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Gender Identity In Feminist Science Fiction English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1888 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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By conducting this research I discovered to what extent the topic had been previously covered and what input I could put into the area without repeating others. I found that Carter and Russ have rarely, if at all, been studied solely alongside each other even though both their works have been identified as feminist science fiction. I therefore wish to explore how gender identity is dealt with in their works and the purpose of using the science fiction genre to do so.

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Baccolini makes the point that contemporary sci-fi texts written by women increasingly foreground the interaction of gender and genre. In particular, the questioning of generic conventions by feminist sci-fi writers appears to have contributed to the creation of a new genre, such as the critical dystopia or works of sci-fi that contain both utopian and dystopian elements with the aim of deconstructing tradition and reconstructing alternatives.

Hollinger draws similarities between feminist theory and queer theory in a bid to explore how the variable construction of gender identity is represented in science fiction by women writers. She states the importance of relating theory to fictions as they function to suggest information about each other and de-familiarise each other. She reaffirms that science fiction is a useful discourse within which theoretical concepts on the issues of gender and sexuality can be represented.

Cortiel discusses how Russs work transforms genre and plot conventions and disrupts the naturalised alignment of sex, gender, and sexuality. She critically interprets Russs earlier short fiction and how they relate to her later explicitly feminist works. Although Cortiels main focus is on the earlier short stories of Russ, she also makes interesting critiques on gender and sexuality in Russs novels, and to my particular interest – The Female Man.

3. In her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler argues that traditional feminism is wrong to look to a natural, essential notion of the female, or indeed of sex or gender. She questions the category woman: who does it include, and who decides who it includes? She also questions the terms masculine and feminine, determining that they are not biologically fixed but culturally presupposed. Butler also explores the concept of gender as a reiterated social performance rather than the expression of a prior reality.

4. In To Write like a Woman, Joanna Russ sets a standard of clear, intelligent, and relentless feminist criticism. This collection of her essays includes topics relevant to my research topic such as the aesthetic of science fiction and feminist utopian novels.

In her essay What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Women Cant Write, Russ discusses stories or myths whose genres employ plots that are not limited to one sex. She names science fiction as one such genre that generally involves a plot which explores a new world, human intelligence, and human adaptability. Such plots do not generally involve our culturally contrived gender roles and therefore allow writers to create fascinating characters that deal with current experiences and not inherited literary myths.

In the chapter Recent Feminist Utopias, examples from various texts, including The Female Man, are used to explore the features of feminist utopian fiction. A particularly interesting point is made as regards female puberty in feminist utopias, where Russ states that feminist utopias offer an alternative model of female puberty that allows the girl to move into a full and free adulthood.

5. While acknowledging the sophistication and pertinence of Butler’s theories on the performativity of gender identity, Trevennas article, entitled “Gender as Performance: Questioning the ‘Butlerification’ of Angela Carter’s Fiction”, argues that there are significant differences between Butler’s presentation of gender acquisition and that presented in Carter’s fiction.

Highlighting how dominant theoretical trends can often problematically displace other relevant approaches, this article suggests that Carter’s presentation of gender acquisition is more in accordance with that promoted by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex rather than the currently more fashionable theories of Judith Butler. It further suggests that Carters work also moves beyond the feminism of de Beauvoir and invites a more contemporary critical debate through its presentation of the pre-gendered subject as unstable and fragmented.

6. In the chapter Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness: Androgyny and the Feminist Utopia from Women and Utopia, Jewell Parker Rhodes discusses the purpose of androgyny in the works of feminist writers. Although Ursula Le Guin sees androgyny as a heuristic for determining essential humanity without lifelong cultural conditioning of gender roles, Parker Rhodes argues that that the androgyne is an archetype that claims a woman to be deficient and in need of maleness. I feel this is an interesting argument which can be further explored in the texts, especially in Russs character Joanna in The Female Man.

The majority of my research on feminist science fiction explores the questioning of dominant cultural definitions of difference and identity through the works of writers such as Octavia Butler, Vonda McIntyre, Suzy McKee Charnas, Pamela Sargent, and Margaret Atwood. For this project I propose to investigate the elements of feminist science fiction through Carter and Russ, in particular The Passion of New Eve and The Female Man. Although Russ is regularly discussed within the genre, her work doesnt seem to be studied alongside Carters. I plan to discuss comparisons and differences between how these two science fiction novels deal with gender identity. Furthermore, I wish to relate notions of gender by theorists such as Butler and de Beauvior to the approach of both writers to gender identity.

