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Old 10-23-2003, 12:01 AM
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Feminist Utopian Fiction


(Note: I wrote this up the following for an annoying cite-monger on another thread, but I thought I would post it in Cafe Society as well, fwiw.)

Feminist utopian fiction is a sub-genre that ranges from serious polemic to wishful fantasy. In depicting societies of the future or other worlds, feminist utopian fiction often involves science-fiction elements, though other stories are placed in the distant past, in the not-too-distant future, or fictional contemporary societies. Because of its wide range of setting and themes, feminist utopian fiction crosses over several genres -- novels with literary aspirations, science fiction, historical romance, and more.

Some of the frequent themes of feminist utopian fiction are societies in which men have either died out, have never existed, or live separately from woman, who are the narrative focus. The all-female societies in some cases propagate through cloning, parthenogenesis or other means. In Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Left Hand of Darkness," characters are sexually neutral and can change freely into males or females and back again. In other stories, men and women co-exist equally or women rule. In historical fiction, the utopian society might worship the Goddess -- at least until patriarchal religion ruins everything.

A related sub-genre is the feminist dystopia, which often imagines a horrible future society displaying the oppression of a ruthless patriarchal rule, the most famous example of this being "The Handmaid's Tale."

There is also a male-centered version in which men encounter a society of women and re-assert themselves. This theme has been made into a number of humorously bad movies such as "Queen of Outer Space" and "Cat Women of the Moon," and some critics suggest that the animus lies in men returning from World War II and finding that women had taken over many traditionally male jobs and roles.

But it is feminist utopian fiction that has been the more prolific sub-genre and as such it has received a good deal of scholarly and historical interest.

Defenders of feminist utopian fiction might call it empowering or minimize the hostility in it as mere wishful fantasy: men disappear and women get to run things. Yet we can't deny the animosity in those works whose theme is how much the world would improve if men did not exist, or those that portray all men as too violent to live in a civil society. "Empowerment" here descends into female chauvinism.

The web has many sites that discuss feminist utopian fiction -- many that can be found by searching for that term.

On the site Feminist Fantasy, Science Fiction and Utopia, (http://www.feministsf.org/femsf/index.html) for example, you can find bibliographies, research, criticism, checklists of authors, and a page dedicated to "Theme & Character Lists: Women-Only Worlds," which includes some fiction that uses a women-only theme in a non-feminist manner.
Note the prevalence of the theme of reproduction without men:
Quote:
Gom, Leona. “The Y Chromosome.” The characters go out of their way to describe their reproductive method -- "ovafusion" -- as neither cloning nor parthenogenesis. Doctors are able to use this method to fuse two eggs together in a woman. Pregnancy and childbirth are normal and the child inherits both parents' genetic material.
As it happens, there is a completely functional all-women world -- but a few men are hiding out. Since they are not incorporated into the main society in any fashion, this still qualifies as a woman-only world.
Griffith, Nicola. “Ammonite.” Women may psychically fertilize one another; pregnancy and childbirth are normal, and the child inherits both parents' genetic material.
Hall, Sandi. “Wingwomen of Hera” (Spinsters / Aunt Lute: 1987) - the women of Hera are a parthenogenetic race ...

Here are excerpts from Feminist Literary Utopias: A Review of the Tradition in English at http://home.fuse.net/dabogens/utopia.html



Quote:
( Some of the best-known works of this period (19th century) are Mary Griffin's "Three Hundred Years Hence," which focuses on peace and prosperity, and Mary E. Bradley Lane's "Mizora: A Prophecy," a woman-only utopia based on science and education in which men have become extinct while women have found the secret to eternal life. ...(deletions)
The masterpiece of this era (1890 to 1920) is Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland," originally serialized in Gilman's magazine The Forerunner during 1915 and first published separately in 1979 to strong readership. "Herland" is a women-only world where everyone lives peacefully under the guidance of an intellectual aristocracy. ... Suzy McKee Charnas sets up the world that is to be left behind in "Walk to the End of the World," and then she shows the new women's society in "Motherlines." The "motherlines" of the title refer to the descendents from the original members of the band. Reproduction is by parthenogenesis
... Donna J. Young's "Retreat, As It Was!" tells the tale of a world before men. In some of its descendants an x chromosome is damaged, resulting in offspring with malformed sexual organs and a more aggressive nature. ... In "Solution Three," by Naomi Mitchison, homosexual love and the cloning of individuals with desirable characteristics are originally used to preserve a peaceful balance in the population until more immediate problems of survival are solved. Towards the novels end, heterosexual love is rediscovered, and the resulting children further the society's recovery through the superior characteristics of these new members. (Andy's note: In this last one, it appears that feminism again meets eugenics.)
...
In both of these books (Elizabeth Marshall Thomas's "Reindeer Moon" and Cecelia Holland's "Pillar of the Sky"), society begins to deteriorate when men and women begin to live in nuclear families rather than in supportive single-sex dwellings.
Feminist utopian fiction has been the subject of research and has been taught in courses at the college level. Here is one teacher’s recommended list:

Quote:
(The following discussion of feminist utopian fiction took place on WMST-L in late July/early August 2000. It began with a request for suggested Texts … )

Subject: contemporary feminist utopias
Hi

I am looking for contemporary feminist utopias to teach in a 1st year Humanities course. I am aware of Gilman's _Herland_, Piercy's _Woman on the Edge of Time_, and Starhawk's _The Fifth Sacred Thing._ Could anyone suggest some other texts that might be appropriate?

