Imagine a boot, stamping on a woman’s face – for ever

The title of this piece is an adaptation of a famous line from George Orwell’s novel 1984, but it’s another science fiction classic I’ve been thinking about this week.

Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, published in 1976, is about a woman called Connie, who is (due to the multiple oppressions of being a woman, Latina, poor, and a victim of male abuse) confined to a mental institution. Using telepathy, she visits a possible future society, a utopia where they have done away with capitalism, gender roles, and the nuclear family breeding unit (among many other things).

The institution starts experimenting on Connie and other patients, placing electrodes in their brains to manipulate and control their emotions. After this, Connie visits a different future, a distopia where the environment is ruined and everyone lives atomised, isolated lives. Piercy predicts a lot of modern trends, particularly plastic surgery, pervasive media, and the increased violence and availability of pornography.

The institution’s experiments marked a turning/tipping point in ‘history’ (the utopia/distopia’s history, Connie’s future), whether humanity would go down one route or another, towards the possibility of salvation (the utopia is not ‘perfect’ there is still political disagreement, and hard work), or towards a distopian dead-end.

Amnesty International’s decision last week to support the sex industry made me think of this; are we at, or just past, a tipping point towards a future where the commodification of women’s bodies, sexualities, lives is complete and unquestionable?

Maybe I’m being over-dramatic? After all, no laws have actually been changed.

And then today I read a book review of Post-Capitalism, by Paul Mason, which includes a quote from the book:

To survive, 21st century capitalists “would have to treat people kissing each other for free the way they treated poachers in the 19th century”

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4 responses

  1. Great shout-out! I loved that book! Except I thought Connie was way too much of a skeptic. Why is it that really utopian novels always have their out-of-place explorers be so fucking negative?

  2. Reblogged this on RaFeCaMe.

  3. I’m assuming you mean skeptical about how great the utopia was, rather than skeptical that her telepathic time travel was real (within the fiction of the book)?

    I think it’s just a narrative technique (a dialectic?) that allows Piercy to show off her world building – the alternative would be the Wizard of Oz without anyone thinking to check behind the curtain (even if it turns out nothing is there).

    Alternatively, I’ve seen WotEoT referred to as a ‘critical utopia’; to some people, Connie included at times, the set-up is distopian rather than utopian: eg, selfish individualists would find the communualism unbearable, and the reproductive technology might scare a lot of people – growing babies in tanks is more a distopian trope than a utopian one, it can be used to liberate women, or it can be used to do away with them entirely (the more likely scenario in the real world right now).

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