The production of dystopian fiction has rapidly expanded over the past twenty years, with young adult dystopian trilogies, such as The Hunger Games, gaining popularity amongst teenagers. The popularity of this genre has led to a resurrection of feminist dystopias, which portray a nightmarish version of society ruled by outdated gender roles, challenging our current political structures.
If you are looking to read something with jarring relevance to our own political situation, these novels represent a chilling image of womanhood in society that could be lurking around the corner.
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Dystopian fiction cannot be discussed without mentioning The Handmaid’s Tale, the revolutionary novel considered to be one of the most influential feminist dystopian texts ever produced.
Describing a world ruled by The Republic of Gilead, Atwood’s totalitarian, religious regime takes place following an ecological disaster, causing issues of unexplained infertility. Women are excluded from citizenship and are restricted to the role of child-bearers, housekeepers and wives.
Written during the Reagan era, Atwood used real life events as inspiration for her dystopian world, responding to the growing social conservatism which formed as a backlash to the 1970’s feminist movement.
The novel has taken on new significance following the popular Hulu television adaptation, now being directly linked the threat to women’s reproductive rights imposed following the election of Donald Trump.
Instead of reading about fictional monsters this Halloween, pick up Atwood’s novel for a chilling, Black-Mirror-esque depiction of our society.
Vox, Christina Dalcher
Depicting a world in which women are restricted to only speaking 100 words a day by the government, protagonist Jean McClellan fights to reclaim her voice and the voice of her daughter, who is gradually becoming indoctrinated into the new regime.
In a particularly dark turn, women lose their jobs, have their bank accounts frozen and are fitted with bracelets that deliver electric shocks if they speak over their allotted 100 words.
Heavily influenced by the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidental election, Dalcher silences women’s objections to their inequality by literally taking away her characters’ voices.
This disempowerment is a shocking portrayal of the lack of rights given to women in society, with her dystopia having increasing relevance in our own political climate.
Future Home of the Living God, Louise Erdich
Set in the near future, Erdich creates a world where pregnant women are forcibly captured and examined in birthing centres. This occurs following mass climate change, where women begin giving birth to animal-like creatures.
The narrative tracks Cedar Hawk Songmaker as she tries to find her birth mother and evade the authorities who begin to hunt her down when she discovers that her fetus is seemingly ‘normal’.
Written in response to threats upon women’s reproductive rights, Erdich is drawing attention to the dystopian-like aspects of our own society, emphasising the chilling direction society could be heading towards.
Erdich herself, like Cedar Hawk Songmaker, belongs to the Ojibwe tribe and the book has been related to the lived reality of many Native American women who have historically suffered forced sterilisation and the removal of their children by the American government, further signalling the horrific treatment of women across the globe.
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler
Butler’s increasingly prescient novel portrays an environment ravaged by economic inequality in 2024, where women are merely another resource to be exploited.
Lauren Oya Olamina, the novel’s hyper-empathic protagonist, forms a group of resisters and creates her own belief system, Earthseed. After racial attacks occur she travels North with other survivors to establish a new society following the principles of Earthseed.
This story is merely one example of Butler’s prolific dystopian collection, being noted as a cautionary tale, both reflecting her own fears for the future and drawing the reader into the often prophetic world she has created.