Thanks in advance

Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2000 11:19:34 -0400
From: Martha Charlene Ball <wsimcb @ PANTHER.GSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: contemporary feminist utopias

When I have taught feminist utopias, I used the ones you mentioned, plus the following:

Joanna Russ, *The Female Man*
Octavia Butler, *Parable of the Sower* and *Parable of the Talents*
Katherine Burdekin (Murray Constantine), *Swastika Night* (a dystopia that is also a powerful satire on Nazi Germany, written in the 30s)
Ursula K. LeGuin, *The Left Hand of Darkness*; I would also recommend *The Dispossessed* and *Always Coming Home*, both also by LeGuin.
Monique Wittig, *Les Guerillieres*

Others that I would consider using if I taught the course again:
Sally Miller Gearhart, *The Wanderground* (It's out of print, so I would use photocopies of a chapter or two)
Diana Rivers, *Journey to Zelindar*, *The Hadra*, or others of The Hadra series.
Joan Slonczewski, *A Door Into Ocean*
Suzette Hadin Elgin, *Native Tongue*
Dorothy Bryant, *The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You* (may be out of print)

And there are lots of others.
Charlene
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Old 10-23-2003, 12:18 AM
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So what?
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Old 10-23-2003, 12:42 AM
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Where would you classify 'The Shore of Women', by Pamela Sargent? It's somewhat utopian for the women, who live in walled cities separate from the men, though they still have some of the normal human problems, like jealousy, violence, etc. Things are definitely not utopian for the men, though, who live as primitive hunter-gatherers in the wilderness between the cities. They are manipulated by the women's super-science into believing that females are gods, and the men are used for their germ plasm.
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Old 10-23-2003, 12:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Badtz Maru
Where would you classify 'The Shore of Women', by Pamela Sargent? It's somewhat utopian for the women, who live in walled cities separate from the men, though they still have some of the normal human problems, like jealousy, violence, etc. Things are definitely not utopian for the men, though, who live as primitive hunter-gatherers in the wilderness between the cities. They are manipulated by the women's super-science into believing that females are gods, and the men are used for their germ plasm.
I haven't read that one, but from the description it sounds like one of the titles that is more science fiction than feminist polemic. There are many women-only-society stories and many women-run-society stories that are not overtly feminist. Some are actually the opposite -- men swagger in and the women melt in their arms, etc. Anyone who has read this title is invited to clarify any misconceptions I might have.

Miller, as I indicated before, I was faced with a particularly annoying poster who kept screaming "cite?" I had made a reference to feminist utopian fiction, which this person had not heard of it, so she took it upon herself to suggest that I had just invented the entire sub-genre out of my own head! I produced a length cite for the cite-monger, and felt I might as well post it in Cafe Society in case anyone wanted to discuss. If you don't, please feel free to ignore the post.
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Old 10-23-2003, 01:10 AM
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Originally posted by Satisfying Andy Licious
I had made a reference to feminist utopian fiction, which this person had not heard of it, so she took it upon herself to suggest that I had just invented the entire sub-genre out of my own head! I produced a length cite for the cite-monger, and felt I might as well post it in Cafe Society in case anyone wanted to discuss. If you don't, please feel free to ignore the post.
The first I ever heard of feminist utopia fiction was during class discussions in my sociology class. Their entire philosophy seemed to boil around the simple concepts that men are bad and women are good. That was my only exposure to the genre and I certainly don't want to paint it with a wide brush.

I always thought that feminist were suppose to believe that women should have the same rights as men. It doesn't seem to me that a utopia based on the superiority of one sex over the other is a feminist ideal. Maybe I'm missing the point of these books. Are they really all that popular?

Marc
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Old 10-23-2003, 01:41 AM
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Discuss what? What position are you advocating, other than "There exsists a genre of literature called feminist utopian fiction?"

Incidentally, how many of those books have you personally read? 'Cause I've read three of them, and none of them could reasonably be termed "utopian". And at least one of them could in not possibly be considered "feminist."
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Old 10-23-2003, 02:40 AM
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Nobody has mentioned Sherri S. Tepper's "The Gate to Women's Country."
This is not utopian per se, and men do figure in the story. But, it is a feminist take on a way to run a society.
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Old 10-23-2003, 02:55 AM
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David Brin did a really interesting story set on a world where women, that was something of a utopia. I can't remember the details, but men still existed and served a much smaller reproductive role, and were 2nd class citizens and kept segregated from females. I just remembered the name - Glory Season. The society in the book was not without it's problems, but it seems a lot more stable and intelligent than our system.
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Old 10-23-2003, 04:34 AM
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There's also the novella "Consider Her Ways" by John Wyndham. Not really a utopia, but perhaps a dystopia.
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Old 10-23-2003, 07:01 AM
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In Asimov's last year, in the October/November double-issue, there was a novella called "Stories for Men", by John Kessel. You can read at least part of it here.
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Old 10-23-2003, 07:13 AM
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I don't know about Parable of the Talents, and it's been a while since I've read Parable of the Sower, but from what I recall, it didn't advocate the removal of men from society, and men weren't the only ones who were incredibly violent.

So I'm not sure how valid that one is. What have you read on the list that you've offered us as representative of feminist utopias?
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Old 10-23-2003, 07:33 AM
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In addition to the books The Wrong Girl, what about "The Left Hand of Darkness"? I've read it two or three times, and it didn't seem like a feminist utopian fiction to *me*. How could it be, if there are no women and no men? (Well, there's one man. But that just reinforces my point.)
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Old 10-23-2003, 07:58 AM
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Here's the thread in which "an annoying cite-monger" goaded SAL into doing a little research.

Just thought some background would help with the general "what do you mean?" tone of this thread.
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Old 10-23-2003, 10:00 AM
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I'm trying to remember the name of my favorite example of this genre. It's a dystopian novel in which women are in charge and are all scary-like. Men are referred to as "housebounds," are usually raped on their prom nights, are derided and matronized for their natural brutishness, etc. Eventually the protagonist of the book, a nerdy manwom (as opposed to a wom), writes a novel in which the situation is reversed, in which men are in charge, as a way of showing how sucky that would be, and starts this whole masculist movement designed to procure equal rights for menwym.

It was pretty entertaining, but -- oh, that's it! Egalia's Daughters!

It's a pretty fun book, and avoids falling into the trap that claims too many novels in the genre: having the gender roles reversed in this book is considered just as bad as the current situation.

