'Young writer to watch' Megan Giddings on the best feminist dystopian fiction to read now
In the critically acclaimed The Women Could Fly, Megan Giddings creates a world where magic is real to explore how it feels to live in our own society. Here, she discusses the reversal of Roe vs. Wade and recommends other feminist dystopian fiction that speaks to our times.
Before The Women Could Fly was released, in the spring of this year, I wrote a letter to potential readers about the state of women in the United States. I – in what felt like a burst of pessimism – predicted that Roe would be overturned in the coming summer. And I was painfully correct. In early May, the Roe draft was leaked to the public, in June it was confirmed, and I'm still processing what this means. Sometimes still, the clearest thought I have is: wouldn't it have been great if I had been utterly and completely wrong?
I wrote The Women Could Fly while living in Indiana, a state that has since enacted an almost-total abortion ban down to a list of what are considered acceptable life-threatening situations that would allow the procedure to take place without fines or prison time for both the patient and the doctors involved. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently thirty-nine women in the 150-person state legislature of Indiana. This is not me making a straightforward argument that more women involved in politics and elected into office might have meant a different outcome in that state. One of the many reasons why it has been so hard to progress on many different fronts – gender equality, racial equality, economic equality – is that there are many people who would prefer to work within the status quo, to find a way to help themselves or their loved ones, rather than think collectively or feel the weight of other people's suffering. But it's still striking to me that this decision was weighed, discussed, and voted on by a body made up mostly of men. Some of whom, in the proceedings, showed a shocking lack of knowledge about female anatomy, about how almost every pregnancy is truly a health risk, and still felt comfortable doing what they felt was best.
I wrote The Women Could Fly because I wanted to try to capture what it feels like to be alive at this time and make the complicated decisions and compromises that come with being simultaneously a person who cares very deeply about other people, their personal rights to liberty, and also thinking (your choice if this naivety or optimism) that we are living in a time where we have to actively and regularly push back against how often people claim their rights to liberty, to a freedom of speech, but usually with loud malicious intent. I wanted to try to capture the many double-consciousnesses of a character, Josephine, who is experiencing an intersection of racial and gender oppression. She's consistently thinking of all the ways she needs to act to avoid scrutiny, to keep living, but is already at twenty-eight, deeply weighed down by making all those adjustments.
While my book captures a world much like our own, most of the other books on this list have even more adventurous worldbuilding. What unites these books in my mind are how they share that same interest in examining how when women are asked to fit into tidy, manageable containers and always conform, the result of all that bending makes the main characters either break or want to become something new.