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The Gate to Women's Country (1988)

by Sheri S. Tepper

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,944506,519 (4.07)153
"Lively, thought-provoking . . . the plot is ingenious, packing a wallop of a surprise . . . Tepper knows how to write a well-made, on-moving story with strong characters. . . . She takes the mental risks that are the lifeblood of science fiction and all imaginative narrative."--Ursula K. LeGuin, Los Angeles Times Since the flames died three hundred years ago, human civilization has evolved into a dual society: Women's Country, where walled towns enclose what's left of past civilization, nurtured by women and a few nonviolent men; and the adjacent garrisons where warrior men live--the lost brothers, sons, and lovers of those in Women's Country. Two societies. Two competing dreams. Two ways of life, kept apart by walls stronger than stone. And yet there is a gate between them. . . . "Tepper not only keeps us reading . . . she provokes a new look at the old issues."--The Washington Post "Tepper's cast of both ordinary and extraordinary people play out a powerful drama whose significance goes beyond sex to deal with the toughest problem of all, the challenge of surmounting humanity's most dangerous flaws so we can survive--despite ourselves."--Locus… (more)
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» See also 153 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
The Gate to Women's Country is an enjoyable read and an example of fine world-building that hardly ever feels exposition-y. I enjoyed discovering more and making sense of Women's Country and its ways. I liked the emphasis on rituals, the excerpts from the pseudo-ancient play, and the details about the structures of each society. For instance, I found it clever that men mostly read epics, while women are pushed towards life-long learning and developing an art, a craft, and a science.

The book offers a controversial proposition.-- spoiler! -- ...

The women in Women's Country are leading an eugenics program. They are trying to breed out aggressiveness by selectively reproducing with men who display a gentler temperament.

A reviewer denounced the book as "gender essentialist, heterosexist, cissexist". I definitely think that the novel reflects the era in which it was written in. I am not certain however - having not read enough by Sheri Tepper or about her - that we can equate the world she built in the novel with her own views. Indeed I wasn't sure whether this representation of eugenics was intentionally undermined by the discourse on culture/nurture also presented by the book.

At some point, one of the characters, Chernon, describes the purposes of men and women within Women's Country as being completely at odds, like the wheels of a cart going in opposite directions. I couldn't agree more. Women's Country is based on the deliberate indoctrination of most men into what one might call toxic masculinity and fascism (worshipping the military, negating one's self, despising and objectifying women all the while fearing them, etc.). Why didn't Women's Country try to educate boys the way they did their own girls? Or why didn't Women's Country simply strive towards a gender-fluid world? Women's Country clearly relies on nurture as much, if not more than it does on nature. I found this to be in contradiction with the ending's reveal, which made me think that the reveal was perhaps not presented as THE solution but as a misguided one.

Regarding the other claims, it is certainly ludicrous that LGBQ people are just waved off in one paragraph as a "genetic defect" that could be erased. That reflects a very naive understanding of sexuality and its interaction with history and culture. This point did make me question the assumptions underlying the rest of the work.

