The Women Men Don't See
James Tiptree, Jr.
James Tiptree, Jr.—Alice Sheldon—was one of the more remarkable
voices in disco-era science fiction. When I solicited suggestions for
Phase Two of Young People Read Old SFF, a number of older readers
suggested Tiptree in general and the Nebula-nominated story “The
Women Men Don’t See” in particular.
have no idea how my readers will react to this story but I am sure
they will react. Few people are ever neutral to Tiptree’s prose.
But I’ve been sure and wrong before, so let’s see what they
“Women” didn’t lose but it also did not win. It was withdrawn
a disclaimer, this story was recommended by a friend as a good (one
of the best even) Tiptree stories, but I hadn’t read it yet.
was odd to read of the Quintana Roo area being empty, flat and
barren. I went to a resort there a few years ago, and the whole coast
seems filled with resorts, buses and tourists.
story involved lots of looking up terms, and I wished I was more
familiar with the Spanish language and the Mexican culture.
I’m not exactly sure if I liked this story, but it did make me
ponder, so that’s a positive.
of my experience with feminism is one of struggling and fighting, so
this story of quiet feminism is unusual to me. I like this story for
expressing what it feels like not to be noticed, to be so unassuming
that people have a hard time noticing you’re there. This reminds me
of much of my childhood and teenage years when I blended into
background with baggy clothes and shy, awkward body language.
an adult, I haven’t cared about standing out—that is, I don’t
shy away from demonstrating who I am. I have gradually gone from
being a girl that men don’t see to a woman that men do see, which
feels very strange. I’m always suspicious of people who pay
attention to me based on what can only be my appearance and shallow
first impression. Sometimes I wish I was a woman that men don’t see
- it gives you a kind of unique freedom to do whatever you want when
no one is watching you.
suppose that’s the point of this story. Having an elevated status
in men’s eyes may have its advantages, but it can be awfully
constricting. But having little to no status in men’s eyes means
living quietly in the liminal areas of society. Damned if you are,
damned if you aren’t.
also: aliens. Aliens as strange to the narrator as these unassuming
women. It was fitting.
was weird and slow and racist. Also sexist. The whole thing was
uninteresting in general, the pacing was glacial, and the main
character was a maddeningly horrible person who can seemingly only
thnk about sex and whose first thought upon meeting aliens was to
attack them and steal their stuff.
still lost as to whether Parsons was some kind of spy. I guess the
narrator was one, on his way to help install a more business friendly
government somewhere in Central America.
didn't enjoy this story. I got the subtext of women live in an alien
world ruled by men who are the only reason bad things happen, and
that could make for a good and thought provoking story. This was not
Women Men Don't See started out with the same feeling as the last
Tiptree story we read. A story told from the perspective of a man, on
a Mexican fishing vacation, his internal monologue running with
sexist and racist commentary that, as a modern and enlightened
fellow, he doesn't feel the need to share with the other characters
in the story.
story reads a little dreamlike, which makes it hard to follow at
times. I've understood that the plane has crashed and the four
passengers are trying to survive. But what happens after the initial
crash landing turns into a blur.
story has many of the same elements as the last Tiptree story we
read. A guy who seems to think he knows best, a woman who surprises
him and is much more open-minded, and a gun held by the male
protagonist that causes more problems than it solves, given the
circumstances. All this told in a tone that feels a bit over the top.
It feels like Tiptree doesn't give the men in her stories enough
I was reading the story, I admit, I started skimming. I thought that
maybe the tone was appropriate in the 1970s, when everyone had more
old-fashioned ideas about gender and what women were capable of, but
that to the modern reader, the tone and the narrator's opinions just
seemed dated. And then I read this paragraph:
have no rights, Don, except what men allow us. Men are more
aggressive and powerful, and they run the world. When the next real
crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that
smoke. We'll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has
gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was.
then I thought about some of the things
And I proceeded to appreciate the rest of the story.
feel like I need to start off this review by saying that I know who
said, I am definitely not the target audience for this. I have
absolutely zero wish to spend that many words in the head of a racist
misogynist who is constantly startled that women are as or more
competent than he is. I can definitely understand running away with
aliens to get away from him.
encounter men like this just by existing in the world. I am really
not interested in their internal monologue while they come to grips
with the idea that women are people and can cope without them. I
don’t need to listen to a guy consider how he isn’t at all a
threat while also considering raping a woman (he never considers her
consent for a second). I can acknowledge that this story is a part of
a discussion about gender roles and how they are viewed, which comes
from a particular time in feminist history, while still saying that
this is absolutely not for me.