Headnote ~Yes, I realize many regular people go through life making little or no effort to match their values to their words, but hey, I’m a writer.
A Cloudy Night
It’s been a rough week.
You would think that, as a science fiction fan, I would be in favor of feminism: From seeing Kathryn Janeway as the Captain on Star Trek Voyager, or the admirals on Battlestar Galactica, or from reading David Gerrold’s book series about the ecological Chtorr Wars. Gerrold’s first person narrator usually doesn’t think to mention the gender of a soldier moving in the background.
You would say that, if you didn’t know the gloom I have felt this week. My mood is best illustrated by the science fiction animated Japanese TV series Gantz; specifically, by the ending credits:
As credits roll, three people are continuously walking towards the left of the screen, along dark deserted streets. As the Japanese would read, right to left, they are: a high school girl, a tall leader, and a shorter guy. They are wearing the embarrassing skintight black body suits Gantz has forced them to wear: Their lives are not their own. As they walk the gentle lyrics begin, “We all start out as pure and innocent babes. Even if you taste the bitter fruit, don’t be discouraged, walk straight.” (This week I am discouraged)
The lady who voiced the girl’s character said she cried to see the ending credits. Lyrics: “I’m lonely as floating ice.” (Me too) As they walk the girl abruptly stops, stands still, and fades to nothing. The other two are walking, but the leader, stops, turns around, stretches out his arm to her, and he too fades away. The last guy is walking, stops, turns around, and he is all alone. He bows his head. I can understand a sensitive viewer crying.
As regards the metaphor of people walking ahead, Mark Clifton wrote, in his 1962 satire When they Come From Space, something like, “If a man takes one step ahead of his time he is a genius, a star; if he takes two steps ahead he is a madman, a fool.” This week I am going around thinking the women’s movement has vanished behind me. I can stretch out my arm, but—they’re gone… Then why should I be a minority of one?
Last night I phoned up a university graduate who had hung out during her campus years with progressive ladies. Granted, she probably had to, since she was Gay and in those days there was a feeling that Gays, at least the semi-out of closet ones, were left of center. I asked her: What do you think of “guys” as a unisex term for men and women both? She told me that when she and her partner Jane were at a restaurant she felt contempt when they were addressed as “guys,” thinking, “Is our server too lazy to use an extra syllable to say ladies?” I sighed.
It was only a couple of years ago that I heard two teenage girls at a store counter, waiting to be served, ask each other what “Ms.” meant. They didn’t know. When I related this to a friend with a masters degree she said, “I think it means you’re divorced.” I sighed.
In fairness, she went through her undergraduate years without ever being an activist. I’m still chuckling over the time she was on campus calling long distance to book her place at a student weekend conference. She came down the hall to my office looking very small. She said, “… and I replied ‘No, I didn’t require vegetarian meals,’ and then I asked if I could have a room to myself. I added, ‘I’m homophobic…’and there was a long, long silence.” My friend, looking forlorn, asked me, “What does the word mean?” She had thought it meant not liking homo sapiens.
Words count. As Mark Twain would say, there is a big difference between lightning, and a lightning bug. As Buddhists say, “Words build your world.” As professors of semiotics say, “Changing word-meanings reflect your changing world.”
And sometimes I despair at seeing the changed world being reflected to me as others are upset and offended at me saying “guys” for women.
In the award-winning science fiction novel Double Star the greatest statesman of the solar system says the public can only take so much progress. Then they need a rest. Two steps forward, one back. The historical record for my formative century, the twentieth, is clear. When my dad went off to war, Amelia Earhart could still fly heroically, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the president, could still advance us all politically, making sure a token number of “Eleanor’s troops,” of “separate but equal” Blacks, could fight in manly combat roles.
It remained for the administration after Roosevelt’s, President Harry Truman’s, to dump separate black forces and integrate the armed forces as being omni-racial. In such contrast to President Clinton’s lengthy dancing around that finally produced “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Truman merely issued a mere one page document, which included a mechanism—inspections by senior officers—for enforcement.
But society took a step backwards, eh? None of the ladies who piloted aircraft across the Atlantic during the war remained as pilots; there were never any peacetime female prime ministers in Britain after the lion, Sir Winston, stepped down. Not until, desperate from being “the sick man of Europe,” they needed the iron maiden, Margret Thatcher, to fix their economy. After that, no more female PM’s until after the Brexit vote, after the male rats jumped ship. In Canada, the only female PM was the one appointed just before the ruling party lost all but two seats. Neither one of the two seats that remained were hers. No Canadian female PMs since. And today? Today the younger generation, both male and female, don’t see themselves as believing in feminism…
So who am I? Who am I to disagree with my society, which disagrees with feminism? If equal rights are now an opium pipe dream, then why should I be the sole floating ice, a madman, a fool?
People need a rest. “The world has changed,” I tell myself. “Never mind the 1930’s,” I say, “forget the 1970’s.” Still, as the gentle lady sings at the end of Gantz, “I won’t forget, I won’t forget.”
The Morning Star
…Of course things look different in the new morning, when I consult my sensible fellow writers.
~I wrote at great length about words in Words, Guys and Unisex archived in January 2014.
~I will avoid saying "guys" around conservatives, not to wimp out, but to copy the singer Jewel: In the end, only kindness matters. (Link to song)
~How amusing: If only back in university I had majored in liberal arts, then maybe my quotations for this essay would not all be from science fiction—and one pop culture song.