The Women Men Don't See

The Women Men Don't See is a novelette written by Alice Bradley Sheldon under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.[1]

Originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1973, it subsequently was republished in the magazine's October 1979 thirtieth anniversary issue,[2] and again in 2011's The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology.[3]

"The Women Men Don't See"
AuthorJames Tiptree, Jr.
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Feminist science fiction novelette
Published inThe Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction volume 45, number 6
Publication typePeriodical
PublisherMercury Press, Inc.
Media typePrint
Publication dateDecember 1973


The short story is told from the perspective of Don Fenton, an American government agent, and revolves around Ruth Parsons, a woman he meets while on vacation in Mexico. Ruth and her daughter Althea charter a plane with the Maya pilot Esteban and allow Fenton to travel with them. When the plane crashes in a mangrove swamp on the coast of Quintana Roo, Don and Ruth split off from Althea and Esteban in order to search for fresh water. Throughout the ordeal, Don becomes increasingly annoyed when Ruth does not panic or act in a way he expects of a woman. His conversations with Ruth reveal that she feels alienated since she is a woman, though Don is unable to understand her views. She tells him, "What women do is survive. We live by ones and twos in the chinks of your world-machine." During an encounter with aliens, Ruth pleads with them to take her and Althea away from Earth while Don tries to "save" her from the extraterrestrials. In the end the aliens leave with the Parsons, leaving Don bewildered and questioning why the two women would rather leave with aliens than stay on Earth.

Tiptree's own synopsis of the story concludes "Message is total misunderstanding of women's motivations by narrator, who relates everything to self," and who can only see women sexually: the women are practically invisible to him, except when he thinks of them as potential erotic interests.[4] In his mind, Ruth is only a possibility for seduction, as Althea is only a potential seduction for Esteban, even in the midst of a survival emergency.


Alice Sheldon commented that she knew the character of Ruth Parsons so well, all she had to do was "keep her from talking too much. But Don Fenton—!" She had difficulty communicating indirectly a woman's anger by writing in a man's detached, uncomprehending voice.[5] However, Julie Phillips writes, "If it did Alli [Sheldon] psychic damage to be Don Fenton as well as Ruth Parsons, 'The Women Men Don't See' is about that psychic damage."[6]


Robert Silverberg reviewed the story before it became known that Tiptree's works were written by a woman. He compared Tiptree favorably with Ernest Hemingway and remarked that "it is a profoundly feminist story told in an entirely masculine manner, and deserves close attention by those in the front lines in the wars of sexual liberation, male and female."[7] After he learned the truth, he told Alice Sheldon "You've given my head a great needed wrenching."[8]

When "The Women Men Don't See" reached the Nebula Award finals, Tiptree withdrew it from the ballot while offering a vague excuse about giving other writers a chance. According to Phillips, Alice Sheldon did not want the male byline to give the story an unfair advantage. While writing an extensive correspondence, Tiptree urged male correspondents to take feminism seriously.[9] Gardner Dozois has said that "Women" should have won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette, though it did not even make it onto the ballot. Tiptree did win the Best Novella Hugo that year (for "The Girl Who Was Plugged In"), and was nominated but did not win Best Novelette Hugo (for "Love Is the Plan the Plan Is Death")[10] "The Women Men Don't See" was also nominated for the 1974 Locus Award for Best Short Story.[11]

PZ Myers describes the narrator of "Women" as not just unreliable, but "irrelevant"—"a man who comes along for the ride and really doesn't understand anything that's going on, because he can't see the real protagonists as anything but a couple of women."[12]


  1. ^ "Up Front". August 20, 2006. Retrieved November 18, 2011.
  2. ^ "Publication Listing". Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
  3. ^ 60 Years Of Strange Parables And Unsettling Discoveries, In One Volume at Io9; by "Grey Area"; published September 9, 2009; retrieved May 22, 2013
  4. ^ Larbalestier, Justine (2002). The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. pp. 144–148. ISBN 0819565261. Retrieved December 21, 2015.
  5. ^ Phillips, Julie (2006). James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 279–281. ISBN 9780312203856.
  6. ^ Phillips, p. 333
  7. ^ Pearson, Wendy (2006). "(Re)reading James Tiptree Jr.'s 'And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill Side'". In Larbalestier, Justine. Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. p. 169. ISBN 9780819566751.
  8. ^ Phillips, p. 373
  9. ^ Phillips, p. 344
  10. ^ Hugo Nominees 1974 (comment 22), by Gardner Dozois; at; published March 14, 2011; retrieved May 22, 2013
  11. ^ "James Tiptree, Jr". Science Fiction Awards Database. Retrieved October 31, 2018.
  12. ^ Opening your eyes is the first step towards wisdom at Pharyngula; by PZ Myers; published May 22, 2013; retrieved May 22, 2013

External links

Gender in speculative fiction

Gender has been an important theme explored in speculative fiction. The genres that make up speculative fiction (SF), science fiction, fantasy, supernatural fiction horror, superhero fiction, science fantasy and related genres (utopian/dystopian literature), have always offered the opportunity for writers to explore social conventions, including gender, gender roles, and beliefs about gender. Like all literary forms, the science fiction genre reflects the popular perceptions of the eras in which individual creators were writing; and those creators' responses to gender stereotypes and gender roles.

