I finished reading Cryptonomicon a few weeks ago. I really love Neal Stephenson, and I stayed up late far too many nights reading Cryptonomicon.
As much as I enjoyed the book, I was again disappointed by Stephenson’s female characters. The comments here do a good job of laying out some of the issues. My biggest problems are that none of the women get to be characters in their own right and that our impressions of them are always filtered through the male characters. Stephenson wrote terrifically sexist male characters (some are assholes, some are just men that lived pre-second wave), and it’s done in a way that makes his characters’ unfortunate view of women (I thought) glaringly obvious. At first, I thought he did it to show how awful/silly/useless sexism is. But while a scene that showed what one of the male leads thinks of his intended disgusted me, a male (engineering) acquaintance of mine found it hilarious – if the character was real, I’m pretty sure they would have high-fived. So maybe I’m giving Stephenson too much credit.
I twisted myself into knots trying to make Cryptonomicon feminist, but ultimately I think Alyssa is right when she says that in the novel “women are amusing, mysterious, trivial but enchanting creatures. There’s something almost Victorian about it, and it’s annoyingly reductionist.”