World Without Men
July 2, 2019 8:43 AM   Subscribe

 
This is so fascinating to me, thank you Sapagan! I would also mention Woman World a set of gently funny comics that explores a post-apocalypse without men.

It would be interesting to compare these various woman-written stories with Y: The Last Man, a graphic novel series with a similar premise but written by a man.

Also the novella by Sheldon/Tiptree "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?"
posted by emjaybee at 9:05 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


This is fascinating. Thank you for posting this.
posted by kanata at 9:09 AM on July 2


Ah, dreamers.

Matilda Joslyn Gage was a radical suffragette whose views on religion alienated her from the larger movement. She did speak at length about feminism and a utopian ideal with her son-in-law, L. Frank Baum, who then wrote books about a place he named Oz.
posted by kinnakeet at 9:09 AM on July 2 [15 favorites]


Great list of titles to look into further.

Any opinions on "The Power" (2016, Alderman)? The author of this piece recommends the book highly and I do find myself bringing it up with others.. I passed my copy along and encouraged its circulation.. But not much opportunity to discuss so far.

I thought this was a great variation on an idea but not well executed. Anyone with thoughts on "The Power"?
posted by elkevelvet at 9:32 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Something I'd love to see more discussion of is the treatment of trans men and women in feminist utopian writing, particularly in/around the 1970s. Before that period, the existence of trans people usually isn't addressed as a possibility, but then for a while there, it's dealt with in a variety of ways that don't square with our modern understanding of what trans people are - generally, the genital configuration you are born with is presented as what defines your gender, regardless of other factors. It can make it hard to recommend those books without a bunch of caveats.

Two examples I'm familiar with (using the gendered terms that were used in the stories):

-The abovementioned Houston, Houston, Do You Read?, in which the "all-female" society has a handful of woman who have been genetically engineered to resemble men because of the need for their physical strength (but they still have vaginas). They are still referred to as and treated as women by everyone in that society.
-The Female Man, briefly mentioned in the article, in which one of several alternate realities is set up with total separation between male and female societies - the women produce all the children, but give the boys to the men at a young age. The male society includes a subclass of men who are dressed in feminine clothing and trained into sexual servitude. It's implied that many but not all of these people are gay, though the ruling classes who have sex with them don't consider themselves to be gay. Again, nobody refers to these people as transgender.

The Power is a good example of a modern exploration of these themes that includes our modern understanding of trans people. I think Y, The Last Man does also, though I haven't read it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:48 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


@showbiz_liz, I don't recall a particularly nuanced exploration of those themes from "Y: The Last Man" but I will look again, it has been a while. I loved the experience of reading that comic at the time but over time I'm prone to recalling the criticisms my gf (at the time) had and they ring more true.. It was a fun read but ultimately quite limited.
posted by elkevelvet at 10:06 AM on July 2


The abovementioned Houston, Houston, Do You Read?, in which the "all-female" society has a handful of woman who have been genetically engineered to resemble men because of the need for their physical strength (but they still have vaginas). They are still referred to as and treated as women by everyone in that society.

Being strong and "resembling a man" does not one whit make you less a woman, as any number of women including trans ones can tell you. I do not know why you would bring this up in the context of the story "requiring a caveat".
posted by tavella at 10:11 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


Anyone with thoughts on "The Power"?

in my recollection The Power sort of gives glancing lip service to ideas about gender being a spectrum and gender identities not being the same as genitalia, but those questions are not centered in a book about women (under some definition that is also not explored? again to my recollection) developing genetic powers that make them capable of physically dominating and hurting men. which is, actually, pretty weird.

happy (and embarrassed) to be corrected on that, but I only remember one minor teenage character and the framing device character wondering about gender binaries at all.

**spoiler**

It also does the sort of facile thing where it's like, and you know what would happen next? women would immediately become just as brutal and horrible as men! which, like, yes, power binaries are not good. but I think part of the reason it doesn't land for me is because it's paired with a powerful-woman-stripped-of-her-power-and-yet-immediately-forgives character arc that is enraging because it is simply unearned in the character-development sense. at least for me. which...that is one of those arcs that you really have to nail, or everything else is off.

anyway. the overall sense is "it's basically hopeless," and it goes very directly to a "women in power would lead directly to the apocalypse" place, but it's also very readable. (which, with my attention span, is a pretty high bar.)

So, kinda like The Devil Wears Prada, I really liked it up until like the last 20% or whatever it was.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:16 AM on July 2 [4 favorites]


Back in the early fifties I, a young man, read a sci fi novel about an event which split the world in two: one with all women and one with all the men. The women did fine, the men, not so much. No idea what the name of the novel was and would love to hear if anyone recognizes it. I was in high school and believe that it was my introduction to sexual politics and had a profound influence on the way I thought about women.
posted by charlesminus at 11:28 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


... her son-in-law, L. Frank Baum, who then wrote books about a place he named Oz.

