Charlotte Perkins’ Gilmans’ Herland

Questions I have about Herland:

What would the speculations about Herland have sounded like if they were made by 3 contemporary women? What would the speculations have sounded like if they were made by 3 women today? Three women in this class?

The Herlanders are constantly “trapping” their male guests into “exposing” how their (our) world is unsavory in comparision. How is the ‘real’ world actually *preferable* to Herland?

How is Herland more a dystopia than a utopia?

While I was reading, I made a list of the qualities (characteristics) that defined and/or described the inhabitants of Herland. I had 2 lists, acually, one of qualities which seemed to subvert traditional ideas of femininity, and the other of qualities which were associated with what one might’ve expected women to be like–both at that time and now. I found that my list of how the women actually fit into accepted notions of feminity was LONGER than the subversion list. This led me to wonder how ‘gender bending’ the book really is.

Before I go further, here are my lists:

Non-feminine Qualities of Herlanders

  • Short hair
  • Androgynous dress
  • Laconic in speech
  • Calm and even tempered
  • Athletic
  • Rational and intelligent
  • Cooperative
  • Beautiful (land and architecture – not predominantly bodily)

Feminine Qualities of Herlanders

  • Warm ‘home’ spaces
  • Good prepared food
  • Able caretakers/nurturers
  • Patient, apt teachers
  • Fertile (land and body)
  • Sensitive (meat industry horrified them, as did some stories of child treatment)
  • Non-violent
  • Neat and clean
  • Motherhood
  • Egalitarian
  • Master sewers

I suppose the argument could be made that some of the ‘traditional’ qualities might be said to apply in novel contexts. For example, Herlanders are sensitive to certain things, but not to others as we might expect–they are not easily taken by the sexual advanes of Terry or by Jeff’s desire to constantly dote over them. So, there’s some gender bending, I concede. Nevertheless, I’m finding it difficult to get out of my own head with this book. Making the lists was hard, because perhaps I tend to ascribe non-traditional qualities to women that many would not. So I’m curious as to the reaction of women other than myself to this book. I really don’t care how the 3 men reacted–that seemed too obvious. What am I getting at? Who is the audience for this book? Today? Beyond the clear relevance of Ecocriticim to the novel, is the book just a genre example? One we have students read so they can see structure and plot devices? Overall, can feminists be pleased with the book?

Let’s see. Other thoughts I had, just randomly:

  1. The ‘plot’ of let-us-learn-from-you seems completely bogus to me. The Herlanders always have an air of superiority about them, and they always find ways to make the men seem foolish, their world cruel and stupid. Whereas, of course, Herland is the truly scary place. If Herlanders really wanted to know, they would leave their world. There would be a liberating ex-tasis.
  2. On the other hand, all in Herland is fascist. They engage in eugenics: social cleansing of criminals, of those who wish to have “sex-love”. They believe whole-heartedly in this idea of a Platonic ‘philosopher king’ who is the only fit one to educate the young. There is no individual liberty in terms of saying what’s best for your child…because these proprietary pronouns mean nothing to Herlanders…and so they are blind to how short their world falls in this respect.
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