Feminist sf

Feminist sf refers largely to women science fiction writers known primarily for fiction which address feminist concerns directly, such as Joanna Russ and Suzett Haden Elgin, or male writers which address similar concerns (often from a ‘queer’ perspective) like Samuel R Delany, and also writers of ‘literary sf’ such as Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood.


Charlotte Perkins Gilman‘s Herland (1915).

The Female Man (1stEd)The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ









Swastika Night BurdekinKatharine Burdekin’s Swastika Night (1937) is, in many ways, a forerunner to George Orwell‘s is Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Margaret Atwood‘s  The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009).






Feminist sf & Linguistics

Native TongueSuzette Haden Elgin wrote a trilogy of feminist sf novels beginning with Native Tongue (1984) and continuing with  The Judas Rose (1987) and Earthsong (1993).

A Clockwork AppleBelinda Webb’s A Clockwork Apple (2008) is, as the title suggests, a novel in dialogue with Anthony BurgessA Clockwork Orange (1962) and has its own, feminist inflected, argot.

Sf Criticism

Just as important as feminist sf itself is feminist sf criticism.

Talking about technology is asking the wrong questions. An example comes to mind for which I cannot find the reference, but no doubt readers can recall examples of their own. Some years ago I read a technophilic book in which the author speculated delightedly about how many sex organs human beings might acquire via surgery. The writer was, of course (and I mean that “of course”) male. He was even “daring enough (his own word) to propose that men be given female organs and women male organs. The male friend of mine who had recommended the book (another technophile) thought this an excellent idea; in this way men and women would understand one another better, he said. Now to believe that the misunderstandings which occur between men and women occur because men’s penises and women’s clitorises are shaped differently or because fucking feels different for each sex is the grossest kind of mystification. It is certainly clear to me (and any other feminist) that men’s and women’s misunderstandings of one another, far from being due to the differences in their sexual organs or their experiences in sexual intercourse per se are carefully cultivated in the service of sex-caste positions in a very nasty hierarchy, and that one cannot dissolve the hierarchy by giving people double the triple sexual equipment, even if we could get over the anatomical problem of where to place the extra goodies. Tinkering with the genitalia when the social structure is the problem is like the common science-fictional device of “solving” the quality of life by giving people immortality (e.g. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love and I Will Fear No Evil, Blish’s Cities in Flight series, Anderson’s Tau Zero, or Niven’s Ring World). Another one is the New World Or I-mucked-this-one-up-so- give-me-another approach (e.g. Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles or Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky).

– Joanna Russ (1978)

  • Atwood, Margaret (1985) The Handmaid’s Tale
    • (2003) Oryx and Crake
    • (2009)  The Year of the Flood
    • (2011) Other Words
  • Brigg, Peter (1986) ”Review of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Attwood” in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction #36, Summer 1986
  • Burdekin, Katharine (1937) Swastika Night
  • Burgess, Anthony (1962) A Clockwork Orange
  • Angela Carter (1969) Heroes and Villains
  • Elgin, Suzette Haden (1984) Native Tongue
    • (1987) Judas Rose
    • (1993) Earthsong
  • Lefanu, Sarah (date) In the Chinks of the World Machine: Feminism & Science Fiction
  • Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (1915) Herland
  • Le Guin Ursula (1969) The Left Hand of Darkness
  • (1972) The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
  • (1976) The Word for World is Forest
  • () Always Coming Home
  • McKay, George (1994) ”Metapropaganda: Self-Reading Dystopian Fiction: Burdekin’s Swastika Night and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in Science Fiction studies #64, Volume 21, Part 3, November 1994
  • Orwell, George (1949) Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Russ, Joanna ”When it Changed”
  • Webb, Belinda (2008) A Clockwork Apple
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alien 3
  • Alien Resurrection
  • Avatar
  • Barbarella
  • A Boy and His Dog
  • The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Soylent Green
  • Star Maidens
  • Terminator
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  • Terminator 3
  • The Worm that Turned (The Two Ronnies)
  1. Nom says:

    Hey, dunno if you ll read that, but if you re interested in female sf writers you should definitely add James Tiptree Jr. – one of the greatest SF writers [at least in her short stories) of all time. Have fun!

  2. Yes, I agree: Sheldon definitely deserves a place here.

    As you can probably guess this is really a placeholder for when I write a proper essay on feminist sf: I’m currently writing a series of blog posts about the Women’s Press Science Fiction series that were published in the Eighties and I’ve been linking them to this: I’ll be linking back to those blog posts from here too.

    That series didn’t publish any Tiptree novels so she’ll be finding a home branching off from here . A very important figure who raises interesting issues about publishing as a man.

    I’ll probably also discuss the tendency of female writers to write under ambiguous names (e.g. Leigh Brackett) or initials (C.L Moore) and whether this helped their sales in the days sf was almost entirely read by teenage boys.

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