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.
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.