It’s like this…
You’re fourteen and you’re reading Larry Niven’s “The Protector” because it’s your father’s favorite book and you like your father and you think he has good taste and the creature on the cover of the book looks interesting and you want to know what it’s about. And in it the female character does something better than the male character - because she’s been doing it her whole life and he’s only just learned - and he gets mad that she’s better at it than him. And you don’t understand why he would be mad about that, because, logically, she’d be better at it than him. She’s done it more. And he’s got a picture of a woman painted on the inside of his spacesuit, like a pinup girl, and it bothers you.
But you’re fourteen and you don’t know how to put this into words.
And then you’re fifteen and you’re reading “Orphans of the Sky” because it’s by a famous sci-fi author and it’s about a lost generation ship and how cool is that?!? but the women on the ship aren’t given a name until they’re married and you spend more time wondering what people call those women up until their marriage than you do focusing on the rest of the story. Even though this tidbit of information has nothing to do with the plot line of the story and is only brought up once in passing.
But it’s a random thing to get worked up about in an otherwise all right book.
Then you’re sixteen and you read “Dune” because your brother gave it to you for Christmas and it’s one of those books you have to read to earn your geek card. You spend an entire afternoon arguing over who is the main character - Paul or Jessica. And the more you contend Jessica, the more he says Paul, and you can’t make him see how the real hero is her. And you love Chani cause she’s tough and good with a knife, but at the end of the day, her killing Paul’s challengers is just a way to degrade them because those weenies lost to a girl.
Then you’re seventeen and you don’t want to read “Stranger in a Strange Land” after the first seventy pages because something about it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. All of this talk of water-brothers. You can’t even pin it down.
And then you’re eighteen and you’ve given up on classic sci-fi, but that doesn’t stop your brother or your father from trying to get you to read more.
Even when you bring them the books and bring them the passages and show them how the authors didn’t treat women like people.
Your brother says, “Well, that was because of the time it was written in.”
You get all worked up because these men couldn’t imagine a world in which women were equal, in which women were empowered and intelligent and literate and capable.
You tell him - this, this is science fiction. This is all about imagining the world that could be and they couldn’t stand back long enough and dare to imagine how, not only technology would grow in time, but society would grow.
But he blows you off because he can’t understand how it feels to be fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and desperately wanting to like the books your father likes, because your father has good taste, and being unable to, because most of those books tell you that you’re not a full person in ways that are too subtle to put into words. It’s all cognitive dissonance: a little like a song played a bit out of tempo - enough that you recognize it’s off, but not enough to pin down what exactly is wrong.
And then one day you’re twenty-two and studying sociology and some kind teacher finally gives you the words to explain all those little feelings that built and penned around inside of you for years.
It’s like the world clicking into place.
And that’s something your brother never had to struggle with.