Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mizora: The Secret Society Founded by Women

Mary Bradley's novel, Mizora: A Prophesy, reads like a less publicized and earlier version of Gilman's Herland. It is a country of women located in a hidden pocket of the Earth (the Arctic instead of Africa), discovered by a regular citizen. After that, comparisons between Mizora and Herland are not so easy to come by.
The explorer who stumbles upon Mizora is alone, Russian, and a woman. Through the narrator's perspective, the reader views gender hypocrisy in a new way. The female narrator time and time again cannot understand how a society of women can get along without men, beliefs that were enforced by her own binary culture.
Mizoran women raise their children themselves, like in “When It Changed”, but unlike the communal parenting seen both in Herland and A Princess of Mars. While Mizoran women value their children greatly, the thing they hold to the greatest esteem is education. They believe that when they made education (including college) free for all, many of their social problems solved themselves. For example, the poverty rate is extremely low. Due to an influx of students, more mathematicians and scientists graduated, producing people capable of engineering affordable food, fuel, and most any commodity. A Mizoran educated populace also saw a decline in crime, and by the time the narrator finds Mizora, the most heinous crime committed by a citizen was the striking of their child almost a century before.
While reading Mizora, the parallels between a strictly female society and a peaceful society are argued in detail. Once men are out of the equation, more important societal questions are pursued that aid in harmonizing a populace. One stark trait of the Mizorans is their exaggerated femininity. In Herland, the women are spoken of as being beautiful, but in a more neutral, androgynous way. In Mizora, their delicacy is emphasized. All Mizorans have blond hair, a product of the eugenics practice that was perfected centuries before. Silk, flowing dresses and artfully made up faces are staples among the Mizorans, though in other all-female (or androgynous) populations found in the Left Hand of Darkness and Herland, beauty is a natural part of the citizens, not something artificially constructed through the use of exaggerated clothing and make-up.
          While Bradley sought to undermine gender roles in Mizora, some parts of her novel only reinforce them. The most illuminating part of the novel is when the female narrator is in disbelief over the roles of women in Mizora, and her ideas of a woman’s place (below that of a man’s) as opposed to theirs (women as human beings, not as a separate entity from men). The narrator’s point of view about women is one that is still present today. Plenty of women believe that the station they are currently in, (whether it be mother, daughter, wife, sister) is a station they cannot ascend beyond, and that they in fact should not strive to ascend beyond that station. Men are not the only oppressors of women. As Bradley illustrates, women can be their own worst enemies in the fight for gender equality, especially when women believe that the fight is not a valid one.

Bradley, Mary. Mizora: A Prophesy. New York: G. W. Dillingham, 1890. Print.

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