The Need for Binary System

25 Mar


Le Guin, as she says in her article “Is Gender Necessary? Redux,” that her novel The Left Hand of Darkness is an experiment of gender. She says that her novel does not give answers, it asks questions. She relates what she did in her novel to the experiments of Einstein to give her novel more sense of a scientific experiment. It really neat to think of her novel that way because first of all it is a science fiction novel and Le Guin defined herself as writer; thus, novels are her laboratory to start her experiments on gender roles.

Le Guin’s question of this experiment is (how people would act when their gender is not defined? How their sexual psychology would be affected? And how the social structure would look like when its inhabitants are gender-neutral?) Although she claims that she does not give answers, only questions; or as she says, “they are questions, not answers; process, not stasis.” It is interesting that she really gave answers in the way they act before, during and after the “kemmer.”

However, my response basically is about the language used in this experiment. She says that her most interesting phrase is “the King was pregnant.” She eliminates the h/she binary system so the reader never knows what the gender of the character is. Although “king” is a masculine, she could have said “queen” the feminist equivalent to the king. But her narrative is challenging the reader, challenging us. We/the readers are not the inhabitants of her fictional world and we do feel something wrong when it comes to give the “king” feminist biological attributes, or at least I do.

This challenging because we, who live in the real world, rose with the idea of the “BINARY SYSTEM.” We differentiate males from females because we need to, we cannot live without having this binary system. It is not necessary to understand the other, either male or female, but to know ourselves. We have to label the other with a gender label so I know to which label I do belong to. It really a powerful text to challenge the idea of gender roles and the sexual psychology; but it creates deeper problems by eliminating them. Ones don’t know themselves without defining the other. And we have this problem with Sov in Coming of Age in Karhide.

To make my point clear of the need for the binary system, I would recall the examples of Herland. In Herland they are all women, no gender at all. However, the readers don’t feel the strangeness or the awkwardness they feel while reading Le Guin’s. For me, that is because Gilman substituted the gender role binary system with another binary system. Even within the Herland community, we know who is who and how they differ from each other because of the different qualities given to the inhabitants. There are teachers, professors, and less, etc. And there is a hierarchy in their social structure because of this binary system. This is what I don’t see in Le Guin’s work.

One Response to “The Need for Binary System”

  1. Dr Lothian March 25, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Do you think the discomfort we might feel when the binary gender system is taken away from us is Le Guin’s point? Are you arguing that the hierarchies of gender are necessary and that we should not strive to think about life without them, as Le Guin tries to do?

    I am curious to know more about the “problem” you feel that Sov has in Coming of Age in Karhide –– and whether you think that the working of gender in Gethen makes it different than problems that might be faced while coming of age elsewhere.

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