshit from time to time. Good job, brain! And people think it’s all just pessimissicm and bad humours.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. iansales says:

    I read lots of Heinlein back in my teens and early twenties – well, he was a big name, there were yards of his books in local bookshops, and it seemed liked everyone and their dog had read him. I suppose at the time I sort of enjoyed them, although I never really liked Stranger in a Strange Land. And I still don’t. Some of his juveniles are readable, and quite fun in a horribly dated way. But the one that I keep on coming back to in a sort of horribly fascinated way is I Will Fear No Evil. That’s the one where the rich old patriarch/RAH-mouthpiece dies, and his brain is transplanted into the nubile body of his recently-deceased female secretary. Except it turns out she’s somewhere in there too. It’s like a totally masturbatory screwball romance, with added courtroom drama. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. apizzagirl says:

    I suppose I’m more generous in my allowances for Heinlein, but then I went back and read my review of this one and remembered how sick I felt listening to the scene where Wyoming jokes about being raped. Fuck. That messed with me.

    I did like Mike though. Maybe he’ll decide to joke around and kill them all.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Like I told Nikki above, I was pretty generous with Heinlein during my first couple of reviews of him, so I think that’s pretty typical. I’m generally pretty lenient with the sexism and old-fashioned ideas in old SF, so when I react like this, it’s only after noticing a pattern of stale, stodgy arrogance paired with a conscious effort to reinforce stereotypes and regressive ideas.

      I liked MIke, too. I love AI and robot characters. One of my notes for the book was, “Leave it to Heinlein to ruin a good AI best friend story.” I wonder if the book would be better if Manny and Professor Paz took a hike and let Mike and Wyoh run the revolution. I think I would enjoy that!

      Like

  9. Stefanie says:

    This has got to be one of the best Heinlein reviews I have ever read! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Holly Best says:

    HA, THIS made my day, I have tried twice with Heinlein, both ending badly with me swearing and tossing the books across the room. CANNOT DEAL so I have resigned to the fact that I like new SF and everyone can just shove it. hee hee

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I’m so glad to have made your day! And I’ve had mostly positive responses to this post, so I think a lot of people agree!

      PLEASE don’t let Heinlein be your definition of old SF. He sucks, but some of his peers were exciting, interesting, and lacked a lot of that mid-20th cheese. Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow, Sam Delany’s Babel-17, and Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang are really good examples of good gateway vintage SF that lack the olive green paisley crustiness that a lot of people associate with vintage SF. They have all aged fairly well and resulted in zero book throwing for me.

      Like

  11. Peter S says:

    I’ve only liked one of his books, “Have Spacesuit Will Travel”. And by ‘liked it’ I mean it’s the only one that I have finished reading without throwing away after 50 or so pages.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Wow, I think Spacesuit will be my next Heinlein. Taking a long break from him, though…

      It’s really comforting to know that not all SF fans worship the Heinlein.

      Like

      • Peter S says:

        Wait, wait, hold on! “Spacesuit” is really just mediocre, I was really just surprised that it was not as bad as some of his other books. It’s a very dated, pulpy, adventure story – like a harmless Saturday afternoon 50’s era Sci-fi movie.

        Like

  12. Totally took one for the team there, didn’t you? 😉

    Hell, I can’t even get past the first 10 pages of most of his books before I get straight out bored. Since 1997ish, Starship Troopers is the only book I’ve finished, and that had the promise of a film follow up driving it. I’d rather reread a Nicholas Fisk juvenile than anything Heinlein wrote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      If I see a need for snark, I’m always willing to make a sacrifice 🙂

      Troopers is another one I need to get around to. I feel like I picked it up in high school when the movie came out, but I don’t think I got very far, and I’m not even sure if I ever saw the movie. I have terrible book memory… partly the motivation for this blog is because I kept picking up blah books and suspecting I’d already read the author.

      Like

  13. Widdershins says:

    I KNEW this was gonna be good the moment I read the headline … came here, wasn’t disappointed.
    Men mansplain, women inform. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Widdershins says:

      Also … Heinlein was one of the first SF authors I read when I was an impressionable young gel, looking to escape a nasty childhood. I thought his ‘voice’ was the height of cynical spacefaring hero-dom the world /galaxy over. I wanted to write just like that.
      Thankfully I grew up I broadened my reading and writing, and life horizons. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • fromcouchtomoon says:

        See, I read things like that and it makes his juveniles sound appealing. Better than his adult books, at least. It seems like Heinlein was a relatively innocuous gateway to SF, but a good reader should expect to outgrow him.

