Tuesday, April 8, 2014

One of the first (feminist) Utopian stories, "The Book of the City of Ladies"

In The Book of the City of Ladies, Christine de Pisan imagines she is transported into another world, a world in which women have rights they never had before. Given the year she penned her story was 1405, some of her ideas of freedom are limited, but they were a step in a much bigger direction.
Pisan starts her story by recalling male-penned stories and articles, all with one thing in common: their negative view of women. As the criticism and outright derision happens so often, Pisan shares her confusion. Surely, all of the men with their view on women couldn’t be wrong, especially since men of 1405 were allowed higher education and women were not, therefore they were considered to be smarter. A large collection of intelligent men could not be wrong, Pisan believed. It is only later when Pisan meets the three Ladies (Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude, Lady Justice)  that she rationalizes their views as wrong, citing details as to why men believe women to be inherently stupid and immoral (men are jealous, men are blind). One of the Lady’s puts things into perspective for Pisan through use of comparison. Men believe Eve, the first woman, was evil and she poisoned the whole of women for every generation to come. If men believe women to be inherently evil, why is it they also believe education will corrupt women? How can women be corrupted further if they are born corrupt? Lady Reason sums it up for Pisan, “Here  you can clearly see that not all opinions of men are based on reason and that these men are wrong” (para. 2).
Other parts of Pisan’s story tell of inventions and advantages by women, and other causes of misogyny.

While Pisan’s allegories strive to understand equality for women, there is still a patronizing tone to them throughout, almost an echo of the patriarchy still holding Pisan (and all women) back. She spoke of equality and education for women, but at the same time, the tone of her writing suggested she could never imagine a woman not being defined as a “lady” and a man not be defined as a “gentleman”. In Pisan’s equal world, woman probably would be educated but under male-supervision, and she could probably not have imagined women carrying out roles men traditionally held, such as going to war, being doctors, lawyers, and scientists. Again, in 1405, women had very little rights, and it is arguable that Pisan’s story was realistic in its outlook. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Women Can Be Strong, Peaceful, and Violent in Sally Gearheart's "The Wanderground"

Through a series of short stories, Gearheart tells the stories of the Hill Women. The Hill Women live in serene world, communing with nature at every turn. Their world seems to have reached the apex of peaceful living, until the reader learns why the women live in the forests: they are forced to. Men have taken over the cities, and control every facet of a woman’s life. The women that rebelled fled the cities and learned to live among the trees and animals. In doing so, they developed psychic abilities, like “speaking” with animals, astral projection, and telepathy to name a few.

While the comparisons between the Hill Women and Gilman’s Herlanders are strong, Gearheart brings realism to the Hill Women by depicting them in the throes of irrational, or even violent fits of anger. One thing which seems to be reiterated in feminist utopian fiction novels is the lack of physical violence in women, but Gearheart is not afraid to admit her peaceful characters are still human, and within their range of human emotions, anger can be counted among them. Russ and Tepper bring similar elements to their female characters in The Female Man and The Shore of Women. In both novels, the female characters are part of war-less societies, but they are still capable of individual acts of violence.

Gearheart, Sally. The Wanderground: Stories of Hill Women. New York: Alyson Books, 1978. Print.

Picture linked from:

Friday, February 14, 2014

Feminism and Utopian Theory are Nearly Intangible (According to Frances Bartkowski)

Feminist Utopias
by Frances Bartkowski
Image linked from:
In so many utopian analytic texts, the tone is one of a jaded scholar, one who relies heavily in Suvin’s famous science fiction description of “cognitive estrangement”. Estrangement is surely at the heart of utopian texts, and yet, Frances Bartkowski takes Suvin’s description and pairs it with a more optimistic view, an echo of Karen Horney’s tone in Feminist Psychology.
Bartkowski’s definition of utopia is taken from William Morris’s News from Nowhere, as she believes “utopia is anywhere but here and now. It is alternatively the good place (eutopos) and no place (outopos) […] which could also be anywhere” (4). Her view of utopia is unique, but succinct.

