The Sword and Laser discussion

Foundation (Foundation, #1)
This topic is about Foundation
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2012 Reads > FOUND: finished book, where are the women?

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Jessy (jessyanelfatheart) | 38 comments So I finished the book and have to say I am very disapointed in the lack of women characters. Has anyone read anything regarding Asimov's view on women? [There are no women scientists, no female polticians, traders, or priests. The one woman that does show up is in part 4 and though very oppinionated she quickly quited by fancy cloths and jewlery.] There were some parts I liked about the book, but my inner women's lib voice wants me to hate it on principal :)


Eric (ericbuscemi) | 13 comments Just remember it was published in 1951, so that may have more to do with it than any specific views the author had.


Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Jessica wrote: "So I finished the book and have to say I am very disapointed in the lack of women characters. Has anyone read anything regarding Asimov's view on women? "

You don't want to know.

Eric wrote: "Just remember it was published in 1951, so that may have more to do with it than any specific views the author had."

Have you seen sci-fi covers from the era? Most authors found room for female characters even if their roles amounted to moms and ingenues. Even by Asimov's standards, Foundation is unusual -- most of his books feature a stock love interest, and the Robot stories even have Susan Calvin, the original girl genius.


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Ben | 8 comments I had the same thought regarding female characters... I'm reading Foundation and Empire now and there is at least one strong(ish) female character so far, though lots of space is given to her appearance. I'd just chalk it up to the time period and the fact that Asimov was a young man in the '40s when most of the Foundation stories were originally published.


Phil | 1152 comments I can't quickly find the exact passages but in his autobiography he admits that his early work had very few female characters because in real life he was quite shy around women and had very little contact with them. He was only 21 when he started writing Foundation.
This is from memory but I'll try to find the actual reference.


Katie (calenmir) | 211 comments Alan wrote: "I didn't feel that the characters were really gender specific - you could easily change their names to female and it would not read any differently. Don't let you're own gender bias ruin a good book."

If it wouldn't read differently, then why not have women? Why is it 'gender bias' ruining a good thing to bring up the fact that women aren't represented well? I'm able to accept the time it was written, the culture the author was in, and Phil's comment about his shyness and inexperience with women being a reason to leave them out, but that context is an interesting thing to discuss, not something to shout down as gender bias on the part of females in this group.


Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Alan wrote: "I didn't feel that the characters were really gender specific - you could easily change their names to female and it would not read any differently. Don't let you're own gender bias ruin a good book."

But that's not what's written in the book -- all the characters are referred to with masculine pronouns, making rather hard to pretend that Salvor Hardin's a woman.

And not only that, but the handful of women who do pop up do so in a not-so-flattering light -- the party-goers in the third story are described like Margaret Dumont in a Marx Bros. film, and the noble woman in the last story was a shrill harpy.

And I don't entirely buy the argument that Asimov was too shy to talk to women given the numerous allegations that he groped women at conventions.


Katie (calenmir) | 211 comments Alan wrote: "Just bring this topic up for a 40s SciFi book is bringing a loaded topic to the table. My last post on the topic ;) loved the book."

I just didn't want Jessica to feel shushed for bringing it up because it's a valid point to discuss whether you see it as a problem or not. You can defend the book without calling those who disagree biased. The point of a book club discussion is to delve into these sorts of things.

I enjoyed the book, but I did notice it. And Sean, good point about the groping not being shy.


Jessy (jessyanelfatheart) | 38 comments Look I brought out the soap boxes. Lol I know that things must be looked at from a perspective of when they were written. But it is not even the lack of strong female characters, it was the lack of females in Asimov's world all together. Up until the comadora was introduced I was begining to wonder if I had accidently read over a portion of the book that explained that there were no more females left inthe universe for some reason or another.


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John (kilowog42) | 27 comments I don't know if this is really all together a bad thing for women not to be strongly represented. I'll explain before I get crushed under the weight of justified feminist outrage.....

In the great wide range of the entire universe, there are three, maybe four, people presented as not being either corrupt, short-sighted, vicious, arrogant, and/or just stupid. If (view spoiler) had been a woman, would you feel pleased that a female leader had been in the book or would you be upset that a female leader was shown as a fool?