        …and some people have not and never will outgrow him.

        Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Men mansplain, women inform, and Megan assumes people just don’t know and it is her bonafide duty as a good citizen to address that deficit with an authoritative voice.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Jesse says:

    I don’t consider myself on the Heinlein bandwagon. What few books and stories I’ve read didn’t seem to match the reputation people accord him, or at least used to accord him. But I did find The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress the best of his books I’ve read thus far. It’s linguistically very inventive, technically sound, and, if I had to guess, echoes the American Revolutionary War, which, love or hate the result, makes it historically relevant. It’s been a few years since I read the book, and I didn’t recall the -ism quotes you reference. They scared me, a little. Was it such a discriminating book? So, I went and dug out my copy, and was able to loosely correlate the page numbers in your version to mine. I gotta say, Megan, are you sure you’re not letting a little anger at ol’ man Heinlein taint your overall opinion? 🙂

    The first quote is sexism, and the surrounding text supports that. One point for you. The second, however, I gotta say is a stretch to say call pedophilia. The girl in question is a teenager, and though legally below age in her society, is supported by social mores regarding female sexual autonomy, “Because choice is hers. Not yours. Not theirs. Exclusively hers.” One point for Heinlein. The next line regarding men not allowing rape is so isolated in your review that the novel reader and review reader may have two different views as to what Heinlein meant. I don’t know who to award a point to in this case, but suffice to say the line occurs in the middle of a discussion about how valuable women are to the lunar colony, so valuable they are essentially free to do as they please, and men cannot complain or react in anger without fear of serious retribution from other men. And the fourth quote is likewise a bit gray. Technically, of course, the situation is blackface. But if I understand the idea of blackface correctly, it is white people painting their faces black for entertainment purposes. The purpose of Wyoh, who is a wanted political dissident, is simple disguise, nothing satirical or insulting about it. Are characters in novels not allowed to disguise themselves as other races for identity/plot purposes? Perhaps I missed some subtle digs at race in this section, but I have trouble seeing how the scene is racist, especially, as you note, how beauty is attached to the new image. And the abusive economics, well, that’s opinion. I happen to agree with your opinion, but I don’t think the novel is bad because Heinlein injected some propaganda. If the American Revolutionary War parallel is to be allowed room, then such freedoms were the things colonists were fighting for, just like the Loonies.

    How open was your mind going into this novel? 🙂

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      My mind is completely closed to Heinlein. I don’t think I’ve advertised myself as anything but, and after 6 Heinlein books, I’ve earned it. This isn’t coming from anger (even though anger is a valid argument against an author), otherwise it wouldn’t be so jokey. I just can’t take the guy seriously anymore. He’s a creepy-ass creeper, he’s icky and gross, his books are boring and stale.

      However, I did kind of think I would be more agreeable to this book. As I said in my “review,” (and I hope you realize that this is a riff, not a review), a story can be full of problematic details and still be of value. I thought the revolutionary and economics stuff would interest me, even if I disagree with it. But all the same annoying Heinlein habits kept appearing. That narrative voice just rankles me. I’d say I shut down about the time the first time Wyoh and Mannie have dinner together. So much of the conversation felt like 1950s gender politics (“It would be nice to have a husband to come to… if he didn’t mind that I was sterile” (46)). It bothers me, but eh, I expect that stuff, especially from him.

      I get that, 3 years before the actual moon landing, Heinlein’s speculations about colonization are interesting and logical– in fact, I had originally planned to open with that– but I didn’t even care about it by the end of the book. He’s completely alienated me as a reader by his constant efforts to “big-up” his protagonist, while at the same time working (I mean, WORKING—this is no accident) to reinforce patriarchal gender roles by constantly sexualizing, commodifying, and patronizing women.

      And he’s not a good storyteller. I don’t get why people think he’s such a technical genius. Where? I’m sure you have good reasons to label him as “linguistically inventive,” but I’m not seeing it. Because the Russian protag drops pronouns? Because he’s better grammatically and technically than a lot of Golden Age sci-fi writers? But this is ’66: sci-fi writers who can write aren’t rare anymore.

      Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      The sexism: I’ve got more quotes if we’re doing points here. However, most of it is just the general tenor of conversation that goes on his books.

