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Fantastic visions


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Fantastic visions on the necessity of feminist utopian narrative
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Welser, Tracie Anne
University of South Florida
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Feminist utopia
Women science fiction writers
Feminist science fiction
Lesbian separatism
Dissertations, Academic -- Women's Studies -- Masters -- USF   ( lcsh )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
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ABSTRACT: Works of feminist utopian literature project longing for and predict political change while confronting current social inequities. Often, they effectively interrogate Western models of citizenship and the institutions which reify them, suggesting alternate models. Here, I define Western citizenship as determined by the maintenance of the nation-state through gendered social roles that restrict women to the private sphere and men to the public. This thesis asserts that feminist utopian literature, like politically conscious music, art, and other forms of feminist praxis, is a politically necessary component of feminist consciousness because it facilitates much-needed visions of a more equitable future for all citizens.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Tracie Anne Welser.
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Fantastic visions
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b on the necessity of feminist utopian narrative /
by Tracie Anne Welser.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 78 pages.
3 520
ABSTRACT: Works of feminist utopian literature project longing for and predict political change while confronting current social inequities. Often, they effectively interrogate Western models of citizenship and the institutions which reify them, suggesting alternate models. Here, I define Western citizenship as determined by the maintenance of the nation-state through gendered social roles that restrict women to the private sphere and men to the public. This thesis asserts that feminist utopian literature, like politically conscious music, art, and other forms of feminist praxis, is a politically necessary component of feminist consciousness because it facilitates much-needed visions of a more equitable future for all citizens.
Adviser: Marilyn Myerson.
Feminist utopia.
Women science fiction writers.
Feminist science fiction.
Lesbian separatism.
Dissertations, Academic
x Women's Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


Fantastic Visions: On the Necessity of Feminist Utopian Narrative by Tracie Anne Welser A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Womens Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Ma rilyn Myerson, Ph.D. Carolyn DiPalma, Ph.D. Ruth Banes, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 7, 2005 Keywords: feminist utopia, dys topia, women science ficti on writers, feminist science fiction, lesbian separatism Copyright 2005, Tracie A. Welser


Dedication for me (WUNJO)


Acknowledgements My thanks to the helpful and honest members of my committee, particularly Marilyn Myerson, without whom this text w ould have remained unwritten. She has my sincerest gratitude for her regard for this subject about which I am so passionate. She has been both a mentor and a friend, and my only regret concerning this thesis is that its completion will result in graduation, in my leaving the USF Department of Womens Studies, and in the loss of the programs most enjoyable and sustaining benefit: frequent hugs from Marilyn. My thanks to my family: my patient spouse, my impatient son, my persevering and indispensable mother. The steadfastness of your love makes me, in large part, who I am today. To the Four Guardians and the One of One Thousand Names: gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, in every step.


i Table of Contents ABSTRACT iii Introduction to Utopian Narrative 1 Defining Utopia 1 Political Necessity: Projection, Prediction, and Confrontation 6 Explanation of Methods 8 Chapter One: Longing for a Motherland: The Lost World of Charlotte Perkins Gilmans Herland 11 On Gilman Herself 11 Text Synopsis 15 Projecting Desires: the Supremacy of Motherhood 17 Interrogating Institutions by Way of Reversal 20 Problematic Aspects: the Superior Race 25 Conclusions: Compassionate New Model 27 Chapter Two: Cultural Dissonance: Se paratism, Sameness and Socialism in The Wanderground and The Dispossessed 28 On Context 28 Text Synopses 33 Projection: Technologies of the Body, New Ethical Modes 35 Confrontation and Prediction: Bord ers and the Separatist Solution 38


ii Problematic Elements 42 Conclusions: True Journey is Return 45 Chapter Three: Revisioning, Reclai ming: Spirituality and Embodied Technologies in Parable of the Sower and The Fifth Sacred Thing 47 Context 47 Text Synopses 50 Projection: Out of Violence 51 Prediction: No Future? 53 Confrontation: Challenging Oppression, Welcoming the Stranger 54 Utopia as Goal: Spiritual Quest Themes of Parable of the Sower 55 Conclusions 58 Bibliography 62 Notes 69


iii Fantastic Visions: On the Necessity of Feminist Utopian Narrative Tracie A. Welser ABSTRACT Works of feminist utopian literature project longing for and predict political change while confronting current social ine quities. Often, they effectively interrogate Western models of citizenship and the institu tions which reify them, suggesting alternate models. Here, I define Western citizenship as determined by the maintenance of the nation-state through gendered soci al roles that restrict wome n to the private sphere and men to the public. This thesis asserts that fe minist utopian literature, like politically conscious music, art, and other forms of fe minist praxis, is a politically necessary component of feminist consciousness because it facilitates much-n eeded visions of a more equitable future for all citizens. Here, patriarchy, separatism, socialism, and radical democracy, as well as attendant difficultie s in implementation and ramifications for women, will be considered through the following works: Charlotte Perkins Gilmans Herland, Sally Miller Gearharts The Wanderground Ursula K. LeGuins The Dispossessed Octavia Butlers Parable of the Sower and Starhawks The Fifth Sacred Thing The thesis also comments on some of th e narrative devices and themes of works discussed, such as nonlinear structure, a voidance of closure, altered states of consciousness, and exile. Analysis of these works relies in part on a growing body of speculative fiction critici sm while also considering femini st theories of difference and


iv vision. The thesis concludes with recomme ndations for utilizing feminist utopian literature as a part of feminist pedagogy. Word Count: 220


1 Introduction to Utopian Narrative PAN: I never did like smart-ass utopians. Always so much healthier and saner and sounder and fitter and kinder and tougher and wiser and righter than me and my family and friends. Peopl e who have the answers are boring, niece. Boring, boring, boring. ARC: But I have no answers and this isnt utopia, aunt! PAN: The hell it aint. ARC: This is a mere dream dreamed in a bad time, an Up Yours to the people who ride snowmobiles, make nuclear weapons, and run prison camps by a middle-aged housewife []. Pandora Converses with the Archivist of the Library of the Madrone Lodge at Wakwaha-na, Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin Defining Utopia The American Heritage College Dictionary defines utopia as an ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and mo ral aspects. Far from the words origin as the imaginary island (no-place) in Sir Thomas Mores Utopia published in 1516, the term now generally connotes an impractical but noble social construct which ultimately results in failure. Sociologis t Krishan Kumar asserts that th e concept of utopia as an ideal otherness (quoting Da vid Plath) is not universally present across cultures, as


2 evidenced by mythology and literature (19). Instead, he argues, ut opia is a distinctly Western concept, influenced by prefigurations such as classical social treatises like Platos Republic and Mores Utopia as well as Christian traditions of utopia and millennialism. 1 The utopian imaginary in America is not a recent invention; while mention of such might bring to mind so-called hippy communal living arrangements of the 1960s and 1970s, the utopian ideal could be considered a founding principle of the nation. As Kumar notes, America, it is often said, was i nvented before it was discovered, and its invention as a land of utopia, and the early settlement of the continent, was often predicated upon a sense of the New World as a new Eden (70). While utopia cannot be seen as a static or archetypal concept, the m odern utopia is generall y egalitarian, affluent and dynamic (32). In short, the location of utop ia is not a no-place at all, but instead corresponds with a perfec tible state in the post-Enlightenme nt imagination, existent in the mind and simultaneously awaiting construction in a physical realm of ready but unused potential. In contrast to the utopia n narrative is the dystopia. Rather than propose a hopeful reconfiguration of society which eradicates collective ills, the dystopia envisages the worst possible future in which utopian dreami ng has been subverted by repressive forces. The ideal is thrust upon citizen s; homogeneity is dictated, and the implications of the imposition of sameness (enacted by the powerful upon the less powerful) are extrapolated. As suggested by Nanelle and Da vid Barash, in dystopian novels, societies tend to disallow the biological functions of their citizens, ofte n replacing individual choice with governable dictates (1). 2 Barash and Barash take Aldous Huxleys Brave


3 New World as their example, which depicts a wo rld that separates sex from reproduction and affection from sex, replacing family a nd relationships with wholly technological reproduction and loveless sexual liaisons. The power of novels such as Huxleys, they write, is invoked partly through the horror of a society that runs roughshod over our instincts, forcing people to be, literally, inhuman (1). No tably, reading and political expression are often disallowed or controlled in dystopia as well to limit exposure to dissenting opinions, pointing to a conclusion that Barash and Barash do not reach; the denial of biology prevalent in dystopias demonstrates a price of forced sameness. Brave New World, while arguably a satire, is one ex ample of the utopian impulse gone wrong, wherein the desire for universal happine ss results in newer and more disturbing forms of repression. In this way, dystopia can be seen as a form of reflection, rather than the antithesis of utopia. Politically, it may serve as a warning in specific historical moments, or an admonition about the tricky business of doing utopia, by providing significant extrapolation of utopian desire that utopian narrative itself may lack. As dystopian narratives may point out, scen arios that explore ut opia as a basis for politics are not without problematic elements The desire for and formulation of ideal community models is often predicated upon an assumption of the superiority of a homogenous, common identity; wholly utopian narratives may posit socially fallacious solutions which identify difference as the social problem, rather than pinpointing the interpretation and stratificati on of difference itself as a s ource of unrest or injustice. Management, eradication or simple dismissal of difference may be provided as strategies for perfecting the ideal community; in these narratives, unity in the family of humanity is all that is necessary for the achievement of perfected social order. Unfortunately, the


4 result of this formulation is the reproducti on of the inherently dystopian concept of a homogenous enclosed community (Melzer 2). Here, the only distin ction between utopia and dystopia is the consent of its citizens. As Frederic Rouvilloi s concludes, utopias with their obsession to rehabilitate manconde mn him to happiness (quoted in Abbott, 44). As a model for community, this formulation fails to incorporate diversity or acknowledge the possibility of dissent and may, in theory, look suspiciously as though it replicates some of the very social machinat ions it seeks to critique. So, to regard the pursuit of utopia as an inherent ly noble project of itself is not a goal here; rather, I am suggesting that utopian fiction is an excellent site for ex amination of the desire for perfectible society, and feminist utopian fiction often incorporates that examination into its own narrative. Utopia, Dystopia, and Feminist Critical Utopia What constitutes feminist utopian narrative? Firstly, the working definition of feminism assumed here most closely matches bell hooks: Feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression. Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all our lives. (26) Feminist utopian narrative as defined here in cludes fiction that explores difference in the context of feminist discourse, meaning th at in the search for ideal community, it considers both the existence of social stra tification based on difference and the humanist ideal of sameness to be probl ematic (Melzer 1); as with feminist theories, difference


5 may not always be problematized in the same ways in these narratives. As Frances Bartkowski states, The feminist utopian novel is a place where theories of power can be addressed through the constructi on of narratives that test and stretch the boundaries of power in its operational details (5). A definition of feminist ut opian fiction is incomplete without note of its tendency to violate the conventio nal genre boundaries of the traditionally masculinist genres of utopian and dystopian fiction. Many feminist scholars agree that the genres of utopian and dystopian literature are too narrow as categories. While utopias such as Edward Bellamys Looking Backward project desires for the pe rfect human community and dystopias like Orwells 1984 predict dim futures as cautiona ry tales, feminist fiction tends to project its desires for perfect community and to investigate problematic elements of those desires. As such, many are neither utopian nor dystopian per se. Raffaella Baccolini states that women writers expand the boundaries of the traditional utopian genre by creating works that contain both utopian and dystopian elements, and by utilizing narratives that resist closure. She terms these works critical or open-ended dystopias (13). Ann Keinhorst argues that critical utopias depart from the traditional definition of utopia in two ways. Critical utopian narratives may distance themselves fantastically from the present in time and space in order to better highlight its inequities, but they relentlessly return the reader to a critique of current realities. They offer possible historical alternatives to the presen t (91) that are rooted in a flexible and alterable now rather than a predetermined future (96). The critical utopia differs from the traditional utopia in that it is the vi sion of a future way of life which presently carries the seed of pot ential historical reality (98). Secondly, she notes that critical


6 utopias such as Monique Wittigs Les Gurillres and Marge Piercys Woman on the Edge of Time unlike traditional utopias, have a specifically feminist rather than humanist emancipatory orientation (97), one that is firmly rooted in interrogating both the present and the place of women in it. Feminis t utopia, she states, will not be replaced by humanistic utopias as long as the full humanity of women remains a utopian goal (98). Political Necessity: Projection, Prediction, and Confrontation Why explore feminist utopian narrative? This literary genre, often lumped together with science fiction, is a notew orthy medium of political expression as significant as art, drama, speech and other fo rms of feminist praxis, and this type of narrative should be considered an important form of praxis for movements that seek to, again in bell hooks words, end sexist oppre ssion (26). When beginning a conversation about any subject connected to science ficti on, one supposes that reactions will fall along two basic lines: those who cons ider the genre noteworthy and literary in nature and those who do not. The distinction is based upon assump tions of quality, of distinctions between high culture and low. Low literary forms, such as science fiction and fantasy, are typically considered escapist while high fiction is recognized as having artistic merit and social relevance. Realistic or high fiction, according to Margaret Atwood, appeals to normative values, and is preoccupied with the tragic de fects of otherwise normal people. Characters in realistic novels often disc uss or become embroiled in th e effects of social problems.


