Former UK PhD student publishes book on alternative masculinities in feminist speculative fiction
Michael Pitts, above, and the cover of his new book, below.
The English Department is pleased to announce the recent release of Alternative Masculinities in Feminist Speculative Fiction: A New Man, a book written by former English doctoral student Michael Pitts (Ph.D. ’19) and published by Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield.
Pitts is an assistant professor at the University of South Bohemia in the Czech Republic.
Alternative Masculinities, which arose out of Pitts’ thesis project, analyzes the feminist utopias depicted in science fiction novels by earlier writers such as Octavia E. Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as by more recent writers like NK Jemisin.
Pitts became interested in writing about feminist utopian fiction when he noted its ability, as a subgenre of science fiction, to comment on conceptions of manhood in a unique way.
“Since a central element of the improved societies presented in these narratives are the updated masculinities of their male inhabitants,” he said, “I focused my analysis on feminist utopias as a site for a significant transformation of the genre. “
In his book, Pitts defines new or alternative masculinities as “conceptions of virility which deviate from traditional and harmful conceptions of virility. They can be seen as performances of masculinity with a feminist orientation.
“While not rejecting the positive historical qualities traditionally associated with manhood such as loyalty or courage, they oppose patriarchal interests in consolidating power and control over others. “
The feminist utopias on which Pitts focuses in Alternative Masculinities are limited to non-separatist narratives, in which men and women live together. This sub-genre of feminist utopian fiction, Pitts said, “puts more open emphasis on the need to transform masculinities.”
A favorite collection of feminist speculative fiction texts that Pitts examines in her book is Butler’s Trilogy, Lilith’s brood. He was drawn to the fascinating characters and narrative structure of the books, as well as other key elements.
“During the feminist utopian tradition from around 1971 until the publication of Butler’s trilogy in 1987, 1988 and 1989, there is a radical shift towards the margins. As the early feminist utopias follow the transformations of the protagonists white male, later novels center characters traditionally sidelined due to their race, biological sex, and other unfavorable identity markers.
“Butler’s trilogy masterfully challenges these traditional categories themselves and offers new masculinities marked by their interest in difference.”
Robin Roberts, English professor and thesis supervisor at Pitts, was delighted to see his research evolve into a published book.
“Michael’s doctoral work models original research best practices communicated in clear, lucid prose,” she said.
“Analyzing the representation of male characters in popular feminist science fiction, he is the first to trace the history of alternative masculinities in gender. His book reveals the importance of these representations for gender studies.”
Northwest Arkansas artist Ty Lee created the cover of Alternative Masculinities. Book image pays homage to the first edition of Joanna Russ’s work The female man (1975), “a crucial entry into the utopian feminist subgenre,” said Pitts.
Like this original work of art, which features a woman emerging from older skin as a transformed entity, Lee’s painting features a young man on an alien planet emerging from his old self to become something different. “
According to Pitts, Lee’s painting emphasizes the goal of Alternative Masculinities by “blow[ting] on the text themes of the power of science fiction to re-imagine and modify masculinities. “
When asked how Alternative Masculinities connects to what is happening in the country and the world today, Pitts said he believes his book directly corresponds to the current “re-emergence of traditional masculinities” in the 21st century – in particular, to “historical events “recent [that have] involved or produced renewed calls for a patriarchal understanding of gender and, more narrowly, masculinity. “
Pitts further explained, “My book connects to the ongoing discussions regarding this so-called crisis of masculinity by locating in science fiction fascinating and enhanced ways to execute manhood. Overall, it challenges question such calls for patriarchal genre scripts and present science fiction as an ideal site for extracting enhanced masculinities. “