I recently finished The Gate to Women’s Country by Sherri S. Tepper. I really wanted to like this book a lot. It is about a society where the women and men have created separate but seemingly symbiotic societies. This not just right up my alley; it’s practically the alley I live in. But something was missing. Come, readers. Let’s wind through my thoughts about this book and why, oh why, I was left wanting.
Spoilers abound after the break.
This is the world: In the cities, men (boys, really) can choose to return to women’s country, but women cannot go into men’s country (otherwise known as the garrisons). There is one garrison per city. The men within their walls play games and prepare for combat and occasionally fight in small scale, high honor wars against other garrisons.
The women run things. They govern, they provide medical care, they produce plays, they have children, they send their boys to garrisons for a decade. The Warriors protect the cities and fight the wars in exchange for sons.
This structure all in response to what is hinted at being a nuclear war that left most of earth barren, returning the survivors to another Dark Ages.
In the southern most part of the surviving world is another society set up in the complete opposite manner, but with reproductive capacity of women still central to everything. It is a polygamous, highly religious place where the women are subject to massive abuse and to near-constant pregnancy. And where the old men take young women and leave the young men with nothing.
So that’s the world. I could now get into the plot and potentially make some student looking for a quick summary happy (sorry, kid), but frankly the plot felt like a mediocre device for the author to show you these two worlds in order for you to understand and agree with the final surprise, which you likely see coming.
I wanted more. This world was so carefully constructed and wonderfully described, that the story being told in it just did not match to the place in which it unfolded. The struggles of our heroine neatly changed her to align herself to Women’s Country. Women’s Country never had to change, was never in danger of changing, despite thin attempts to pretend it was. The plot took our heroine away from Women’s Country so that it would never experience the trauma of the other lands and have to confront itself in that mirror. How different is it really from the South? When the bulk of the writing focuses on all that makes up Women’s Country, the stasis is palpable. Oh the characters claim keeping it this way is hard, but they’ve lied and hidden so much from everyone, reader included, how can you truly trust them. I wanted Women’s Country to be challenged more, to face more, and to have to fight harder to stay alive. It was nice a place to visit, but as a reader, I didn’t want to live there even though, as a feminist, there was so much in their world that I wanted for my own.