Becoming woman in the land of women: investigating the paradigm of the individual versus the collective in contemporary feminist utopianism
Studies in feminist utopianism have demonstrated how this literary current provides fertile ground for critiquing masculine hegemonies and imagining new ways of being. A central aspect of recent feminist debates, which has not yet been explored in this context, however, is the issue of how to build alliances between women, when notions of a shared female identity have been challenged in the poststructuralist era. Yet, given its concern with community and collectivism, utopia is a productive space for investigating literary visions of female solidarity. To shed light on this cross-section between utopia and feminism, this thesis investigates how three speculative texts represent the group, the individual, and the ties that bind them together. The novels, selected for their focus on female bonds, are: Moi qui n’ai pas connu les hommes (1995) by Belgian writer Jacqueline Harpman, El país de las mujeres (2010) by Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli, and The Power (2016) by Naomi Alderman from the UK. The texts were approached through a critical linguistic framework of narrative point of view, which considers perspective along three planes: ideological, psychological and spatiotemporal. From this detailed analysis, the first of its kind applied to such texts, it was found that the novels, despite differences in political stance and utopian mode, all depict small groups of women in a positive light. Here, the local collective provides a source of support and mutual recognition for the individual, substantiating a move away from the conformist or homogenising groups associated with the canonical genre. Moreover, groups of women tended to be allied through an imposed or self-ascribed shared identity, with the novels oscillating between performative and biologist understandings of gender. These representations were read as pragmatically balancing dominant and oppositional discourses, to deliver a critique of gendered hierarchies within their particular contexts. Overall, this thesis contributes across three fields of research by developing the critical linguistic model, adding a cross-cultural dimension to research in the genre, and building on understandings of utopian collectivism.