When the number of men in a book outnumber the women by this great a number, it is perfectly reasonable to want to discuss the why of it. But, in a book where the number of complete fools outnumber the great figures by a ridiculous degree, is it better that there are less female characters? If every "villain" was female, would that be more or less offensive? If every hero was female, would you feel the male characters were being discriminated against?

If this wasn't supposed to be covering several centuries and had such a small number of lead characters to root for, I would agree the lack of women would be troubling. But, I can't help but think the addition of female characters wouldn't have added to the story, nor would it have allayed the gender bias.

But, a my Dad always said, "Everybody has the capacity to be wrong. Especially me."


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Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Alan wrote: "There is a gender bias in the topic (my inner women's lib voice wants me to hate it on principal). That's all I was saying."

I'm not seeing what's biased in that statement.


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Timm Woods (kexizzoc) | 43 comments John wrote: "I don't know if this is really all together a bad thing for women not to be strongly represented. I'll explain before I get crushed under the weight of justified feminist outrage.....

In the grea..."


Lots of good points, although I would say avoiding portraying foolish, corrupt women as a rule can be just as destructive as making all the smart, heroic leaders male. Trying to avoid the "whore" stereotype too stringently, you fall into the "goddess" trap.

In my thinking the lack of female representation fails, not because Asimov "owes" me some female characters, but because I'm skeptical that a far-flung future society would still have the gender stereotypes and hangups we have today. It's like reading scifi worlds that don't explain why there's no internet. Which is unfortunate, because in both examples, the authors were probably doing they could with their dated knowledge. For us, it's hard to imagine a spacefaring empire that figured out planetary colonization and FTL travel but can't tell that women make fine world leaders. It's especially a shame because so much of Foundation is about demystifying culture and society, and this gender politics is something in desperate need of some major demystification.


message 13: by Phil (last edited Sep 10, 2012 09:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil | 1152 comments Sean, you're right. In later life, he did have a reputation as a groper and he admits to having affairs during his first marriage. But he had spent the 7 years prior to graduate school (when he wrote Foundation) going to all boys schools. At 21 he was still working most of his free time at his father's candy store and in his words, he was completely controlled by his parents. He "dated" a girl in graduate school for a year and a half and in that time he kissed her once. It doesn't really surprise me that he didn't include a lot of females in those early stories.


Mohrravvian | 99 comments I agree, I thought the book was lacking in female characters. I know its a product of the timeframe that it was written, but I still think it makes it incomplete.

I will say that in the second book of the trilogy, Foundation and Empire, there is a female character that plays a significant role and is probably as well developed as any of his male characters from Foundation. But, so far in book 3, Second Foundation, there's not much in the way of strong females. So... it's hit or miss.

Personally, I'd love to see an updated version of this story with today's scifi technology and strong characterizations. I think it could maintain the core of the story, but garner a stronger appreciation from today's audiences.


message 15: by Ulmer Ian (last edited Sep 11, 2012 05:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ulmer Ian (eean) | 341 comments Mohrravvian wrote: "Personally, I'd love to see an updated version of this story with today's scifi technology and strong characterizations. I think it could maintain the core of the story, but garner a stronger appreciation from today's audiences. "

Ugh, no. People should just write new space operas. Which they do. So I'm happy! If you don't want to read a book from the 40s, warts and all... then don't read a book from the 40s. Why I like old scifi is because it reflects so much about the time it was written. It's not timeless at all, scifi is grounded into its time probably more than other genres. And ignoring females is part of the 40s.

Reading Lovecraft now, makes Asimov look like a suffragette.

Anyways I don't think "written in the 20s or 40s" is a good excuse for having no female characters of note, but it certainly explains it. Asimov did indeed later justify his lack of female characters because he didn't understand women, and maybe that's true, but in general such explanation is superfluous.


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Anne | 336 comments If women had been used in this basically political treatise it would have changed it from a generic state of human affairs to a "women in politics" fantasy. At that time and most preceding times there were very few, if any, women in political office.


