In most tales of alien infiltration, the extraterrestrial life force arrives heavily armed: death rays, mysterious pods, killer black ooze, and the like. In unsetting and surreal sci-fi film Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson arrives equipped only with a sexy female form, a winning damsel in distress routine, and a robotic desire to consume. Of course, she is a highly effective predator.
This is my last post on the Girls of Color in Dystopia guest blog series. I've read nearly 40 books just for this series and was disappointed (but, sadly, not surprised) to realize just how many of them have few to absolutely no girls of color in them.
For almost fifty years, the disempowered and the marginalized and the outcasts have held up Star Trek as a show that said, "This is what we can aspire to: a humanity that has evolved beyond inequality and oppression". The show presents a vision of Earth that has moved beyond racism and classism, beyond ableism and sexism and homophobia. As a life-long Trekkie, it is tempting to agree with this reputation. Me and Star Trek, hand in hand, running through fields of wildflowers on a soft-focus sunny day while I gaze upon them longingly. Oh Star Trek! So progressive! So feminist!
Star Trek: Into Darkness came out this weekend, and like any good Trekkie, I was eager to see the film. And although I came away from doing so feeling satisfied, there was one thing that stuck in my craw.
Recently, rumors rippled across the Internet that actor Matt Smith, who plays the eleventh Doctor on the long-running BBC series Doctor Who, would be leaving the show. Nothing has been confirmed, but when stories like this pop up on blogs, there's a flurry in the comments sections about what actor would be the best next Doctor in the beloved series. Rupert Grint, Benedict Cumberbatch, or Andrew Garfield? Meh. Idris Elba? Yes, please! Helen Mirren or Tilda Swinton? That would be incredible!
But while many Doctor Who fans agree that it's about time for a woman Doctor, some do not.
The last (and only) time I ever read George Orwell's 1984 was my senior year in high school. I haven't thought much about it since. Then my daughter brought home Lauren Oliver's Delirium from her middle school library and enthusiastically recommended that I read it. Delirium kicked off a very popular YA series—Fox just bought the rights to turn the trilogy into a TV pilot.
Delirium is like a 1984 for tween readers. But, reading it as a mother of color with a biracial daughter (and rereading it to examine how Oliver addresses issues of race and gender), I noticed that, like so many other YA books, the author creates a future society populated almost entirely by white people. Did Oliver intend to do that? Probably not, but that's one of the benefits of whiteness in the U.S.—one doesn't have to consciously think about race in their creations.
"I'm looking for a book for my 12-year-old daughter. She likes dystopic fiction," I said not too long ago to the clerk in a children's bookstore. As her eyes began to scan the wall of Teen Fiction, I added, "With people of color as the protagonists."
"I feel you," sympathized the clerk, who was also a woman of color.
I'd like to talk a bit about a feminist utopia written in 1905 called Sultana's Dream by Rokheya Sakhawat Hossain. This short story is set in a place called "Ladyland," where men are behind the purdah and women run the country much better than men ever did.
In this role-reversal fantasy, men are kept confined to the inner courtyards and kitchens, crime is eliminated (since dudes were the one who were creating all the trouble, obviously) and women are doing fantastically well, thank you for asking. Working in laboratories and flying planes, the women in Sultana's Dream are charming, reaching far higher than women in 1905 were deemed capable of—and then the dream ends. The story is jarring in many ways, especially when you realize the women feel so little about confining men, thinking of them as lesser beings. Hossain has the last laugh when learn this unease does what it is supposed to: make us question power inequalities in gender relations, and how little things have changed in the last century or so.
Here at the library, we're spending the summer reading feminist sci-fi. We'll be meeting in Portland to discuss Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy on June 21st. Then we'll be discussing Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler on August 16th. If you're in Portland, come to our book clubs! If you can't be here in person, perhaps you'll consider joining us from afar as we read some of the staples in feminist science fiction.
What are your feminist sci-fi picks? Let us know in the comments!