Women’s Utopic and Dystopic Visions
In Demand the Impossible, Tom Moylan writes, “Utopian writing is, at heart, rooted in the unfulfilled needs and wants of specific classes, groups, and individuals in their unique historical contexts.” Women have long been creating utopic and dystopic visions in literature, history, and politics, sharing their own unfulfilled desires through dreams of better worlds or nightmares of oppressive societies. Texts such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland and Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower present alternative realities that simultaneously critique the author’s present time and place.
This panel seeks to address the following types of questions: How do women’s utopian and dystopian works reveal their thoughts and experiences about their historical moment? What critiques of culture, religion, government, education, gender norms, etc. emerge? How do women’s cultural, racial, socioeconomic, sexual, educational, etc. backgrounds influence their creation of these utopias and dystopias? What do they depict in this alternative world, and how does it speak back to their own realities?
The 2021 theme of NEMLA, "Tradition and Innovation: Changing Worlds Through the Humanities," invites us to explore existing and imagined worlds. Utopia is a prime genre for these considerations, and examining utopias created by women can help us to understand their perceptions and critiques of their current circumstances as well as their dreams of revised futures. As Carol Farley Kessler writes in Daring to Dream, “utopias usually index--however obliquely--the wrongs, the lacks, and the needs experienced or recognized by authors of the past, then by reading these utopias we obtain a sense of history-as-experienced that statistics or political documents cannot provide. From these utopias we can learn what the wrongs have been. Knowing them, we can seek change.” This panel seeks to explore women’s utopian and dystopian visions in literature, art, politics, and more, and we invite papers from a broad range of mediums, genres, and time periods.
NEMLA will be held from March 11-14, 2021, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.