Sunday 3 November 2019

Nerd Church - Whose Dystopia Is This? A Discussion of Marginalisations in Dystopian Fiction, Focussing On Vox by Christina Dalcher

(Warning: this post discusses persecution of marginalised groups, sometimes in detail)

Dystopia, as a genre, is largely based on the oppression – either knowingly or unknowingly – of groups of people.

...Usually in a way that seems extreme in the context of the author’s cultural background, or else involves sufficient robots and sh** to convince us that this world is The Future™.

Title image - white writing on a pink background: Whose Dystopia Is This? A Discussion of Marginalisations in Dystopian Fiction, Focussing On Vox By Christina Dalcher

If you’re writing a Dystopian world where the oppressed group is women, then it can be excellent ground to play with ideas of feminism and gender equality.

And yes, you can certainly have a protagonist who is a white, able-bodied, allocishet woman who is Christian or culturally Christian.

But you still need to think about intersectionality.

This week, I read Vox by Christina Dalcher – this isn’t a review of that book, it’s an exploration of some of the things I noticed. Mostly things which were missing.

There are interesting ideas in Vox, and an attempt at intersectionality… but the author never really takes the affects of the regime’s extremist views to their logical conclusion.

I think that’s something that authors of Dystopians need to think about.

It’s logical, really, when you’re world-building, to think of how societal conditions would affect people with different marginalisations.

It doesn’t have to be a plot-point (although it could make an interesting one,) but it makes the whole thing a lot more realistic, and makes it feel more thought-through.

Take, for example, Transgender and Non-Binary people.

We all (hopefully) realise that Trans and NB folks exist… so what happens to them in a world where Cisgender women are persecuted and restricted?

Carmen Carrerra: You don't need to have a uterus to be a woman
Via Giphy

Are Transgender women faced with the same restrictions and oppression? Or is this erroneously forced on Transgender men?

Are Non-Binary and Genderqueer people recognised? Or are all Trans and NB people forced into the roles given to them by the gender they were assigned at birth?

In this Dystopian world, do Trans and Non-Binary people who are out face a whole other, potentially fatal, and certainly unpleasant, level of persecution?

Because that’s often the case in our own world.

So, if this world is worse and more extreme… what would happen to Trans people?

I get that these aren’t necessarily questions for Cisgender authors to fully explore. 

But they deserve acknowledgement.

If you’re writing a Dystopia, can I ask… what happens to the Trans people in your world?

It could be mixed, for example: some are fully-closeted, some are living as their true gender but not revealing their Trans status, some are caught and persecuted, some are in the resistance.

It might be that your protagonist doesn’t know what happens to Trans people. They might just wonder (or avoid thinking about,) what happens to them.

But they exist. Right?

Of course, if you’re talking about a form of oppression that won’t affect Trans people as the central premise of your novel (or TV series or whatever you’re doing,) -

for example if the oppression is in a far-distant future or world which is not ours, where Transgender people are 100% accepted and equal and the oppression is based on… I dunno… technology programming people to vote for one political candidate over another

- then maybe it won’t be relevant. That’s kind of an exception to the rule though.

For most Dystopias? It’s gonna be relevant.

For a Dystopia where the oppression is gender-based? It seems absolutely necessary to address how these changes and restrictions may affect Trans people.

Vox is supposed to be basically our world, taken to extremes.

But Trans people are never mentioned. Not once.

Brendon Urie: Really?
Via Giphy

Not that that’s especially surprising, given the treatment of Gay and Lesbian people in this book.

While the author uses LGBTQ+ to describe these people… we’re only ever told about Gay Cisgender men and Lesbian Cisgender women.

(...Who Dalcher refers to as 'the Gays' more than once. *Sighs*)

The oppression of these Gay and Lesbian people does add levels of oppression to that faced by Allocishet women. But… naively.

This is an (assumedly) Allocishet writer. And it shows.

*Links contain potentially distressing detail of persecution

Because as utterly horrible as forcing Queer folks to closet themselves and/or work in forced labour camps gutting fish is… America’s current conversion camps and courses* suggest a much crueller fate would await us in an extremist society.

So, while I wasn’t looking forward to it, I was expecting the sort of persecution LGBTQ+ people either face currently in various parts of the world, or have faced in the past* (under the Nazis,* for example.)