Daniel
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Old 10-23-2003, 10:51 AM
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Quote:
I just remembered the name - Glory Season. The society in the book was not without it's problems, but it seems a lot more stable and intelligent than our system.
Its easy to make them sound nice. Hell, you can make a society of brutal butchering women-amazons who consume the still-beating hearts of men *sound* nice.
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Old 10-23-2003, 11:02 AM
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Originally posted by smiling bandit
Its easy to make them sound nice. Hell, you can make a society of brutal butchering women-amazons who consume the still-beating hearts of men *sound* nice.
Where does that put Cannibal Women in the Avacado Jungle of Death?

Marc
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Old 10-23-2003, 11:54 AM
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Well, Miller, the few titles in the OP that I have read are ALL utopian, so I guess it cuts both ways. Although I'm danged if I can fathom your reason for being so combative about such a non-combative issue.
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Old 10-23-2003, 12:04 PM
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I'm certainly another one who would loudly protest the inclusion of Left Hand of Darkness as a feminist utopia. To say that mangles any possible understanding of the book.
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Old 10-23-2003, 01:36 PM
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Daniel...It was pretty entertaining, but -- oh, that's it! Egalia's Daughters!
Out of all the books described here, that is the only one that sounds really fresh. That one I may just have to read.

I wonder why in this world anyone would consider those scenarios as "Utopian." What a misnomer!

I don't like futuristic novels or science fiction in general. Just personal taste. But as an older feminist, I would like to know if it is common for young people of this generation who are self-described feminists, to read and enjoy and share these books? This is not intended as a criticism. After all, it is fiction.

Thirty years ago if a woman believed that she should have equal access to opportunities, she usually described herself as a feminist. (Men who supported these beliefs were also feminists.)I have often wondered why the younger generation, while taking full advantage of hard-won opportunities (thank goodness!), now refuse to refer to themselves as feminists. If that word has been twisted to mean only belligerent, pro-female-dominance women, then no wonder there are so many misunderstandings.

Andy, excuse me if this is a hijack. I'm just wondering if your thread is the explanation that I've been looking for.
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Old 10-23-2003, 02:01 PM
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David Brin's Glory Season was really written as an antidote to standard Feminist Utopian Fiction.

The premise is that humans on Stratos have been genetically engineered. Humans can reproduce conventionally, and produce conventional offspring. But women can also produce clone offspring. Most people are members of clone families and of course all clones are women, but standard sexual reproduction takes place as well, and this produces both males and females. Men make up something less than 5% of the population and aren't second class citizens, although established clone families hold most of the power in society, and men can never establish clone families. Sexually created girls must struggle to find a way to support themselves, and only the lucky and talented are able to establish families.

The point of the story was to establish a society that didn't violate laws of physics, biology and human nature, and tried to imagine a realistic female society. Unlike most feminist utopian fiction, which imagines the only solution is enslavement and/or extermination of men.
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Old 10-23-2003, 02:09 PM
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Zoe, of course I can only speak for myself, but I describe myself as a feminist. Somewhat hesitantly, these days: I know the description pisses off some other feminists, who don't think men have anything useful to contribute to a feminist discussion, and breeds contempt in the minds of some non-feminists, who think that all feminists are sexists themselves.

Speculative fiction is a great way, IMO, to explore ideas for different political/social systems. I'm not feeling eloquent enough to explain why, right now, but basically it offers an arena in which the effects of a system can be examined. And it can be a lot easier going down than a straight essay on politics can be, although I think that fiction and nonfiction are often best read side by side.

I *have* known a fair number of self-described feminists (and other political folks) who enjoy reading speculative fiction. And Le Guin is one of the best authors in the field.

Not only would I consider Left Hand of Darkness to be a feminist utopian novel; I would go so far as to consider The Dispossessed the same thing. Not that either novel's central theme is a society in which women and men have equal rights; however, both novels describe ambiguously utopian societies in which gender relations differ markedly from our society, and both novels can seriously inform the feminist sensibilities of a reader.

Another novel by her, Four Ways to Forgiveness, is an equally interesting example: it discusses a society in which race relations are much improved, but where gender relations suh-huck. Definitely worth reading.

Daniel
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Old 10-23-2003, 02:15 PM
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Lemur, I don't think it's at all true that "most feminist utopian fiction . . . imagines the only solution is enslavement and/or extermination of men." I've read a good half-dozen or more examples from the field, and only one of those (an execrable book from Marion Zimmer Bradley) came close to describing a utopia in those words.

Look at Woman at the Edge of Time, Left Hand of Darkness, The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You, The Dispossessed, The Fifth Sacred Thing, and other books for counterexamples.

Sure, there's some crap in the field; there's even crap in the field whose craptacularosity has nothing to do with enslaving/exterminating men (Woman on the Edge of Time is a thinly-veiled rant with cardboard characters, in my opinion). But there's also some great feminist utopias out there.

Daniel
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Old 10-23-2003, 02:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Zoe

I don't like futuristic novels or science fiction in general. Just personal taste. But as an older feminist, I would like to know if it is common for young people of this generation who are self-described feminists, to read and enjoy and share these books?
No. Far from it, in fact. Aside from Herland, The Gate to Women's Country, and The Left Hand of Darkness, I think most of the books mentioned in this thread are fairly obscure. I don't believe any but those three are particularly well known among young feminists, science fiction fans, or even feminist fans of science fiction. (And I'm saying this as former president of the Science Fiction club at a women's college.)

Of the three exceptions I've noted, only Herland could really be considered a feminist utopian novel, at least if one takes "feminist utopia" to mean "idealized society run by women, with men either absent or inferior/enslaved". As others have pointed out, in The Left Hand of Darkness the society isn't woman-run...it couldn't be, as there aren't even any actual women there.

In The Gate to Women's Country, the woman-run society seems fairly pleasant but is certainly not a utopia. It is presented as better than male-dominated neighboring cultures and probably better than our contemporary culture, but there are still social problems and there are still women who behave very badly towards both men and their fellow woman. The female leaders in The Gate to Women's Country are also slowly attempting to work towards a better future where the women won't have to constantly keep the men in check...a future where men and women can live together as equals.
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Old 10-23-2003, 03:06 PM
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On rereading the OP, I see this section:

Quote:
Some of the frequent themes of feminist utopian fiction are societies in which men have either died out, have never existed, or live separately from woman, who are the narrative focus.
While this may sometimes appear, I don't think it's close to the defining theme of such works. Look at the novels recommended by the WMST-L list folks. I've read the following novels on the list:

Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time: a novel in which men and women have equal rights, up to and including the right and ability to nurse children. Men are neither absent nor rare in the book's utopia, and although most of the men in the novel's present-day setting are assholes, the men in the utopian section of the book are almost all nice folks.