7 However, those novels themselves do not have the luxury of exploring alternatives, as in utopias. Realistic fiction inspe cts the present, while science fiction works include those things which we cant yet do. Atwood suggests that there is some space between these two forcibly divorced genres in the field of speculative fiction, which employs a means already at hand to suggest changes of orga nization in society, e xplore human limitations in relation to technology and the universe, a nd to provide cautionary tales about the misuse of technology and power (Atwood 2005 ). In these ways, unrealistic fiction may pursue an emancipatory or otherwise politic al agenda and present the reader with imaginative options which are firmly rooted in reality and requi re that reality be examined. 3 Perhaps not coincidentally, science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fictions such as utopias are not always recognized for relevant contributions of this type, as observed by Ivana Milojevic and Sohail Inay atullah, who suggest th at the marginality of science fiction in society is in direct proportion with scien ce fictions radicalism (9). Three useful functions of the genre as previously defined will be demonstrated here: utopian literature projects longing for political change, it predicts future manifestations of current social and t echnological experimentation (what Margaret Atwood has termed forecast journalism), and it confronts current social problems by increasing their visibility, often in exagge rative terms. This pr ojection, prediction and confrontation, which I will term collectively as fantastic vision, effectively interrogates Western models of citizenship 4 and the institutions which reify them, and often suggests alternate modes of citizenshi p which are more equitable, ethical and fulfilling for all participants. Where they fail to do so, the narratives provide opportunity for discussion and analysis of the utopian impulse. In this way, feminist utopias should not be dismissed


8 as escapist fantasies simply because their subj ect matter appears to be fantastic; instead, they should be thoughtfully considered as unique tools for investigating manifestations of power and extrapolating new directions for feminist discourse. One of those new directions could include app lication to feminist pedagogy to foster the development of critical consciousness. Explanation of Methods Here, patriarchy, separatism, socialis m, and radical democracy, as well as attendant difficulties in implementation and ramifications for women, will be considered through the following works: Ch arlotte Perkins Gilmans Herland, Sally Miller Gearharts The Wanderground Ursula K. LeGuins The Dispossessed, Octavia Butlers Parable of the Sower and Starhawks The Fifth Sacred Thing These particular works were chosen out of the enormous body of literature that fits my definition of feminist utopia in order to demonstrate a spectrum of feminist utopian impulse in time, from Gilmans Herland (1915) to the work of Starhawk and Butler (1993). The expressed desire for a more egalitarian existence rema ins similar, but the methods for achieving it vary greatly in scope, as do the specifics of each works focus although each contains a separatist element. I have chos en to isolate examination of Herland in its own chapter in order to explore it more fully because of its hi storical significance. I have paired the other selections together based on thematic elements and time of publication. Herland and The Wanderground were chosen because they both present women-only cultures in order to highlight gender inequity; however, they fail to consider the pitfalls of desire for sameness. The pairing of The Wanderground with The Dispossessed (both published in


9 the 1970s) highlights the separatis t theme they share, although The Dispossessed is more concerned with juxtaposing capitalism and socialism. Parable of the Sower and The Fifth Sacred Thing were chosen and paired to demonstrat e the possibilities of utopian desire expressed in tandem with skepti cism regarding its realization and maintenance in the face of oppression. Analysis of the works will ex plore the usefulness of each in terms of models presented and problems overlooked. I will also comment on some of the narrative devices and themes of works, such as nonlinea r structure, avoidance of closure, altered states of consciousness, and exile. Analysis of these works relies in part on a growing body of speculative fiction criticism while also consider ing feminist theories of difference and vision. However, because my in tention is toward br oad application, the reader need not be familiar with these fields. I will conclude with suggestions for the application of feminist utopian na rrative as a pedagogical tool. Feminist dystopian works have intentionally been left out of this analysis, not because they are unimportant or less than fe minist in scope; on the contrary, works such as Margaret Atwoods The Handmaids Tale and Sherri Teppers The Gate to Womens Country make significant contributions to ongoing feminist dialogue re garding personal liberty, reproductive choice, patriarchy and ci tizenship. My primary intention is to explore themes of desire for utopia rather than warnings about repression, and my focus is not on categorical distinction, except wher e relevant to distinguish feminist narrative from humanist utopia. Non-western narratives are also absent; this is not to say that utopian narrative is distinctly western (Kumar and I differ on this point, see endnote 1) or that western feminist desires are universally applicable. Ho wever, western women writers of color, notably Octavia Butler, have re defined feminist utopias by demanding that


10 ideals of sameness be discarded, and in this way have contributed to and expressed the ongoing re-conceptualization of difference in feminist discourse (Melzer 3). In summation, this thesis will consider five texts of feminist utopian fiction and through analysis of them, demonstration the us efulness, indeed the necessity, of the genre to the ongoing development of feminist em ancipatory consciousness. I will consider problematic elements of the individual work s as well as thematic and narrative devices. Primarily, the thesis will explicate the three most useful functions of feminist utopian narrative as I see them: projection of utopian desire, prediction of political change, and confrontation with aspects of Western models citizenship and the institutions which reify them.


11 Chapter One: Longing for a Motherland: The Lost World of Charlotte Perkins Gilmans Herland The woman-soul is rising, in despite of thy transgression Loose her now, and trust her! She will love thee yet! Proem. --Women and Economics Charlotte Perkins Gilman On Gilman Herself Herland was written in 1915 and serialized in Charlotte Perkins Gilmans Forerunner periodical. Like Gilman herself a nd her works of social and economic philosophy, it was rediscovered in the 1970s; Herland was hailed as a revolutionary example of matriarchal utopian fantasy. I chose to include this work and afford it its own chapter because of its historical significance, and because although Herland offers a significant alternative view of female citi zenship and scathing commentary on masculine privilege, the narrative is fraught with para doxical actualizations of Gilmans vital but problematic critical work which make it impe rative to discuss some of that work. While much of Gilmans writing such as the well-known and frequently anthologized The Yellow Wallpaper continues to enjoy feminist acc laim, her other works have drawn


12 criticism for their racist and classist underpinnings. Herland is among the works subject to these analyses, some of which call her st atus as feminist foremother into question. Contextual consideration of Gilmans wo rk is weak without some mention of her family life, as she wrote so prolifically of marriage and child-rearing. Gilman spent her childhood in a woman-dominated household; her father divorced her mother when Gilman was thirteen, and she and her mother moved into her grandmothers (and greatgrandmothers) household. Gilman attended R hode Island School of Design but did not graduate; she married a fellow artist Charle s Walter Stetson in 1884 after nearly two years of indecision. She resisted marriage at first, wishing to remain focused on her career: I felt strongly that for me it [marriag e] was not right, that th e nature of the life before me forbade it, that I ought to for go the more intimate personal happiness for a complete devotion to my work (Gilman, Living 83). However, she did marry, and her daughter Kate was born the following year. Af ter her initially joyful experience with motherhood, Gilman became depressed, so much so that she sought out a trendy cure for depression and anxiety, prescrib ed particularly for men and women exhibiting failure to conform to traditional gender norms. Men were advised to partake of outdoor activity and exercise, while women were confined to bed and encouraged to spend time with their children. Under this treatment, Gilmans de pression became more acute, an experience she fictionalized in The Yellow Wallpaper. Eventually, Gilman left her husband, who married her best friend in 1894 and often cared for Kate while Gilman pursued her career. In 1900, she was married again, this time to her first cousin George Gilman, an attorney who helped finance the publication of Forerunner, in which Herland originally appeared.


13 Between her marriages, she lived again with her mother ( Women 1998 introduction xivxxv). To situate this work in historical c ontext, it is important to reflect on the situatedness of Gilman as an author and soci al critic. To this end, I will discuss some of her influences and briefly outline one of her most acclaimed works, Women and Economics. Gilman sometimes considered herself a feminist and a socialist but preferred to be known as a humanist, and while her fe minism is evident in both her fiction and social commentary (more well-known to her contemporaries) it is a very different feminism than that of the audience which en thusiastically embraced its rediscovery in the 1970s. 5 The visions she suggests in both are thoroughly informed by the influence of evolutionary theory. Darwinian social thought of the time provided a scientific grounding for Victorian notions of essential female na ture and the superiority of European races over others. According to Jennifer Hudak, Gilman sought to utilize evol utionary theory in reformer fashion, influenced by Lester F. Wards Our Better Halves (459). Wards 1888 article discussed Darwins theory of e volution, but unlike his contemporaries, Ward made use of it to demonstrate the natural superiority, rather than the inferiority, of women (Hudak 460). Ward posited the female, instead of the male, as the normative example of human physicality to which scien ce should look, and felt that this reversal would serve as a civilizing principle (460). The influence of Ward upon Gilmans thinking is evident in her work and in her es timation that, Lester Ward was the greatest man I have ever known (Gilman, qtd. in Women 1998 introduction xxi). The influence of evolution as a social as well as biological theory is clear in Gilmans writing, and according to Frances Bartkowski, it is easy to read in her work


14 the progressivism, racism, and nationalism common to reformist, even radical, thought during the period in which Gilman wrot e (26). The subtitle of her 1898 work, Women and Economics: a Study of the Ec onomic Relation between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution makes obvious the connection between her influences and her politics, as does its content. In the text Gilman compels the reader to consider the social impact of economics on behavior and evolutionary de velopments, first with survival-driven behavioral necessities of animal behavior as an analogy to huma n gender relations, and then with race-modification of Jews under the social power of a united Christendom (3-4). The Jew, she states, was forced to get his livelihoo d by commercial methods solely after being driven away from agricu ltural pursuits (4). According to Gilman, women, like Jews, have been forced to modi fy their natural behavior to survive in economic dependence. All troubles in human life, she asserts, can be shown to link to the heart or the purse, in other words, gender relations or economics (25). However, these two factors are not separate in her theory; they determine one another in ways that impede the evolution of the ra ce, even in the case of disease. 6 To be ill-fed or ill-bred, or both, she admonishes, is largely what makes us the sickly race we are (25). While Gilman was rediscovered in the 1970s and lauded as a feminist foremother, her humanism according to Hudak, when r ead in the light of her nonfiction works, was more complicated (456). Gilmans humanis t ideology informed her feminism to the extent that she felt the uplift the race into a state of greater e fficiency and harmony was impaired by the oppression of women, because the practice prevented social growth and biological evolution. In Women and Economics a book that enjoyed enormous popularity during Gilmans lifetime, 7 she declares that socially accepted norms of feminine beauty,


15 which women are bound within in order to at tract males on whom they are economically dependent, are enhanced unnatura lly in women as a survival strategy at the expense of their humanity. The over-sexing of women, she says, prevents economic progression as well as fulfillment of female potential, hence preventing the e volution of humankind (Hudak 460-461). Moreover, she argues that men are to blame for the perverse creation of the woman as a hideous paradox, whose natural inclination to love (in the form of motherhood) is compelled to get gain thr ough love (qtd. in Huda k 460). The influence of this kind of thinking in Herland is clear, as Gilmans m ono-gendered society removes men from the economic picture entirely in or der to demonstrate th e growth potential of women (and consequently, society) when th ese constraints are eliminated. Bartkowski asserts that Gilman, who in other texts us ed other voices, sei zed upon the use of the utopian voice to illustrate the feminist components of her humanist social reform philosophy. Such a philosophy, Bartkowski stat es, was conceivabl e only if it posited the full humanity of women as subjects, not objects, in the world (24). Though hailed by critics such as Bartkowski as a foremother of contemporary feminism, Gilman cannot be viewed as such without a caref ul accounting of the historic al context which informs her work. Similarly, the agenda of Herland should not be viewed as separate from that of her critical writing. Text Synopsis Herland relates the adventures of three male explorers who search for and ultimately discover a country on an unnamed continent, their interest having been


