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‘In The Chinks of Your World-Machine’
The Women Men Don’t See by Alice B. Sheldon
© 2014 James LaFond
MAR/28/14
1973, reprinted in Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by Arkham House, 1990, pages 121-148
Don Fenton is a former federal spook enjoying a vacation in the Yucatan. Don, and two female passengers, met in route, Ruth Parsons and her daughter, are being flown from Cozumel Island when disaster strikes, forcing their small chartered plane down. Downed on a sandbar by a mangrove swamp, Ruth and Don decide to wade to the mainland, leaving her daughter with the wounded Mayan pilot, Captain Esteban.
Ashore, and seemingly a stone’s throw from a smuggling operation, Don and Ruth huddle up for the night and begin speaking to one another. Don soon finds out that this mysteriously single mother, who works as an analyst for the same agency he spied for, is the most recent in a long line of fractionally autonomous women living below the social horizon. Ruth selected a man to breed with, became pregnant, and raised her daughter on her own. When Don, an old fashioned guy, questions her lack of a husband as a barrier to fulfillment, she answers cryptically in a few incisive passages:
“Women have no rights, Don, except what men allow us… When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—the smoke.”
“We’re a toothless world… What women do is survive. We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world-machine.”
“Men live to struggle against each other; we’re just part of the battlefield.”
Don soon finds out that there is even more to Ruth Parsons than a secret lineage of mateless breeding women, living quiet lives below the crosshairs that men set upon one another. He soon finds that Ruth is here, in this place of ancient observatories, in hope of being abducted by aliens. To her, being alienated is not an issue, as she already lives on a planet ruled by an alien species: man.
Sheldon was way ahead of her time in exploring gender issues in fiction. What I find most interesting about the fictional discussion between Don and Ruth written over 40 years ago, is that our fiction and screen writers are currently working furiously, and have been for 15 years, along with the politicians and feminists, to assure us that women are physically, and psychologically equal to men in terms of personal and political aggression. And the dissenting voice that claims that women will return to the life of biological reproductive property that claimed them for 10,000 years, is that of masculinity advocates like Jack Donavan who are hoping out loud that our artificial society crumbles under the weight of its own welfare-state motherhood so that men might once again experience ‘one day as a lion.’
Ironically enough, contemporary science-fiction author V.J. Waks recently sent me a manuscript covering the specific issue that Sheldon's Ruth Parson's character discussed, even using a similar phrase in one case. And, I assure you, Ms. Waks had never read Sheldon. After I pointed out to her some of the similar concepts she and Sheldon explored she began to look for Sheldon's material. In 2014, it seems Alice B. Sheldon's Ruth Parson's character is serendipity incarnate.
Sheldon possessed profound vision into the past, present, and future of her gender. Ironically enough she chose to write as James Tiptree Junior.
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