Gender in SF: A Summary

I am finishing up my paper and drawing my final conclusions. In my paper, I decided to take out Woman on the Edge of Time. It was just the kind of book I was looking for – a utopian society that uses gender-neutral pronouns. But when I really started digging, there just wasn’t enough. Mattaposett is a utopian society with a universal “human” pronoun, but that’s about it. There wasn’t a whole lot of gender tension, and importantly, there was no “third” sex. I found the “third sex” to be really crucial to my analysis. A “third sex” ostensibly breaks the male-female gender binary, yet all of the books I read that contained a “third sex” ended up reinforcing that binary (and heterosexual gender norms) to some extent. I find that tension fascinating (and really, really important), so I decided to focus solely on books that contained that tension. This decision also led me to add in Sphinx, a really wonderful genderless love story. Sphinx was really instrumental in helping me see what science fiction could do to challenge gender norms; in addition, Sphinx‘s postscript contained the translator’s (Emma Ramadan translated Sphinx from Garréta’s original French) commentary about gendered language and the semantic difficulties she and Garréta faced.

My project is done, but really, it will never be done. I have a lot of other books that were slightly out of the scope (both in terms of topic and time) of my study that I want to read and think about.


  1. rmmerrimangold says:

    Hey Devin! Reading through your blog posts I’ve loved seeing how the direction of your project changed over time, eventually shaping the list of works that made it into your final analysis. I’m curious though about how you constructed your initial reading list.

  2. Hi Becca! I did an independent study last semester, and created my initial reading list with help from my advisor. We were initially looking at works by women (which are few and far between in the sf field) that challenged gender norms in some way. I was also looking for works that were particularly noteworthy/novel relating to gender issues when they were originally published. In the beginning, I wanted a mix of utopia, dystopia, sf, and speculative fiction (though all of those categories overlap). These vague criteria helped me get a general footing. I then added on to my initial reading list with help from my advisor.

  3. iechevarria says:

    Hi Devin! It’s been really interesting to read your blog posts. You said your project is done, but that it will never be done – do you plan on writing more? And if so, do you plan on putting that writing up anywhere else? Your posts have been really neat on their own, and I’d be curious to read more.

  4. I think it’s extremely interesting to think that the creation of a third sex, independent of male and female, and even completely genderless or gender-fluid societies would still enforce a gender binary, and more specifically heteronormativity. The fact that it seems like the point of the novels was to challenge the gender binary but they did not manage to do so is very interesting.