16 sparked by a native tale of a strange and te rrible Woman Land (2). The country they dub Herland is peaceful, harmonious, and populated entirely by in telligent, physicallyfit women, who are extremely curious about th e ways of the outside world. Good-natured interrogations of the three male visitors, Vandyck Je nnings (the narrator), Terry Nicholson, and Jeff Margrave, provide a medium for Gilman to discuss the gross gender inequities of the early twentieth century. Gilm an utilizes an explorer-diary device as a vehicle for exposition of the ea rly twentieth-century belief that women are passive and dependent if feminine and unfeminine if st rong or intellectual and Gilmans primary interest, of course, women and economics. Paradoxically, while Herland depicts a culture with no need for men or traditional family, it also is concerned with lauding motherhood as a perfectible calling and a key to social progress, an interesting aspect illuminated by Gilmans intense attention to mothering in her non-fiction. Gilman presents the reader with three very different but equally sexist fellows who come to be the minority males in an allfemale land. They are taken prisoner, taught about the culture of Herland, and eventually welcomed as members of it; along the way, the author cleverly juxtapos es the perfection of utopia wi th the failings of American society and follows the three travelers through discomfiting confronta tions with their own unexamined preconceptions. Prior to their discovery of Her land, the companions have widely divergent notions about what they expect to find in the land of women: Jeff, recounts the narrator, was a tender soul, who hoped for a land blossoming with roses and babies and canaries and tid ies; Terry, a rich chauvinist probably had visions of a sort of sublimated summer resort just Gi rls and Girls and Girls in which he would enjoy popularity; and the pragmatic narra tor Van envisions a primitive Amazonian


17 culture based on matriarchal principle where men have a separate cult of their own (6-7). When the companions at last come up on the location they have sought, they note the efficient and pleasing cultiv ation of the land as a sign of civilization and thus remark that there must be men, a belief that they cling to for quite some time despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (10) They encounter three agile young women (as Terry breathlessly admires, peaches![13] ) who take flight after Terry attempts to seize hold of one of them. Th e chase ends in a lovely, well -designed village, where they find themselves overwhelmed by a large group of unarmed older women and then subdued with anesthetic, despite Terrys attempt to appease them w ith brightly-colored scarves and jewels, and then to frighten th em with a revolver. This leads to their interrogation and eventual integration into Herland society, both instructive in the juxtaposition of their gender nor ms and values with those of their hosts. The process of exposition on the ideal nature of Herland in contrast to the flawed one of the outside world is begun. Projecting Desires: the Supremacy of Motherhood After the setting is establis hed, Gilman constructs each subsequent chapter as an individual treatise on various gendered social issues. 8 The women of Herland literally interrogate their visitors, eagerly and goodnaturedly questioning the men about aspects of American social life in a manner that pr oduces in Van a queer little indescribable feeling whenever conversati on turns to the subject of gender (40). Their lines of


18 interrogation, he says, woul d gradually surround us and drive us in till we found ourselves up against some admissions we did not want to make (43). Through this questioning, Gilman approaches the familiar as though it is unfamiliar to focus her critique and suggests alternat ive social arrangements. Herland overwhelmingly projects utopian de sire for equality, efficiency and progress. Women of Herland are strong, patient gentle and healthy, as well as athletic and intelligent, but above all, they are e qual as citizens. To a ddress the problems of inequality under Western models, much of the texts energy is spent expounding upon the inconveniently reasonable manner of the women of Herland, the centrality of motherhood, and the meticulous development of the countrys land (47). Overall, the women share the the most perfect patien ce and good nature, but not the fawning or frivolousness the men have come to expect from women (40). Additionally, in this narrative, motherhood is a function of citizensh ip so pervasive that it is the primary institution and shaper of cultu re and progress. Van studies wr itten histories and discovers that the women evolved to reproduce through parthenogenesis, bearing female children exclusively; a natural disaster followed by a slave revolt resulte d in an all-female population isolated to peacefully develop on its own. Motherhood is exalted here, partly because of its miraculous occurrence in a form erly heterosexually (or as Herlanders put it, bisexually) reproduc tive culture. Depicted as a sacred calling, it is one that has been studied comprehensively and perfected into a sp ecialized profession; as Van relates, the power of mother-love, which we so highly laud, wa s theirs of course, raised to its highest power (49). Their spiritual practice is ev en centered on a Loving Power that is


19 understood in maternal terms (97). The wo men are Conscious Makers of People who approach motherhood with near-religious zeal (58). Moadine, one of the tutors, explains: Motherhood means something to us whic h I cannot yet discover in any of the countries of which you tell usthe children of this country are the one center and focus of all our thoughts. Ev ery step of our advance is always considered in its effect on them on the race. (56-57) The replication of ideas put forth by Gilman in Women and Economics is an obvious one, and the influence of evolutionary thinki ng can be seen --motherhood, as a duty of citizenship, should be concentr ated through education on the improvement of the people as a nation as well as individuals. In this way, Gilmans utopia is constructed as the ultimate nation and sisterhood, one of sturdy, intelligent women who are both unfeminine in their strengths and pursuits and feminine in their gentleness and mother-love, and who are intent on the uplift of their race through conscious improvement (66). In this sense, mother-love is a requisite for citizen ship. This notion of motherly duty as the basis of citizenship may have been suggested by Gilmans historical context: nationalist rhetoric of the time suggested that selfish couples who failed to have more than two children were traitors to the nation who we re endangering the future of the race by practicing race suicide (Bell and Offen 139). 9 The perfection of reproduction extends to the land, where the flora and fauna has been systematically limited to efficient utility. By the most prolonged and careful selection and exclusion, Van relates, the y had developed a race of cats that did not sing and which kill only rodents, not bird s (42). Additionally, ev ery tree has been cultivated to be either fruitbearing or shade-providing, and there are no wild animals; it


20 is like a new Eden. Esthetically pleasing and functional, each element of their environment has been gently mastered thr ough centuries of planni ng. This included the elimination of undesirable species, a developm ent that goes unproblematized in Gilmans social order. Interrogating Institutions by Way of Reversal As has been shown, Herland predicts political change by positing the potential of evolutionary social change to actualize those desires. A nd at every turn, it confronts institutions and social practi ces that reinforce sexist oppression and impede Gilmans vision of social progress. Much of the humor ous social commentary of the story is based on reversals of power and the revaluation of power, in many instances uncomfortably so. During their capture, for example, Van ironically relates that the three men find themselves helpless, in the position of the suffragette trying to get to the Parliament buildings through a triple cor don of London police (19). At the same time, Van is given the apparent privilege of narra tive control as he records fr om memory the events that transpired. 10 The balancing act performed by the narrative, of positioning males as both privileged central figures and evidence of the cultural absurdity of male privilege, is central to Gilmans project. Upon meeting the inhabitants of Herland, the trio is immediately confronted by the limitations of their preconceived notions regarding femininity, the same notions which commonly informed social practices of Gilmans day. The incredibly divergent beliefs espoused by the explorer s about the nature of women de monstrates their arbitrary


21 nature; one of the strengths of this narrative is that it expl odes all views of women that are dependent on secondary sexual characteri stics (Hudak 462). The peaches they encounter who behave more like athletic and intelligent boys than feminine (read: frightened, passive) young women. And in the village, the men are confronted by women unlike any they have ever known: Their attitude was not the rigid disc ipline of soldiersthey had just the aspect of steady burghers Never, anyw here before, had I seen women of precisely this quality. Fishwives and market women might show similar strength, but it was coarse and heavy. These were merely athletic light and powerful. College professors, teachers, writers many women showed similar intelligence but often wore a strained nervous look, while these were as calm as cows, for all their evident intellect. (19) The women are not passive or hysterica l; this constitutes a wholly unexpected situation that leaves the men powerless to act. It makes me laugh, knowing all I know now, Van reflects, we seemed to think that if there were men we could fight them, and if there were only women why, they would be no obstacles at all (18). Subdued by the throng of steady burghers, they find that ev en Terrys gun, represen tative, perhaps, of male power, is ineffectual against the startling determination and strength of the women. The women easily overpower them; even as they resist manfully, they are held secure most womanfully (20). Various situations yield comparable results that do not fulfill the mens expectations of feminine temperament, a nd some leave the men feeling as though they themselves, while under the control of the women, have been feminized or unsexed.


22 Terry comments that life as captives, while not physically uncom fortable, makes them feel like a lot of neuters (23). Similarly, Van states repeatedly that he feels like an errant child or schoolboy, helpless and embarra ssed. Positions being reversed, they refer to their captors in masculinized terms. Thei r instructors, Somel, Zava and Moadine, are older short-haired women of serious natu res and strong physiques who Terry mockingly refers to as the Colonels. (24) If I thought there was not hing in the country but those grenadiers, he laments, Id jump out th e window (25). The deadpan, serious nature of their tutors leave the hyper-masculine Te rry in particular hu ngry for the sight of girls, but when the opportunity arises to sp eak to an audience of girls, he is equally unhappy with the young women he meets. Call those girls! he fumes, Nothing but boys, most of em. A standoffish, disagreeable lot at that (75). His macho behavior, inscrutable to the women, is to blame for th e sourness of the encounter; Van notices how Terrys suave and masterful approach, appa rently irresistible in the usual context, aggravates the young women, and his too-intim ate glances were vaguely resented (75). The socially constructed nature of gender, as a performance is highlighted here; behaviorally speaking, as relatively asexual people, Herlands wome n do not perform as expected, causing considerable distress to the men who respond with bewilderment or hostility. For the men, their own sense of masculinity is un dermined by the lack of a recognizable, corresponding femininity. Another limitation of the trios conception of femininity is confronted when the men are forced to acknowledge that women can be capable and intelligent. The architecture of the villages, al ong with the cultivation of the fi elds, is taken as evidence of the presence of men, without question: why, this is civi lized country! Van remarks,


23 there must be men (10). All indications of careful planning are ta ken as signs of male involvement by design. The general acumen of women is also discounted; later, during an escape attempt, the men retrace th eir steps to reach their plane and discover it has been secured with a tarp, whereupon Terry ex claims, Covered, too, by jingo! Would you think they had that much sense? (34) Clearly, this is the sort of remark that indicates Terrys appraisal of female intelligence, especially in relation to machinery as a male province. His supposition appears ironic when he and the others are retrieved by the women in electric cars. The title of Chapter Six, Compariso ns are Odious, captures Vans acute discomfort as he and the others attempt, from their reversed positi on, to explain norms of Western culture informed by gender. The exposition of each issue discussed between the men and their hosts leaves the men grasping he lplessly for more logical explanations with which to shore up their support for the seemingl y indefensible practices and institutions of Western culture. The narrative demonstrat es not only the reaction of the women to their answers, but the mens own dawning re alizations about the inequitable and often nonsensical customs of Western culture. Seen through the eyes of women, these customs make little sense, and hence, perhaps begin to make less sense to the reader. Of all the strange, barbaric and even wondrous-seeming customs described to the women, marriage is the first in which they are provided opportunity to participate. In order to confront the institution of marriage, Gilman stages an odd reassertion of hete ronormativity in the narrative; the three men, now sufficiently edu cated in new language and history, begin to court. Curiously, although they are self-sufficient and have evolved to procreate without men, the residents of Herland are interested in re-establishing what they term a bisexual


