Things I Didn’t Say on the SF Signal Mind Meld

The wonderful people at SF Signal invited me to meld minds again, this time on the topic of taboos in science fiction.

Now that my essay — a brief speculation on whether or not feminism and a tendency to write stories that deal with gender are a value or a detriment to my publishing career — is in cyberprint, I find myself thinking of other things I could, or should, have said.

I find this often happens when I write essays, perhaps because I keep thinking about the subject after I’ve sent off the so-called finished piece. Since essays are usually opinion pieces of one sort or another, and since most of my opinions are not fixed in concrete, but rather constantly growing and developing, any nonfiction I write is — at best — a snapshot of what I thought the day I wrote the essay.

This does not happen to me with fiction. When I finally decide a story is done, it’s done. If the ideas that underlie it progress, I write another story; I don’t go back and change the old one.

In this particular case, I blame my new thoughts on modern taboos in science fiction on Ursula Le Guin!

As I was about to sit down to supper Wednesday night, I went looking for something to read. (I come from a family where reading at the table is considered a virtue. In fact, all reading is considered a virtue in my family; at least three generations of my family are quite capable of spending an entire afternoon not speaking, each of us engrossed in a different book.)

The book I ended up selecting was Ursula’s collection of essays and reviews, Dancing at the Edge of the World. I’d read it before, but it had been quite awhile, and I thought I might find some interesting ideas to contemplate.

Indeed I did. I began at the beginning, with “The Space Crone,” first published in the Co-Evolution Quarterly in the summer of 1976 (I think I remember reading it there, too). And the first sentence did me in:

The menopause is probably the least glamorous topic imaginable; and this is interesting, because it is one of the very few topics to which cling some shreds and remnants of taboo.

Damn, I said to myself. I should have written about menopause and the dearth of older women in fiction for the Mind Meld.

I don’t know if there’s an official taboo among publishers and editors against writing about older women. But you rarely see them as the main character. And I can’t think of any stories in which menopause plays a role.

It’s probably a good subject for the self-censoring part of the Mind Meld topic, too. I suspect many of us avoid writing about menopause or older women because we wouldn’t want anyone to suspect that we might be — you know — old.

Of course, our whole culture worships youth in women. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery still play leading man action adventure roles (in their mid-60s and late 70s, respectively), but few actresses are able to continue in lead roles past 40, no matter how big a draw they are before. How many movies do you see in which the male lead is an established star, while the key female role is played by someone you never heard of?

Since I missed out on discussing age and menopause as a taboo, I’m now challenging myself and everyone else to write more older women into fiction — and not just as somebody’s grandmother or a wise old witch. I want a main character in her 60s (at least) saving the world or doing the other sorts of things main characters do in a story, while tolerating hot flashes and idiots who — as Cynthia Heimel once wittily explained — literally do not see her because she is too old to be a sex object.

I mean, if it’s true that 50 is the new 30 (and so forth), a lot of older folks are going to have real life adventures. We should make sure they have them in our fiction, too.

Many thanks to Karen Burnham, who edited the Mind Meld,  and SF Signal for letting me play in their sandbox.


Nancy Jane’s flash fiction for this week is “The Hero Unmasked.” Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.



Things I Didn’t Say on the SF Signal Mind Meld — 17 Comments

  1. And let me just say this once, that Harrison Ford needs to not be in action movies anymore. He’s been uninteresting for at least 10 years. And what was that stupid plane-crash-on-a- desert-island thing he did with Annie Hecht or Gwneth Paltrow as the love interest. B-o-r-i-n-g. N-o c-h-e-m-i-s-t-r-y. I’ve sworn of older man/younger woman scenes ever since then. I cannot watch one without laughing at the director/producer/other male Hollywood mogul’s private fantasy world as entertainment. When will they stop inflicting that subpar crap on us?

