Contents Index

Science Fiction and the Sex War: A Womb of One's Own

Judith A. Spector

Literature and Psychology, 31:1 (1981), 21--32

{21} Mary Shelley is regarded by many science fiction aficionados1 as the "mother" of the genre which, until the relatively recent feminist involvement,2 was notably hostile toward women. Ambivalence toward one's mother, ambivalence marked by hatred, would not appear anomalous within any cultural context touched by the insights of Freud; yet in the case of Shelley and the subsequent traditions of science fiction, we may have discovered an Oedipal conflict more fundamental than a superficial inquiry might reveal.

Shelley's Frankenstein3 explicitly concerns itself with the question of the creation of life through artificial means. Science fiction has subsequently concerned itself with related problems of an existential character ever since, in a way which suggests a reaction to its literary "mother." Deeply conservative, Frankenstein warns the reader that Victor Frankenstein's unnatural attempt to create life is an act of arrogance punishable by the deaths of Frankenstein's beloved family and friends, and by his own eternal guilt. There is some evidence that Shelley herself may have been employing the "creation of life" motif as a metaphor for man's -- and her own disguised -- involvement with work, with his frenzied and sublimated passion to create a cultural "baby." She has Victor Frankenstein warn his listener within the work, and his reader without, that an all-consuming pursuit of intellectual creativity is "unlawful." He then goes on to describe his state of mind during his endeavors:

But my enthusiasm was checked by my anxiety, and I appeared rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines, or any other unwholesome trade than an artist occupied by his favourite employment. Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree; the fall of a leaf startled me, and I shunned my fellow creatures as if I had been guilty of a crime. (Frankenstein, p. 41)
Frankenstein is described not as a scientist, but as a guilty artist, and his crime is a social one. These facts have led more than one critic to hypothesize that Shelley herself may have had a great deal of guilt over her own artistic pursuits, presumably unsuitable or "unnatural" for a woman,4 and over the death of her actual babies before {22} and during the period of time in which Frankenstein was written.5 But the fact remains that she founded a genre which was to continue a preoccupation with the creation, continuation, variation, and destruction of life through "unnatural" -- scientific, technological, and intellectual -- means. She stated her own question about the suitability of artistic creation as an activity for women as a question about the suitability of a man's involvement in the creation of physical life through the intellect. Theoretically, it would be as unsuitable for a man to create a "baby," as it would be for a woman to create a work of art. Hence, Victor Frankenstein produces a "monster."

The male science fiction writers who followed Shelley, however, were to regard as monstrous only Shelley's attempt to delineate the male artist's proper endeavors. Many of these writers were quick to appropriate "mental motherhood" as their rightful and logical domain. They were to fight for the privilege of cultural sublimation, and to repudiate not just Mary Shelley as the "mother" of science fiction, but all mothers and women as well.

In the course of this claiming of science fiction as a genre by, for, and about men of action, male authors have had some assistance from Freudian and Jungian psychology. Freud enables us to see the creation of culture and art as a masculine compensatory activity in lieu of woman's physical procreative function;6 Jung declares that Logos or intellect is man's true function, and leaves Eros and its concommitant procreative activities to woman.7 Understood prescriptively, both Freud and Jung send Mary Shelley and other women writers back to their nurseries to fulfill themselves through anatomy and Eros and to avoid the terrible guilt which might ensue should they pursue intellectual creativity to the exclusion of all else.

As soon as women are relegated to physical procreativity, men are free to claim intellectual creativity as their equal and opposite right. That claim is precisely what one male science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, has contributed to the ongoing sex war in which he declares the male to be a superior creator and claims that "mental motherhood" must be a male preserve. Here again, we may draw upon psychology to identify the phenomenon. But this time we find that if Freud restricts the woman to her biological destiny, he also helps the feminist critic to under stand the male science fiction writer's insecurities. Clarke's creation of "Star-Child," a fetus who rules outer space in 2001,8 may be symptomatic of Clarke's own womb envy.9 If that theory does not seem suitable, we can assess Star-Child as part of a hero myth which Clarke has developed in response to anxieties related to birth trauma.10 In either case, the hostility to the mother is evident in his suppression and/or elimination of women in the novel. The hostility, of course, also manifests itself in his choice of creation. He is not content to create culture or art within the novel, but insists upon bringing into being an actual child born of intellect, the supposedly "male" force. Victor Frankenstein's failure becomes for Clark a function of Shelley's gender, and women as "mothers," as creators, are to be feared, punished, or eliminated.

