The Witch and the Chameleon "Darkover Landfall" Letter by Marion Zimmer Bradley (September 1975)

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Title: The Witch and the Chameleon "Darkover Landfall" Letter by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1975)
Creator: Marion Zimmer Bradley
Date(s): September 1975
Medium: print
Fandom: Darkover, feminism, science fiction
Topic:
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The Witch and the Chameleon "Darkover Landfall" Letter by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1975) was printed in The Witch and the Chameleon #4.

It is one of the many responses to Vonda McIntyre's review of Marion Zimmer Bradley's book, Darkover Landfall. See the excerpts of this review, as well as many other responses at Darkover Landfall reviewed by Vonda N. McIntyre.

See excerpts from some of the longer letter responses to the review at The Main Letters.

Some Topics Discussed

  • MZB's description of her marriages and upbringing
  • that she "never pulled any punches" in her science fiction books
  • "I think I may have been the first writer --- not the first woman writer, the first writer --- to deal with a woman character as a fully sexual being, in my book The Bloody Sun, which was published by Ace books way back in 1964 and, I now understand, is being reprinted by them late this year."
  • the difficulties Andre Norton faces in themes with her books are her own fault: "She has chosen to write teen-age novels, and teen-age novels are even less honest than ordinary category fiction. Mainstream has been wide open to lesbianism for forty years or so; in 1962, with two lesbian friends, I catalogued over a thousand titles...
  • while it is a great wave of words, one thing MZB's letter doesn't do is say very much about the original review, or of the book Darkover Landfall itself, and instead is about her views on feminism, feminists, combined with a lot of puffery, self-promotion, straw arguments, diversions, and fogging
  • an insult, then an encouraging chuck on the chin, for Andre Norton

Excerpts

I imagine that I am by now persona non grata in your pages,
 which proves the danger of quoting things out of context. I want to emphasize that when I wrote of taking "a few vicious swipes at Wo
men's Lib" my ONLY, and I heavily underscore my ONLY contact with
 the "Women's Liberation Movement" had been with the groups who wrote
 on walls and women's toilets such statements as "Women will not be
free until the last male on this planet is castrated" and "The mon
ster Y chromosome must be completely eliminated sisters work for liberation" and even worse sentiments. To me, this was the only context in which I had ever heard of women's liberation, and it struck me, as I hope it strikes you, as being somewhat similar to the Nazi Party's attitude to the Jews. I felt then, and still feel, that any human being who could identify herself with such a movement is either a dangerous lunatic, or paranoid to a point where I pity her as I would a terrible-accident victim, averting my eyes in horror from the mutilation, not so much in revulsion as in horrifying empathy: "My God; what suffering could drive anyone to this?"

Freedom for women is a different matter. I grew up on a farm, and one takes it for granted there that women can work as hard as men. I did a man's work until I was in my late teens, and it seemed a positive pleasure to be able to spend my days at housework. Everything has to be seen in perspective. Women who now rebel against working as secretaries should remember the days when women in offices were not allowed to do anything but scrub floors; it seemed a great step up in the world to be allowed to type letters instead. The woman who spends her adolescence stacking hay, driving cows, milking and mucking out barns is not going to scream with agony at being allowed to spend her twenties and thirties making a few beds, cooking a few meals, washing a few dishes, and having the rest of her time, as I did, to do as much writing as I wanted, which eventually ended up at four or five books a year.

I also assumed from girlhood that most intelligent people took it for granted that women had the same abilities as men, (with a few extra, like bearing and being able to care for children) and that women actually had most of the advantages in society. I could ride my brother's bicycle, wear his dungarees, fix the roof, do all the work around the farm for which my pregnant mother had no strength, while if my brother asked for a doll for Christmas, as he did at five, he was mercilessly derided, and a boy who did needlepoint was only excused because he was wheelchair-bound (but was derided anyway.) I felt that women had the best of both worlds.

In high school I came up for the first time against the theory that women were an inferior species good for nothing except cheer-leading and editing the school magazine (although women were expected to get good marks while men, poor things, had to excel at sports) but instead of deciding that the world was rigged against women I simply decided that the world was full of fools, and that the average human IQ was about thirty points too low, and dropped right out of the high school world. This is why I have very little sympathy with people who say such things as "Women were forced to pretend to like the things boys liked, to have dates," Not true; they forced themselves because they had accepted a false premise.

I have heard other women say they have had different kinds of experiences in science fiction. But in general when I hear a woman say that her work has been rejected because she was a woman, I can only assume that she would rather think it was rejected because she was a woman, than accept the hard facts that it was probably rejected because it just wasn't very good story. I remember a girl in college who whimpered at men that nobody liked her because she was Jewish. I hadn't even known she was Jewish; I disliked her because she was full of vicious gossip, said continual nasty things about the teachers, old dirty jokes that weren't funny, and had bad breath to boot. It's always easier to excuse editors of prejudice than to ask oneself in all honesty what's wrong with your own work.

