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Old Dec 20 2011, 07:32 AM   #1
Heath
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Question When has Anne McCaffrey become answerable to Feminists?

I'm new here and probably jumping with both feet into the sticky stuff first thing. But I am pretty much riled, so I beg pardon right away!

I've never much looked for discussion/info of Anne online, and I've also never visited any conventions, just read her books and corresponded with her for a bit in the 1980s.

I also never take any "outside the canon" information seriously, whether it's books or other kinds of fandoms. So what an author says is - for me - only peripherally relevant. Who knows what agenda s/he tries to cater to at any given time? I probably also need to state that I never read any of Todd McCaffrey's books and won't. I don't consider them more than just vaguely related, a bit like writing in the same 'verse, but definitely not the same author. For the record, I am female.

Anyway, I was sort of bowled over by the recently acquired knowledge that Anne McCaffrey seems to have become appropriated by feminists, who then turn around and slate her over what she has written as fiction (!) in relation to current feminist POVs and agenda. Somehow she's been dragged onto some bandwagon about the (irksome) quest for "awesome, snarky, great, strong female protagonists" that seems to - so very mindlessly - drive a large proportion of feministic fandom. I really noticed this via people asking for Dragonrider fanfic, but re-written to an "awesome Mirrim as she should have been" and "please without Anne McCaffrey's rape/non-con stuff and homophobia."

To say this angered me would be out of proportion and belittling. I was pretty much livid. Not because of any adoration of Anne McCaffrey, instead because of this wholescale appropriation of an author's work, interpretation into one direction only and eradication of anything else. Lots of -ions? I'll explain.

1. Homophobia

I read most of Anne's books. One thing which NEVER ONCE came over was that she was homophobic, quite on the contrary. She wrote rather freely about gays and lesbians at a time that other authors wouldn't even dare touch the subject with a ten foot pole. There never was the slightest negative or judgemental tone in her books in relation to homosexuality, again already at a time where this was the gold standard for other authors who used gays or lesbians to create particularly obnoxious baddies. She didn't pull punches either though and that goes a long way to show how she regarded alternate sexualities.

Yes, I read her statements on green/blue riders and on homosexuality, but I have no problem with those. For one thing I am old enough myself to remember that compared to what was the average (medical!) take on homosexuality during her formative years and as far along as even the time that her first novels were published, and compared to those her ideas were very enlightened. That she didn't bother to work on her knowledge or possibly couldn't believe newer findings is not something which makes her a homophobe, nor is any of what she said homophobic. I doubt she even reflected much on any of these topics while she wrote her novels. I wouldn't put it past possible that these questions were sprung at her without her having thought much about it and she answered with something which appeared logical to her, and later it was too late to do anything but insist on what she said. One thing is pretty certain from her actual statements, while awkward in their science they were not negative regarding gay wo/men per se.

And just to be anal about this: "Weyr Search" (1967), "Dragonrider" (1967 - 1968), "Dragonflight" (1968) and "Dragonquest" (1971) were all written and published at a time that the American DSM (catalogue of mental disorders) considered homosexuality still a disorder and a paraphilia. It was taken off that catalogue in 1973 only. How ANYONE can even begin to construe Anne McCaffrey as being homophobic and negative about and towards homosexual men and women, given that she wrote them as full, sane and acceptable characters well before even the medical profession thought so, is beyond me (and pretty much beyond acceptable itself).

As to Pern, this is a fictional world. To call any author a homophobe (or whatever) over how a fictional world works and is described is, hmm, I'd better not say what this is in my book.

2. Rape/non-con

Attacking her over this is actually something which makes me extremely angry.

I am a (consensual) sadomasochist. These days you call it BDSM and it came but recently off the DSM as well, two decades later than homosexuality. I was aware of my sexual orientation quite early on (at toddler age already, like so many BDSMers) and in the 1960s and 1970s there was absolutely no easily attainable erotic or even just understanding/neutral literature around.

However, you'd be very much astonished (or some maybe not so) by how many BDSMers of that period had Anne McCaffrey in their bookcases, lots of them male (I discovered Anne McCaffrey as an 8 y/o in the library of a male relative) by the way, especially her Catteni and initially "Thorns of Barevi," but of course (!) all of her DoP books.