Mohrravvian | 99 comments Ulmer Ian wrote: "Ugh, no. People should just write new space operas. Which they do. So I'm happy! If you don't want to read a book from the 40s, warts and all... then don't read a book from the 40s. "

I'm not at all saying I didn't enjoy the book and understand that it comes from that era. I enjoyed it enough that I've continued on to the rest of the trilogy. I'm just saying that I think the idea of psychohistory, the end and predicted rebirth of a galactic civilization, and all the rest of the main plot points both from Foundation and the following books in the trilogy could do well in a modernized setting.


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Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Anne wrote: "If women had been used in this basically political treatise it would have changed it from a generic state of human affairs to a "women in politics" fantasy. At that time and most preceding times there were very few, if any, women in political office."

There are characters in the story who aren't politicians, and Asimov found room for women in the next two Foundation novels. He also had no trouble putting Susan Calvin in Robot stories without turning them into "women in science" fantasy.

Mohrravvian wrote: "Personally, I'd love to see an updated version of this story with today's scifi technology and strong characterizations. I think it could maintain the core of the story, but garner a stronger appreciation from today's audiences. "

I've got good news for you.

Phil wrote: "Sean, you're right. In later life, he did have a reputation as a groper and he admits to having affairs during his first marriage. But he had spent the 7 years prior to graduate school (when he wrote Foundation) going to all boys schools."

He did have a sister and mother, and access to books and movies. One would think they would give him some basic insight into women, like the fact that they exist.


Catherine (catherineah) I noticed this, too, and I mentioned it in the thread about "dated" aspects of the novel.

I disagree with the contention that Asimov would have had to portray a woman as a foolish leader to include women in the novel. There were several supporting characters who could have been female, such as Mallow's assistant at the end of the book. Another example I would have liked to see is a woman or two on the Foundation board at the beginning.

The absence of specific female characters isn't the only problem for a woman of my generation. I also had trouble with the way he discusses the housewives of Korell as being highly dependent on their atomic gadgets, as if that's all there is to them. This attitude seems to be the most obvious symptom of the time the book was written.

By the time Asimov got around to writing the two prequel novels, Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation, he stared including more female characters in important roles. I do find them idealized, but more importantly, he portrays the Galactic Empire as a place with much more gender equality.

So while Asimov's portrayal of women in this book is highly influenced by gender values in his time, I still think it is a fair thing to discuss for readers today. As a woman, I sort of feel excluded from the Foundation. I feel like I could get on board with psychohistory or the politics of the planet, but Asimov has left no room for me to exist in this world. The only female character is a complete snake with whom no one is meant to identify. This state of affairs detracts from my enjoyment of the story.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments I'm a little less inclined to be charitable. By the time Asimov was writing the first story (1942), dozens of women had served in the U.S. Congress, two women had won Nobel Prizes in sciences (about three more if you include the Peace and Literature Prizes), there were dozens of notable women authors, journalists, scholars, political activists, and aviators. They might have even started aiding the war effort by then.

I don't believe in bowdlerizing older works to accommodate current social mores. Rather, they should be read with the context of their time and place in mind. It's great that authors like Kingsbury (thanks Sean!) can do their own take on Asimov's core ideas, and I'm sure if there's ever a modern film adaptation of Foundation they'll make more of the speaking roles women. (Much like, however Asimov pictured his characters, a modern adaptation would almost certainly have a racially-diverse cast.) But the original Asimov text should always be available, warts and all.


message 21: by Anne (last edited Sep 11, 2012 08:51AM) (new)

Anne | 336 comments Dozens of women vs. hundreds of thousands of men in similar positions. What are the odds?

Anyway, I don't feel left out of the Foundation because it focuses on intellectual ideas.

Actually I often feel more left out of some feminist sci-fi because they are often silly emotional things. Zardoz springs to mind and then I start to laugh at how they dressed Sean Connery. Fantasy and wish fulfillment.


Katie (calenmir) | 211 comments Anne wrote: "Actually I often feel more left out of some feminist sci-fi because they are often silly emotional things. Zardoz springs to mind and then I start to laugh at how they dressed Sean Connery. Fantasy and wish fulfillment."

I agree, I'm not interested in 'feminist' writing either if it just makes the pendulum swing too far the other way. Mists of Avalon ended up annoying me because of how anti-male it seemed. It *is* possible to portray strong women without weakening men.