The first mother we encounter in 2001 is among the "man-apes," a pitiful and unenlightened species {23} struggling with survival and led by Moon-Watcher, the prototypical hero who will save his tribe. The relationship between Moon-Watcher and the mother is clear:

The two babies were already whimpering for food, but became silent when Moon-Watcher snarled at them. One of the mothers, defending the infant she could not properly feed, gave him an angry growl in return; he lacked the energy even to cuff her for her presumption. (2001, p. 14)
The mother is inadequate as a source of nourishment for her infant, and her attitude toward the male in her implied criticism of his behavior to her infant is labelled "presumption." The novel (and film) go on to state that the salvation and nurture of the protohuman race will be through Moon-Watcher and will be explicitly phallic. Moon-Watcher himself contains the two elements necessary to human enlightenment-physical strength and intellect:
Among his kind, Moon-Watcher was almost a giant. He was nearly five feet high, and though badly undernourished weighed over a hundred pounds. His hairy, muscular body was halfway between man and ape. The forehead was low, and there were ridges over the eye sockets, yet he unmistakably held in his genes the promise of humanity. As he looked out upon the hostile world of the Pleistocene, there was already something in his gaze beyond the capacity of any ape. (2001, p. 14)
A marvelous specimen of "macho" among the apes, Moon-Watcher only needs to be touched by the magic phallus, a crystalline monolit hsent by intelligence beyond the Earth to teach proto-man:
I was a rectangular slab, three times his height but narrow enough to span with his arms, and it was made of some completely transparent material; indeed, it was not easy to see except when the rising sun glinted on its edges. (2001, p. 19)
The monolith represents literal enlightenment; it teaches Moon-Watcher to visualize a better life, and to develop his phallic powers. These are first experienced by Moon-Watcher when he recognizes his first tool, which is, appropriately enough, "about six inches long":
It was a heavy, pointed stone about six inches long, and though it did not fit his hand perfectly, it would do. As he swung his hand around, puzzled by its suddenly increased weight, he felt a pleasing sense of power and authority, He started to move toward the nearest pig. (2001, p. 26)
The use of tools, at least insofar as Clarke describes it, is primarily the development of weaponry in order to promote the killing of other carnivores and the employment of teeth upon meat. The phallic functions within this process of "enlightenment" and evolution are unmistakable. Clarke writes of man in the final phases of this evolutionary process:
The spear, the bow, the gun, and finally the guided missile had given him weapons of infinite range and all but infinite power. Without those weapons, often though he had used them against himself, Man would never have conquered his world. Into them he had put his heart and soul, and for ages they had served him well. (2001, p. 37)
The weapons, however, become a danger to man's survival, and, at this point, Clarke must decide where to go beyond his intense phallic identi- {24} fication. The problem is that there isn't anywhere that is acceptable. Nor is a true regression to the primal state feasible, since mothers are still perceived with anger.

Clarke decides to eliminate the human mother, and to separate his hero, the descendant of Moon-Watcher, from "mother" Earth. In so doing, Clarke responds to the rivalry and hostility he feels relative to the primal state, by depicting the regression of his hero as a trip into the future rather than the past, and by depicting the phallus as a womb-like receptacle. These two features of dreams of rebirth are fairly common,11 but the insistence upon the "mother" as a masculine force is an element which enhances the artist's concept of himself as the supreme creator and which allows Clarke to create, as well, a "masculine" rebirth. These concepts will become clearer in the course of our explication.

