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Interesting that a person in kemmer would be disruptive to work. Quite true, especially when one looks at adolescents in school. I also find it interesting that le Guin compares the drug-induced chemical castration of prisoners to being as sexless as steers or as angels. A society that knows neither sexual fear nor frustration probably wouldn't come up with a Troy-like saga, the legend being that sex and love were the reasons for the Trojan War (which, of course, has been refuted, but hey! it's a good story). I believe the implication is that sex-driven actions are simply violent and since war is an act of violence.....!
I find le Guin's presentation of the Gethenians--as neither male nor female, but in turns, at some time, both--interesting in that she presents them as taking each other for what they are....simply a human without the clichés and stigma that are usually attached to each sex. And certainly a nice society as far as the lack of rape (being "unnecessary"....I would like to know when it would be "necessary," though) is concerned.
I did find it hilarious that someone who is actually a male (or female) continuously is considered a pervert.
__________ Fri Jan 08, 2010 8:00 am __________
Did it bother anyone else other than myself the way children were rather ignored (both as being hardly mentioned in the book and when they were mentioned, there were only disclaimers and rather generic remarks made). I almost had the impression that le Guin felt she absolutely had to make a few mentions in order for the kemmer / sexuality to be logical and also to complete the picture. Estrevan's father certainly wasn't interested in his children except for the fact that there was an heir, the same reason the king was upset that his pregnancy ended with a stillbirth. Yes, there were hearths, the children were said to be happy. And boom. That's about it.
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Joined: Feb 2010 Posts: 1680
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I had trouble picturing the gender neutrality the Gethens are said to have when not in kemmer. When I read a book, I (unintentionally, possibly) recreate in my imagination what the author is describing in words (everyone does this but I have an overactive imagination and certain spacial peculiarities so I consider it to be a bit different). It's hard to imagine a human without defining it a gender -- everyone tends to look like men, but with no "bulge." It is also hard to grasp the total neutrality because le Guin uses the pronoun "he," regardless of the supposed neutrality, and regardless of the speaker -- all pronouns are "he" or "him" or "his".
I'm pretty positive that le Guin would not impose a specifically gendered pronoun on a supposed neutral gendered race of humans by accident, but I'm not 100% sure what she's trying to say by doing this. To look at it from a feminist perspective, this could be saying that females are unnecessary unless they are raising a child (which is, indeed, the only time a female form is seen or mentioned, and the Gethen who acts as the male in creating the child does not have much to do with raising it -- sound familiar?), and that even as a gender neutral the Gethens are closer to males than we would like to think.
It is also interesting that Ai's perception of Estraven changes once he realizes that Estraven is a woman when Ai sees him(her?) begin to go into kemmer. Ai's first reaction is almost akin to horror when he realizes that Estraven is a woman. Does this suggest that he trusts E. less because of this? Because he feels threatened now that, after so long without having to think about it, sexuality is being called to question before him? I can only assume that if Estraven had gone into kemmer as a man, Ai would have been more able to ignore him, because it is assumed that Ai is not a homosexual.
I think when Estraven enters kemmer, Ai can no longer look at E. as though he were just a "buddy." The entrance of femaleness creates a tension that afterward shapes his perception of events to come. Obviously he would feel for Estraven at the end no matter what because of what they had been through, but I think it is intensified by Estraven's female kemmer stasis. Whether or not he shares Estraven's feelings, he may feel the need to be protective, having been raised on a planet with male-female relationships similar to ours. Either way, after knowing that Estraven has been female, Ai sees E. differently, even more affectionately.
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I can't say for sure what Le Guin's motives were in choosing the pronoun "he" for the entire book, but I speculate that it was because she was narrating as a human male. Perhaps she was making a statment of how she perceives (perceived) men to view women and how they feel more comfortable dealing with other men. Perhaps in the time she wrote the book this was more overt in society than now. There are many sexist or generalizing comments in the narrative text by Ai, most comments referring to a feminine are negative, except perhaps for the reference to feminity seen at the temple when Ai went to ask his question. The question of children does seem to be a dual slap at men and women since she sees the role of women as taking care of children and fathers of those children not being involved or as attached. In some ways its both a liberated view of motherhood (since mothers cease to be feminine after kemmer has ended and the baby is born) and an old fashioned one.
With regard to war... it seems that hormones have a lot to do with fighting. If there is a lack of these hormones driving people on to acts of war (good old testosterone) and when hormones are in the picture, the participants are so engaged in other activities that they have no time for fighting, it would make sense that there would be no war.
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