As the text is named Feminist Utopias, Bartkowski delves into feminism: “Feminism has done much to bring together the theoretical differences and similarities of the struggles among classes and between sexes” (13). She is leading the reader to her conclusion, her conclusion being that utopian and feminist theory have deeper ties than most people realize, as utopian theory strives to better the human condition overall, much like feminism.
Bartkowski goes further in her comparison, stating utopian theory and feminist theory to be nearly inseparable, if not identical. What she is really saying is feminist theory is the ideal (the utopian ideal) as it encompasses many utopian elements and more in its definition. Of non-feminist utopians, Bartkowski summarizes the women in the stories, and how the creators of the utopias merely “made a place for women only to mask oppression while imagining patriarchal utopias” (14). Several science fiction and utopian writers are mentioned throughout the text, like Suvin, Russ, Butler, Bloch, Bellamy, and more. The chapters are made up of two feminist utopian works Bartkowski contrasts, comparisons, and analyzes. She includes novels such as The Female Man, Woman on the Edge of Time, and Herland.

Bartkowski, Frances. Feminist Utopias. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. Print.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Twinja Book Reviews!

Fighting to bring Multiculturalism to YA, Fantasy and Science Fiction novels
Ever notice how novels often leave out the multicultural side of life (particularly those in the fantasy and sf genre)? The gals at Twinja Book Reviews have noticed as well. The twin sisters have a site dedicated to featuring books with multicultural characters. I'm proud to say Cursed was reviewed by Twinja earlier this year.

Check out the book giveaway for Cursed featured on the Twinja Review website. There are 18 days left to enter and win either a paperback or e-copy. 

On 12/12/13, I'll be featured on the Twinja site with a Q&A!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What's in a Name? A Summary of LeGuin's short, "She Unnames Them"

In this powerful short story by LeGuin, the lead character is never named, but it is inferred that it is Eve, as in Adam and Eve of the Garden. Eve narrates the story, telling of how she convinced the animals that names are unimportant. One by one, the animals agree to let go of their names, though the Yaks have trouble with this concept. The female Yaks hold a council, deciding to let their names go, and after awhile, the male Yaks agree.
Pets, specifically dogs and parrots, take great issue in letting go of their names. As pets are closer to man than wild animals, it is understandable that they would have a harder time in letting go of their identifiers. Yet, Eve makes the pets understand that they can hold onto their capitalized names, like Froo Froo, if only they let go of their generic monikers, like dog or parrot, and so the pets too shed their names.
Among each other, nameless and free, Eve feels a closeness with the animals of the garden that she has never felt before: “They seemed far closer than when their names had stood between myself and them like a clear barrier: so close that my fear of them and their fear of me became one same fear.” The giving back of names (“loss of names” would hold the wrong connotation) by the animals makes them equal to Eve, but she realizes that she is the last being in the garden with a name, and it is not fair of her to hold on to her name when she asked all the animals to give theirs back.
Eve goes to Adam to tell him that she is giving back the name bestowed by “you and your father […] It's been really useful, but it doesn't exactly seem to fit very well lately. But thanks very much! It's really been very useful." Though Eve’s actions are revelatory, Adam does not care. He is described as working on something, putting parts together, and overall he is only half-listening to what Eve is telling him. The reader (and Eve) know that Adam does not understand the import of what she has done by forgoing her name when he asks the stereotypical patriarchal question: “When’s dinner?”
Names can have power, and that power can be a divisive one, or at least that is what LeGuin insinuates with her short story. The binary names humans give to gender (man, woman), the names humans give to animals, or to objects, those are ways that humans seek to control what is around them, not to give meaning, but to separate themselves from nature, to say “I am better than you. I have control over you, and with that control, I will name you and distance you from me”. Eve, like other women in sf stories, does the opposite by placing herself in nature and making herself an equal part of nature. Again, the motif of a loss of identity is explored in this story, and again the author clearly states that one can be an individual while at the same time surrendering themselves to the communal way of living. It is an idea that humans struggle with, because humans only know individuality in the form that it has been handed to us for generations: it comes with separation from others, in the form of gender, class, or racial individual names and personalities.

