Sunday, January 31, 2016

He, She, Ve, It (Language and Gender in Science Fiction)

isn't this art by my friend Alex good? there will continue to be good art in this essay, my friends.
Original illustrations throughout this piece by Alex Kostiw

There's a starman waiting in the sky
He'd like to come and meet us
But he thinks he'd blow our minds
Starman, David Bowie 

“[A] 1960s film of the 'office of the future' made on-par technological predictions (fax machines and the like), but had a glaring omission: The office had no women.
 —“Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot, Tom Vanderbilt, Nautilus, issue 28, emphasis added

♂  ⚧  ♀

While science fiction serves a great many different purposes, one of the most common is as a medium for free speculation about the future. Sci-fi authors have frequently been great at accurately envisioning the future of technology—having foreseen everything from credit cards to space flight well before its time—but the future of human society, its culture, values, and mores, has always been much harder to envision with any accuracy.

In his essay, “Why Futurism has a Cultural Blindspot, Tom Vanderbilt suggests that this is because we tend to forget that culture changes at all:
[W]hen it comes to culture we tend to believe not that the future will be very different than the present day, but that it will be roughly the same. Try to imagine yourself at some future date. Where do you imagine you will be living? What will you be wearing? What music will you love? Chances are, that person resembles you now. As the psychologist George Lowenstein and colleagues have argued, in a phenomenon they termed “projection bias,” people “tend to exaggerate the degree to which their future tastes will resemble their current tastes.”
As with our difficulty imagining changes in our personal tastes, so too with society, values, and culture: we tend to unconsciously project the present into the future, even as we try our best to imagine how things could be radically different. 

Illustration by Alex Kostiw

Science fiction is, depending on who you ask, somewhere between as young as the twentieth century and as old as written literature. A good conservative estimate of its age might peg its starting point at Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1818, but you can make the case that it really only got going with the advent of pulp magazines, arriving in the early 1900s. Even if you start at that latest date, though, science fiction took its sweet time before really hunkering down to examine the intersection of language and gender, which only came to be a topic of speculation within science fiction starting in the 1960s.

Gender, and in particular gendered language, is much older than science fiction; indeed, it is older than written history itself: when writing first comes fully online as a technology in the late 3000s/early 2000s BCE in Egypt, gendered pronouns are already firmly in place.1 The existence of genders (that is, groupings of people based on a combination of physical appearance, social roles, and personal identities, usually into the two categories “men/boys and “women/girls) is universal in human cultures, and many human languages reflect this by assigning each gender a set of pronouns.2 English has gendered pronouns only in the third person, “he/him/his" or “she/her/hers, but there are languages (like Hebrew) with gendered second-person pronouns, “you (man/boy) or “you (woman/girl), and there are even a few (like Tocharian and Korana) with gendered first-person pronouns, “I (man/boy) or “I (woman/girl).

So linguistic signifiers of gender were certainly around long enough for science fiction to start speculating about when and why they might change—long enough for sci-fi to ask: what happens to language (and society) when people start to cross gender boundaries? what happens when the boundaries no longer apply at all?—but no one thought to project these changes into the future until they were already happening in the present.

♂  ⚧  ♀

Travel with me now, into the deep, dank depths of time, to 1955. This is the year in which a trio of researchers dealing with what we now call “intersexuality—the state of having neither typically male nor typically female reproductive organs, but rather something in between3coined the concept of gender as a social category,4 distinct from the notion of biological sex.5 (When making this distinction, the adjectives “male/female are often used for the sexes, that is, the status of one's body, while “masculine/feminine are often used for the two most common genders.) It will take until 1964 for a researcher to finally separate the notions of gender roles (the external activities, appearances, and expectations of people based on their gender) and gender identity (the internal sense of self, the perception that you have a certain gender).6

The first real attempts at exploring the breakdown gender in science fiction take place around this same time.7 As John Money et al were proposing that gender was a separate thing from people's bodies, transgender people were starting to emerge into the public eye and organize themselves for the first time.

(Note: the rest of this essay, especially the following four paragraphs, is heavily indebted to Brian Atterby's excellent book, Decoding Gender in Science Fiction, specifically the seventh chapter, Androgyny as Difference.)

