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.