Herland and Mr. B Speaks!

The 16th installment of Mr. B Speaks! makes reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's novella Herland.

Gilman is best known as the author of "The Yellow Wallpaper." Much has been written about "The Yellow Wallpaper" which really does not need to be repeated here. Suffice it to say that Gilman suffered from postpartum depression and a medical establishment that thought sending women into isolation was a good way to cope with depression.

(On an entirely personal note, I have been visiting hospitals for the past month as my father recovers from major surgery to his spine and removal of his gallbladder. The tendency of medical professionals to make self-assured blanket statements while not really communicating anything or being forthright about cause and effect hasn't changed much--it makes you appreciate Dr. House.)

Throughout the 18th century, male physicians
began to replace midwives (midwife depicted here) at
childbirth. Unfortunately, they were rather clueless. This is
one area where male ingenuity and ambition did not in fact
benefit women (there are many other areas where it has).
In Herland, Gilman advocates a society where women don't have to suffer for being the principle child-bearers of the race. For most of history, the complications of pregnancy and the inherent weakness of newborns (making them entirely reliant on lactating females) have made women both vulnerable and worshippable, depending on whether you are talking to Freud or, uh, Freud.

Gilman's solution is birth control and community support. The novella fails to address the independent nature of individual decision-making, but then most utopias fail to take competing alphas, mavericks, rebels, iconoclasts, and just plain irresponsible people into account. And forget about the inherent self-interest of most people who want what they want when they want it and have to be persuaded by a moral belief/system that giving up what they want is actually a good idea.

Still, while not quite as unique as some of my college instructors believed (Dorothy Sayers' book Gaudy Night discusses many of the same ideas that Gilman proposes), Gilman presents an interesting contrast to other feminists--then and now--who want to eliminate the male, pregnancy, babies, and the potential for a conservative family life. Like any good romance, at the core of Herland is a working male-female relationship.

In my view, the Committee for Literary Fairness errs in using Herland as their politically correct dumping ground.

The saga continues!

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