A review of I, Robot and The Caves of Steel, and the problematic characterisation of women.
I have a huge problem with Asimov. It’s amazing that so many people who have read him are not talking about it. And it is in his characterization of women. That is, if they exist at all. There is one other Asimov I’ve read and that’s I, Robot. I admit, I enjoyed the short story collection a lot.
After I finished it, I clapped my back for finally reading Asimov and started calling myself a big fan.
You read one and then you read another, and you start seeing a pattern. 200 years later in the future, patriarchy still exists. 1000 years later, women are a crying sobbing mess who work in the kitchens, make giant mistakes, only exist as wives of other better men and apply make-up for one whole page. Last sentence is the only female character in Caves of Steel. There are of course other problems like the technology being outdated, unbelievable and a predictable ending.
It’s extremely off-putting to read something like this. (All the robots are of course an imitation of men- strong, reliable, physically resembling men.) There was one female character in I, Robot- Susan Calvin. She is the world’s best robot-psychologist. Extremely intelligent. But there was one quality about her that Asimov kept beating us in the head with every time she came up in a scene- her lack of physical beauty. I am calling it out because no other character (read: male) had any physical shortcomings because they were not mentioned. Maybe there was one guy who was bald and one has red hair. But that was it. No judgment. Ah I forget, there was a fleeting mention of another woman who was very pretty and this exact phrase was used to describe her ‘could not put two and two together’. Said by Susan Calvin.
This is not how real life works. Women do not like to put other women down. Instead, they carry them up.
We need to be reading and writing more novels where we have equal representation. History did not have it but we can imagine worlds where life is fair and thereby create them.
This is why I cannot read any more Asimov.