Responding to this new era, in which gender was a boundary that could be crossed, a social construct that could be reworked or upended, Thomas Sturgeon imagined a future society where gender had been erased in his novel, Venus Plus X (1960).  Less than a decade later, Ursula K. Le Guin pushed the envelope further by imagining an entire planet on which human gender had ceased to exist in her book, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). These novels depict groups of people whose bodies contain functional sets of both kinds reproductive organs (though in The Left Hand of Darkness, each partner expresses one sex or the other other during mating). Since genders tend to be based around bodies, the result is societies of people without genders. 

note both covers' gender mashing, I'm especially fond of whatever's going on in the Venus Plus X cover, it's pretty unsubtle whatever it is

In both of these works, the language choice used is the least radical one possible: the genderless people are called “he. On the bright side, though, this language choice reflects the limitations of the main characters, who is in each case a man choosing the language used to describe the gender-free people he is meeting. This works well enough in its way—both main characters (Charlie Johns in Venus Plus X and Genly Ai in The Left Hand of Darkness) reflect on the limitations and downright foolishness of assigning “he pronouns to their genderless peers, and people in both fictional worlds speak languages where the native pronouns for people are a word that simply means human.8 In both cases, the main character, lacking this genderless “human pronoun and not wanting to call a person “it, uses “he” as a sort of default pronoun that encompasses all people, in the same way that “man or “men was once used with great frequency to describe the whole of humanity. (Genly Ai, narrator of most of The Left Hand of Darkness, says of “he that it is “less specific than the neuter or the feminine [pg. 94]. Make of that what you will.)

Le Guin, at least, later came to regret her pronoun choice. Critics pointed out that her use of traditionally male language to describe genderless characters (as well as a lack of any characters presented in traditionally feminine roles) essentially created a safe trip for male readers, into an ungendered world and back, without being presented a real challenge to their own worldview. In other words, whatever their biology or mating habits, the characters in The Left Hand of Darkness are presented as if they live in a world where men have all the power, responsibility, and agency, and where women are literally nowhere to be found. The King of the fictional country of Karhide can be pregnant, but he is still called “he.9

While she never changed the language of The Left Hand of Darkness itself, Le Guin did respond thoughtfully to this strain of criticism, first in the form of an essay defending her work, then later by republishing that same essay with a side-by-side critique of her original defense and admissions that her critics had a point. She also revised a short story set in the world of The Left Hand of Darkness, “Winter's King, switching all of its characters to “she pronouns.

in space, no one can hear you scream your gender pronoun
Illustration by Alex Kostiw

Both of these early explorations of language and gender are focused on androgyny, a combination of maleness and femaleness and/or of masculinity and femininity. Androgyny is one important way of complicating or even erasing the gender binary: creating ambiguous gray space in between the two categories, blending together two designations which we are taught to see as not only separate, but opposite.  Specifically, both of these novels describe a kind of biological androgyny, in which the physical reproductive systems of both sexes are combined. These authors ask: what would happen to our social lives if the sexes were fused? 

There's another option when creating androgyny, though, that science fiction authors began to explore later, which I'll call;social androgyny. Instead of imagining a world in which someone has decided to erase any opportunity for gender distinctions by physically merging the sexes, some authors have imagined worlds in which gender has simply disappeared. Bodies with different sets of reproductive organs still exist in these worlds, but the language used to talk about people does not reflect this, nor do the social roles that people take on, nor the ways people perceive one another. In other words, these authors ask us: what would the world look like if people simply forgot that genders were a thing

♂  ⚧  ♀

Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy (Ancillary Justice [2013], Ancillary Sword [2014], and Ancillary Mercy [2015]) imagines a vast interplanetary empire in which genders are unmarked in speech (“Radchaai is the name of the language, the empire, and its people) and not distinguished in social life. The result is a world where reproduction has been completely uncoupled from gender, as we see here in the first book, Ancillary Justice
She blinked, hesitated a moment as though what I’d said made no sense to her. “I used to wonder how Radchaai reproduced, if they were all the same gender.” 
“They’re not. And they reproduce like anyone else.” Strigan raised one skeptical eyebrow. “They go to the medic,” I continued, “and have their contraceptive implants deactivated. Or they use a tank. Or they have surgery so they can carry a pregnancy. Or they hire someone to carry it.” (Chapter 1)
In part because of this social background, the main character of the books finds it difficult to distinguish and mark gender when she comes into contact with other languages and cultures:
I turned to look at her, to study her face. She was taller than most Nilters, but fat and pale as any of them. She out-bulked me, but I was taller, and I was also considerably stronger than I looked. She didn’t realize what she was playing with. She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt. I wasn’t entirely certain. It wouldn’t have mattered, if I had been in Radch space. Radchaai don’t care much about gender, and the language they speak—my own first language—doesn’t mark gender in any way. This language we were speaking now did, and I could make trouble for myself if I used the wrong forms. It didn’t help that cues meant to distinguish gender changed from place to place, sometimes radically, and rarely made much sense to me. (Chapter 1)
The English pronoun Leckie chooses to represent all humans in Radchaai is “she, a choice that reflects less about Radchaai society than it does our own. Think about it: The Left Hand of Darkness and Venus Plus X are, linguistically speaking, populated entirely by men—by “hes. Even though the whole idea of these books is to subvert our expectations about gender, both novels actually subtly reinforce them. Books and other media populated exclusively by “hes and “hims are abundant and, for most of history, have scarcely been critiqued for having no “shes.10 By employing the masculine-gender pronoun, these books present us with a safe androgyny, one that allows us to think about it without being particularly challenged by the language that surrounds it.

