Female issues... OK, I recently finished Larry Niven’s Ringworld for the first time. No doubt a SciFi classic, winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula. Having lots of fans, many of them around these parts. And I can see a lot of good points about it. It is great in world building (literally and figuratively) and the Aliens in it are genuinely Alien and weird. But then there are - the women. Now, some of you may know that I’m rarely the first or the loudest to speak out against sexism. I have gotten into trouble for posting stuff that was (rightfully, I admit) considered sexist on ODeck and I have gotten into heated discussions here and elsewhere over defending gratuitous nudity and sexualised imagery because I - basically just like to see it. So - this may come as a surprise, but the two female characters in Ringworld really struck me as horribly sexist for a classic novel... (Spoilers for Ringworld)
Maybe ODeck can help me figure this out....
To break it down:
Female character #1: Teela Brown. The end-result of a breeding experiment meant to create “lucky” human beings (the idea of luck as inheritable evolutionary trait strikes me as beyond suspension of disbelief, BTW). Teela starts out as a vapid airhead. Essentially being the luckiest person alive, she never had to suffer pain (emotional or physical), loss or trauma. She has no skills or talents of any kind other than - making it through life on sheer dumb luck. She enters the story when our hero, 200+ year old Louis Wu, finds her strikingly resembling her Great-grandmother, who he once had sex with and immediately starts having sex with her as well. That is - not creepy. Like - at all. She basically follows him into the story as a his fuck-buddy and lucky charm of the expedition, getting treated by Louis like a little kid all the way for her ditzyness. To make a long story short, her luck brought her to the Ringworld to there find her perfect mate - who is basically Conan the Barbarian (down to the muscles, the sword, the fur loincloth and the Holy Quest). Oh and by the way - her soulmate thinks women are property, and instead of informing him that Teela is not Louis’ property, they decide it’ll all be easier for everyone if he just sells her to him. Essentially making him believe that Teela now - legally belongs to him. Luckiest girl ever!
Right at the very same moment when Teela leaves Louis’ bed for her new protector, the second female character shows up. Prill. Prill is a member of the race who built the Ringworld - having spent the whole decline of the Ringworld civilisation in a time dilated Spaceship near lightspeed, she is now one of the few civilised beings on Ringworld. Sounds great? Well - I should add that Prill, despite showing basic technical and medical skills, was not an engineer or a medic on the ship, but the ship prostitute. One of three ship prostitutes. Who were also the only female members of a crew of over 30 people. Apparently the Ringworld builders believed the only job women should do on board of a spaceship is being the crew’s whores. She is also able to rejuvenate herself and is several hundred, if not thousand years old. So - the position of Louis Wu’s bedwarmer is being upgraded from a 20 year old airhead who could - literally - be his great-granddaughter to a girl with the body of a 20 year old and the sexual experience of a several hundred year old hooker. Good for him.....
And that is it, in terms of female characters. An airhead, who supposedly grows up on her trip - which she shows by doing the incredibly responsible thing of handing Louis a scarf so he can bandage an injured crewmate (seriously, that’s the closing point of her character ark) and then being sold by her 200 year old lover to Conan the Barbarian. And a hooker, coming from a civilisation that seems to believe that hooker is the best job a woman can possibly hope for and who doesn’t hesitate a second to continue doing her job with the only human male of the crew that saves her from Ringworld.
Full disclosure - I have not yet read any other works of Larry Niven or others about Ringworld. Should these characters re-appear and develop, I do not know about it. I can only judge this one book.
So - am I the only one who is bothered by the females in this one? Did I miss something? Do I read too much into that or am I just overly sensitive? Which w0uld surprise me, because as I said - I normally am blamed of being quite insensitive about these things.
And now - reading this 70's Hugo Award Winner from today’s perspective, I feel that females like the ones in this book are exactly what the Sad Puppies have in mind when pining for the good old days of SciFi.....