Silence. A common trope that jerks out from all the feminist dystopias that we so avidly consume. The ability to so swiftly banish freedom of speech from another person is a frightening concept that is aptly embedded into the dystopian genre. Reading about women being silenced is not an unfamiliar premise, which is why the sub-genre of feminist dystopia is so popular. It is not merely a figmented reality, but instead a commentary on our society as a whole.
A novel that stands above the others is undoubtedly Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The novel pushes radical far-right extremism to a new level, as fertile women are forced to act as meek religious concubines devoid of the right to even speak freely. Since Atwood’s novel hit the shelves in the 80s, the dystopian genre has paved way for more feminist narratives that see the female voice being diminished by the patriarchy.
Christina Dalcher’s Vox (2019) takes silencing to a new, more literal level as we see a world in which women are restricted to just one hundred words per day, with an excruciating round of electricity coursing through them from a metal bracelet if they exceed the limit. Even young girls are subjected to this form of torture that a new totalitarian regime has enforced upon them. The narrative relies heavily on our protagonist Jean’s inner thoughts, who, as a formerly successful scientist is briefly excused from the restraints of the bracelet to help the government. Jean’s fiery and witty subconscious is at the helm of this novel, leading to action-packed sequences that make this book impossible to put down.
Joyce Carol Oates mingles time travel with female oppression in her book Hazards of Time Travel (2018), as a young woman named Adriane sees herself transported to late 1950s Wisconsin after questioning her repressive government. We see Adriane navigate an unfamiliar world that is in the midst of battling prejudices including the civil rights movement and women’s rights. Her unfamiliarity with the situation gives a fresh perspective on issues that still remain relevant today, making this novel a unique read.
Another thought-provoking dystopia that deals with oppressed female voices is Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure (2019), a coming-of-age story that centres around three girls living on an island to protect themselves from a deadly spreading poison and dangerous men. Dynamics between the sisters are tested as the distasteful power of toxic masculinity swamps this novel.
Ultimately, feminist dystopias provide a large landscape for writers, and the oppression of women is not only a thought-provoking topic but also one which lends engaging stories for us all to get our heads stuck into.
By Niamh Hall.