      The pedophilia: [14-year-old girls should be married and there is no such thing as statutory rape.] Adult sexualizing of 14-year-old girls is pedophilia. There is such a thing as statutory rape, and I get “predator alert” all over when I read statements like this. The supporting context doesn’t convince me otherwise. (I think Ian Sales included a broader version of the quote in his review and came to same conclusions). This is a theme in Heinlein’s books and it becomes louder as he gets older. He seems fixated on that age group. I don’t know if you spend much time around 14-year-old girls, but I do, and they are children, and they haven’t the cognitive faculties to decide to have and process sex with adults. Cognitive development models support me on this. (Of course, I’d never deny that children have their own sexual development stages, and their own ways of exploring and figuring out, but I’ve never encountered a situation in which adult “interference” in those stages resulted in anything other than trauma. And, unfortunately, I encounter those situations a lot. In the end, no child walks away from it skipping and singing. (It’s my job, so I’m quite firm when I see efforts to erode these kind of protective boundaries.)

      The rape quote: Your response is that the quote is about “how valuable women are to the lunar colony, so valuable they are essentially free to do as they please, and men cannot complain or react in anger without fear of serious retribution from other men.”

      Agh, do I have the energy to dissect it? “valuable” = women are commodity. “to the lunar colony”= women are not the lunar colony= men are the lunar colony. “essentially free” = their freedom is separate from male freedom. “retribution from other men” = men enforce the system = women are participants in someone else’s system = women have power as long as men protect the system and are happy enough with a harmed woman to want to protect her.

      Bottom line: I would never want to live in Heinlein’s lunar colony. I would not feel free or safe or powerful.

      The blackface: Yes, an author can allow his characters to run around in disguises, but, here we are on the moon, talking about magnetic catapults, and the best disguise he can come up with for his blonde female character is to put her in blackface and a tight dress? You’re right: this is not about satire or insult, it’s about beauty. This is Heinlein’s clumsy attempt at liberal sexual politics again: “I think black women are sexy, too.” I’m sure he patted himself on the back for that one, but it doesn’t pass the cultural appreciation test today.

      Referencing beauty—sexiness– is partly a way of devaluing someone. It’s just fetishizing, roundabout tokenism, dehumanizing. Racism (and sexism) isn’t always about aggression; it’s any kind of tokenism, gaze, or ignorant application of culture. It is insulting on many levels.

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      • Jesse says:

        Sorry, was busy yesterday, and so couldn’t immediately reply. But your response was rolling around my head as I drove…

        Fourteen… yeah, I can’t argue with that. There may be some African or Indonesian tribes wherein such behavior is “normal,” but for Western culture it is disturbing. Olympic committee withdraws point for Heinlein and awards two to Couch2Moon for value of argument. (The points are a joke. Feel free to propose your own methodology.)

        With regards to “valuable,” your response seems to be one of exasperation (“Agh…”) based on interpreting my usage of the term as commodification. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed by this. There is the other meaning of valuable which is more open and positive, namely that something is helpful, irreplaceable, or having special characteristics toward achieving some goal. I might ask, are you valuable to the school where you work? I would hazard the answer is yes :), that you are making positive contributions that improve your students’ lives. In other words, “valuable” does not automatically entail being property or taken advantage of. I wish my usage of the term had been given this benefit of the doubt. (I’m a nice guy, really, I am.) In the context of Heinlein’s novel, are there instances where women are treated as commodities that men are “buying and selling,” or systematically being taken advantage of in some way? I obviously need to re-read the book, but I recall lunar life being harsh for everyone. Women, however, had a huge influence on society, particularly in the large family units they controlled and in having the choice as to how many husbands they wanted, etc. In this central social role, I saw women as valuable to the society portrayed for their positive influence – the uniqueness of their contribution to the greater good. Perhaps Heinlein was paying lip service, don’t know…

        I’m a bit ambivalent on your blackface response. You seem to ask: was it necessary for Heinlein to disguise Wyoh as such? Certainly Heinlein could have done a million things different with the novel. We can second guess forever. But looking only at what he did do, I’m not sure there is much to stand on in terms of racism. Freud was once asked whether sexual symbolism can be found in any object, to which he replied “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” In this case, I think a disguise is just a disguise – a simple plot device for a simple story. There don’t appear to be any negative political undertones or hints of malevolence to the portrayal. But again, perhaps I need to re-read.

