Elaine Mak Ngah Lam, University of Hong Kong
Eugenics in Fictional Dystopia: Ecofeminist Praxis
This paper explores eugenics in Charlotte Haldane's Man's World (1926). This dystopian novel primarily deals with oppression that comes about from a patriarchal state that enforces eugenics. The text is susceptible to ecofeminist analysis, informed by the conviction that there is a connection between the domination of woman and nature. This paper will first introduce what eugenics, dystopia, and ecofeminism are. Once the basic premises are set, the focus will turn to using ecofeminist praxis to examine eugenics portrayed in the novel. The approach is based on Karen J. Warren's findings of how patriarchal domination of women and nature are conceptually linked. In the concluding section, this paper will show that both ecofeminists and Haldane share the same concerns and fears.
The term eugenics was coined by Francis Galton in Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development. He states that eugenics firstly deals with "questions bearing on what is termed in Greek, eugenes, namely good in stock, hereditarily endowed with noble qualities." (Galton 1883: 24) Secondly eugenics is a brief word that expresses "the science of improving stock" (Galton 1883: 25). This branch of science aims to sustain the existence of "suitable races or strains of blood". Eugenics flourished in Western Europe and America at the fin de siecle as it brought faith in scientific solutions to deal with fears of racial degeneration (Sally Ledger, 1995). Galton's work on eugenics was geared towards this fear as it suggested human intervention might be necessary to help natural selection. He believed that civilised societies often prevented natural selection from working. His conclusion was that it was necessary for the government to practice eugenics as an artificial selection. There were to be two ways that the government could handle this. One was positive eugenics, which meant that individuals of high qualities would be encouraged to have lots of children. At the same time, negative eugenics would discourage individuals with poor traits to have children. In order for this to work properly, individuals of good traits were not to mix with people of poor traits.
Eugenics is seen to be a common component in utopias (John Carey, 1999). The utopia referred to here is an imaginary place "enjoying a perfect social, legal, and political system" (Oxford English Dictionary). This is formed by combining Greek eu (meaning good) + topos (meaning place). One must realise that the term utopia is ambiguous, and in fact a pun, because it may also be defined as just any imaginary place, derived from ou (meaning not) + topos. In this sense, utopia is a generic term that incorporates both perfect and any imaginary societies. The term dystopia then is the word coined to indicate a horrible society. It is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as an imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible. According to John Carey, dystopias must also be an "expression of fear" (Carey 1999: xi). The word dystopia is made up of the prefix dys (meaning bad) + topos.
When Patrick Parrinder in "Eugenics and Utopia: Sexual Selection from Galton to Morris" asks, "Can we imagine a better society without imagining, and wishing to create, better people?"(Parrinder 1997: 1) he had eugenics in mind. The point of Parrinder's question was to show that eugenics is a necessary component of the traditional utopia since the perfect place demands a perfect population. In order to achieve and maintain perfection, the population of utopias must be controlled. In this paper I want to take his argument further to examine the role of eugenics in literary dystopias. Eugenics has a place in dystopias as well as utopias because most dystopias are the results of utopic ideals gone awry as in the case with Charlotte Haldane's Man's World.
In Susan Squier's argument in "Sexual Biopolitics in Man's World", Squier convincingly argues that Man's World did start off with utopic visions in mind but while writing the novel, Haldane reflected on the material. Finding that there was a danger in reproductive technology being used as a way of controlling the female body for eugenic purposes, the novel ended up portraying a dystopia. Dystopias are usually a critique of what one group believes to be a utopia or at least the necessary path leading to it. In Man's World, the government disregards individual well-being for what is believed to be collective well-being of the people. This theme is used by the authors to critique the system of using binaries such as good/bad, superior/inferior, and men/women in Western patriarchy. Man's World in effect deconstructs the system of binary thinking from which eugenics emerges. There would not be a need for eugenics if there were not a belief of superior/inferior beings.
Man's World portrays eugenics as a means of manipulating and oppressing nature and women. In order to study eugenics portrayed in the dystopian novel, I have chosen to use ecofeminist praxis, which involves examining the connection in the exploitation and degradation of nature and women. According to Karen J. Warren in her introduction to Ecological Feminism, ecofeminism is "an umbrella term" (Warren 1994: 1) for theories and movements that explore a connection in the patriarchal domination of women and of nature. There are a number of different approaches to ecofeminism just as there isn't a single feminist approach. Each branch approaches the connection between women and nature in a different way. Despite their differences, all branches of ecofeminism see a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the oppression of women. According to Mary Mellor in Feminism and Ecology ecofeminism is mainly developed by using and challenging feminism and ecology.
