Academic journal article Text Matters

Marginalization of 'The Other": Gender Discrimination in Dystopian Visions by Feminist Science Fiction Authors

Academic journal article Text Matters

Marginalization of 'The Other": Gender Discrimination in Dystopian Visions by Feminist Science Fiction Authors

Article excerpt

Sex-based discrimination is the most widespread form of social oppression, since the criterion of gender is readily applied in delineating social division lines. According to feminists, this has led to the establishment of the patriarchal system, defined as a political institution "whereby the half of the populace which is female is controlled by that half which is male" (Millett 34). Such a dichotomization is a direct result of the dualistic thinking of the phallocentric society, in which the core of the system of thought and of the society as a whole is embedded in oppositional binarism. A relationship which remains in a binary opposition inherently entails a strong contrast and a superiority relationship. Inevitably, thus, "the other" is ascribed an inferior rank, along with features opposite to those exhibited by the superior norm. The male and the female in the patriarchyshaped consciousness are representative of such a relationship, in which the woman is "the other," who frequently assumes marginalized status.

This marginality is closely associated with a strong sense of difference resulting from the decidedly androcentric perception of gender. Significantly, femininity can even be defined in terms of a marginalized social position. Following Julia Kristeva, Toril Moi describes femininity as "that which is marginalized by the patriarchal symbolic order" (248). Thus, it seems undeniable that gender is one of the main determinants of marginality (Lee 33), and that women are the most frequent victims of marginalization. This fact manifests itself primarily in exclusion from social and economic life, denial of freedoms and lack of equality. Invariably, patriarchy is the instrument of social control, which ensures that this state of affairs persists, as it "[keeps] women out or on the edges of its economy and institutions" (Heath qtd. in Barr 70).

The marginalized status of women has been one of the main preoccupations of all the waves of feminism, the first two in particular. While feminist philosophy addresses the problem from a socio-political perspective, feminist science fiction attempts to approach it from a literary angle. A marginal genre in itself, feminist speculative fiction discusses the same issues that concern feminist theorists, yet it presents and dramatizes them in the form of thought experiments. The negative aspects of patriarchy, including the marginalization of women, are typically exposed by means of dystopian visions. Masculinist dystopias feature worlds of male dominance, where discrimination and sexism are carried to the extreme. These are usually set in invented worlds, planets, moons and lands, the exact spatial and temporal location of which remains unknown. Despite this or, paradoxically, due to this intentional cognitive estrangement, the problems dramatized in such novels are recognizable for a contemporary reader. Indeed, many critics perceive strong parallels with the contemporary world, which can hardly be dismissed as unintended. Even though certain issues are exaggerated, their relevance to current issues is indisputable.

Thus, defamiliarization and the introduction of fantastic elements do not detract from the social significance of feminist science fiction and they certainly do not lessen their impact on its target audience. Still, many authors opt for more straightforward ways of social indictment than merely criticism by implication. They rely on realist techniques to convey the message about the deficiencies of our world and its social organization, in particular the continued inequality of women. Consequently, instead of otherworldly locations and extraterrestrial races, the reader is presented with a more or less traditionally realist, or even naturalist, depiction of twentieth-century America-contemporary to the authors at the time of writing. This allows the writers to illustrate truthfully, without the guise of science fictional tropes, the actual gender inequality that they wish to disclose as prevalent and harmful. …

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