Feminism and science fiction

Feminism and science fiction

114 Book Reviews sity Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1989. the character is established, the actresses trace her develUS%29.95 cloth, $9.95 pa...

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sity Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1989. the character is established, the actresses trace her develUS%29.95 cloth, $9.95 paper. opment through the play, showing why she does what she does. It seems logical that science fiction would not have an Sometimes the actresses’ choices differ. For example, important role in achieving the goals of the feminist Chapter 2 reveals Paola Dionisotti and Juliet Stevenson movement. After all, men dominate the genre. Men as two variations of Isabella. They agree on the basics of most often create, publish, and read science fiction. The the text: Isabella is manipulated and betrayed by a succharacters, predominately men, act within imaginary cession of men. Unlike the men around her whose power worlds that often contain the same patriarchal system as lies in legal institutions, wealth, and class, Isabella finds our own society. Science fiction rarely presents strong, power in her integrity and in her sensual nature. Paola’s independent female characters, nor does it deal with Isabella was troubled and confused, partly because her lines were heavily cut. Even worse, the director wanted a women’s issues. The themes, values, and ambitions of the genre are those commonly associated with men rathhappy ending when Paola couldn’t find it in the text. er than women- the privileging of science and technoloJuliet Stevenson’s Isabella was less cerebral, more vivagy, the conquest of new worlds and people, and the cious. In contrast to Paola, she chose not to wear the traditional nun’s habit throughout the play. Intelligent pioneering of open space and nature. Moreover, many women of the 198Os, both Paola and Juliet are aware of readers question the ability of science fiction to effecinstitutionalized authority’s power to coerce women into tively comment on any serious issues-including femichoices against their interests. It is not surprising then nism -in the real world because it creates unfamiliar that both actresses see the play’s comedic conclusionsocieties that seem separate and distinct from our own. the Duke’s proposal of marriage and Isabella’s ensuing So, could anyone be so bold as to claim that the genre silence-as problematic. holds enormous potential for contemporary feminist Harriet Walter’s reflections on Helena reveal the kind writers? Regardless of the evidence against her, Sarah of tension created when the director and actor disagree Lefanu is just that bold. In Feminism and Science Fiction, Lefanu asserts that on the role. According to Harriet, director Bevor Nunn feminists could use science fiction to explore the familiar saw the heroine as a redeemer, “a woman whose faith (the problems here on 20th century planet Earth) and integrity would save Bertram [the hero] from his through the unfamiliar (fantasy societies that explore callowness” (p. 88). Harriet believed the choices Helena new gender relations or ridicule systems of gender inmade- to follow Bertram, to marry him, and to have equality). When the norms of our society are thus deintercourse with him without his knowledge-comprofamiliarized by replicating them in an alien world, it mised her. Harriet speaks, “I couldn’t make redemption out of the messiness” (p. 88). becomes easier for readers to reasonably access these Besides its reinterpretations of six Shakespearean traditions. The distance between reality and fantasy makes the process of self-analysis less threatening than heroines, Clamorous Voices offers a candid look at how actors approach their craft. Literary critics may be horwould a direct confrontation. Male science fiction writrified that the actresses discuss these characters as real ers have been utilizing this technique for years. The works of such authors as Robert Henlien (Stranger in a people. They must remember that while the question, Strange Land) and Frank Herbert (the Dune series) show “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” may strike a that addressing the common through the uncommon traditional male critic as absurd, Sinead &sack needed can be effective. Lefanu feels that the feminist writer can an answer to portray the role. That does not mean these do the same. To assert her feminist views, the author can actresses disregard Shakespeare’s text, for the need to relate her new world to our own in such a way to highstick to the words is a leitmotif throughout Clamorow light desirable or undesirable contemporary gender relaVoices. As Juliet Stevenson observes, “the language tells tions. you who the character is moment by moment, word by It is also Lefanu’s contention that science fiction ofword” (p. 43). fers a level of stylistic and structural freedom which can Clamorous Voices is feminist not just in the perspecbe found in no other genre. Fiction structures, forms, tive it provides on acting; it is feminist in method and and characterizations can more freely be utilized, igstructure. The book is presented as a cooperative enternored, or inverted in science fiction because a traditional prise by a group of women who support each other, style is not as firmly entrenched in this genre as it is in learn from each other, and care for each other. Carol others. Science fiction readers expect, in fact, demand, Rutter’s commentary is like the shuttle for an ornate the new and the unexpected. The feminist writer, theretapestry: she steadily keeps the threads of discussion moving, weaving the colors of each voice in and out fore, can create whatever world she wishes; the conuntil a delicate pattern is formed. Thus Clamorous Voic- straints of realism or publisher demands need not hinder the free flow of imagination. Lefanu discusses contemes has value for us, both teachers and students, for more porary women science fiction and fantasy writers such than its ideas; it is a wonderful example of what feminist scholarship ought to be. as James Tiptree Jr., Ursula K. Le Guin, Suzy McKee VIRO~NIA MASONVAUG~L~N Charnas, and Joanna Russ to provide positive and negative examples of how the genre can be liberating as well CLARKUNIVERSITY, MA USA as open to feminist goals. Lefanu carves out a space for the modern feminist writer by placing her within the tradition of past women science fiction/gothic writers-Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Perkins Gilman-and by asserting the possibilities of her future by revealing contemporary FEMINISM AND SCIENCE FICXON, by Sarah Lefanu, 231 achievements of women in the field. Her discussion of pages. The Women’s Press, London and Indiana Univer-

