Fighting with the Sky

Feminist Science Fiction [Feminist Flashback Friday]

Posted on: September 18, 2009

Feminist science fiction books and entertainment are definitely still around, but did you know that feminist science fiction got its start at the beginning of the 20th century?

This sub-genre of writing uses science fiction to explore the meaning of gender norms and sexism in society.  It often deals with how society constructs gender norms, the role reproduction plays in defining gender norms and power differences between men and women, and how and why sexism is prevalent in society.  Most often, feminist science fiction portrays these issues through utopias or dystopias.  In a utopia, the writer shows a world without gender differences or gender power imbalances.  Whereas in a dystopia, the write exaggerates gender and power differences to show the need to fight against sexism.

As far back as 1818, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein tackled issues of asexual creation of new life in a re-telling of the Adam and Eve Story.  Some examples of utopian feminist science fiction that tackled sexism around the time of first wave feminism are: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Sultana’s Dream byRoquia Sakhawat Hussain.  Writers such as Clare Winger Harris and Gertrude Barrows Bennett wrote science fiction stories from female perspectives and often dealt with issues of sexuality.

It’s a shame that this outbreak of feminist science fiction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is not as well-known in the mainstream.  The stereotype of women during this time (and later, even today sometimes) was that they were silent.  Women didn’t really know much about what was going on and what was being done to them by society.  But these feminist science fiction texts are proof that women were fighting back against sexism and gender norms.  Most feminists know this, but the mainstream is still largely unaware.  Even today, science fiction is understood to be the male writers (and consumers) realm.  Men write science fiction, not women.

Disclaimer: most of my information for this post I found on Wikipedia.

5 Responses to "Feminist Science Fiction [Feminist Flashback Friday]"

I found your group on Goodreads and would love to join. Have you read any octavia butler? She is fantastic.

Oh, I am a huge feminist SF fan. (Here’s my fem SF tag on my blog.) A part of science fiction history that gets ignored a lot is the central place women had in SF in the 1970s. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is absolutely a defining text. Writers like Joanna Russ were deeply involved in fandom, writing and making a way for women in the genre. And of course you have your pseudonymous women working away quietly – notably James Tiptree Jr. I could go on for ages but I’ll leave you with a link. Love fem SF!!

Ursula LeGuin is still writing and just gets better.
C.J.Cherryh has cat aliens and won’t insult your science sense.
Marion Zimmer Bradley gave me strength to keep giving my best effort in the dojo.
Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale is prescient, the movie is excellent, and I’m going to buy her latest book.
Octavia Butler was taken away from us too soon, she explored unequal relationships and the misuses of power.
I just saw the movie, ‘Brother From Another Planet’ which is just plain fun.

If you’re interested, you may want to check out

They also run an interesting blog.

Octavia Butler! *flails*

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