I'm pressed for time today, so I'm going to recycle some comments I wrote an online discussion forum some time ago.
A few folks there called SF writer Robert A. Heinlein a “sexist pig” in his writing. I have to agree that it's as fair a short summation of his attitude as you could manage. But he was a writer extraordinarily resistant to such short summation. If you said that his political attitude was “anarchist,” I would agree to that as a fair one-word description. But if you called his political attitude “fascist,” I would agree to that as a fair one-word description, too.
That may sound impossible to those of you who haven't read much of his writing. He's a complicated guy. I know I have readers who have read him and are chuckling because they've probably made both arguments about his politics themselves, at one time or another.
Considering that the man was born in 1907, he was surprisingly un-sexist in many ways. In the 1950s — an era when women showed up in SF to need rescuing, when they showed up at all — he wrote Hazel Stone complaining that none of the men she worked with could solve a double integral without a pencil, and a military recruiting officer telling a young man that he shouldn't apply for training as a starship pilot because the people with the necessary mathematical and kinesthetic talents are almost exclusively women. Later in his career, his character Friday could take any three of his male characters in a fair fight without breaking a sweat. Women are often in positions of authority in his work, and no one thinks it strange. His characters of both genders routinely assert that women are smarter than men without a trace of irony.
Women in Heinlein's fiction are still vastly outnumbered by men. While many of them are strong and interesting, more of them are either cardboard cutouts or fools. Even the strong and interesting ones really, really, really like being pregnant. And are discomfortingly deferential to the male characters. And in fact display a nauseating delight when those men treat them like children. And are pornographically willing to drop into those fellas' beds. And have a particularly unwholesome attraction to grumpy old male author mouthpieces. And are often absurdly psychologically unreal, as any woman — any human — who has read I Will Fear No Evil will attest.
And while I understand that he comes from a generation that sincerely believed that if we could just get over the guilt, sex would be good clean fun, the resulting attitude is chillingly callous toward women in too many places. Women are never frustrated with their feminine gender role, never injured by sexual attention.
And my personal un-favorite: there's a little attempted witticism he repeats in a few different stories about a female character wearing “a perfume that was probably named something like ‘Summer Orchard' but would be better called ‘Justifiable Rape.’ ” At the risk of sounding like a cartoon humorless feminist, Mr. Heinlein, that is just not funny.
Update: Mentioned here.