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Ursula Le Guin on Gender and The Left Hand of Darkness

2015 May 3
tags: ,
by pam artiaga

I read The Left Hand of Darkness a few months ago and in my review, I said that while a lot of critics praise this novel for how it deconstructs gender roles, that was not what really interested me about it. I did not find her points on sexuality and gender striking or revolutionary because:

  • The pronouns used for the supposedly androgynous Gethenians is ‘he’. ‘They’ would have been more appropriate
  • Heterosexuality was the only gender portrayed

Now, I am reading Le Guin’s 1987 rehashing of her 1976 essay Is Gender Necessary? Here, she expresses regret about not portraying homosexuality and is quite adamant that she should have used the gender-neutral ‘they’.

It’s so very validating to have the author come around and make the same corrections that I thought she should have done. Left Hand was published on 1969 and I’d told myself that while not revolutionary today, the novel was probably ahead of its time. I had also hoped, without really thinking whether I would know one way or the other, that Le Guin would have realized the shortcomings of her novel. It’s really great to find out that she has recognized the very shortcomings that I, as someone living in 2015, saw.

In this 1987 redux of her essay, Le Guin had this to say:

It doesn’t seem right or wise to revise an old text severely, as if trying to obliterate it, hiding the evidence that one had to go there to get here. It is rather in the feminist mode to let one’s changes of mind, and the processes of change, stand as evidence – and perhaps to remind people that minds that don’t change are clams that don’t open.

This lady, really.

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