In The Gate to Women’s Country, Sherri Tepper gives the reader a look into the post-apocalyptic future in which society is broken up into three main groups: Women, servitors, and warrior men. The women and servitors lived inside walled cities while the warriors would live in garrisons located outside the walls. At first glance, a city like Marthatown may seem like a utopia to some. At times, it seems that the people within the city consider it a utopia. On the outside, the society in which they live is female dominated. One would think that women would have all the rights and freedom they wanted. In essence, the city of Marthatown would be a feminist’s dream. Unfortunately, at second glance, the city is not, by any means, a feminist’s dream. Quite the contrary, it would be a feminist’s absolute, full blown nightmare. Within the society, women are still mistreated by men, unable to think for themselves, and do not have any freedom for the most part.
In regards to the treatment of women, Marthatown is not, by any means perfect. In fact, women for the most part get treated like second class citizens when it comes to the warriors from the garrison. One of the first examples of this mistreatment is Chernon’s behavior toward his mother. He would say the nastiest, most disgusting remarks to his mother. Chernon would also get into fights with his mother intentionally during his visits. One would argue that he was forced to do this by his superior officer / senior warrior, but the fact is that he treated his mother like crap. This was not an isolated case involving the behavior of a warrior or potential warrior disrespecting women. Stavia stated and her mother agreed that warriors were always disrespectful toward women and their own mothers. The atrocities to women do not end there. When Chernon and Stavia were out alone, Chernon was so eager to impregnate her that he just cut out her implant and “jumped her bones” without thinking of the consequences of such a procedure in regards to Stavia’s well being. The best example of the mistreatment of women involves Firstborn and his wife Humility, a 14-year-old girl. During their act of sex, he actually slapped her around because she was screaming from pain. What does he expect from a 14-year-old? She was not quite fully-grown and an adult was having sex with her; it is going to hurt. Firstborn did not have a single ounce of respect for her. The only thing he was worried about was keeping her quiet so he could keep his manhood at attention. The worst part is that all these acts of abuse and disrespect are accepted in the society. Feminists would be having a fit if they had to experience this type of behavior on a daily basis.
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In Marthatown, women are allowed to voice their opinions as long as they concur with the elders of the city / society. This is along the same lines as Henry Ford’s quote, “You can have any color you want as long as it’s black.” In reality, women were not allowed to have their own opinions. Myra was a perfect example this narrow-minded attitude of the society. When speaking with her mother Margot, she began to spout off the opinions of her warrior boyfriend Barten. Margot then threatened to report her to the council because she voiced an opinion that was not consistent with those of the society. Myra then continued by saying that she would rather live outside the warriors than stay in the city. Margot reacted badly. The thought, for some reason, seemed blasphemous. God forbid that someone would speak against the city. Freedom of speech must be a felony in Marthatown because no body is allowed to say anything contrary to what the council wants you to say or think. The situation is similar to Wollstonecraft’s time and also to the time period in A Doll’s House. Women were not allowed to think for themselves, but instead of men thinking for women, Marthatown has a council thinking for women.
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Finally, freedom is a luxury of the society in The Gate to Women’s Country that women just do not have. Myra is once again a perfect example of this violation of women’s rights. All she really wanted to do is dance. Unfortunately for her, Marthatown does not allow women to do what ever they want. They are required to learn what they are told to learn and do what they are told to do. This includes careers, which must be beneficial to the society (i.e. basket weaving and the like).
By not following these oppressive rules, a woman would be in severe trouble and punished accordingly.
The restrictions on females do not end there. Women do not have control over their own bodies, especially in cases of childbirth. If the council feels that a woman is not worthy to give birth to a child, she is not allowed to. Myra once again fits this case. The council felt that it would not be in anyone’s best interest for Myra to have anymore children so that gave her a hysterectomy. Since feminists have been fighting a never-ending struggle over the control of their own bodies, Marthatown would definitely not be a utopia at all.
The restrictions on freedom do not end there, however. Women are not given a chance to relax for any period of their lives. School must be attended nearly every day for the rest of your life. The educational process never ends, and women are not given a choice to quit or do something else. All women must work on top of all this and the job must be useful to the city. Basically, women could not do anything except those things the society has approved. What rights do women have in Marthatown? They don’t have any rights. Freedom seems all but abolished.
The society portrayed in Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country is rather bleak. This utopia or dream world is nothing less than a living hell for women. The society is a great place if a woman wants to be abused by disgruntled warrior men, controlled by a fascist council, or oppressed by the society’s restrictions of basic freedoms. The world might as well revert back to middle ages. In fact, it seems like Tepper’s world was a mirror image of those dark days in which women had absolutely nothing. Someone like Wollstonecraft, Woolf, or De Pizan would never be able to last in such a society. The moment they would try to write a book, they would end up dead. This world is not, by any means, a utopia. It is a living, breathing, horrific nightmare to all feminists.
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