Women in Power

Mary Beard

Mary Beard delivers her lecture ‘Women in Power’ at the British Museum.

In 1915 Charlotte Perkins Gilman published a funny but unsettling story called Herland. As the title hints, it’s a fantasy about a nation of women – and women only – that has existed for two thousand years in some remote, still unexplored part of the globe. A magnificent utopia: clean and tidy, collaborative, peaceful (even the cats have stopped killing the birds), brilliantly organised in everything from its sustainable agriculture and delicious food to its social services and education. And it all depends on one miraculous innovation. At the very beginning of its history, the founding mothers had somehow perfected the technique of parthenogenesis. The practical details are a bit unclear, but the women somehow just gave birth to baby girls, with no intervention from men at all. There was no sex in Herland.

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