I didn't know that! That might help explain why Oz is so female-friendly. Women and girls are heroes as well as villains, including one trans girl avant la lettre. General Jinjur is, to be honest, a Bad Look, and Baum had some gross issues with racism, but there you are.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:49 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


charlesminus, is it Philip Wylie's The Disappearance that you remember?
posted by Quindar Beep at 11:52 AM on July 2


Sheri S. Tepper's The Gate to Women's Country is one of the best feminist-utopia/dystopia novels out there. It always fascinates me how the world in the novel is described as a dystopia when life is so very good for the women who don't have to shape their lives around male desire or approval. It's almost as if the idea of women not needing men in order to exist is the real dystopia for some, yet a world without women is ... pretty prevalent and unremarked-upon in fiction.

The novel is clear-eyed about the tradeoffs involved in the model of society set up, and some premises are extremely problematic now -- for example, homosexuality is handwaved away with "we fix that in the womb," which is an erasure that simplifies the gender examination at the expense of the full range of humanity. But the novel grapples with, and concludes, the same thing that Lyta Gold does in her piece: "A world where one gender dominates another, with no room for fluidity or free expression, is not a world we feminists would actually want."

But I have always marveled at how a novel about women deliberately building a world in which male aggression is identified as a civilization-threatening problem is a dystopia.
posted by sobell at 12:09 PM on July 2 [6 favorites]


Back in the early fifties I, a young man, read a sci fi novel about an event which split the world in two: one with all women and one with all the men. The women did fine, the men, not so much. No idea what the name of the novel was and would love to hear if anyone recognizes it.

That'd be _The Disappearance_ by Philip Wylie. My memory is that while they did vastly better in terms of social integrity, the women did struggle a bit with infrastructure. I remember the US women consulting with the Russians who had much more in the way of women engineers and miners and the like, but that was pretty realistic for 1951 when it was written. I was pretty young when I read it, but looking back I suspect Wylie was basing the social structure of an all-male world on prisons and the military, and didn't have much fondness for said.
posted by tavella at 12:40 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


-The Female Man, briefly mentioned in the article, in which one of several alternate realities is set up with total separation between male and female societies - the women produce all the children, but give the boys to the men at a young age. The male society includes a subclass of men who are dressed in feminine clothing and trained into sexual servitude. It's implied that many but not all of these people are gay, though the ruling classes who have sex with them don't consider themselves to be gay. Again, nobody refers to these people as transgender.

Russ later commented on this section and apologized for the easily accessible anti-trans reading of it. (Her health was very poor at the time and she was barely writing, so it's not an extensive comment.) IIRC, she said that she simply wasn't thinking about trans people at all in any way when she wrote that section. She wanted to illustrate that patriarchy would create a sex class to subordinate and abuse even in the absence of people who think of themselves as women - that patriarchy isn't about women somehow being intrinsically vulnerable but rather about the abuse seeking and creating a target, and that Woman-The-Abstraction as we understand it is produced by patriarchy rather than the lived experience of women.

But I have always marveled at how a novel about women deliberately building a world in which male aggression is identified as a civilization-threatening problem is a dystopia.

I find it pretty dystopian because the little boys are all sent away to rape/violence castles where they learn nothing but sports and fighting, on the theory that almost all men are like that anyway and sure perhaps our clever breeding program will eventually breed better ones but for now too bad. Le Guin's "The Matter of Seggri" takes this up and really draws out the horror in it.

I also find it dystopian because the women's society is extremely undemocratic and based on lies and coercion, again under the sign of "well it just has to be this way until our breeding program brings us better men"...but think of living life in that society as an average woman rather than one of the talented few. Think of the contempt with which the secret-holders speak of the women who aren't "good" by the standards of their society.

I do agree that Tepper does not see any of these things as negative, which is one of the problems I have with the book. My favorite of her novels is probably the Planet of Sentient Rocks one, although I also like Beauty.
posted by Frowner at 12:54 PM on July 2 [7 favorites]


in my recollection The Power sort of gives glancing lip service to ideas about gender being a spectrum and gender identities not being the same as genitalia, but those questions are not centered in a book about women (under some definition that is also not explored? again to my recollection) developing genetic powers that make them capable of physically dominating and hurting men. which is, actually, pretty weird.

My assumption on the women-get-brutal side was that the women in question were mostly those who had already been brutalized (well, and teenage girls who enjoyed having power for once).

It did really show up how problematic the x-gender-only-world concept is. If All Women Can Do X, what about nonbinary folks? If you got rid of all men, would that include transmen?

Speaking of the goddamn gender binary, I was surprised at no mention of The Left Hand of Darkness, in which Le Guin constructs a species of human that, 75% of the time, has no gender at all, just transforms into one gender or another once a month, like a period. Sexual discrimination can't and doesn't exist, at all.

But they also had folks who were born with a gender and stayed with it; they were not always treated well.
posted by emjaybee at 12:55 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


But I have always marveled at how a novel about women deliberately building a world in which male aggression is identified as a civilization-threatening problem is a dystopia.

