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Herland: Loathsome Aspects of Humanity w/ Pretty Pink Bow
am 18. Februar 2000
The stunning dichotemy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" exists in Gilman's attempt to present her fictional civilization as a type of Utopia, while instead creating a civilization founded on such loathsome aspects of humanity as pursuit of one "Superior Race", justifying imprisonment for selfish purposes, ecological tampering and perpetuated stereotypes regarding men and women.
Herland, a civilization of only women and girl-children, who reproduce through immaculate conception and produce only female children, reflects Adolph Hitler's belief in societal "cleansing" and pursuit of a superior race. Women in Herland, a place where women are stereotypically all longing for no more in life than to reproduce and pop out babies, are expected to produce no more than one baby each, due to limited resources and land. Any woman who posesses personality traits that do not fit the rigid framework of Herland society, are point blank asked not to reproduce. It is made clear that any personality trait outside of the societally-desired norm of unrealistic goddess-like calm, reserve and mommy-ism is undesirable. Therefore, they "weed out" any differentiation and individualism, establishing a clone-like state of "We're so pure we float" women.
The narrator of Herland is Van. He and his two buddies have gone exploring the myth of Herland and landed by plane just there. Exercising a stereotype that doesn't seem to fit, three beautiful, young women are sent out to act as sirens, and lure the men. The problem with this part of Gilman's story, is that supposedly the society has not had any knowledge of or contact with men for thousands of years. How then would they know that men would be so attracted and play chump to this lure? --Be that as it may, again, we see Gilman using women and basing this on the stereotype that young women are to be used as jezebels, temptresses, while the older women are naturally the wise ones, described as "the colonels" by the men in jest. Second female stereotype: A mature woman is a crone. She is not attractive to men, but does have wisdom and authority. Of course there are no young, attractive women on the council of "colonels". Young, pretty women are of course, flighty and stupid and not in positions requiring wisdom and authority (read: sarcasm).
Van and his two fellow-explorers, Jeff and Terry, are apprehended by being rushed by women and anesthetized with ether. Does this say "Peaceful Utopia" ? I didn't read it that way. The men are imprisoned and guarded. They are forced to tutor the "colonels" in English and to learn the parlance of Herland, so that they might better communicated with the colonels and be of more use to their self-concerned purposes. It is apparent that the men want to leave and go home. They attempt to escape. The women spy on them from the treetops, unknown to the men, almost toying with them this way. They observe them, hungry and desperate and wanting to go home. When the women's curiosity in observation is satiated, they drag the men back and double up on the guards. The men are held prisoner in Herland for about a year. This imprisonment of human beings for personal experiment/education in sociology circumvents Gilman's attempt to paint a picture of a superior society.
In closing, getting through Herland was a labor, not of love, but of college course assingment. I found these women to reflect stereotypes about women (all women love cats, all women want to be mommies, young women are temptress-sirens, mature women are wise old crones) and other unlikable traits: eliminating indigenous animal and plant life that they made judgements about, tampering with ecology. I also thought the three men were very narrow-minded-ly created compilations of male stereotypes. It was all I could do to even finish reading this book.