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Robinson, Frank M. – The Girls from Earth (1952)

04/23/2013

Mankind has spread across the stars in a reiteration of the American frontier – we open on the imaginatively-named Midplanet with two men rafting “parampa logs” up the river to Landing City, while their “tiny yllumphs” nibble grass on the shore and neglect to help them. These are the only references to non-human life in the story, sadly. Midplanet is a long way from Earth, which is still the center of human activity, and is a temperate planet in the Huffer Solar System devoted to farming, fur, and some slight manufacturing. Landing City itself is “a smudge of rusting, corrugated steel shacks, muddy streets, and the small rocket port-a scorched thirty acres or so fenced off with barbed wire.

The two men in question are looking forward to the arrival of their new wives, excited to “have someone to help with the trapping, tanning, gardening, do laundry, cook his meals.”

Womankind, you see, has elected to stay home – Earth now has 5 women for every 3 men. Our history lesson about the effect of this phenomenon is provided by two men whose job it is to figure out how to get women to go join the colonies:

Notice the increase in crimes peculiar to women. Shoplifting, badger games, poisonings, that kind of thing… You’ll also notice the huge increase in petty crimes, a lot of which wouldn’t have bothered the courts before. In fact, they wouldn’t even have been considered crimes… Most of the girls in the past who didn’t catch a husband grew up to be the type of old maid who’s dedicated to improving the morals and what-not of the rest of the population. We’ve got more puritanical societies now than we ever had, and we have more silly little laws on the books as a result. You can be thrown in the pokey for things like violating a woman’s privacy-whatever that means-and she’s the one who decides whether what you say or do is a violation or not.”

I had to look up “badger games,” it’s apparently “an extortion scheme in which a woman places a man in a compromising position and then victimizes him by demanding money when her male accomplice, pretending to be an outraged husband or relative, enters and threatens violence, scandal, etc.” Note that despite the fact that women have made up the lion’s share of Earth’s population for some time now that it is these two men who are in a position of authority, a judge who makes an appearance is a man, and the women whose occupations are listed are:

1) a secretary (Phyllis, the woman whose point of view we spend the most time sharing)
2) a woman of the night

The latter despite the fact that it’s hammered home that the few men left have every woman around throwing themselves at them constantly (“husband-hunting and pleasing [have] been developed into an all-out struggle with fine scientific techniques”). The two men decide to kill two birds with one stone and remove this undesirable, crime-ridden element from the world by offering arrested women a choice: a $10,000 fine and 10 years jail, or a $500 emigration bonus and passage to the colony planets. Others are subject to a propaganda campaign that include mailed flyers featuring a hairy barbarian holding an axe, “Come to the Colonies, the Planets of Romance!” It is mentioned in passing that this is technically a privacy-violator, but Phyllis chooses not to pursue the matter in favor of emigrating – after all, won’t it be nice to escape the concrete and mindless/meaningless work and endless loneliness of Earth?

And the frontiersmen – they won’t care about historical novels or bridge and canasta or art lectures – they’ll be full of “virility, an individuality that the pale men back on Earth, now that she thought of it, seemed to lack.” Her choice made, she looks forward to her new life in Landing City, with “its wide, paved streets and modern buildings, the neatly laid-out farms and the modern rocket port.” Oops.

Do I even have to point out that homosexuality appears not to exist in this universe?

This is a perfect example of a story built on an interesting framework-the relationship between core and periphery in an intergalactic colonial empire-ruined by awful gender politics and a lack of imagination regarding societal changes. The bachelors on Midplanet are “Second System” colonists who were born on the planet Altair, who have never seen Earth or even any Earth natives before. Earthlings and Earth culture are therefore fetishized both by the outlanders (“They’re Earthwomen, Joe. Earth!”) and the two bureaucrats themselves: “Tell me, what is the most cultured and socially up-to-date planet? Earth, of course.” Against this, there is Phyllis’s view of life on Earth as stale, meaningless, and surrounded by concrete (the usual complaints about modernity, in other words). If it weren’t for the rest of the story, I’d be tempted to read into this a kind of nascent second-wave feminism predicated on an understanding of (white, middle class) woman’s unhappy lot in this society, but when I can’t really do that when the superior alternative is held up as doing frontier housework for a logger on an alien planet.

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