Ask a Scienceblogger asks: ” What’s the deal with “virgin birth” (parthenogenesis)?”
Many people, when they hear “virgin birth”, think of the Virgin Mary. But all good Catholics know that Mary, Queen of Heaven, is not a true example of parthenogenesis. Really – do you imagine that the Catholic church would let a mere female lay sole claim to giving birth to the God-child? God had to send his “Holy Spirit” down to help Mary along and cuckold poor Joseph. Mary may be the Handmaid of the Lord and the Vessel of Selfless Service but no pope is going to give her sole credit for Jesus.
No, for a vivid utopian account of human parthenogenesis, I am afraid you will have to avert your eyes from the Bible and turn instead to…
…Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland. The Wikipedia entry on Herland offers a decent synopsis, and the full text is available here. In Herland, the best that modern science (circa 1910) has to offer is pitted against Gilman’s vision of an all-female society where crime doesn’t exist and the forests are treasured, manicured sources of nourishment. Three men bumble their way into this Utopian society and adapt to varying degrees. There, they are befuddled by their inability to engage the residents of Herland in the “normal” social dynamics prevalent between males and females in their home society. After they get over their shock that a civilized society sans men is possible, they soon discover, to their chagrin, that “It’s as if our being men was a minor incident.” Gender, or at least as they understand it, is irrelevant in Herland, and in particular the masculine gender doesn’t have much of a role to play. They are on unfamiliar footing. Their tutors point out to them the general uselessness of the male of the species throughout nature.
My fellow Scienceblogger Grrl might be especially pleased to know that in Gilman’s utopia, the cats have been bred to kill vermin but leave birds alone. I think that’s a particularly nice touch. The discussion of cats and dogs in Herland is a riot.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Herland:
“The tradition of men as guardians and protectors had quite died out. These stalwart virgins had no men to fear and therefore no need of protection.”
Herland has its faults (including the nod to Aryanism), but it will make you think sharply about gender, class, agriculture, the rearing of children, and social relations in general in ways you never have before. In many ways, Herland really does seem like utopia, and if they managed to design a good working vibrator, then hey, what’s not to love?