In the end, I have to agree that the book is gender essentialist, heterosexist, and cissexist. I'm just not sure whether the lesson we're supposed to draw is that this is legitimate. Hey, the author is dead, so I guess this is about what we want to make of it! ( )
  lochinb | Jun 3, 2021 |
In the post Convulsion future, women and men are segregated, by the ordinances of Women's Country. Women and children stay behind the walls. Men live in garrisons outside. Sometimes the men plot against the women; but they have a deeper strategy. The protagonist of this book is Stavia who grows up the daughter of a Councillor. She has a childhood infatuation with a boy called Chernon, who is being manipulated by the head of the garrison to try to seduce her. The story is an exploration of gender roles; which are innate and which are learned.
There was a twist to this tale but it took a long time to get to it. Stavia was quite a passive participant in her life until near the end of the book, when new characters and settings were rapidly introduced. ( )
  questbird | Feb 9, 2021 |
Tepper, Sheri S. The Gate to Women’s Country. Bantam, 1988.
Taken as a feminist manifesto that argues that women are perfectly capable of designing and governing a society at least as successfully as the male of the species ever has and that testosterone drives a lot of bad behavior, Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country makes its point. As a plausible post-apocalyptic world, it falls a bit short on plausibility. I can buy that men could easily develop a spartan military subculture, but It is hard to see the boys ever agreeing to live only in garrisons outside the country walls. The selective breeding program as well makes me skeptical. I think the multiverse premise in Joanna Russ’s The Female Man (1975) better handled and more nuanced. All that said, Tepper does a good job of getting us inside her characters’ heads. I also like the idea of making the sacrifice of Iphigenia and Euripides’ Trojan Women as cautionary tales for a feminist society. ( )
  Tom-e | Nov 2, 2020 |
I love this book. The only glaring fault is that, unlike other feminist separatist authors like Charnas and Russ, Tepper seems to be homophobic, at least in this book. But that said, she comes up with an interesting idea about how a dystopic country organizes society to deal with male aggression.
One thing you can say for the FLDS (fundamentalist Mormon church), it is the basis for some great storytelling. ( )
  Citizenjoyce | Jul 9, 2020 |
Tepper's story takes place in a dystopian future following an unnamed apocalyptic event. The new society functions in such a way that the men and women live mostly separate lives with the woman doing most of the administrative and labor work of the civilization and the men living in "Warrior Barracks." The two get together for recreational purposes twice per year, but otherwise do not socialize. However, some men have chosen not to remain within the ranks of the warriors and they are known as Servitors and perform the rest of the town's labor duties. The men of the barracks suspect the women have some great secret and plot to discover this. The story is told from the point of view of Stavia, with chapters alternating between Stavia as a child and her experiences as a woman. There's a great revelation towards the end that changes the reader's entire paradigm of the book, which is fortunate, because for most of the book, I was alternately confused and horrified by this society that emerged from the wreckage.
A great deal of the book is also concerned with the annual theatrical production of the story of the Trojan War with a focus on Iphegenia. I was only passingly familiar with the tale, though it seems to have been distorted a bit for the purposes of this book. A reader more familiar with that story might find the first part of the book more enjoyable or comprehensible.
I love a good speculative fiction book that also causes deep contemplation of gender roles, societal trappings and the ways in which people strive for a more Utopic future, I just wish the tale had been more compelling prior to the revelation. ( )
1 vote EmScape | Jul 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
"I confess this book defeated me. I didn't finish it and came away with a very low opinion of Tepper's work, which I had not previously read."
"This is, unquestionably, a serious, ambitious novel, about the roles of the sexes ..." "My advice for the future is that someone, either Ms. Tepper or her editor, slog through the dense elephant grass of her prose armed with a blue pencil and, whenever wandering herds of adjectives appear - shoot to kill."
added by RBeffa | editAboriginal Science Fiction, Darrell Schweitzer (Mar 1, 1989)
 
Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning. The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provoc ative ideas.
added by cmwilson101 | editPublishers Weekly
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sheri S. Tepperprimary authorall editionscalculated
Di Marino, StefanoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harman, DominicCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacobus, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jääskeläinen, JukkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLean, WilsonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oklander, AdrianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olbinski, RafalCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AdamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tate, IawaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Stavia saw herself as in a picture, from the outside, a darkly cloaked figure moving along a cobbled street, the stones sheened with a soft, early spring rain.
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"Lively, thought-provoking . . . the plot is ingenious, packing a wallop of a surprise . . . Tepper knows how to write a well-made, on-moving story with strong characters. . . . She takes the mental risks that are the lifeblood of science fiction and all imaginative narrative."--Ursula K. LeGuin, Los Angeles Times Since the flames died three hundred years ago, human civilization has evolved into a dual society: Women's Country, where walled towns enclose what's left of past civilization, nurtured by women and a few nonviolent men; and the adjacent garrisons where warrior men live--the lost brothers, sons, and lovers of those in Women's Country. Two societies. Two competing dreams. Two ways of life, kept apart by walls stronger than stone. And yet there is a gate between them. . . . "Tepper not only keeps us reading . . . she provokes a new look at the old issues."--The Washington Post "Tepper's cast of both ordinary and extraordinary people play out a powerful drama whose significance goes beyond sex to deal with the toughest problem of all, the challenge of surmounting humanity's most dangerous flaws so we can survive--despite ourselves."--Locus

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from inside cover flap:
Three hundred years ago, the world all but burned to ash in the flames of a nuclear holocaust. Before the embers had cooled, the survivors swore that it would never happen again. Civilization as it once was evolved into a society of two disparate parts. In Women's Country, walled towns enclose waht is left of the best of the past, nurtured by women and capable but non-violent men. Outposts of safety and security in a hostile world, places like Marthatown raise children, feed and clothe the populace, and cultivate the lost biological sciences. In adjacent garrisons are sons, brothers, lovers, lost to a code of violence and false glory once they embrace the warrior life.
This is the world that Stavia and Chernon were born to live in, a world bound by rules too strict for some children to understand. Rules too harsh for a child like Stavia to obey.
When only a girl, Stavia tried to convince Chernon to return to Women's Country. She brought him books that most men had been forbidden to read for as long as anyone could remember. Chernon took the books, but rejected Stavia and her world. Now a young medic, Stavia still hopes to win Chernon by reminding him of the love they shared nearly ten years before. Though Chernon is a stranger to her now, Stavia gives in to the voice that begs her to trust him, allowing him to accompany her on a mission to the southern borderlands.
Their journey is filled with love, hate, lust, and betrayal that divide their worlds. And when sudden violence engulfs them both, not even the secrets of Women's Country can prevent the death of Stavia's innocence. Stavia is left with no choice but to take on the responsibility for her transgressions if she is to prevent a far greater tragedy - one which could destroy humanity completely.
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