Section Three:


The introduction shall outline the aim of my study and include brief summaries of the chapters that follow.

Chapter 1:

The first chapter shall include different criticisms and theories on feminist science fiction and gender that I have found through my research. This section shall investigate what devices the science fiction genre has that attract feminist writers and particularly how they use utopian and dystopian elements to deconstruct tradition and reconstruct alternative societies. I will also include a range of examples from the works of feminist science fiction writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler.

Chapter 2:

This chapter will focus on the settings of the chosen works and examine how gender is treated by the different societies.

Chapter 3:

This chapter shall deal with how both Carter and Russ play with gender identities in the individual characters of their works. Here their views on the relationship between biological sex and gender identity can be compared to the gender theories of Butler and de Beauvoir.


The conclusion shall summarise the points made in the previous chapters and highlight any main conflicts or similarities I discover.

Section 4:

In conclusion, having researched my core bibliography, I plan to continue my research of gender identity in feminist science fiction with particular focus on secondary criticisms of The Passion of New Eve and The Female Man. Once I have done this I shall have a greater insight into the research and criticism that has already been done in the area and therefore be in a better position fine tune the points which I plan to make on this topic.

Revised Core Bibliography:

Barr, Marleen S.Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and Feminist Theory. New York: Greenwood, 1987. Print.

Barr, Marleen S.Future Females: A Critical Anthology. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular, 1981. Print.

Butler, Judith.Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.

Russ, Joanna.To Write like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. Print.

Trevenna, Joanne. “Gender as Performance: Questioning the ‘Butlerification’ of Angela Carter’s Fiction.”Journal of Gender Studies11.3 (2002): 267-76. Print.

Extended bibliography:

Annas, Pamela J. “New Worlds, New Words: Androgyny in Feminist Science Fiction.”Science Fiction Studies5.2 (1978): 143-56.JSTOR. Web. Apr. 2011.

Ayres, Susan. “The “Straight Mind” in Russ’s “The Female Man””Science Fiction Studies22.1 (1995): 22-34.JSTOR. Web. Apr. 2011.

Barr, Marleen S.Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and beyond. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1993. Print.

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. “The Feminist Apologues of Lessing, Piercy, and Russ.”Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies4.1 (1979): 1-8.JSTOR. Web. Apr. 2011.

Gamble, Sarah.Angela Carter: Writing from the Front Line.Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. Print.

Gardiner, Judith Kegan. “On Female Identity and Writing by Women.”Critical Inquiry8.2 (1981): 347-61.JSTOR. Web. Apr. 2011.

Kerchy, Anna.Body Texts in the Novels of Angela Carter: Writing from a Corporeagraphic Point of View. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2008. Print.

Martins, Susana S. “Revising the Future in “The Female Man””Science Fiction Studies32.3 (2005): 405-22.JSTOR. Web. Apr. 2011.

Merrick, Helen. “‘Fantastic Dialogues’: Critical Stories About Feminism and Science Fiction.”Speaking Science Fiction: Dialogue and Interpretation. By Andy Sawyer and David Seed. Liverpool: Liverpool U.P., 2000. 52-68. Print.

Parker Rhodes, Jewell. ” Androgyny and the Feminist Utopia.”Women and Utopia: Critical Interpretations. By Marleen S. Barr and Nicholas D. Smith. Lanham, MD: University of America, 1983. 108-20. Print.

Rubinson, Gregory J. “On the Beach of Elsewhere: Angela Carter’s Moral Pornography and the Critique of Gender Archetypes.”Women’s Studies29.6 (2000): 717-40.Informaworld. Web.

Russ, Joanna. “Women and SF: Three Letters.”Science Fiction Studies7.2 (1980): 232-36.JSTOR. SF-TH Inc. Web. Apr. 2011. .

Russo, Mary J.The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess, and Modernity. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print.

Sage, Lorna.Flesh and the Mirror: Essays on the Art of Angela Carter. London: Virago, 1995. Print.

Spencer, Kathleen L. “Rescuing the Female Child: The Fiction of Joanna Russ.”Science Fiction Studies17.2 (1990): 167-87.JSTOR. Web. Apr. 2011.

Wyatt, Jean. “The Violence of Gendering: Castration Images in Angela Carters The Magic Toyshop, The Passion of New Eve and Peter and The Wolf..”Angela Carter: [contemporary Critical Essays]. By Alison Easton. Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. 58-84. Print.

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