Science Fiction, LMC3214: Lecture on Feminist SF and Readings by Zoline, Russ, and Tiptree, Jr.

For today’s class, my students came prepared to discuss three readings: Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” (New Worlds, July 1967), Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed” (Again, Dangerous Visions, 1972), and James Tiptree, Jr’s “The Women Men Don’t See” (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec 1973).

Before discussion, I treated the class to a lecture on terminology (sex, gender, sexuality, sexism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and feminism), a short history lesson on Feminism (bringing it full circle with Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792 and covering First, Second, and Third Waves of Feminism), and a history of Feminist SF (building on our earlier readings by female writers, Dr. Lisa Yaszek’s rediscovery of “women’s SF,” and the New Wave/Second Wave/Feminist SF boom).  We also discussed some of the major figures, including Margaret Cavendish, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Joanna Russ, Pamela Sargent, Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, Pamela Zoline, and James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice B. Sheldon). Learn more about Feminist SF on the Encyclopedia of SF entry here and in Ritch Calvin’s Feminist SF 101 article in SFRA Review #294 here.

Following lecture, my students engaged in another energized debate on the readings that brought up a lot of issues that I could only gloss over in the lecture. I was fortunate to have some students offer personal experiences with their families and others who played devil’s advocate. I believe that our discussion facilitated a much deeper exploration of the stories and the issues surrounding them.

Tomorrow, we will begin our viewing of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). I consider this an example of feminist SF film, because unlike most SF film, it revolves around a strong female hero character who charts her own path based on the challenges of her future, corporatized society. However, it was made possible by the earlier work of feminist SF in the 1960s and 1970s. It also accomplishes interesting things with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), because she is the strong hero who rediscovers her lost motherhood by destroying the mother of the xenomorphs–the Alien Queen. We will watch this through Thursday’s class, discuss it, and review for the second exam (taking place next during Monday’s class).

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.