I first read Sheri S. Tepper’s The Gate To Women’s Country during a Dean’s Honors Seminar on Utopian societies when I was a senior in college.

It was the first book of the genre I had read. I was blown away by the ideas expressed in this book. The Gate To Women’s Country is set three hundred years after an apocalypse.  In the aftermath of what are called the “convulsions” two societies have formed.  From Publisher’s Weekly: Tepper’s finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women’s Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning. The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women’s Council. As in Tepper’s Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text.

Recent events making the news prompted me to re-read this book.  Neither of these societies is a true Utopia, but Tepper presents some valid points. Women are at our best when we’re educated. When we’re sovereign over our own mind, bodies, and spirits. When we’re free to make whatever choice is right for us- to be single, to be a wife. To be a mother, or to not. To hold a paying  job or to be a stay-at-home mom. To believe that God, if we believe in God, does not hate women and does not think us weak.

Warning- Spoilers below.  If you don’t want to know anything about what you might come across in the book if you choose to read it, stop reading now. Otherwise, read on.

Tepper presents some interesting ideas. Are women inherently less violent?  I don’t think that’s the case. But I do think that women have different priorities on when violence is appropriate.  In Women’s Country, if the men of the garrison choose to go to war with another garrison, it is hand to hand combat.  Only the men die. Women and children, who didn’t choose to enter into the war, are not a by-product casualty of the devastation of war.  On the other hand, when the Council women of Women’s country realize some decisive action must be taken against some of the men in the garrison, Stavia’s mother, Morgot, points out that when in this situation, the women seek only to kill, never to wound.

The Councilwomen and the Servitors who truly know what is going on in Women’s Country (and that is too big of a spoiler for me to give away here) call themselves the Damned Few. They realize they are working for what they feel is the good of society at large. Yet they are not operating with transparency, which opens its own set of ethical questions.  Tepper addresses those briefly, but these are the unanswerable questions the reader should take away and analyze for him or her self.