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Hasta La Vista Patriarchy. Feminist Science Fiction and the Exclusion of Men

An Analysis of Gioconda Belli’s “A Women’s Country” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Herland”

Essay 2014 20 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theory
2.1 Science Fiction and Utopia
2.2 Feminism, Revolution and the Household- Historical Context of the Novels

3. Analysis
3.1 Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland
3.2 Gioconda Belli’s A Women’s Country
3.3 Societies without Men- Femininity, Masculinity and Patriarchy

4. Conclusion and Discussion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

In times of ‘no alternative’ we need alternatives. In times of ‘post-feminism’ we need feminism. In times where Science Fiction is derided and ‘nerdy’ we need to beam it back into the academic context. In times where utopia is almost an obscene swearword we need to put it back into perspective. What else are we supposed to imagine other than the utopian? Is there really no alternative to ecological crisis, to femicide, poverty and inequality? Of course there is, because all it needs is our imagination. If we imagine something different, this is the alternative, this is utopian. In a feminist academic context there has been utopian imagination. When Christine de Pizan wrote Le Livre de la Cité des Femmes (engl. “The book of the city of women”) in 1405 she created a milestone for feminist utopias, long before Thomas More established the literary genre of the utopia with his famous novel Utopia in 1516. Momentous for feminist utopias was Pizane’s decision that female happiness can only be established without men. During the first wave of feminism in the 19th and early 20th century, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a women’s right activist took a chance on the utopian genre and wrote Herland (1915), about an all-female society which is able to reproduce via parthenogenesis and became herewith a leading figure for further feminist writers of utopia. During second-wave feminism (1960-1970’s) most feminist utopias concentrated on protecting this perfectly equal society, as in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976). It was during the third wave of feminism that this model was questioned in feminist utopian fiction and the genre critical utopia emerged. These days, the genre of the critical utopia has grown quiet. Inequality between the sexes and the oppression of women is no longer seen as the reason for the world going wrong. It is claimed that we have reached the period of post-feminism. Feminism is dead, unfashionable and useless as equality is achieved, therefore there’s no need for a feminist utopia. What should we imagine if there is no desirable alternative or no alternative at all? Fortunately, few but strong female writers refute those assumptions. Nicaraguan author and declared feminist Gioconda Belli published El Pais de las Mujeres (engl. A Women’s Country). In this contemporary critical piece of feminist utopian fiction, nature in the form of a volcanic eruption lowers the testosterone level of all men in Faguas to almost zero, leaving all men powerless and weary. Therefore, a small group of women is able to form a party and come into power to exclude all men from the administrative machinery. This essay will prove that the exclusion of men in the utopian novels Herland and A Women’s Country functions as a metaphor for a society in which, through the elimination of patriarchy, women are able to fully develop their potential and, moreover, develop it in different ways as opposed to those under patriarchal structures. Different concepts of society, environmental questions as well as gender aspects will be central to the observation.

2. Theory

2.1 Science Fiction and Utopia

Estrangement, or “cognitive estrangement” (Suvin 61), is essential to all Science Fiction as the imagination of something completely else while also considering the existing is the process of creating Science Fiction. Utopia, to Suvin, is the imagination of a possible (better) future:

“[A] verbal construction of a particular quasi-human community where sociopolitical and individual relationships are organized according to a more perfect principle than in the author’s community, this construction being based on estrangement arising out of an alternative historical hypothesis.” (ibid.)

Therefore, in this essay the concept of utopia will be dealt with as a “sociopolitical subgenre of science fiction” (ibid.) concentrating on an alternative “more perfect” (ibid.) way of organising a certain society. The word itself is a combination of the Greek prefix “oú” which means “no” and the stem “topos” for “place” (“utopia” OED) which highlights the importance of imagination, as it is a place non-existing in “the authors community” (Suvin 61). The “verbal constructions” (ibid.) are therefore the figments of imagination, an imagined nowhere. The utopian nowhere can be a state, a country or a city which has a metaphorical function. It inhabits ideals, wishes and alternatives and can “change minds” (Kessler 4). Lee Cullen Khanna explains from the readers point of view that “we can find Utopia in the process of experiencing a convincing fiction [...] not ‘out there’ in another time and place- but within the self” (58-59). Further, it is a crucial aspect that the imagined society is organised in “more perfect” ways (Suvin 61) but in no case perfect. During the 1960’s and 1970’s the term ‘Critical Utopia’ emerged. Tom Moylan explains in his famous work Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination (1986):

“The critical Utopian texts mark a shift in anti-hegemonic culture and politics away from male-dominant, capitalist, hierarchical social structure […].The critical Utopias still describe alternative societies, but they are careful to consider the flaws and insufficiencies of these systems. (Moylan 211)

Therefore, the weak points of a utopian society are revealed and leave the utopian core, which is often redeemed as unrealistic and not realisable, less open to attack. In addition, it is noticeable that most Critical Utopias can be characterised as feminist utopias as they imagine structures which are not “male dominated” (ibid.). Herland and A Women’s Country can be classified as Critical Utopias, which will become clear during the analysis.

