In her new novel “Hazards of Time Travel,” coming out in November, Joyce Carol Oates takes an almost literal approach to exploring fears that the clock could be turned back on women’s rights. The novel opens in a future autocratic America, where students are taught that men have higher I.Q.s than women, and centers on a young woman who is arrested for treason after she raises questions about the regime in school. As punishment, she gets teleported back to 1959 Wisconsin to be “re-educated” and rendered more docile.
In Christina Dalcher’s recent debut novel, “Vox,” an ultraconservative political party gains control of Congress and the White House, and enacts policies that force women to become submissive homemakers. Girls are no longer taught how to read or write; women are forbidden to work or hold political office, or even express themselves: They are forced into near silence after the government requires all women to wear bracelets that deliver a shock if they exceed an allotted daily word count.
Ms. Dalcher, a retired theoretical linguist, said she was inspired in part by the women’s marches around the country after the 2016 election.
“I thought, there must be a ton of people who are watching this and rolling their eyes and saying, I wish they would just shut up,” she said. “What better way to force somebody into submission than to take away the one thing that makes them human, language?”
‘We Are Already in a Dystopia’
Like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” several recent dystopian novels explore how a woman’s fertility can define her worth in society’s eyes, and consider what might happen if the government mandates and controls childbearing.
Leni Zumas was struggling to become pregnant when she began writing her recent novel “Red Clocks,” which takes place in a near-future America where abortion and in vitro fertilization are illegal and embryos are enshrined with the “right to life.” The idea came to her when she was researching fertility treatments, and came across references to proposed legislation that would outlaw in vitro fertilization.
“It was very intentional to make the situation in the novel feel ordinary, and therefore more frightening,” she said. “One of the things about looking at the world through a feminist lens is that we are already in a dystopia.”