So I’ve been sort-of-following the Thing About Heinlein, and by “sort of following” I mean that I read Jim Hines’s blog post about it, and then I went over to Tor and read half of a column and…just so you guys know? Talking about the Innate EvoPsych Differences Between Women and Men makes my head asplode, as the kids say. Let me just say that I disagree. Fervently.
Anyhow, I have not read a whole lot of Heinlein, being not so much into hard SF. The stuff I have read struck me as, yes, sexist–in a fairly condescending “ooh, look at the neat alien creatures that are women” way–though possibly, as others have pointed out, average or even forward-thinking for his time, which was a pretty damn sexist time. That point has been discussed elsewhere, and they’re good discussions, but the discussion over on Mr. Hines’s LJ raised a point that I’ve talked about elseblog before, and that bears repeating, I think, because I see a lot of defensiveness whenever someone mentions problematic content in the works of [Author People Like].
Here it is: you can enjoy fiction whose sentiments you don’t agree with.
You really can. I love Stephen King, but the man leans on the Magical X button and does not stop, especially in his early works. (Also, the “science and rationality are evil” thing bugs: yes, Stephen, you were a hippie back in the day, WE GET IT.) Of the main female characters in Dragonlance, the only one whose deal doesn’t center around a guy is Evil–and I won’t get into my feelings about the other women right now, because we will be here all day–but the world itself is a lot of fun, and I like the poetry. Lovecraft…changed the way we look at horror, and many contemporary writers–myself included–owe a great debt to his cosmology, but was the man racist? Oh my GOD.
I think that I can read any of the above without being a bad person, or a bad feminist. I don’t even think that I’m obligated to consider the issues at length, or while I’m reading the books in question–we, as a species, can overlook a lot, and sometimes that’s a good thing. I do think that I’m obligated to acknowledge the issues when they come up and why those issues might push a lot of people’s buttons, or to gracefully bow out of the conversation if I can’t do that, rather than trying to deny that they exist.
Your favorite writer doesn’t have to be a perfect, enlightened being. Your favorite writer doesn’t even necessarily have to be a good person, though it’s nice when they are–and makes me feel better about supporting them if they’re alive*–and their morals don’t reflect on you. People have a lot of reasons for reading what they read; other people know that. If you want to set out those reasons so people don’t assume you actually like the problematic bits, that’s cool, but admitting that someone’s screwed up on various issues doesn’t mean you can’t keep enjoying his or her work.
Those people who do get turned off by whatever-it-is? I’d imagine they’d rather hear a “Oh, yeah, I know he’s sexist, and I totally understand how that would put you off big time, but he’s such a good world-builder that I can’t resist!” than a frenzied defense. I know I would.
*I would have a lot more qualms about reading Lovecraft, for instance, if I thought I was supporting him by doing so.
Edited to clarify that it’s also a totally reasonable response *not* to read something because the sexism/racism/etc gets to you. The things I forget to add…