A New Man: Feminist Utopias and the Representation of Alternative Masculinities

Michael Pitts, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


Challenges to traditional American gender scripts, initiated by feminist activists and theorists in the twentieth century, necessitate the reconceptualization of manhood. Central to contemporary feminist texts—both creative and theoretical—is the overt rejection of patriarchal femininities. In envisioning a non-separatist society in which such new ideals of femininity are welcomed, feminist authors simultaneously outline new masculinities suitable for such an egalitarian polity. Feminist works envisioning the improved society and its attending masculinities are therefore invaluable sources for scholars within masculinity studies searching popular culture for improved conceptions of manhood. Responding to the so-called crisis of masculinity, scholars within masculinity studies theorize the attributes of a new, feminist-oriented version of manliness that rejects traditional interests in power and control and, instead, values equality, community, and healing. Contemporary feminist utopias present societies and masculinities grounded in feminist thought and therefore make up an overlooked site for mining new concepts of manhood. During the years in which such novels moved from the margins to the mainstream, the early 1970s to the late 1980s, feminist utopias grew more complex, challenging essentialist conceptions of masculinity and female experience. In addition, they widened their scope to consider the ways patriarchal masculinities reinforce intersectional forces of oppression and how men function within a network of power that, while valuing their gender, distances them from power according to other identity elements such as race and sexuality. While these novels vary in their focus, they are united by an interest in transforming patriarchal masculinities and replacing them with an alternative informed by second wave and intersectional feminism. Contemporary American feminist utopias are, therefore, an overlooked and invaluable site for mining new masculinities that reject hierarchical perspectives and value equality, fraternity, and freedom.