Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Gate to Women's Country ~ by Sheri S. Tepper, 1988

As I read The War Against Women by Marilyn French (click the link/title to read my review of that book earlier today), I kept thinking women ought to run things rather than men.  Sheri Tepper had the same idea and wrote it into a story where "civilization has evolved into a dual society where walls enclose the peaceful women and keep the warrior men out, and yet there is a gate between them for those who dream."  The novel takes place many years after a nuclear war.  To prevent another world war, women have segregated most of the men into garrisons outside walled cities full of women and girls and little boys under five -- plus a few men who, at the age of 15, willing choose NOT to be warriors and come back to live with the women.  That's the setting.  I kept trying to think of all the reasons this arrangement could not possibly work, but Tepper developed a humdinger of a story showing how these people made it work.

For starters, what about sex?  The women had that figured out.  A couple of times a year they would have "carnivals" where men and women partied and had sex.  Everything was all pre-arranged, right down to private rooms for them to get together.  Of course, the young people found a way to talk to each other during the rest of the year, through a hole in the wall.  That was a connection of sorts, but basically they were strictly segregated, with women inside the city walls and men in garrisons outside the walls, where they practiced their skills as warriors.  The men sometimes sneered at or about women, like the warrior Michael who said,
"Warriors don't have daughters.  They may beget an occasional girl, my friend, but we don't have daughters.  You ought to know that!  No, you've got to use girls for what they're good for.  Forget daughters.  Stavia's nothing to me.  Or Myra, either.  Barten's courted Myra until she's eating out of his hand.  He's done well, Barten" (p. 69).
Ah, you may pick up on his tone here that he, and other men, think they are still in control.  Men in the garrison learned one thing, and learned it well -- how to fight.  On the other hand, women learned all sorts of things, except during carnival times.
"Except for these semiannual holidays, school went on year after year, all year around.  No matter how old they were, almost all the women in the city were studying something.  'After the convulsions,' Morgot said, 'a lot of knowledge was lost because people didn't know anything outside their own narrow areas, and the books  were gone.  Even if you're seventy, you should be learning something more in case it's needed'." (p. 74)
Stavia says, "I kept thinking, that was how it used to be, wasn't it?  Before the convulsions.  Before Women's Country, that's how it used to be for women.  To be shorn like sheep, and bred whether they wanted to or not, and beaten if they didn't..."  And part of Morgot's reply was:
"Some did shave heads.  Some allowed beatings.  Other cultures were quite advanced, at least in principle.  And we have to remember that many women did not resent their treatment because they'd been reared to expect it.  Of course, it was even worse than that for individual women or in certain places. ... When a woman's husband beat her, sometimes to death, it was called 'domestic violence'." (pp. 291-292)
This is a book I have continued to think about ever since I read it.  The Gate to Women's Country makes the reader think.  Therefore, I give it a rating of 8 out of 10.

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