        Beauty/sexiness as a way of devaluing someone… an ignorant application of culture… While I really like the sentiment, research into the subject would seem to point in a different direction. Awareness of evolutionary fitness is, apparently, hard-wired into the human brain, and one of the main components is beauty/sexiness. People unavoidably value others at the physical level, amongst other criteria. While I hope humanity would try to better balance this with mental, social, or emotional criteria, it is nevertheless understandable how beauty/sexiness are used in fiction as it is naturally appraised by men and women in the real world. So, what you call fetishizing, dehumanizing, etc. I would call simply stereotyping – the stronger negative connotations unwarranted. In fact, labeling The Moon as a Harsh Mistress as fetishizing, dehumanizing, etc. would entail labeling a vast, vast, vast number of texts the same. After all, empty beautiful women in fiction are the same penny a dozen as empty narrow-hipped, strong-shouldered, flint-eyed, ruggedly-handsome men. (I’m curious if there are any complaints online about the repetitive portrayal of men, as such. It’s the internet. There must be, somewhere…)

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        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          I say we measure this out in TANSTAAFL stamps. Because, ironically, it sounds like a food stamp program acronym. One hundred TANSTAAFL stamps for me!

          I have had the anthropology courses, but I still side with cognitive development models on “childhood,” despite them being Western-ist. Fourteen-year-old girls are too young for sexual relations with adult men, in any culture.

          I get that your use of the term “valuable” was not intended in that way, but that is how I interpret Heinlein’s perspective (and not how I think you probably view the world). I should have gone back to the original rape comment “Men won’t permit it!” as the key in illustrating Heinlein’s worldview. But it’s just so obviously sexist– that’s from where my exasperation comes.

          For harmless, competency-celebrating sci-fi, Heinlein spends an inordinate amount of time in all of his books examining and reinforcing male and female roles. It’s stifling to someone like me. I have no doubt he was reacting to the women’s lib rumblings of his time. It threatened his worldview, so he used his fiction to compensate, to model, to justify his unwillingness to embrace change. (A nice side-product for him was that it influenced generations of impressionable readers– where is the pie chart of MRA members and Heinlein fans? Is it all one color?) Heinlein loved women. He loved them as he knew them and, while it pleased him to see the loosening of sexual taboos (except for gay male sex– for all his sexual liberalism, that’s not cool in his world), the merging of gender roles really irked him. That insecurity is constant and present in his fiction. So there’s this flavor of biological determinism that courses through the background of all of his fiction.

          Why-oh-why is Wyoh discussing her reproductive history on her first dinner with Mannie? And, being a fiery, influential political activist, she naturally becomes a… beautician? Even the line marriages and female-headed polygamist structure is really just a form of homemaking. His form of matriarchy is simply a version of “home is where the heart is” and “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” and “she who controls the ladle and the vagina controls everyone else” (not a saying in so many words…). Those women aren’t in charge. They are support staff.

          As you say, “In this central social role, I saw women as valuable to the society portrayed for their positive influence – the uniqueness of their contribution to the greater good.” There’s the rub. I don’t think women should be valued for their uniqueness. That’s the slippery slope of commodification and post-apocalyptic rapes. (and the suggestion of female “uniqueness” in turn suggests men are “default, normal”) Obviously, and I think you would agree with me that women should be valued as people, whose contributions are interchangeable with men. There is nothing about my biological structure that makes me unique in nature, or more adept to dish-washing and potato-peeling and nurturing. The only thing that’s not interchangeable between genders is the mechanics of pregnancy, but can you see why I question and bristle at the suggestion of a narrow life in the kitchen and hearth? It’s like wearing a wool turtleneck in hot room. Oppressive, uncomfortable, and why would I be so stupid?

          Heinlein values women for: sex, baby-making, cooking, mothering, something nice to look at, pretty people who say funny things and sometimes need a bit of correcting. Not-stupids, for a girl.