The first stage of Clarke's revision of biology involves the eradication of mothers. He shows us the male scientist, Heywood Floyd, on a trip to the moon. Floyd leaves "mother" Earth, receives a "baptism of space" (2001, p.42), and feels an elation which changes to depression:

The mood passed swiftly, as he suddenly realized that he was leaving Earth, and everything he had ever loved. Down there were his three children, motherless since his wife had taken that fatal flight to Europe ten years ago. (2001, p. 46)
The scientist's physical children are now "motherless," and we will see that the trip into extended "outer space" is undertaken not by Floyd, but by his successor in the novel, the astronaut Dave Bowman, who will convert "outer space" to the space of the primal situation. Outer space will become the masculine equivalent of the inner space of the womb, and the source of life will be the intellect (masculine force) of the extraterrestrials.

Not only do we not require women as mothers for this regression-as-progress and subsequent rebirth fantasy; women are not tolerated as other than inferior creatures who exist for man's pleasure, but not for his procreation. Significantly, when the stewardess offers Dr. Floyd some coffee or tea on his space flight, he reacts:

"No thank you," he smiled. He always felt like a baby when he had to suck at one of those plastic drinking tubes.

The stewardess was still hovering anxiously around him as he popped open his briefcase and prepared to remove his papers. (2001, p. 48)

Floyd refuses to acknowledge any of the maternal aspects of woman as necessary to him, and he separates out her functions which allow her to be sexually alluring. On his next flight he appreciates a "charming little stewardess":
As Floyd quickly discovered, she came from Bali, and had carried beyond the atmosphere some of the grace and mystery of that still largely unspoiled island. One of his strangest, and most enchanting, memories of the entire trip was her zero-gravity demonstration of some classical Balinese dance movements, with the lovely, blue-green crescent of the waning Earth as a backdrop. (2001, p. 58)
The character depreciates the value of women by perceiving them as inferiors. They are "little'; they are subservient; they are preferably from cultures "unspoiled" by modern civilization. The {25} antagonism beneath the surface is not very well disguised, and it is a common observation that superficial contempt for women may reveal fear beneath the surface.12 Even on the moon base where all personnel are trained and transported at a cost of $100,000 per person (2001, p. 63), Floyd manages to find himself "back in the familiar environment of typewriters, office computers, girl assistants, wall charts, and ringing telephones" (2001, p. 65). Floyd demonstrates that he doesn't need reassurance or assistance from girls when, on the space shuttle, amid strange surroundings and sensations, he manages to say "to himself, firmly and successfully: Go to sleep, boy. This is just an ordinary moon shuttle" (2001, p. 59).

Though the incident is amusing, we must move away from Floyd's attempt to be his own mother if we are to encounter that phenomenon on a large scale. Once we move into the secret space flight to Jupiter, we are in the company of astronauts who have dispensed with females altogether and who are content to obtain "adequate though hardly glamorous, substitutes" from "the ship's pharmacopoeia" (2001, p. 104). Via the vision screen on the space ship, we see a tearful Mrs. Poole wishing her son a happy birthday, as the chapter entitled "Birthday Party" begins. What follows this separation through the good-byes on the screen is Frank Poole's permanent separation from Mrs. Poole and "mother" Earth as Poole is killed in space.

Clarke explains the episode with some introductory information about the space pods which will lead to Poole's unfortunate accident. We are told that these pods within the ship have been given female names, "perhaps in recognition of the fact that their personalities were sometimes slightly unpredictable" (2001, p. 124). When Poole goes out into space to consider a minor repair to the ship, he is attached to "Betty" by an umbilical cord. "She" is not, however, under his sole control:

There was one thing more to do before he left the pod. He switched over from manual to remote operation, putting Betty now under control of Hal. It was a standard safety precaution; though he was still secured to Betty by an immensely strong spring-loaded cord little thicker than cotton, even the best safety lines had been known to fail. He would look a fool if he needed his vehicle -- and was unable to call it to his assistance by passing instructions to Hal. (2001, p. 127)
Two things are very clear here: Betty is a mother figure who literally means life to Frank Poole; and Betty is not under Frank Poole's control. Clarke may well be warning his readers that a fellow just can't trust his mother. She's as unpredictable as any other vehicle, and as a human being her preference may be directed toward another man rather than oneself. In Poole's case, the results are tragic. On a subsequent trip with the pod, Betty runs him down:
At the moment of impact, Betty was still moving quite slowly; she had not been built for high accelerations. But even at a mere ten miles an hour, half a ton of mass can be very lethal, on Earth or in space. . . . (2001, p. 141)
Frank Poole, dead within his spacesuit and still attached to Betty, drifts off into space, accompanied by the description: "The pod and its satellite had vanished among the stars" (2001, p. 142).

