Tag Archives: Sally Miller Gearhart

Wikipedia Projects

Hi, everyone. I thought I’d post some information about completed Wikipedia Projects, so you can see what other students worked on last quarter:

KJ and Garrett created terrific pages for Casey Miller and The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing.

Grace created a very thorough page for Vonda McIntyre’s The Moon and the Sunincluding a section on the forthcoming film version.

Naomi and Eliza massively revised Ursula Le Guin‘s Wikipedia page.

Naomi also substantially expanded and revised the page for The Left Hand of Darkness.

Gabrielle worked on Suzy McKee Charnas‘ page. Dylan’s page on Charnas’ The Vampire Tapestry just got accepted!

Kim revised Joanna Russ‘s page and Austin revised Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing.

Laura and Genevieve did a great job revising Eleanor Arnason‘s page. 

Aimee created a page for Sally Miller Gearhart’s The Wanderground and also did extensive editing on Sally’s Wikipedia page, including a fabulous new picture of Sally in Eugene.

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Protected: Research Project – “The Life of a Feminist Text”

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Protected: Sally Miller Gearhart: The Story of an Activist

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Protected: Zine on Sally Miller Gearhart

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Book Review: The Wanderground

The Wanderground

Sally Miller Gearhart

Persephone Press, 1980

196 pages

It is an unknown point in the future of the United States. The country has continued to promote rape culture, with society growing into a more and more male-dominated, woman-controlling world. It gets worse and worse, to the point that “cunt hunts” (page 160) become a pastime for some men, who go out into the country to chase and rape any women fleeing from the cities. Women live in submission, or terror, until one day, the Earth herself has had one too many rapes. In a moment’s notice, nothing man-made functions outside of the cities. Machinery and tools of every kind suddenly fail in the act.

Finally, there is some circle of peace for the women who have fled, the hill women. Forming separatist communities on the idea that it is not in man’s nature not to rape, and it is not in woman’s nature to be raped (page 25), they live in peace with nature and other women, in Wanderground, far from the old civilization. In this communion, they find their own psychic/spiritual power they can use to communicate with each other and their animals, which they call mindstretch, which is done with their soft-selves (as opposed to oral communication with one’s hard-self). This exchange of information allows them to share present thoughts and ideas more clearly and immediately, even over long distances. It also allows them to share memories without speaking, as if the receiver were there herself.

This power is a crucial part of what makes the Wanderground women’s lives possible. Communicating via mindstretch is the most genuine form of interaction, as it allows women to share so much more than just hard-self words convey. The women also depend on the distance communication mindstretching provides, in order to communicate with women in other communities of women, and to the women who live underground in the cities and on the borders, keeping watch. Besides current communication, it is soft-selves that are used for the conveyance of memories, both individual and collective that form the history of the hill women.

All of this knowledge gets imparted bit by bit through the stories of The Wanderground. What is not a book began as individual short stories, published in fanzines and magazines before they came together (at the encouragement of everyone’s favorite ray of sunshine, Joanna Russ, who Gearhart totally fangirled over) in a book. The narrative style of The Wanderground reflects this piecemeal history. All of the stories fit together loosely, all somehow adding to the story of The Wanderground.

The continuing narrative, that makes some appearance in all, or almost all of the stories, is caused by some kind of shift in the cosmic balance between the hill women and the cities. Rumors are whispered, things are getting worse. In a beautiful, gripping opening set of stories, an armed woman dressed in battle armor appears at the edge of the hill women’s territory, and the woman on watch, completely unarmed, convinces her to drop her arms, and let her armor be removed. She is unable to speak, and rattled to the point of losing part of her mind. Her truth is that she was raped, and then set loose like that, a truth she is only able to communicate via her soft-self, as her words still no longer work.

As the stories build on each other, subtle remarks are made about how things are getting worse, the cities are becoming even more controlling, it is more dangerous for the women underground, men are appearing outside of the cities, even to the point of rapes occurring in the borderlands. Something is changing.

The tension finally comes to the foreground when the gentles, (gay men, who have the greatest respect for all women, especially the hill women) request a meeting with the hill women. The message is smuggled out of the city, and a great discussion begins. Even though the gentles are considered to be allies of the hill women, they are still men, and this mixed status of ally and enemy causes a great debate. I won’t spoil how it turns out, but I assure you the process of getting to that point is something I marveled at.

After several stories in a row really focusing on the tension building in the book, the ending came as a surprise. It was completely removed from the semi-plot that Gearhart had been focusing on for most of the book, and instead was a death narrative. For anyone who has lost anyone important to them, I recommend reading these two, final chapters, “Voki at the Welling Place” and “The Telling of the Days of Artilidea” (with some tissues). They were touching, and beautiful, and an unexpected but welcome conclusion to the book.