          Regarding beauty in fiction: I see far more empty beautiful women in fiction than I see broad-shouldered men. A lot of these male sci-fi characters are everyday joes: older, maybe a little paunch, maybe a receding hairline. That’s how I always picture them, but that’s partly my doing because we don’t often get a detailed physical description of the men like we do for the women. I don’t see much difference from the average sitcom cast– where the average-to-ugly-looking male is married to the out-of-his-league-knock-out-in-real-life female. I have never, ever seen the reverse in any kind of fiction. (I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, but, as I’m sure some critics of this blog would point out, “She just keeps reading from the sexist, male-dominated canon!”). Plus, even in fiction where the male hero is all rippling biceps, we don’t hear about it every time he shows up on the scene. With female characters, we get an ongoing recount of dress, hair, make up, breasts, legs. With Heinlein, his guys are competent, his women are competent (but not AS competent) AND oh, so sexy.

          As you point out, these are social values, and Heinlein knows it. He’s all about selling books and he knows what his readers like. His readers are a certain subset of men who need this kind of fantasy of reliable male competence and sexy, sassy ladies. (But it’s alienating to other readers. It doesn’t feel good to be regularly reminded of the importance of my looks.)

          TV sitcoms are slow to embrace change, but shouldn’t SF be a place where archaic, toxic, limiting social values are acknowledged and challenged? Isn’t this the appropriate place for me to say, “um, excuse me, Heinlein fans, but it’s time to get with the program.” (And while I tend to forgive older fiction for this, Heinlein is such a drum-beater for this kind of characterization, I have to harp on it.)

          Regarding the blackface: I still see it as fetishizing, not stereotyping, because Wyoh isn’t trying on stereotyped behaviors, but she is trying on the empty-shelled aesthetic and making it sexy– that’s fetish to me. No nuance, no acknowledgement of the precarious history of the practice, just hip-wagging.

          I think the bottom line is that, when I was, I dunno, a young kid, I pretty much decided that if an historically marginalized group of people of which I am not a part overwhelmingly decides that something is offensive to them, then I should take that to heart and do my best to understand and reinforce that view. To do otherwise is ignorance, an unfair, illegitimate pretense of competency. I don’t want to hurt people. The general consensus is that blackface is offensive, the use of which has been criticized and hurtful to people for ages. Heinlein is no dummy. He knew this and he wanted to be subversive: “do the controversial thing but make it a compliment.” It wasn’t his place to do that. He had no cred to be doing things like that and– what makes it most offensive– he thought he actually had the cred to do it, which just shows how very clueless he is about his own (I know this word is getting to be meaningless with its recent popularity, but still…) privileged status.

          If there ever needs to be a reassessment of a “thing officially deemed as offensive,” it will come from that historically marginalized community, at the right time (and hopefully never, in this case, because why?); not from me, not from you, and definitely not from Heinlein. (And this is why I can criticize White feminism and you can’t. And this is why I can criticize my mom and you can’t . It’s mine; you lose or gain nothing by your criticism. :-))

          And CIGAR! I’ve already been Cigar’ed once about this post! Now you?! The funny thing is Heinlein’s sexism, ignorance, and arrogance is so plain to me, that it is the cigar! Am I blinded by my feminist lens? No, but when I get, I think you call them “ground floor” books, I’m bored and look for something else to comment on. And Heinlein’s cigars are easy-pickins, completely obvious, and they ruffle my feathers. He’s been gone long enough that it’s high time someone put him on the Couch (which I’m sure has been done, see Hestia’s comment about “splashing his id all over the page, lololol”.) (And despite how much I love that cigar quote and love to pun it, nobody’s sure if Freud ever said it. It seems like the dude never turned it off, so I kind of doubt he said it.)

          And I know you’re a nice guy, Jesse. I wouldn’t bother responding at this point if I didn’t value these back-and-forths with you. (And I have the week off, so I hope to get back around to that Tiptree discussion I left dangling at your place…)

          Like

          • Jesse says:

            I’ve just remembered that I’ve not replied to your post! I can’t tackle all of it, but I’ll take a few points. (Those I ignore you may take as tacit agreement. 😉

            What’s wrong with both women and men being unique, or treated uniquely? Political equality has been found in the West, but there are many other key aspects of existence where equality can never be found, so why not recognize this and deal with it? Men are far more successful at suicide than women. Women are better at languages. Men are generally thinking in more abstract terms, and women more concrete. Women are better at controlling their aggression than men, but have more trouble than men dealing internally with emotions. Little boys like guns and little girls, dolls… I’m not sure these things can be modified with a civilization program to bring everyone to the same page. There’s a lot of stuff hardwired into gender, and the better we appreciate the differences, particularly the uniquely positive things each side brings to the table, I think the better relations will be. One of the interesting things for me in Europe is that women are better recognized as negotiators. I can think of four countries off the top of my head wherein the premier is a woman – and not a queen.