Starhawk's The Fifth Sacred Thing. Most of the men in the book are nice folks, and are an important part of the feminist-utopian society. The book also presents a male-dominated dystopia, but by the end of the book, even the guys from that society are assimilating into the feminist utopian society as equals.

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents -- these are more dystopias than utopias, IIRC, although a utopia might develop in the second book. At any rate, men are integral parts of the societies in these books.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness; The Dispossessed; and Always Coming Home: Everyone has both genders in the first book (except for the male human narrator); the second book revolves around a male protagonist in a gender-equal anarchist ambiguous utopia in which men are just as much a part of society as women; and the third book has a female protagonist in a society with both men and women.

Dorothy Bryant, The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You: Not only has male and female characters living in an integrated society, but also has a male rapist as the protagonist -- and he's not an antihero, either. In fact, a lot of the book deals with his redmption and integration into the society.

I've not read all the books on the list, but of those I've read, not a single one contained the theme Andy suggests in the OP.

I think the unifying theme of feminist utopias is that they present a society with relations between men and women that the author considers to be fair and equitable - the goal of feminism, almost by definition.

Daniel
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Old 10-23-2003, 03:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by lissener
Well, Miller, the few titles in the OP that I have read are ALL utopian, so I guess it cuts both ways. Although I'm danged if I can fathom your reason for being so combative about such a non-combative issue.
Combative? I dare say you misread me. I was merely trying to get the OP to frame the debate. He hasn't done so yet, but it looks like a debate has sprung up without him. Hope its the one he wanted to see.
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Old 10-23-2003, 07:10 PM
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Posted by DanielWithrow:

Quote:
I'm trying to remember the name of my favorite example of this genre. It's a dystopian novel in which women are in charge and are all scary-like. Men are referred to as "housebounds," are usually raped on their prom nights, are derided and matronized for their natural brutishness, etc. Eventually the protagonist of the book, a nerdy manwom (as opposed to a wom), writes a novel in which the situation is reversed, in which men are in charge, as a way of showing how sucky that would be, and starts this whole masculist movement designed to procure equal rights for menwym.

It was pretty entertaining, but -- oh, that's it! Egalia's Daughters!

It's a pretty fun book, and avoids falling into the trap that claims too many novels in the genre: having the gender roles reversed in this book is considered just as bad as the current situation.
There was an episode of Sliders based on the same premise. The Sliders visit an alternate America where women are dominant. Rembrandt Brown gets picked up by a lady executive, moves in with her, and thinks he's got a great thing going, until she starts treating him like . . . well, like a single male executive would treat his flavor-of-the-week girlfriend. Professor Arturo decides to shake things up by running for public office -- mayor of San Francisco, I think. It's interesting how they work in little asides that reverse our conventional wisdom about gender roles -- e.g., even a male character notes that men can't be trusted the way women can because they're hormonally unstable, with all that testosterone sloshing around and messing up their judgment.
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Old 10-23-2003, 08:09 PM
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Can't be a utopia without men.. nope too boring. and much as I enjoy the company of my female friendsit have them there ALL THE TIME!. I'd go fucking nuts and run off looking for the owner of a penis!
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Old 10-23-2003, 08:13 PM
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okay that post was clear as mud..

I mean if I only had women to interract with all the time I'd go crazy....

Me likes men, maybe I am just brainwashed.
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Old 10-23-2003, 08:28 PM
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Another novella is Houston, Houston, Do You Read?. Three astronauts (male) are flung into the future by a solar flare, and rescued by a spaceship with an all-female crew. A plague had nearly destroyed the entire human species, and the survivers were all clones of the last five humans left alive- all females. Their big issue with the astronauts wasn't their being male but whether to go back to a society where every human was a unique prototype instead of a "time-tested model".
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Old 10-23-2003, 09:52 PM
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That's by James Tiptree, Jr., who was, despite the name, a woman, Alice Sheldon in real life. And a fantastic writer of short fiction.
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Old 10-23-2003, 11:53 PM
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Originally posted by Krisfer the Cat
Can't be a utopia without men.. nope too boring. and much as I enjoy the company of my female friendsit have them there ALL THE TIME!. I'd go fucking nuts and run off looking for the owner of a penis!
I'm glad you clarified this, Krisfer.

Of course, considering what kind of fiction we're talking about, the owner of the penis might be a woman -- who harvested it herself.
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Old 10-23-2003, 11:56 PM
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Originally posted by Miller
Combative? I dare say you misread me.
Make it two of us who have misread you, then.
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Old 10-24-2003, 12:02 AM
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I apologize for that, Andy. Or should I call you Satisfying? At any rate, that wasn't the tone I was shooting for in my earlier posts. Returning to my earlier questions, which of the books in your OP have you read, and what in them did you find that merited debate?
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Old 10-24-2003, 12:20 AM
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Originally posted by Biggirl
Here's the thread in which "an annoying cite-monger" goaded SAL into doing a little research.

Just thought some background would help with the general "what do you mean?" tone of this thread.
Indeed. There was a feminist *cough*Margin* who had never heard of feminist utopian fiction and then accused me of lying about the existence of it. Now look how many people have already expressed their familiarity with it. (Of course, this same feminist is demanding that I supply a cite for the existence of affirmative action, so I suspect she is being deliberately obtuse -- if she can hold her hands over her eyes, then nothing else exists.)
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Old 10-24-2003, 12:43 AM
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Originally posted by DanielWithrow
On rereading the OP, I see this section:

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Some of the frequent themes of feminist utopian fiction are societies in which men have either died out, have never existed, or live separately from woman, who are the narrative focus.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

While this may sometimes appear, I don't think it's close to the defining theme of such works.
...
I think the unifying theme of feminist utopias is that they present a society with relations between men and women that the author considers to be fair and equitable - the goal of feminism, almost by definition.

