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A 1915 novel is now the blueprint for a real-life feminist utopia
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I’m With Herland
Edited by Marina Benjamin. She ended it as a writer of her own utopian fictions, including Herland , a playful novel about an ideal all-female society. Bellamy was certain that, from this economic parity, gender equality would follow.
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Gilman took a different approach. All were variations on the same utopian blueprint: the ideal society could be achieved peacefully in a remarkably short time if only women were freed from conventional housework and childrearing she envisioned a combination of communal living and professional childcare in order to spread the self-sacrificing ethics of the larger motherhood. Three bold young men on a scientific expedition to a remote part of the globe hear tales of a land inhabited only by women, located in an inaccessible mountain range.
The men obtain a biplane and pilot it into the mountains, where after landing they soon spy three beautiful young women and give chase. The athletic young women, sensibly attired in utopian bloomers, easily outrun the men, who are captured by a phalanx of unarmed but well-disciplined women who chloroform them and place them under house arrest in a guarded fortress. Gilman was remarkably indifferent to the typical concerns of utopian fiction: work, politics, government. Instead, she used her fantastical premise to focus on her own interests, such as animal rights.
Herlanders have eliminated all domesticated animals because of the cruelty inherent in slaughtering them for food. They are appalled at the idea of separating cows from their calves.
Any interference with the natural processes of mothering is abhorrent to them. Mothering is at the centre of Herland society. The women of Herland reproduce parthenogenetically, bearing only daughters, who are raised communally: each child is regarded as the child of all. Here is no war, no violence, no crimes, no negative emotions, only learning by playing and having fun and producing culture in harmony with nature.
It is also an ecological society without pollution and over consumption. The genre is fantasy rather than sci-fi, since here are no imagined science devices. What if …. Herland has no power struggle, their religion is Motherhood, and everyone shares in the rearing of children all girls , there is no marriage but a common Sisterhood. They had no theory of the essential opposition of good and evil; life to them was growth; their pleasure was in growing, and their duty also.
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It is a world without evil, without struggle, without the concept of having to overcome any obstacles at all. The women never disagree among themselves, because they all want the same: the best for their children and a continuous growth of mind, ability, knowledge.
Leaving Herland | The Point Magazine
Reading this book is part of my journey into other fantastic genres than horror. Gilman imagined a world without men. Gilman was herself married and left her husband and child to start a career in teaching, writing, thinking and being a single woman, who was also a feminist and socialist. Well, here is my messy reality: I try to have a career, am divorced and try to be the best possible mother for my two children, and I also have a dog, commute two hours to my workplace, and I used to run marathons before breaking my arm in and my foot in Today, I worry about my weight!
In short, I try to be wonder woman. I think there are very few female academic trying to do all these things. It is almost impossible. This year I also wrote three grant applications, sending me twice to the doctor who said my tiredness, lack of memory and signs of anxiety were symptoms of stress. She wanted to go on sick leave which I have so far turned down. The first work load is the one we share with men, the second workload the one we take upon ourselves as women.
I remember fifteen years ago when I talked about my experience at a dinner, the guest a man said: why do you complain, you are not a refugee. You have all the freedom you want and a good salary.
Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman
You are so privileged. And he is of course right.
I could let go of dieting.