            This point is particularly important in the context of your comments on Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. I argued the stories were great individually, but anti-human as a whole. You defended her right to punch up – to go to an extreme in expressing a point regarding gender. Tying this in to the above point regarding uniqueness, in order to agree with you, I need to make an exception to what I consider socially constructive literature. In other words, I need to treat Sheldon, as a woman, uniquely. If I treat her normally, i.e. like a non-gendered human, then the criteria for what I consider acceptable social criticism are in place, and she breaches them with her jaded views toward men. Drawing another European parallel, sometimes I think Polish women have the best of both worlds. Polish culture is still quite traditional, and gentlemanly behavior is the norm, even among the less educated. Doors are opened, cheeks are kissed, deference in social situations is given, etc. At the same time, Polish women are very direct and candid with their opinions, swearing just as much as men, have complete control of the home and most often finances, march through careers to reach high positions (Poland is one of countries with a female premier), don’t take shit from anyone (i.e. unafraid to defend themselves), and generally have a significant presence in society beyond just being baby makers. It’s not a feminist paradise, but then again, I don’t know if that’s an idea that can ever be defined.

            Blackface, well, I think in the example from the novel’s case, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I stick by sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Not because I want to ignore what Heinlein did, rather because I firmly believe not everything in life has infinite layers of socio-political meaning. Think how many times on a regular basis you make statements that can be construed in an unintended way – not because of social conditioning or sub-conscious feelings, rather simply because of the subjectivity of language. And then think how many times people give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m not arguing for Heinlein. I agree with almost all your statements. I just can’t say that I was sitting on his shoulder while he wrote the novel and therefore know with 100% certainty the intention behind every scene.

            Like

          • fromcouchtomoon says:

            Sounds like I’d fit in well in Poland. Except too cold.

            This time-lapsed debate is hard to keep up with, so I say we agree to disagree and divide the spoils: I’ll take Tiptree and you can have Heinlein ;-P

            The blackface thing, though, has been controversial for a long time, with the 1950s Civil Rights Movement allowing for more public dialogue about the offensive nature of this longtime practice. Films and TV shows were being loudly boycotted, then cancelled. I can’t imagine that Heinlein, the great contrarian of social mores, was not cognizant of the controversy when he wrote that scene. As much as I can’t stand Heinlein, he was a deliberate writer. That particular scene was his way trying to get away with something that was very controversial at the time, and twist it as a compliment. Heinleinian objectivism.

            And while I agree that the biological wiring of gender is influential on behavior and preferences, modern studies find those differences to be minor in the grand scheme of things, and overblown in social discourse. Many major apparent differences are scientifically attributed to social influence, including male suicide behavior, which involves lots and lots of social factors, including sexism: the standard role of men have more financial stakes, to acquire more responsibilities, to seek less social support, and the overall unhealthy demands on masculine identity to be attractive, confident breadwinners. The stakes are higher for men, therefore failure is a more socially humiliating and desperate experience for men.

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  15. Hestia says:

    I know serious golden age fans love this one, but it was never my favorite. I was somewhat impressed with his invented dialect; it’s simple and readable, but sounds distinctive — not an easy trick to pull off. (I’m looking at you, David Mitchell’s story from the middle of Cloud Atlas that I had trouble getting through.)

    I have an almost purely sentimental attachment to Heinlein — I read all of his books in high school, and I think spending adolescence arguing with his political philosophies in my head probably had something to do with the lefty I am today. If I started reading his books today, I doubt I’d have the patience. So I find myself in a weird place between the right and the left here.

    My sense of Heinlein is that in his early career, under intense editorial supervision, he constructed adventure stories that, if they all featured improbably naive boys with effortless engineering skills, were at least relatively well-plotted and easy to read. I think if I reread them now, I’d find all sorts of cringe-worthy things, but at the time that stuff went right over my head.

    His adult books, on the other hand, seem to have happened in that peculiar post-editable phase some writers get to, where they can just write whatever they want, and nobody can stop them because people just buy their books anyway. And it turns out, in his case at least, that just splashing your id all over the page exposes some pretty awful stuff, even before it ages poorly. (I know I wouldn’t want to expose myself like that — but if I ever reached that point, I think I’d still be begging for editorial oversight.)

