'Herland' and gender expression

Reading a book that is considered an "important feminist work" and finding myself largely disgusted with the vision of women was not something I expected.  That is what I got when I read Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  The idea of an intellectual and physical utopia grown out of a society of women is great, I just have problems with how the women are very strictly written in their gender roles.  While the men visiting Herland have issues with the "lack of femininity" largely the only drastic diversion from gender roles by these women are that they are all independent of men and possess physical strength.  They are even ruled by "mothers."  It's like reading women written by Heinlein who are always brilliant and savvy, but for whom babies are a universal ingredient to their life's happiness.

Herland celebrates women, but only women of a very narrow, cisgendered scope that ignores the complexities of gender.  The women all possess the vaulted traits of intelligence, wisdom, strength, and physical female perfection.  They are also all the ultimate mothers, all desiring and cherishing children.  These women are strongly gendered within this.

Women across time, regardless of their origins, vary in their conformity to gender norms.  At the time that Herland was written, "Boston marriage" existed in the vernacular, encompassing a range of alternative relationships and gender expressions.  Women who lacked attraction to men, women who lived independent from men, women who felt like they were in the wrong body, women who simply did not fit the "female" mold.  These were common enough to have a name rather than existing simply as an oddity.

The initial generations of Herland reproduced without controls, not until the more recent generations did they actively work to regulate their population.  Allowing for the many generations of rapid population growth and within the constraints of parthenogenesis over time they could viably have a wide genetic spread across their population.

It is unknown what really defines gender, be it genetics or socialization.  Here we have both factors even if we have a single gender instead of a binary gender system.  Not only that, but physical gender expression does not always match the chromosome pairs.  Why does Herland have no intersex or XX male children?  Why are all of the women gendered as mothers?  Even without a male gender there is still room for variance in gender expression and identity.  In our world non-binary genders do not necessarily mirror the opposing binary genders.  In a utopian culture of intellect and wisdom, would they not accept a wider range of gender expression than that of an ultimate motherhood?
Definitions & Sources:
cisgender - someone who's percieved gender matches their birth gender <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender>

Boston marriage - two women living together independent of men during the late 19th and early 20th century, some in lesbian relationships, some not <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_marriage>

Parthenogenesis - a form of asexual reproduction, also known as "virgin birth" <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenogenesis>

Intersex - posessing variations in sex characteristics that do not allow for clear gender classification <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex>

XX male - men with 'female' chromosomal pairs <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16556678>

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins.  Herland.  Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/32

peer 1 → A nicely written piece

peer 2 →
This essay is very well written. It has a careful layout and it is almost mathematical in its exposition. About the words, many of these terms were new to me. Thank you for the clarification.

peer 3 →
Good transition between P 1 & 2, but lacking after that. In P2, beginning with 'Women and ending with 'mold' you have a sentence fragment as it does not have a complete thought. In P 3, the first sentence is a run-on. Use 3rd person, not 1st (we). Keep the tense in present form - are instead of were. P3, use a comma after time and in P
4, after the word gender. In P 4, most people think of binary as a numbers system. Binary can be a dictionary correct term, but isn't correct to mean two sexes. Italicize the title throughout. Gender is a noun that cannot be made into a verb. I believe you want to use the word engendered which can be used as a verb.

peer 4 →
Very well written, nothing much to say.

peer 5 →
The content is easy to understand. The structure of his work is easy to read. I apologize if my grammar is poor, my native language is not English. I hope my comments are clear

peer 1 → You articulated and brought into focus many of my thoughts about Herland and it's feminist manifesto, which I think is very much divorced from the realities of the shades of personality that exist even within one sex. As I read it I had a vision of all those pre-Second World War German films with blond blue eyed healthy specimens of Aryan descent striding through the mountains and taking part in mass exercise routines. Wasn't Jesse Owens a real wake up call. Thanks too for all the background.

peer 2 →
I find this essay to be very objective. I think you were almost detached from it, probably not to express any bias. There is concrete information and it is a real mind opener, not only to the book, but to the gender aspect in general. It is a well written essay, full of meaning and insight.

peer 3 →
It is unlikely that during the time 'Boston Marriage' was in the vernacular, it is unlikely to have included 'women who felt like they were in the wrong body'. It would have been too much for that time, even as many people have difficulty hearing about it today. Are the 3 other descriptions an oddity (singular) or oddities (plural)? Note that not all the women become mothers. Your last sentence would have worked well in a concluding paragraph, but not as a question. Your essay is about gender, not 'Herland'. In a much longer paper you could have dealt with these more fully using examples and quotations. Cisgender? redundant definition which should be referenced from a medical source, not Wikipedia which is not exactly a well-thought-of source.

peer 4 →
Although I know where you come from, I don't feel that you really analyze the book. You mostly use it as an excuse to discuss gender identity as a social subject. While it is very interesting, it's also something we've been warned against. Maybe you could have written a comparison between female characters in A Princess of Mars, and female characters in Herland.

peer 5 →
The argument is consistent, from the title of this, until the end. Be approached in a context the problem of gender and the type of woman referenced in the Herland's book. Part of parthenogenesis in which questions because there are only women and not men. I share this concern with you, I think any advanced society should be inclusive and diverse, for greater cultural richness.
So, I wanted to make a few notes in response to the comments made by the reviewers.  First off, I do realize Wikipedia is not the best source of definitions, however when writing a 300 word essay on one of two books that I was to read in less than five days, I simply did not have time to locate and reference the physical books that I wanted to.  For defining cisgender I could have probably used the definition from BasicRights.org but there is a good collection of references and further readings on the Wikipedia definition, and it isn't a word that is popular in medical reference sites at this time.  In my mind, Wikipedia is better than UrbanDictionary or Tumblr for definitions.  As for claiming that "Boston Marriage" was a known phrase in 1915, it was coined close to 20 years before Herland was written and there are documented surveys in the early 20th century where women to admit to feeling misplaced in their own body.  This is a subject on which I have read about in a number of published books, so while I will accept that I may have overstated the inclusion of the phrase in common vocabulary, I will stand by my other statements regarding it in my essay.  Unfortunately the lack on my part does give the appearance of unfounded fact.

As for errors in the actually essay, at this point I have witnessed formatting errors occur between when I enter text and then save it.  It does not matter how carefully I check to make sure that all italics are where they belong or that there is a space between every word, something gets shifted.  Ending an essay in questions is not a great practice, but it is where my lines of thought led me.  I managed an above average grade on this, and I'm glad to have gotten a chance to explore this topic with feedback.

Amusingly, one of the reviewers recognized who I was due to a forum discussion I started on gender definition in Herland.


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