It is true that Betty was acting on Hal's orders rather than on Poole's. So {26} much for the reliability of maternal preferences. However, Hal himself hearkens back to Victor Frankenstein's creations; Hal is a monster computer created by man. Clarke informs us of Hal's origins:

Whatever way it worked, the final result was a machine intelligence that could reproduce -- some philosophers still preferred to use the word "mimic" -- most of the activities of the human brain, and with far greater speed and reliability. It was extremely expensive, and only a few units of the HAL 9000 series had yet been built; but the old jest that it would always be easier to make organic brains by unskilled labor was beginning to sound a little hollow. (2001, p. 96)
Hal is a brain and his creation through "skilled" (intelligence) versus "unskilled" (physical procreativity) labor is clearly documented. The problem with Hal is that he is tainted by the duplicity of his creators who ask him to conceal the purpose of the space flight from the astronauts. Clarke describes Hal's internal conflict,
Deliberate error was unthinkable. Even the concealment of truth filled him with a sense of imperfection, of wrongness -- what, in a human being, would have been called guilt. For like his makers, Hal had been created innocent; but, all too soon, a snake had entered his electronic Eden. (2001, p. 148)
Hal is not free from Original Sin because he carries within him the need for reinforcement through relationships with human beings. The component of Eros, his need to save face with his colleagues, drives Hal to madness and murder. He is the technological monster Clarke creates in deference to Frankenstein's traditional failure; however, Clarke as author will overcome' his creative limitations when human Eros is eliminated and pure Logos gains supremacy within Dave Bowman, the remaining astronaut. Bowman, alone on the ship but for Hal, is in danger:
He was alone in an airless, partially disabled ship, all communication with Earth cut off. There was not another human being within half a billion miles.

And yet, in one very real sense, he was not alone. Before he could be safe, he must be lonelier still. (2001, p. 153)

Human relationships engender possibilities of treachery, rejection, and deceit. Bowman quickly pulls out Hal's "ego-reinforcement" and "auto-intellection" units, while, he, Bowman, thinks to himself, "I am destroying the only conscious creature in my universe. But it has to be done, if I am ever to regain control of the ship" (2001, p. 156).

David Bowman must make his trip into the vastness of space alone as the hero who, according to Clarke's masculine version of the birth journey, will be the son of pure intellect, free of mother, free of Earth, free of relationship. Bowman must also free himself of matter, eventually, in order to merge with the sort of God which Clarke envisions -- pure intellect, Logos, the male creator, and perhaps, the male artist himself.

This rebirth, or ritual anti-birth, depending on one's perspective, begins with Bowman's approach to Saturn and its moons and his sighting of a gigantic phallic monolith on Japetus, a monolith "at least a mile high" (2001, p. 183). His journey has been engineered as long ago as Moon-Watcher's time by the "lords of the galaxy," purely intellectual creatures who have exceeded the limits of matter and are "beyond the reach of time" (2001, p. 186). In order {27} to become as they, he leaves his ship by means of a space pod and travels toward the monolith, which, he discovers, is a hollow shaft which can "turn inside out":

That was happening to this huge, apparently solid structure. Impossibly, incredibly, it was no longer a monolith rearing high above a flat plain. What had seemed to be its roof had dropped away to infinite depths; for one dizzy moment, he seemed to be looking down into a vertical shaft -- a rectangular duct which defied the laws of perspective, for its size did not decrease with distance. . . . (2001, p. 190)
Bowman exclaims, "The thing's hollow -- it goes on forever -- and oh my God! -- it's full of stars!" (2001, p. 191) and finds himself "Dropping vertically down a huge rectangular shaft, several thousand feet deep" (2001, p. 195).