Alterjess | 319 comments Mists of Avalon ended up annoying me because of how anti-male it seemed. It *is* possible to portray strong women without weakening men.

It's also possible to tell generic/universal human stories without excluding women.

The problem in his book is not that Asimov is telling a specifically "male" story, the problem is that he is telling a supposedly generic human story with an (almost) all-male cast. You could flip the gender of almost any character without changing the story one bit - the only thing inherently male about Hari Seldon is the pronouns.


Dazerla | 227 comments While I am bothered by his portrayals of women, or more precisely, lack of portrayals of women in Foundation. I was prepared for this. Should we completely excuse this, paticularly the housewife quote, based on the time period? No, but we should take it into consideration.

Does it take me out of the moment from time to time, yes? So does smoking and atomic energy for that matter. Does it annoy me when I think about it, yes. But here's the point, for me at least, with reading dated materials. We have to acknowledge the culture they were written in. And if anyone tells you that the 1950s were a time of enlightenment for women, despite what had happened during WWII, they haven't looked at most things produced back then. The Jettsons any one?

Is it sexist, yes. But this isn't a new novel and these issues with the writings of these times have a.ready been brought up. While comparing Asimov's women to how women are treated now in science fiction might make an intersting essay topic or debate it shouldn't make Foundation somehow bad.

There are plenty of good books out there with some problematic issues in them. Lord of the Rings for example had some fairly racist elements. With most men serving Sauron being dark skinned. Despite that and some other issue Lord of the Rings happens to be one of my favorite series to this day. I would hate for older works like Foundation to be discounted due to issues stemming from the time and place they were written.


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Skip | 517 comments I see the points people are making but it doesn't matter as much to me because I never read Asimov for characters and dialog. In the July/August issue of Analog (one of the magazines Asimov used to write for), Richard A. Lovett quotes Eric McMillan as describing Asimov as "[maybe] the worst great writer I can think of".

Asimov is thought of as a great writer because of the ideas he had, and the way he was able to make a reader think about the themes expressed in his books.

Read Edgar Rice Burroughs or H.P. Lovecraft and you'll also find much to criticize from a modern viewpoint as well, and they are closer to Asimov in the 1940s when he was writing this, than we are to him today. The writing all three did was geared for a male audience and I wouldn't call the writing in Foundation misogynistic, just culturally blind.

Is it valid criticism? Sure, and I can understand how a reader could feel put-off by a total lack of her gender being represented. Since we as readers are discussing the book; if the lack of any real female characters affects you then for that reader the book is deficient. There really can’t be any “right” answer on this, as the book isn’t an outright misogynistic screed. There is only the way the book makes you feel, and that can and will change from reader to reader.


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Anne | 336 comments Alterjess... "You could flip the gender of almost any character without changing the story one bit - the only thing inherently male about Hari Seldon is the pronouns. "

Actually, flipping the gender of Hari and/or others in the story would change the story. Readers of both sexes tend to take ideas from men more seriously. Well-educated people nowadays simply are taught to hide it better.

From time to time Dr. Watson is portrayed as a woman and, even if the dialog remains exactly the same, the story of Sherlock changes.


message 27: by Rob, Roberator (last edited Sep 12, 2012 04:13AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob (robzak) | 6887 comments Mod
Anne wrote: "Actually, flipping the gender of Hari and/or others in the story would change the story. Readers of both sexes tend to take ideas from men more seriously. Well-educated people nowadays simply are taught to hide it better. "

These characters are so flat I don't think the sex mattered in the least to me.

I will concede that point is probably true for some people. But not everyone. To say people just "hide it better" is rather conceited if you ask me.

The internet is the great equalizer. I think younger generations are just more accustomed to not caring about someone's race/sex/religion. That isn't to say EVERYONE, but I think the percentage of people who truly believe in equality vs "hiding their true feelings" is on the rise.

Of course I have no data to back that up, just observations. I suppose everyone I know that I consider open-minded could just be lying. But I don't believe that.

Now if these characters had more personality to them, I could see the sex and people's perceptions mattering more. But in this particular case, I agree with Jess and flipping the sex would just be a matter of pronouns.