Daniel
I think it is symptomatic of feminists that so many of them consider "fair" to be "anything that benefits me." Putting the blinders aside, you can't arbitrarily discount those novels in which the world is greatly improved because there aren't any men in it. And you're missing the point by trying to postulate some unifying theme, because the term "feminist utopia" is a pretty self-explanatory term. This field also has come to include feminist dystopia as the logical other side of the coin. Sometimes they're polemics, sometimes not. There are the utopian polemics ("this would make things better") the dystopian polemics ("this would make things horrible") and the ones that just want to spin a good yarn.

In drawing up this very brief list of feminist utopian fiction, I was careful to be balanced and fair -- presenting ones that fantasize about men ceasing to exist alongside books imagining better, fairer relations, and noting the non-feminist use of such themes as well. My list is brief, it's hardly definative, but you can't just kick out the "all men are gone" books, as they are central to the field.

[QUOTE]Originally posted by DanielWithrow
[B]Speculative fiction is a great way, IMO, to explore ideas for different political/social systems.
If it explored, say, how wonderful it would be if certain minority groups ceased to exist, we'd probably call it racism. When feminists write about all men ceasing to exist -- it gets on a syllabus.
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Old 10-24-2003, 01:04 AM
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Hows about I try it again, with coding:
Quote:
Originally posted by DanielWithrow
On rereading the OP, I see this section:

quote:
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Some of the frequent themes of feminist utopian fiction are societies in which men have either died out, have never existed, or live separately from woman, who are the narrative focus.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

While this may sometimes appear, I don't think it's close to the defining theme of such works.
...
I think the unifying theme of feminist utopias is that they present a society with relations between men and women that the author considers to be fair and equitable - the goal of feminism, almost by definition.

Daniel
I think it is symptomatic of feminists that so many of them consider "fair" to be "anything that benefits me." Putting the blinders aside, you can't arbitrarily discount those novels in which the world is greatly improved because there aren't any men in it. And you're missing the point by trying to postulate some unifying theme, because the term "feminist utopia" is a pretty self-explanatory term. This field also has come to include feminist dystopia as the logical other side of the coin. Sometimes they're polemics, sometimes not. There are the utopian polemics ("this would make things better") the dystopian polemics ("this would make things horrible") and the ones that just want to spin a good yarn.

In drawing up this very brief list of feminist utopian fiction, I was careful to be balanced and fair -- presenting ones that fantasize about men ceasing to exist alongside books imagining better, fairer relations, and noting the non-feminist use of such themes as well. My list is brief, it's hardly definative, but you can't just kick out the "all men are gone" books, as they are central to the field.
Quote:
Speculative fiction is a great way, IMO, to explore ideas for different political/social systems.
If it explored, say, how wonderful it would be if certain minority groups ceased to exist, we'd probably call it racism. When feminists write about all men ceasing to exist -- it gets on a syllabus.
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Old 10-24-2003, 01:16 AM
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Originally posted by Miller
I apologize for that, Andy. Or should I call you Satisfying? At any rate, that wasn't the tone I was shooting for in my earlier posts. Returning to my earlier questions, which of the books in your OP have you read, and what in them did you find that merited debate?
No offense, Miller.
About the only one I've read and have any recollection of is LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness." And I do think it's firmly on the list of feminist utopian fiction because it stems from the time when feminists were largely arguing that men and women are equal, and that most gender differences were ingrained by socialization. So LeGuin created a world in which people are literally both male and female -- or rather, they are sort of neutrals who have sex by going into "khemmer" (spelling?), a process by which one person becomes female and one becomes male. The next time, they might reverse. The gender-bender fantasy is obvious.

I am not setting myself up as a scholar in the field. I stumbled upon it largely when trying to understand the anti-male forces who were getting so vocal at the time. It was interesting to me that feminists had this entire literary schtick going where they would make things "fair and equitable" by, variously, having men cease to exist, or moving them outside the gates of the civilized city, or having women rule -- or sometimes by actually having men and women equal.

The irony is that the feminist utopia had already been put into operation -- namely, the kibbutz, where initially children were not kept with the parents but were raised communally, and labor was supposed to be distributed on a gender-neutral basis.

The original, feminist version of kibbutzism fell apart, and a great deal of the pressure behind its fall was that the women wanted to resume those "oppressive" old tradition roles of raising children themselves and staying in their own individual homes to do it.

So the feminists had to grind out more and more fiction, because it's pretty darned difficult to have the building code inspector check the soundness of castles in the air.
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Old 10-24-2003, 01:39 AM
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Originally posted by Satisfying Andy Licious
I think it is symptomatic of feminists that so many of them consider "fair" to be "anything that benefits me." Putting the blinders aside, you can't arbitrarily discount those novels in which the world is greatly improved because there aren't any men in it.
They aren't being arbitrarily discounted, they're being put into their proper context as a minor part of the feminist canon. BTW, which specific novels in your OP do you feel advocate the idea that society would be improved by the removal or reduction of the male population?

Quote:
And you're missing the point by trying to postulate some unifying theme, because the term "feminist utopia" is a pretty self-explanatory term.
Is it? Someone else has put forward the definition of "feminist utopia" as "a society in which both genders are perfectly equal." Somehow, I sense you would disagree with this definition. Rather than simply state that the defintiion is self-explanatory, perhaps you could offer your definition of the term?

Quote:
This field also has come to include feminist dystopia as the logical other side of the coin.
I suppose this is semantics, but wouldn't a feminist dystopia be an oppressive society ruled by women? When people call 1984 a communist dystopia, they aren't implying that it's a bad society to be a communist in, they're saying it's a bad society because of communism. Properly speaking, a feminist dystopia would be a bad society because of feminism. A book like The Handmaid's Tale would really be a masculinist dystopia, as it portrays a society that is oppressive because of men. Well, like I said, just a minor semantic point.