Bruno Bettelheim and countless others have called attention to childish and sometimes willful misinterpretations of the penis as a vagina turned inside out, particularly in cases of masculine envy of the female organ.13 More significantly, Bettelheim speaks of adolescent male puberty rites as ritual rebirths designed to free the emerging adult male from female domination:

Certain psychoanalytically oriented authors have gone further in stressing separation, claiming that the purpose of the ceremonies is to sever the Oedipal ties. Laubscher, for example, says that in order to pass from the childhood phase of female dominance into the second phase of male dominance and control the boy must experience a psychological rebirth into the world of men, severing all his attachments to the mother. (Symbolic Wounds, p. 119)
In the context of the preceding statement, we may indeed see Bowman's transformational rebirth as an escape from Oedipal ties. He is now free of "mother" Earth, and of his human mother, and he is within the jurisdiction of the magical phallus of the monolith which will direct his further evolution into "outer" rather than "inner" space.

Even when Bowman emerges from the shaft of the monolith, he finds himself in space, and is briefly enclosed only by the walls of an illusion provided for his comfort as he makes the transition from man to superman. As Bowman drops toward a star, he finds himself enclosed first by "walls of some material like smoked glass" which suggest that the crystalline monolith has never left him, and then by -- a hotel room! Clarke writes, "The space pod was resting on the polished floor of an elegant, anonymous hotel suite that might have been in any large city on Earth" (2001, p. 208). Bowman emerges from the pod, to leave its protection forever, and goes into the room, where, after eating and showering, he climbs into bed to sleep "for the last time" (2001, p. 215). This manufactured "womb" setting, complete with fear of sleep as death,14 and provided by the courtesy of logical forces, is apparently furnished in no-nonsense Howard Johnson style. At any rate, it allows Bowman to regress comfortably "down the corridors of time, being drained of knowledge and experience as he swept back toward his childhood" (2001, p. 216):

Now, at last the headling regression was slackening; the wells of memory were nearly dry. Time flowed more and more sluggishly, approaching a moment of stasis -- as a swinging pendulum, at the limit of its arc, seems frozen for one eternal instant, before the next cycle begins.{28}

The timeless instant passed; the pendulum reversed its swing. In an empty room, looting amid the fires of a double star twenty thousand light-years from Earth, a baby opened its eyes and began to cry. (2001, p. 217)

Bowman actually becomes a baby -- a space fetus who represents the ultimate evolution of men away from female influence, away from the physical realm and physical modes of reproduction. If women possess an "inner space" and the power to procreate physically, Clarke appropriates intellectual procreativity and all of "outer space." His child is born of evolving Logos, a masculine being who has transcended the progressive forces of physical weaponry (as we shall see) and who is himself now part of the purely phallic "monolithic" race of the extraterrestrials. Appropriately, the first entity which the space fetus perceives is the magic phallus: "A ghostly, glimmering rectangle had formed in the empty air" (2001, p. 217). The object attracts the interest of the child which was once David Bowman:
With eyes that already held more than human intentness, the baby stares into the depths of the crystal monolith, seeing -- but not yet understanding -- the mysteries that lay beyond. It knew that it had come home, that here was the origin of many races besides its own; but it knew also that it could not stay. Beyond this moment lay another birth, stranger than any in the past. (2001, p. 218)
The baby is "born" as "the protective walls faded back into the nonexistence from which they had briefly emerged" and
the metal and plastic of the forgotten space pod, and the clothing once worn by an entity who had called himself David Bowman, flashed into flame. The last links with Earth were gone, resolved back into their component atoms. (2001, p. 218)
The destruction of any vestigial womblike enclosures is passionately accomplished in a flash of flame. All that remains to the Star-Child is his newly acquired total domination of "Mother" Earth.

Guided by the magic phallus, the crystal monolith representing the ultimate power of Logos, we are told that Star-Child:

put forth his will, and the circling megatons flowered in a silent detonation that brought a brief, false dawn to half the sleeping globe.

