21 September 2010

Gender and Science Fiction Crowdsource Question


I've just been approved to teach a class next term at Plymouth State University called "Gender and Science Fiction".  It's an upper-level Topics in Women's Studies course, open to any major.  I've been talking about such a course to my colleagues at the university for at least a year now, and so I'm very excited and have spent a lot of time coming up with possible syllabi.  I now have, I think, at least 5 years worth of material that I'd like to share and discuss in one term.

That, of course, is not possible, so I'm pruning and shaping and focusing.  For instance, perfect as Trouble on Triton is for such a course, I can't imagine spending less than a month on it, and I also think most of the students would still struggle unprofitably with it, because most will not, I expect, be experienced readers of science fiction, so it's unlikely I'll use it, or at least all of it.  (I do want to include some Delany, of course, but may go instead with Babel-17, some of the short stories, etc.)  I also don't want to include only obviously feminist work, but also some things like, perhaps, Starship Troopers (also interesting because of the film of it).  Gender doesn't have to be the obvious concern of the text for us to be able to have interesting conversations about gender/sexuality/etc. within it.

Anyway, I have some questions for all of you out there sliding through the intertubes.  Did a work of science fiction (and I am trying to stick to science fiction rather than fantasy) ever really blow your mind with regard to ideas of gender roles, family, sex, sexuality, etc.?  It's okay if it's something that's attained classic status and I'll have probably thought of already -- part of what I'm weighing is how to balance obvious classics and less obvious choices (Russ's The Female Man will be included no matter what, I expect, but I'm really torn between Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness and Four Ways to Forgiveness, a book I personally enjoy more).  I also have to keep reminding myself that most of the students will never have read any science fiction beyond, perhaps, a few YA novels or perennial classroom favorites like 1984...

And if you're especially interested in these sorts of questions and want to answer some additional ones, here's some extra credit: Did you ever learn anything about science or society that changed your view of gender roles, etc.?  How did you learn it?  Did you ever read an article about science, or a work of critical theory, that memorably expanded your view of gender roles, etc. when you were in your late teens / early 20s?  If you were to make all the undergraduates in the world read one text about gender roles, etc., what would that text be (nonfiction or fiction)?  Is there a movie that for you represents either the best or worst of representations of gender in science fiction?

Thanks in advance for the suggestions, thoughts, and shared experiences -- my primary goal is, as I mercilessly cull my lists, to keep myself from inadvertently tossing out something that I'd regret not having included.  I'll report here later on what shape the class takes...