24 culture and welcome the opportunity to scru tinize its development on this small scale (76). The women do not fully comprehend the desire of the men to hold a ceremony (or even their conjugal desires), but three women, peaches Alima, Ellador and Celis, consent to marriage. A ceremony of triple marriage takes place, and the squabbles that ensue provide more fodder for Gilmans cultur al critique in the form of cross-cultural courtship awkwardness and difficulties in ju stifying the construc tion of marriage and gender roles within the nuclear family. Here, again, the women do not meet the expectations of the men or perform the role properly, po litely refusing to leave their work, set up house or take on last names, to the frustration of each man. Most frustrating, however, is the womens lack of understanding of the conjugal privilege; the women are decidedly reluctant. Van relates his agitated attempts to convince Ellador of the joys of wedded bliss --I did my earnest best to pict ure to her the sweet intense joy of married lovers, but to no avail (108). She is intrigued that men a nd women indulge in relations in season and out of season, with no thought of children, but remains unmoved (108). As a result, Van eventually is compelled to overcome his frustration, and so learns to appreciate a deeper sense of love in companionship. The di lemma seems contradictory in the narrative; after all, the purpose of thei r unions was to re-ent er into heterosexual relations and to produce children. Only Jeffs wife Celis conceives, and while all seems to be well enough with Van and Jeff in marriag e, Terry, still convinced of the superiority of men and invested in the false notion that women enjoy being mastered, impatiently attempts to rape his wife Alima. Terry is ejected from Herland; Van and his new wife Ellador accompany him, as the plane requires two crew members, and as Ellador cares for Van and does not want to be parted. Jeff el ects to stay behind with Celis, saying that


25 not only has he no wish to return, but he is mortified that if his beloved Celis accompanied him, she would die of horror and shame to see our slums and hospitals (115). Problematic Aspects: the Superior Race Specific criticisms have been levied against Herland as well as against some of Gilmans particular brand of feminism. Gilm ans rediscovery in the 1970s established her as an important early feminist thinker in rega rds to gender equality, but more attention is now being paid to racist and classist elements of Gilmans thought overall. According to Jennifer Hudak, the authors belief in a eugenics version of evolutionary theory influenced her social theorizing, and this tran slated into a notion popular at the time, that in order to build an ideal society it is necessary to weed out the wrong sorts, the mentally and physically inferior, which included nonwhites and the poor (457-458). Hudak and others point to racist referen ces to the superiority of whites in the text, which states that the women of Herland were of a defi nitely Aryan stock (Gilman 46). Eugenics are also implicated in the way that Herland residents have worked, through breeding, to eliminate crim inal tendencies in their po pulation. Ellador relates that as a nation, we have, of course, made it our fi rst business to train out, to breed out, when possible, the lowest types ( 70). It is notable how training and breeding are constructed as synonymous in Gilmans evolutionary progression. Lowly inherite d characteristics she says, result in criminal behavior. If a wo man is found to be of this type by showing bad qualities, she is urged not to bear; howev er, if she insists on having children or is


26 otherwise found to be less than fit for that supreme task, she would not be allowed to rear them (70). Here, the desc ribed duties of mothering repro duces the social agenda of Women and Economics in which Gilman states that if mothers can see it that children would be better cared for by another, then it would be the duty of motherhood to provide it (212). While Gilman is still seen as an innovator by way of her suggestion that childcare and education be prof essionalized, this aspect of Herland smacks of repression. It remains unclear who might be given th e power to make those choices for women. Elladors insistence that a mother who is less than fit would gladly give over or share care of her child and yield to the real superiority of other women leaves Van unconvinced, one of the few open critiques the work turns inward on itself. However, Vans voice can hardly be considered critical when th e whole project of the work revolves around disproving the wrong-headed notions e xpressed by Van as the narrator. Yet the issue of unfit mothers brings to light the absence of dissent (other than that of the men, of course) in this work, wh ich is problematic. Since utopian narrative is about the desire for change, I thi nk it is fair to say that the building of static utopia, what Melzer would call closed ut opia, runs the risk of re ifying existing oppressions or creating new ones. This aspect along with considerations of Gilmans social philosophy, should give adequate pause to those critics who wish to hail Gilman as a feminist foremother. 11


27 Conclusions: Compassionate New Model As a model for exploring alternatives, Herland provides a definite vision of what society could become if women were allowed to fully participate as citizens. The work projects the desire for peaceful, efficient and egalitarian society, and predicts the possibility of obtaining that desire thr ough greater freedom for women. In addition, it confronts limiting notions of femininity that we re (and in some ways still are) used to justify the confinement of women to the priv ate sphere and limit the scope of female citizenship to domestic duty. By exiling th e male protagonists in a woman-land of the present rather than of the future, it presents a foreign view of these familiar notions that still have ramifications in the current reality. 12 Unfortunately, the narrative presents this vision of perfect society in a way that places motherhood at the center of womens experiences and makes it the single most important institution of the nation. As such, the citizenship, duty, education and religion of Herland are constituted by motherhood. This mode l seems somewhat limiting as it still assumes one biological function to be a prim ary social duty, echoing nationalist rhetoric, and it reduces the destin y of women to this function in spite of the other freedoms they enjoy. Additionally, dissent is i nvisible in the narrative, creating a static sort of utopia; where progress is sought and en acted, it is always in the se rvice of the state. This significant paradox is a troubling, and hence, useful point of departure for discussion of biological essentialism, and along with the works other contributions, makes Herland an important work of feminist utopian narrative.


28 Chapter Two: Cultural Dissonance: Se paratism, Sameness and Socialism in The Wanderground and The Dispossessed To be whole is to be part; True voyage is return. Inscription on the tombstone of Laia Asieo Odo, anarchist. -The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin On Context As with the previous chapter, this first section provides contextualization which is important to understanding these works. Firs tly, both of the texts discussed in this chapter, Sally Miller Gearharts The Wanderground and Ursula K. LeGuins The Dispossessed are novels of separatism that were written in the 1970s, during a significant moment in feminist political thought. The notion that separa tism might bring about the realization of utopia is cert ainly not new, as evidenced by the popularity of communal living experimentation throughout U.S. history; however, it was an idea that gained ground during the womens liberation moveme nt, particularly in regard to the


29 development and celebration of so-called wom ens culture. To put it rather simply, the debates between theories of difference and sameness, still central to feminist thought, were being formulated and tested in the cont ext of a widespread social movement which took its most visible form as that of a move ment to promote the political desires of white, middle-class women. 13 In an effort to assert the validit y of those desires in a patriarchal framework, two basic strategies were empl oyed: a strategy of sameness which demanded that women be granted the same opportunities and legal protection as men on the basis of equal ability and equivalent humanity, and a strategy of difference which affirmed the value of qualities that women (and not me n) were said to possess which were undervalued in patriarchal culture, such as greater affinity with the natural world, cooperation and the ability to nurture. In other words, and again, simplistically, the debate centered around two very divergent pole s; either women are the same as men and therefore deserve access to privilege hitherto reserved for males and an acknowledgement of basic humanity, or women are different and perhaps even superior, but those superior qualities are discounted by male -dominated culture in favor of domination of nature and competition instead of cooperation and nurturanc e. While both strategies have their uses, flaws exist in each. The former strategy, that of sameness, may seem to suggest that the best way to gain recognition of the humanity of women as a gender is to base judgments about that humanity on a male model and integrate accordingly. The latter strategy, one based on difference, can also be considered problematic because it takes the risk of reifying the patriarchal notion of the existence of qualities inherent to female nature long used to justify the oppression of women. In or der to affirm the value of difference in a


30 context outside of patriarchal discourse, women-identified or women-only spaces designed for various purposes became popular. One can see the appeal and potential value of separate, women-focused spaces, especially in the political clim ate of the womens liberation movement, and it is in this space, in celebration of women, that Sally Miller Gearhart in particular situates her work. She maintains, my love of myself as a wo man and my love of other women motivates all my writing (and my creative existence) ( Feminist Writers). Gearhart was the one of the first openly lesbian women to be grante d tenure at a major university, and she became involved in both direct actions and academic presentations in the 1970s to promote gay rights, notably in regard to the position of the church on homosexuality. She served as coeditor of the influential 1974 publication Loving Women/Loving Men: Gay Liberation and the Church and she remains a vocal proponent of ot her causes, such as animal rights. These interests are evident in her writings, both fiction a nd nonfiction. In all of her fictional works, and much of her non-fiction, Gearhart is concerne d with discovering the roots of violence and environmen tal destruction, and in some of her work maintains that if solutions cannot be found, the earth ma y be better off without human beings. 14 Overwhelmingly, Gearhart asserts that men are inherently violent, and that women, while capable of strong emotional responses such as rage, are innately peaceful, more capable of consensus-building and closer to the natural world. An early work, The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women is a collection of inte rconnected vignettes that explores the possibility of separatism, a th eme she carries into her more recent work, The Kanshou and its sequel, The Magister (2002 and 2003, respectively) In each, Gearhart


31 experiments with separatism, exploring gende r as the abiding difference between people and the root of greed, war, and violence. As for Ursula K. LeGuin, much has b een made of the influence her parents professions on her writings. He r father, noted anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber, and her mother, psychologist and writer Theodora Kroeber Quinn, both studied and wrote about Native American cultures and individuals. On e critic refers to her work as an anthropology of the future ( Feminist Writers ) wherein characters encounter cultures much different from their own, thus affording the reader with outsider views, a technique well-suited to explications of difference which point fingers at the familiar. Clearly, this is a technique that reflects difference by way of separa tion, by the dislocation from recognizable structures of an observer seeki ng to understand elements of current realities that otherwise go largely unexamined. Acco rding to Charlotte Spivack, most of LeGuins protagonists assume the role of anthropologist if not by profession then by circumstance (qtd. in Feminist Writers ). In the preface to her 1985 work Always Coming Home LeGuin begins by stating that the peopl e in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California, calli ng this collection of firstperson narrative, poetry and plays an archaeo logy of the future (1, 3). However, while the novel is set in the future, she suggests at th e same time that the present is always more vital than the past or the future, noting that all we ever have is here, now (1). Works in her so-called Hainish cycle are less se lf-conscious and follow more closely the narrative mode mentioned by Spivack, wherein a protagonist from one culture is sent in to observe another. The usefulness of questi oning elements of the present (such as the stratification of difference) by reflecting them through an alienated lens of the future,


32 here clearly acknowledged by LeGuin and repeat edly illustrated in he r novels, is one of the most important contributions of feminist science fiction. LeGuin herself has written on the topic of gender in science fiction, sometimes decrying the overly-masculine reputation of th e genre and the need for more positive and realistic female characters, and often noting the potential of scie nce fiction (including material with utopian themes) to effect r eal change in the world. Furthermore, she acknowledges her standpoint a nd impetus to write one of he r most famous works, 1969s The Left Hand of Darkness as a feminist one. In her essay collection on fantasy and science fiction, The Language of the Night she relates: In the mid-1960s there was a grou ndswell gathering. I felt it, but I didnt know it was a groundswell; I ju st thought it was something wrong with me. I considered myself a femi nist; I didnt see how you could be a thinking woman and not be a feminist I began to want to define and understand the meaning of sexuality and the meaning of gender, in my life and in our societyBut I was not a th eoretician, a political thinker or activist, or a sociologist. I was and am a fiction writer. The way I did my thinking was to write a novel. (161) Just as Gearhart posits female societies se parate from men as a method for highlighting the roots of human aggression, LeGuin states that in The Left Hand of Darkness she eliminated gender, to find out what was left ( Language 163). The elimination of gender was not a prescriptive, she qualifies, but a he uristic device, a thoughtexperiment (163). She endeavored to create a society whose citizens ex ist in a fluid state


33 of sexual cycles, but who are primarily androgynous. This experiment, this play with difference, serves to open up an alternative viewpoint, to widen the imagination (168). In a gendered world, she notes, divisions ar e insisted upon, interdependence is denied, and it is in this space that she posits a different way of being in order to draw attention to problematic ways of being which already ex ist (169). The hope for change that LeGuin seeks to express in The Left Hand of Darkness however, extends beyond gender to other bifurcation; in a world without gender, the dualism of value that destroys us, the dualism of superior/inferior, ruler/ruled, owner/owne d, user/used, might give way to what seems to me, from here, a much healthier, sounder, more promising modality of integration and integrity (169). While LeGuin surmises that The Left Hand of Darkness is decidedly not a utopian novel, its hopeful, flexible and imaginative narrative demonstrates LeGuins tendency toward politically curious story-telling. Text Synopses In Gearharts The Wanderground a collection of interwoven stories, humans occupy a world ravaged by greed and war. Remnan ts of cities exist, but the protagonists, the Hill Women, live outside the cities in the Wanderground, a wilderness that they control. Men do not venture outs ide the City except at great personal peril, and either some power of the Hill Women or of the land itself causes men who stray over the border into the Wanderground to become impoten t. The women of the Wanderground possess supernatural powers of communication, sense, and flight; they co mmune with animals and plants in mutually respectful ways. Othe r less fortunate women remain in the City,