    I remember particularly enjoying Citizen of the Galaxy and The Star Beast…though like I say, there’s probably terrible stuff there I’m not remembering. Actually, if you insist on inflicting Heinlein’s writing on yourself, I might suggest taking a whack at The Number of the Beast…not because it’s good (oh, so not good) but because it’s SO far down the rabbit hole. Maybe the absurdity would amuse you.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      You are the second person to recommend Number of the Beast. It’s on the list!

      And you make a good point about editorial oversight. The combination of sales + arrogance made him impervious to editorial restraint and wisdom… which probably led to more sales! Because a certain subset of sf readers ate this shit up and craved more!

      “…splashing your id all over the page…” I love that. And the imagery it evokes is just priceless and raunchy and quick somebody draw the cartoon!

      Like

      • Hestia says:

        Sometimes when an author gets out from an editor’s leash, it shows us what a team effort his books really were.

        And I’ve been pondering all day why I’m kind of amused by Heinlein, who is problematic as hell, but I’m genuinely offended by say, “The Mote in God’s Eye” and its undisguised xenophobia.
        Sure, I read Mote later, but only a few years later.

        Liked by 1 person

        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          Amen about Mote in God’s Eye! Funny because Niven is the one who amuses me in a bumbling sort of way. BUT NOT WHEN HE’S WITH POURNELLE.

          Like

    • jameswharris says:

      Even though I’m a Heinlein fan I could never stomach The Number of the Beast. It could have been good with an editor, but Heinlein’s weird horniness kept cropping up. He seemed like a pathetic old man, and everything he wrote about sex was just silly. In both The Number of the Beast, and The Cat Who Walked Through Walls, I hated what he did to his characters that I loved in other books.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. psikeyhackr says:

    This is hilarious. Read “Sands of Mars” by Arthur C. Clarke. He says specifically that the crew of the ship all have IQs 120 and above. But if you check what NASA did to select Mercury astronauts 130 was the lower limit. Isaac Asimov had an IQ of 160.

    Heinlein’s know it all characters are more interesting than most real people. But it is funny that MENSA members seem to be so obnoxious. LOL

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Well, actually… I don’t get why you bring up IQ. I tend to subscribe to Gardner’s multiple intelligences model, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value people with high IQs. Just like with any organization, I like some MENSA members, others not so much. I can’t find any confirmation of Heinlein’s IQ, but I’m addressing his Arrogance and Chauvinism Quotient, which is very, very high.

      Heinlein’s know-it-all characters are not more interesting than most people. His characters are stilted cardboard cutouts, very unrealistic, but in a way that makes things predictable and stale. I would definitely pretend my phone was buzzing if I got stuck in a conversation with one of his protagonists.

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  17. Heinlein is a mixed bag for me. I started by reading Time Enough for Love and absolutely loved parts of it, and hated the juvenile sexual fantasy stuff and the incest weirdness. I then tried to read some of the stuff in that same time period but just didn’t connect with it.

    I went back to his juvenile fiction, and some of the work not considered juvenile but definitely pre-Stranger, and love it. It has that nostalgia factor that I look for in older science fiction. I haven’t been disappointed with any of those novels (Farmer in the Sky, The Puppet Masters, The Rolling Stones, Star Beast, Starman Jones, Podkayne of Mars, The Sixth Column, The Menace from Earth, Starship Troopers). They all have their dated elements, and if you don’t like Heinlein’s politics, that could present an issue, but by and large I feel the same way about them as I do Norton’s juveniles–the scratch a certain science fiction itch in a way few other books do.

    I’m sorry that his later years weren’t spent using the skill he brought to his earlier works to create something more complex and more “adult”, with the absence of inappropriate and downright silly sexual fantasy and political soap-boxing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I liked Double Star a great deal more than his later works, though, it was before I got burned out on “the Heinlein voice,” so I’m not sure it would work as well for me today.