Mellor explains that from the green movement, ecofeminism takes the idea that "all living organisms must be seen in relation to their natural environment." (Mellor 1997:1). The natural world is full of interconnections and interdependence including humanity's embeddedness in the ecosystem. Humanity's inability to respect the ecosystem, as can be seen by their constant attempts to control nature, is seen as the cause to our present ecological crisis. Ecofeminism shares with greens a concern about the ecological damage caused by contemporary socio-economic and military systems.
Ecofeminism challenges the green movement for not paying sufficient attention to patriarchy's domination of women. This is where feminism is drawn upon. Borrowing from feminism, ecofeminists take on a critique of gender roles and hierarchical dualisms such as dominant/subordinate, human/nature, and men/women. To ecofeminists, feminism without ecological insights is inadequate and vice versa (Warren 1994, 2). Warren, in "The power and the promise of ecofeminism" (1990; cited in Victoria Davion's "Is Ecofeminism Feminist?" 1994) illustrates this symbiosis when she argues that women and nature are connected in their subjection to domination (Davion 1994: 9). Warren declares that both women and nature are dominated in the same "oppressive conceptual framework" (Warren 1990 cited in Davion 1994: 10) Nature is first seen to be morally inferior to humans because the non-human does not have the ability to "consciously change the community in which they live." (Warren 1990 cited in Davion 1994: 10) What is inferior may be justly subordinated by their superior. Therefore, humans are justified in their domination of non-human nature. The same logic is used in patriarchy to oppress women. First, patriarchy identifies women as being physical and connected with nature. Men on the other hand are identified with rationality and are "human" (Davion 1994: 11). What Warren means here by men being more "human" has to do with the dualism of men/women and human/nature (Sherry B. Ortner 1998). Men are supposedly truly human because patriarchy believes that human beings are superior and distinct from animals through their knowledge, reason and control. Holding men as having a more developed cultural life than women have, patriarchy raises men higher above the animals than women. This makes women " ... appears as something intermediate between culture and nature, lower on the scale of transcendence than man" (Ortner 1998: 33). Therefore, men are justified to dominate the inferior women.
One implication of Warren's argument is that it is dangerous to be connected to the natural world since this invites subordination. Many feminists, such as Shulamith Firestone, argue that women should deny a special identification with nature by severing women from their reproductive bodies. However, ecofeminists chose to "reverse ... Firestone's hostility to nature ..." (Barbara Brook 1999: 7) by celebrating women's ties with nature1
. As Mellor points out, "To open up the question of women's association with 'nature', as well as positively to assert it, would seem to be a regressive move." (Mellor 1997: 2). This may be seen as a weakness in ecofeminism because arguably it still reaffirms the very view that traditionally was used to suppress women and repeats the essentializing which, it is claimed, has kept women in subjection. This is a problem that ecofeminism will have to keep addressing until a proper solution can be found. Nevertheless, ecofeminism is still useful in helping people think about nature and women and the need to respect them. Michael Zimmerman believes ecofeminism to have provided "some of the most important explanations of humanity's current social and ecological problems. Moreover, ecofeminism provides insightful criticisms of postmodern theory, modernity, deep ecology, and social ecology." (Zimmerman 1994: 233)
Ecofeminists are aware of the theory's vulnerability to deconstruction, and attempt to resolve this problem by making promises such as Patrick D. Murphy does in Literature, Nature and Other (1995)2
. According to Murphy, ecofeminists are attempting to find expressions of their own such as a heterarchical and destabilised language. Murphy promises that ecofeminism will not be limited by ideologies, stability, and centredness. In aiming for perspective and hypotheses rather than dogma or belief, it attempts to avoid any form of domination although that may not be achieved until the future. Unfortunately, this is a problematic promise. If, as soon as an ecofeminist ideology is developed, and ecofeminism immediately steps and dances away from it, the theory itself will never be established. In many ways, this promise cannot be kept, but at least it shows an awareness of deconstruction from the ecofeminists. I do not think that this problem can be resolved at the moment but after all ecofeminism is not the only critical position to have problems with deconstruction. I think that we should not allow Deconstruction to paralyse all theories or else we will be reduced to not doing or believing anything. Despite its many weaknesses, ecofeminism still provides a stimulating reading of patriarchal domination of women and nature.
Charlotte Haldane's Man's World, published in 1926, was ahead of its time. In her novel she explores the possibilities and extent of patriarchy's use of eugenics to justify its domination of women and nature. She shows an understanding that there is a connection between the domination of women and nature. It is true that ecofeminism as a theory and movement did not really start until Francoise d'Eaubonne introduced it in 1984 (Barbara T. Gates 1998: 15), but its concerns and fears were already present in Man's World.
Man's World is based on a society set in the future that started when a Jew called Mensch decided that the world needed to be governed by scientists during the first world war. To do this, Mensch gathers a team of orphaned boys who are trained to be men of scientific thinking. The chance for Mensch to take over the world-state, which consists of America, Australasia, and Europe, comes during the second world war and he does so by setting up a governing body consisting of his male scientists. This state is a man's world, as referred to in the title. This world-state has a male-oriented goal, which is to strengthen the state with massive "Man Power" (MW 52). This state also has a white supremacist goal, which is to progressively develop the white race. To do this, the state practices both positive and negative eugenics.
The goal of the state to be populated mostly by men is carried out by positive eugenics, which involves sexual selection and is made possible through "Perrier exercises". Once again, Haldane shows her ability to see things ahead of her contemporaries. Squier was amazed with Haldane's ability to see the potential power of biopolitics even though Man's World was written half a century before Michel Foucault (Squier 1993: 142). By this, she is referring to the novel's patriarch's usage of biological science in controlling women's bodies for eugenic ends. This is done through forcing the pregnant women to regulate her body to allow sexual selection.
"Michel Foucault has defined "four great lines of attack along which the politics of sex advanced ... combining disciplinary techniques with regulative methods": the sexualization of children, the hysterization of women, the control of birth, and the psychiatrization of perversions. Man's World anticipates the latter two control strategies." (Squier 1993: 153)
Although Haldane does not clearly explain what the Perrier exercises involve, part of it is revealed to be exercises done by the pregnant women during the gestation period. Women willingly take on this sexist and biopolitically charged task of controlling birth because firstly, they are taught to believe that the world would benefit with the power of men. As Squier puts it, "once governments realized the method's potential to consolidate "Man Power," the prenatal production of male foetuses takes top priority. Boys are needed, the narrator explains, to perpetuate patriarchy, the patrilineal class system, and industry." (1993: 143). Women, being " ... always a century behind men in mental development" (MW 222) are not needed in a state where rationality is the key to power and superiority. Secondly, they do it so that the society would not be harmed by a "'Surplus women' problem". According to Judith Adamson in Charlotte Haldane: Woman Writer in a Man's World, Man's World was Haldane's response to an actual demographic problem in Western Europe during the 1920s, "The 1921 census counted 19,803,002 females in England and Wales and 18,082, 220 males, ..." (Adamson 1998: 26).3
Apparently, people felt that it was unhealthy for England to have a surplus of women. Some even suggested that women be shipped off to colonies. In Man's World, Haldane shows the danger of treating such a gender imbalance as a problem by making it the determining factor for the institutionalisation of sex-determination,
"The question, as far as England was concerned, was finally settled by a letter, written to the leading journal of the day, diffidently inquiring whether in the Perrier invention might not have been found the final solution of the 'Surplus Women' problem, which threatened at that time to become increasingly vexatious." (MW 60)
Already, Haldane saw how a surplus of women could be used by eugenicists to lead women and in turn nature to subordination. In her novel, she envisions patriarchy justifying this sexual preference of men by placing women in an inferior position. All the patriarchs had to do was to take Galton's argument that "the science of improving stock" (Galton 1883: 25) involved sustaining the existence of the race by making a population consist of mostly men. This forces women to submit to mind and bodily enslavement. Furthermore, nature is also seen as an object for domination. Before eugenics was practised, "'Nature was still the only geneticist mentioned in public and polite circles." (MW 59) The "'Surplus women' problem" was seen as nature's fault, and the solution to it was Man's artificial selection. Through the development of the Perrier exercises, the scientists in Man's World saw that they no longer had to rely on nature (MW 59).
