What is a man?

“But what,” she asked, in evident perplexity, “what is a man?”

I must have read John Wyndham’s Consider Her Ways in my early teens. I went through a definite phase of reading every Wyndham book I could get hold of, and I was young enough to think ‘Rendezvous’ was a bizarre chapter title (The Day of the Triffids, that one). I still love reading him, for the intelligence of his writing as much as for his visionary imagination.

Discussing the idea of an all-woman society just recently (see A World Without Men) got me looking into who had written stories about such societies – and, importantly, stories that didn’t revolve around one man or a group of men having to interact with that female society.

John Wyndham’s Consider Her Ways is one such. Jane is transported spiritually into a future where there are no men, and has a discussion with a historian whose understanding of romance is very different from Jane’s, seeing it as a tool for the control of women.

“The majority of young women spent all their leisure time dreaming of Romance, and the means of securing it. They were brought to a state of honestly believing that to be owned by some man and set down in a little brick box to buy all the things that the manufacturers wanted them to buy would be the highest form of bliss that life could offer.”

(The future society is a sort-of dystopia reminiscent of Brave New World and works as contrast to our own. KayeM did a nice post about the anti-feminist sentiment in this future-vision, but I don’t really read it that way.)

“The desire for Romance is essentially a selfish wish, and when it is encouraged to dominate every other it breaks down all corporate loyalties. The individual woman thus separated from, and yet at the same time thrust into competition with, all other women was almost defenceless; she became the prey of organized suggestion. When it was represented to her that the lack of certain goods or amenities would be fatal to Romance she became alarmed and, thus, eminently exploitable. She could only believe what she was told, and spent a great deal of time worrying about whether she was doing all the right things to encourage Romance.”

I’ll finish with this thought for the day:

“Your assumption that the possession of a soul depends upon a duality of sexes surprises me: it has so often been held that the two are in some sort of conflict, has it not?”

About Frank

A Sci-Fi & Fantasy author and lyrical poet with a mild obsession for vampires, succubi, goddesses and Supergirl.
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7 Responses to What is a man?

  1. Megan says:

    If men use romance to control women, then women use sex to control men. Methinks both genders are screwed!

    • Frank says:

      Ten years ago – gosh – I read a delightfully funny book called Making Love
      This explores the same idea that romantic love was created by a conspiracy, and mixes it up into a deliberately OTT spy thriller / romance.

      Re. your comment… To what extent, do you feel, is the way women express their sexuality (and the way they engage in sex) influenced by society’s expectations?

      • Megan says:

        There’s a saying: men use love to get sex, while women use sex to get love. That was what I was referring to.

        Women have been expressing their sexuality for many years now – whether through clothing, dance, etc. There are various aspects of society that allow women to express their sexuality more than others. A more progressive society has no issue with a woman not being a virgin on her wedding night, while more conservative places scorn such women. I’ve always wondered what society people are referring to when they say “society’s expectations”.

    • Frank says:

      I would say that ‘society’ is very person-specific, i.e., it’s your friends, colleagues, family, neighbours,… or whatever subset of these you’re currently interacting with.

      I want to say more, but I think I’ll go away and think about it for a while… 🙂

      • Megan says:

        Until then, I just want to say that I don’t think many male relatives would want their daughters or sisters to dress provocatively or pose nude for a men’s magazine. I don’t think you’re going that far here, but I’m just pointing out that even the best male relatives wouldn’t want their female family members to go that far in expressing their sexuality. I even don’t think that is a form of misogyny. But even so, this is a broad issue to explore and it can take various paths.

  2. Interestingly, WM Thackeray – hardly a supporter of feminism – comments on a little known passage in ‘Vanity Fair’ about Amelia’s preoccupation with George on the role that romantic expectations can play in rendering a young woman powerless…

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