      Like

  18. Guy says:

    Hi

    I am weighing in on this post and the subsequent discussion a bit late, but I was intrigued by the the comments on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Heinlein in general. I began reading SF in the mid to late 1960’s. Heinlein we were told was very much the man, any school or public library would be heavily stocked with Heinlein juveniles, Andre Norton (thank you, librarians) and the Winston Science Fiction novels, “ Tomorrow’s Adventure for Today’s Readers!”, you then read anthologies and short story collections, and again Robert was there. If you examine the contents of vol. 1 of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Heinlein’s lame, anti-labour and mechanically silly “The Roads Must Roll” has the duke it out with stories from his contemporaries like Campbell’s “Twilight”, Asimov’s “Nightfall, Sturgeon’s “ Microcosmic Gods”
    and he does not fare well. Having said that, at the time I devoured The Farmer in the Sky, StarMan Jones, Between Planets etc and I still have many of his works, including an Astounding with the cool Hubert Rogers cover for “The Roads Must Roll”. I recall enjoying The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at the time. Mike was cool, SF was still more robots than computers then, and farming on the moon, great to know, since so many of us would be heading to the stars any day now. I suspect many of the somewhat callow (me) readers of the time skimmed all the sexual/relationship stuff to get to the exciting action sequences anyway. I stopped ready anything new by Heinlein after Stranger in a Strange Land, on top of all the other flaws he was boring. A few months ago I tried to reread Moon but could not get past the sexist, right wing tone and constant hectoring about this and that. I then read The Door into Summer (Stop after the opening paragraph about the cat) and Time for the Stars I had trouble with the protagonists relationship with young girls in both novels and soured on the whole thing. Reading Golden Age works can be a challenge, I could only finish Fritz Lieber’s Big Time this summer because it was a “classic”. But there are roses among the thorns, any early Bester for example.

    All the best
    Guy

    Liked by 2 people

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      It is incredibly encouraging to see that I am not alone in this experience with Heinlein. I love reading older works, but not when they’re from the same didactic school as Heinlein. I don’t put Leiber in that category because he has a more artsy/literary background that informs his works, although I can see why people have a hard time with him. The Big Time is extremely unusual for a ’50s novel. I read it as a theatrical piece and that helped. And I’ll admit that there is a vein of un-PC stuff that bothers me with Leiber’s stuff, but I think he was ahead of his time in that regard. It just wouldn’t work today. Bester is certainly a fun one to read. I also squirm at his portrayal of females, but it fits within that ’50s frame of time. I have problems with Heinlein because he was purposely working backward with regard to social progress, but dressing it up as liberalism by coating it all in sex.

      Like

      • I loved The Big Time. It is an unusual novel, to be sure, but I got sucked in by his writing style with this one. And this was after having read a few of his fantasy novels. Greta Forzane remains one of my favorite SF novel characters of all time.

        Like

    • jameswharris says:

      Guy, your age and reading background is like mine. Growing up, Heinlein defined science fiction for me. I loved his juveniles, and the Winston Science Fiction series. I loved Mike the computer because that was such a cool concept, but as 14 year old kid I just didn’t see the real problems of the novel. Today I still like Heinlein, but only his stories from the 1950s. I never liked anything after 1965. Heinlein became weird and offensive.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. […] blogged three books this month? I am slacking. Shit. I ‘splained my way through Bob Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mansplainer, meh’d my way through David Brin’s Brightness Reef, and crept my way through Sheri S. […]

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  20. jameswharris says:

    I loved The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as a kid back in the 1960s because of the intelligent computer. But as I’ve gotten older I started seeing the real problems of the book. Heinlein’s later books seem awful preoccupied with killing people. More and more he seemed like a dirty old man who wanted to kill a lot of people who disagreed with him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I really liked Mike the Computer, but it is a problematic book. I kept thinking the book might be better if he left out Mannie and the Professor, and just let Wyoh and Mike run the show.

      And, I completely agree: his books get worse and worse with his preoccupations with war and gender differences and young girls etc etc etc.

      Like

  21. […] is reading all of the Hugo nominees. Ever. She is also really funny, and cynical, and good at Heinlein snark. And you should see her limp rocket […]

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  22. […] no secret that Ian McDonald’s latest novel, Luna (2015), is an interrogation of a certain specimen of canon clogger, the kind I complain about all the time, and I suspect, though I have neither read nor heard this, […]

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  23. […] critical platform more than than the actual story. In this case, Luna is an answer to the awful The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, as criticism of anarchic capitalism in general, but for readers who have already moved on from […]

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  24. […] a genre full of mansplainers, women get to be the ‘splainers in The Thing Itself, while the male protagonist is, basically, […]

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  25. […] The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert H. Heinlein – see above […]

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  26. […] “The Moon Is a Harsh Mansplainer (1966) by Robert A. Heinlein” at From Couch to Moon […]

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