Reality Skimming
26Jan/13Off

Codedly Feminine

Lynda's notes (Aug 29, 2001) on its relationship to Okal Rel Universe

Portrayal of stereotypically male traits in Vrellish females (particularly to do with sexual aggression) and stereotypically female traits in Golden Demish (of both genders) was so purposeful in the creation of Sevildom that Alison and I have often talked about the Golden Demish genome being solely female to start, and the Vrellish one solely male. In each case the "other" gender was an after thought. Something of a play on the Christian creation myth if you come to think of it, where Eve is created from Adam's rib. Or a fictional framing of the question: What is the minimal difference required to make one gender function, for the purposes of sexual reproduction, like the other one?

I was not, however, thinking in terms of Vrellish women - or the Vrellish in general - being "codedly masculine", since I was not aware of that concept per se at the time. What I was thinking of is described in the Vrellish Essay, written for a British conference and accepted as a virtual submission.

Reading Keslo's article about Bujold's hero, Miles, set me thinking more along the lines of whether Amel is 'codedly feminine', which I take to mean: Does he represent female issues or character traits played out through a male persona.

It wouldn't take a genius to recognize that Amel's problems in Throne Price (release date May 2002) are typically female ones. Not only is he struggling to keep the family together without bloodshed, but he is the focus of sexual aggression and considered psychologically "weak" although he is far from being so. Sexually, however, he is unambiguously male and heterosexual. And I have never found his "feminine" sensibilities unattractive to me as a heterosexual female. What does that mean? Who knows. All I am consciously aware of was being bored with stereotypically heroes and heroines, intrigued by asking questions about trait swapping, and - I confess - interested in dwelling on sexy males.

Or maybe I am deeply disturbed and confused, stemming from my tendency to role play the male leads in games and stories I invented in my childhood.

But I am female! I have three children to prove it, too. Even if I was once accused by a self-styled feminist, during my undergraduate days, of being mentally male.

Oh dear. It brings to mind the saying I invented about gender somewhere in my cocky twenties, when irritated by extremists of either persuasion. "There are three genders. Men, women and intelligent human beings who can be either one or the other."

I've progressed from resisting all notion of mental differences to reluctant acceptance that they do exist, statistically, and together with testosterone levels accounts for a lot of variation in general behavior. :-) But I am still of the opinion that the similarities between thinking, self-conscious men and women are much greater than the differences and that it behooves us to stretch our minds to think that way more often. The rest is about power struggles not enjoying sexuality.

The term: Coded Feminine

I came across the term "codedly feminine" for the first time in an essay by Sylvia Kelso, a faculty member at James Cook University of North Queensland in Australia. The essay, entitled Loud Achievements: Lois McMaster Bujold's Science Fiction, was written for the New York Review of Science Fiction, but I found it on Lois McMaster Bujold's fan site. (Okal Rel Universe co-author Alison Sinclair sent me the URL, in fact. My contribution was managing to cut and paste it into a browser after about six months of sitting in the e-mail backlog of things I'd like to check out.)

I found Sylvia Kelso's article provocative enough that I e-mailed her, which resulted in a pleasant exchange which was a second plus. Syliva writes science fiction and fantasy herself, as well as scholarly criticism. And she knew Alison's solo work! The novel Blueheart in particular.

Web Search ... well, a bit of a meander, really.

A google search for "coded feminine" will net you quite a mixed bag, but going after "Robin Roberts" was a bit more fruitful. Roberts is cited in Kelso's article as the source of the 'coded feminine' idea as it applies to female traits being played out in male protagonists (or aliens) in science fiction, in particular. 'Coded feminine' as a concept in literary circles, sans the SF/fantasy connection, appeared to be a far larger topic, bound primarily to gender and/or cultural studies.

Sexual Generations: Star Trek the Next Generation and Gender, by Robin Roberts, is a book bearing strongly on the issue which I found a page for on the press site for the University of Illinois. Elsewhere I found a reference to "Robin Roberts, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies<" in the Louisiana State University English department" who is also the author of "A New Species: Gender and Science in Science Fiction."

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