It always felt a lot more complicated to me than that. Like, it is a dystopia. But it isn't a dystopia because of that conclusion. It is a dystopia because it reached the point where nobody could come up with a better solution than that and the situation could not continue without destroying everyone. The scary part of novels like this is that often I have to come to a similar point: I don't think this is the right way to solve it, but how else are you supposed to solve it other than letting us all get killed.

There's this cliff we're clearly hurtling towards where we will reach a point where there are no peaceful intellectual solutions to these problems. The solution isn't just "don't create this world", as it often seems to be in sci-fi about non-social-justice-related dystopias. The solution is that we need other solutions to all of the other problems, and we need them with increasing urgency. Ecological catastrophes in apocalyptic fiction often come out the same way: You can't just fantasize about how you'd create a more just future order than this, you need to do what you can to stop the problem before it gets there. And at the same time, how do you even do that when so many of the people with current power and privilege are so easily tempted by ideas that will benefit them and nobody else?

It does suffer, as a novel, for not addressing queer/trans issues, in a huge way. But, for something published in the 80s, it does still feel depressingly relevant.
posted by Sequence at 1:02 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Being strong and "resembling a man" does not one whit make you less a woman, as any number of women including trans ones can tell you. I do not know why you would bring this up in the context of the story "requiring a caveat".

I was giving the explanation which was given in the text for why the society included people who "appeared to be men" to the men who had been transported there from the past. That particular aspect of that story didn't sit right with a trans friend of mine which is why I brought it up.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:39 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


It does suffer, as a novel, for not addressing queer/trans issues, in a huge way. But, for something published in the 80s, it does still feel depressingly relevant.

It almost comes off like an editorial decision -- "I'll write a novel on whether or not gendered behavior is intractable at the level of DNA and thus I will remove a lot of nuance to get down to a very basic issue."

But as our understanding of gender and sexuality changes over time, that editorial decision -- if it were one -- is not defensible.

It would be interesting to see how the novel would be written now; one of the things I found mildly fascinating about Y: The Last Man was how FTM individuals were still alive after the extinction event and it would have been quite a story to get their perspective on what it was like to be perceived as male survivors in an all-female world. I'd love to see Women's Country revisited from a perspective that allowed for something beyond pure heterosexual assigned-at-birth dynamics.
posted by sobell at 5:42 PM on July 2 [2 favorites]


I no longer remember how Utopian the society in it was, but in my late teens I read a very, very bad novel where: *deep breath* in reaction to birth control lowering birth rates, evolution causes more women than men to be born, which causes fewer men to be born, which causes a higher proportion of women to be born in a positive feedback cycle until no men are born at all. *breath* I remember even as a teen screaming "Evolution doesn't work that way! Evolution doesn't work that way AT ALL!"

There's a reason James Nicoll calls biology the "red-headed stepchild of science fiction."
posted by happyroach at 8:34 PM on July 2


This is so fascinating to me, thank you Sapagan! I would also mention Woman World a set of gently funny comics that explores a post-apocalypse without men.

These comics are wonderful.
posted by zymil at 8:02 AM on July 3


I know a lot of people liked Y the Last Man, but I admit the idea of "a world of women, but we follow The Guy around" made me so unalterably weary that I opted out.
posted by tavella at 8:43 AM on July 3 [5 favorites]


I don't recall a particularly nuanced exploration of those themes from "Y: The Last Man" but I will look again

To each their own, clearly, but having read a number in this genre, I felt like Y: The Last Man is one of the most nuanced explorations of these themes. That's why I liked it so much (for the nuance).
posted by jb at 2:18 PM on July 4


That said, my absolute favourite of of the genre is The Maerlande Chronicles by Elisabeth Vonarburg - but that's for the lyricism and writing, rather than the exploration of gender per se.
posted by jb at 2:25 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


To anyone considering reading The Female Man: I recommend reading a plot summary (e.g. the Wikipedia one) first. Because there are different sections about slightly different alternative versions of Earth, and non-obvious transitions between them, and multiple characters with similar names. I found it all rather confusing and eventually looked for a plot summary when I was about 75% of the way through it, which helped quite a bit, albeit later than would have been ideal.
posted by nnethercote at 12:14 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Thanks to Quinder Beep and Tavella for identifying _The Disappearance_ I'm going to search it out and read it again. It's always interesting to reread books that I read as a youth and see how they ring now.
posted by charlesminus at 11:22 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


To anyone considering reading The Female Man: I recommend reading a plot summary (e.g. the Wikipedia one) first. Because there are different sections about slightly different alternative versions of Earth, and non-obvious transitions between them, and multiple characters with similar names. I found it all rather confusing and eventually looked for a plot summary when I was about 75% of the way through it, which helped quite a bit, albeit later than would have been ideal.

Yeah, The Female Man (and a lot of Joanna Russ's stuff) is heavy on the stream-of-consciousness tone poem vibes. Which I personally love, but it's definitely not for everyone.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:22 PM on July 7


« Older Under Her Eye   |   “Student debt is essentially illegitimate.” Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments