A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

Q is for Questions

What, where, when, who, how, why: these are all necessary questions that speculative illustrators and writers all directly or implicitly address in their visions of the future. As Ruth Levitas writes, ‘it is the nature of that change that is in question’ when employing utopian thinking and the same can be said of dystopian fears (Ruth Levitas, 2013). What will change in the future? Where will a better or worse future take place? When will changes happen? Who will benefit from these changes? How should the future be? Why should these changes happen? 

Nineteenth century texts and illustrations have uneven relationships with when they see changes take place and what progress has been achieved. Several proto-feminist texts set significantly far in the future have limited progressive imaginations in relation to just how much time has passed. For example, both Mary Griffith’s ‘Three Hundred Years Hence’ (1836) (set in 2135) and Jane Sophia Appleton’s ‘Sequel to the ‘Vision of Bangor in the Twentieth Century’ (1848) feature male time travellers who wake up in future American cities and admit how poor their nineteenth-century attitudes to women are. Although some economic independence and social change has been achieved (Griffith’s Philadelphia has equal inheritance rights; Appleton’s Bangor has ended sexist comments and increased female education), both texts maintain gendered values and roles: the woman as the fairer sex and moral compass, but now a much better educated one. Griffith’s women are happy ‘that the proper distinction was rigidly observed between the sexes’ whereas Appleton’s women reject the vote and political leadership. Like many early feminist utopias they ‘reproduce many of the real conditions of women’s work, as well as patterns of belief about femininity, in the society the seek to transcend’, offering incremental progress that does not radically alter the organisation of society (Jean Pfaelzer, 1985). Satirical dystopian visions of women’s future often moved in the opposite direction from these utopias – instead of limited changes in a far-flung future, they envisioned radical changes in the near future. Harry Grant Dart’s ‘Why Not Go the Limit?’ from Puck in March 1908 uses the rhetorical question to persuade readers to adopt an anti-suffrage position. What’s the worst that could happen? the title asks, and then answers in an illustration of a near future where voting women have taken on other masculine habits. These women have eschewed gender norms: smoking, drinking, standing at a bar. One woman glares resentfully at her young children and neglects them to continue playing cards, while another reads a stock ticker, and a sign asks women to not throw cigar butts. Puck dealt in satirical parody to imagine a near future where women had usurped male power. Joseph Keppler’s ‘A Female Suffrage Fancy’ (Puck, 14 July 1880) similarly draws women in male roles: throwing off a dress to wear men’s clothing, chasing off male voters, leaving husbands to care for children. Puck extended current social progress into absurdity, but ironically its dystopian visions of the near future aligned with some of the fears of far-distant proto-feminist utopian texts – that women would no longer be women.

‘Why Not Go the Limit?’, Puck (18 March 1908), Library of Congress.