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science fiction’s old and new modes of representing women, speaking a “women’s voice,” and including women’s themes in the first half of her book is very helpful and reveals a precedence for the work she suggests. However, this section can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with the writers she discusses. The second (and strongest) section of the book explores in depth four contemporary science fiction writers. their works, and the relationship between their feminist attitudes and their art. Here I find her discussion most entertaining, enlightening, and engaging. Beware! Her enthusiasm is contagious. Though they may seem strange to “die-hard” science fiction fans, the ideas presented in Femithm and Science ZWion are indeed logical and well founded. Science fiction has always asked the question “what if?“. Now, as Lefanu suggests, the question can be successfully applied to such feminist concerns as the future of gender equality, labor roles, child rearing, human sexuality, male/female relationships, and female/female relationships. In creating a feminist science fiction, the writer is truly free to explore these women’s issues, as well as the future of humankind. This book is an encouragement to women readers and writers (science fittion and otherwise) and a gentle warning to the men scribbling hurriedly in their ivory spaceships-prepare to be boarded! AMYHUDOCK TEE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA COLUMBU, S.C.. USA




WORLD,by C. Margaret Hall. Hemisphere Publishing Corporation. Basingstoke and Bristol, 1989. Are we living in a time of rapid social change when everything is up for grabs? One of the basic assertions of C. Margaret Hall’s book is that in the West we have moved from a traditional society based on patriarchal religious values to a modern secular society where gender values are in flux. Women are now in a position to step back, look at the value systems and identities available to them (value systems being at the core of women’s identity), and to choose which they want. The modem, secular value syustem, being more expansive and allowing women greater autonomy for themselves, is the one they are obviously going to choose if they know about it. Women and Zdenfity is an attempt to let women know they have this choice. Hall’s main concern is with individual women changing their individual selves, and then moving outwards to change “our immediate circle, then to society itself” (p. 36). Each chapter Bnishes with either a list of choices that women can make in their lives, or a set of generalizations about value changes which are taking place and propositions for readers to ponder in order to accomplish change. Women, argues Hall, can move away from their self-sacrificing, subordinated roles and restricted social positions through a reappraisal of their values. They will then, in cooperation with others, be able to achieve mobility, fulfiient, and equality with men. Values not only shape identity, they also shape social structures-change our values and our social structures will change.


Hall’s basic assumptions, however, are presented as givens, with no recognition that others may not share them. We am, for instance, just supposed to accept the idea that we live in a modem, secular, and more progressive, society. Similarly, the underlying assumption that a person’s values are in a direct, generating, relationship to their behaviour and to social structures is never supported. An irritating feature of the book is that in the contexts where she does present “evidence,” Hall constantly refers to “the accumulated data of world explorers and social scientists,” “drawing from clinical studies and cultural research,” and so on. We never know who these social scientists are so that we can read and judge their work for ourselves as them is no referencing. The only section of the book that does have a bibliography is the appendix in which she talks about her therapy-clinical sociology. This appears to be a list of the work of men. Other assertions seem to be based on the limited experience of white middle-class women. For instance, Hall contends that in our modern secular society women no longer have to spend their lives in the private sphere of their homes, dedicating themselves to their families, as in the past. This seems to ignore the experiences of, for example, Black women in the USA, who often lived in the private sphere of other people’s homes in quite a different position from white women. True, Hail sometimes acknowledges that ethnic and social class identities of women differ. However, nearly every time she does this she follows it with the assertion that in essence they are the same. She thus never traces through any implications those differences might have. Whilst Hall constantly mentions the need for women to support each other and to work together, she never recogniaes that women of different races and classes may have competing perceptions and priorities. Everything is thus discussed at such a general level that it becomes almost meaningless. Women come out as a clump of beings who, in our modem society, alI have the same opportunities for renegotiating their values and identity as each other. “In modem industrialized countries, such as the United States, increasing numbers of women have sufficient time and energy for self reflection. Even lower class women in the United States have time and energy for themselves” (p. 2). It is the assumption that all women are “programmed” in the same narrow way and have a single identity that leads Hall to believe that she is writing for and about all women. The biggest problem with this book is that, in the end, C. Margaret Hall is writing for white middle-class women: ‘When women choose to move beyond the restrictive roles, their reference groups-college, graduate school, or professional associations-become broader in scope, and their sense of belonging moves from domestic areas to historical and universal contexts” (p. 62). In fact. when it comes down to it guess who’s at the forefront of the new value system in the U.S.A.-“ New norms are being forged by the middle-classes in the United States” (p. 40), “More women reach out to each other in supportive ways, particularly within the middIe-class.” (p. 49). If you are white and middle-class and want some support in reassessing your identity then you might get something out of this book. If you are not, you will not really find your concerns addressed here. I would suggest C. Margaret Hall put aside her clinical sociology books and pick up, for a start, a few written by Black American feminists. She