THE DATE AND ROOM HAS CHANGED
Reading contemporary fiction returns with Dystopian Motherhood, introduced by Fran Bigman
2 May 2012, Keynes Library
In a 2007 article, Rachel Bowlby writes about how things have changed since the late 1970s or early 1980s, when “feminism was a strong force politically,” a 1960s-derived feminism in which “The emphasis was on the right for women not to have children – on pregnancy and motherhood as burdens, if not as the key to all female oppression… Motherhood, at this time, was really not much of an issue in feminist debate…other than negatively, as what not to do or to be.” Now, she argues, “where previously the new cultural focus was on the right not to have babies, it is now, and not only for women, much more on the right and the positive wish to be a parent…where before [that wish] might have been seen by many as a normative ideological imposition on women, now it is almost always presented as a natural desire, sometimes bordering on a right, and not only for women." This “right to be a parent” is invoked in debates about the accessibility of IVF for men and women who may not be able to afford the services of a private clinic and by post-menopausal women.
In this session, I’d like to look back to 1985 with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, about a world in which a right not to have babies is not recognized, and then at two recent novels, Sarah Hall’s 2007 Cumbrian dystopia The Carhullan Army, in which the right to have children is threatened by mandatory contraception—in a postdiluvian world of strictly limited resources, to have a baby, you must win the lottery, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 Never Let Me Go, which I argue uses Kathy’s lost opportunities to become a mother to symbolize arguably greater horrors like forced organ donation and premature death. Has there been a shift in dystopian literature (and literature more generally) from novels of the 1970s and 80s like The Handmaid’s Tale and the works of Marge Piercy and Joanna Russ to works more concerned with “the right and the positive wish to be a parent?” Readings to include Rachel Bowlby’s article Generations (Textual Practice 21(1), 2007, 1–16) and excerpts from The Carhullan Army and Never Let Me Go.
Excerpts downloadable here:
Carhullan Army (several excerpts)
Never Let Me Go
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