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Feminist Utopia/Dystopia : Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975) and Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)

Title data

Cortiel, Jeanne:
Feminist Utopia/Dystopia : Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975) and Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (1976).
In: Voigts-Virchow, Eckart ; Boller, Alessandra (ed.): Dystopia, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse : Classics - New Tendencies - Model Interpretations. - Trier : WVT , 2015 . - pp. 155-169 . - (WVT-Handbücher zum literaturwissenschaftlichen Studium ; 17 )
ISBN 978-3-86821-565-6

Abstract in another language

Feminist dystopia is not isolated from or even antagonistic to the dystopian tradition at large: The history, development and characteristics of feminist dystopianism draw from feminist theory and social critique but also from the ways in which the literary utopia and dystopia have articulated cultural hopes and fears grounded in a critical as- sessment of the present moment. The concept ‘feminism’ as used in dystopian/utopian studies is usually implicitly understood to refer to a critique of social structures or cul- tural patterns that have disadvantaged women. Yet feminism has never been a coherent movement and has changed considerably since the first known critical engagements with the so-called woman question. Feminist dystopia is thus best studied as a nodal point that intersects with dystopian science fiction, feminist theory, and particularly feminist utopian writing.
Feminist speculation about a better world goes back to the earliest examples of uto- pian writing with texts such as Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies (1404/05; cf. Johns 2010: 174). Feminist dystopia emerged in the 1970s from this tradi- tion by importing key elements of the literary dystopia, such as the focus on and exten- sion of repressive structures in the present and the satirical critique of these structures. However, since both classical utopia and dystopia have traditionally been affirmative of gender hierarchies, the feminist dystopia also includes a critique of the genre itself.
My exploration of feminist dystopia in this chapter focuses on its initiating mo- ment in the 1970s. Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time have usually been read as examples of feminist utopian writing (with the notable exception of Booker and Thomas 2009), even though they are, like most femi- nist utopian writing in the 1970s utopian only in part, as Angelika Bammer argued in Partial Visions. I argue here that these two novels can be seen as prototypical feminist dystopian texts in the 1970s, constituting the beginnings of feminist dystopianism in the midst of the utopian renaissance. As such, the two novels have a lot in common: Both present the basic narrative world as dystopia for women; both include a partial utopia and its dystopian nemesis; both show that this utopia is only one of many possi- ble futures that depends on individual and collective action taken in the present mo- ment; and, finally, both novels are grounded in a powerful sense of utopian hope, while also expressing profound pessimism. The way in which these two novels incor- porate and mix science fiction, dystopia, utopia, and realist fiction, deploying the inter- relations and tensions between these genre traditions, undermines the rationalism and transparent storytelling practices of all of these traditions. In the wake of the complex critique articulated in these novels, the 1980s and 1990s produced a number of femi- nist dystopias that responded to cultural transformations by giving the dystopian ele- ment a more prominent presence. However, the paradigm established by Joanna Russ and Marge Piercy has continued to be productive in feminist fictions of the future.

Further data

Item Type: Article in a book
Refereed: Yes
Institutions of the University: Faculties > Faculty of Languages and Literature > Professor North American Studies - American Studies > Professor North American Studies - American Studies - Univ.-Prof. Dr. Jeanne Cortiel
Profile Fields > Emerging Fields > Cultural Encounters and Transcultural Processes
Research Institutions > Central research institutes > Bayreuth Institute for American Studies - BIFAS
Faculties > Faculty of Languages and Literature
Faculties > Faculty of Languages and Literature > Professor North American Studies - American Studies
Profile Fields
Profile Fields > Emerging Fields
Research Institutions
Research Institutions > Central research institutes
Result of work at the UBT: Yes
DDC Subjects: 800 Literature > 810 American literature in English
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2015 10:59
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2023 11:57