Seven books and fourteen years into the Darkover series, Bradley, responding to demand, provides an origin story. A starship carrying scientists and red-haired neo-agronomists crash lands on an uncharted planet. The scientists want to find a way off, and the neos want to settle in, even if it snows in summer, and a ghost wind causes people to go berserk now and again. A little madness is helpful when you need to build a viable population that starts with 200 crash survivors.
It's 1972 now, but Bradley's chauvinism bizarrely prevails.
The book's primary protagonist (it's told in multiple voices), Rafe MacAran, is outraged, disgusted, and feels his good time has been ruined when he's forced to take women on an exploratory expedition. He says to the boyfriend of one of the women, "If Heather wants to wear out her shoe leather and you want to let her..." LET her?!? A few pages later MacAran, who is meant to be likeable, the hero of the story, is "cursing all stubborn female officers." Then again, the female officer, the ship's second officer, has a fiery temper but is also prone to sobs and childlike appeals for help.
She crept closer to him in the crowded quarters of the tent and said, in a very small voice, "Would you--hold my hand?"
Many of the women are highly educated and accomplished, but the thing they're most highly valued for in the new colony is their ability to bear viable children. Bradley/the head of the colony makes a strong case for women as breeders and all humans being useful primarily for accomplishing the things at the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid, despite some officers' arguments that a society without technology (and women's rights?) is barbarous. I can't tell if she's raising the issue as controversial, commenting on the new left or Vietnam or what. (I suppose I could read Theodore Sturgeon's introduction...)
At one point a pregnant female scientist's answer to "who's your baby's daddy?" isn't believed, but the guy in charge of Heather's shoe leather says
I'm not happy about her. She seems to have been the only one permanently affected by whatever it was that hit us, but we haven't psychiatrists to spare and anyhow she is able to do her work--which is a legal definition of sanity in any terms.
Heather's shoe leather boss asserts that women not wanting to have children is a failing.
"Camilla," Ewen said very gently, "this is biological. Even back in the 20th century, they did experiments on rats and ghetto population and things, and found that one of the first results of crucial overcrowding was the failure of maternal behavior. It's a pathology. Man is a rational animal, so sociologists called it 'Women's Liberation' and thinkgs like that, but what it amounted to was a pathological reaction to overpopulation and overcrowding. Women who couldn't be allowed to have children, had to be given some other work, for the sake of their mental health. But it wears off."
The thing that wears off being women's liberation? Women wanting to do something other than have children? I like that Camilla, despite becoming a brood mare, does retain some independence and mates with a few different stallions. I also like that she shares my take on bagpipes, "Good Lord, what's that unholy racket!"
In a break from contemplating sexism and Bradley alleged rape of her daughter, I'm wondering if ability to work is for real a definition of sanity. Anyone want to talk about that?
My mind reels, too, at the thought that as the colonists' resources dwindle, paper is finite. And probably all their books require electricity to read. Barbarism, indeed. Would I want to live in a world where I couldn't read and write?!?