Amy Sturgis's Reviews > The Gate to Women's Country

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
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Aug 28, 12

bookshelves: postapocalyptic-dystopia, science-fiction-contemporary
Read from August 16 to 24, 2012

Tepper offers a fascinating meditation on how a post-apocalyptic people might seek to limit the potential for future violence and thus avoid another devastating (presumably nuclear) holocaust. The division of genders into Women's Country and the Warrior society is a deeply unsettling one. The men live a Hobbesian life that is nasty, brutish, and short, while the women preserve a disconcertingly passive-aggressive tyranny based on secrets and half-truths and closeted eugenics programs. The book suggests an easy answer to the question of where violence comes from -- men -- and then refuses to accept its own answer, because what else can the men become, if distrusted, denied education, and fed lies and propaganda? In the effort not to repeat the mistakes of the distant past, both the women and men of Women's Country have locked themselves into a cycle of more recent and still costly errors.

The novel would have been more compelling if not for its temporary detour into the caricaturish Holyland (with its cardboard stereotypes) and if only the reader came to know Servitors such as Joshua and Corrig better, these "real men" who choose to turn their back on the warriors and provide (in more ways than most realize) for the women. Tepper doesn't seem to know exactly what this alternative portrait of masculinity looks like up close, and her piece would be the stronger for some kind of three-dimensional image. Also, a few times, it seemed as though Tepper felt more sorry and apologetic for the Damned Few, the female decision-makers behind the curtain, than appropriately suspicious of the great authority they have granted themselves -- an authority capable of and sometimes amenable to wiping out entire populations.

This is a worthy classic for all of the difficult questions that it raises, even if its answers are incomplete and uncomfortable (and perhaps less unambiguous than Tepper herself wished), and I look forward to the discussions it yields in the classroom.
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Reading Progress

08/16/2012 page 58
18.0% "I'm prepping this for one of my courses this Fall. Such a fascinating study of the source(s) of violence. And such quotes: "Things happen to you when you're young. And you think you know what it was that happened, but you really don't. Then later, some years later, you suddenly understand what was going on. And you feel such a fool because it's too late to do anything about the mistakes you made.""
08/19/2012 page 141
45.0% ""Doing nothing with an appearance of calm may be more important than doing the right thing in a frantic manner. Learn to perform, Stavia. I have.""
08/21/2012 page 177
56.0% ""A little spice may outweigh whole generations of potatoes," growled Septemius Bird. "None of us have eve had them. But some of us would weep over not having them just the same.""
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Ann (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ann Schwader You won't regret it!


message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Sturgis I'll be teaching this in my Fall 2012 seminar ("100 Years of Single-Gender Worlds"). I can't wait to reread it!


message 3: by Julie (new)

Julie Davis Interesting. This is one of the books that made my mother and me stop reading Tepper. Grass is the one that finally did us in.


message 4: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Sturgis Julie wrote: "Interesting. This is one of the books that made my mother and me stop reading Tepper. Grass is the one that finally did us in."

Oh, interesting! I'd love to know your thoughts. (I'm afraid I haven't read Grass, so I can't comment on that.) From my perspective, it fits very well into my "100 Years of Literature on Single-Sex Worlds" class, because most of the novels/stories are about all-men or all-women communities in isolation (sometimes due to choice, sometimes because of a cataclysm), and this one allows the two communities to exist side by side, apart and distinct but in contact with each other. In other words, it fits really well into the conversation among the texts.


message 5: by Julie (new)

Julie Davis I can see how it would fit perfectly. This book was the epitome of what seemed to be Tepper's growing "hate men" themes which deliberately would create communities (or families, etc.) where masculine attributes inevitably contributed to brutality, etc. One can see it growing throughout her work up to this point. Or at least we could. As my mother put it, "I don't know what man was awful to her but I'm getting tired of reading about him."

Of course, not every man is portrayed as terrible, but it is notable that the ones who aren't, especially in these later works are not overwhelmingly masculine either.


message 6: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Sturgis As my mother put it, "I don't know what man was awful to her but I'm getting tired of reading about him."

Aha! That makes perfect sense. I think part of the reason this didn't strike me quite that way is that I'm not nearly as familiar with Tepper (mostly some short stories), so I didn't have that context. I can totally understand that the same song would get tedious after a while.

(In this one, I tend to see the women of Women's Country as deeply problematic in their own right, building their community on a lie, manipulation, and a kind of passive-aggressive tyranny. The men are simply more forthright in their troubling behavior. But I do realize that's a wee bit of an overstatement. *cough*understatement*cough*)

I'll be following it up with Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos, so hopefully that will bring balance to the universe!

Thanks so much for explaining. I definitely get what you're saying.


message 7: by Julie (new)

Julie Davis We discovered Tepper with her wonderful After Long Silence and then began casting around for more, while reading what came out next. It was so disappointing at the time to get that "weary" feeling when reading a book and seeing the familiar stereotypical portrayals. But she has written some wonderful books.

I haven't ever been able to get into Bujold much so I don't know that book. Not sure it is the best to try again with, considering the subject. :-)


message 8: by Amy (last edited Aug 17, 2012 09:19AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Sturgis I haven't ever been able to get into Bujold much

If you haven't tried her Chalion books - three novels in a shared universe, but each also works well as a standalone - I suspect you'd really appreciate them. The first, The Curse of Chalion, is the one I like best. They take faith - and people of faith - seriously, and they reflect her deft touch with worldbuilding and characterizations, too.

I adore her Vorkosigan books in particular. I'd highly recommend the novella The Mountains of Mourning (online here) as a taste. It's brilliant. (It won both the Hugo and Nebula, too, so I'm not the only one who thinks so.)


message 9: by Julie (new)

Julie Davis Thank you for the recommendations! Both are going on my "to read" list. :-)


message 10: by Julie (new)

Julie Davis Brilliant review, as of course I would expect. :-)

You put your finger on the book's interesting concept and problems in such a nuanced way, that I now can see this may be a book that has no answer. Because there possibly is none. Although this makes me want to reread After Long Silence. The author does a wonderful job there of showing that truth is comprised of more than once viewpoint ... and does so in a novel and interesting way.


message 11: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Sturgis Oh, thank you, Julie! :)

And now I clearly must read After Long Silence.


message 12: by James M. (new) - added it

James M. Madsen, M.D. I read "Grass" over twenty years ago and I know what you mean! It was interesting but a little too strident.


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