“Everything was beauty, order, cleanliness” is the opening line quoted from Herland, American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s science fiction novel, in the Radio 4 documentary of the same name. Herland chronicles three male explorers in a utopian all-female community of confident and self-sufficient women. Despite writing in 1915, Perkins Gilman envisaged a revolutionary world and used her novel to argue for women’s full participation in society.
In this programme, science fiction writer Geoff Ryman and his guests question why authors of utopian fiction have failed to imagine worlds in which the concept of ‘gender’ is subverted, considering that science fiction throughout the 20th century has undermined a range of other societal expectations. Ryman’s story No Point Talking could hopefully set a new precedent, stopping science fiction from falling into the trap of automatically projecting our pre-established and distinct gender norms onto imagined utopian societies. Science fiction is described as “a space for moral speculation” by writer Laurie Penny, who highlights how important it is to acknowledge that a utopia that does not defer to patriarchal norms is not necessarily a feminist utopia; equality in society should be the baseline, not the end goal.
Image: Lucas Theis