Academic journal article Outskirts: feminisms along the edge

Eco/feminism and History in Fantasy Writing by Women

Academic journal article Outskirts: feminisms along the edge

Eco/feminism and History in Fantasy Writing by Women

Article excerpt

Introduction

A childhood pastime I've not yet outgrown is reading Fantasy and Science Fiction. These days, however, my interest especially in Fantasy is not unconnected with scholarship, both History and Feminist Studies. In this essay I reflect on ways in which women's Fantasy has been inspired by feminist ideas, with particular emphasis on 'spiritual ecofeminism' and feminist history. I approach this as a world gender historian and historian of feminism, rather than a Science Fiction/Fantasy critic. As such, this essay is alert to dis/continuities and junctures in recent Fantasy that explicitly deals with history and appears to be influenced by ecofeminism. To illustrate such influences, I draw upon selective examples from some leading American Fantasy and Science Fiction authors--Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Sheri Tepper and the like--while also referring to some Australian fantasists popular since the 1990s. Of particular interest to me is Sara Douglass, who was formerly an academic historian, especially her Axis Trilogy (1995-96) and its sequel, The Wayfarer Redemption trilogy (1997 to 1999).

My discussion of women's Fantasy, feminism and history is divided into two parts, the first concerned with the various ways in which women's Fantasy has often featured feminist themes. In the second section of Part One, I expand upon one common critique, involving a radical feminist equation of Woman with 'Nature' and life-affirmation that we would now associate also with 'spiritual ecofeminism'. The very wide-ranging ecological feminist critique is focused on the destructive effects of settled, intensive ('plough') agriculture, and then industry or capitalism, as well as colonialism. A familiar theme is the rampant (masculinist) exploitation and steady destruction ('rape') of the natural and animal world, a central argument being that ecological exploitation and destruction has been intimately tied to patriarchal modes of social organization. As Karen Warren has noted, ecofeminists agree that 'there are important connections between the domination of women (and other human subordinates) and the domination of nature', but beyond that there is extensive debate about 'what the nature of these alleged connections is and which, if any, are accurate descriptions of the nature and root sources of the twin dominations' (Warren 1996: x). Spiritual ecofeminism, which is closely associated with the U.S.-led Goddess Spirituality Movement, focuses particularly on 'goddess spirituality' as an historical alternative to patriarchal religions, that was more beneficent and (like 'Woman') more in tune with Nature. Merlin Stone, Starhawk, Carol P. Christ and Charlene Spretnak are some of the authors associated with this style of thinking. (1)

Part Two is concerned with Fantasy and feminist history. The suggestion that the boundaries between Fantasy and History (fiction and fact) are not as stable as empiricist historians would have it, is not particularly startling in these 'postmodern' days of epistemological doubt. But, here I begin by addressing the issue of Fantasy and realism, specifically the question of whether historical and other fantasists necessarily contest realism, as analysts of feminist SF/F have claimed; or, rather, partly rely on a sense of historical realism to ground their political critiques. Apart from the careful reconstruction of familiar historical worlds, when fantasists cast women in unexpectedly powerful roles it is not necessarily pure invention.

Spiritual ecofeminist themes in Fantasy and the issue of historical realism in the genre are intimately connected with a historical metanarrative I discuss in the second section of Part Two, which can readily be found in women's Fantasy. There is still a clear connection between some women's Fantasy today and feminist history influenced by radical feminism, which was built on a narrative of historical regression for women rather than the grand narrative of progress for humanity/Man' typically found in conventional histories. …

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