Short essay – Edgar Rice Burroughs & Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I decided to publish my short essays on the readings from the Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World course syllabus. The course started on the 1st of June and finished on the 14th of August. The essays were supposed to be around 270-320 words a piece. Today, I publish the essay that I wrote after reading Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ A Princess of Mars and Charlotte Perkins Gilman‘s Herland.

* These are my views and interpretations only

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A Princess of Mars felt quite like the usual story of a Princess being saved by a ‘white knight’ – in this case the narrator John Carter himself – and Herland was more to my liking. Though both stories are narrated by men, and both men try to explain their surroundings to their audience, the similarities end there.

Herland is a more empowering story – for women. While in A Princess of Mars, the women are all designated one trait (Dejah is the damsel-in-distress, Sarkoja is vindictive and Sola is strong of mind), the women in Herland feel like actual people. There still is much to say about how they are developed, because in all honesty, they were hard to differentiate from one another. I had no clear image of any of the individual women, more an image of the ‘Herland’ woman.

Gilman tries to make people think about the set gender roles and how much of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ is caused by nature, and how much by nurture. By presenting the readers with a group of women who don’t act ‘womanly’, she presented a group of people instead. People with neither ‘feminine’ nor ‘masculine’ traits. Just people.

By having the narrator and his friends be ‘worldly’ men, the author makes the readers realize just how much of ‘modern’ and ‘Western’ behaviour is conditioned. How much people rely on tradition, religion and the ways of old to separate the sexes in two different boxes. And make no mistake: Gilman’s work is still relevant today. Perhaps more so, because the clash between conservatism and progressivism that we face nowadays. The gender roles are still being practised, and although people are trying to shake up the standards we have, it is hard going.

Maybe reading Herland would serve the leaders of this world well: to get a glimpse of the kind of world we could have, with men and women as equals.

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