34 and Hill Women disguised as men make forays into the City to gather information and to help other women escape. Through narratives centered on indivi dual women, Gearhart posits the possibilities of separatism as mu ch as she critiques the present; several vignettes detail the horror of rape and the pathetic, clinging depe ndence of women living in the City. Implicit in her narrative is the i nherent violence of men, which must never be forgotten by those living outside the City; in fact, they are en couraged to re-live acts of violence against women as part of their education, in remember rooms. In The Wanderground the fact of separatism is depicted as a vivid struggle between good and evil; the women absolutely distrust men and must be vigilant about maintaining their borders. In LeGuins The Dispossessed the separation is a more ambiguous and ideological one. On the sma ll desert moon of Anarres dwell several million people whose ancestors voluntarily le ft their mother planet of Urras, around which Anarres orbits, some 150 years ago afte r staging a successful uprising. Inspired by the socialist writing of a woman named Laia Asie o Odo, the settlers reso lved to create an entirely new society, language and culture based on anarchist and socialist principles. 15 The story concerns a young Anarresti physicis t named Shevek who chooses to leave his utopian home planet and return to the mother planet to share scientific knowledge that is unpopular on his own world. Intriguingly, LeGuins narrative progresses in two directions simultaneously through alternati ng chapters, perhaps echoing Sheveks own theories concerning the moveme nt of time; one sequence begins with Sheveks departure and concludes upon his return home, and the other begins with his childhood and moves forward until his decision to journey to Urras coincide s with the first sequences homecoming at the conclusion of the novel. The novels structure gives ample


35 opportunity for contrast between the two societies, as the socialist valu es of Anarres are explicated chapter by chapte r alongside the capitalist ones of the nation of A-Io, the global superpower of Urras. 16 Gender and class differences figure prominently in the contrast, but race is not of particular concern here except as discussed in terms of alienness. The primary tensions of the novel involv e struggles for individual and intellectual freedom in both settings in which Shevek fi nds himself; he comes to discover that while Anarres is not an ideal society, as he has been taught since childhood to believe, on Urras, the privilege to pu rsue knowledge is not without price where knowledge is a commodity. Projection: Technologies of the Body, New Ethical Modes Both The Wanderground and The Dispossessed fulfill the definition of feminist utopia given previously as fic tion that explores difference in the context of feminist discourse. Both engage with the stratification of gender difference by positing clear alternatives to curren t inequities, though they do so in vastly divergent ways and reflect the pitfalls of those desires to varying degrees. Placing these two works together links the separatist theme they share a nd contrasts their methods, s uggesting in small part the heterogeneity of feminist thinking surr ounding sameness/difference debates. With The Wanderground, Gearhart engages in a presentation that clearly takes stock in the supposition of male/female difference and th e superiority of w omens values and culture; her narrative expresses desires for the acknowledgement and development of these values in the present. The Dispossessed is more concerned with juxtaposing capitalism and socialism and asserting the humanity of women and men, their sameness,


36 in situations where suffering caused by social inequity is seen as a consequence of class struggle. However, LeGuin also takes the oppor tunity to suggest alternatives to gender stratification, and more so than Gearhart, points to the limitations of her utopia, examining intrinsic weaknesses in the actualiz ation of social structures based on the desire for sameness. Gearharts foremost desire, beyond her explication of the roots of violence, concerns what Keinhorst re fers to as fantastic te chnology, powers of the body. Her women of the hills live in a territory without men, policing their borders a nd interacting with the natural world via heightened psychic senses. The Hill women gatherstretch to speak to one another, and span, reaching out with their inner eyes to keep constant watch for intruders. No man may en ter their land without their knowledge, and crossing the border even causes men to become impotent. With other supernatural powers, women can communicate with one another mentally ac ross distances and share vivid, embodied experiences of historical oppr ession. They have honed thei r mental powers of healing, and they can even go windriding, a sort of levitation that en ables them to fly. Some of these same technologies are at work in Gear harts later novels as well. Several critics read the paraverbal speech skill as a meta phor for interpersonal co mmunication strategies Gearhart outlines in her non-fi ction work, but Gearhart he rself was known to say that psychic power will soon substitute enti rely for more cumbersome electronic or mechanical devices (qtd. in Delrosso 214-215). The inclusion of these seemingly supernatural skills may represent the projection of a literal desire on the part of Gearhart. Another desire evidenced in The Wanderground as well as The Dispossessed is the wish for a simpler way of life. In the future The Wanderground proposes, as with


37 other utopian works such as Marge Piercys Woman on the Edge of Time courageous women and in some cases men have cast o ff oppression and now pursue lifestyles based on what Annette Keinhorst calls a Jungian-s tyle creative regressi on(92). Here, the author creates a model of utopia based an atav istic sort of prehistoric or Native American philosophy; primitive living and concern for and connection with the land is a central theme of her narrative as women escape fr om subjugation in the polluted City to harmonious living with other women and nature in the hills of the Wanderground. With their mental powers, women can converse with the animals and even plants. Pages of the book itself contain illustrations of feathers, pi ne cones, animal bones and other natural artifacts to further underscore th e presence of this connection. In The Dispossessed necessity, as well as a strong social ethic against owning or hoarding possessions, results in a simpler way of living that can be seen as a projection of the utopian desire for more egalitarian social relationships. No system of money exists, as there is no need for it. Food, clothing, sh elter and other supplie s are available to everyone; hence, class structures are elimin ated and theft of material property is unknown. Individuals live in dormitories and dine together at co mmunal halls; citizens have very few personal possessions except ha ndmade gifts, as owning is considered tantamount to sin. 17 On Anarres, the social organism stands in place of the state, and individual conscience and peer pressure, not law, governs its citizens. Society is thought of in organic terms, as analogous to a body that all citizens share. Excess is excrement, according to Odo, upon whose ideas the society was founded, and excrement retained in the body is a poison (98). Those who hoard will be chastised by their peers with the worst in sults their language offers: p ropertarian or profiteer.


38 Furthermore, the language of Anarre s pointedly lacks words that indicate possession: when Shevek needs to wipe his nos e after a tearful reun ion, his four-year-old daughter remarks, You can sh are the handkerchief I use (316). The socialist system of community ownership, as well as regulations limiting the manufacture of unnecessary items, is so engrained in Sheveks psyche that during his visit to Urras he becomes nauseated by the opulence of a street market. While the Anarresti system may seem oppressive when summarized in this way, its citizens are generally content, proud of their cooperative culture, and they show a high degree of appr eciation for gifts and other simple items. However, the same idea regarding things unnecessary as wasteful, so useful to the social organism of a society living on a desert planet, is used against Shevek when he attempts to publish a book on theoretical physics that contains unpopular ideas. Confrontation and Prediction: Bord ers and the Separatist Solution As a utopia structured as both separatist and lesbian, The Wanderground is concerned with confronting male supremacy. In order to stage a confrontation with violence against women (parti cularly rape), gender norms of dress and behavior, and heterosexism, these practices must still exist in some form, but one that is distinct and separable from the utopian community. This comp arative didactic approach is central in all of the works this thesis examines, and here, the existence of the City as a continuing male threat and use of the remember rooms pr esent the basis for the texts critique. In The Dispossessed the existence of Urras, with its cap italist superpowers, warring nations and gendered citizenship, represents everything th e Anarresti have worked to avoid in the


39 construction of their culture and language. In both texts a physica l boundary indicates the ideological division both utopian societie s desperately work to maintain, and each features a map that clearly shows the separati on of the two societies it depicts. The border between the City and the Wanderground, only a line on the map, functions as a psychic and metaphorical barrier between the wo rld of women and the domain of men. Everything that is brutal a nd oppressive about the world resides on one side of this barrier, and all that is kind a nd intelligent lies on the other. The barrier itself represents wilderness versus civilization; however, in this case, civilization is associated with rape, exploitation, and hostility. Despite the deve loping psychic abilities of the Hill Women and their monitoring of the boundary between th eir wilderness and the rest of the world, the border is not of their maki ng; the line that causes impotency in men who cross it is a result of what the women recall as the Revolt of the Mother (158). Bessie, a Remembering guide, relates the story of the Revolt to her pupils: Once upon a time there was one rape too manyThe earth finally said no. There was no storm, no earthqu ake, no tidal wave or volcanic eruption, no specific moment to mark its happening. It only became apparent that it had happened and that it had happened everywhere. (158) The pupils then visit in the past, trance like as with the other remembering scenes, the flight of two young women from a party of would-be rapists on a Cunt Hunt, complete with hunting dogs and rifles (160). The women, who were on their way to join a larger group of women escaping from the ci ties, manage to escape relatively uninjured when the men begin to fight one another in defense of their wounded pride after one man fails to achieve an erection. A group of ar med women arrive during the scuffle and


40 encourage the men to retreat. This vignette il lustrates the clear asso ciation of the border as a historically significant occurrence with the prevention of future violation, one the women had no part in creating but focus their lives on maintaining. In spite of the suggestion implicit in he r work that men are incurably violent, Gearharts narrative predicts the possibility for reunion of the sexes. She ventures to unsettle her own diametrical opposition with the later intr oduction of the Gentles, men who reject male violence and voluntarily chos e an impotent life. In this way, the border dividing the Wanderground from the City, men from women, is shifting. The Gentles are crossing over, and are committing to non-violence as a way of life, although it is not an unproblematic transgression and they br ing mortal danger (from other men) upon themselves with their actions; the Hill women still distrust them as males, even when they offer to assist in covert operations in the City. The two separatist parties reconcile somewhat after the Gentles reveal that they have developed their own psychic abilities. This coalition does not come easily, howev er, as Hill woman Evona questions the motives of the mens development and th e implementation of their new abilities: I am not scorning any one of you or your discovery, she said, or even your intent. My mistrust is of a deeper thing. Labrys spoke. Our maleness. Evona nodded. Then only time will tell, he said. (180) LeGuins point of separa tion, both symbolically and lit erally, is the rough wall, more an idea of boundary than a practical one, which divide s the whole of Anarres and its citizenry from the port (1). For the port, trading shipments of ore from Anarres,


41 retrieved by Urrasti freighters, are exchanged for electronics from Urras. This exchange represents the limited contact made between the two worlds, and the only business of any kind transacted on Anarres. The wall stands as an ideological boundary; citizens of Anarres strive to be equal in every wa y, and on Urras, a desperately poor underclass prepares for revolt while women (who Shevek learns can not do science because they supposedly lack the intellect) are hypersexualized a nd treated as second class citizens. The image of the wall that segregates the two worlds figures heavily into Sheveks departure and return, as well as in his anxi ous nightmares about the loss of his mothers love and the scientific principle suspended tantalizingly at the edge of his conscious mind. Shevek makes the decision to transgre ss the boundary of the wall after he forms a syndicate, a committee to advocate for a group, and is accused of being an egoizer (a person who grandstands to further his or her own importance); Shevek, his family members and other colleagues in the syndica te are ostracized by the community when they propose the building of a transmitter to sh are scientific ideas with Urras. He then realizes that the wall that se parates the two societies must be surmounted, if only to prove that the original impulse toward anarchy upon which Anarres was founded is being undermined, and that the cooperative structure that holds their social systems together is becoming more like a state institution. This is the point of the narrative of The Dispossessed that offers a bit of hope for the fu ture. Though Shevek feels compelled to leave his world to pursue inte llectual freedom and to prove that Anarresti society cannot endure if it refuses to accept challenges to its order, he experiences dissatisfaction and guilt in A-Io because he learns that the c ountry wants the political power his work may provide the government. He eventually flees from government officials and manages to


42 impart the information to the Terrans, visiting alien ambassadors who are committed to fostering goodwill between peoples, so that his ideas will not become any one nations property. Before his return to Anarres, he le arns that the new syndicate he fostered has gained ground in its struggle to be recognized and has garnered sympathy from other citizens who can also foresee the problems that failure to acknowledge dissent could produce for their relatively young society. Problematic Elements Although at first glance the stories of The Wanderground seem to form fantastic individual vignettes about women flying, hea ling, communing with nature, or educating other women about the outrages of the past, Ge arhart weaves information and characters together from story to story to form a comp lete arc, a plot that moves toward hope for humanity in the form of an alliance between the Hill women and the Gentles, who have both chosen to reject life in the City. As for her utopian strategy, some would see her use of telepathic development, imagined as a part of the natural growth of women freed from domination and control and positioned in contra st to the brutish, unevolved behavior of men and women in the City, as essentialist and unhelpful to the feminist project of equality. June Howard typifies this opinion, as she feels that the innateness of male violence and female connection with natu re posited by Gearha rt reifies existing male/female stereotypes. In addition, in Gearharts ut opia, she argues, women are essentially powerless on any terrain which resembles the present because of the improbability of the psychic powers they wield ( Feminist Writers 2-3).