2.2 Feminism, Revolution and the Household- Historical Context of the Novels

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was active during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the time of the women’s movement, also called first-wave feminism. Herland was written in 1915 and published as a serial in Gilman’s own magazine The Forerunner, while industrialisation and capitalism reached their climax. On the one hand, the roles of men as wage earners and women as housewives and mothers were deeply established in society but on the other hand, working class women had to combine tasks of motherhood, housework and wage labour. Nevertheless, in most cases women were economically dependent on their husbands, fathers or brothers and their institution was the home. To Gilman, this was “causing women to become more conventionally ‘feminine’ and men to stress their ‘masculine traits’” (Gilman qtd. In Stein 118). Furthermore, Gilman criticised in The Home that because women have to dedicate themselves to work for which they are not trained or qualified, as for example cooking, cleaning and childcare, they are “exhausted and their energies are fragmented” (ibid.). Herewith, she challenges the notion that such abilities are ‘natural’ to woman. Gilman’s alternative is summarised by Karen Stein:

“To solve this problem she advocates housing built with private small apartments, communal kitchens and dining rooms, and childcare centers. In these places specialists who are gifted in certain skills and trained for their professional roles will perform more efficiently many of the duties now undertaken by the overburdened housewives.” (ibid.)

In Herland Gilman implements her thoughts by creating an all-female society in which women are able to unfold their full potential.

The Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli published A Women’s Country (orig. El País de las Mujeres) in 2010. In the 1970’s Belli was part of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) against the dictatorship of the Somoza family and had to flee into exile. When she returned after the revolution, she started writing erotic stories, which evoked a very negative response around the strongly catholic society of Nicaragua. She was also member of a secret women’s society, which was one of the inspirations for A Women’s Country as she explains in an interview:

“In the 80s, during the Sandinista Revolution, a group of women, me included, began to meet secretly to figure out ways to introduce the discussion of women’s issues into the revolutionary agenda that, at the time, was mostly occupied with economic and military concerns. We called ourselves the Party of the Erotic Left, PIE, which means “foot” in Spanish. It was a defiant and fun group. I took the inspiration for this novel from that experience.” (Belli, Hoover, Interview)

The theme of ‘failed revolutions’ or “unfinished revolutions” (Stephens 29) and the role of women in these revolutions runs like a red thread through Belli’s novels. Gregory Stephens argues in Gioconda Belli on Women in Love and War: Unfinished Revolutions in the Revolutionary Process that “Belli’s work interrogates the unfinished revolution in our attitudes about the proper place of women in revolutionary movements.” (29) Speaking about her novels The Inhabited Woman (1988) and The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War (2002) Stephens observes that “Belli challenges us to envision sexuality as a necessary part of the revolutionary process for both men and women” (30). In A Women’s Country Belli finally enables women to be the organisers of a successful revolution. The revolution is led by a female political party called PIE (Partida de la Izquierda Erótica, engl. Party of the Erotic Left) which cannot be disturbed by men in the first place, because a volcanic eruption bereaves them of their testosterone which leaves them weary and tired. Therefore, Belli uses the utopian genre to finally think things through to the end by eliminating men from the public life and let women unfold their potential for change.

3. Analysis

3.1 Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland

Herland presents a utopian fictional society, placed on a plateau, separated by inaccessible high mountains in South America and therefore a ‘no place’ which could only be discovered due to the invention of planes. 2000 years ago, most of the male population of Herland died during a volcanic outburst when they went on a war mission. The outburst led to falling rocks which locked away the remaining women and men. Furthermore it is explained:

“Very few men were left alive, save the slaves; and these now seized their opportunity, rose in revolt, killed their remaining masters even to the youngest boy, killed the old women too, and the mothers, intending to take possession of the country with the remaining young women and girls. But this succession of misfortunes was too much for those infuriated virgins. There were many of them, and but few of these would-be masters, so the young women, instead of submitting, rose in sheer desperation and slew their brutal conquerors.” (47)

The women were safe from their enemies now, but they were also entrapped in a hopeless situation. Of course without men there would be no procreation. Nevertheless, they made” their living as best they could” (ibid.) as they, after all, had “the most fertile land to live in” (48). As the community of the women grew stronger a:

”miracle happened-one of these young women bore a child […] And there, as years passed, this wonder-woman bore child after child, five of them--all girls. […] As fast as they reached the age of twenty-five they began bearing. Each of them, like her mother, bore five daughters.” (49)

As only girls were born, the male sex was forgotten over time and “the tradition of men as guardians and protectors had quite died out. These stalwart virgins had no men to fear and therefore no need of protection” (ibid.) and women were able to fully develop their potential without gender constraints or patriarchal oppression. The society of Herland[1] is built on four cornerstones: Fertility, motherhood, sisterhood and solidarity:

“Here was Mother Earth, bearing fruit. All that they ate was fruit of motherhood, from seed or egg or their product. By motherhood they were born and by motherhood they lived—life was, to them, just the long cycle of motherhood” (51).

[...]

Details

Pages
20
Year
2014
ISBN (eBook)
9783656892663
ISBN (Book)
9783656892670
File size
634 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v289031
Institution / College
Free University of Berlin – Englische Philologie
Grade
1,6
Tags
hasta vista patriarchy feminist science fiction exclusion analysis gioconda belli’s women’s country” charlotte perkins gilman’s herland”

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Title: Hasta La Vista Patriarchy. Feminist Science Fiction and the Exclusion of Men