Women in Heinlein’s Juveniles
Marietta A. Frank
Female characters in Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile series, published between 1947 and 1963,1 do not fit the description of typical science Fiction females.2 Heinlein peoples his juveniles with intelligent, capable female characters who are engineers, physicians, pilots, and combat-ready soldiers (Sargent xli). It is not unusual to find adolescent females who are well versed in mathematics or space science. These same adolescent females can also be found operating weapon-firing systems. While silly and stupid females can be found in Heinlein’s juveniles, there are equally silly and stupid males. Although the females portrayed in Heinlein’s juveniles break the stereotypical roles most females were assigned in science fiction stories, especially stories of the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Heinlein is all but ignored by feminist science Fiction critics.3 As Ronald Sarti points out, “intelligent and courageous, the Heinlein heroine embodied a positive new image of womanhood, an image that was not lost upon the readers. … To a generation of impressionable minds, she was Woman as capable human being” (113). Heinlein’s juveniles may not fully fit current criteria for feminist science fiction, but Heinlein should be recognized for his groundbreaking efforts.
Of the fourteen juveniles Heinlein wrote, thirteen were written specifically for boys. Since these were written for boys, almost all of the main characters in these books are boys. Readers and critics today might fault Heinlein for this, but at the time it was the accepted practice. In 1947, when Heinlein wrote his first juvenile, and until the mid-seventies, publishers, authors, and educators thought that, after the age of nine or ten, girls would choose to read “girls” books or “boys” books, but boys would choose to read only “boys” books (Tibbetts 279). According to Marsha Kabakow Rudman, publishers contended: “since most of the children who are in need of remedial reading are boys, boys should have