Backlash to the Future: Anti-Utopianism in Contemporary Feminist Science Fiction

A35 Trent Building
Tuesday 5th December 2023 (15:00-16:00)

The Contemporary Literary Studies Network are delighted to present Amy Bouwer (University of Nottingham) to present a talk entitled ‘Backlash to the Future: Anti-Utopianism in Contemporary Feminist SF’ on 5th  December, 15.00, in Trent A35.

In the wake of #MeToo, feminist visions of a united, transnational front against sexual harassment and rape culture are growing increasingly hazy. High-profile domestic abuse cases such as those against Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson have reinvigorated backlash narratives and deepened the rifts not only between gendered activist groups but also within the feminist movement itself. Doubts about due process, overreach, and false accusations fuel anti-feminist sentiment that women have ‘gone too far’ – that feminists are ‘dangerous extremists’ with a ‘zeal to destroy men’ (Hillstrom 2018: 5).

This narrative has, significantly, found new expression in feminist speculative fiction. Where gynocracies and single-sex societies once operated to cognitively estrange readers from their patriarchal realities, recent works eschew utopianism altogether. In this paper, Amy investigates a distinctly anti-utopian trend in contemporary speculative feminism, drawing on Talulah Riley’s The Quickening (2022) and Christina Dalcher’s Femlandia (2021) as core examples of ‘backlash’ texts. Amy’s analysis hinges on Lucy Sargisson’s definition of utopia as engendering a desire for ‘radically different “nows”’ (1996: 52); rather than prompting ‘paradigm shifts’ (Whitford 1991: 20) or educating desire (Levitas 1990: 8), Dalcher and Riley misrepresent feminist utopia as a misandrist blueprint. Despite invoking the literary traditions of feminist eutopias (Herland) and dystopias (The Handmaid’s Tale), Femlandia and The Quickening advocate for a retreat from radicalism. After tracing the paradoxical use of feminist utopian allusions to promote an anti-utopian stance, Amy will discuss how these novels – and feminist dystopias more generally – provide critical insight into an increasingly fractured political movement.

All welcome, no sign-up required.

School of English

Trent Building
The University of Nottingham
University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD

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