Then he waited, marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. (2001, p. 221)

Whether his mastery of the world has involved the destruction of the human race or merely the destruction of its atomic weapons remains a matter of lively debate among Clarke's fans. We are only told for certain that Star-Child has detonated "the circling megatons" of the Earth. Although Clarke thus veils his conclusion in ambiguity, the clarity of Star-Child's destructive vengeance against all of Eros nevertheless shines through. Before Star-Child detonates the weapons, we are told that "History as men knew it would be drawing to a close" (2001, p. 221). Furthermore, Star-Child's act parallels, word for word, Moon-Watcher's murder through weaponry of another ape-man. We are told of both MoonWatcher and Star-Child: "Now he was master of the world, and he was not quite sure what to do next" (2001, p. 34 and p. 221). Both creatures, at that {29} point, have vented their infantile rage against relationship, and against the primal mother.

However, it is questionable whether such venting of hostilities is therapeutic at all, or whether it is even the point of the exercise. An earlier work by Clarke, Childhood's End,15 has mentally advanced forces from space remove children from their parents. The children then coalesce into one entity, destroy the parents and all other Earthly life, and take off into the vastness of the galaxy. This development represents the end of childhood for the children, and for the entire human race which will be represented by the further evolution of the newly developed species. That novel, too, is marked by hostility toward women and toward mothers. A glimpse of "dialogue" between George and his wife is revealing:

George looked down at her with sympathy, but nothing more. It was strange how much one could alter in so short a time. He was fond of her: she had borne his children and was part of his life. But of the love which a not clearly remembered person named George Greggson had once known towards a fading dream called Jean Morrel, how much remained? (Childhood's End, p. 165)
How much love, one might well ask, was there to begin with? George, the artist figure within the book, looks upon Jean, the mother, with increasing hostility. If hostility toward the mother is never really overcome, in Clarke's case, his repetition of antagonism through art is either an ongoing attempt to work out his feelings, or something else entirely. That the contest is always between the artist and the mother ought to indicate that there is more to Clarke's method than an attempt to resolve the separation anxieties of a would-be space traveller. Clarke's repeated production of novels is, rather, a demonstration of the power of the "mental" masculine "womb."16 The real "Star-Child" is the work of fiction as it defies "science" -- the knowledge that only women can bear children.

The knowledge informs and enrages not only Clarke, who typifies Victor Frankenstein's male successors so well, but also many others. Science fiction asks us to consider where the human race is going, while it remembers where we have come from. Insofar as male authors feel that they have come from female "creators," resentments abound. The undisputed fact of mother's creativity in producing the author puts his own creativity to the test. He produces books, certainly, but also Star-Children and "babies" of other sorts.

Isaac Asimov, for example, in I, Robot,17 brings forth a new race of beings made by man's intellect in the image of man. The robots, naturally, are referred to as "boys."18 The "boys" have remarkable abilities, and the first robot we see -- Robbie -- far surpasses the one human mother in the book. Robbie is a nursemaid for little Gloria, the child of Mrs. Weston, a shrew who is more concerned about what the neighbors will think of Robbie than about her little girl's attachment to him. Mrs. Weston, we are told, "made full use of every device which a clumsier and more scrupulous sex has learned, with reason and futility, to fear" (I, Robot, p. 18).

The fear of the mother's capacity for "creating" life, the fear of castration, rejection, and death are all here in the mental landscapes of male-authored science fiction. And these fears produce {30} resentment and anxiety. With regard to the latter, there is always the certain knowledge that mother preferred another man -- presumably, the author's father. Identifying with that former rival, the author must now punish mother. Asimov undertakes this project in his treatment of the one female scientist in his book, Susan Calvin, robopsychologist and Ph.D. She is described in her younger days as "a frosty girl, plain and colorless, who protected herself against a world she disliked by a mask-like expression and a hypertrophy of intellect" (I, Robot, p. 7). Later, in a central episode of the book, thirty-eight year old Susan Calvin's last hopes of marrying are destroyed. The male scientist whom she adores tells her he is engaged to be married, while the reader is given a verbal picture of her humiliation as the blood-drains from Calvin's countenance: "The inexpertly applied rouge made a pair of nasty red splotches upon her chalk-white face" (I, Robot, p. 95).