    Older women actresses? Hello, Judi Dench? Helen Mirren? The Redgraves? You see a pattern here? There’s plenty of older women talent still working. American film people have their head up their asses. If we’re lucky we get to see Kathy Bates, but only if some indie director had insomnia at 2 in the morning happened upon Come back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean on a back water channel (Go rent this movie now if you’ve never seen it). And we just keep buying Hollywood crap. Please. Burn your video club card, get a sub to netflix, and demand the movies you want. There’s a million great flix out there, forget Hollywood. It ain’t happening there.

  2. My short story in Esther Friesner’s anthology WITCH WAY TO THE MALL is about an older woman, and her elderly husband. Somewhere around here is a jpeg of the cover, too.

  3. Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.! I’d forgotten all about that film. It might be the best movie Robert Altman ever made. And as a bonus, it definitely bends a little gender.

  4. Sometime in May, I believe. It is one of Esther Friesner’s anthologies, which means it is full of funny fantasy that could be taken seriously!

  5. Thanks for the link, Charles. I’ve got Ekaterina’s story open in another tag and plan to read it with my breakfast. I’ve been meaning to read more of her work.

  6. Yeah, thanks for the link, Charles. I like her writing. BTW, I went to rent Come Back to the Diner, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean at netflix today. No can do. Not out on DVD. Have to add that to my list of movies to harrass the powers that be to get out for the drooling masses. Also on my list: BBC’s Cold Lazarus and that weird old movie, The World The Flesh and The Devil.

    Please, somebody, tell me when these are out.

    Also, I didn’t know that was an Altman movie. Doesn’t seem like his style.

  7. I actually double-checked about Altman before I put up the comment, but my memory was right. It’s closer in style to his early work, like MASH and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. His stuff always had quirky elements, but it was only later that he started the highly improvisational, let the actors talk over each other style for which he’s best known. It’s actually amazing that I saw it, because I stayed mad at Altman for years for the travesty he made out of Raymond Chandler’s greatest novel, The Long Goodbye.

    The movie I wish were available on Netflix — hell, I’d even buy it — is the Japanese film Ame Agaru (the English title is either “After the Rain” or “When the Rain Lifts” depending on the tranlastor). It’s a brilliant movie by Takashi Koizumi, who was Kurosawa’s chief disciple (you figure he didn’t have assistants, he had disciples). Kurosawa wrote the script. But it has only been released on DVDs playable in Japan and Europe, not the ones here, even though the film is available with English subtitles. I saw it when it first came out and would watch it once a year like I do Seven Samurai if I could get a copy.

  8. This reminds me of our several-years-ago conversation about the elder female protagonist and “Mrs. Brown” – about whom I have written 2-3 partial stories and given them up for the reasons described above.

    “The Renascence of Memory” is a longer story that I wrote that’s even in a weird way, autobiographical (I’m not at THE MENOPAUSE yet but it looms). That’s up at BVC and yes, I had great difficulty in selling it. It finally appeared in my first collection, and then it was reprinted by MacAllister Stone, one of our very nicest newer editors and writers, in Coyote Wild.,com_deeppockets/task,contShow/id,1961/Itemid,489/

    That’s the link to it at BVC. Carol Meyers, the protagonist, is warehoused at a care home with Alzheimers when the story begins. She gets younger and remembers more every day thanks to nanotechnology and a neural implant named “Ned” who helps her along.

  9. Elizabeth Moon responded to SF and Mrs. Brown by writing REMNANT POPULATION, a definitely interesting old woman (the protagonist would snort at “older” — in her society, she was so old her children might or might not ever have found out what happened to her, that’s how little she still counted for.) I think I love the dowager duchess in the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane stories even more than our hero. (As well as that sharp and sneaky elderly typist Peter plants places as a spy.)

    I try to tuck older women in my novels wherever they fit. I’m doodling with a YA where the great-and-many-greats-grandmother is an important character. A large part of her power is in all the fertile descendants she bore — but now that she’s past children, she’s even more important — using both her native and acquired cunning to protect (without drawing attention to it) descendants (and those who are not, but still very important to her vision) who may be able to revive a dying people and culture.