43 Similarly, Jennifer Burwell states The Wanderground is a utopia in which citizens are compelled to define their present in term s of past violation by and the present threat of men, and in this sense, is not forward looking but backward looking (85). Remember rooms are consistently employed to remind Hill Women not to forget what has gone before, and they are used to educate new gene rations about the violen t threat that men of the City pose. Burwell notes that while this remembering may be useful as part of Gearharts critique of the present, it creates a failure of agency, as it denies Hill Women any other way to constitute their reality: While the womens memories of viol ation function critically to expose and condemn contemporary sexual abuse, these memories also compose the basis for their utopian identityt he integrity of their utopian space relies for its definition on the contin uation of an oppressive order in which they occupy a disempowered position (85-86). I would dispute Howards assertion that the powers of Gearharts utopia renders women powerless in the present because Gear harts political imagination is what lends itself to the creation of these new, fanta stic technologies (Kei nhorst 93), and the proposed ways of knowing open up spaces for di scussing the root of desires for those new ways. Additionally, thinki ng about Gearharts psychi c development as metaphor rather than as suggestion for living celebr ates the utopian potential of people (Keinhorst 93). Keinhorst seems to indicate that individual and unlimited capacity for development is as important a vision as so cial development; human potential is the root of utopia itself in the conventional sense (93). While Gearharts strategy leaves her narrative open to attack as essentialist and even man-ha ting, her attempt to stimulate


44 thought about gender relations is a successful on e; as Keinhorst relates, the imaginative alternative lifestyle typical of utopian fiction is also its strength and most significant construction in terms of pot ential: confrontation with a strange world provokes alienation from inequality which hitherto has been familiar (98). However, I agree with Burwells observation that the construction of identity for women of The Wanderground is problematic as it centers on opposition to the men of the City and their past and potential crimes. Here, rememb ering is rigorously institutio nalized and functions as the primary means through which the women estab lish a communal identity (69). At the same time, this kind of remembering positions women as victims in a marginalized society. This is, I agree, is a limiting way to construct individual and communal identity and is not a helpful model for future citizenship. As for The Dispossessed, the presence of dissent in th is utopia points to tensions surrounding the desire for sameness and st able community acknowledged by LeGuin. More critical of itself than The Wanderground dissatisfaction is part of the project. The subtitle of the text, An Ambiguous Utopia makes clearer the ambitions of the author to challenge the assumptions of sameness wh ile recognizing its be nefit. Uneasiness regarding commitment to family and partners indicates further drawb acks of belonging to a Brotherhood in which every citizen is expected to have mobility in order to meet labor demands, but again, these are problematic elemen ts explored by the narrative, not failings of it. The single shortcoming of the text may be its failure to address racism in any detail.


45 Conclusions: True Journey is Return Both The Wanderground and The Dispossessed pose interesting alternative visions to citizenship, emphasi zing that separation is sometimes required in order to actualize those visions. The Wanderground projects the desire for new ways of knowing and communicating and for the revaluation of women as strong, active agents who are entitled to freedom from oppressive practices and the narrative seems to predict that women may achieve these desires through se lf-development. Additionally, it confronts the injustice and brutality of oppr essive practices like rape as pa rt of a larger critique of male supremacy. A citizen in The Wanderground can best serve her (of his) society by bettering herself and partic ipating in consensus. The Dispossessed projects the utopian desire for a more egalitaria n society, initiated by revolu tionary anarchic impulse and actualized as socialist culture, and predicts the inevitability of dissent and asserts it as a positive indicator of healthy society. It also confronts the competitiveness, greed and class and gender inequity that are hallmar ks of Western capitalist democracy while acknowledging the difficulties of communal liv ing. Successful citizenship for Anarresti requires unselfish fulfillment of civic duty, and according to the narratives primary tension, should involve dissention. While each work occupies a different side of the sameness/difference debates, for both societies presente d, the willingness to surmount the boundaries that hold them separate from that which their citizens abhor is the most hopeful and instructive model for citizenship each offers. The separation posed in each work offers a new vision of what could be, but the tendency to test the boundary and seek coalition is one that returns the critique to the present in concrete ways. As Patricia Waugh notes, when utopian


46 desire for separation is actualized an d then fixed, it is paradoxically the death of desire (qtd. in Burwell 65). To achieve utopia is not only an inadequate way in which to effect widespread change, its containment creates a dangerously static climate of sameness which limits new ideas and expression, one in which support[s] a disciplinary gaze (Burwell 65). Stasis and containment foster the dystopian possibility of repression from within. While neither of these extrapolations can claim to be ideal, the author of each takes the risk of suggesting the possibilities of reintegration; they build up walls in order to break them down.


47 Chapter Three: Revisioning, Reclaiming: Spirituality and Embodied Technologies in Parable of the Sower and The Fifth Sacred Thing Belief Initiates and guides action Or it does nothing. EARTHSEED: TH E BOOKS OF THE LIVING -Parable of the Sower Octavia Butler Context To contextualize these authors, I will briefly consider some of their background and previous works; however, because they are relatively contemporary authors, it does not seem especially necessary to situate them historically, except to say that both are writing in a time when recognition of the need for a diverse range of voices in political movements is growing exponentially. Both writers are living and theorizing in a time when coalition has become vital to the su rvival of the movement against oppression. Audre Lordes 1984 statement that the future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of


48 relating across difference remained quite true for political work of the 1990s and continues to be accurate today; in these texts, Butler and Starhawk work to generate some of the new definitions and new patterns of which Lorde spoke (qtd. in Melzer 1). Their work demonstrates a move away from the sa meness/difference debate s of the late 1970s and 1980s in favor of exploring identity-bas ed politics and the praxis of creating coalition, a shift that can also be seen in feminist critical theory. Octavia Butler is generally recognized as one of the few well-known black female writers working in science fi ction, and much-needed dialogues about race consistently appear in her works. Even in texts which do not make racial analys is a core component, the presence of personally powerful black wo men is an important contribution to the unsettling of the generally white authorship and readership of science fiction. Butler recalls witnessing her mother, who worked as a maid, receiving treatment as a nonperson (Octavia Butler); experiences such as this inform her consistent portrayal of confident women of color who are often leader s. However, her depiction of black female characters has sometimes made it difficult for her to publish in the science fiction market in which such depictions are marginal at best and considered unappealing to the markets target audience. One text, Kindred was published in 1979 as general fiction although time-travel was the storys most necessary device. 18 Recognition of ones history, along with culturally-diverse community building, ha s been an important element in Butlers work. In her acclaimed Xenogenesis series of the late 1980s, humans from a dying earth are forced to interbreed w ith aliens who possess extraordinary skills of genetic manipulation, and the texts protagonist fights to retain her humanity and sense of history even as she helps re-establish new primitive communities on Earth. Interestingly, on the


49 subject of utopia, which invol ves community building as a ce ntral concern, Butler states that the genre fails to interest her because of the impossibility of rea lizing utopia: I dont write utopian science fiction because I dont believe that imperfect humans can form a perfect society (Octavia Butler ). Although Butler may not define The Parable of the Sower as utopian, many of her commentators ce rtainly do, pointing to the impulse toward utopian community it contains. In fact, Melzer asserts that The Parable of the Sower is a specific response to the feminist utopias of the 1970s which is especially critical of the avoidance of conflict in those works (3). Starhawk, also known as Miriam Simos, has been a leader and author of the womens spirituality movement for several decades. Her landmark 1979 publication, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess is filled with rituals, visualizations and sp iritual guidelines that have become the foundation of much Goddess-centered practice in the U.S. Its publication and subse quent reprint editions have secured her place as one of the movements most influential writers. Active in nonviolent protest of nuclear power plants a nd war in the 1970s and 1980s, in more recent years Starhawk has become an organizer a nd nonviolent action trainer for a number of causes, including water rights and Wo rld Trade Organization and World Bank protestations. She brings her ac tivism and spiritual experience to bear in her first of three novels, which posits utopia in the form of an enclave of affinity groups founded by revolutionary women in futuristic San Francisco. The novel also incorporates Starhawks interest in pagan magic as a natural part of activist culture, as well as her famous reconceptualization of power fr om the power-over of domin ation to the power-to of personal empowerment, and to power-with , cooperation for power and change.


50 Text Synopses Butler captures in her characteristically sparse prose a landscape of fear, survival and longing in The Parable of the Sower a novel of the near future. The narrator, Lauren Oya Olamina, is a young Black woman who lead s a motley collection of survivors out of post-apocalyptic suburbia in search of a place to call home. Along the three-year journey, Lauren, daughter of a Christian preacher, cultivates the seed of a new religion based on the acceptance of change rath er than pre-determination. Each chapter, made up of Laurens diary entries, is prefaced by a verse from the religions completed written testament, The Books of the Living 19 In a world where simple survival is an act of resistance, this is a novel about the longing for utopia rather than the realization of it, and depicts so many failures to rea lize utopia that it may seem dystopic. The narrative utilizes a quest thematic to problematize more tradit ional notions of utopia as a goal of human social and political life. In The Fifth Sacred Thing Starhawk envisions a radi cally democratic community based in San Francisco that incorporates a non-violence ethic with sustainable living and cultural diversity. Religions of all varieties practice side-by-side, hospitals are staffed by teams that include traditionally trained speci alists and healers who use magic, and new models of kinship make way for multi-racial families and sexually diverse practices. In contrast to this revolutionary community is the fundamentalist culture from which it has withdrawn, wherein The Millenialists, a sligh tly more extreme version of the Religious Right, control the government in tandem with global corporations. When people of the


51 community become infected with a virus that resists treatment, the enclave leadership believes that the virus may be a weapon of the government. The protagonists, Madrone and her male lover Bird, struggle to find a cure for the virus and to forge alliances with other groups who resist the corporate and fundamentalist government, while Madrones ninety-eight-year-old grandmother, Maya, mothers, mentors and misses them. Starhawks narrative voice, while in the third person, alternates betw een Madrone, Bird and Maya. 20 In the novels climax, the peaceful values and consensus process of the community, realizations of utopia, are tested when it mu st protect itself from an invading government army. Projection: Out of Violence Parable of Sower depicts frequent scenes of murd er and brutality as witnessed by Lauren Olamina and recorded in her journal. Overwhelmingly, the predominance of these horrifying images in the narrative represent a plea for the cessation of institutionalized, poverty-driven violence, and a call to crea te communities that practice cooperation. In this way, the primary utopian desire the narra tive projects is for th e creation of a utopia that does not yet exist; it seeks the possibility of escape from the dystopian formula, and finds that potential in the utopian dreaming of a young black woman. Fifteen-year-old Lauren is what she calls a sharer, a person who experiences empathetic pain when she witnesses the suffering of others; this afflic tion is the result of a prescription drug abused by her mother duri ng pregnancy. In her violent world, sharing makes Lauren even more vulnerable, as her em pathic responses can in capacitate her. As a