Quote:
Sometimes they're polemics, sometimes not. There are the utopian polemics ("this would make things better") the dystopian polemics ("this would make things horrible") and the ones that just want to spin a good yarn.
Again, which of the novels that you listed in your OP fit into which of the categories in the quoted section above?

Quote:
In drawing up this very brief list of feminist utopian fiction, I was careful to be balanced and fair -- presenting ones that fantasize about men ceasing to exist alongside books imagining better, fairer relations, and noting the non-feminist use of such themes as well. My list is brief, it's hardly definative, but you can't just kick out the "all men are gone" books, as they are central to the field.
Are they? I don't think you've shown that to be true. Example: You mention Nicola Griffith's Ammonite, apparently as an example of anti-male feminist fiction. (If this isn't the case, I apologize. As I've said, I found your OP to somewhat ambiguous) However, the book is anything but: the "all-female" world is primitive and barbaric. Literally: one of the major subplots involve an all-woman barbarian invasion of (also all-woman) settled lands. Another character is a hunter who makes her living hunting down the last few sentient, aboriginal inhabitants of the planet, and using their body parts as tools and clothing. (You really don't want to know what she made her purse out of). You might not have meant this as an example of anti-male fiction, but the fact that you included it at all in a list about feminist utopian fiction, when there is absolutely nothing utopian about it, makes me question how many of the other titles you mention ought to properly be included in this thread.

Quote:
Quote:
Originally posted by DanielWithrow
Speculative fiction is a great way, IMO, to explore ideas for different political/social systems.
If it explored, say, how wonderful it would be if certain minority groups ceased to exist, we'd probably call it racism. When feminists write about all men ceasing to exist -- it gets on a syllabus.
Maybe, maybe not. It all lies in the execution. There's a short story, "Love's Last Farewell," by Richard Bamberg, where a "cure" for homosexuality is discovered. The story's basically a conversation between the last living homosexual and a young reporter. The reporter has a lot of reasons why the "cure" was a social good, none of which are really refuted in the story, but the author makes it unmistakably clear that the "cure" was nothing less than genocide, even if no one was killed to effect it.

Similarly, I wonder how many of the novels that present an all-female world that is "better" than the current one are necessarily promoting that as social policy, or are instead trying to present a "peace, but at what cost?" scenario. Probably not many, but it's not a decision I would want to make without first hand experience of the individual text.

And, all of that aside, which specific work of anti-male feminist fiction is being taught in colleges? You've provided a list of novels, and a conclusion, but you haven't shown that any of the novels you listed support that conclusion. Which specific books have you read that lead you to the conclusion that anti-male sentiment is a significant portion of feminist speculative fiction?
  #39  
Old 10-24-2003, 02:11 AM
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Originally posted by Satisfying Andy Licious
No offense, Miller.
About the only one I've read and have any recollection of is LeGuin's "Left Hand of Darkness." And I do think it's firmly on the list of feminist utopian fiction because it stems from the time when feminists were largely arguing that men and women are equal, and that most gender differences were ingrained by socialization. So LeGuin created a world in which people are literally both male and female -- or rather, they are sort of neutrals who have sex by going into "khemmer" (spelling?), a process by which one person becomes female and one becomes male. The next time, they might reverse. The gender-bender fantasy is obvious.
I disagree with terming Left Hand of Darkness as "feminist," for the simple reason that I think a prerequisite for feminist literature should be the inclusion of at least one female. Certainly, the novel is informed by gender politics, as the central theme is what society would be like if they did not exsist, but I did not come away from it with a specifically feminist impression. I don't think that the novel can be said to necessarily support the idea that the differences between men and women are purely from socialization, because the subjects are not, strictly speaking, human. They've been genetically altered to share physical characteristics of both genders, there's no reason to assume that they weren't also altered to share mental characteristics of both genders. I don't think the properties of the society portrayed in the novel are meant to be transferable to our society.

I will say that the novel challenged a lot of my preconceptions about gender, or rather, showed how many of my preconceptions about people were based on their gender. I don't think that makes this novel specifically feminist, though. I certainly don't think the novel has any place in a thread about utopianism, because again, the societies presented in the novel are anything but. In fact, the only society in the book that even comes close is the peaceful, spacefaring culture that the protagonist comes from. Said protagonist being male, which I think is significant in a discussion of this novel's status as feminist in general, and feminist utopianism in particular.

Quote:
I am not setting myself up as a scholar in the field. I stumbled upon it largely when trying to understand the anti-male forces who were getting so vocal at the time. It was interesting to me that feminists had this entire literary schtick going where they would make things "fair and equitable" by, variously, having men cease to exist, or moving them outside the gates of the civilized city, or having women rule -- or sometimes by actually having men and women equal.
I don't think the above applies in any way to Left Hand of Darkness, Griffith's Ammonite (discussed above) or The Handmaid's Tale (which, admittedly, is a horse of an entirely different color). Perhaps it applies to other books you've listed. I don't know. But, as you've just admitted, neither do you.

Quote:
The irony is that the feminist utopia had already been put into operation -- namely, the kibbutz, where initially children were not kept with the parents but were raised communally, and labor was supposed to be distributed on a gender-neutral basis.

The original, feminist version of kibbutzism fell apart, and a great deal of the pressure behind its fall was that the women wanted to resume those "oppressive" old tradition roles of raising children themselves and staying in their own individual homes to do it.

So the feminists had to grind out more and more fiction, because it's pretty darned difficult to have the building code inspector check the soundness of castles in the air.
I'm sorry, but I don't understand the connection you're trying to draw between feminist science fiction and these failed communes.
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Old 10-24-2003, 02:50 AM
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What information I have on the subject of "feminist utopian literature" and feminist speculative fiction is totally from this thread. (Okay. I confess. I am an AGING feminist who has trouble concentrating when I read.)

Is it my imagination or do many of the feminist utopian novels feature women who are aggressive in what I would describe, accurately or not, as the traditionally male sort of way? Which of these novels feature admirable characters as strong nurturers?

Daniel, you are aces!

