Leaving Herland

Nora Caplan-Bricker in The Point:

ScreenHunter_3069 Apr. 27 19.15Imagine a world without men. Imagine it occurred as a natural experiment. Imagine, for example, a valley cupped by high mountains, accessible by only a single, narrow pass. Imagine that, thousands of years ago, the people of this valley found themselves at war when an unlucky tremor from a distant volcano sealed the pass shut with a shower of rocks. Most of the people who’d stayed back from battle died fighting among themselves in the weeks after the cataclysm, leaving only a small group of women behind to despair that without men there’d be no children, and without children, no future. This is a fantastical premise requiring a fantastical twist. So say the women’s bodies adapted to the absence of mates. They became capable of asexual reproduction, previously the province of invertebrates and plants. From there, the society developed between the cliffs of its petri dish. That this could never happen is beside the point—the important question is: What would come next?

This is the setting for the 1915 novel Herland, by the first-wave feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and what comes next in her book is utopia: women solving humanity’s problems without men getting in the way. I loved this strange novel when I read it in college, though I couldn’t say why. It’s earnest, even dopey, and, inevitably, outdated. Yet I found myself thinking about it after the Harvey Weinstein revelations this fall, and during the reckoning that followed.

From the start, the #MeToo moment seemed to rest on a utopianism that no one had named. “Don’t harass” is a simple demand, but envisioning a world without sexual harassment—without its many tendrils invading every corner of our lives—is not a simple act of imagination.

More here.