With Adam’s response, and his lack of interest, LeGuin is stating that men may not be ready to be a part of nature. To be equal with women, and then to be equal with nature, is something men may not conceive of just yet.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This Time Next Year...

I'm happy to announce the publisher Champagne Book Group has finalized the contract for Daughter of Zeus, and it will be out in July of 2014. 

Until then, I will shower you with more academic book reviews and articles. I know, the truly fun stuff in life!

Possible back blurb:

The future can be a terrifying prospect, especially when Ada Freyr discovers she can manipulate electricity. Her newly acquired abilities result in the death of her husband. Ada is numb with shock, and terrified of being discovered by the Prominent-run State. Anyone deemed different is deemed an Undiligent, never to be seen again. She is desperate to find the source of her power, believing her estranged father to be the cause.
After her mother is killed by Prominents, she leaves her hometown in Colorado to begin a trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Ada learns new things about her powers along the way, like that she can manipulate anything with electrical impulses, including humans. Her mother's boyfriend, Kressick Lyman, insists on going with her, keeping his own agenda well hidden.

Once in Atlanta, Ada finds her father, Brontes Corentin, is very different from the alcoholic she met as a child: he’s a House Representative with a new family and a new name, ready to ascend to a Senator’s seat. His family has no knowledge of his dark history.

Ada pretends to like Corentin in order to get close to him, because her ultimate plan, the real reason she came to Atlanta, is to kill her father.

            Ada’s revenge scheme lands her on the Undiligent list, leads a stranger to stalk her every move, and stunts her relationship as a sister to her new siblings. Soon, she has to decide which is more important, an old vendetta or forgiving the man she blames for ruining her life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Noah Bertlatsky: The (Short) History of Feminist Utopian Literature

"Nancy Porter"
Source: Wikimedia Commons
“Imagine there’s no gender: the long history of feminist utopian literature” is an article in The Atlantic highlighting the history of feminine utopian literature. However, writer Noah Bertlatsky does not delve far enough into said history. Based on Bertlatsky’s subtitle: "From Wonder Woman to Shulamith Firestone to Joanna Russ, visions of societies run by women or absent of gender altogether have existed for almost a century”, it’s obvious he either has decided to ignore earlier examples of feminine utopian literature, or he is unaware it exists.
The beginning of the article focuses on feminist writer Shulamith Firestone, and her views expressed in her text The Dialectic of Sex. Bertlatsky quotes Firestone as having said in 1970, “There is no feminine utopian literature in existence”. He believes the claim to be exaggerated, especially given the fact of several publications he cites, like The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), Herland (1915), and graphic novels like Wonder Woman (1941- ).
In Bertlatsky’s view, the most distinct part of Firestone’s philosophy is her description of feminism, which has roots in utopian theory: “[as radical feminists, we] are talking about changing a fundamental biological condition." Inequality, according to Firestone, is begot foremost by gender differences, and can be overcome when gender differences are gone (a notion shared by many a feminist, whether they be man or woman). Without gender to get in the way, Firestone imagined utopias in which technology would eliminate the need for work and even the need for live childbirth (an idea found in several utopian/dystopian novels, like Woman on the Edge of Time, The Shore of Women, and Brave New World).
Overall, it was refreshing to see an article on feminist utopian theory in the popular media, because it is not seen often. However, I feel like Bertlatsky deprived his readers by limiting his scope of feminist utopian history to a mere hundred years. He also displayed his male outlook on feminist utopian literature by including the Wonder Woman graphic novels. The world of graphic novels is notorious (much like science fiction) for being a good ol’ boys club, so to include any graphic novel (especially Wonder Woman, a graphic novel objectifying women on a grand scale) speaks volumes.
It saddens me that this article was written this past year, illustrating just how much further the world needs to progress to attain gender equality, which, consequentially, in the words of Marlene Barr, would bring an end to feminism.

Bertlatsky, Noah. “Imagine there’s no gender: the long history of feminist utopian literature”. The Atlantic. The Atlantic Mag., 15 April 2013. Web. 20 May 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/04/imagine-theres-no-gender-the-long-history-of-feminist-utopian-literature/274993/