When we say men,man, manly, manhood, and all the other masculine-derivatives, we have in the background of our minds a huge vague crowded picture of the world and all its activities. . . . And when we say women, we thinkfemale—the sex.


But to these women . . . the word woman called up all that big background, so far as they had gone in social development; and the word man meant to them only male—the sex.

Toward the end of the novel, in Chapter 12, the men are faced with expulsion from Herland, thanks to Terry’s attack on Alima. Ellador, eager to join Van in exile and to see the outside world, imagines that Van must be homesick. Van tries to explain how different his feelings about men and women are after a year in Herland, and he realizes that his thinking has changed in a fundamental way. Now, when he thinks of humanity or “mankind,” he includes women and womanliness as fully part of the equation, not merely as a subset of a larger entity. Before his experiences in Herland, Van unconsciously thought of women as a kind of man—attractive, but weaker and not representative of the group as a whole. Previously, whenever Van thought of history and the progress of human achievement, he’d really been thinking of men and things men had done.

Van can now see that he’d excluded half of humanity from full membership in the group. The same situation applies in reverse for the women of Herland. In the absence of men, these women have come to think of men as a kind of woman, and to assume that the men of the outside world must be as devoted to reason, cooperation, and children as they are. This assumption, says Van, is partly why Terry’s attempted rape comes as such a shock to the women. Terry’s act was a particularly male kind of violence, directed at another person, not as a person, but as a woman. As they come to understand the outside world, the women of Herland must expand their definition of humanity, just as the men have had to. The difference is that the information they will have to assimilate is not entirely benign.