Whose Utopia?

by Mahin Hassibi

A clear consensus exists among women writers of varied ages, educational backgrounds and life circumstances in the anthology Feminist Philosophy and Science Fiction: Utopias and Dystopias, edited by Judith A. Little and released in 2007. They agree that not only societies as they are constituted now, but all Utopias envisioned by men do not change much about the fundamental expectations and the roles that are assigned to women.

Indeed, the gender role assignment becomes more simplified in these worlds, and the punishments for deviation become more brutal. In “Fears,”Pamela Sargent writes in 1984 that at a time when it becomes practical to choose the gender of our offspring, the majority will choose boys. In the 1976 story “Wives,” Lisa Tuttle thinks that in a future in which women have perished or been done away with, “wives” will remain highly desirable products. As a result, members of the conquered alien species are forced to play wives. Or there is the more unusual vision of Pat Murphy in a 1986 short story in which a man can order a seed from which “His Vegetable Wife,” as it is titled, then grows.

The Utopias envisioned by women reflect their pessimism about ever achieving fairness and equality with men, or being free of men’s expectation to be served, their desire to subjugate women and their desire to own the means of reproduction. The shadow and the threat of men are never totally eliminated. Joanna Russ’s Utopian planet, described more fully in her book The Female Man, is called “Whileaway” and has just been “discovered” or rather invaded by men after 600 years. The narrator makes sure that the men do not get a chance to explore the planet, however, she also knows that this is not the end of story. Her last thought is “take my life but do not take away the meaning of my life. FOR-A-WHILE.”

It seems that the expectation or the belief that technology will someday create such abundance that the “haves” will no longer need to fear the revolt of the “have-nots,” that the wars over resources will become legends of the distant past, or there will be enough leisure time for all to cultivate their talents or expand their minds, have all disappeared from visions of Utopia. Unfortunately, it has also become clear that a Utopian vision requiring men to relinquish their power over women is viewed as a nightmarish realization of “paradise lost” by them, and is no longer considered seriously by women.

February 3, 2009

Mahin Hassibi is a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry (Ret.) at New York Medical College.

Also see Revolution Lite by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


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