Similarly, in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s The Sirens of Titan,19 the essential female character, Beatrice, is first described as a frigid, proud woman, immaculate and haughty. In the existential quest for the continuation of the race, and in Vonnegut's quest to punish mother for supplying him with life but not coming up with an explanation of what it all means, Beatrice is humbled and defeated. She is selected by chance, in spite of the fact that she is "plain-looking" (Sirens, p. 40), to be raped in outer space and to be "bred by the Martians -- like farm animals [are]" (Sirens, p. 26). Vonnegut has Beatrice pronounce later on that it has all been worth it, since the meaning of life -- what little meaning there is -- is "to be used" by others (Sirens, p. 310).

The hostility toward women in Sirens comes complete with a discussion by Malachi Constant, the earlier mentioned hero-rapist, of how his mother was a "whore," and of how all women are "whores" (Sirens, p. 61). The same character also has a womb-regression fantasy which, in his own mind, captures the spirit of his own perspective of sexuality:

Unk withdrew the rod and patch, slipped his thumb under the open breech, caught the sunlight on his oily thumbnail. The thumbnail sent the sunlight up the bore. Unk put his eye to the muzzle and was thrilled by perfect beauty. He could have stared happily at the immaculate spiral of the rifling for hours, dreaming of the happy land whose round gate he saw at the other end of the bore. The pink under his oily thumbnail at the far end of the barrel made that far end seem a rosy paradise indeed. Some day he was going to crawl down the barrel to that paradise. (Sirens, p. 109)
The three sirens, the triple goddess representing all of the aspects of woman,20 reside within that paradise at the other end of the gun. It is an appropriate image with which to end our discussion of the science fiction sex war. It should seem remarkable to no one that feminist writers of science fiction have responded energetically to Vonnegut's, Clarke's, and Asimov's attitudes and themes. Joanna Russ, in The Female Man21 and We Who Are About To. . .22 manages to create a female who is, socially, at least, a man,23 a robot in the form of a man who is employed solely for a woman's sexual pleasure,24 and a woman who would rather kill the members of her landing party -- and herself -- than be a "walking womb"25 for the purpose of perpetuating a pointless group of human beings. {31} As for the sex war itself, which is the offspring of Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and his monster, perpetuation seems assured.


1. See, for example, Robert Scholes and Eric S. Rabkin, eds., Science Fiction: History -- Science -- Vision, (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), pp. 191-196 for a discussion of Frankenstein. Scholes and Rabkin also discuss the fact that "Until recently, most science fiction was written for men. . .," p. 185.

2. Authors such as Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, Doris Lessing, Anne McCaffrey, and Kate Wilhelm are among the many current women science fiction writers.

3. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus (New York: Bantam, 1967). References to this text are by title and page number. Frankenstein was first published in 1818.

4. See Mary Poovey, "My Hideous Progeny: Mary Shelley and the Feminization of Romanticism," PMLA, 95 (1980), pp. 332-347. Poovey argues that Frankenstein "expresses the tension [Mary Shelley] feels between the self-denying offices of domestic activity and the self-assertiveness essential to artistic creation," p. 343.

5. Ellen Moers, Literary Women (New York: Doubleday, 1976), pp. 90-99. Moers explores the relationships between birth and death in Frankenstein in the context of Mary Shelley's elopement at sixteen with Shelley, and the subsequent deaths of her babies.

6. Although the theory of male compensatory acitivity might be inferred from Freud's concept of sublimation alone, Bruno Bettelheim cites several individuals who have endorsed the theory of male envy of woman's procreative function: "Though male envy has not gone unrecognized, it has received relatively little notice in the psychoanalytic literature. To my knowledge, it was first discussed by Groddeck. Landauer referred to it in connection with his theory that it was men's disappointment at their inability to create human beings that led them to intellectual creation, a theory Chadwick had expressed earlier," Bruno Bettelheim, Symbolic Wounds: Puberty Rites and the Envious Male, (New York: Collier, 1962), p. 56. Otto Rank, however, sees the creation of culture as an attempt to "deny the separation from the mother," Otto Rank, The Traumna of Birth (New York: Robert Brunner, 1952), p. 105.

