Marge Piercy, the landmark feminist novel’s author, reflects on the aspirations for a just society that she dramatised in 1976 – and their continuing relevance.
The point of a novel about the future is not to predict it; I’m not pretending to be Nostradamus. The point of such writing is to influence the present by extrapolating current trends for advancement or detriment. Nobody is good at prediction. If we were better at guessing events in a year or even a few months or weeks, our divorce rate would be zero, we would not get into stupid relationships, and nobody would lose money in the stock market or to the racetrack. The point of creating futures is to get people to imagine what they want and don’t want to happen down the road – and maybe do something about it.
Woman on the Edge of Time was first published 40 years ago and begun three-and-a-half years before that. The early 1970s were a time of great political ferment and optimism among those of us who longed for change, for a more just and egalitarian society with more opportunities for all the people, not just some of them. Since then, inequality has greatly increased.
As I write, more people are poor, more people are working two or three jobs just to get by, more people have seen their savings and their future wiped out by bad health or lost jobs. The homeless are everywhere, not just the single man or woman down on their luck or the shuffling bag lady but whole families with their children. There are fewer chances for the children of ordinary people to go to a n ordinary college; if they can go, they will then have to drag huge debt through much of their adult lives. Many working-class jobs that paid people enough to buy and pay for a house and to hope for an even better life for their children have been shipped overseas. There, people even poorer will do the work for pennies. Unions that protected workers have lost much of their clout and represent fewer workers each year.
At the time I wrote this novel, women were making huge gains in control of their bodies and their lives. Not only has that momentum been lost, but many of the rights we worked so hard to secure are being taken from us by Congress and state legislatures every year.
But we must also understand that the attempt to take away a woman’s control over her body is part of a larger attempt to take away any real control from most of the population. Now, corporations and the very wealthy 1% control elections. Now, the media are propaganda machines and the only investigative reporting is on Comedy Central, HBO, or the web.