As I just realised that everyone I wanted to email about this is a member of this comm.
So, back in 2003 I wrote an intro to the NESFA press edition of Ethan of Athos, and now I am revising same.
And I just came to a grinding halt, here:
The question of gender in science-fiction has had a long but curiously tame history, remarkably similar to the treatment of gender in that other would-be-time-traveler’s delight, historical fiction: everything else about a novel’s setting may be 'rich and strange', and suited to the time in which the novel is set, but the gender roles portrayed generally fall safely within at least the broad limits of what is acceptable to the time in which the author is living, at least by the end of the book. Exceptions exist, but they are rare enough to be memorable: Herland. The Left Hand Of Darkness. The Gate to Women’s Country. The Darkover books. And Ethan of Athos.
With the exception of The Left Hand of Darkness, which concerns itself primarily with beings who are both men and women, and the partial exception of The Gate to Women’s Country, however, even in writing which seriously discusses gender roles in science fiction we’re generally talking about women’s roles, and for good reason – women's roles have been a social preoccupation and source of anxiety in the West for as long as there have been novels. Still, there it is again, that assumption that women are the troublesome — and troubled — gender, the gender that needs to ‘transcend their type’ if we’re ever going to get anywhere. These days most science fiction — in lock-step with most of Western society — at least takes it for granted that women can transcend ‘their type’, that women’s options should and will be expanded, but that expansion is to come in very specific directions, towards greater access to ‘men’s stuff’. Problematic female characters, now, are not the ones who try to be more like men, but the ones who do not. And the men? Well, there they are, doing pretty much what fictitious men have usually done (and wanted to do), and actual men have generally done and at least pretended to enjoy, conquering new worlds, getting into fights, working at the office, running the country, or the planet, seducing women, all that. Sometimes we might get a world where war and competition have been abolished, or farmed out somehow, but those are dystopic tales, and if the question is even raised, the effect on the male role is not to change it, but to transfer it — the warriors, whoever they are, become the new real men, the ones to be reckoned with, while the ‘original’ men become something else, something less, at least until they see the error of their ways.
In these new takes on gender roles, it’s not just the potential for male change which is largely ignored; all that messy ‘womanstuff’ is generally left behind, too — some way is found to get the meals cooked and the children raised, the clothes made, washed and ironed, the relationships maintained, and so forth — some machine will be built or some inferior race or underclass will be there, economically created or conquered, or maybe cloned. Possibly the underclass will be made up of those problematic women who just can’t, or won’t, learn to play a man’s game by the men’s rules. It’s a simple enough bit of handwaving, and after all, it’s really not very important, right?
I find this needs reconsidering. I think that even as of 2003 it was seriously insufficiently nuanced, and as of 2007 it's just flat-out not true. At least partly as a result of the works of various members of this community, even.
And yeah, this is sort of asking for help with my homework. But I'm not supposed to be spending a lot of time on this revision, and anyway, it'll be a whole lot more fun for me this way, assuming it'll be fun for you folks.