7. C. G. Jung, AION: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self, Trans. R. F. C. Hull (New York: Pantheon, 1959). Also Psyche and Symbol: A Selection from the Writings of C. G. Jung, ed. Violet S. de Laszlo (New York: Anchor, 1958), p. 13:

I use Eros and Logos merely as conceptual aids to describe the fact that woman's consciousness is characterized more by the connective quality of Eros than by the discrimination and cognition of Logos. In men, Eros, the function of relationship, is usually less developed than Logos. In women, on the other hand, Eros is an expression of their true nature, while their Logos is often only a regrettable accident.
8. Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey (New York: Signet, 1968). All references by title and page number are to this text. The last chapter of the book is entitled "Star-Child." Those who have seen the film -- and the text is based on the screenplay -- will remember the visual depiction of "Star-Child" as a fetus in space.

9. The concept of "womb envy" has had a good deal of psychoanalytic support. Most notably, Bruno Bettelheim sees womb envy as a legitimate neurotic problem in male children, (see note 6). See also Daniel S. Jaffe, M.D., "The Masculine Envy of Woman's Procreative Function" in Female Psychology: Contemporary Psychoanalytic Views, Harold P. Blum, M.D., ed. (New York: International Universities Press, 1977), pp. 361-392, for a comprehensive list of source studies and an excellent technical discussion.

In literary terms, Kate Millet in Sexual Politics (New York: Avon, 1971), pp. 237-293, discusses the applicability of "womb envy" to some features of D. H. Lawrence's work.

10. See Otto Rank, The Trauma of Birth, pp. 106-116 on "Heroic Compensation."

11. Otto Rank, p. 79, discusses the interpretation, of direction in birth dreams, as well as the apparent desire to go back into the father's body, a desire which he feels is a disguised womb phantasy.

Bettelheim, pp. 31-32, from a different perspective, explains the "penis as womb" idea in psychoanalytic studies.

12. Otto Rank, p. 94, writes: "Woman has an antisocial influence, which gives psychological reasons for her exclusion from social as from political life in primitive (club houses) and in highly developed civilizations. Man depreciates her only consciously; in the Unconscious he fears her.11

13. See Bettelheim, note 11.

14. Otto Rank, pp. 11-29, discusses "Infantile Anxiety" in terms of birth trauma.

15. Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End (New York: Ballantine, 1953). References to this text are by title and page number.

16. The masculine "mental womb" fantasy should be common knowledge by now; unfortunately, few have beard of it. Among mainstream modern writers, James Joyce creates the most explicit system. He has Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York; Viking), p. 217, declare: "O! In the virgin womb of the imagination the word was made flesh." An examination of Joyce's letters and the biography by Richard Ellmann will convince the staunchest skeptic that Joyce believes in mental wombs for men. The critic Mary Ellman in Thinking About Women (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), notes the mental womb phenomenon in Joyce and others. Her chapter on "Sexual Analogy" is especially enlightening (pp. 2-26).

17. Isaac Asimov, I, Robot (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett, 1950). References to this text are by title and page number.

18. Asimov, p. 131 and elsewhere.

19. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Sirens of Titan (New York: Dell, 1959). References by title and page number are to this text.

20. Wolfgang Lederer, M.D., in The Fear of Women (New York: Grune and Stratton, 1968), discusses the "Triple Goddess" -- Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena -- pp. 28-29. The goddess represents the many aspects of woman as perceived by man.

21. Joanna Russ, The Female Man (New York: Bantam, 1975).

22. Joanna Russ, We Who Are About To. . . (New York: Dell, 1975).

23. Joanna Russ, The Female Man

24. See Russ, The Female Man, p. 185 and following, for descriptions of Davy, the most beautiful man in the world.

25. See Russ, We Who Are About To. . ., p. 59.