Insert Comma logo
Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
Today’s “Sexmission”

Editorial for the 9(3) issue of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

By Leigh E. Rich and Michael A. Ashby

The Polish film Seksmisja (Sexmission) opens with a quote from playwright and author Sławomir Mrożek: “Jutro to dziś—tyle, że jutro,” which is translated in the film’s subtitles as “Tomorrow is today—but a day away.” A popular phrase that has been used repeatedly in many venues, from personal blogs to bank advertisements, Mrożek’s quote sets the stage for this 1984 science fiction comedy by Juliusz Machulski, Jolanta Hartwig, and Pavel Hajný that explores gender in the year 2044 when males no longer exist (thanks to nuclear war and an “M-bomb” developed by a male scientist that “was supposed to paralyze male genes temporarily … [but] instead of paralyzing, eliminated the male genes. Once and forever”). The only surviving men in this post-apocalyptic (and post-feminist?) world are protagonists Maksymilian and Albercik, who were cryogenically preserved in 1991. Thanks to the war, however, this three-year experiment (ironically conducted by the very scientist who would develop the M-bomb) goes awry, and Albert and Maks are not reanimated until 53 years later. They awake to find themselves in a world of women, and what is often cast stereotypically as the ultimate “male fantasy” is nothing short of a nightmare for the two “heroes”—who clearly prefer the sexist and heteronormative status quo of their own time and who fail throughout this experience to transform their behaviors, thinking, or ideals.

A cult classic, the film’s depiction of “the sexes” is both troublesome and a springboard for further examination: The world dominated by women is something of a Platonic cave, not only bleak and bland but also mechanically and epistemologically flawed. Foodstuffs (apparently due to the nuclear war) are artificial and tasteless; decadence is forbidden and punishable; machinery is defective and unreliable; and history has been rewritten so that “[a]ll great scholars, fathers of progress, great humanists” such as Copernicus and Einstein have been transformed into women, and man is deemed woman’s ultimate enemy (and the sole inventor of “prostitution, slavery, cowardice, laziness” and “all evil in the world,” from “religious wars to cervical cancer”). Of course, this narrative offers some truth and, at least in part, touches on important feminist discourse, such as when the prior world is described as a place where woman was but a “waitress” at a “feast” ruled by males. The women are also depicted as capable athletes and warriors (although it could be argued here that these remain masculine ideals). [continued …]

Read the full article for free

Rich, Leigh E., and Michael A. Ashby. 2012. Today’s “Sexmission.” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 9(3): 229–233.

Comments are closed.