Distorted Perceptions of Gender in Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness
There is a palpable existence of cultural and ideological disconnect woven throughout Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Such disengagements are generated by a distortion of our own perceived conventions of sex and gender through the perspective of the main character, Genly Ai. Le Guin employs Ai and his own assumptions of sociocultural and gender norms as a reference point for what occupies the established and biological conducts of Gethenian life, yet he finds their mindset difficult to navigate. These disassociations are supported in the conjectures of the following theorists: Judith Butler, Joseph Culler, Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman, and Steven Seidman. Their interpretations are perpetuated through the unique social constructs presented by Le Guin on the planet of Gethen, specifically the fundamental condition of androgyny and the biological constraints on sex.
The social concept of sex on Gethen exists from a biological viewpoint rather than a socially motivated one, where Le Guin has removed concepts of consistent or permanent gender by implementing an androgynous species exhibiting a mechanized sexual cycle. The result is a population absence of social-sexual morality. That is, the notions of lust and desire are non-existent. Rather, sexual intercourse is a requisite, a contingency, and not for pleasure. As Michel Foucault would theorize, the objective of sex on Gethen is simply " ...to reproduce the interplay of relations and maintain the law that governs them; the deployment of sexuality, on the other hand, engenders a continual extension of areas and forms of control." (106) One could argue that Gethenian sexuality is also a control...
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...f sex as a less social function than traditionally interpreted.
The presented disconnects and concepts are caused by the readers socialized view on sex and gender, and their roles within the society they originate. Le Guin’s exploration about these different concepts and these ideas immerse the reader into a dystopian world not based on gender and sexuality as traditionally view thus creating the absence of familiar relatable cues about gender and sex. The disconnects explored and experienced through The Left Hand of Darkness are generated by the “third gender” culture expression, developed by Le Guin’s thought experiment and perpetuated by the absence of the two gender model. The resulting divergence experienced than is that Gethenians are "functioning" even "without sex” (Guin 99) due to gender and sex not being socially value as an integral component of society.
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