Science Fiction, Fantasy & Utopia
	... www.feministsf.org ... est. 1994

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Whys & Wherefores

by Laura Quilter, Site Founder & Editor

Why have I chosen to put together this website? Because I fell in love with feminist sf around 1990 after I read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time (and a few others). (Picked up from a college bookstore from a reading list for a course I wasn't taking.) I looked around for a long time, trying to find other authors writing the same sorts of things. Eventually I began reading some of the wonderful things written about feminist utopias, science fiction and fantasy. To this day I am still discovering the wealth of worlds that women (and woman-friendly men) have created. I hope that this page will be a resource for other readers -- those who read purely for pleasure and those who study in this area.

Science fiction has been traditionally perceived as a male domain: male writers, male readers, male characters. While there have been many wonderful women writers in science fiction and fantasy, nonetheless few would deny that the genre has certainly been one of the great literary bastions of sexism. However, sf/f offers unparalleled opportunities for feminists to explore societal configurations other than the patriarchal societies we all know and love (!). "Only sf and fantasy literature can show us women in entirely new or strange surroundings. It can explore what we might become if and when the present restrictions on our lives vanish, or show us new problems and restrictions that might arise. It can show us the remarkable woman as normal where past literature shows her as the exception."1 Sarah Lefanu sees feminist sf as sf in which "the stock conventions of science fiction time travel, alternate worlds, entropy, relativism, the search for a unified field theory can be used metaphorically and metonymically as powerful ways of exploring the construction of 'woman.'" 2 For more complete discussions of feminism and speculative fiction, I have included a bibliography of literary criticism.

"Feminist science fiction" is not an easily defined term. It has been used to refer to everything from utopias (eutopias and dystopias), to hard science fiction, to fantasy, to magic realism; from only fiction with a definite political agenda, to any fiction which merely includes a female character.

These pages will include works that may be controversial, both to people that consider themselves feminist and to others. Frankly, feminism is a very big tent. We don't all get along. We definitely don't always agree with one another. This website, then, includes works that fall along a large "feminist" sliding scale, as well as works that are of particular interest to feminists, but which virtually nobody would describe as feminist.

Definitions of feminism, then, such as they are, are established by me, with broad but not infinite latitude. In brief, for this website, I am operating with a definition that runs something like this: Do you believe that humans should be regarded as equal with one another, regardless of gender / sex? Then I think you're a feminist.

Works might fall within "feminist" categories even if no character is feminist. They might be fairly described as "feminist" even if the author abjures the term. They might fairly be described as "feminist" even if they might also fairly be described as "sexist." Why so complicated? Because feminism is a big tent. [See above.] Because we don't all agree. Because our ideas of sexism, sexuality, gender, feminism, are evolving. Because people in different times and different cultures have different standards. Because writers' perspectives are not necessarily the same thing as their characters' perspectives.

How does "feminism," then, translate into literature? Works that examine gender issues, works that advocate for equality, works that portray women as strong, capable, or in unusual roles -- all of these might qualify as feminist. And some critique on feminist grounds might be made of almost any work, no matter how apparently feminist. If a work somehow helps us to see around and through our gender stereotypes, I would (probably) call it feminist.

We do not have an absolute truth about the nature of human beings. And so we do not have an absolute truth about feminism. Feminism is all about challenging notions of gender that are not based on truth. Since most of our ideas of gender are based on our upbringing, our religion, our society, our generation, our parent's ideas, what we see on TV, what we see in the movies, how our last partner treated us, the current patriarchal power structure -- we should challenge all of our ideas.

The fem-sffu site was started by an individual. It is being shaped by those who have wanted to shape it. One person -- me, Laura Quilter -- maintains the site, and is responsible for the content on the site. Questions or comments or criticism of the inclusion or exclusion of works on the site should be addressed to me. When I'm not sure what to do, or if something is challenged on political grounds [instead of, for instance, because I got the title wrong], then I turn to a self-selected group of volunteers who have expressed interest in contributing, and/or have actually contributed to the site. Discussion follows, consensus is attempted, voting is done if no consensus is reached.

Are you a feminist? Are you a fan of science fiction or fantasy literature? Do you want to envision a better future? Or think about the ways in which gender affects our societies and our natures? Then you'll enjoy some of the works discussed in this site. If you really enjoy them, you might want to volunteer some time and join the collective, to help make this material more accessible for everyone.

Needless to say, this is non-profit!

-- Laura Quilter, developed ~ 1995, revised 2003-02-18.

1. Pamela Sargent, "Women and Science Fiction", in Women of Wonder, p. lx. Italics in the original. 2. Sarah Lefanu, Feminism and Science Fiction (1989).


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These pages are edited and maintained at http://www.feministsf.org/ by Laura Quilter.
updated 06/13/07 :: developed ~ 1995