The Forever War (of the Sexes)

I guess I have been going old school lately.  I've been reading some older spec fiction, including much I had read before – mostly because it is fun to read something I haven't read in twenty years to see how it resonates with a newer, older, and (hopefully) more mature Stoneaxe.

I did read a new one:  The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.  It was an interesting look at how the soldiers in an interstellar war would be impacted by relativistic travel; that is, how they would age a few months physically while decades passed during their transit.  The soldiers return from their first tour to an Earth they do not understand, and vice versa.  (Given that the book was written in 1974, it seems an obvious Vietnam metaphor.)  They also experience the unpleasantness of spending years in transit, only to pop out and find the enemy has – in the wake of other defeats – upgraded their arsenal and that even though the humans began their voyage with a cutting-edge advantage, they come out of travel very much outgunned.  The main character was very believable and could easily have been a veteran of any Earthly war.

Overall, it was a decent book.  I enjoyed the application of physics to the combat and travel; it ain't nothing like Star Wars, folks.  SPOILER (highlight for reveal):  I didn't much care for the very end, with Mandaella being reunited with Marygay, against basically all logic and improbability.  I am not a softie for the happy ending but only if it makes sense in context.  I give the whole thing a "B."

One theme that Haldeman touched on was the evolution of gender status and roles.  In the early stages of the war, even though some of the women were soldiers, they were essentially expected to be compliant and sexually available to any man, any time.  To keep up morale, I guess.  Haldeman's statement is a little crass but I get where he was coming from.  Over time, as the soldiers travelled back and forth, they found society had embraced homosexuality – for the reason of keeping population down.  Then eventually, by the end of the novel, mankind has gotten away from sexuality almost entirely, and basically that men and women have become indistinguishable.

I only bring this up in the context of articles I keep reading about gender evolution in our society.  There seems to be a persistent message out there, that men and women are moving closer together in mode.  I don't see it, either empirically or scientifically.  Women are educating themselves to new heights and making their own money.  More power to them, I say; it doesn't obviate my argument but bolsters it.  If a woman can support herself, she doesn't have to glom onto any man that can provide her with protection and sustenance.  She'll hold out for one that really interests her.  That's fine but it calls to mind sayings about beggars and choosers.  The reverse to that statement is also true.  The more a woman has to offer, the better a man she'll hold out for.  A shrinking supply of men at the top of the food chain – however you define it, whether by power, attractiveness, or a snappy sense of humor – will be targeted by more and more women.  The idea to do better for ourselves is in our damn DNA, and nowhere does the idea strike more strongly than in mate selection.

When I debate with people (and I do) about the roles of men and women in society, I am sometimes told, "We're past that," or, "I'd like to think we have advanced enough that [idea x] is no longer the case."  Haldeman makes that argument a bit:  that the state of mankind waiting at the end of his war was an idealized homogenous society, where our basic animal instincts have no play.  Fanciful and to me, far-fetched.

Look, I'm not advocating that men and women should have different sets of rights or anything of the sort.  But to state that men and women are basically the same other than a set of interchangeable sexual organs is ludicrous.  Several hundred years of "evolution" can't overcome a million years of hormones and mating instincts.  Really.  After the asteroid lands, wait a few years as humanity is struggling to survive – then go out and do a straw poll among the humans living out there.  See how far we have "evolved."  I think you'd find we're not really fallen angels on the cusp of perfection and immortality – but really just risen apes, only a few steps removed from being ruled by our baser instincts.

Sometimes, I think folks make the mistake of thinking society can only develop in one direction – that is, that once we've reached a certain crest, we can never go back.  Not even history bears this out.  The state of our society – relative gender freedom, or dare I say, relative freedom period – is fragile and certainly not a guarantee of things to come.

Okay, ramble over.  I am sure I said it wrong.  One of these days, I'll get it right.