Monday, March 30, 2009

Slonczewski's A Door into Ocean

Obviously A Door into Ocean (DIO) has similarities with Herland. Both exist in a fiction place: Herland in an isolated society composed entirely of women who reproduce via parthenogenesis and DIO (called lifeshaping) on the fictional planet Sharers (a watery moon), where women use genetic engineering to control the birth of an all-female population. Also, as is true with ecofeminism, the Sharers control the ecology of the planet, and in Herland, the three men notice the distinctive difference of the well-tended fruit trees and landscape as they enter this isolated town. Like the community in Herland, the Sharers are uninterested in the power structure of the patriarchy and meet all outside threats with nonviolence, as when the women surround Jeff, Van and Terry to keep them both from escaping and from hurting the women. Both groups share everything; for instance, their children and their homes belong to the community, and equality is integral to the success of this world. Unlike Herland, the Sharers base their ideals on spiritual tenants; here they wish to save their oceans, while on Herland, water is rarely mentioned. But the idea is the same: both treasure nature and wish to lesson their footprint on it, including the violence/wars that humans can wage against one another, which also impact the planet upon which they reside.

In her study guide, Slonczewski mentions that A Door into Ocean sets up "a series of interlinked polarities or binary oppositions, all of which relate to traditional notions of female/male." These oppositions are resolved through the course of the study, as when biological sciences, i.e., the "soft" science - the feminized version of more hard sciences (such as chemistry or physics) - is given equal weight when the Valan (male) soldiers teach the Sharers that hemoglobin contains iron, which is also present in the weapons they use to kill.

What I like about the story is that finally, unlike Piercy, we have a tale where the author does not attempt to place one gender above another. Females are not valued more than males (Though, if I were to play devil's advocate, I would ask if that were necessarily true? The entire culture is set-up under the premise that men have so messed up the ecology of the planet and the relationship of men and women, that they have to be removed from the planet entirely, and that this successful world order comes from getting rid of the men.) So when Merwen attempts to adopt a male Valan and show the Sharer's this male is equal to them, it is only possible for this man to come into a dominant female order if he behaves himself. He must, as in Herland, be re-trained to be less male. Otherwise, the cycle begins again. I am not anti-male, but I do wonder how having a female order, and then attempting to slowly bring men into an order through a type of re-training, will suffice. It seems an awfully slow way to create equality among the sexes and a valued ecological space.

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