52 narrative device, Laurens di sorder, call hyperempathy syndrome guarantees that she will be more motivated to form cooperative re lationships in order to survive than other desperate people. With this device as the onl y seemingly fantastic element of the text, Butler both suggests a social need for peaceful solutions and inserts an urgent, embodied individual compulsion toward the same end. Th is is especially true when Lauren later discovers that hyperempathy syndrome is more widespread than she originally supposed. As with The Parable of the Sower The Fifth Sacred Thing projects the desire for a healthier, more egalitarian world free from violence and corruption. The original founders of the enclave, a ha ndful of women, have helped to turn the San Francisco Valley into a lush paradise in the desert through sustainable li ving; enough food and water exists for everyone, and each citizen has meaningful work. Governance of the enclave takes place through an often le ngthy and argumentative consensus process among affinity groups or guilds, and a system of ethics based on earth spirituality guides the consensus process. The title of the work re fers to the fifth element in Starhawks own spiritual practice, spirit the other four being air, earth, fi re and water. Starhawk explains the significance of the elements in the book s epigraph, Declaration of the Four Sacred Things: To call these things sacred is to sa y that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human endsno one has the right to appropriate them or profit from them at the expense of others All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. It is reverence for life an d the indomitable spirit of the enclaves people that helps them persevere, even as an army occupies their beloved city and begins randomly killing


53 and torturing citizens in an attempt to flus h out a central leader who doesnt exist. Likewise, it is their strong foundation of nonviolent ethics that helps see them through; the only dissenters among their own people are the members of the Water Guild, who insist on blowing up dams erected by the occupying force to control access to water. Prediction: No Future? The Parable of the Sower predicts that if current tr ends continue, life in America in 2024 will be ruled by lawlessness and ch aos: corrupt police and other emergency responders will not assist the people unle ss compensated, education will no longer be free, and global corporations will contro l the worlds food and water supply. Perhaps worst of all, increasing violence and isolation will pit citizen against citizen. Before she is forced to embark on her search for utopia, Lauren lives in a walled suburban community that has been fortified like compound. No one goes in or out unless it is absolutely necessary. The wall of the comm unity protects its inhabita nts from desperate street dwellers and gangs of drug addicts with pyrom ania, and shields Lauren from their attacks and their suffering. In this future, it is crazy to live without a wall to protect you because those living outside th e walls of suburbia are despe rate or crazy or both and will kill to survive (10). When her neighbor hood is destroyed, Lauren becomes one of those outsiders but is determined to survive without stealing or killing. Instead, she proposes cooperation to those she encounters. Starhawks prediction for the future of America is similarly bleak. In The Fifth Sacred Thing, the possibility of nonviolen ce is the main concern of the novels story arc,


54 but it is interwoven with dire commentary on the consequences of ecological disaster, over-reliance on prescription medications and an tibiotics, corporate control of water and food supplies, militarism, and the growing gap between rich and poor. Much of this is a commentary based on Starhawks own observati ons as an activist: The Global Justice Movement, she writes, now mu st assert that water is a hum an right, linked to the right to life. There is no substitute for water; therefore there must be a limit to private ownership and control of water resources (Starhawk, Webs 66). In this n ovel, water has been privatized in much the same way as it has in real developing countries and in some American cities, and the result here has been that the poor must steal water in order to survive. If caught, they are imprisoned in fo rced labor camps. The possibilities for human survival in this future seem grim, but resi stance exists, just as Starhawk insists upon in current reality. Confrontation: Challenging Oppression, Welcoming the Stranger Just as both novels predict the expans ion of current systems of oppression, they confront the institutions th at support oppression and the prac tices they enable. However, at the same time, the protagonists actively en courage outsiders to join with them; unlike some of the other utopias discussed here, the narratives propose a more fluid boundary between dystopia and utopia through the hope of change instead of isolating utopian cultures from contamination. Each expresse s concerns about cons ervative trends in American politics, especially those involvi ng Christian extremism. Inevitably, they bluntly assert, the conflation of Christian rh etoric with politics will lead to greater


55 repression and inequity. Violence, particularly against women, is a practice confronted by both texts that is enabled by the political climate. In Parable, women and girls as young as eight years old are brutally raped by gangs, and Lauren disguises herself as a man while on the road to avoid being attacked. In The Fifth Sacred Thing the army that clashes with the citizens of the city is a concrete illustration of what the narrative confronts: systems of dominati on and violence. However, the ar my that occupies the city is made up of the poorest members of society; when the soldiers real ize that the peaceful citizens of the city treat them with more di gnity than their superiors, they begin to consider defection. The citizens constantly o ffer the occupiers a place set for you at our table, an opportunity to be pa rt of their community in spite of the atrocities visited upon them by the army (310). The persistent efforts of the nonviolent ci tizens to win over the hungry and poor troops, along with Madrones discovery of a method to cure the troops of immunobooster dependency, turns the tide in the direction of the resistance. The armys own soldiers revolt and join with the citizens to expel the remaining officers and soldiers. Utopia as Goal: Spiritual Quest Themes of Parable of the Sower The fact that these narratives challenge conservative Ch ristianitys involvement in politics does not preclude the saturation of their own comm unity design with religious inclinations. Instead, it is the basis of their hope. The uncertain ty and pain of life in the walled community informs Laurens vision of a religion that is drasti cally different from her fathers, a god she does not name but instead defines: All that you touch, you


56 Change. All that you Change, Changes you. Th e only lasting truth is Change. God is Change (3). In this chaotic world, in which neighborhood children disappear without warning and homes are fire-bombed, the only th ought for the future that gives Lauren optimism is the possibility of directing cha nge, shaping it instead of suffering it. The power of change, so inescapable that it is God-like, must first be acknowledged, and then dealt with, re-visioned: We do not worship God. We perceive and attend God. We learn from God. With forethought and work, we shape God (17). She calls for a faith that can unite people in the pu rsuit of a future more hopeful th an desperately clinging to what remains of Americas crumbling civilization. Lauren eventually gath ers a small group of terrified but tenacious people to he r cause, and in the books sequel, Parable of the Talents, they settle on a remote farm to begin th eir project, that of making Earthseed an international movement toward unification of people to a common goal: survival. However, the community they build, called Ac orn, is not an end but a beginning. The end of utopian desire, reached by other members of her community only after her death, is the final destiny of Earthseed, to take root am ong the stars (84). As Lauren notes on the day of her revelation concerning the Destiny, theres always a lot to do before you get to go to heaven (85). The function of the Des tiny is hopeful challenge, a sense of purpose that is grander in scope and extends beyond the current dystopian realities of Acorns daily struggle to survive. Again, this is the utopian element, the strength of this work, found in the constant presence of hope and the possibility of agency presented in Laurens cosmology: God is Change. We must find the rest of what we need within ourselves, in one another, in our Destiny (245).


57 Conclusions: Radical Citizenship Here in these works, as with others discussed, policy and decision-making based on consensus is the norm. The presence of dissent in both of these societies is presented as a healthy component of the process, and pa rticipation in the process is a measure of ones citizenship. In The Fifth Sacred Thing the members of the enclave work to resolve rising tension between affinity groups when news that a gov ernment army is approaching their city. Some groups represented on the highly democratic council support preparations for offense while others insist on nonviolent resistance. While some dissent remains, the council decides on a nonviolent approach by majority vote and selects a welcoming committee to represent the community when the army arrives. It is this committee that first offers a place at our ta ble to the commander of the invading force, and they suffer the first casualties. When the military occupies the city, members of the enclave are forced to choose between viol ent and nonviolent respons e. Some groups, like the Water Guild, are convinced that nonviolen t resistance and negotiation are useless and engage in acts of violence, while others gl adly give their live s in acts of civil disobedience. The presence of dissent here demonstrates that while disputes may hinder collective action, the pr ocess of consensus allows for it. Repressive practices are not replicated here as with more limited ut opias that long for sameness. Starhawks consensus process is practical model that sh e has applied in traini ng for direct actions, and this is a very helpful model for feminists in particular, given the need for both cooperation and acknowledgement of difference in the work that must be done to build a widespread movement.


58 Conclusions In summation, this thesis explicates the three most useful functions of feminist utopian narrative: projection of utopian desire, prediction of political change, and confrontation with aspects of Western models citizenship and the institutions which reify them. Here, five texts of feminist utopia n fiction are considered: Charlotte Perkins Gilmans Herland Sally Miller Gearharts The Wanderground Ursula K. LeGuins The Dispossessed Octavia Butlers Parable of the Sower and Starhawks The Fifth Sacred Thing I have considered problematic elements of the individual works as well as thematic and narrative devices, and I have reached the conclusion that feminist utopias should not be dismissed as escapist fantasie s. Thorough analysis of them demonstrates the political necessity of the genre to the ongoing development of feminist emancipatory consciousness. The vision they provide ma kes them unique tools for investigating manifestations of power and extrapolating new directions for feminist discourse. As such they should be thoughtfully considered as part of feminist and interdisciplinary pedagogy to foster the development of critical consciousness. Chapter One of this thesis is concerned with Herland, a narrative that seeks to address the limited possibilities of wome n in turn-of-the-century America. In Herland Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides a vision of change for society; if women were allowed to fully participate as citizens, the whole of society would benefit, and progress of the human race would not be impeded by the re strictions placed on women. The work


59 projects the desire for peaceful, efficient and egalitarian society, and predicts the possibility of obtaining that desire through greater freedom for women. Additionally, the narrative confronts limit ing notions of femininity used to justify the confinement of women to the private sphere and limit the scope of female citizenship to domestic duty. Gilmans vision is one that is still releva nt today in many ways, and her work has long been considered ground-breaking; however, ap preciation of Gilmans fictional work and her place as a foremother of contemporary fe minism needs to be better situated in her own historical and critical c ontext. Any look at Gilmans work is incomplete without consideration of her intense interest in soci al evolutionary theory, and unfortunately, the racist and classist implications of her work, as well as other problematic elements, are often overlooked in favor of her otherwise progressive vision. These flaws, however, make Herland an ideal flashpoint for dialogue ab out those same implications; for example, Herland to could be employed to stimulate discussion about the continuing paradox of the construction of motherhood a nd the pitfalls of maternal feminism. Chapter Two examines The Wanderground and The Dispossessed as separatist utopias. The Wanderground projects many of the strong desires of many difference feminists of the 1970s, who longed for new ways of knowing and communicating and for the revaluation of women as strong, active agents who are entitled to freedom from oppressive practices. Gearharts narrative seems to predict that women may achieve these desires through self-development. Additionally, this work confronts the injustice and brutality of oppressive practices like rape as part of a larger critique of male supremacy. As part of socially-conscious pedagogy, The Wanderground can be utilized to encourage conversations about violence against women, gender performance, women-centered


60 spaces, and theories of difference and sameness. Critiques pointing to the essentialism of the work actually confirm a useful manner in which The Wanderground can be utilized for purposes of discussion. Written during the same historical peri od but more involved in asserting sameness as a political strategy, The Dispossessed projects the utopian desire for a classless society. It predicts the inevitab ility of dissent and a sserts it as a positive indicator of healthy society. The work also c onfronts the competitiveness, greed and class and gender inequity that are hallmarks of Western capitalist democracy while acknowledging the difficulties of communal living. The Dispossessed with its juxtaposition of socialism and capitalism, and discursive practices regarding language and gender, is a useful text in numerous wa ys. Both works present unique and valuable narratives and provide widely dive rgent visions of perfect society. Lastly, Parable of the Sower and The Fifth Sacred Thing can both be used to highlight tensions and resolutions in coal ition-building and explore issues that are relevant today, such as water rights and sust ainable living. Chapter Three analyzes these two texts as points of depart ure for imagining egalitarian and heterogeneous societies. Both texts project desire for a safe and envi ronmentally viable future, predict disastrous consequences for American society and culture if progressive changes are not made in the present, and confront the systems of domination and violence that may lead to such consequences. When analyzing these works, each with its ambitious projects and flaws both intentional and non-intentional, we might ask ourselves, just what kind of utopias are these anyway? Some appear to predict futures so grim that hope is only dimly visible, and some may seem too fantastic to offer any pr actical application. However, the crucial


61 vision that these novels provide enables conversations that are of a type at the heart of feminism, about what kind of world we have what kind we want, and the lengths to which we will or will not go in order to achieve it. These conversations make up a complex dialogue, an important one, and in my opinion, quite possibly the most important one in the world as we know it. Th ese texts ask vital questions about the ways in which current models of citizenship prevent the actualization of more equitable visions, and suggest that othe r modes are possible. In this way, they suggest that change in the present is also possible. At the risk of sounding as though feminist utopian narrative is the cure-all for the challenges of inequity in the postmodern world, I can confidently assert that the study of utopian na rrative is one place of convergence, a nexus of possible interdisciplinary practice including but not limited to feminist theory, political science, American studies, material sciences and literature. Here, the potential for pedagogical application is as divers e as the disciplines themselves. As a final word, I feel the need to assert that all interactions with literary text, whether fiction or nonfiction, can arguably be seen as temporary escape from ones own current reality. If distinctions of value or necessity regardi ng text are to be made, they should be based on that which occurs after reading has ended. Wher e does the text take us, and what may it give us for the return trip ? As a respite from reality, fantastic fiction, and feminist utopian narrative in particular forces a question asked by Ursula K LeGuin, albeit in a slightly different context: Fro m what is one escaping, and to what? (On Teaching 23-24). Through examination of the alternate visions these works provide, perhaps readers, as citizens, will be encouraged participate in the cr eation of a world from which they are less inclined to seek escape, one more just and fulfilling for all.


