August 18, 2015

Herland

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

By The Benign Maleficent In Book review 2 min read

ABSENCE OF FEMALE SEXUALITY IN HERLAND

Herland, written in 1915 by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a ground-breaking story about three curious male travellers who find their way to a strange land, a land inhabited solely by women. This story has long been hailed as one of the earliest feminist masterpieces, and rightly so.

Gilman boldly defies many prevalent gender stereotypes of society. Her characters are able to choose fields for themselves and maternity doesn’t interfere with their everyday lives. One of the most progressive ideas she introduces in the story is her depiction of women not as ‘females’, but as people. All the citizens of Herland are diverse and have their own strengths and weaknesses as they go about their lives in their own way. However, not underestimating Gilman’s radical feminist vision, she does falter at times even as the narrative becomes rather tedious with the palpable absence of sexuality.


Gilman chafes fiercely against the gender normativity of her age, but her feminism is inadequate with regard to realistically presenting the highly accomplished women as sexual beings.


Even as the people of Herland are highly advanced in all fields of life, their land seems largely manicured, free of all instinctual excitements faced by human beings. Eliminating the basic human desire of physical intimacy, Herland seems barren. Gilman has no hesitation in portraying the sexual desires of the three men, however, these women display their love in purely platonic affection for another, it’s a motherland-meant only for motherly love.

Gilman chafes fiercely against the gender normativity of her age, but her feminism is inadequate with regard to realistically presenting the highly accomplished women as sexual beings. Axiomatically, their community mothering of their nation debars their pragmatic disposition. They consider abortion as a hideous phenomenon even as Gilman presents motherhood as the ultimate and sacrosanct part of their lives.

Hence, Gilman, in her quest to caustically eliminate gender stereotypes cannot make Herland a fully neutral utopia, as it is essentially an isolated place, a strange land where with all its perfectionism, the women don’t have the concept of sexual freedom.

Even though Gilman’s daring seems limited today, she made a great leap forward for her time. She was independent and acutely aware of her sexuality even as she twice married, had a daughter who lived her father and not with Gilman, and even had a lesbian relationship which lasted for a year. Gilman can be truly called a great harbinger of change for feminist cause.

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