At The Baffler, Laurie Penny asks why the macho Right is so afraid of feminist visions of the future, as imagined in sci-fi works by authors such as Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin. Their fear, she suggests, revolves around the image of a world with men no longer at its center. Here’s an excerpt:
A great deal of post-apocalyptic fiction written by women imagines society in a way that is so radically different from the patriarchal literary imagination that it would read as science fiction even without the nuclear fallout. The alt-right cannot imagine a world in which the rights of men and those of women are not opposite and antithetical, in which gains for women must by definition entail losses for men. The alt-right could really do with reading some Octavia Butler, although I’m not sure their delicate sensibilities could cope with the alien sex scenes in Dawn.
One reason it seems easier for women, queers, and people of color to come up with nuanced and diverse futures is that, in many ways, the future is where we’ve always already lived. Women’s liberation today is an artifact of technology as well as culture: contraceptive and medical technology mean that, for the first time in the history of the species, women are able to control their reproductive destiny, to decide when and if they want children, and to take as much control of their sexual experience as society will allow. (Society has been slow to allow it: this is not the sort of progress futurists get excited about.) It has been noted that many of the soi-disant “disruptive” products being marketed as game changers by Silicon Valley startup kids are things that women thought of years ago. Food substitutes like Soylent and Huel are pushed as the future of nutrition whilst women have been consuming exactly the same stuff for years as weight-loss shakes and meal replacements. People were using metal implants to prevent pregnancy and artificial hormones to adjust their gendered appearance decades before “body hackers” started jamming magnets in their fingertips and calling themselves cyborgs.
But what precisely is it about stories by women and people of color, stories in which civilization is built and rebuilt by humans of all shapes and flavor working together, that throws water on the exposed wires of masculine pride? It’s all about how humans cope when their core beliefs are threatened. As Frantz Fanon wrote, “When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” Core beliefs are the ur-myths essential to the way we understand our lives, our identities, our place in the world. For example: “It is right and natural for men to hold most of the offices of power in society.” For example: “Male violence plays a vital role in society, and you can adapt to it, but you can’t resist it.” For example: “Feminism has gone too far.”
For all the alt-right’s vaulted claims to base their reasoning on scientific opinion—most of it hand-wavy, cod-evolutionary psychology filtered through the unreality engine of mass media headline wrangling—they tend to react very badly when presented with evidence against their ideology. As I write, all the evidence suggests that in just under three weeks, a woman will become President of the United States, despite the best efforts of a man who is the very personification of a wilting erection in a suit, leaking drivel everywhere in his failure to grab America by the pussy. Have Trump’s armies of online followers accepted that perhaps a woman in power might not mean the end of society as they know it? Have they hell. For those to whom even the all-female Ghostbusters film was an existential threat, the concept of a female president is enough to fry vital circuits somewhere in the groaning motherboard of neoconservative culture.
Image via The Baffler.