Anne wrote: "From time to time Dr. Watson is portrayed as a woman and, even if the dialog remains exactly the same, the story of Sherlock changes."


CBS will be doing exactly that with a new show this fall: Elementary


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Anne | 336 comments Rob wrote: "To say people just "hide it better" is rather conceited if you ask me.
"


I wish that were so. People like Todd Akin and Paul Ryan are quite common - Akin just got caught on tape and Ryan on his voting record - their handlers said that they shouldn't have been so blunt as if were just a matter of choosing words to obfuscate true feelings. Or the people who were against the Lily Ledbetter (equal pay) law (and SCOTUS - who voted against her). Just a couple of recent, highly visible cases.

Yes, I noticed the CBS attempt at the female Dr. Watson. Not a new variant - we'll see if they can pull it off.

For me, I love the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock. Downey/Law isn't too bad but not as cleverly written.


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Rob (robzak) | 6887 comments Mod
Anne wrote: "I wish that were so. People like Todd Akin and Paul Ryan are quite common - Akin just got caught on tape and Ryan on his voting record - their handlers said that they shouldn't have been so blunt as if were just a matter of choosing words to obfuscate true feelings. Or the people who were against the Lily Ledbetter (equal pay) law (and SCOTUS - who voted against her). Just a couple of recent, highly visible cases."

Yea, those aren't the people I was referring. They are too old. I'm talking about 20 somethings, and 30 somethings to a point. Really those who grew up on the internet. I was 12 or so when I first got "internet" (really it was mostly AOL in those days), and have had it pretty much ever since.

It has been my experience that many of those people are a lot more liberal when it comes to equality.

Now, I'm not naive enough to think there won't continue to be groups of people, some of them very large, that will overtly discriminate.

Everyone has certain prejudices based on life experience, and the values and prejudices of their parents. It's very hard to get away from those.

My point is simply that think the next generations are moving in the right direction. Then again one could argue the Hippy movement in the 60s had a lot of similarities to the occupy movement..and when they took over..not much really changed, so maybe I'm being overly optimistic.


Anne wrote: "For me, I love the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock. Downey/Law isn't too bad but not as cleverly written. "

Sherlock has set the bar very very high, but I love Johnny Lee Miller, so I'm hoping this series is decent. Especially since Sherlock is so few and far between. 3 episodes every other year is just not enough.


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Anne | 336 comments Rob wrote: "Anne wrote: "I wish that were so. People like Todd Akin and Paul Ryan are quite common - Akin just got caught on tape and Ryan on his voting record - their handlers said that they shouldn't have be..."

Yes, more Sherlock!

Time will tell about the 20 somethings. One can hope.


Adelaide Blair One thing to note, is that (with the exception of one telephone operator) none of the women in Foundation are in the foundation; they are from the kingdoms and wherever the last story takes place. (I read that one while sleepy.) Women belong to the decline.

I was less jarred by the unflattering portrayal of the women in this book, than by the fact that there were no women in the foundation except for that one lone operator. I read a lot of classic genre books, and every Private Dick has got a dame (or at least a drunk, uncooperative lady witness), even Tarzan has Jane. Women exist in novels of this time period. But there are no women in the foundation. It just felt weird to me and took me out of the story. I don't think it makes the story worse or takes from its ideas, it's just unsettling.


Jonathon Dez-la-lour (jd2607) | 173 comments I agree with Rob about this book, none of the characters are really that complex that the story would be any different with some changing of the pronouns.

But, that still doesn't stop me feeling disappointed that there are no strong, prominent female characters in the book, at least as far as I've gotten. It's an issue that I had while reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - the women are reduced to being wives/mothers/hairdressers/receptionists.

And yes, some of it is due to the time these books were written, but still, it'd be nice to see someone back then forward thinking enough to realise "hey, these women are people too, why can't they be the one in charge?"


message 33: by Anne (last edited Sep 12, 2012 01:50PM) (new)

Anne | 336 comments Read A. E. Van Vogt. He did the best job with women even earlier in time than Asimov.

Asimov actually does write strongly of women - hated and detested.