Reading this book in the context of the books that we have been reading, that are either unintentionally constrained by the male-centric world of science fiction, or intentionally ‘passing’ as part of that genre, this book is a total departure from that idea. After doing research in Gearhart’s papers, I saw in this book the literary embodiment of what she hoped for in her theorization of lesbian separatism, from the intentionally inclusive communities of women to the treatment of gay men as allies but still essentially different than women.

The Wanderground isn’t a book I’d recommend for new readers of any kind of feminist literature, but I loved it. I think it transcends the boundaries of science fiction, and could be seen as utopian fiction, or even potentially as fantasy. (The concept of mindstretch reminded me mightily of a concept Tamora Pierce brings up in her Emelan books, with the main difference that Gearhart considers it a natural part of women’s communication rather than magic.) By virtue of being what it is, The Wanderground takes a feminist mind to enjoy, but for the feminist reader, it is an imagination-stretch and a joy to read.


You don’t know me, but I’ve read your mail..

Dear Ms. Gearhart,

You have no idea who I am, but you might as well know I’m one of those people who have been digging around in your papers at the University of Oregon. I’m sorry for reading so much of your personal correspondence, but it’s so interesting. One thing I kept wondering about whenever I read your fan mail (yes, I went through that stuff, too – sorry) was how you received/interpreted those letters. There was an outpouring of support for the “Times of Harvey Milk”, and for your role in it (and for good reason!), but I was curious how you felt about the familiarity with which some fans wrote to you.

Obviously, many of the letters were heartwarming and sweet, and there were a fair number of letters that seem to be from friends you knew before your movie-related fame. But what about the people who wrote to you as if they knew you personally? I recall reading one letter that sounded like it came from an old friend who hadn’t seen you in a few years… it was only after reading the paper attached to it addressed to SFSU and asking the first recipient there to find a way to get it to you that I realized the fan didn’t even know you well enough to have your mailing address! Did you welcome this kind of fandom? What was it like knowing that the effect of your words was so profound that people would write a lengthy letter and send it off to no one in particular in the blind hope that it would find you? It seems at once touching and impertinent, but I wonder what you thought about it at the time. Has your view changed at all since then?

Speaking of changes over time, I read that you describe yourself as “a recovering political activist”. What is it you find yourself needing recovery from the most? Is there anything you miss about the political activist life(style)? If you could go back and do it all again… would you? What would you do differently? If there was one thing you’d want future generations to remember about you, and about what you’ve done here, what would it be? I ask because I remember vividly a fan letter from a young man thanking you for your role in the Milk documentary (speaking of which, did you see the newest movie about him, and if so what did you think of it?), and your effect on his life. I remember it not only for the content, but for the small note you made in the corner: “answered 12/26/84”. I can only imagine what you wrote (do you remember?), but I’m sure it was something befitting the beauty and heart of the original letter. It made me wonder which you cherish the most: the effects you had in individual peoples’ lives or the amazing things you accomplished in the “bigger picture” (I know they go hand in hand, but I still think it’s an interesting question).

I’m really not sure how to end this letter (it’s something I’ve always struggled with, along with lengthy asides in ubiquitous parentheses), except to say thank you. For the great reads, for your role in the world we live in today, for the impact on individual hearts and minds, and for the journey you and your generation set us upon. And I’m sorry if my letter comes off as unqualifiedly familiar as the ones to which I referred earlier.

Sincerest best wishes in all regards.

Warmly,
Muhammad M. Khalifa


Immense Gratitude

Dear Sally Miller Gearhart,

I am so fascinated and captivated by the strides and sacrifices you’ve made in your life that have directly influenced my own life, and countless people in my generation and the generations after.

I want to express my extreme never-ending gratitude for the fact that, after obtaining tenure at San Francisco State in 1973 (which is monumental in itself) you created one of the first Women and Gender Studies programs in the country. I have no doubt that without this huge achievement that you made, the program that I myself am majoring in at the University of Oregon, 40 years later, would not exist. I’m sure of this because I know that a fund created in your name supports my program, and therefore supports me and my peers. 

I want to say thank you for being brave and going after tenure at SFSU, without that accomplishment you might not have been able to create a program teaching classes that were widely considered controversial. I know that some of your peers in the Science Fiction community were not so lucky as to get tenure, and I know that San Francisco and Northern California were seriously considering passing the Briggs Initiative, which would have been devastating for openly gay teachers, so the fact that you were openly a lesbian and you had the courage to fight for your right to teach and your right to tenure in a seriously adverse climate is inspiring to say the least. 

I could only dream of making the impact you’ve made, and I am truly awestruck by your passion and achievements. I just want to express my thanks. 

Hailey Chamberlain

 


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