You may rake me over the fire for this, but Anne McCaffrey actually was the very first author who not just made me feel okay with my sexual orientation, but who also catered to it, whether that was calculated or not. I still to the day would say that there at least has to be some thing to it, given her consistent going at such topics as rape, non-consensual sex, enforced celibacy, torture, slavery and painful sexuality. If you're a BDSMer it's glaring, I mean, beyond just obvious and there is a definite predilection for rape fantasies in her books. Not that THIS would be rare, more than 50% of all women have and also like to read those (non-con and forced sex are hot sellers of the romance genres).

Her set-up of sexual encounters for Pern was and is, from the POV of a BDSMer, a stroke of pure genius. She created a world where she, without impunity, could write about forced marriages, non-consensual sexual encounters of just about any kind, draconic mind-control twisting one's normal sexual orientations, enforced liberalism and whatnot. I always had a problem with people claiming she wrote books for children or teenagers, because those topics, which you'll find practically everywhere in her books, were definitely of the 18+ variant. She did it in other worlds as well, but Pern was tailor-made to that order.

So it is quite a curious thing for me that anyone would discuss whether or not F'nor raped Brekke or had non-consensual sex with her and whether this was acceptable or not. It was most assuredly not meant vanilla, nor written to be any sort of role model by Anne and also not as a statement with any relevance to our society. She wrote her fantasies, aware of it or not, and that meant she wrote those of many, many kinky people as well.

To attack her over it is an attack on people who like reading such content, and that is what makes me livid. As if heteronormative sexuality was all there is. Anne McCaffrey's work certainly wasn't representative of that sort of sexuality exclusively.

Additionally I am completely bowled over by anyone trying to grade another person's political and societal views as per their sexual fantasies or what they write within a completely invented (to please and amuse) universe. Non-fiction, yes, that's a different beast. But novels? How do people get onto such a narrow plank?

3. Strong Females Let Down

The bewailing of poor Mirrim (who was clearly originally written as an obnoxious, precocious, overbearing brat with issues) and how awesome she is and how she should be rewritten by fanfic writers into the great person she should be (whereas Jaxom has to be condemned into the 7th hell for daring to e.g. seek rather "domly" his sexual pleasure with a servant on his estate), makes me cringe. Not just because that's trying to decide what the author may or may not write, not just because this also is trying to rewrite the author's world for her, but also because that implies that every female character has to be a pleasing or strong or important one. And that, I am sorry to say, is inherently overbearing and infringing.

Anne wrote strong females less as accessory to any kind of rabid feminism, she wrote them much the same as she wrote her men: as human beings with an intellect and abilities and rather equal to each other. Well, except for where she wrote them as inequal and allowed herself to openly fantasize. They still tended to be competent, intelligent and likable, even then.

That may have been the reason why certain feminist readers appropriated them and then bemoaned where they did not fit the pre-set (by them) mould of the "strong female MC." Instead of being very happy that a female author of SF novels managed to pull it off (in the 1960s to 1980s) that a large proportion of her main characters are female and competent and have something important to say and do in her stories, Anne get's slated by the PC police, and quite out of order as well.

Really, there are authors galore these days who write these totally PC female superheroines, why the heck does anyone need to force this onto Anne McCaffrey? She never came over this way and her work doesn't go with it either. Given that it obviously is of a rather different, yet no less liberal agenda well should be left alone.

The very fact that she was willing to include not so awesome, not so perfect and above all not so PC characters in her worlds was what made me love her. I'm sick to my backteeth with all those snarky, strong, Bechdel-test-passing females written by far too many young, American writers, especially as realities and claimed entitlements gape so far apart that it's hard to find anything close to a bridge between the two.


So why do I write this post? Maybe because it completely baffles me that no one so far has spoken up about this. I know I am not alone in my take, whenever I talk with peers about books to read Anne's definitely make the cut as being mild fantasies worth the while (quite apart from being fiendishly good stories per se). So yes, it is baffling why everyone just nods sagely to the misguided PC police. I read a few answers here by ElectricDragon which were to the point on this topic, but that was pretty much it here as well.

Last edited by Heath; Dec 20 2011 at 09:51 AM.
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