Jessy (jessyanelfatheart) | 38 comments Katie wrote: "Anne wrote: "Actually I often feel more left out of some feminist sci-fi because they are often silly emotional things. Zardoz springs to mind and then I start to laugh at how they dressed Sean Con..."

Totally agree. I just want to have a character I relate to, but not at the expense of weakening the male characters.


Ulmer Ian (eean) | 341 comments Mohrravvian wrote: " I'm just saying that I think the idea of psychohistory, the end and predicted rebirth of a galactic civilization, and all the rest of the main plot points both from Foundation and the following books in the trilogy could do well in a modernized setting."

But we've already had that story!

Why novels are awesome is that they are allowed to fail (publishers publish a lot of books and bank on only a small subset making it big). Movies aren't supposed to ever fail so we get endless rehashes, since movie investors want to invest in a known quantity.

However I would be fine with other authors using pyschohistory. It would just be a trope. The author wouldn't even have to explain it much, could get straight to the story, which is the advantage of tropes.

Jonathon wrote: "And yes, some of it is due to the time these books were written, but still, it'd be nice to see someone back then forward thinking enough to realise "hey, these women are people too, why can't they be the one in charge?"
And The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was written in the 60s... so I'm sure there were some early second wave feminists around to criticize it from that perspective.


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Phil | 1152 comments Ulmer Ian wrote: "Mohrravvian wrote: " I'm just saying that I think the idea of psychohistory, the end and predicted rebirth of a galactic civilization, and all the rest of the main plot points both from Foundation ..."

Heinlein did get a lot of critisism for his portrayal of women. One critic refered to his female characters as "puppets with breasts".


message 37: by Molly (last edited Sep 13, 2012 12:14PM) (new)

Molly (mollyrichmer) | 134 comments Anne wrote: Time will tell about the 20 somethings.

As a twenty-something myself (21, to be exact), I think for the most part, my generation is a lot less prejudiced. At least, that's been my personal experience. I've never felt that my male peers regarded me as less intelligent or capable based on the fact that I have ladybits.

It's been a little over a year since I read Foundation, but I do remember feeling frustrated at the lack of substantial female characters. I still enjoyed the book, but I don't think it petty to wish that Asimov had been a little more liberal-minded in terms of gender equality.


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Timm Woods (kexizzoc) | 43 comments Molly wrote: "Anne wrote: Time will tell about the 20 somethings.

As a twenty-something myself (21, to be exact), I think for the most part, my generation is a lot less prejudiced. At least, that's been my pe..."


I definitely agree (as a twenty-something) that our generation, at least on the surface, is numerically a lot more open-minded. Having dabbled in just a little feminist theory in school, I know this opens a whole new can of worms as to whether we have made any actual progress in dissolving the systems that oppress women (or indeed whether progress can be made, etc., etc.). I'm inclined toward an optimistic view that we can "fake it til we make it" and indeed still make it. The advantage we have on our side is that old ideas die out as people do, making room for the new (morbid but ultimately the secret of progress). A generation could conceivably come where the idea of gender inequality is regarded as an amusing historical anecdote.

As far as Asimov's female characters, I don't think it's petty at all to demand gender equality from our authors. At the same time we can recognize the time and place and most importantly individual perspective (Asimov seems to have had some issues with women irrespective of his culture) where they wrote from. Here's the catch; these two imperatives don't contract each other. We can demand more, even as we recognizing and forgiving the failings of writers, and the one action complements the other. If we really believe we're progressing as a culture, then the most open-minded author today is not going to be able to do what authors a century from now will. And that's okay! Just keep writing and reading and critically thinking. It's all a process.


message 39: by Anaclara (last edited Sep 14, 2012 08:45PM) (new)

Anaclara (queenofs2s) | 19 comments Sean wrote: "Anne wrote: "If women had been used in this basically political treatise it would have changed it from a generic state of human affairs to a "women in politics" fantasy. At that time and most prece..."

Thank you so much for existing, Sean :)
On the other hand you're taking all my lines. Can I just sign under what you say? :D


message 40: by Ryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ryn Nicol I found the smoking far more annoying than the lack of strong female characters. Not everybody was enlightened in the 40s just as today. I mean, we're not asking for racial diversity or where the homosexuals are in the Foundation because of when it was written. It's not like Asimov was a total misogynist. Susan Calvin, from the I, Robot shorts, was smarter than all the boys. Heinlien had lots of woman in his books but they were commonly sex objects with good diction.