I also… wasn’t happy with how the slur ‘f**king d*ke’ was used.

It’s not something that often bothers me when Allocishet authors use it –

although I know some people believe it should only be used by LGBTQ+ folks, or even only WLW (Women-Loving Women)

– but for some reason, here, it bothered me.

I can’t even put my finger on what exactly was wrong with the way it was used… I just felt like the author didn’t understand the significance of those two little words.

Seth Meyers: Please don't
Via Giphy

Back when I wouldn’t even admit to myself I was Queer, I had that phrase shouted at me by random kids at school. More than once.

It’s like… poisonous tar. Coating you so that you can’t get free, and slowly making it harder to breathe.

So… no, I can’t put my finger on what bothered me about its usage here. Maybe it was just that I felt the author didn’t understand exactly what that phrase means.

There were other omissions here that spoke volumes in their absence: what, in this world based on Christian far-right extremism, happens to people who are not Christian?

For example, what happens to Muslims? Are they forced to convert?

Malala Yousufzai: It's about equality, it's about feminism, it's about saying that we're all human beings
Via Giphy

Are the forced converts treated with the same level of suspicion as they were in medieval Spain, for example?

Are those who refuse to convert sent to one of the labour camps? Are you sent there whether you’ve converted or not?

Are Muslims prevented from entering the US? Are they deported?

What about Hindus? Buddhists? Pagans? Atheists?

What happens to the non-Christian people in this world?

Vox never tells us.

What about disabled people?

Part of the central premise of Vox is that women are only permitted to speak 100 words per day. Any more and they receive a horrendous electric shock.

So what about disabled women?

What about women who use sign language? Are they immune to this restriction? Or are they under seperate restrictions?

What about women with Tourette’s or other conditions, who can’t always control what they say and when?

What about Neurodiverse women or women with Learning Disabilities, who aren’t necessarily going to be able to understand this strange and arbitrary new societal system?

Again, none of these things really have to be gone into in depth – especially if the author feels they can’t do it justice.

But if you ignore the logical conclusions of putting these people in this situation… are you really fighting for equality? Or just for one group of people to have a good life while the rest suffer?

Race is briefly addressed in this book, to the credit of Dalcher, in a ‘why didn’t I think of this?!’ moment for our protagonist.

The irony appears somewhat lost on the author.

That’s not to say this book is ‘bad’!

This isn’t a review.

If it was, I’d post it as a review, rather than a Nerd Church post.

And as I mentioned earlier, Vox has its good and/or interesting points too.

But, as you can see, I had some issues with it!

What this post is, is a question: does oppression only matter when it affects you?

Have you read Vox?
Do you think marginalisations need to be brought to the fore more in Dystopian fiction?
Talk to me! 😁💬

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Last updated: 2nd Jan 2020


  1. Very interesting post, Cee! I haven’t read Vox, but I definitely think that marginalization should be brought to the forefront in dystopia. To be honest, I haven’t read any dystopia as of yet that has dealt with marginalization.

    1. Thanks Em!

      Totally agree: what happens to people with various marginalisations?! The Fireman by Joe Hill addresses a few things - issues with getting medication for sick and injured people, a deaf little boy who has a different experience of this world, etc. The Stand by Stephen King also addresses a few marginalisations, but whether it does so well or not is arguable.

      I have seen people online complaining when a TV show (I think it was the 100? Not sure. Might've been The Walking Dead, cos I don't watch either of those,) has LGBTQ+ survivors of the apocolypse b/c it's 'unrealistic' - like... you think zombies eat gay folks first?! You think viruses give a sh**?! Y'know?! Lol! <3

  2. This post was a good wake up call for me. I never really think about this when reading my dystopians and I really should be! Because it is so relevant and to be honest, it would add a lot more depth to the story and open a can of worms on another discussion. I like that you used Vox as an example but a lot more books could do with this too!

    Olivia-S @ Olivia's Catastrophe

    1. Totally agree - I used Vox because I'd just read it and it's what got me thinking about this stuff! But there are plenty of other books, I'm sure, which could do with taking a moment to think about how different oppressions affect different groups.

      I've read plenty of dystopias where I haven't asked these questions - and I'm going to attempt to do so more often! It was so obvious in Vox, though (to me, at least,) - because it was so heavily gender-based, the omission of Trans and NB people stood out.


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