Terry in Herland, Chapter 9

I enjoyed Solis despite our constant guards, the older woman that I called “the Colonels” (Van disliked the term, but I thought “jailers” was ruder, and truthfully, I rather respected them). We had more to explore in Solis from its temple to its gym, which was much larger than the one in the fortress, and Solis's arboretum.

I still wanted to investigate further. Herland had cars—why not take us men on a tour of the countryside? Van remained convinced that we only had to be patient. Eventually, the woman would let us roam freely.

Would they?

None of the women carried papers, and Alim assured me that Herland had no internal borders. There were no obvious restrictions regarding where the women went or lived. Image result for embarrassed boy

But I saw no indication either that the young women could talk as they wished, live as they wished. Change jobs. Abandon Herland’s philosophies. They could question but only so far as their questioning led to supposedly productive discussions. They could suggest new entertainments and games but only so far as those entertainments supported the ideas of progress and education.

My meetings with Alim were carefully monitored. He had shrunk in on himself, hunching his shoulders, hiding his face, mumbling his words. Less loud. Less jubilant. Less aggressive.

I hated to see it. I knew he missed his mother. He admired the women who raised him. He respected the women in the plains. He loved Ellador and Celis like sisters. Yet he seemed to fade among the women, the awkwardness of a growing boy mirroring the awkwardness of fitting in with Herland society, which was so rational, so respectable, so freakishly productive.

The intellectual drills with our mentors continued, and in one testy moment, I challenged the women:

“There are better things in life to do than monitor people’s upbringing!”

That, of course, led to a discussion of parenting and supervision and educational techniques. Of course, one should allow children to explore the world on their own. But are children truly better off left to contrive activities alone?

They’re going to do it anyway, I didn’t bother to argue. The mentors seemed convinced that all behavior could be trained, fixed, educated, made. They supported the use of breeding, but they treated the result, the baby, like so much raw material—something to be molded, not an individual with personal views, desires, loves, wants, beliefs.

If children were in fact idly creating silly games with no purpose, Herland would breed and educate them out of such unproductive tendencies.

Poor little bastards.

I shook my head and went to the gym where supposed non-servants had hung the bag from the fortress gym. I stripped off my shirt and shoes and socks since I liked to practice kicks as well as punches.

Moadine came with me. Lowering herself to a nearby bench, she watched for a few minutes.

She said suddenly, “You wish for someone to, ah, battle?”

I had other needs which were never going to be satisfied in this nation of nuns. I shrugged.

“We could find women willing to engage in a—'bout'? Is that the word?”

“No,” I said shortly. I was already some kind of ignorant monster in their minds. Leaving one of them with a black eye would hardly help.

My competitor would get a black eye, not because I would win (though considering my height and weight advantage, that was more than likely) but because that's what happens in sports, in competitions, in the effort to improve and learn and simply, enjoyably, stretch oneself. A person gets bruises, scraps, bumps. Hurt.

Moadine studied me with just that barest hint of controlled amusement.

I said nastily, “It wouldn't prepare them for motherhood, would it?”

Something flickered in her face, and I wondered if she'd had a child—if she had a grandchild since she was old enough.

“Some toddlers get quite feisty,” she said, and I barked a laugh as I began a series of jabs.

She said, “Do you admire motherhood?”

My mother was an alright sort though not the kind Herland would respect since she bore me and coddled me, then passed me off to a series of indifferent nurses and tutors. Currently, she was touring cities of the world in search of a new husband (my father died my last year of college). I wished her luck. And I guess I felt loyalty towards her: I had no intention of describing to any Herland women—who would judge her as being shallow and trivial and unproductive—how I'd been raised.

I said, “What does a man care for motherhood when he hasn't a ghost of a chance at fatherhood? What a man wants of women is a good deal more than all this 'motherhood'!”

Van would have assumed I meant sex. And I did partly. But not entirely. Moadine, I was surprised to hear, reacted to the larger concept:

“Friendship,” she said. “Comfort. Fidelity.”

“Yes.”

“Competition?”

I shrugged, then laughed. “It depends on the couple,” I told her since too much competition could sink a marriage as fast as a financially unequal union. I'd seen both in my circle in New York.

Moadine said reflectively, “Partnerships come in different forms.”

“Isn’t that risky?” I said, glancing over my shoulder at her with a raised eyebrow. “Allowing for variation?”

“Don’t you find your greeters each quite unique?”

She was referring to Ellador, Celis, and Alim(a)—the mentors knew that Van, Jeff, and I referred to those three as our “greeters,” the first to greet us in Herland.

I considered serious, high-minded Ellador; vivacious, shrewd Celis (much shrewder than Jeff seemed to realize), and Alim: clear-headed, bright, obviously male in the well-knit, semi-gangling way of youth.

I felt a sudden qualm that perhaps Moadine knew about Alim, that her question held an underlying threat to Alim’s secret. I glanced at her. She looked back, equable and unruffled.

If she was hunting for secrets, she was damn good at it.

“Quite different,” I said. “If they were less monitored, their differences might shine more brightly.”

Cloying language—but I trust I made my point.

Moadine said, “You object to being watched. Do you have, ah, courtship in mind?”

I knew she asked because Jeff and Van had made their interest in Celis and Ellador, respectively, quite clear. I had no intention of doing likewise with any young lady in Herland or elsewhere. Marriage was not high on my list of life goals in any case.

I was willing to gamble that some of the girls at the lectures would be willing bed partners, but I would never test my gamble in reality. I had no desire to suffer some of the more extreme punishments that isolated societies reserve for men who violate a woman’s chastity.

My interest in Alim, however, was obvious. I swallowed my inner reservations (I’m as manly as the next man) and said, “Perhaps. Alima and I would make a good couple, no?”

Moadine said nothing. I turned away from her speculative gaze before I could blather, Do you know he is a boy? Do you know that I am a virile man who is only interested in girls? I’m not like that.

Would she sympathize with my defensiveness? I doubted she would—not even Alim did. One night near the tower, I bragged to him about my attractiveness to women. He had the gall to look amused rather than irritated (like Van) or concerned for my morality (like Jeff).

Alim might enjoy the company of girls as much as me. He didn’t see why anyone needed to make a fuss about what that meant.

I swallowed my pride and said insistently, “Yes, I’m interested in Alima.”

I needed to protect him, to get him away from Herland. I was worried what might happen if his sex was discovered. Van, Jeff, and I were strangers to Herland. That was enough to account for our imprisonment. We needn't assume that our maleness was responsible. Perhaps, the women would not react indignantly to the public revelation of Alim's secret.

Except Alim was uneasy about the discovery of his biological sex. Har, his “hometown”—Alim used the term easily—protected him. The leader there knew his secret. I judged from Alim's conversation that other women in his mountain town suspected he was male. They presented Alim to the rest of Herland as the product of parthenogenesis, but they waited until he was nearly ten (and could keep his own secret) to send him to the plains.

If even Alim's “mothers” were uneasy, what might happen to him if (once) his maleness became obvious? Had Van, Jeff, and I made that identification more likely, bringing male differences to the women's notice?

Would he be locked up—loyal citizen not withstanding?

Next Chapter 10: Alim