The interesting part of literature like utopian stories and sociological science fiction is that it gives you a chance to explore how a world with other basic constants would look like. For that reason I’ve always been a fan of Ursula Le Guins sociological scifi stories, like ‘Planet of Exiles’, ‘the Word for world is forest’, and ‘the Telling’. (Yeah, I know, canon says I should like ‘the dispossessed’ and ‘the left hand of darkness’, but those aren’t my favourites personally, especially not when reading pleasure is in-calculated) It helps us to look at our own culture and question the unquestioned, to help us see the water we’re swimming in as fishes. Human societies can take completely different and sometimes opposite things for granted, which is why stories in which completely other things are taken as self-evident are important. No culture is ever neutral, no person is an objective observer untainted by bias.
Our own worldview itself, as well as all of our culture is just constructed over time, and usually more or less an accident of history. Virtually nothing of our culture is completely ‘an imperative of the laws of nature’. There are endless possibilities of how it could have ended up completely differently. We could have a high society without wheels (like the Inca empire), we could have a society completely integrated into nature (like a lot of rainforest tribes), a world where the unhealthy male gaze is obsessed with the male body instead of the female body (like the old Greeks), a culture where pink is the colour for boys and blue the colour for girls (which existed not that long ago) and so on…
Just looking at cultures around the world can give us a lot of variety in how things could be different, but there are way much more possibilities than we find actualised around us in this era. And that’s why we need utopian and dystopian fiction as a way of exploring what could be. And all of that is just one of the reasons that I like -among many other pieces of fiction- Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy: she gives us insight into a possible world where humans have abolished violence, and made women the natural leaders of society. That seems to be a rather rare combination, even in fiction. I cannot remember having read a story about a combination of a friendly culture based on respect for every life and a strong matriarchy, but it is fascinating still.
See also in this series: Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy: The best post-apocalyptic dystopian/utopian fiction that was never translated to English. and Lessons from Thule: A description of Thulene and Badener society
The society of Thule in the books is based on what they consider to be ‘female values’ of compassion, caring for all life, balance and intuition. I have no idea if these ideas are indeed more female than male, but apart from the imbalances in the reversal of gender roles (especially in book 1) I’d say there aren’t that many aspects that could be seen as unhealthy in a damaging way in their culture. The friendly and non-violent culture will be for another post, but as a Christian I can also add that the Thulenes, while ‘Pagans’ as the Badeners call them with their almost nonreligious reverence of Mother Earth, are much closer to living out the teachings of Christ and the Kingdom of God than the supposedly Christian Badeners, who have retained a ‘mutilated’ form of Christianity and use religion for oppression as the first book calls it.
The Thulenes do have love for their neighbour, love for the least, they are responsible for all of creation and almost have a world where ‘the lion can sleep next to the lamb’ (or the Badener next to the bear at least, to the astonishment of Kilian). And much more ‘love your enemy’ than most historical Christian societies. So in terms of ‘positive values’ the Thulenes actually live out the important rules of all major religions: don’t kill, don’t hate, respect others, don’t take what isn’t yours, be honest,… And those are rooted I respect and love for all life, a form of encompassing pro-life philosophy: All lives matter, human and non-human, and should be treated well.
This way of life has become deeply ingrained throughout the centuries that have passed since the arrival of Sigrid Helgadottir in Thule. The Thulenes don’t really know much male violence after centuries of female nonviolent caring-for-all-life dominance. The idea of men fighting is seen as almost obscene, sexual harassment is a taboo, and men don’t ever get the chance to become leaders. So there is nothing rational to fear, for them there are no examples of what can go wrong with men in leadership it is just assumed it will go wrong.
The justification of those views of men also lies in ‘the Great Catastrophe’, World War III; when men almost destroyed the planet and all life on it. Which is a clear sign that men are not to be trusted.
Once, an unthinkably long time ago, Kimora had told him, things had been different: In spite of their greater talents, sensitiveness, and importance women didn’t have power. Men had led the world, which hadn’t really worked out. Century after century injustice, cruelty and selfishness had ruled, and century after century rivers of blood had flowed. People had hated each other and didn’t know what to come up with to harm each other as much as possible. It had been dark times and the inevitable happened, and it ended badly. (Children of Mother Earth, p. 20)
The more extreme parts of the ‘only women can have leadership’ ideas in Thule are not completely rooted in reality, but also shrouded in myth. The Great Catastrophe has become a myth about the destructiveness of men, and the Konega and her Council of Women just like the situation as it is, even though it is, as her husband calls it, a ‘soft oppression’ for men, for half of the population.
The funny thing is that the Badeners, who indeed provide an example of a male-led culture that rather seems to prove the myth of how dangerous it is to have male leadership, are the catalyst to end the imbalance of the ‘soft oppression’: the help of Konega-husband Rajo and Konega-son Christian and other men, even in positions of responsibility and leaders, is needed to save Thule from this danger. It is only the extreme situations that give Rajo and Christian the courage to stand against the -indeed extremely conservative- Council of women. The Council doesn’t want things to change, and like it as it is, which is dangerous in situations when crisis management is needed, as was the case when the Konega had to deal with the Badeners while the rest of the Council of Women was back to their own districts, and she had to take measures that were bordering on taboo to prevent even worse.
The second and third book have lost the tension of the ‘soft oppression’, and have less restrictions for men. But it’s still only a few men at the women Council (Christian the Konega-son and Rajo her husband in book 2) against 26 women or so. Which is an enormous step forward that is seen as enough.
Anyone who is shocked by that idea, 2 men on almost 30 people being enough equality; must think of the inverse situations in our worlds that are -both by men and women- also seen as sufficient. I think Thea Beckman really intends the (young) reader to think about that too.
And unlike our world (and the Badener empire, where most people are oppressed and in dire circumstances)) the ‘soft oppression’ is not killing people and leading to abuse and violence, just keeping people from higher positions. Which I certainly would prefer over the world we have now. I’d rather be a man without power -I don’t have much power myself anyway personally with the place I occupy as a teacher- in a female-led world where literally every life matters (human, animal, plant) and I know my life is safe and people will be friendly to each other nonetheless than living in a world where my own sex is ruling and screwing it up as we so often see in our world.
I have no idea how a female-led world would look like in the real world. There probably are as many possibilities as with a male-led world, some healthy and other more dystopian and dehumanising than the old Spartan polis. But fiction gives us ideas of what could be, and I must confess that the land of Thule is one I would very much like to live in, even as a man, for a lot of reasons (some of which will appear in following posts)…
And sometimes we need to open up our mind for new possibilities!
What do you think?