The Imperial Radch trilogy 
The Imperial Radch trilogy turns this on its head. The books are populated entirely by “shes, including male “shes like the one in the second block quote above. We are presented with characters who are referred to as though they are women, but whose genders are actually unknown or nonexistent. The fact that every character is a “she instead of a “he" brings this constantly to the reader's attention: while “he-dominated and “he-exclusive literature abounds in science fiction and elsewhere, “she-exclusive literature is practically unheard of outside of literature targeted specifically at women. “She makes us sit up and take notice.

Leckie's answer to the question “what does a genderless world look like? is basically that power and individuals' biological sex is no longer intertwined, but that power and having sex are still very much related. In Radchaai space, power is defined through wealth and patronage relationships. Patronage relations and personal power can in turn be enhanced through having sex with one's patron, at the expense of one's personal dignity. Like Le Guin, who imagines a genderless world whose primary countries are feudal, bureaucratic, and oligarchic, Leckie does not see erasing gender and, thereby, patriarchy, as a means to create an egalitarian society.11 In her world as in ours, a more equal society is the result of organizing against and resisting oppression.

♂  ⚧  ♀

Samuel R. Delany's masterpiece, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (1984), though written a generation earlier than Leckie's books, actually takes her approach to language and gender a step further. While both worlds imagine what I'm calling social androgyny (in which the concept of gender has been removed from a society, even as distinct kinds of bodies have been preserved), Delany's book imagines what further changes might happen to gendered language after it ceases to represent a rigid, uncrossable, binary division between seemingly opposite groups of people. His answer is that it could be used instead to represent the fleeting, fluid object of one's erotic desire:
“She” is the pronoun for all sentient individuals of whatever species who have achieved the legal status of “woman.” The ancient, dimorphic form “he,” once used exclusively for the genderal indication of males (cf. the archaic term man, pl. men), for more than a hundred-twenty years now, has been reserved for the general sexual object of “she,” during the period of excitation.  (78)
In Stars in My Pocket, most of the characters come from worlds on which the gender binary has disappeared, and everyone refers to each other as “she. The exception is when speaking about someone you're really into, which ends up meaning that people are sometimes...uncomfortably open about who they're really into—it just crops up right there, in the pronouns you use to talk about them.

this is among the less weird cover for this book, which has some *weird* covers, tell you what

The societies in the vast universe of Stars in My Pocket take this and run with it: people are frank about who they want to have sex with, and sex happens when all parties are amenable. Worlds without this linguistic feature, though, can be more sexually repressed, if not in the way we're used to. Rhyonon, the planet where the book opens, has traditional gendered pronouns, and strict rules about who has sex with who: a tall person getting it on with a short person is completely forbidden! To an extent, then, Delany imagines that, no matter what strange inverted forms they may develop into, society and language will still manage to reflect one another in refreshingly weird ways.

♂  ⚧  ♀

There's an entire other direction that science fiction authors have pushed this concept, however: instead of wondering about erasing gender and creating androgynous societies, some have asked: what happens when you add another gender on top of the other two?

