English Doctoral Alum Publishes Book on Alternative Masculinities in Feminist Speculative Fiction

Michael Pitts, top, and the cover of his new book, below.
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Michael Pitts, top, and the cover of his new book, below.

The Department of English is excited to announce the recent release of Alternative Masculinities in Feminist Speculative Fiction: A New Man, a book written by English doctoral alum 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 grew out of Pitts's dissertation project, analyzes the feminist utopias depicted within science fiction novels by earlier authors such as Octavia E. Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as more recent writers like N. K. Jemisin.

Pitts became interested in writing on feminist utopian fiction when he noted its capacity, as a subgenre of science fiction, to comment on conceptions of manhood in a unique way.

"Since a pivotal element of the improved societies presented in these narratives are the updated masculinities of their male inhabitants," he said, "I focused my analysis upon feminist utopias as a site for important gender transformation."

In his book, Pitts defines new or alternative masculinities as "conceptions of manhood that depart from harmful, traditional understandings of manliness. They can be thought of as feminist-oriented performances of masculinity.

"While not rejecting 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 Pitts focuses upon in Alternative Masculinities are limited to non-separatist narratives, in which men and women live together. This subgenre of feminist utopian fiction, Pitts said, "more overtly emphasizes the necessity of transforming masculinities."

A favorite collection of feminist speculative fiction texts that Pitts examines in his book is Butler's trilogy, Lilith's Brood. He was drawn to the books' fascinating characters and narrative structure, along with other key elements.

"Over the course of the feminist utopian tradition from approximately 1971 until the publishing of Butler's trilogy in 1987, 1988 and 1989, there is a radical shift towards the margins. While early feminist utopias follow the transformations of white male protagonists, later novels center characters traditionally sidelined due to their race, biological sex and other unfavored identity markers.

"Butler's trilogy masterfully challenges such traditional categories themselves and proposes new masculinities marked by their interest in difference."

Robin Roberts, Professor of English and Pitts's dissertation director, was pleased to see his research evolve into a published book.

"Michael's doctoral work models best practices of original research 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 the genre. His book reveals the importance of these portrayals for gender studies."

Northwest Arkansas artist Ty Lee created the cover for Alternative Masculinities. The book's image pays tribute to the first edition artwork of Joanna Russ's The Female Man (1975), "a pivotal entry in the feminist utopian subgenre," Pitts said.

"Like that original artwork, which centers a woman exiting an older skin as a transformed entity, Lee's painting presents a young man on an alien planet stepping out of his own former self into something different."

According to Pitts, Lee's painting emphasizes the goal of Alternative Masculinities by "hit[ting] upon the text's themes of science fiction's power to re-imagine and alter masculinities."

When asked how Alternative Masculinities connects to what is happening in the country and world today, Pitts said he feels his book corresponds directly to the "current reemergence of traditional masculinities" in the 21st century--specifically, recent "historical events [that have] involved or produced renewed calls for patriarchal understandings of gender and, more narrowly, masculinity."

Pitts further explained, "My book connects to ongoing discussions concerning this so-called crisis of masculinity by locating in science fiction fascinating and improved ways to perform manliness. Overall, it challenges such calls for patriarchal gender scripts and presents science fiction as an ideal site for mining improved masculinities."

Contacts

Leigh Sparks, assistant director of the graduate program in English
Department of English
479-575-5659, lxp04@uark.edu

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