Joanna Russ' The Female Man, a classic of the genre.
The '60s and '70s saw an explosion of science fiction and speculative fiction writing as a means of exploring social structures. Feminists particularly found this a compelling way to conduct what Ursula K. Le Guin called "thought experiments", examining the various ways women were oppressed in the real world and speculating on what life could be like if men either had all their power taken away or didn't exist at all.
How would that affect technology, and reproduction? What would economics, war and family structures look like? Would women make different choices about natural resources? Are our flaws inherently human, or are they dictated by our gender? And most importantly, are men just terrible or are they really really terrible?
Separatist or single gender worlds were common constructs, men were almost universally condemned, lesbianism was frequently depicted as the only sure path to romantic happiness, and all of it is, of course, guaranteed to have modern MRAs rocking in a corner clutching their blankies.
Female writers created worlds where men live in pens, maintained only for breeding purposes – OFF TO THE PENS! – because women had finally wrested control of the world from the men who were so patently unfit for it. And worlds where women live in peaceful, agrarian utopias, undisturbed by the thuggish sexual violence men were incapable of giving up. Or men were removed altogether, by war, disease or gender-based genocide, leaving women able to reach their full and peace-loving potential. Until, of course, their kind and loving cultures were smashed into tiny sobbing pieces by Men emerging from a wormhole in time or a hidden cave in the hinterlands, bent on the thuggish destruction inherent in the Y chromosome.
Others removed all forms of gender difference, babies were conceived and grown by machines and all gender-based roles, physical differences and even gender pronouns were removed, so both sexes finally lived in peace because there was no longer the need or even ability to differentiate between them.
Sometimes it went the other way and writers depicted a world where women were nothing but slaves, denied autonomy and individuality, ruled over by Men who were either viciously cruel or smugly assured of their god-given right to rule. Or both. You know how men can be.
Basically, men are terrible and will destroy the world, but without them we can live forever on Misandrist Island in peaceful harmony with each other and Mother Nature. The only thing that can destroy our utopia is when some foolish woman forgets the danger men cannot help but inflict upon women and falls prey to the lure of the penis. Then we will all die in grief and ashes. Stay away from the peen, womynz, it is the root of all evil.
Such devices in literature are, of course, not new. Long before the second wave feminists were even born, Henrietta Dugdale wrote A Few Hours In A Far Off Age, the full text of which can and must be read here. Dugdale was a passionate suffragette, feminist and atheist who believed "male ignorance" was "the greatest obstacle to human advancement, the most irrational, fiercest and most powerful of our world's monsters—the only devil".
A Few Hours In A Far Off Age was a vision of a long distant future where male violence and gender inequality only existed in museums and bewildering history lessons. It has prescient echoes of The SCUM Manifesto, written in the flowery language of the nineteenth century. But 130 years later, many of the ideas will ring true in the ears of modern feminists:
Ever since the first important record of men's speech they have branded women as false, illogical, immoral and weak-minded. Whenever they wish to very much insult one of their own sex they liken him to a woman. Anybody who reads current literature frequently sees the following sickeningly ignorant phrases, disgracing manhood and what, in other respects, are cleverly-written articles:—"Scolding like au enraged Woman," "With truly feminine vindictiveness," "Woman's tongue, never still," "Illogical as a woman," and many similar which most people have seen, and, excepting small-brained males, are quite weary of seeing.
The Wanderground (published in full in 1979) by Sally Miller Gearhart is a dystopian view of the future, where heterosexual men living in cities give full rein to their violent desires and keep women in degrading servitude. Opposing them are the Hill Women, who have escaped the cities to live in peaceful communes, telepathically linked to each other and all the living creatures in their environment. The "Gentles", gay men who love and respect women, reach out to the Hill women but there is no way for the men of the cities and the women of the hills to connect: "It is not in his nature not to rape. It is not in my nature to be raped. We do not co-exist." *BAM. Drops mic*
Joanna Russ' The Female Man is a classic of the genre. Four intertwined stories of the same woman living in different timelines, all of them distinguished by extremes of male violence either fully expressed or fully oppressed, but never really solved. Mostly because men are awful.
As my mother once said: The boys throw stones at frogs in jest. But the frogs die in earnest.
Marge Piercy's Woman On The Edge Of Time, published in 1976, is a fascinating link between second wave and modern feminism. Her Hispanic protagonist is incarcerated in a mental institution, and has to choose whether to take violent action to save humanity from her vision of a violently oppressed future. It's an uncompromising unravelling of many of the issues we debate now: male violence, economic disadvantage in minority groups, abortion, drug addition, child abuse, environmentalism, intersectional feminism and the treatment of the mentally ill. I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn't yet realised that the world is a terrible place and men in particular are terrible terrible people.
If you're looking for more (and why wouldn't you), try Suzy McKee Charnas's Holdfast Chronicles, pretty much anything by Ursula K. Le Guin, Pamela Sargent's The Shore Of Women, the Patternist series by Octavia Butler, Huston, Huston Do You Read by James Tiptree (pen name of Alice Bradley), Leviathan's Deep by Jayge Carr or The Gate To Women's Country by Sherri S Tepper.
Then you might need to stop, take a breath, and remember that #notallmen.
These books are sometimes hilarious (OFF TO THE PENS!), sometimes silly, sometimes vile and often unbearable in the dark corners of human consciousness they bring to light, but all of them are an outlet for the rage, fear and helplessness feminist writers felt in a time when there were still so many battles to fight. A time when women were thought to be untrustworthy witnesses to their own rape, not permitted to vote or work after they were married, not allowed to borrow money without permission from their husbands, where access to contraception (let alone safe abortion) was restricted by law, and where their brutal murder and abuse was legally dismissed.
All of them are still well worth reading now, partly to remind us of how far we've come, partly to remind us of how little has changed, partly as tribute to the feminist warriors who came before us, but mostly because OFF TO THE PENS should become a catchcry we can all get printed on our t-shirts.