Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Political History of the Future: Woman World by Aminder Dhaliwal at Lawyers, Guns & Money

My last PHotF column for 2018 discusses Aminder Dhaliwal delightful webcomic Woman World, recently collected in a single volume.  It's a gently humorous post-apocalyptic story about a world where men have died out, and about as different from the likes of Y: The Last Man as that starting position will let you get.  The comic is sweet, irreverent, and most of all, dedicated to letting its characters be people, and live their lives without the undertone of tragedy that we might have expected.

This is also an opportunity for me to take a broader look at how SF handles gender, and specifically, the idea that gender roles and even our definition of gender might change.  When you think about it for just a moment, that's a very obvious component of worldbuilding--we don't look at gender the same way that people from only a few decades ago did, so why should people centuries in the future, who live in galaxy-spanning, space-faring societies, have gender roles that so closely resemble ours?  And yet it's rare for SF to approach this topic head-on, as I discuss in this essay.
Perhaps more than any other topic, gender challenges writers of science fiction to expand their viewpoint and imagine different ways of ordering society. The adage that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism applies even more strongly to prevailing gender norms. Many early science fiction writers found themselves, either intentionally or thoughtlessly, replicating the gender roles of their moment even as they invented technologies that would overhaul their societies. Asimov's robot stories, for example, are steeped in 1950s middle class gender roles that even he must have known were not a universal constant. This despite the fact that most of the robots introduced to these settings are intended for household labor (and, for some reason, coded male).
It's an incredibly broad topic, and even in an extra-long essay, I can only touch on the handful of issues it raises very briefly.  If you have more ideas, please raise them in the comments.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"Many early science fiction writers found themselves, either intentionally or thoughtlessly, replicating the gender roles of their moment even as they invented technologies that would overhaul their societies."

And, indeed, many modern science fiction writers fall into the same trap, reproducing the gender dynamics of our society, which is that equality exists on paper but if you do a head count on who ends up taking all the most important jobs it ends up being mostly men and create worlds which are, according to the lore, equal but where almost the entire, e.g. officer core or political class in the show or book is comprised of men, especially the background cast and extras and thus, if we take their claims about the post-sexism nature of their societies at face value, unintentionally sending the message that women cannot succeed in those roles on their own merits, presumably the opposite of what they were going for.

Science fiction has tended to be bad at imagining worlds where the day to day lives of characters differ significantly from their time, even as they imagine technology thousands of years ahead of us, gender seems to particularly suffer from that blinds-spot, for obvious reasons.

- Tim Ward

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