Tag Archives: 21st century

An “enlightened” view from the 1960s (Le Guin)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

(con’t from last post)

The Left Hand of DarknessKeeping in mind it was the 1960s when this book was written, Le Guin writes, in the main character’s voice, when a Gethenian asks how women and men are different:

“I suppose the most important thing, the heaviest single factor in one’s life, is whether one’s born male or female.  In most societies it determines one’s expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners – almost everything.

The Gethenian asks whether females are mentally inferior.  The main character answers:

“I don’t know.  They don’t often seem to turn up mathematicians, or composers of music, or inventors, or abstract thinkers.  But it isn’t that they’re stupid.  Physically they’re less muscular…”

As I’ve asked before, should we attribute statements made by authors in books as their own opinion?  Should we attribute this view to Le Guin herself?  More likely her opinion of what a male would say if asked this question.

The comment is made by a male who is the main character, the protagonist.  He is a man of the future, an enlightened man by any measure.  So if it is Le Guin’s opinion that a man like this would spontaneously say “stupid” as what women aren’t, as if to remind himself, then she definitely underestimated how far equality would come by even our times, the 21st century.

Perhaps Le Guin would respond that she was simply opening a dialogue, or making a point that even in that far future, men still don’t understand women. 🙂

I don’t like to think that Le Guin was a victim of the prevailing notion of the past that women were mentally inferior than men, but of course it’s possible.  Just because she’s an amazing writer and storyteller doesn’t mean she is immune against “prevailing notions”.

Needless to say, I believe it would be written differently if written today instead of in the 60s.

Update:  A fellow blogger (comments below) helped me to see that it isn’t so much that Le Guin was a victim of “prevailing notions” of the time but more that she was showing the imperfections in her main character.