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Title: Single-gendered worlds in science fiction : better for whom?
Authors: Grech, Victor E.
Vassallo, Clare
Callus, Ivan
Keywords: Science fiction -- History and criticism
Sex ratio -- Social aspects
Science fiction -- Societies, etc.
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: British Science Fiction Association
Citation: Grech, V. E., Thake-Vassallo, C., & Callus, I. (2012). Single-gendered worlds in science fiction : better for whom? Vector, 269, 15-21.
Abstract: An excess of one gender is a regular and problematic trope in Science Fiction, instantly removing any potential tension between the two sexes while simultaneously generating new concerns. While female only societies are common, male-only societies are rarer. This is partly a true biological obstacle because the female body is capable of bringing a baby forth into the world after fertilization, or even without fertilization, so that a prospective author’s only stumbling block to accounting for the society’s potential longevity. For example, gynogenesis is a particular type of parthenogenesis whereby animals that reproduce by this method can only reproduce that way. These species, such as the salamanders of genus Ambystoma, consist solely of females which does, occasionally, have sexual contact with males of a closely related species but the sperm from these males is not used to fertilise ova. Instead, it stimulates ovum development without any exchange of genetic material. It is believed that this species has survived due to the extremely rare (perhaps one in one million matings) fertilisation of ova by sperm, allowing genetic mixing and a modicum of biodiversity due to the introduction of new material in this salamander’s gene pool. On the other hand, the male body needs to be considerably re-engineered in order to carry a baby to term, necessitating a uterus, placenta and a delivery mode/orifice. However, conception may be dispensed with through an asexual method of reproduction, such as cloning or parthenogenesis, and the gestating process may be bypassed by a postulated ectogenetic process. The latter may also serve to gestate a baby that is produced by a sexual reproduction, through the conventional recombination of a spermatozoon with an ovum, and the resulting zygote implanted in an artificial uterus in the same way that a zygote is now implanted in a uterus by in-vitro fertilisation. Yet another reason that explains why women-only worlds are commoner than men-only worlds is that a number of writers have speculated whether a world constructed on strict feminist principles might be utopian rather than dystopian, and ‘for many of these writers, such a world was imaginable only in terms of sexual separatism; for others, it involved reinventing female and male identities and interactions’. These issues have been ably reviewed in Brian Attebery’s Decoding Gender in Science Fiction (2002), in which he observes that ‘it’s impossible in real life to to isolate the sexes thoroughly enough to demonstrate […] absolutes of feminine or masculine behavior’, whereas ‘within science-fiction, separation by gender has been the basis of a fascinating series of thought experiments’. Intriguingly, Attebery poses the question that a singlegendered society is ‘better for whom’?
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