The gender politics of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was eye-rolling enough. But some people look beyond the solar system entirely for their guidelines on sex and relationships, to a fictional planet where men are dominant and women are wives, sex slaves or rebel ‘panthers’. Kit Marsters reports
In 1966 a curious little novel hit the bookstores. Its title was Tarnsman of Gor, and it was written by professor of philosophy John Frederick Lange Jr, under the pen name John Norman. The novel follows the adventures of Tarl Cabot, a man born on Earth, who soon discovers his ties to Gor, a harsh planet where men radiate masculinity and women are thought to be happiest in slavery.
On Gor, a woman can be a free woman, a panther girl or a slave. The free woman is not actually that free. She must cover up from head to toe, must pay respect to all men, she has to abide by strict rules and she can’t enjoy herself too much in the bedroom, because otherwise she’ll risk slavery. Free women can be captured and abducted. They’re only free if men allow them to be. And that’s only because men want their children to be born in freedom, which just isn’t possible when you have kids with your slaves.
Panther girls are women who aren’t too happy with the way they are treated on Gor. They’ve ran away and banded together to take revenge on men. They’re mainly portrayed as not very nice, nor very clever and, of course, they’re said to be the best slaves when “tamed”.
Tarnsman of Gor is the first of a series of 29 novels. The 30th, Mariners of Gor, is set to be published this year. A 31st novel, Conspirators of Gor, is planned for release in 2012.
What makes these novels so popular? They’re not that well-written. A popular spoof called Houseplants of Gor will tell you everything you need to know about Norman’s style. No, the reason Gor is popular is because it’s sparked the imagination of certain kinksters. They call themselves Gorean lifestylers, or Goreans, for short.
If you’ve ever ventured into 3D virtual worlds such as Active Worlds and Second Life, you’re likely to have come across them. For the most part, they’re harmless enough. They’ll act out their fantasies on the internet through role-play and scantily dressed avatars and that’s fine, each to their own, but it doesn’t end there. Some of them are trying to live the lifestyle offline, and that’s where it gets tricky.
By its very nature, the Gorean lifestyle is based on ‘consensual non-consent’, as they term it. This means the slave agrees to give up all control of her life and wellbeing. She places herself in the hands of her master and she’ll do whatever he wants, even if she doesn’t want to do something.
It’s important to note that on Gor the slave is seen as property, a beast, livestock. She lives and dies at the will of her owner. She does not even own her name. She is his, completely and utterly.
In the real world, couples who live this lifestyle have to abide by the laws of their country. Much to the regret of some couples, the master can’t simply auction off his slave on the market and he’d be in deep trouble if he killed her. That doesn’t stop some people from trying to get as close to the nature of Gor as possible, and there are small Gorean communities where women are shared and live the life of a slave 24/7. The communities I have heard of are situated in the US, but in 2006 an offshoot sect was discovered in Darlington. It is thought that some 25,000 people in the UK base their lifestyle on Norman’s novels.
Gor sometimes gets confused for BDSM. This is not the case. A BDSM submissive can set limits. A Gorean slave can’t. Gor doesn’t do limits. A slave is a slave.
Of course, in theory, a slave can walk and never turn back. If she discovers that her master is power-crazed and abusive, she can phone the police and get him dealt with. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. Women who are drawn to this lifestyle often find it difficult to tell their friends and family about the nature of their unique relationship. Some travel to the other end of the country to be with a man they met online. And anyway, how would you explain to the police that, yes, you are a slave and yes, you’re fine with being whipped every now and then but then he went too far… It’s difficult enough to report domestic abuse without having to address your kinks.
In March this year, John Norman expressed his views on the lifestyle. In an interview with Charlie Jane Anders on the scifi blog io9, he said: “It is, of course, important to treat the slave, however uncompromisingly strict you are with her, however much she might fear you, in a humane way, as one would any other animal. Some men, I gather, dislike women and enjoy hurting them. That makes no sense to me. Women are wonderful, and precious. It is a delight to own one; why would one hurt her?”
Why indeed? It reminds me of a quote taken from the book Marauders of Gor: “To Gorean morality many Earth moralities might ask, ‘Why so hard?’ To these Earth moralities, the Gorean ethos might ask, ‘Why so soft?'”
If one is to take this to heart – and many Gorean lifestylers do – it’s little wonder that relationships of this kind can go horribly wrong. It is one thing for a pretty little avatar to be captured and helpless in the arms of a strong man. You’re still in control. You can log out of the program if it all gets too much. You can contact a moderator if the man continues to pressure you.
It’s a completely different situation when you’re trying out kinky fantasies and all of a sudden you can’t cope. What was fun when you read about it and imagined it turns out to be cold, and harsh, and cruel. At that moment you’d have to hope that the man you’re with is understanding of your feelings and, well, sane. If he isn’t, if he is a fantasist who thinks he is an actual Gorean man, it can be devastating.
Safe, sane and consensual are key to BDSM. I’d recommend anyone who likes a bit of kink to go down this route and to stay clear of a lifestyle based on a series of scifi novels. Fiction doesn’t always translate well into reality. And whatever you do, please, do be careful.
Screenshot of a ‘Panther Girl’ from Gor uploaded by Flickr user lola_san75 under a Creative Commons licence. Second image of Captain Kirk kissing a young alien woman.