62 Bibliography Abbott, Phillip. Utopians at Play. Utopian Studies 15.1 (2004): 44-62. Atwood, Margaret. An Evening with Margaret Atwood. University of South Florida Humanities Institute, University Lecture Series, and the Florida Suncoast Writers Conference. University of South Florida, Tampa, FL. 3 February 2005. Baccolini, Raffaella. Gender and Genre in th e Feminist Critical Dystopias of Katherine Burdekin, Margaret Atwood, and Octavia Butler. Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Ed. Marleen S. Barr. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. 13-34. Barash, Nanelle R. and David P. Narash. Biology, Culture, and Pe rsistent Literary Dystopias. The Chronicle of Higher Education 51.15 B10. Bartkowski, Frances. Feminist Utopias Lincoln: U of Ne braska Press, 1989.


63 Bell, Susan Groeg and Karen M. Offen, ed. Theodore Roosevelt, 1905. From his Address Before the National Congress of Mothers, Washington, D.C., March 13, 1905. Women, the Family, and Freedom: The Debate in Documents. V.2 (18801950). Standford: Standford UP, 1983. Bonner, Frances. From The Female Man to the Virtual Girl: Whatever Happened to Feminist SF? Hecate 22.1 (May 1996): 104-120. In foTrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. University of South Florida Library, Tampa, FL. 4 February 2004. Burwell, Jennifer. Turning Inward: Strategi es of Containment and Subjective/Collective Boundaries in Traditiona l Utopian Literatures. Notes on Nowhere: Feminism, Utopian Logic, and Social Transformation American Culture, Vol. 13. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1997. Butler, Octavia. The Parable of the Sower New York: Warner Aspect, 1993. Donawerth, Jane. The Feminist Dystopia of the 1990s: Record of Failure, Midwife of Hope. Future Females, the Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism. Ed. Marleen S. Barr. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000. 49-66.


64 Delrosso, Jeana.The Womanization of Utopi as: Sally Miller Gearharts Rhetorical Fiction. Extrapolation 40.3 (Fall 1999): 213-224. EB SCO: Academic Search Premier. University of South Florid a Library, Tampa, FL. 18 March 2004. Fancourt, Donna. Accessing Utopia Through A ltered States of Consciousness: Three Utopian Novels. Utopian Studies 13.1 (Winter 2002): 94-115. InfoTrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. University of South Florida Library, Tampa, FL. 3 March 2004. Gearhart, Sally Miller. The Wanderground: Stories of the Hill Women Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1978. ---. An End to Technology: A Modest Proposal. Dea ex Machina: Women and Technology. Ed. Joan Rothschild. N.p.: Pergamum Press, 1984. ---. The FutureIf There is OneIs Female. Reweaving the Web of Life: NonViolence and Women. Ed. Pam McAllister. Philadelphia: New Society, 1982. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. Herland. 1915. Mineloa, New York: Dover, 1998. ---. The Living of Charlo tte Perkins Gilman. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.


65 ---. Women and Economics: a Study of the Ec onomic Relation between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution. 1898. Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson, Introduction. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1998. NetLibrary OCLC e-book, 2005. 6 February 2005. hooks, bell. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center Boston: South End Press, 1984. Hudak, Jennifer. The Social Inventor: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the (Re) Production of Perfection. Womens Studies 32 (2003): 455-477. Jones, Gwyneth. Metempsychosis of the M achine: Science Fiction in the Halls of Karma. Science Fiction Studies 24.1 (March 1997): 1-10. Gale: Expanded Academic ASAP. University of South Fl orida Library, Tampa, FL. 3 February 2005. Keinhorst, Annette. Emancipatory Projecti on: An Introduction to Womens Critical Utopias. Womens Studies 14.2 (1987): 91-100. EBSCO: Academic Search Premier. University of South Flor ida Library, Tampa, FL. 5 July 2004. Kumar, Krishan. Utopia and Anti-utopia in Modern Times New York: Blackwell, 1987. Le Guin, Ursula K. Always Coming Home New York: Harper and Row, 1985.


66 ----. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia New York: HarperPrism 1974. ---. The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction Ed. Susan Wood. New York: Putnams Sons, 1979. ---. On Teaching Science Fiction. Teaching Science Fiction: Education for Tomorrow Ed. Jack Williamson. Philade lphia: Owlswick Press, 1980. Mehaffy, Marilyn and AnaLouise Keating. Radio Imagination: Octavia Butler on the Poetics of Narrative Embodiment. Melus (Spring 2001): 45. InfoTrac: Expanded Academic ASAP. University of South Florida Library, Tampa, FL.4 February 2005. Melzer, Patricia. All that you touch you change: Utopian Desire and the Concept of Change in Octavia Butlers Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents . FemSpec (3.2). http://www.femspec .org/samples/butler.html. Milojevic, Ivana, and Sohail Inayatullah. Futures Dreaming: Challenges from Outside and on the Margins of the Western Wo rld. Future_Dreaming.htm. 5 Jan 2005. An earlier version appears in Futures 35.5: 493-507. More, Thomas. Utopia. 1516.Trans. Paul Turner. New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003.


67 Octavia Butler. Contemporary Black Biography Vol. 43. Gale Group 2004. Reproduced in Biography Resource Cent er. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2005. http://galenet.galegroup/serlet/BioRC. 18 January 2005. Piercy, Marge. Woman on the Edge of Time New York: Knopf, 1976. Sally Miller Gearhart. Feminist Writers St. James Press, 1996. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2005. http://galenet.galegroup/serlet/BioRC. 18 January 2005. Silbergleid, Robin. Women, Utopia, and Na rrative: Toward a Postmodern Feminist Citizenship. Hypatia 12.4 (Fall 1997): 156-178. Info Trac: Expanded Academic ASAP. University of South Florid a Library, Tampa, FL. 3 March 2004. Starhawk. The Fifth Sacred Thing New York: Bantam, 1993. ---. Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2002. Tepper, Sherri. The Gate to Womens Country Doubleday, 1988.


68 Ursula K(roeber) LeGuin. Feminist Writers St. James Press, 1996. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2005. http://galenet.galegroup/serlet/BioRC. 11 February 2005. Weinbaum, Alys Eve. Writing Feminist Ge nealogy: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Racial Nationalism, and the Reproduction of Mate rnalist Feminism [Part 4 of 6]. Feminist Studies 27.2 (Summer 2001): 271. RDS: Contemporary Womens Issues. University of South Florida Library, Tampa, FL. 10 November 2004. Wright, Alex. An Ambiguous Utopia. Political Theology 5.2 (April 2004): 231-239. EBSCO: Academic Search Premier. University of South Florida Library, Tampa, FL. 5 July 2004.


69 Notes 1 As with most monolithic notions, Kumars idea of the utopia as exclusively Western is contested, particularly as relates to utopias placed in the scien ce fiction genre. For a succinct challenge to this, see Milojevic and Inayatullahs Futures Dreaming: Challenges from Outside and on the Margins of the Western World. 2 As evolutionary psychologists, Barash and Bara sh place an emphasis on denial of biological instinct defined as the deepest needs of human nature (1). While their notion of sexual and reproductive function as normal biological urge (1) is not one I necessary ag ree with, the point they seek to make regarding the control of biological function in dystopias is well-taken. 3 This being said, I am certainly not claiming that all science fiction is feminist or presents a critical view, since many science fiction writers have relied, and continue to rely, upon sexist, racist and colonialist representations of alien-ness in their work. This is es pecially true in the ways that some works represent self-other relationships, in which the self is always superior and more fully human, legitimate and civilized. Feminist writers such Gwyneth Jones (see her Metempsychosis of the Machine: Science Fiction in the Halls of Karma) and Ursula K. Le Guin (American SF and the Other, in Language o f the Night ) have been quick to critique this aspect. 4 Here, I define Western citizenship in the context of social and economic systems that depend on the perpetuation of gendered social roles. As explained by Robin Silbergleid, social roles that maintain inequitable social systems are themselves upheld by traditional narrative trajectories, romantic stories that convey an ideology of successful citizenship as a linear progression (particularly for women) from childhood to marriage to reproduction and education of offspring. The romance narrative culminates in reproduction, caring for offspring and maintaining the home, which upholds patriarchal structures and relegates women to the private sphere as second class citizens with less participation in the public sphere.


70 Given the entrenchment heterosexual union and the romance narrative in the foundation of liberal citizenship and the social contract, Silbergleid states, any reconsider ation of citizenship requires new narratives of family and civil society (3). 5 While a feminist in the sense that she supported wo mens suffrage, Gilman was uncomfortable with early feminist politics of sexual liberation. At the same time some of her reformer ideas, such as professional childcare and communal kitchens, were too radical for her maternal feminist peers. 6 The race referred to whites, just as the sex, a common expression in Gilmans time, referred to women. 7 According to Bartkowski, Women and Economics (1898) was available in seven languages, and in the 1920s, was used as a college textbook. 8 While reading this text, it is helpful to remember that it was originally published as a serial. 9 In a 1905 address, President Th eodore Roosevelt admonishes women who refuse motherhood and praises mothers, and makes implicit connections between be aring children and duty to country. The most important, the most honorable task which can be set to any woman is to be a good and wise mother in a home marked by self-respect and mu tual forbearance, by willingness to perform duty, and by refusal to sink into self-indulgence or avoid that which entails effort and self-sacrifice I am speaking of the primary duties, I am speaking of the average citizens (138). To refuse motherh ood would be to merit contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle (139). Roosevelt states that the word mother itself is synonymous with loving unselfishness and self-abnegation and should be considered holy (140). 10 Frances Bartkowski speculates on the motive for Gilm ans choice of a male narrator: The choice is one which might make male readers more comfortable by giving them the privile ged place of observer or storyteller; for female readers, however, Van and hi s friends are the objects of humorfemale readers are situated with Van as outsiders but also distanced from him in their responses to a womens world (28). As Bartkowski observes, Vans narrative control rea sserts his dominance, in spite of its inadvertent humor and imperfection (28).


71 11 For more on this, in the context of colonialism, see Weinbaum. 12 This is particularly true of Herland s sequel, With Her in Ourland wherein Ellador and Van travel the world in order to view through the lens of Elladors experience. 13 Sameness and difference debates also concerned (and still do) differences in race, class, and sexuality. For my purpose, I will not be detailing them here. 14 See Gearharts The Futureif There is One is Female and An End to Technology: A Modest Proposal. 15 Alex Wright asserts that the works social se nsibilities regarding suffering and human nature are informed here, as with some of LeGuins other works, by the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching (236). LeGuin has shown obvious interest in taoism elsewhere, and has also published a translation of the work. 16 Not coincidentally, A-Io resembles the United States in many ways. 17 LeGuin may have fit in well as an immigrant to Anar res, as a self-described a petty-bourgeois anarchist, and an internal emigr (sic) (from Susan Woods Introduction to Language of the Night 13). 18 In this work, Butlers modern-day protagonist travels into the Antebellum past to save the life of the white man who is to become her ancestor. 19 Butler states that she wrote the verses of the The Books of the Living just to overcome a writing block: I knew that I wanted to my next book to be about a woman who starts a religion, but everything I wrote sounded like garbage (Octavia). Th e poetry she wrote collect her t houghts became th e protagonists verses. 20 Like Starhawk, Maya, who as an en clave founder represents the old gu ard, is a once-famous author of influential books on spirituality.