Haldane's perception of the domination of women in Man's World, can be identified through its government's categorisation of them. In this state, women are either Mothers, Neuters, or Entertainers. The Mothers, biologically essentialized, sole purpose in life is to give birth to and take care of children. This group of women is slightly elevated because motherhood was only for a "minority of women" (MW 23) who bore "an epitome of the most desirable qualities of her sex" (MW 23). As honorable as Motherhood might be, it is used against women who might want to explore other aspects of life because in this state having and raising children is their sole occupation.
"Nicolette had once gloried in the knowledge that to be a mother was to fulfil the most difficult function a woman could perform; she had thought she understood what sacrifices that career entailed, and seemed passionately willing to make them; but now she wondered often whether she might not after all, find her vocation elsewhere." (MW 151)
Should a woman want to have a career, she would be "immunized", which is the term they use for sterilisation. Women "immunized" fall into the remaining two categories. Neuters are those who have jobs such as teachers and menial labourers. Entertainers work in aesthetics which includes providing sexual services. Their immunity is seen as a safeguard against impurity in the race (MW 147). Whether or not this even works is questionable. Haldane herself obviously was suspicious of man's attempt to control nature. In this novel, although marginally mentioned, one of the mothers did give birth to an "abnormal" baby girl who was considered impure and disposed of. The unreasonableness in confining women to limiting and limited roles is tolerated for the sake of progression in the race. Here, Haldane is once again taking an issue topical in her time and exploring its potential in fictional form. Haldane was aware of the debates surrounding the issue of whether or not women should lead public/cultural lives. Haldane's position was that motherhood should be a full-time vocation but she believes that women should still be allowed to continue work outside the home if they can manage it. Her belief in vocational motherhood rests in her belief that some women would find a baby a source of enslavement (Adamson 1998: 33). This is different from the patriarchs of her novel who believe that motherhood should be vocational for eugenic purposes. The way the patriarch in Man's World categorises women infringes women's freedom to choose. As a rebellious character called Morgana puts it, "... it is time we women were no longer subjected to such abominable tyranny. Here we are, pushed into their beastly rigid castes and divided off into breeders and non-breeders to serve the race." (MW 210). Morgana, wanting to experiment with different things in life had opted to be a scientist but is now unhappy with her present situation for she wants to be a mother too. Her individual interests are sacrificed for the collective wellbeing. Women are merely instruments as St. John, one of Mensch's chosen orphans, puts it. To the state, people are merely "human tool[s]" (MW 232) who should not question who the commanders of the universe are or to "imagine ... that [one] can either assist ... or thrawt [the masters]." (MW 233) The commanders are of course a few male scientists who for the next few thousand years will do the thinking for the human race (MW 301). Thus eugenics, as the key to the betterment of the state, is readily accepted by most women who see themselves as glorified life-giving tools. In this state, motherhood "were a group apart and uplifted ... They shared ... a complete serenity, proclaiming acceptance of the biological law and submission to its dictates." (MW 23). This is a falsification of the improvement of women's lives for more is needed than simply worshipping what was once not respected. Domination is allowed to work because women, as cultural beings4, internalises and follows the ideology of the oppressors. In Man's World, this can be seen through Nicolette who is forced to choose her vocation. At first she tries to resist the patriarchal system by taking an antidote to her "immunization". Her resistance fails when she falls in love, which leads her to fully accept her role set by the instrumentalist values of the state. This clearly shows that to emancipate women, reconceptualization is needed rather than a clinging on to binaries. In Man's World, since the patriarchs are not working in women's interest, they keep the binaries stringently.
However, women and nature's ultimate domination is yet to come in this state. In trying to aim for racial progress, scientific research is making the replacement of women as breeders a possibility. In this state, ectogenetics have been successful with cattle and the ectogeneticists have their sights set on humans. When the mothers hear of the possibilities, they are horrified with the notion of having "a sort of human termite queen" (MW 77) who would breed the entire race. When Bruce hears of their discontent, he casually dismisses it by saying "ectogenesis provides the means to select on the most strictly accurate lines. The number of mothers chosen diminish year by year. Until at last, those who supply the race are the supreme female types humanity can produce" (MW 78) Bruce is clearly not interested in the welfare of women who are seen as merely obsolescent tools. This exposes eugenicists as enemies of nature and woman. The social impact of this discovery is not of significance since objective science is more valuable than women are in this state, "all living and striving has become amenable to experiment, no possibility however remote can be entirely ignored" (MW 79). Bruce, being a keen supporter of the mind/body split as can be seen in his overwhelming participation in auto experimentation, does not care for the women's body. He, and everyone else in this state, has no respect for the body at all. Women, who are connected with nature because of their incubating bodies, are merely tools for the progress of a man's world.