Ulmer Ian (eean) | 341 comments Timm wrote: "As far as Asimov's female characters, I don't think it's petty at all to demand gender equality from our authors."

Well wait up, we don't need gender equality at all in fiction. I mean come on. (There should be some term for applying the principles of egalitarianism to places where it doesn't belong...)

And that's not what this thread is asking, it's wondering where the women are at all. The Bechdel Test is better (two women have a non-man-related conversation). That doesn't require gender equality.

Full ACK on your comments regarding the current cohort. You just have to look at the comments in one of the default subreddits if you want to get a bit depressed.


Alterjess | 319 comments The Beschdel test is a thought experiment which reveals a systemic lack of female-centered storytelling in Hollywood movies. It deliberately sets an embarrassingly low bar in order to point out the magnitude of the problem.

Nobody is saying that every book or movie has to have a 50/50 m/f cast of characters, but passing the Beschdel test is a minimum standard, not an end goal.


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Timm Woods (kexizzoc) | 43 comments Ulmer Ian wrote: "Timm wrote: "As far as Asimov's female characters, I don't think it's petty at all to demand gender equality from our authors."

Well wait up, we don't need gender equality at all in fiction. I mea..."


Going off Alterjess, I wasn't looking for a literal numerical equality (50/50) of male-female characters; a book could meet that standard and still fall flat on its face at portraying gender equality (Asmiov could have just given all the male characters concubines!). Personally, I don't see gender equality in fiction as a push for egalitarianism so much as plausible realism. Albeit not all fiction is aiming for plausibility, but Foundation definitely felt like it was, at least to the degree that seeing a galactic civilization run by a cigar-smoking all-male cast wrinkled my brain.

I definitely don't have data to back up my claim of the newer generations being "numerically more open-minded", but I don't know that I would use Reddit as my litmus test either. Seems that an anonymous forum is the perfect place to say what society is rejecting as common thought without having to pay the price. Not my area of expertise by any means, but I would LOVE to study the migration of ideas in this fashion; it wasn't that long ago the men would say at their workplaces the same misogynistic BS that we now see banished to the halls of anonymous cowardice. It's not complete by any means, but it's happening. To me that denotes some kind of progress.


Jessy (jessyanelfatheart) | 38 comments Ulmer Ian wrote: "Timm wrote: "As far as Asimov's female characters, I don't think it's petty at all to demand gender equality from our authors."

Well wait up, we don't need gender equality at all in fiction. I mea..."


Exactly like I have said before, my original problem was not the lack of gender equality but the lack of women in the story at all. It isnt until the third book that you even know if women are even present in the world.


German Vargas (germanvargas) | 12 comments I agree that the book is devoid of strong female characters. I did not notice this when I read it, but I am a male and that has a lot to do with it, I will admit. As a Puerto Rican, though, I could ask, where are the non-whites? (all the characters in the novel have English, or at least Western, names). I understand that Asimov may not have been thinking about gender or race in most of his writing. From a literary perspective, this is a shortcoming in his work, but I don't think it detracts from its inherent value. In other words, I don't think the novel is "bad", or misogynistic, just limited in terms of gender, and race.

I know that "it could have been worse" does not excuse the novel's faults, but that's not my point; we can't judge it for misrepresenting themes that it doesn't address. Still, think about the work of Jules Verne, for example. It has a whole lot wrong with it in terms of gender and race, except in that case, all of the paternalistic, stereotypical, or just plain ignorant content was inserted by the writer as "flavor", most of which was unnecessary ("The Mysterious Island" stands out as particularly misguided in this regard) - now, I do have a problem with that; and the fact that Verne chose to write these themes into his novels warrants a much stronger critical response; but even he is more a product of his time than Asimov.