The simplest answer an author can give is: not much! Maybe there's a future where a third gender is a broadly accepted norm, and that's that. This is the world of Alastair Reynolds' On the Steel Breeze (2013), which features a supporting character called Travertine, whose pronouns are “ve,” (subject) “vis” (possessive), and “vir” (object). Nothing much is made of Travertine's gender: vis pronouns are part of people's normal interaction with vir, and ve gets along very well, thanks very much. The one thing that sticks out is that Travertine is the only character who uses these pronouns, which seems to indicate a world in which people of vis third gender are less common than men and women.

not actually a book cover image, dunno what kind of media comes in this shape

It's hard to draw conclusions from the gender of a single character,12 but Travertine comes across as a sort of neutral figure, one whose gender lies in between (or simply outside of) masculine and feminine and doesn't have a clear characteristic of its own. Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy13 imagines the opposite: a third gender so unique that it makes the other two seem the same by comparison. The books feature an alien race called the Oankali, who have males, females, and a third sex/third gender called ooloi. Brian Atterby describes the ooloi this way in Decoding Gender in Science Fiction:
[T]he ooloi are over-endowed. They have two hearts, four arms, seven fingers on each hand, an internal reproductive organ called the “yashi,” and wriggling sensory tentacles in various places. They do not have genitals but their sexual equipment includes both the womb-like yashi and the phallic sensory arms. They are attractive to members of both sexes and can temporarily develop breasts and other secondary sex characteristics of either human sex...  
One effect of adding ooloi to the human sexual equation is to make females and males appear more alike than different, because both are treated the same way by the ooloi. The ooloi uses its sensory arms to enter both the male and female bodies. It receives from each the gametes out of which it constructs a new individual. It differs from men and women in being immensely powerful, able to kill with a touch but also to heal, and capable of stimulating (and receiving) unearthly pleasure. (144)
The ooloi are biologically and socially distinct from males/men and females/women, but they are also aliens (or, later, alien-human hybrids). This makes them uniquely suited to their pronoun, which is “it”—the only time I have seen this pronoun used for third-gender characters. Using “it” emphasizes the ooloi's difference, both as creatures not (or not fully) human, and as a gender so over-endowed and unique that they render the other two hardly worth distinguishing by comparison.

I am still looking for someone to buy me these--I'd like the editions with these covers if possible, rather than the huge and unwieldy Lilith's Brood anthology, whose cover I could also take or leave
The Xenogenesis series, also known as Lilith's Brood
I've been writing as though third genders were the end all and be all of additions to the gender spectrum, but when you come right down to it, there's not necessarily any numerical limit on genders. Raphael Carter (a science fiction author who does not identify as male or female) imagines the addition of many more than merely two or three gender categories. In “'Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation' by K.N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin, a science fiction story disguised as an academic paper, a fictional medical condition is described, which causes a person to perceive too many factors about people to sort them consistently into just two gender groups. Instead, people with the condition either become confused about people's gender and have trouble keeping their pronouns straight, or (more interestingly) they begin sorting people into more specific categories than the traditional gender binary allows:
Not only did the twins correctly sort these photographs...they distinguished accurately between such different intersexual conditions as true hermaphroditism, gonadal agenesis, and male and female pseudohermaphroditism...After some hesitation...they picked up the pile of control photographs and sorted them into a total of 22 categories, each one corresponding to a word in their private language...Categories 9 and 21 proved to identify women born with clitoromegaly and men born with hypospadias, respectively, even though these are minor cosmetic conditions of the genitals with no known effect on clothed appearance. Category 6 comprised people with high scores on the Bem test of psychological androgyny. Again, it is not clear how this could be distinguished from a photograph, but the twins' identifications have proved to be repeatable. Number 18, whose exact biological meaning is unclear, includes a disproportionate number of people with a family history of osteoporosis...Perhaps most strikingly, categories 4 and 9 identified men and women who took artificial sex hormones rather than producing them naturally, even when this was the result of hysterectomy or accidental castration rather than of genetic difference. (25-26)
Gender is really a grab-bag of various ideas (bodies! social norms! sexuality! language!), and Carter's story points out that we could, in theory, be splitting the hairs of gender a lot more finely than we do. Without being any more arbitrary than we already are, we could create enough genders such that it might be easiest, for linguistic purposes, to just assign everyone's group a number and be done with it.14 Or maybe Carter's point is that, with this many potential categories out there, gender is best left aside altogether.

Illustration by Alex Kostiw

As I hinted in the introduction, these explorations of gender are less attempts at predicting the future, and more in-depth reflections on the current state of things—having only recently discovered that gender is more imagined than real, authors begin exploring what is happening as it changes, and speculating about its disappearance. These explorations could just as easily be done in longform essays, but science fiction allows authors to make them more palatable and more exciting by talking about them as if they occurred in a distant time and/or place (Carter's story excepted—though perhaps the story's framing as medical literature serves the same purpose).

However, even though these stories are probably not attempting to predict the cultural future (perhaps it is simply beyond human ability to do so), they do present us with possible futures. These futures prompt two significant questions: what can be gained from disrupting the gender binary? And: how do we get there? I leave these questions to the reader.

