Whew, what a week we’ve had! Congress was unable to repeal and replace Obamacare, Trump blamed Democrats for this and called them “losers” (sounds like something my 6th grade cousin would say to insult someone), and then there was the nude Marine scandal. Instead of discussing something so obviously political, I’d like to address an interesting article from the Guardian that had subtler political tones to it. Normally, I avoid comments sections because of how political they can get, even if it’s just YouTube videos of people doing stupidly extreme stunts in their back yard. But this week, I read the comments section of the article “Dystopian Dreams: How Feminist Science Fiction Predicted the Future.”
I’ve seen a lot of hype about the new series The Handmaid’s Tale and was curious when a photo from the drama was put to that headline. Reading through the article was riveting. Journalist Naomi Alderman explored the genre of female science fiction authors and the implications of their stories. I love this quote from the article: “What makes Atwood’s novel so terrifying is that it’s all plausible. In fact, everything has happened somewhere before.” This was both a fascinating and horrifying concept, especially as a female (in this political climate) because as Alderman also stated “there’s no gain the women’s movement has made that can’t be taken away.” Hello! We hear about how old white men are trying to take away reproductive rights every day or say that rape is part of “God’s will” as much as pregnancy is—ugh. Alderman expertly explores dystopian and utopian fiction and then applies these stories to real life. She does not focus necessarily on what we learn from specific feminist sci-fi stories, instead, she explains that these works beg us to ask if we could do things differently.
Reading this story made me think about sci-fi as a genre and the fact that it challenges society as we know it. But with this newfound insight into feminist science fiction I found it fascinating about how these authors challenge our ability to change society. I was interested to see what commenters would say, naively thinking that there would be discussion on this concept. Instead I mostly found arguments on whether or not Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, was actually a feminist author and if her story was gendered. Some of my favorite comments include:
“yep… everything these days has to involve gender identity or questioning your sexual idenity.”
“Shelly wasn’t a feminist – being a female writer doesn’t make you a feminist writer”
“Nope. It’s about a monster with a sewn on head.”
“But there was a very significant event that lead to Shelley’s idea – the death of her baby, and in her grief she had a dream that she was able to bring her child back from the dead. This may not give the story a feminist subtext (which is not what the article says anyway), but there are themes that are pivotal to women’s experience, and only women (in the naturalistic world).
I agree that she was not a feminist writer, but she WAS Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, so she was not an average woman of her time.”
What?! Alderman wasn’t even addressing Shelley’s status as a science fiction author, that wasn’t the focus of the article. While some of the information in the comments were humorous and others informative, they didn’t really add to the meat of Alderman’s article itself. Where is the discussion about dystopias and utopias? Or where are the arguments about the application of science fiction to our current society? People, we need to get better at commenting on stories! One or two comments, or even one comment thread with a gazillion replies about Mary Shelley being a feminist author would have been enough. If I only read the comment section I’d think I was reading something about Shelley’s legacy as an author. I’m not saying that all the comments are bad or irrelevant, but we need more comments that actually address the content of articles.