Friday, January 16, 2009

A female Utopia

Gilman's is a socially feminist perspective, which seems to be validated by the narrator, a sociologist, who is sympathetic, in awe, and even supportive of the utopia of Herland. Vandyck, the narrator holds views that are contrary to those represented in Herland. He holds, for example, that women are inherently inferior beings. Vandyck also believes that women in general are incapable of being on their own; of sustaining a civilization and maintaining social order complete with advancement in fields such as geography, anthropology, geology (54), etc. Those views may be the result of his own social influence through education, and upbringing. It is therefore remarkable that he of all three men is the one who makes a 180, and is in awe of Herland. The very nature of Herland is a complete rebuttal of his long held views, demonstrated in the first instance with the men's subjugation and eventual conversion. This, of course, may be testament to Gilman's technique--her choice of a male narrator, who is the most skeptic of them all and therefore whose turn around serves as a form of verification for her ideas.
Herland's founding is both temporal and spatial. It is physically removed from our land; is located in an elevated place accessible only through great scaling and striving, symbolically indicating the superiority of women in relation to men and their place in society. Gilman represents Herland as the best of what our-land could be, but for the constraints.

It is not without faults, though.

I found Herland so unbelievably non-fictional, and utopian, with a few sprinkles of romance. For the most part, I found the tale to be a yarn. A yarn highly critical of the status quo, of the world outside of Herland, but that holds little in a way of sustained interest given the bizarre revelations surrounding the parthenogenetic form of reproduction attributed to Herlanders. These asexual women, who perpetuate and maintain a homogeneous society of all white women who wear their hair short and portray a mechanized form of cognitive and human emotions. The only imagination I could conjure up is that of the famed Stepford Wives. They also harbor and practice eugenicist tendencies, allowing only those women deemed suitable to procreate and raise their own girl-children. This flaw is just a little different but similar to Darwin's origin of the species and the theory of natural selection—the drive to physical perfection precludes those who are not "fit for that supreme task" (85).

Clearly, Gilman resents the ways in which men outside of Herland gain control over women economically, socially, culturally, sexually. She indicates how the advanced women of Herland avoid that fate by showing self reliance and even demonstrating superiority in their creating of a world without men. They do not even need each other sexually, as I do not read any indication of lesbianism otherwise alluded to Lesbos. I do not necessarily agree with Gilman's assessment of the origins of gender restrictions; I think they are rooted in the larger nature of who we are as a human race and how we have attempted to make sense of and live in it. At any rate, Gilman succeeds in making women the norm and men the other.

The men hold a number of stereotypes of women when they arrive in Herland, and most, if not all, are systematically disproven. Interestingly, there are instances where the men and women agree on stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. Still, there are traits Gilman seems to consider female and male. The desire to dominate, exemplified by Terry is seen as unwelcome, and even uncouth and is a constant cause of embarrassment for his buddies. Terry breaks eloquently exclaims "They've neither the vices of men, nor the virtues of women- they're neuters!" (84). Terry, is obviously quite frustrated at this point. On the other hand, there is noting wrong with being soft and unafraid to show emotions, female traits, which Jeff personifies, and which is lauded by Gilman.

In as far as there is universal peace…good will, and mutual affection, Herland is a utopia. Here is a world where there is no poverty, no crime, and people are self-motivated. There is no competition, no strife.

Gilman critics the male-dominated science and its negative consequences on the very environment it purports to better. She therefore chooses to present an alternative kind of science; one that is community-based and that values the interconnections between itself, nature, and femalekind. She ventures into ecocriticism by displaying her knowledge of ecology and literature by presenting to us a kind of Eden, an exemplary world that offers solutions to ecological problems (Greg Garrard 6) given the forward thinking nature of Herlanders. These women's spirituality is a form of mother/goddess worship dedicated to progress, without resorting to capitalism or globalization.

The standard of living in Herland is infinitely better. The clothes feel smooth to the skin, the food tastes better, the fruit is richer, the air is cleaner, the linen feels good to the is an ecotopia!

Public and private sphere....women were shut out of the public sphere and never allowed to speak out. Herland may have been in response to this status quo. They were not even allowed to publish in the public press...

Perkins having grown up in a culture for domesticity for women resented and fought the status quo, which, along with a series of personal tragedies, led to her writing The Yellow Paper. As well, the situation of women in 1915 warranted this kind of response.

see Technology of Orgasm...women and technology.
Van as a sociologist is good for Herland, because a scientific view can't hurt. Gilman is a pre-Victorian romanticist who likes the pastoral rather than the sublime. The women had a pragmatic outlook to surviving
social construction versus essentialism...the book is rhetorically structured to force readers to engage with social construction; to separate biological issues of female/male from gender issues of the limitations/superiority of each.
intersection of patriarchy, violence, capitalism (simple minded take)
attitudes toward science
language and naming

scientist of Van and closeness to nature
the romantic notion of female relations to motherhood
racism, lack of diversity
lack of desire to explore
anti-patriarchy/pro-matriarchy (chauvinism reversed)

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