The Not-So “Dreaded Comparison”

7 Mar

                In their discussion of animal metaphors involving racialized others, Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin highlight Marjorie Spiegel’s work. Spiegel’s book explores the “dreaded comparison” (136). Spiegel explains the “multiple uses made of the species boundary in racial genocide and racial vilification” (136). Basically she explores how Others have been constructed paying particular attention to their dehumanization. Science Fiction interrogates such positionings of people in juxtaposition or in similarity with particular animal populations as well. For example, there are ten incidences in Herland  comparing ants to the women of Herland. However, these comparisons are not necessarily done to dehumanize the females. For example one of the ten incidences narrates “This female ant might regard him with intense personal affection” (location 1758). This moment illustrates, not the dehumanization of the female society, but instead personifies the ants. The ‘dreaded comparison’ works to highlight the humanity of the ants, and by association the Other (women of Herland). While Gilman engages the ‘dreaded comparison’ in essentially a role reversal, other Science Fiction texts engage with it more deeply. The ‘humanity’ of particular populations and species are focused upon and questioned. Furthermore, pieces shift from an engagement with hierarchies to a concern with the criteria of humanity.

                Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See” and Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See” are invested in revealing the connections between people, places, and Others. They begin to deconstruct the ‘dreaded comparison’ without evoking it explicitly. Furthermore, these two works emphasize the humanity of their characters over their Othering traits. In their theoretical work, Huggan and Tiffin begin to deconstruct the ‘dreaded comparison’ as well. They argue that beneficial work has been occurring concerning “the strongest of human emotions−love−is not and cannot be confined to our own species. Thus, while animals may remain a mystery to us, and while our relations with them certainly demand rethinking, such challenges can only be undertaken once we acknowledge our fundamental need for emotional attachment to other animals, and to the animals that we (therefore) are ourselves” (201). Both Tiptree’s and Fowler’s works highlight their characters humanity through the vehicle of love. They also demonstrate the importance of embracing the alien and Other (i.e. landscape in both texts, literal aliens in Tiptree’s story, and animals (and people) in Fowler’s work).

                In Tiptree’s piece, Don narrates “She’s as alien as they, there in the twilight” (138). Don literally views the Parsons as alien. Furthermore, he links them to a particular temporal space (perhaps as well to a landscape) in his comment. The close of the text seems to continue Othering the Parsons stating “Two of our opossums are missing” (143). However, in between these two statements, the reader comes to know these characters as more human than alien as they iterate their cultural membership through idioms (Althea does) and Ruth’s allusion to a friend who needs to receive a message (alluding to a preexisting social history) (141). Ruth demonstrates her humanity through her love for this person, as well as her love for Althea (gesturing towards Huggan and Tiffin’s deconstruction). So even as these two women are positioned as Others, relating to unfamiliar temporal and spatial environments, and become ‘aliens,’ they demonstrate their position within the human community.

                Fowler engages humanity in similarly coded and complex terms. She broaches the ‘dreaded comparison’ through Eddie’s choice to massacre gorillas over ‘blacks’ (353). However, she deconstructs such potential comparisons in a few moments. The first occurs in her discussion of what the narrator finds when she comes face to face with a group of gorillas. She humanizes them thinking “In the leather of his face I saw surprise, curiousity, caution. Something else too. Something so human it made me feel like an old woman with clothes on. I might have shot him just for that, but I knew it wasn’t right to kill him merely because he was more human than I anticipated […] I might have hit him several times−spared the women, freed the women” (353). Rather than animalizing the human, Fowler/the narrator chooses to personify the gorillas. By rejecting traditional inferior social hierarchies, this moment highlights the mystical ‘humanity’ that both the narrator and the gorillas possess. Such a move begins to break down the barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’ conceptions, forcing the Other to become absolved within the self. Playing off of and extending Tiptree’s work with community construction then, Fowler’s text closes with the reflection of the narrator: “And what I notice most in the articles is not the apes. My attention is caught instead by these young women who’d sooner live in the jungle with the chimpanzees or the orangutans or the great mountain gorillas. These women who freely choose it […] And I think to myself how there is nothing new under the sun, and maybe all those women carried off by gorillas in the old stories, maybe they all freely chose it” (354). The ‘dreaded comparison’ and its hierarchies are dismantled as one may choose to exist in that environment. Furthermore, community construction, identification, and inhabitation of the self and Other (not hierarchically opposed) are emphasized.

                An engagement of the ‘dreaded comparison’ in varied and challenging ways results in the construction of unique communities and selves. Rather than humans becoming animalized, the ‘humanity’ of various species becomes highlighted and equality in terms of existence becomes a crucial conversation. Moving beyond the human/animal hierarchy to reveal their connections, as well as those with the spaces/ places which one exists within, allows ‘democratic’ and ‘feminist’ identities and communities to rise in these pieces. Furthermore, these works display the potential for the self to become alien. In such a case, the binary of self/Other becomes deconstructed. In turn, the patriarchical hierarchies of social organization are called into question, replaced by alternate (in these cases feminist) conceptions of relation among global communities (rather than human demographics/populations).

 Works Cited (Only those not assigned in class)

Huggan, Graham & Helen Tiffin. Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals, Environment. New York: Routledge, 2010.




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