Monday 1 April 2024

Femlandia, by Christina Dalcher (HQ) | review by Stephen Theaker

In the very near future, the American economy collapses and society follows suit. Trying to keep her 16-year-old daughter Emma safe from marauding men, Miranda, a formerly well-off woman, heads for Femlandia, the all-female radfem colony co-founded by her mother, Jennifer Jones. That might sound like the set-up for a feminist book, and it certainly has feminist elements (and a feminist author), but ironically I think anti-feminists might enjoy it more.

The narrator obviously isn't intended to be a sympathetic character. She's portrayed as silly and vain, before the collapse, and she hits her daughter in Femlandia, and doesn't see why that was wrong. She's bullish, like a Charlton Heston character. As soon as she arrives in this perfect, safe, self-sufficient feminist paradise, she is seized with utter certainty that something is wrong, and sets out to destroy it.

That she is proven to be right is simply a matter of luck. If she had been wrong, her actions would have seemed utterly unconscionable. For example, in the course of her investigation she shuts down the electric fences that protect the women of Femlandia, despite knowing from first-hand experience how much they are needed.

I'm not entirely sure whether one would class this as science fiction, since most of it could very easily be taking place right now. Unlike The Arrest, which came out the previous year about a similarly isolated community, there's nothing science fictional about this collapse, it's just that the money runs out. But then I suppose you could say the same about the original Mad Max film.

In particular moments it was very good. The pain of a woman who realises her peers have messed her up. Or of women who have had to make unimaginable sacrifices to guarantee their own safety. A wife who didn't tell her daughter about the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, and so can't explain to her daughter why she hates men. That's all excellently done.

But the book's big reveal didn't work for me. Whatever the author's intentions, it felt like a book that said, this is what feminists would do if they could get away with it. And it makes absolutely no sense. I can't explain why without spoiling the book's surprises, and I wouldn't want to do that, but it involves a colossal investment of resources over a long period of time for a benefit that seems ridiculously small.

I'm sure it doesn't mean to imply that this is the way all radfem societies would go, and in the epilogue there is a suggestion that our brave protagonist's actions have had a questionable outcome, but reading it, knowing nothing about the author or her likely intentions, it came across a scare story, a Reefer Madness for feminism. Stephen Theaker ***

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