1. Interestingly, however, one of the other very early written languages, Sumerian, did not have feminine/masculine gendered pronouns. Instead, its pronouns were divided into two grammatical categories—human beings and gods in one category, and non-humans in the other. Notably, however, the language of the nearby Akkadians, which was also among the first written languages, did have gendered pronouns.
2. A majority of the world's languages do not have gendered pronouns, a surprising fact that I discovered by accident when researching this essay. I have seen numbers ranging from 57% to 70% of languages having no gender system, but can't find anything definitive. Any attempt to give a percentage of all languages is usually complicated by the facts that (1) the exact number of languages on earth is wide open for debate, since the line between language and dialect is often blurry, and (2) many languages are spoken by very small populations, are understudied, and/or are undergoing language death, and are therefore subject to rapid and extreme changes. Indo-European languages, a language family that is among the most widely spoken on Earth and that includes English, do typically have gender systems for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives (English is the weird outlier within this family, since it only has gendered pronouns, and other nouns and adjectives are usually not marked for gender).
3. The old word for intersexuality or being an intersex person is “hermaphroditism or being a “hermaphrodite. This older word comes from a character in Greek mythology, Hermaphroditus, who is the intersex child of two Greek gods, Aphrodite and Hermes—hence the name. “Intersex is considered more polite these days, but “hermaphrodite was what the researchers used back in the 50s; here's the paper citation if you need it—I had no luck tracking down a copy online, which I guess is unsurprising considering how old it is:
Money, John; Joan G. Hampson, John L. Hampson, 1955, “Hermaphroditism: Recommendations concerning assignment of sex, change of sex, and psychologic management”, Bulletin of the John Hopkins Hospital, 97: 284.
Intersex conditions have a wide variety of expressions, from having the sex chromosomes of one sex but the reproductive organs of the other, all the way up to having partial genital tissues for both sexes, with a range of possibilities in between. (Apparently there are no documented cases of individuals having fully functioning, fertile reproductive systems of both sexes. This shines an unfortunate light on —All You Zombies—, a favorite story of which I once made a recording for my old podcast.) Estimates of how many people have intersex conditions range from less than .1% all the way up to 1% of the human population, depending on how strictly you define your terms.
4. Until this point in history, the English word “gender was pretty much just a grammatical category, rather than a sociological one, and the word could refer to any system of division of nouns in a language into different categories. See note 1 above for one example of grammatical “genders that don't line up with our social genders; another famous example comes from Dyirbal, an Australian aboriginal language with four grammatical genders, which are reserved for the following kinds of nouns: (I) men and most animate objects; (II) women, water, fire, violence, and exceptional animals; (III) edible fruit and vegetables; and (IV) miscellaneous. Category II is the inspiration for the title of a book I read in college as part of my linguistics degree, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.
5. “Biological sex is a tricky concept that, like gender, also turns out to be more of a social construct than an objective reality. The standard story is that in biology there are two sexes, males and females, but this is complicated by a variety of factors, not least of which are the broad array of possible intersex conditions that occur in humans and many other animals. While most animals reproduce by the mating of two distinct subtypes of animal, many species also have important “third sexes (like the sterile workers in social insects like ants and bees, which are usually designated as “female, though this is an awkward designation for an animal which does not and cannot reproduce). What's more, the actual biology of the different sexes often has little correspondence across species; for example, while human sex characteristics come from genes called X and Y, with females having XX chromosomes and males having XY, birds have a completely different set of sex chromosomes called Z and W, with the males having two of the same (ZZ) and the females having two different ones (ZW). Because biological sex may be just as subjective and blurry a category as gender, some have taken to wondering whether, in humans at least, there is just gender, which by itself makes us pay attention to certain body differences as a means of dividing ourselves into categories.
6. Some people report experiencing an internal sense of having no gender (agender) or having different genders at different times (genderfluid). These gender identities and others are sometimes grouped together as non-binary gender identities.
7. One might point to Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928) as a precursor to this, though it is not generally considered a work of science fiction. It's about an extraordinarily long-lived person who changes genders throughout their life, which extends throughout several major historical epochs.
8. Here's where that pronoun is mentioned in each book:
The personal pronoun—and there was only one! in Ledom was like that: personal and without gender. That Charlie had told himself it was he was Charlie's own mistake, and now he knew it. (Venus Plus X, 73)
Yet you cannot think of a Gethenian as it.” They are not neuters. They are potentials, or integrals. Lacking the Karhidish “human pronoun” used for persons in somer, I must say he,” for the same reasons as we used the masculine pronoun in referring to a transcendent god: it is less defined, less specific, than the neuter or the feminine. But the very use of the pronoun in my thoughts leads me continually to forget that the Karhider I am with is not a man, but a manwoman. (The Left Hand of Darkness, 94)

