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Feminist Leadership in Octavia Butler’s Parables: A Transformational Model for Utopian Community Building

By: Sulagna Chattopadhyay

Leadership has traditionally been a gendered concept privileging values commonly associated with assertive masculinity and rigidly hierarchical organisation. However, with women increasingly assuming roles of responsibility in various social and professional domains, it is necessary to conceptualise a feminist model of leadership predicated on non-hierarchical, collaborative, and discursive styles of decision making. In this paper, I propose to examine the potential role of feminist leadership in utopian community building through a reading of Octavia Butler’s remarkably prescient critical dystopias-Parable of the Sower(1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998). These novels, which combine cautionary speculation with affirmative social dreaming, present a near-future America in which catastrophic climate
change, extreme political and religious conservatism, ethno-racial segregation, and untrammelled corporate ascendancy have precipitated complete socio-political disintegration. In this bleak narrative landscape, Butler’s black, female protagonist Lauren Oya Olamina emerges as a visionary and a leader extraordinaire, whose early philosophical and theological musings lead her to formulate a new belief system called Earthseed, with its striking central tenet: ’God is Change.’ As the destruction of her childhood community compels her to fend for herself on the chaotic freeways of California, she encounters and forms alliances with other deracinated and dispossessed individuals who constitute the beginnings of a nascent Earthseed community-an intersectional collective that steadily expands as the narrative progresses and engenders novel forms of grassroots activism. My paper will focus on the leadership strategies adopted by Lauren as she guides this inchoate community to its utopian goal through productive networking and harmonious inter-personal relationships.

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