Friday, July 3, 2015

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I knew this was an Utopian novel going in. If you've followed any of my reviews for a while, you know that Utopian novels are not my favorites. I probably lean more towards Dystopian because that seems more realistic (Am I jaded? Because I think I might be).

I'm always up to listen to novels I normally wouldn't listen to if Heather Ordover from the Craftlit podcast is handling them. She goes out of her way to do research to complement and expand every book and it's a sheer pleasure to learn from her. If you aren't craft minded, it's ok too, she tells you at the start where the book talk starts.

It was from Heather that I learned this was a feminist utopian novel, although I was already figuring that out by the second chapter. This novel stirred up enough emotions and thoughts that, while it's not a favorite book, it's going to be one I recommend. Written in 1915 by the woman who brought us The Yellow Wallpaper (another uncomfortable book but I still recommend), Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Think for a moment before we start the review about the rights women did NOT have back in 1915......

Keep that in mind.

Herland is a country of 3 million women, absolutely no men have lived here in over 2,000 years, and 3 men have decided to try and find this mythical land. They land their aircraft in Herland and are promptly, but politely, taken as captives. The women of Herland do not harm the men. In fact, they want to teach them about their country and learn everything about theirs. They are secluded from the world, not by choice, but by nature.  Van, Jeff and Terry are happy to tell them the good parts about America (willfully choosing to leave out the undesirable parts). In Herland, there is no crime, war, or domination. Every woman works together in harmony and raise their children to be good, upstanding citizens.

Their children?

Through parthenogenesis (basically asexual reproduction) the women of Herland have their children. They use this to "weed" out the undesirable behaviors. If a woman shows an inclination towards "bad" behavior, she isn't allowed to reproduce. In the book, not allowed to reproduce just means keeping her too busy to think about having children.

Terry was a despicable character in that he is a male that I have encountered many many times. Women are to be conquered and won and are to bend to what he wants. He is certainly in a sad place in Herland. Jeff feels women should be sheltered and protected....again, he is in a sad place here although he bends very easily to what the women want. Women built Herland: the buildings, the roads, the food, the rules, the LIFE. There is some scorn when Jeff takes a basket from one of the women to carry "because women shouldn't carry things" and the women looks around at everything only women built and toiled over and is confused. I'm with you, lady.

Women have come a long way since the time this novel was written, but we still haven't achieved gender equality. Since 1915, we have rights over our own bodies, for the most part, but still can't get the same respect or even the same pay as men.

This is why the novel discomfited me. I wanted to punch Terry and Jeff, often, while listening to this. But I couldn't just think "Well, this was 1915 and we're completely equal now." Because, in the IT world that I work in, it's very obvious that the genders are still not equal. And that..... that makes me sad.

Here are some links that Heather played during the audio of the book. I loved what each one has to say about how much more there is to accomplish in order for the genders to be equal.

I didn't shirk from the label of feminist before and I definitely embrace it now.
Emma Watson - UN Speech - He for She Campaign
Joss Whedon - Equality Now

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