9. I note in passing that Le Guin did not live in a world where men could be pregnant, but that we do, in the form of transgender men who keep their reproductive organs. While this is a vastly different situation from what Le Guin or, for that matter, Thomas Sturgeon described, it has the ring of a correct cultural prediction, the kind I described as unusual in science fiction at the beginning of this essay. The counterpoint is: why weren't pregnant men predicted any earlier in science fiction? (Maybe they were—help me, readers?) I'll conclude by pointing out that the best (and simultaneously worst-because-most-visceral) pregnant man story in science fiction is Octavia E. Butler's “Bloodchild, which is about a human man pregnant with alien offspring. Don't read it if you like sleep or the feeling of physical comfort in your own body.
10. Legendary internet timesuck has a name for media featuring only one gender: Chromosome Casting; the site's list of examples is worth reading. In literature alone, you will find The Hobbit (1937), Heart of Darkness (1899), and the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft. While the TV Tropes listing uses “chromosome casting to refer to single-gender casts of any gender, the list is, unsurprisingly, heavily weighted toward men. One of my favorite books doesn't show up on the TV Tropes list but probalby should: Moby-Dick (1851)which has exactly two women with any lines of dialogue, Mrs. Hussey and Aunt Charity, who disappear after chapter 20 (note: Moby-Dick has 135 chapters).
11. One can see how this idea—erasing gender will end oppression—might be tempting. It's not that far from the idea that electing or appointing women to positions of power will lead to greater gender equality and better lives for women. This latter idea is fairly common (viz. much of Hillary Clinton's current support, despite her historically bad record on actually doing things for women), but also fairly easy to debunk: women in power face the same limited choices and the same, or greater, pressures as men in positions of power, and the results for women are typically not much different from those of men. Nicole Aschoff makes this plain in her excellent book, The New Prophets of Capital:
Putting women in charge will not change the power of the profit motive and the compulsion of companies to give workers as little as economic, social, and cultural norms will allow. The goal of feminism is justice and equality for all women, not simply equal opportunity for women or equal participation by women. By aligning the goals of feminism with the goals of capitalism, [Sheryl] Sandberg’s model of emancipation functions as ideology, accepting and undergirding the dominant structures of power in society. Her critique of gender inequality in elite jobs, while accurate and thoughtful, glorifies the capitalist work ethic by pushing women to seek self-actualization through self-exploitation. Women who follow her action plan may achieve more success in their careers, and perhaps even reach the heights that Sandberg herself has gained. But her plan will help only a small number of women—the women who can find a place within the limited number of power positions in the corporate hierarchy. Everyone else—the domestic workers, retail staff, caregivers—will remain excluded, their efforts undermined by the strengthening of capital and the women who burnish its meritocratic facade. (39)
The shorter way to debunk this idea: just bring up Margaret Thatcher.
12. Wikipedia claims these pronouns were the invention of a New Zealand author called Keri Hulme in the 1980s, but I haven't found any independent corroboration of this. They were apparently first used extensively by Australian sci-fi author Greg Egan to refer to ungendered characters, both human and machine.
13. A favorite series of mine, in which I've actually found numerous parallels with the excellent videogame Half-Life 2, which I discuss here. The Xenogenesis trilogy was later republished under the name Lilith's Brood; the individual books are Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989).
14. The creation of this quantity of genders is already underway, in fact: last year, Facebook upped the number of gender choices for users' profiles to 58


Aschoff, Nicole. The New Prophets of Capital. New York: Verso, 2015.

Attebery, Brian. “Androgyny as Difference, in Decoding Gender in Science Fiction, 129-150. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Bettcher, Talia, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Spring 2014 ed. “Feminist Perspectives on Trans Issues. Stanford: The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University (accessed December 5, 2015).

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith's Brood. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2000.

Butler, Octavia E. “Bloodchild, in Bloodchild and Other Stories, 2nd ed. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005.

Carter, Raphael. “Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation' by K.N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin, in The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2edited by Karen Joy Fowler, 15-29. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2006. 

Craig, Maggie. “They’re here, get used to them: why gender-neutral pronouns are not 'radical.' Hopes and Fears, September 21, 2015.

Delany, Samuel R. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. 1984. Reprint, New York: Bantam, 1990.

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