Getting back to Asimov, he may have chosen to avoid what he might have thought was a controversial topic (something that is inherently frustrating about most work in Science Fiction) or he might have just been indifferent to the issue (which would be even worse), but we just don't know. In the end, other than "avoidance", the text by itself does not seem to take a stance on gender or race issues, one way or another. This avoidance may be generational. Comparing Asimov's work to Arthur C. Clarke's, for example, there is little difference in how gender and race are represented.

An example of the opposite, would be Ben Bova's work, which includes strong, well-developed, multi-racial and multicultural female and queer characters, in its early iterations as well as in recent publications. (Orson Scott Card's would be another example, especially in his later work) The level of sophistication in Bova's characters shows a purposeful concern with understanding others, challenging all sorts of stereotypes, and presenting an "inclusive future" that is not naive (like the utopia that Roddenberry envisioned, for example). Bova's career, however came much later than Asimov's. In addition to being a commercial writer, he obtained a PHD in Education, which probably informed his writing in terms of diversity; whereas Asimov, as a "lab" scientist might have been fascinated with society and its patterns, but might not have had the chance to study them as profoundly or as critically as others might have.

BTW, thanks for starting this topic, you really got my wheels turning there - I'd be happy to hear what your "inner women's lib voice" thinks of all of that (besides TLDNR...). Cheers!


Kolybry | 3 comments This is pretty much how I felt about the dominance of male white characters as well.

The book is not interested in gender or race issues, apart from the few mentioning of tensions between nationalities (The Smyrnian trader is adressed as such multiple times).

Foundation is focused on economics, science and religion on a grander scale, that the appearence of the individuals in the story does not matter. What matters is their ideas and doing. I don't think that he deliberately chose his characters to be male. The question of gender was just not on his mind while writing this book. That can be seen as a flaw if you want, but does not mean it was done with intentions to make a statement.


Ulmer Ian (eean) | 341 comments Timm wrote: "Personally, I don't see gender equality in fiction as a push for egalitarianism so much as plausible realism."


That's reasonable, I think we're in agreement. I just think 'gender equality' is the wrong term to use. It makes it sound like you are worried about the gender wage-gap for fictional characters. :D

I mean for sure it's OK for a fiction to depict a patriarchal society, but this should be a plot point and not done carelessly. Which was the case here with Asimov. (Kolybry: No one is saying Asimov was trying to make a point!) It's also OK for a story to only have major characters from one gender or another, it's only odd here because of the epic nature of Foundation.


message 48: by Sean (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments German wrote: "As a Puerto Rican, though, I could ask, where are the non-whites? (all the characters in the novel have English, or at least Western, names)."

To be fair, the story's set after tens of thousands of years of interstellar migration and settlement, so I doubt anything like modern races exist.

The names do mostly follow Germanic and Latin phonetic patterns (which would include Spanish, such as "Salvor" (Salvador)) with some Slavic thrown in, but Linge Chen is clearly derived from Chinese and Yohan Lee could be from German and English, or Korean, or Chinese. And then there are totally made up names like Gaal and Linmar.


message 49: by Ryn (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ryn Nicol Alterjess wrote: "The Beschdel test is a thought experiment which reveals a systemic lack of female-centered storytelling in Hollywood movies. It deliberately sets an embarrassingly low bar in order to point out th..."

The movie the Shawshank Redemption wouldn't pass the Bechdel test and would be awkward to have women in it. Oh look random woman prisoner in a men's prison. I know I'm being contrary, and I do get the point; it's just I hate putting limitations like that on art. Yes, use the test to highlight an issue with an overarching group (which it does so excellently) but don't limit creativity by proclaiming it must be applied. I think the lack of women reveals more about Asimov's reality paradigm than anything else.


message 50: by Adelaide (last edited Sep 17, 2012 10:44AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Adelaide Blair Kathryn wrote: "The movie the Shawshank Redemption wouldn't pass the Bechdel test and would be awkward to have women in it. Oh look random woman prisoner in a men's prison. I know I'm being contrary, and I do get the point; it's just I hate putting limitations like that on art."

Well, it makes sense to not have any women in The Shawshank Redemption, because it is a male prison. There is only one woman - the telephone operator - in the Foundation (the organization, not the book). That does not make as much sense. It just seems odd to have such a large group with so few ladies; it's gonna be problematic after a while.


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