Feminist Utopian Novels of the 1970s: Joanna Russ & Dorothy Bryant

Feminist Utopian Novels of the 1970s: Joanna Russ & Dorothy Bryant

Feminist Utopian Novels of the 1970s: Joanna Russ & Dorothy Bryant

Feminist Utopian Novels of the 1970s: Joanna Russ & Dorothy Bryant

Synopsis

This work presents an exploration of the reinvented utopia that provided second-wave feminists of the 1970s with a conceptual space to articulate the politics of change. Tatiana Teslenko argues that utopian fiction of this decade offered a means of validating the personal as the political, and of criticizing the patriarchical social order. In her examination of two novels of the 70s - Dorothy Bryant's The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You and Joanna Russ's The Female Man - Teslenko provides a comprehensive account of the generic strategy of feminist utopian fiction. Feminist utopias, according to Teslenko, describe a better time/place for women while working with the linguistic and generic tools of patriarchy. These fictions attempt to transgress social codes, to refigure patriarchal tropes, and to explode genre-setting rules through the use of fragmentation, ambiguity, multiplicity and openness. This book demonstrates feminists' attempts through fiction to envision a new political order. Teslenko takes a thorough look at a reworked 'good place that is no place' that elaborates a site of gendered opposition.

Excerpt

This book identifies a need for a utopian genre that can provide the feminist community with a conceptual space to articulate the politics of change, to validate the personal as political, and to express feminists’ self-defense in their retaliating symbolic violence against patriarchy. Feminist utopias of the 1970s expose patriarchal social order and offer such a new conceptual space: they envision a different time/place that allows for ideological change. It is quite a challenge to portray a vision of the future that can generate change in the present. First, feminist utopias must avoid fixing the act of social dreaming by creating blueprints of utopian worlds because doing so removes the transformative potential of the imagined future. Second, feminist utopias must describe a better world for women while working with the very tools of patriarchy in the form of language. Consequently, they need to disrupt the genre-setting “rules” of mainstream utopia through the use of ambiguity, multiplicity, and openness.

I approach this genre as a feminist researcher, an East-European woman raised in a traditionally patriarchal ethnic community that was going through a deconstruction of its own: the dismantling of patriarchy in favor of communist “democracy” with its tacit sexism and false promises of equal opportunities for men and women. In Soviet society (1917-1991), gender stereotypes were cast in stone, sexism was tacit, and women’s roles as mothers and educators were openly celebrated. Heterosexual monogamy was the norm, and attempts to re-envision established gender roles could be regarded as non-conformity to the Moral Code of the Builders of Communism, and, therefore, would constitute an ideological crime. Western psychoanalysis was severely criticized as dangerous and misleading “bourgeois” theorizing. Due to the limitations on translation and dissemination of books in the Soviet Union in the years of the Cold War, I was only able to read American feminist utopias in 1994. When I first read them, I could not identify with the female positioning described in them because the socio-political situation in the Soviet Union of the 1970s was quite different. The writings of Soviet women of the time undermined the inflated optimism of socialism but did not attempt to re-invent the existing construction of gender roles. It took me several years of living and studying in North America to understand the bitter revelations of the female positioning disclosed in the American feminist utopias of the 1970s.

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