Tiptree’s “Unhappy” Women in The Women Men Don’t See and Houston, Houston, Do You Read?

6 Mar

For me, this week’s readings are different because I don’t only reflect upon any work but a “feminist” one. When thinking of the two stories, I cannot ignore the fact that they both share some similarities in the sense that they support the feminist aspect and goal. Well, Tiptree and other feminists as well had a project in mind at the time when these stories were published. The project was to redefine and reposition women and femininity in the SF genre. It’s time for them to reach the universe and space with no regression to the past, and to the man made Earth!

Metaphorically speaking, outer space and other worlds in the universe were strongly symbolized the “home” or “promised land” for those Earthy women. I tried to find a connection between space, aliens and women and succeeded to find a strong one. After I read Sara Ahmed’s extremely interesting thoughts and ideas about “Happiness” in her book The Promise of Happiness, I had a clear idea of the strange but quite true image of women as feminists through the eyes of men and society. Ruth, as a feminist, rejected the way patriarchal system is seeing her as a single mother who raised her daughter without a father. Don, who sees women as sexual and vulnerable creatures, not more than that, represents this patriarchy and acts based on his masculine desires.  Well, here comes the happy/unhappy explanation to what I believe is feminist idealized vision of freedom and liberation. Ruth obviously wasn’t happy with her life on Earth and looked for aliens to take her and her daughter to their world. Why would she do that? That’s interest me because I don’t think they were actually aliens. I think they were women (feminist) who achieved their happiness some how in some place and those women wanted to join them. Sara Ahmed believes that feminism is associated with happiness. Whenever a woman wants to be happy, she tries to break a constraint made by society and men. While doing that she causes what she calls “feminist killjoy”. That killjoy ruins the domestic and traditional happiness that was created by man for women. When a woman refuses to submit and take part in such happiness, she then makes a man very disappointed and unhappy. So, you can see the simple equation here.

a. Women (feminist) “happy” = Men and patriarchal society “unhappy”

b. Women “unhappy” = Men and patriarchal society “happy”

Being happy alienates those women from their societies and makes men disappointed and try their best to stop them from achieving that kind of happiness. Women not only became lonely but also aliens on Earth; looking for that big space to embrace them with their happiness.

I remembered when Don shouted on Ruth just to make her stand behind him when he faces the so-called “aliens”. He wanted to be the rescuer/ hero; very masculine I would say. But he can’t comprehend the fact that Ruth doesn’t mind being taking by those aliens who will accept her and not be with him. Also, the same thing happens in the other story when Bud said that he wants to be their king and god because he considers himself the last man on Earth. He wants to lead those happy women to the Earth and traditions. Those men showed up and tried their best to make those women unhappy so that they would accept returning to the man’s Earth. In both stories, you can see how men are making effort to drag women from happy space to unhappy Earth or to prevent them from leaving Earth and go to space to find their happiness. This makes sense to me a lot. Why would a woman wants to go to space with aliens or to be living outside Earth because that what feminism is all about; freedom and liberation for women’s soul and mind. If men can’t put up with the fact that women (feminists) want to experience their own (self-created) happiness outside the boundaries made by society and men, then this Earth is too small for them to share happiness with. Tiptree is using her complex imagination in order to prove that space and time aren’t obstacles for women; they soon fade in the process of achieving their happiness and goals.

I forgot to mention the “Othering” notion that was strongly sensed in the stories. Fro example, Don seeing Ruth as different from him and other women. He is alienating her equally as aliens from space. Also, in the other story there is this different language (accent) we see women in Gloria speak which Earthy men mock about most the time.

Works cited (very recommended):

Ahmed, Sara. The Promise of Happiness. Durham: Duke UP, 2010. Print.

One Response to “Tiptree’s “Unhappy” Women in The Women Men Don’t See and Houston, Houston, Do You Read?”

  1. Dr Lothian March 7, 2013 at 2:29 am #

    Mona, I’m so excited that you read and enjoyed The Promise of Happiness! I look forward to talking about the idea of the feminist killjoy more in class –– I didn’t realise it until your post, but it fits so incredibly well with what Tiptree and Russ often do in their stories. Ahmed’s idea also includes the point that sometimes feminism might not lead to happiness, but that feminists could continue to find it important to be killjoys regardless. For both Tiptree and Russ, neither of whom ever wrote true utopias, this is also an important idea.

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