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Utopian Effects, Dystopian Pleasures


Peter Fitting

Edited By Brian Greenspan

This collection brings together for the first time Peter Fitting’s writings about the utopian impulse as expressed in science fiction, fantasy, cinema, architecture, and cultural theory. These wide-ranging essays trace the constant reconsideration of the utopian project itself over the past four decades, from its mid-twentieth century period of decline to its revival in counter-cultural science fiction of the 1960s and ‘70s, its second decline with the «dystopian turn» in film, and the rise of feminist pessimism in the 1980s.

These pages reveal what popular utopian, dystopian, and science-fiction narratives tell us about today’s most pressing political issues, including gender equity, education reform, technological change, capitalist excess, state-sanctioned violence, and the challenges of effecting lasting political change. Through analyses of various popular genres and media, the author demonstrates how utopian visions written from particular political perspectives transcend narrowly partisan concerns to stoke our collective desire for another world and a more adequate human future, teaching us how to become the citizens and subjects that a utopian society demands.

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CHAPTER 10: The Turn from Utopia in Recent Feminist Fiction


I’m the type of person that puts women on a pedestal. But in my opinion, which I base on the Bible, I believe God’s perspective is that women should not be in certain occupations. I’m not saying she’s going to hell because she chose to be an umpire. She has free will, just as you and I do. If God is unhappy with her, some day she will have to talk to God about it.

– Houston Astro pitcher Bob Knepper, on the possibility of Pam Postemabecoming the first female umpire in major-league baseball,Toronto Globe &: Mail, 16 March, 1988

This paper was prompted by a letter to a Toronto newspaper complaining about the pessimism of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Not only did that letter sum up my own first reactions to the novel, but it has led me to think about recent feminist science fiction and what appears to be a retreat from the utopianism of the 1970s.1 The four works I have chosen to discuss as indicative of this retreat are: Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985); Suzette Haden Elgin’s Native Tongue (1984); Zoe Fairbairns’s Benefits (1979); and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home (1985).

Like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Sally Gearhart’s 1978 utopian novel, The Wanderground, portrayed a backlash against the growing strength of women and gays. But in Gearhart’s book, the backlash prompted “the revolt of the Earth herself”: outside the city men suddenly became impotent, while...

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