Here’s a book that I absolutely could not resist. Space Crone is a collection of writings on feminism and gender by none other than Ursula K Le Guin. See what I mean? It has “buy me” written all over it. There’s a lot, obviously. I’m going to feature some of my favourite pieces.
“Is Gender Necessary? (Redux)” is probably the most famous piece in the collection. Le Guin spent a lot of time thinking about The Left Hand of Darkness after she had written it. And she kept learning from the reactions that readers had to the book. I think the most important lesson from this piece is that smart people should learn, grow, and sometimes change their minds, about things. That’s in direct contrast to the “gotcha” culture on social media whereby, if someone can be shown to have said something bad years ago, they are defined by that thing forever.
Reading the essay also reminded me of something that people get wrong about Gethen. The prevailing view is that the Gethians are all asexual individuals, except when they are in kemmer. That’s not true. Gethenians who become male in kemmer revert back to being asexual after mating. But Gethenians who become female must remain so until the child is weaned. That’s probably going to take over a year in total. So at any time there will be a substantial number of female Gethenians around, but hardly any males.
“On Genetic Determinism” was written as an attack on the ideas of the sociobiologist, EO Wilson. It is, however, equally useful as a devastating critique of the anti-trans movement which relies heavily on gender essentialism for its arguments. Le Guin is having none of it. She doesn’t want to be defined as someone inescapably second class and incompetent by dint of her chromosomes. Neither should anyone else who calls themself a feminist.
“The Sound of your Writing” is one of the best pieces of writing advice I have ever read. I think we all know by now that reading your work aloud helps you find problems and make it better. Le Guin builds a whole lesson out of this, complete with examples and a couple of exercises. This is paired in the book with a talk about Le Guin’s poem, “Loud cows”, which is an extended feminist rant built on the pun that “aloud” and “allowed” sound the same in speech and women should not be forced to be silent.
Finally I want to mention “What it was like”, a short speech that Le Guin wrote when she was asked to give a talk to the Oregon branch of NARAL, an organization that campaigns for reproductive rights. The topic for the talk was what it was like to be a woman in America before Roe v Wade, and abortion was illegal. Le Guin had one, illegally, when she was still a student, so she has very firm views on the subject.
The point Le Guin makes is that had she not had an abortion, she would have not finished her studies, would not have won a Fulbright scholarship, would not have met her husband on the Queen Mary on the way to Europe, and ultimately would not have had three very wonderful children. She would instead have become an unmarried and unmarriageable young mother, dependent on her parents for support.
Of course Roe v Wade has now been overturned and anti-abortion laws are cropping up in state legislatures around the USA. Goodness only knows what Le Guin would think if she could see what has become of us.
Title: Space Crone
By: Ursula K Le Guin
Publisher: Silver Press
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