Amazons

The word "Amazon" has come to be used for any woman warrior, but according to Greek legend, Amazons lived entirely without men, associating with them only to breed. In many legends and works of fiction the Amazon is defeated or seduced by a man - the Amazon being both the ultimate foe and the ultimate prize - and all too often in movies and comic books Amazons are simply an excuse to display women in skimpy armor. Nonetheless, the idea of women who can fight like men and do without them continues to capture the imagination of men and women alike.


Queen Calafia by Vicente Blasco Ibańez
Based on actual legends.

"At this place Montalvo, the romancer, describes in minute detail the situation of an island called California, 'on the right hand of the Indies and in close vicinity to the Paradise on Earth,' where the population consisted entirely of women. They had a slightly dark skin, tolerated no men in their midst, and lived much like the Amazons of antiquity.

"They had splendid strong bodies and valiant hearts. Their island abounding in steep, inaccessible heights was like no other country in the world. The arms they bore were all made of gold as were the trappings of the superb beasts that they tamed and used for mounts. There was no other metal in the country besides gold. The Amazons dwelt in spacious and comfortable caves and had many boats in which they would go out on their raids, bringing home men prisoners whom they shortly afterward killed...

"Whenever, as a consequence of these men-hunting expeditions, the valiant Californians were blessed with motherhood, they kept girl infants, but immediately killed the males."


The movie War Goddess draws heavily on Greek myths. The Amazons associate with men only to wage war on them or for annual mating - male infants are exposed. The annual mating is supposed to be something endured out of duty, and those who enjoy sex with men are looked down upon. The plot is exceedingly predictable: their formerly man-hating queen falls in love with a man and trouble ensues for the Amazons as she denies the truth to herself. On the other hand, this movie deserves credit for displaying little Amazons and elderly Amazons, two sorts frequently not in evidence among movie Amazons. Also, unlike earlier works of fiction, this movie acknowledged that some Amazons would naturally practice Lesbianism.


In the DC Comics Universe, an immortal species called the Oans separated by sex thousands of years ago. The males because the intellectually inclined Guardians, who oversee the Green Lantern Corps, and in time their form changed into very short guys with large brains. The females became the Zamarons, a society of tall, well-built Amazons. After millenia apart, the Guardians and the Zamarons decided they needed to get back together and reproduce for some reason, leading to mating between a lot of short eggheads and tall large-bosomed warrior women in form-fitting armor. Even though I'm a nerd myself, I am still amused by such blatant nerd fanservice.

The novel Wicked Thomasin Carey was published in 1943 and the title page assures us, "This book is produced in complete conformity with the War Economy Agreement."

For nearly two hundred pages I thought this was going to turn out to be one of those books that actually shouldn't have been in the gynotopian category. It's a conventional, downright mawkish adventure novel in which a virtuous, impoverished girl's efforts to support herself after her father is rooked out of his property somehow leads to her and her sweetheart's being pressed into service on a slaving ship and then sold into slavery themselves in Africa. Also, standard methods of preserving the heroine's virginity are used: a half-Arab chieftain buys the "white girl" as a novelty slave for his favorite wife. The heroine, Thomasin, is the typical saccharine superwoman of the time; no misfortune, however horrible, can daunt her pious devotion to her father and sweetheart.

Finally, on page 191, she wakes from an illness that killed several of the tribe she had been with to find herself in "The Valley of Women". The Valley Women, whose skin is café au lait with a lot of lait and who have Greek names, found her and healed her, and then comes a wonderfully bizarre origin story:

Many centuries ago, so the legends held, a party of people with white skins, who were in disgrace in their own country, in the North, sailed to this land, Africa, in ships. Their leader had been a saintly woman who had come under the influence of a strange new teacher in the East, and she had the dreams of waking, visions, so that though the land was unknown and uncharted, she had knowledge of their destination which was denied to others. The ships had sailed to a river mouth and then been rowed inland. At a certain part the people had disembarked and the ships had been destroyed so that no one might weaken and wish to return. After many days of journeying they had come, as the leader had promised, to this valley. And there they had stayed.

"There were men amongst us in that time," said the old woman, "and soon dissensions broke out. Men quarrelled over the women and women contested amongst themselves for the possession of the man of their choice. And the family life militated against the good of the state; the women would say, when required to work in the fields or the quarries, that they must return home and cook the meals for their men, or tend their children. [Notice that it's assumed that of course women are obligated to neglect their own families for The Good of the State. Just who would be cooking for the family, or taking care of the children, is blithely unspecified.] Moreover, as soon as a settled form of life was established the men forgot that the women had taken their turn in the rowing, the marching and the building and sought to subjugate them as their mothers and all the women in the old land had been subjugated to the men. Some of the women, resenting this treatment as unworthy, appealed to the leader, now an old woman and little regarded. But vision and wisdom were within her still though her heart had been broken by her failure to make a state upon the pattern of the teachings of the holy man whom she had met in Jerusalem. The old leader called together the midwives, who, being women themselves, and mostly old, listened to her bidding. Gradually there began to be a dearth of male children. They died at birth, unaccountably at first; but in the second generation, when women had attained the ascendancy and the power it was allowed to be known that the old leader, now dead, had instructed the midwives to place their hands upon the nostrils of the newly born males and stifle out the life that had hardly been begun. The women, dubiously at first, but elated by their new freedom and the progress that was made in a community where jealousy and sexual competition were dying out, gradually became resigned to the death of their male offspring. Since then the valley has been the Land of Women."

