I have heard Gender described as the civil rights fight of the next century. Well, that means much of the fight is in the future – Science Fiction time! Of course, first I think I want a definition of Gender.
Let’s peel some definitions apart. There’s “sex,” which is physically male or female. Then there is “gender” – often used as the word instead of “sex” – which is about masculine or feminine traits. Definitions on those traits are probably beyond the scope of a short post… Then there is “sexuality” which is about what sex one is attracted to… well, also probably which gender. All of these elements taken together could perhaps be called a “gender identity.”
Between all of those elements, there are a great many laws being passed – that increase or decrease freedom in these different areas. Laws like ones being passed in some countries against homosexuality. Or like laws being passed in the United states – in some states, allowing homosexual marriage… in others, trying to stop it. It’s a hot enough topic that I don’t think I can fully say what utopia or dystopia would look like with this – so let’s look at three possible future states.
Gender Difference Illegal
One way that the dice could fall is for the laws blocking any forms of gender difference – anything outside of masculine males who like women, and feminine women who like men – would be illegal. Parts of the laws to get to this point are already in place in many places.
Depending on how these things are defined, though, what would life look like? For instance, take the geeky things that we love here on the blog. They tend to be considered “guy” things – comic books and their movies, video games – but not “masculine” things. So who would get to enjoy these things?
Gender as a Non-Issue
Then again, there’s the other extreme – gender differences are all made legal, and we have all moved past them as an issue. But how likely is this? After all, there’s the hope that the same could be said of race, but that doesn’t seem to have happened…
Indeed, while many of the apparent legal barriers have been removed, racial tensions still exist. So while on one extreme there are legal pressures against difference, on the other extreme having none of those legal pressures does not inherently mean that society is cured of what ails it.
So how even do you get to a point where it’s a non-issue?
Of course, if we really want to talk science fiction, then it’s not a legal remedy one way or another. It’s science. And I could see genetic engineering, eugenics, or some form mental or physical controls being used to “solve” the gender question.
Okay, if I’ve already mentioned race, then let me mention the book I just finished reading, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. In it, a character could change all of reality through dreaming. At one point, he dreams about a solution to racial difference – and he dreams that everyone was grey, that everyone had always been grey. No racial difference.
Okay… so is a solution like that utopian or is it dystopian? You tell me.
Historical Note: Though I used it as the conceit for this post, it is an oversimplification to think of gender identity as the civil rights battle of the next century. Even just thinking the last 150 years of American history, the basic narrative could at least be seen as race and slavery… then women’s suffrage… then race again… then feminism… then gay rights… to today, where honestly it feels like all of these things are in play. And it was probably the same in the past: all of these things were in play at once. None of them are a “start” and “stop” dialog, and there is no clear “end” to them either.
This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!