Imagine, if you will, a group of people in ancient times experiencing a natural disaster that not only cuts them off from other cultures and peoples of the world, but has a result that all males die off. However, consider that one of the remaining women SOMEHOW finds herself pregnant and wa la! An isolated yet progressive civilization of women survives and thrives over thousands of years.
Charlotte (daughter of Mary and mother of Katharine; niece of Isabella, Harriet and Catherine) imagines this female-Utopia and writes about it in Herland.
Thoughts Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Dover Publications 1998 (originally 1915), 124 pages
MOTIVATION for READING: For the Women Unbound Challenge. Acquired via Bookmooch. This might also work for the 2010 Global Reading Challenge because it is set “somewhere” in South America. This is the first time to read this author and I can blame Litlove‘s comment at my initial Women Unbound Challenge for bringing Charlotte to my attention.
I propose (but am likely wrong) that Charlotte was at the right time (early 20th century) and place (USA) to imagine Herland. Expeditions around the world were discovering new peoples on our planet, Science was furiously hypothesizing and proposing ideas that astounded the world and women were challenging notions of gender abilities and characteristics.
I had the epiphany thought of “Hey! This is where the stereotype of AMAZON WOMAN must have come from!?” while reading this.
The setup was clever: three gentleman go exploring based on a rumor of a female-only country and this text is the journal that tells what they found.
Copied and tweaked just a bit from Wiki:
Gender and defining it is a central theme in Herland, and Gilman seems to be saying that gender is socially constructed rather than something definitive and unchangeable. For instance, the women of Herland are loving mothers, yet are also strong, independent, and, in some ways, have masculine qualities, such as having short hair. … out of the three male leads, one seems least afraid of speaking his mind and showing his feelings. It is not unintentional that, when the three male characters are imprisoned by the Herlanders, their hair grows long, which Gilman does to symbolically link them to womenkind. Gender reversal is used throughout the novel: the women have short hair, the men have long hair; the women teach while the men learn; the women are physically stronger than the men, etc.
What I just couldn’t get over was the concept of marriage and why the men were so eager for it. (oh yea, for the s – e – x?) And the spontaneous pregnancy concept – even though texts exist today that explore how this may be a future possibility – was too convenient. And my skeptical mind must protest that just because it is women, that such a society would OF COURSE be nothing but wonderful – crime-free, disease-free, unpleasantness-free. I guess, as I believe in HUMANS and am a proponent of love and respect for all, I still have doubts that we can escape the basest of human behaviors just be ridding the planet of one of the genders, cough-cough EXCUSE ME – the male gender.
NOT however to say that Charlotte hated men. The women of Herland actually embrace the concept of male and study the idea of re-introducing the Y chromosome to their society and I do realize that this story was a way to highlight how HUMAN we all are and should not be labeled with weaknesses and characteristics based on gender. So I do get it. I just couldn’t quite suspend the disbelief.
Over all, my vote is for clever, keen and original.
Reading this and then jumping into my next book, Mrs. Dalloway, I find myself wondering what Virginia Woolf thought about Charlotte and her writings. So excuse me while I go see where such an internet search will lead me…
Many online resources exist for you to read this online if you so desire. Just google it.