Howabout an episiotomy, Mr. Bradbury?

I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 for book club. It’s been years since I last read it – all I remembered from my previous reading was the general premise and the protagonist Montag trying to cross a road ten lanes wide. A lot of the detail of the book slipped my mind, including the bizarre anti-Caesarean section rants in Part 2:

Mrs Bowles:

“I’ve had two children by cesarean section. No use going through all that agony for a baby. The world must reproduce you know, the race must go on…Two Caesarians turned the trick, yes sir. Oh, my doctor said, Caesarians aren’t necessary; you’ve got the hips for it, everything’s normal, but I insisted.”

Montag to Mrs Bowles:

“Go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet and your third husband blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you’ve had, go home and think of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your children who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever do to stop it?”

So, the reader is informed that in Bradbury’s anti-intellectual dystopia, women are prey to such evils as divorce, suicide, abortion and Caesarian sections.

I get that the book was written in 1953, well before the sexual revolution and women’s lib. Gender-role stereotyping is to be expected. And I get that he is trying to show that his female characters are divorced from a natural life in that they don’t sleep and they spend all their time talking to televisions. Bradbury is known to be anti-technology. By not having natural childbirth, his women are in essence not being female and by extension not living normal human lives.

But, come on. Caesarians? Even if you accept as given that childbearing is the fulfillment of female life, and that C-sections are a perversion of that, he’s still implying that the women got knocked up the old-fashioned way and gestated for nine months before delivery. If he wanted to have women being separated from their supposed reproductive purpose, he should have had the fetuses gestating in glass tubes on a conveyor belt, like Aldous Huxley did 20 years earlier.

I think it’s a pretty striking failure of imagination. I know that criticizing mid-century SF authors for not thinking deeply about women’s issues is like…uh…criticizing Harlequin romances for not having enough rocketry …. but, if Bradbury would have thought for 2 minutes about the impact of technology on women’s reproductive health, he would have handled the matter of childbirth differently. I think it’s pretty obvious that he didn’t put any thought into it at all beyond “caesarians are unnatural, therefore they prove my point about the corrosive effects of technology on society”. And, ok, the book’s not about childbirth, but all the other symbols and motifs in the book make sense, so this one sticks out.

I almost prefer the approach of some of Bradbury’s less socially-minded contemporaries, like Eric Frank Russell or Hal Clement. They just ignore women completely, which pisses me off a lot less than Bradbury’s hamhanded women-as-metaphor.

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