Many writers have chosen to write with little or no questioning of gender roles, instead effectively reflecting their own cultural gender roles onto their fictional world. However, many other writers have chosen to use science fiction and non-realistic formats in order to explore cultural conventions, particularly gender roles. This article discusses works that have explored or expanded the treatment of gender in science fiction.

In addition to the traditional human genders, science fiction has extended the idea of gender to include transgender humans and hypothetical alien species and robots, and imagined trans-real genders, such as with aliens that are truly hermaphroditic or have a "third" gender, or robots that can change gender at will or are without gender.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is a collection of science fiction and fantasy stories by author James Tiptree, Jr.. It was released in 1990 by Arkham House. It was originally published in an edition of 4,108 copies and was the author's second book published by Arkham House. It was later released to a wider audience in paperback form in 2004 from Tachyon Publications.

James Tiptree Jr.

Alice Bradley Sheldon (August 24, 1915 – May 19, 1987) was an American science fiction author better known as James Tiptree Jr., a pen name she used from 1967 to her death. She was most notable for breaking down the barriers between writing perceived as inherently "male" or "female"—it was not publicly known until 1977 that James Tiptree Jr. was a woman. From 1974 to 1977 she also used the pen name Raccoona Sheldon.

Tiptree was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2012.

List of American feminist literature

Feminist literature is fiction or nonfiction which supports the feminist goals of defining, establishing and defending equal civil, political, economic and social rights for women. It often identifies women's roles as unequal to those of men – particularly as regards status, privilege and power – and generally portrays the consequences to women, men, families, communities and societies as undesirable.

The following is a list of American feminist literature listed by year of first publication, then within the year alphabetically by title. Books and magazines are in italics, all other types of literature are not and are in quotation marks. References lead when possible to a link to the full text of the literature.

List of feminist literature

The following is a list of feminist literature, listed by year of first publication, then within the year alphabetically by title (using the English title rather than the foreign language title if available/applicable). Books and magazines are in italics, all other types of literature are not and are in quotation marks. References lead when possible to a link to the full text of the literature.

List of science fiction short stories

This is a non-comprehensive list of short stories with significant science fiction elements.

Mari Kotani

Mari Kotani (小谷 真理, Kotani Mari, born in Toyama Prefecture on July 11, 1958) is a Japanese science fiction critic, best known as the author of Evangelion as the Immaculate Virgin (Tokyo: Magazine House, 1997) and of *Joseijou muishiki: techno-gynesis josei SF-ron josetsu. Tokyo: Keiso shobo, 1994. (Techno-Gynesis: The Political Unconscious of Feminist Science Fiction), which won the 15th Nihon SF Taisho Award.

Kotani is one of the founders of the Sense of Gender Award and The Japanese Association of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy. She is now the chair of the Japan PEN Women Writers Committee and a member of the Science Fiction Writers of Japan.

Sci Fiction

Sci Fiction was an online magazine which ran from 2000 to 2005. At one time, it was the leading online science fiction magazine. Published by Syfy and edited by Ellen Datlow, the work won multiple awards before it was discontinued.

The Best Science Fiction of the Year 3

The Best Science Fiction of the Year #3 is an anthology of science fiction short stories edited by Terry Carr, the third volume in a series of sixteen. It was first published in paperback by Ballantine Books in July 1974, and reissued in July 1976.

The book collects eleven novellas, novelettes and short stories by various science fiction authors, with an introduction, notes and concluding essay by Carr. The stories were previously published in 1973 in the magazines The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, and the anthologies Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, Future City, Showcase, Three Trips in Time and Space, New Dimensions 3, Universe 3, and Nova 3.

Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Warm Worlds and Otherwise is a short story collection by American writer Alice Sheldon, first published in 1975 under her pen name James Tiptree, Jr.. In its introduction, "Who is Tiptree, What is He?", fellow science fiction author Robert Silverberg wrote that he found the theory that Tiptree was female "absurd", and that the author of these stories could only be a man. When it was later revealed that Tiptree was a woman, a postscript to the introduction by Silverberg was added to the collection.

Twelve furiously imaginative, occasionally explosive SF stories, the best of which are quite brilliant

Women in speculative fiction

In 1948, 10–15% of science fiction writers were female. Women's role in speculative fiction (including science fiction) has grown since then, and in 1999, women comprised 36% of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's professional members. Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley has been called the first science fiction novel, although women wrote utopian novels even before that, with Margaret Cavendish publishing the first (The Blazing World) in the seventeenth century. Early published fantasy was written by and for both genders. However, speculative fiction, with science fiction in particular, has traditionally been viewed as a male-oriented genre.

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