Monday, October 10, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Back in the 1970's and 1980's Virginia Slims had an ad campaign pointing out how far woman had come in their fight for equal rights. This is an ad from 1980:

We've come even farther since then. Recently I've read a couple of books which were written in the 1970's; Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey and a couple of early books by Clive Cussler. I find it rather interesting to read them now as they do reflect the times we lived in back when they were written.

Take Dragonsong, the story is about Menolly, a musical genius, who wants to be harper, but is told by everyone that she can't. "Girls can't be harpers." "Don't get above yourself doing a man's work." "We're embarrassed and ashamed that we had to let a girl take over the teaching duties." And other absolute nonsense that only a troglodyte would believe. What makes this interesting to me is that at the time it was written, there were a lot of people who were like Menolly's parents. Who firmly believed that women were stupid and couldn't be doctors or lawyers or engineers. If you want to get a glimpse of what those days were like from a female's point of view, then this book shows it.

From the male point of view, we have Clive Cussler. Now I have to say that his Dirk Pitt character of recent vintage and his other male characters have seen the light and don't treat women like simpleton's. But in his earliest novels of Dirk Pitt, Dirk drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and is such a male chauvinist pig that I want to reach into the book and slap some sense into him. In one scene, Dirk actually patted the Admiral's secretary on the butt and told her to be a good girl. Can you say sexual harassment lawsuit? ... But I wouldn't ask Clive Cussler to revise the story and make it more politically correct, because it shows the prevalent male attitude towards women at the point in time.

Back in January of this year, they released a cleaned up version of "The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. They removed the "n-word" (<--- see we can't even say the word to talk about it. It's become so taboo.) At the time that this happened, there was some outrage and discussion but I didn't say anything.

But now having reread these other books, I think it is wrong to change a book just to make it more palatable to a politically correct audience. Because they show not tell the reader what it was like at the time the book was written. And that I think is valuable.


  1. I can't pat girls on the butt anymore? Damnit!

    I agree, leave books alone. If the author is still alive and wants to change something, okay, but otherwise let it be.

  2. D, you'll start a riot talking like that. Nothing is more important than the outrage of the day ... certainly not old stories. Right?


    Whenever I read a story such as the Huck Finn one you cited, I am put in mind of the best practices of the Ministry of Truth. Shredding the past does no one any favors.

  3. @Mike, you can do anything you want, just be prepared for the sexual harassment lawsuit to follow. LOL

    @stoneaxe, I would think my position in some way supports them. If you want to know what it was like go read books written during that time period. But I do think the time for squawking about discrimination is over; the time for having a conversation about what still needs to be done has arrived.

    If we erase the past, then we will forget what it was like as I had forgotten the details of what it was like. When I read the sentence where Dirk reaches over and pats the secretary on the butt, I stopped and blinked. "He did WHAT?!?" I flipped to the copyright page and sure enough the date was 1975.

    And yes in 1975 we were having to educate men on how demeaning it was to pat a woman on the butt. You all got that lesson and learned it so well that I had forgotten that it used to be "normal" behavior. I can't imagine seeing that now. I sure don't read it in any of the recently written thrillers that I enjoy reading.

  4. That wasn't a jab at you; some people seem perpetually aggrieved, and anything - regardless of context - becomes unacceptable in their eyes ... which is is why I said you'd start a riot.

    And I agree with your broader point - it goes back to the concept of forgetting the past means we're bound to repeat it.