It's like the women who complain that housework and child-rearing "rot the brain" so that they can't write, paint or do anything creative. This is an insult; they assume it's possible for J.S. Bach to write the great[est] music the world has ever known while slaving away at a dreary job playing the organ at church services and handling dozens of nasty little choirboys in the local choir school. (I have read that he beat them.) It's possible for Bach to do that, for Robert Penn to write finely crafted stories while teaching in college, for other novelists to write their first few novels while slaving in architect's offices or at advertising agencies or city desks . . . but that a woman is somehow unable to write a novel while listening to the cries of little kids or mopping and waxing the kitchen floor once a week. While my attitude has always been "Every creative artist the world has ever known has had to earn his living somehow while he served his apprenticeship. Thank God I can do it at a dishpan and over a crib, where my hands are busy and my mind free, instead of working at some brain-grating office job which leaves my mind to jangled to think."

So naturally when my secondary contacts with the movements which called themselves Women's Liberation" tried to convince me via long tirades (I am not speaking in generalities, but about a woman who yelled at me for half an hour straight) that I was wasting myself, that no woman could possibly have a creative or intellectual life who did housework, my first reaction was to cry and my second to laugh in her face. I put myself through college while my first marriage was breaking up, and I did it on money I earned myself by writing novels! And all the while I never neglected my eleven-year-old son or my aging first husband who had a traditional attitude about a woman's household duties, but for a man in his fifties was tolerant to the point where he would allow me to do what I pleased provided his meals were cooked on time and he had a clean shirt when he wanted one. And during my second marriage, I supported a sick husband and two kids in diapers by writing. Sure, I'd have liked a better life. Show me anybody who can pick or choose her own circumstances. Having chosen to marry, because I love children and honestly wanted a dozen, I didn't have much sympathy either for the "Liberation" books which kept telling me that no woman with any brains could possibly resign herself to having children; that it would rot her mind.

Only in the last year have I had any contact with any rational movement women (a bisexual rap group in the Women's Centre in Berkeley) who made me realize that the women I had identified with the label "Women's Liberation" did NOT speak for the entire movement; that most of them were where I had always thought of myself. So now I am more tolerant of some of the language they use. But I cannot accept the more extreme ideas like "No woman can possibly live with a man" or "Every man exploits women." This is simply untrue. It is like the merchandiser's statement that "American women simply won't make their own bread." It may be that the women who do are not statistically important; neither are vegetarians. But sweeping generalities like "men are this" or "women are that" sound to me like statistics about meat consumption "Americans eat a hundred pounds of beef a year" at a convention of vegetarians.

Anyway, to say that I now regret some of my early strong statements about Women's Lib would be to give a false impression; these radical "every male must be castrated" types had caused me to believe they spoke for the movement, and I saw no reason not to take them at their word. I am sorry, however, that I did not know of the existence of others with saner viewpoints. I now identify very strongly with the local Women's Movement groups and I still maintain that I have never written anti-feminist propaganda.

I have not really intended to become the spokeswoman for the gay and lesbian community in science fiction, but I have always known (since my late teens, anyhow) that I was just as strongly homosexual as I was heterosexual, and felt that if my husbands didn't mind, nobody else had any right to; so that I have always felt free to write for lesbian publications, etc, under my own name, and have never made any secret of the fact that I consider myself at least bisexual, and probably, more honestly, an offbeat lesbian who simply manages to form occasional strong attachments to men.

I have also dealt with strong and intense friendships between men in World Wreckers, I dealt with explicit homosexuality, which is why at a recent Lunacon where a disgruntled member of Gay Liberation got up and demanded to know why there was so much anti-homosexual prejudice in science fiction! The chairman's attempt at an answer was interrupted by people yelling all over the hall "Let Marion answer that! Marion Bradley can speak about that!" Whereupon I rose and told the man that I honestly felt that there was no generalised editorial prejudice - that individual editors might be prejudiced, but that I personally knew many homosexuals in the science fiction world and that if they did not choose to put their sexual orientation into their own work, that was a personal choice, not a matter of taboo, or so I believed. More recently I have written a book where homosexuality is endemic and thematic to the plot, and I had no difficulty in getting it published. (The Heritage of Hastur: Daw, August 1975).
One can remove the symptoms of sexism by making laws about equal pay for equal work, by passing the Equal Rights Amendment, by consciousness-raising and by Getting rid of sexism in schoolbooks, but it's not going to be in my lifetime. Or yours. Or my nine-year-old daughter's. Or, probably in the lifetime of HER daughters. After Jesus Christ healed seven lepers, there were still probably seven thousand more; and he could raise Lazarus, but there were still a lot of dead men he couldn't raise. In a world where women don't even have the vote in some countries, there's a long way to go. We can't do it all this week.

So the day will come when some science fiction writer can deal honestly with lesbians. I think I've done my part to help it come, too. Probably the author of the first lesbian science fiction novel won't even know my name, unless I get up nerve enough to write it myself. But when I wrote Heritage of Hastur I didn't believe it could be published, because it dealt so frankly with male homosexuality. So who knows what I will be doing ten years from now? Agatha Christie kept on writing till she was 84, which means I still have forty years to write it. I don't know how old Andre Norton is, but she can't be that much older than I am, so maybe one of us will do it yet.

References