So there we have it: early Christianity somehow leading to mass murder of males. I have read enough gynotopian fiction that I think I can say with certainty that this is an absolutely unique excuse. Also notice the standard premise that "jealousy and sexual competition" would vanish if there was only one sex. Of course, when this book was published, no one could talk about homosexuality openly and many people didn't even know it existed, but anyone who knows anything about prisons or single-sex boarding schools can testify that it wouldn't have taken the inhabitants of the Valley of Women long to figure it out. The "sexual competition" would continue right on.

For reproduction, every twenty years one boy baby is allowed to live. When he is twenty years old his predecessor, now forty, is killed and he is pressed into stud service. A few girls become infatuated with the male, and if they do not cease this unseemly behavior after a reprimand they are put to death. But the author keeps assuring us that, aside from killing all males and all women who see males as something more than livestock, the Valley is a peaceful and nonviolent society. It's a democracy ruled by a Council with twelve elected members. Also, they are fairly technologically advanced, though of course without steam or any other kind of power, and even invent things. Like many gynotopias, it's pleasant, but dull: It was, in many ways, a perfect state. There were no classes, no poverty, no overwork, no buying or selling, no idleness. By what system the work was divided Thomasin never quite understood, but she saw that the heavier field-work was done by the young and lusty, things like weaving, spinning and cooking by the elderly and infirm.... In theory it seemed to be an almost perfect state - but, as her knowledge of it grew, the English girl decided that it was completely soul-less. It was all as orderly, as clean, well-regulated and soul-less as a hive of bees. Nobody was ever hurried, cross or rude.... Here where the one sex ruled, all the imperfections and injustices beneath which poor mankind had struggled for centuries had been abolished. There were no ill-doers, no punishments, no crimes. However, Thomasin decides that, without romance (men), all this beauty and abundance is flat, empty and sterile.

Now and then the man dies ahead of schedule and they have to acquire a man from outside the valley, which is how the café got into the lait. They're racists, though, so when they find out about Thomasin's boyfriend they set out to capture him; their breeding stud died of an infection recently and a white man is a huge stroke of luck for them. But thanks to her steadfast bravery and some improbable strokes of luck, his virginity is also preserved so that they can escape and return to England and live happily ever after.

The Country of Gold
Three young men journey up the Amazon in search of a rare black orchid. On the way, they encounter the Amazon warriors Sir Walter Raleigh reported seeing. Most of the women are over six feet tall, while the men are smaller and weaker; men do the cooking and cleaning while women rule, hunt and fight. There are no weak or elderly people because they are euthanized when they are no longer robust enough to do productive work or bear strong children. This adventure yarn deserves credit for resisting the usual temptation of having any of the Amazons fall in love with these dashing men from the world of patriarchy.

Dr. Traprock's memory book;: Or, Aged in the wood by George S. Chappell
The title character amuses his friends by telling outrageous tall tales. One is about an Amazon tribe in the Andes called the Bearded Ladies of Quilaquil who kill most of their male offspring, only keeping enough alive to sire the next generation. He claims he met them once and that they were extremely beautiful, despite their long red beards. It's interesting that he should claim these Amazons were bearded; in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many feminists claimed that only social conditioning prevented women from growing beards and that if women had equal rights, we would also have equal facial hair. I, for one, am exceedingly relieved that they have turned out to be wrong about this.


In the movie Tarzan and the Amazons, Tarzan visits a city called Palmyra which, so far as we can tell, is populated solely by young white women wearing leopard skins and carrying spears or bows and arrows. The sole exception to this is the elderly queen. There is never any explanation of how they procreate, though a band of male explorers has to be rescued from them by Tarzan, as they have a strict rule of executing all non-Tarzan intruders because their deity, the sun-god, has ordained that they do so to prevent people from stealing their gold, of which they have an awful lot. They seem to have made an exception for him because Tarzan, good noble savage that he is, is indifferent to gold.


On an episode of Josie and the Pussycats, the teens land on a matriarchal planet. The boys are promptly thrown into jail, for existing while male, and the girls pressed into the army.


Thundarr the Barbarian: Attack of the Amazon Women, 1980
Amphibious green-skinned Amazons riding sharks. What more could anyone want?

The Vale of Lost Women by Robert E. Howard, reprinted in Conan of Cimmeria, was described as featuring an all-female society on The Feminist SFF & Utopia website, but I read it and I'm not sure it fits the category. A female character was captured by a bunch of female monsters who intended to sacrifice her to their god, but little detail about monster society is given, so there could be boy monsters offscreen for all we know. There is a more detailed summary here.

When Women Rule
A collection of short stories depicting various female-only or female-dominated societies.

A Brother's Price
A friend recommended this to me because of my interest in fiction about all-female or mostly-female worlds, but it's also just a really good read.

In many ways this novel is simply a reverse romance: the innocent but sensual young man hoping his family will arrange a love match for him, with swaggering Amazons being chivalrously protective towards their menfolk. What makes this novel stand out from other gender-reversal stories is that the system is made plausible. The pressure on unmarried young men to remain chaste, and the care with which families protect their sons' virginity, is explained by the fear of disease, which could spread throughout a family. In this fantasy world, some genetic anomaly means that far more daughters are born than sons, making sons very precious. In addition, this society operates on a sort of clan system. An entire set of sisters will marry one man. In real life, of course, this would be a recipe for jealousy and division, but Spencer makes the reader believe that in this world, it's actually a workable and loving system. The hero falls in love with every one of the sisters he marries, and the author makes this work.

In addition, the adventure as the feisty hero becomes a prize in a bid to steal the throne is page-turning. A very good read.

Home