This week we are dealing with complex stories surrounding sexuality and gender. Some of these stories deal with women’s issues, gender fluidity, sexual orientation, and other concepts that, to some, may have seemed like science fiction all on their own at one time. These stories are important, as are any stories in a genre that deal with gender and sexuality, because they ask questions, start a conversation, and attempt to flip things to encourage a different way of looking at them. These stories also set every day issues in fantastic worlds that are both similar and dissimilar to our own, entertaining us while perpetrating themes and values that want to reorganize societies general views.
In Leslie F. Stone’s short story, “The Conquest of Gola”, I think she is writing two different narrative’s throughout the piece. This story operates on both the manifest level and the latent level. In other words, there is the manifest content, what readers can easily see, and the latent content, what the story is proposing under the surface. Though the manifest content is entertaining, and latent content is the most important.
The women in this story are indisputably female, but they don’t look like women (in our traditional “Adam and Eve” sense of the word). The men are described as looking slightly similar to human men, but hairless with green skin. The women of Gola are “able to call forth any organ at will, and dispense with it when its usefulness is over!” (100), and have “beautiful golden coats, […] movable eyes, […] power to scent, hear and touch with any part of the body, [and] absorb food and drink through any part of the body most convenient to us at the time” (101). The women seem to be these nebulous, superior, unlimited beings that can speak to one another telepathically and read the minds of the men. Stone is posing that already, just in their shapes, the women are dominant over the men, who are described with disdain as being almost apelike. Though these shapes don’t look like any traditional male and female we would picture, they are expressly gendered, and they rely on that gendering to self-identify.
Its also interesting that in the Gola’s description of the men, she is quite derogatory and mocking. She parcels them up into their faces, chests, hands, and feet, describing them not as a whole but in sections. This could be Stone’s way of flipping this objectification of women on its head. The men are being judged, the men are being held up to a standard and found lacking. This also comes through when the men are being chosen as specimens to study, as Glebe, “choos[es] what she judge[s] to be the finest specimens” (106). Again, the men are held against some unknown, purposely unexplained standard. Stone is echoing the way this is done to women every day.
In this story, it is clear that both groups assume themselves superior to one another. The men come from a world in which a patriarchy is dominant, and the women are bound up in a matriarchy. The men actually think its hilarious that these women think they could possibly have functional society without men to guide them. One of the liaisons says that “Women are all right in their place, but it takes the man to see the profit of a thing like this” (104). And, of course, we’re given every indication that Gola’s people are superior in form, intellect, and manners. At the end, it is clear that the women are the superior race. What a find interesting about this element, is the fact that Stone has separated men and women into two different races. Traditionally the pronoun “human” umbrellas all genders, while here it does not. Stone paints this war between the two races as a kind of battle where the two species cannot understand each other. Perhaps Stone feels that this sort of misunderstanding is acted out on Earth consistently? Regardless, she does want to present the women as being invaded, or even something as simply as being bothered by the men, who want to take and take from the women until the matriarchy is dismantled.
Finally, a small note on sexuality in the story. Here, women seem to be fully realized sexual beings, with multiple male consorts (although I’m not clear on if these are the same type of creature or what), whom they use for both pleasure and reproduction (specifically to have daughters). There is no marriage mentioned in the story, only the sense that you “come of age and [are] allowed two consorts of [your] own” (107). The men they take from the ship are ago integrated into this consort role, and there is a clear class system between men and women even without invading forces. Again, this is sort of like a mirror image of what is going on in society. Women are being used in real life in the way men are being used in the story. However, there is no real indication of profound mistreatment (i.e. rape, abuse, malnourishment) in regards to the consorts, so I wouldn’t exactly refer to them as sex slaves, but they certainly are a lower class (and they are referred to as slaves in the story). It seems that Stone is trying to say that though these women need men for sex, they don’t abuse them because they are much too civilized for that, as opposed to the “Barbarians” (99) that invade the planet. Although strangely, the men seemed to be robbed of their sexuality in the story, in the same way, perhaps, that women in the 1930’s are robbed of sexual agency. Stone does not speak to men’s pleasure, or his wants, the same way men avoid that subject altogether in regards to women in real life.
This blog post has become outrageously long, although there is more I could speak to. The only other thing I want to mention is this moment when Jon, the main characters slave, holds her in his arms:
“I found the ugly form of Jon bending over me. Surprised, for it was not his habit to arouse men, I started us only to find his arms about me, embracing me. And how strong he was! For a moment a new emotion swept me, for the first time I knew the pleasure to be had in the arms of a strong men, but that emotion was short lived, for I saw in the blue eyes of my slave that he had recognized the look in my eyes for what it was, and for the moment he was tender” (107).
Its this kind of weird, romantic moment between Random Slave Man Jon and the main character. I think it is the only personal, sexual, equal moment in the text. Through out the story, we have this kind of taking from people, or rather a withholding. There is nothing given or no wanting to give here between the invading men, the women, and the consorts. But during this small, tender, passionate moment, there is a change. Love, or if you want to be a little more general in this context, sex, is a giving over of some part of yourself. Jon, who has been taken into slavery, wraps his arms around this women to tie her up, but just before that, enjoys a moment of contact with her. On the reverse, she is unused to the feeling of a man, or a feeling of tenderness, and also enjoys it for a split second. This moment is followed by more violence and hate, but its also kind of beautiful. This is the only redeeming moment Stone allows. There is a possibility for harmony, but its small, and she poses the question of whether or not that can outweigh all the ugliness surrounding a patriarchy.
I guess I see this story as being both good and a little questionable. In the sense that I don’t know if having the inequality switch to being men on the bottom is a positive solution to what needs to change. Rather, I personally think equality is the answer.
Stone, Leslie F. “The Conquest of Gola.” The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, edited by Arthur B. Evans, Joah Gordon, et al., Wesleyan University Press, 2010, 96-109.