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Book Review of The Gate to Women's Country

The Gate to Women's Country
LibraryEm42 avatar reviewed on + 26 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1

This was a fascinating book, if scientifically dodgy in parts.

In the post-apocalyptic future, women lead in the new towns while boys above five and most men stay enclosed in their barracks except for occasions when the go out to fight each other. On reaching adulthood, they have the option of returning to "Women's Country" in the town as servitors, who seem to be treated pretty well but definitely aren't equal citizens. (Lately the men have started noticing that more and more of their youths are deciding to go back to Women's Country, which disturbs them.) The women's intention (at least, somewhat - there's more to it which we discover later) is to keep men from destroying civilization again, while still giving them some outlet for aggression and having some protection for the town should they ever need it. And yes, it's presented as a dodgy situation.

The women put all their energy into rebuilding civilization and trying to make sure such a dramatic collapse can't happen again: to preserve skills and knowledge, every woman must become an expert in at least three fields (an art, a science, and a craft), and they have continuing education classes their whole lives. Reproduction is fairly regulated: each woman has three children (conceived during an annual carnival in which they get to mingle with the men), and once a town reaches a given size, some of the population goes and founds a new town on the border of the non-reclaimed areas. It's to Tepper's credit that she shows both the good reasons they run things this way and the downsides - for instance, Stavia's sister has issues, but it's recognized that if she'd been allowed to focus on her passion for dance instead of being forced to spend so much time on two other fields, she might have had a better time of it.

The narrative jumps back and forth between different points in Stavia's life, from childhood until the day her son refuses to return through the door to Women's Country because he likes being a macho warrior too much. A major element is Stavia's forbidden friendship (later romance) with a boy inside the barracks, who quickly shows himself to be one of those people you meet who seem nice until you have opinions that differ from theirs, and then they act hurt that you're being so unreasonable and you start doubting yourself and feel like you have to forgive them or you are just being mean. And somehow it compromise always means you cave to their wishes, never the other way around or something in the middle. It's a frustrating dynamic which a lot of us can probably relate to!

Meanwhile, other parts of the world start intruding into Stavia's life - the roving bands outside the towns, which include some women who ran away to live "free" (sometimes this works as advertised, and often not), a few decent traveling traders and such, and waaaaay out in the hills somewhere, a tiny town in which a a nasty theocratic patriarchy runs the show. But it isn't as simple as "out there bad, our towns good" - as I said, Women's Country is a bit dodgy itself, and Stavia starts learning exactly how much.

My main beef with this book is that it relies heavily on biological determinism - most men are "naturally" violent, and most women "naturally" aren't. There's a tiny bit of sketchy evidence that violent behavior may be someone influenced by genetics, but as far as I know, the nurture side is much more important than the nature side. I don't think it's nearly as clear-cut as the book makes it out to be, and so I doubt The Plan would actually work (I can't explain better without spoilers). There's also a totally gratuitous one-line reference by a character stating that homosexuality is a "genetic defect" which they can "fix." I suppose you could read this as another example of Women's Country having some really sketchy views and policies on reproduction, but it came across as an unnecessary barb.

The bits about their annual play, a retelling of the aftermath of the Trojan War with the now-ghost women as major characters, were neat, though.