Andy, great thread!
  #41  
Old 10-24-2003, 07:22 AM
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Zoe, for women in nurturing roles, check out Woman on the Edge of Time, The Fifth Sacred Thing, Four Ways to Forgiveness, The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You, and maybe even Left Hand of Darkness (the co-protagonist, bigendered, is nurturing both as an asexual creature and as a female). My experience is not at all that feminist utopias exclude nurturing females; rather, they have nurturing females, strong females, nurturing males, strong males.

Andy, I'm not sure why you think I'm excluding anti-male works from the field. I'm just discussing the ones I've read from the list you gave, and pointing out that not a single one has the only theme you describe in your OP. That you don't mention other themes, and that you pooh-pooh the idea of gender equality as a theme, suggests that you've got a grudge you're bearing.

Surely there are some anti-male feminist utopias out there. But I've read at least somewhat widely int he field and have yet to come across them.

Daniel
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Old 10-24-2003, 07:37 AM
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originally posted by Zoe
I would like to know if it is common for young people of this generation who are self-described feminists, to read and enjoy and share these books?
I'm a young feminist, and I have read several of the books mentioned, but it's because I'm a big ol' geek who reads lots of SF, not because I'm a feminist. (Although I do seek out SF with strong female characters.) AFAIK, my feminist buddies who are not into SF haven't read many of these, with the exception of The Handmaid's Tale.

I'll also point out that many--though not all--of these books were written in the 1970s or 1980s, and may actually reflect an older, "2nd wave" feminist sensibility rather than the attitude of young (teens and 20s) feminists today. IMO, Marge Piercy's earlier work does, as does much of Sheri Tepper's.
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Old 10-24-2003, 01:15 PM
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I'll also point out that many--though not all--of these books were written in the 1970s or 1980s, and may actually reflect an older, "2nd wave" feminist sensibility rather than the attitude of young (teens and 20s) feminists today. IMO, Marge Piercy's earlier work does, as does much of Sheri Tepper's.
This is precisely what I wanted to point out-- the historical context of these works.

In a very incomplete nutshell: at the time the radical feminist movement based a lot of its thought and rhetoric on the nationalism and idealism of the '60s, and frankly, that's where muich of separatist thought came from.

Remember that even the concepts women were equal to men, could participate equally in the workforce, or hell, even claim their own sexuality were considered radical or even heretical ideas. Struggling against this mindset was at best difficult. It's no wonder that many women (and not a few men) started exploring alternatives to the prevailing consciousness about gender.

Most of "mainstream" feminism was about changing existing society to fit women in (and to a pretty good extent I think they managed it). Radical feminism OTOH was about radically changing society to fit feminist ideals. IE, it was a revolutionary concept at a time when everyone was throwing out all sorts of "revolutions" to claim "power for the people." In short, BS, but that's the excesses of the 60's for you.

However, I don't think the longing for the perfect society where you could be female and still be a full human being was inauthentic. I think that's where the idea of feminist utopias come from. Don't forget that a lot of the early radical feminists were also lesbian, and the 70's weren't exactly the least homophobic time ever. You really can't talk about feminist utopian literature without addressing how some truly virulent homophobia formed much of it. Creating worlds of women who could be themselves, love women (and egalitarian men) was a pretty appealing concept.

That being said, I think feminism has evolved immensely from its early naive idealism. I know Andy is disturbed by the concept of the first prerequisite of a perfect world being without men, and hell, I don't blame him. I was never a separatist and really hate having to defend their ideas on any level. Nonetheless, separatism is hardly alive and well these days, Alix Dobkin and her tiny band of followers aside. It pretty much killed itself off during the AIDS crisis, its basic argument being that gay men get what they deserved being untenable for even the most radical feminist. After that the queer movement exploded, transgender issues finally got some attention, men started using feminist language to describe their own politics, and exploring how masculinity and femininity interconnected became more the darling of academic feminism had to evolve to take these new(ish) issues into account.

As for mainstream feminism-- getting real here-- their goals of "adapt society, don't overthow it" didn't really change except in the sense that most of the collective started listening to women who were poor, of color, and from other countries, and finally got a clue that maybe global and economic issues were important.

If feminist utopian literature is studied, it's studied as a document of a specific place and time in feminist history, not as a guideline.
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Old 10-24-2003, 06:07 PM
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Originally posted by Zoe

Is it my imagination or do many of the feminist utopian novels feature women who are aggressive in what I would describe, accurately or not, as the traditionally male sort of way?
None of the ones that I have read or have heard of do.

Quote:
Which of these novels feature admirable characters as strong nurturers?
All of the ones that I have read or have heard of do.

I feel I should also mention that I am unaware of any "things sure are better since we got rid of all the men!" novels. There may be some out there, but I have never seen one. None of the titles in this thread that I am familiar with fit that description. In fact, the only one I know of that even deals with a woman-run society in which there are no men at all is Gilman's Herland. That society is male-free due to past tragedy and geographic isolation, and the female citizens are not hostile to male visitors who discover their country.
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Old 10-24-2003, 07:15 PM
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Given my posts, burundi's posts, and Lamia's posts, I'm curious -- has anyone out there actually read any androphobic feminist utopian novel? Andy claims they exist, but it seems like no one here has first-hand experience of them.

It is an interesting point that they seem to have been written in the sixties and seventies, for the most part. The Fifth Sacred Thing, however, is early nineties, if I recall correctly, and I think Butler wrote her vaguely vaguely utopian novels in the nineties.

I suspect the utopian novel genre is pretty sparsely populated these days altogether; anyone familiar with how it's doing? Maybe in our postmodern age the idea of a perfect society is hard to swallow .

Daniel
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Old 10-24-2003, 07:52 PM
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To be honest, I can't think of any genuine utopian novels, feminist or otherwise. Well, okay, Thomas More's Utopia, obviously, but past that... How do you write a novel set in a perfect society and develop any sort of interesting conflict or drama?

