Monday, March 25, 2013

Convergence of the Sexes

Charlotte Perkins Gilman - Herland

                There's an obvious feminist aspect to Herland, but it's just a frame for more universal ideas. The depiction of perfect society consisting only of women clearly strives to show they are no less capable than men, but rather than emphasizing female characteristics, Gilman creates a society in which they are toned down and concentrates on common human qualities. Terry's rant makes it evident: "They've neither the vices of men, nor the virtues of women — they're neuters!"

                Terry's words show that gender is irrelevant. An all-male society could have conveyed the message just as well, for Gilman doesn't just talk of equality but of eliminating the prominent qualities of each gender. Even motherhood, the most female thing of all, is approached in strictly rational manner. To bear a child is the highest honor for women of Herland solely because it preserves the society, there's no selfish element involved. Accordingly, from its very birth the child's nurturing and education are put in the hands of the most capable individuals whether or not its mother is amongst them.

                Treatment of children is just one of many still controversial ideas which Gilman proposes. Amongst else, she defines "feminine charms" as "mere reflected masculinity" and discusses the futility and impracticality of burying the dead, but also reveals why we perceive those ideas as controversial – they are in conflict with our traditions. And here lies the most intriguing idea of all, one so blasphemous in our world that I do not dare say it, so I'll use Gilman's words instead.

"Have you no respect for the past? For what was thought and believed by your foremothers?"
"Why, no," she said. "Why should we? They are all gone. They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them — and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us."

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