Back

Sezer Sabriye Ikiz, Izmir Ege University

Feminist Utopian Vision in Sally M. Gearhart’s
The Wanderground

As Joanna Russ has remarked, feminist utopias are typically decentralised, anti-industrial, ecologically sensitive societies based on small rural communities and lacking state bureaucracies. (Russ 2). They share the same characteristics of utopias written by men, but they differ in terms of the role of women, issues of sexuality, reproduction, childrearing and interpersonal relationships. However, feminist utopias also have been influenced and transformed by different feminist movements. In this paper, I will focus on a feminist utopia created by Sally Miller Gearhart in her novel The Wanderground.
Sally Gearhart here shows us that there is not only one feminism but feminism(s). We can say that she influenced from different movements. Before looking at these; lets see what kind of a society Wanderground is.
The Hill Women live in the Wanderground. They escaped from the violent and repressive life of the City. Now they live in harmony without men. If we want to see the nature of the society, we will find an ecologically sensitive society. The important element in the novel is the relationship between nature and women. There is no description about their economic life, production and distribution. There are not any descriptions of political and social institutions. The emphasis is on the ways of decision making and communication. The women can communicate by telepathy or mindstretch; they can use words, but speaking aloud, though useful "for the refining of present images and the generation of new ones... created a far less vulnerable state, even a less honest one". (Gearhart 64)

Another important point about the society is that the Hill Women are not heterosexuals but they are lesbians who can bear children without men. And a newborn child has got seven mothers.

Sally M Gearhart's The Wanderground is different from the other feminist utopias such as The Female Man by Joanna Russ or The Woman on the Edge of the Time in the feminist sense. Gearhart wrote this book in 1979. Unlike Russ and Piercy, she does not accept co-existence with men. She's not only a radical and cultural feminist but also a lesbian and a separatist. Gearhart creates a utopia without men. We see all the reflections of these feminism(s) in The Wanderground clearly. Now I want to examine these different groups of women to see the differences between them.

At the end of the 1970s the issue of sexuality produced the final and fundamental rift between feminists. It shattered the potential unity about the nature, direction and goal of feminism. For Lynne Segal, opposing attitudes to heterosexuality and to the significance of male violence blew apart the women's movement of the seventies (Segal, 65). From the start of the contemporary women's movement, there had always been some tension between lesbian and heterosexual women. Lesbian women resented the complacency of heterosexual women over the social acceptance, relative privilege and partial safety accorded heterosexual women in the wider world. Lesbianism was nevertheless a very important issue to many feminists because it symbolised women's rights to an autonomous sexuality, outside men's control or men's desire. Some feminists like Jill Johnstone, had always preached a separatist sexual practice. The closing years of the seventies saw the growth of "political lesbianism" and its call for sexual separatism. Heterosexuality was explicitly theorised as the root cause of women's oppression and linked with male violence against women. As I have told before, Sally Gearhart was a cultural feminist. Dale Spender was an Australian feminist who has most successfully popularised the idea of feminism as a cultural movement freeing women from the imposition of "male values". She argues that women's experience and values have been suppressed by men. The project of feminism should be to allow women to rediscover our own knowledge, "to reclaim our minds".

A feminist is a woman who does not accept man's socially sanctioned view of himself ... feminism refers to the alternate meanings put forward by feminists. (Spender 8)

Lynne Segal, later defines the goal of cultural feminism as the expression of "female" power, the creation of "female" values, lifestyle and communities cleansed of the language and values men. Its emphasis on women's culture, on entertainment, writing, aesthetic works and social life, is both personally enriching and can provide a secure moral basis and a sense of belonging (Segal, 68).

In the early seventies, feminists were optimistic about how they could change their lives. They were attempting to change every aspect of their lives, how they lived with and related to other adults and children, how we worked and developed new skills, how they saw themselves. But today cultural feminists are less concerned with change. They suggest that women do not need to change their lives, other than to separate themselves from the lives of men, and that there is little hope of men themselves changing.

In the first episode of The Wanderground we can see that Sally Gearhart has no hope for the man.

We once had hope for them, but even that hope they snuffed out. Rage. Sadness. All mixed with tenderness and love. Love men? the idea did not fit. (Gearhart, 2).

Then they talk about the Gentles. Gentles knew that the Hill Women were the only hope for the earth's survival (Gearhart, p.2). This view reminds us of the ecofeminism of the 80s. It suggests that women must and will liberate the earth because they live more in harmony with nature. Women can save the world from the nightmares of nuclear weaponry and wars, which represents the untamed forces of "male drives and male sexuality" through the power of the feminine mentality and the force of maternal concerns. Susan Griffin, introducing the British feminist ecology anthology Reclaim the Earth, argues that "those of us who are born female are often less severely alienated from nature than are most men". Woman's capacity for motherhood which is presented as connecting her with what Adrienne Rich calls "the cosmic essence of womanhood" keeping women in touch with the essentially creative, nurturing and benign blueprint of nature.

Indeed, in Wanderground, women create a harmonious relation with the nature. The women's lives in the City with men horrible. Men were very repressive and violent towards women. People, particularly religious fanatics were outraged against the women. All the women were sentenced to long terms at separate prisons and the children sent to state custody. Any people who tried to support the women got heavy doses of moralism. Men and women who tried to help them were quickly silenced, if not by money pressures then by physical threats both to themselves and to their families. Some people even wanted to burn all the women in public executions. Polygamy was being sanctioned in some areas so men could have several wives. Only the ones who looked and behaved like ladies had a chance. Lesbianism is suppressed here. Women escaped from this terrible life in city and created their Wanderground. They were not like the traditional weak, obedient women Alaka describes one of the women as.

Seja was a warrior-strong, righteous, brave, committed. She rode bare-breasted under a brilliant helm of crescent horns and flanked by bold and bright clad sisters. Stone faced, powerful, beautiful, highly-trained and self-disciplined, she was the virgin, the one-unto-herself, the spirit of the untrodden snow, whose massive hands were as unflinching in battle as they were gentle in love. And her sword rang on the shields of men who dared to violate the sanctity of womankind. Here was no passive damsel, here none of the forgiveness of the soft supine woman. He who rapes must die. A simple maxim by which to live your life, by which to die yourself if that is necessary. Now there was the fighter, flushed with alour, sworn to death or triumph and now here was the calm victor, not rejoicing in the kill but looming over her vanquished enemy at this very moment about to let fall the fatal blow. (Gearhart, p.26).

Rapes, killings and tortures were the parts of Hill Women's lives in the City. Seja says: "It is not in his nature not to rape. It is not in my nature to be raped. We do not co-exist." (Gearhart, p.26).

We have seen that Gearhart influenced by different feminism(s) and she promoted especially a lesbian feminist view. She has not seen any hope for men. Gearhart created a utopia without men.The Hill Women did not need men even in the stage of reproduction. Finally I want to state that the examination of this feminist utopia is a way of paying tribute to the plurality of feminism(s)in our postmodern age and in this sense this paper tried to view The Wanderground as a "postmodern production".

References

Gearhart, Sally Miller, The Wanderground, London: The Women's Press, 1985.

Russ, Joanna, Recent Feminist Utopias, ed.by Marlene Barr, Future Females, Ohio: Bowling Green University Press, 1981.

Segal, Lynne, Is the Future Female? Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism, London: Virago, 1987.

Spender, Dale, Women of Ideas (and What Men Have Done To Them) London: Routledge & KeganPaul, 1982.


back to papers' list back to top