Haldane is clear in her suspicion and dislike of eugenics and sees it as Western patriarchy's domination of women and nature. Ecofeminism enables one to see the damage eugenics would cause women and nature should it be implemented. However, by focusing on women and nature, ecofeminist praxis prioritizes the welfare of women over minority groups such as people of different races, homosexuals, and the disabled. Man's World has a central story involving the plight of an "intermediately sexed" young man called Christopher. My use of ecofeminist praxis means I must unfortunately pass over the effect of eugenics on homosexuals in the story, for a lack of space. The same goes for racial groups. In Man's World negative eugenics is practiced against black people. This is done by developing a race-specific chemical weapon called the Thantail, which is a poison that kills the central nervous system causing paralysis and death. It is only absorbed through the skin of a person who carries an enzyme that produces black pigment. In other words, this weapon specifically targets black people. Generally, ecofeminist praxis is far from comprehensive in its examination of patriarchal domination. Although it is interested in the plight of minority groups, priority is given to women. Those who want to pursue an understanding of the effects of eugenics on minority groups may wish to consult other critical works.
Eugenics in Man's World is legitimised by science, which is overwhelmingly occupied by white male discourses. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the discourse of science can easily be manipulated to dominate both nature and women as demonstrated by the dystopian novel. In studying Galton' eugenics, one can easily find that his ideas are morally and ethically problematic because of its racist and elitist foundations. Many have chosen to use eugenics' racist ideology as the line of attack. Yet, in imagining its practise in fiction, Haldane chooses to focus on its effects on women instead. She sees eugenics as an infringement on women's rights since eugenics can easily be manipulated to include the objectifying of women as living incubators for the men's 'pure' and 'healthy' descendants. It is interesting that the novel sees that women's domination will take the form of a hierarchical caste system. This suggests that hierarchical dualism and caste systems must be avoided.
Ecofeminism is an approach which clearly criticizes anthropocentrism. One should not only consider human beings oppressed under patriarchy. It is true that different people suffer from belonging in different classes, different races, and different sex and that emancipation should be inclusive of all these people. However, ecofeminists argue that much of patriarchal domination is also rooted anthropocentrically. It is important to be aware of the domination of nature as well. This awareness informs ecofeminist commitment to an indivisible emancipation, though with a primary focus on women. Haldane clearly acknowledges the connection between women's and nature's subordination in their novels. If women and non-human nature are oppressed together, they need to be emancipated together.
- 1 Most ecofeminists embrace the connection on the grounds that it gives them a "privileged, superior ethical position" (Brook 1999: 7). Some reinforce this idea with a belief that women understand and appreciate humanity's relationship to the natural world more than men do because they are the first to feel ecological impacts such as dioxin residues in breast milk and failed pregnancies (Mellor 1997). Some believe that the connection is through women's biological essentialism (menstrual cycles, pregnancies, nursing infants, etc.) Others choose to believe in cultural constructivism ("Patriarchy placed women in a privileged nurturant relation to other living things ..." (Ariel Kay Sally cited in Zimmerman 1994: 239).
- 2 Murphy's promise does not represent the view of all ecofeminists. For example, some ecofeminists are more aggressive. They try to write off deconstruction as a hindrance to liberation, "How can a liberation movement proceed, ... if there is no agreed upon class to liberate?" (Zimmerman 1994: 240).
- 3 Adamson reports that Haldane believed the women surplus issue was harmful to women because they were seen as merely sex objects that had to be with a male partner. She saw that women were not only driven to compete with one another for husbands but anyone choosing spinsterhood was trivialized. Furthermore, one must remember that the result of the imbalance was largely due to the result of World War I. It was human's doing, rather than nature's "failure" which created the surplus of women.
- 4 As Ortner puts it, women are never "fully consigned to nature" (1998: 35). Women are also cultural and her participation in cultural processes is not denied. Her association with both nature and culture puts her in a position of intermediacy, but "Here intermediate simply means "middle status" on a hierarchy of being from culture to nature." (Ortner 1998: 40)
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