“…Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk to run or choice to make. Therefore nobody here is quite so free as a free male anywhere else. // Consider: A child has no psychosexual relationship to his mother and father. There is no myth of Oedipus on Winter. // Consider: There is no unconsenting sex, no rape. As with most mammals other than man, coitus can be performed only by mutual invitation and consent; otherwise it is not possible. Seduction certainly is possible, but it must have to be awfully well-timed. // Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. In fact the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter.” – Le Guin, 94
By asking the reader to consider these perspective-shifts about life on Winter, I believe Le Guin’s novel draws its strongest reserve of good storytelling through questioning gender norms. What would happen if human civilization stopped “oppressing” the “other” half in a futile sense of competition? Yet, Le Guin’s insistence in Is Gender Necessary? that her novel is “NOT about gender, but betrayal and fidelity,” seems like it neglects this element of exploration in favor of more familiar themes in Gethenian government and society. Le Guin herself says she regrets the criticism leveled at her for using the male “he” pronouns for the Gethenians, and viewed writing the novel as a sort of “self-discovery” about her opinions on gender. This leaves me undecided on whether she gives too much or too little credit to the power of passages like the ones cited above. Knocking such imaginative holes in establishment thinking –only to say later that they were a means to exploring loyalty rather than a focus of their own– seems like it puts too little emphasis on the perspectives Gethenians could share. We have Shiftgrethor as a face-saving alternative to war, but no lengthy passages on raising children, domesticity, etc. Le Guin says, “I eliminated gender, to find out what was left.” Then why dangle the thread of true(?) gender egalitarianism in front of the reader only to trivialize that thread later?