A World Without Women
By: Joseph Mach

I was fishing with my 10-year-old grandson, Peter, when he asked the question that all men 55 or older dread:

“What were women like?” he asked. “I’ve never seen one, but I’ve read about them in books.”

I wasn’t really prepared to answer him, so I replied: “Pete, there’s not much to know. Women were a lot like men, but with a few differences. My memories are a bit fuzzy, since I was only 8 years old when all people who were born female died.”

“C’mon, Grandpa, you can do better than that. In school I read that children, both boys and something called girls, used to be born through the bodies of women, and women even provided food for their babies. That seems hard to believe. I was cloned from my father, and I was born in an artificial womb. Did women have wombs as part of their bodies? ”

“Yes, women really did give birth to babies, and they fed them as well. Female bodies – the bodies of girls and women – were softer and curvier than ours. Women had wombs – called uteruses – and other internal and external organs related to having and raising children. Women’s bodies were designed to fit with men’s bodies. Babies were started when men and women joined their bodies together in something called sex. Surely your school has shown you pictures of how animal babies, such as calves and colts, are born. The process was basically the same with men and women.

“Women nurtured the babies in their womb for 9 months, then the babies came out of their bodies and were born. Even after the babies were born, women had organs called breasts that provided food – similar to the milk we get from cows – to their babies. Altogether a beautiful and natural thing.

“Life seemed more pleasant in a world with two human genders. Somehow, families seemed more complete with two parents, and sisters as well as brothers. There were women as well as men in all professions, religions, and all walks of life. Historically, society had not given women equal treatment with men, but that was changing rapidly.”

“So, girls and women had different bodies than boys and men. What were some other differences and similarities?

“Women and girls were different than boys, but just as human and just as smart. Everyone is an individual, of course; but on average, women were smaller than men, less violent, and more sympathetic and empathetic than men. Gender at birth was determined by two chromosomes, the X, and the Y. Females had two X chromosomes while males had an X and a Y. The plague was called the double-X chromosome plague, or just ‘double X’, because people born with a Y chromosome did not catch the disease. Something about having two X chromosomes made people subject to the disease.”

“Were there girls and women in your family? Did you know other girls and women?”

I had difficulty speaking: the memories were too painful. I took a moment to compose myself and wipe away my tears. Then I answered his question.

“I remember a woman whom I called my mother, and many other women, including two grandmothers. There were girls in my third-grade classroom, which was taught by a woman. There were even two girls in my household, so my brother and I had an older sister and a younger sister. I had several friends and acquaintances who were girls.”

“What do remember about the start of the plague?”

“OK, Pete, I’ll try my best to tell you what I remember about those awful years 2039 and 2040, when the Double-X chromosome plague wiped out every human who was born female. The only remaining women were transgender, and the plague wiped out all transgender men. As an 8-year-old, what happened was hard for me to process, but the memories are hard for me to forget. Ask me your questions, and I’ll try to answer them.”

“Did only human females catch the disease, or were other animals also infected?”

“There’s no complete answer, but it appears that the disease only infects primates, such as monkeys, apes, and human beings. Scientists, including me, believe that the disease started in monkeys, where it caused an illness that was seldom fatal. Somehow it spread to apes and humans. Large numbers of female chimps, orangutans, and gorillas caught the disease, and many females died. Some female apes survived; but when the disease spread to human females, the disease was 100 percent fatal. N0 person born female survived.”

“I’ve never seen a girls or woman; but it’s hard to imagine that an entire gender would die out. Couldn’t people have planned for such a possibility, and done something to prevent it?”

“After the Covid-19 pandemic that lasted from 2019 to 2024, scientists tried to predict the next pandemic, and tried to develop vaccines and treatments for any foreseeable disease. Nature, sadly, is hard to predict, and no one was prepared for Double X.

“Few people imagined a world with no women. The reverse was not true. There were many so-called feminist short stories and novels imagining a world without men. Some are in our local library. There was little, if any, fiction imagining a world without women. Maybe that’s to be expected, since women could give birth and men couldn’t.”

“How did the disease start, and when did it hit our area?”

“I remember, when I was seven years old, hearing my parents discussing a strange disease that seemed to be infecting girls and women, but not men. It started in some remote corner of the world – no one seems to remember where -- and spread slowly, apparently through international travel and commerce. The disease, later known as the Double X chromosome plague, was fatal in all cases. By the time of my eighth birthday, my mother and sisters hadn’t gotten the disease, but many women and girls in our town were dying. It was horrible.

“With many girls and women sick or dying, society came to a halt. People, even boys and men, were afraid of infection. Schools and businesses were closed, and travel ceased. Food was scarce because there weren’t enough people to grow it, and no one to deliver it. There were riots in the streets, as civilization began to break down.”