I guess Star Trek counts as a utopia, but that just proves my point about it being pretty much impossible to generate anything interesting in such a setting...
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Old 10-24-2003, 09:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by DanielWithrow
Given my posts, burundi's posts, and Lamia's posts, I'm curious -- has anyone out there actually read any androphobic feminist utopian novel? Andy claims they exist, but it seems like no one here has first-hand experience of them.
Indeed. Maybe that's why margin thought he was making them up. Given the existence of vanity publishing I wouldn't doubt the existence of any genre altogether, but if there actually were any significant number of mass-market (or even cult classic) androphobic feminist utopian novels then I think I would have either seen one myself or spoken to someone who had. I've read quite a few feminist science fiction novels, but not a one was about "how wonderful it would be" if "all men ceas[ed] to exist".

If anyone here has ever actually read or even heard of any such book, it would be nice if they could give us a title or something.

Quote:
Originally posted by Miller
To be honest, I can't think of any genuine utopian novels, feminist or otherwise. Well, okay, Thomas More's Utopia, obviously, but past that... How do you write a novel set in a perfect society and develop any sort of interesting conflict or drama?
Herland is a genuine utopia. It's also nearly a century old...you're right, people don't really write these things any more. Herland is a decent read, but it's not exactly a page-turner. More of a travel guide to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's idea of the perfect society. I will note that the absence of men was not an integral part of this society. The women of Herland are reluctant to open the borders of their isolated country to the outside world (especially after they hear how non-utopian it is), but they don't seem to have any problem with the idea of men in general. The three male explorers who discover this all-female society are welcomed warmly and treated with respect, and at the end of the novel one of them even chooses to (and is allowed to!) stay with the women rather than go home.
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Old 10-24-2003, 09:39 PM
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DanielWithrow writes:

> Given my posts, burundi's posts, and Lamia's posts, I'm
> curious -- has anyone out there actually read any androphobic
> feminist utopian novel? Andy claims they exist, but it seems like
> no one here has first-hand experience of them.

There's the short story "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" by James Tiptree, Jr. (a.k.a. Alice Sheldon). Within the story, it's asserted that it's better that men all died off and only women survive. That doesn't necessarily mean that Tiptree herself believes that that's the case. People sometimes think that science fiction is meant as prediction. It's not. It's meant more as philosophical/scientific/sociological/psychological speculation. Tiptree may have been just speculating about an all-female society.

Miller writes:

> To be honest, I can't think of any genuine utopian novels,
> feminist or otherwise.

Just to name one, there's _Walden Two_ by B. F. Skinner. Skinner certainly seems to seriously think that the society proposed would be utopian.
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Old 10-25-2003, 03:06 AM
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John Varley's nine worlds stories, particularly those that occur later on in the continuity, have a setting that's pretty close to being utopian. If one uses the definition of feminist as being a society in which men and women are exactly equal, then this one certainly qualifies. Medical science has progressed to the point at which doctors are merely skilled technicians, people are nearly immortal. The most common causes of death are suicide, accident, and murder, in that order, and murder is extraordinarily rare. Literally everything about ones physicality can be chosen, including sex, and body modifications are relatively inexpensive.

This leads to a society in which most adults live lives switching from one sex to the other as it suits them. People have a natural sexuality that may be equally male and female, may be slightly balanced more toward one or the other, resulting in a person who stays female 70% of the time and male the other 30%, with a minority who are so dominantly one or the other that they lead their entire lives as a single sex.

The result is a society in which the genders are still different, women are feminine and men masculine, but are entirely equal. Indeed, it's implied that getting to choose one's gender actually tends to enhance feminine and masculine aspects of those genders. The message is clear; women and men being equal doesn't mean that they have to be the same.

The stories themselves usually have female protaganists. Some of them focus on the idea of changing sexes, male to female being more common ("Picnic on Nearside", Steel Beach). Only one story I know of shows a female to male transition, and that is set early in the continuity when it is still uncommon enough that married couples still exist. A woman wants her husband to share in breastfeeding their child by having lactating breasts installed. When he balks at this, she goes on to become gradually more and more masculine, which eventually destroys their marriage (later in the continuity, long term male-female marriage has ceased to exist altogether). Again, the message seems to be that the differences between the sexes are good for us.

One story ("The Barbie Murders") details a sub-culture commune in which everyone is surgically altered to have exactly the same, androgynous look. It's revealed that most of the residents don't really buy the idea or quickly become disillusioned. Again, the message is that the differences between the sexes are a good thing, and when sex roles are both rigidly defined and unescapable, for a woman to be equal to a man she must become more like a man.

By the late stages of the continuity, fathers have ceased to exist as anything other than sperm donors. When a person is ready to be a parent, that person becomes female and gets pregnant by a trusted friend (who may have to become male to do this). Being chosen to father anothers child is a great privilege, and chosing the right father is important, but once conception occurs, the father no longer has any status, and seldom has any contact with the child. "Parent" and "mother" become synonymous. But because sex changes are so common, a child's mother may at times be female and other times male. The message here seems to be that infants need a mother, but as children grow older, they need one good parent, and whether that parent is male or female is of little importance.

Lest anyone doubt that Varley is a committed feminist, one only need read the short story "Mannequin" to remove all doubt.
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Old 10-25-2003, 03:12 AM
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I need to proofread better. I somehow switched the concluding sentences to two paragraphs. These two should read as follows:
The stories themselves usually have female protaganists. Some of them focus on the idea of changing sexes, male to female being more common ("Picnic on Nearside", Steel Beach). Only one story I know of shows a female to male transition, and that is set early in the continuity when it is still uncommon enough that married couples still exist. A woman wants her husband to share in breastfeeding their child by having lactating breasts installed. When he balks at this, she goes on to become gradually more and more masculine, which eventually destroys their marriage (later in the continuity, long term male-female marriage has ceased to exist altogether). Again, the message is that the differences between the sexes are a good thing, and when sex roles are both rigidly defined and unescapable, for a woman to be equal to a man she must become more like a man.

One story ("The Barbie Murders") details a sub-culture commune in which everyone is surgically altered to have exactly the same, androgynous look. It's revealed that most of the residents don't really buy the idea or quickly become disillusioned. Again, the message seems to be that the differences between the sexes are good for us.
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