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Jeff and Terry are a matched pair—opposite sides of the same sexist coin.
Where Terry represents the macho, domineering aspects of patriarchal society,
Jeff represents the genteel, idealistic attitudes that often accompany and help
to justify a system of sexual inequality. Gilman’s point is that Terry’s
brutality and Jeff’s gentility are both predicated on a shared belief in the
natural inferiority of women. In Jeff’s case, the assumption is that women are
naturally delicate, sweet, placid creatures who need looking after. Jeff fancies
himself as part of the tradition of the southern gentleman, which, in turn, was
based on the tradition of knightly chivalry and courtly love. Gilman wants her
readers to see that the object of a gentleman’s chivalry is just that: an
object, an idol created in order to be worshipped, and not a living, feeling
woman with independent thoughts and autonomous desires. According to Jeff’s
beliefs, women are just as controlled and powerless as under Terry’s beliefs,
although Jeff’s way is certainly a much nicer, more sensitive means of control.
The more Jeff learns about Herland, the more enamored of its social system
he becomes. As Van points out, Jeff’s natural inclination to “worship” and
idealize women leads him to embrace Herland’s ways like a religious convert and
to reject the male-dominated outside world entirely. Jeff’s embrace of Herland,
however, is based more on emotion than anything else, and he seems to think that
a woman-dominated society would be preferable in every way to a male-dominated
one, mostly because women are simply better, kinder, more moral people than are
men. But here Jeff misses the point. Herland is better not because it is
dominated by women but because there is no domination of anyone, by anyone, at
all. By the end of the novel, Jeff is still struggling to see women as
equals, not angelic superiors. Gilman seems to reward Jeff
at the end of the novel, both by allowing him to remain in Herland and by having
him be the father of Herland’s first naturally conceived child in 2,000
Ace your assignments with our guide to Herland!