“I’ve known a few scientists, including you; and they seem to be pretty smart. Why couldn’t they have done something to keep girls and women alive?”

“There were frantic efforts by scientists of both genders to find a cure for the disease or a vaccine to prevent it. The disease was an auto-immune disease, somewhat similar to Lupus or Aids. That meant that a person’s body was, in effect, attacking itself in an attempt to fight the disease. It took years for scientists to find vaccines and medicines for Aids; but that spread more slowly than this disease. There just wasn’t enough time to find a cure, treatment, or vaccine.

“As you can imagine, female scientists, including my mother and her mother, were particularly anxious to fight the disease: their lives were at stake. It was believed that there would be a treatment for the disease, and perhaps a vaccine against it, by the end of 2040. I remember that my Mom seemed tired and frustrated when she came home from her work at the lab. I was too young to know why.

“My father told me, years later, that the effort to fight the disease was not helped by male protesters who blocked access to laboratories and carried signs with awful slogans such as: “Let all the women die. Who needs them?” or “Female lives don’t matter.” Religious fanatics attacked transgender women, making the ludicrous claim that the disease was G-d’ s punishment on the world for allowing transgender people to exist. It’s a sad part of human nature that some people need a scapegoat when bad things happen.

“Efforts at developing a vaccine or a cure failed completely. The disease didn’t give scientists enough time to fight it.”

“If your mother – my great-grandmother – was working on a cure for the disease, was she one of the first women to catch it?”

“Not quite the first, but it hit her pretty early. In March 2040 she caught the disease, followed shortly thereafter by my sisters, my grandmothers, and all of my female relatives, friends, and acquaintances. In each case, death followed within a few days after the first symptoms. By the end of April 2040, virtually all women and girls were dead or dying. “

“How did the surviving members of our family cope with such unimaginable losses”

A sudden chill ran down my spine, and I wrapped my jacket around me. Then I hugged Peter as I dredged up memories that were painful beyond words.

“It took a long time for us to cope with our losses, and we coped very poorly. My father, brothers, and I were devastated. How could we live without so many of the people we loved and cared for? We weren’t even allowed to attend their funerals or engage in our religion’s mourning customs.

“There were funerals every day on Zoom, and people were buried without friends and relatives at the funerals. There weren’t enough places in cemeteries for the dead, and people were cremated or buried in parks and golf courses. No one was without a deceased loved one.

“The plague killed only girls, women, and transgender men; but the riots and famine that followed the plague killed off a large portion of the male population and nearly all transgender females. When the plague began in 2039, the world population was over 9 billion, about equally male and female. By the time the riots and famine ended in 2041, the population was about 1.5 billion, nearly all male except the few transgender women who survived the riots and famine. The population shrank even more, as people died, and no new babies were born for several years.

“It’s kind of funny, looking back, about how her husband and children used to kid my mother about the large amounts of food she kept in the basement storage room of our home. That food saved the lives of the four males in the family. For more than a month after my mother and sisters died, it wasn’t safe to leave the house. There was too much rioting going on, although our quiet suburb was relatively safe. Due to my mother’s foresight, we had enough food to fend off starvation, even if we grew tired of tuna, pasta, cereal, canned foods, and dried beans.

“By late May, the riots had ended, and our nation observed the most solemn Memorial Day ever. Volunteers, including my older brother, went out into the countryside to help harvest food, aided by government-provided transportation. By June, the famine was over, although we had to learn to live on much less food than we ate before the plague.

“Will I ever see a woman?” Peter asked.

“Maybe, maybe not. As you know, for many years I’ve been part of a team of scientists who are trying to restore the human female gender. It took years for male scientists of my Father’s and Grandfathers’ generations to develop an artificial womb similar to the decanting bottles in Aldous Huxley’s fictional [Brave New World], so that men could have cloned children. There were no babies for 15 years, from 2040 to 2055; which is why, here in 2095, no one is between the ages of 40 and 55. At 63 I’m among the youngest senior citizens

“The plague killed even frozen female embryos; but men still have an X female chromosome. We’re working hard, through gene splicing and hormone research, and using DNA from female gorillas and chimps who didn’t die from the disease, to develop human female embryos that have two X chromosomes, both of which are resistant to the plague. Hopefully, this should take no more than another 5 to 10 years. Our goal is to have baby girls to help ring in the new 22nd century.

“Your sons, like mine and your father’s, will be created through cloning and artificial wombs; but it’s possible that your sons will be able to mate and have children of both genders with people of the restored female gender.”

“Wow, Grandpa, that’s way too much for a small boy to think about. Let’s go home and fry up the fish we caught.”

I nodded to my grandson. “OK., Peter. We can talk about this again when you are a bit older. Meanwhile, let’s pause a few minutes to pray that we will see women again. Then we can go home and have a lovely fish dinner.”


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