Tag Archives: gender issues

Thoughts on “The Power” by Naomi Alderman

One great thing about being in a book club is getting to read books that would have otherwise not been on my radar. This is one such book. I don’t think I would ever have read it if it wasn’t the selection for this month.

The story is dark sci-fi, about a future world where women have physically evolved so that they are able to generate electrical energy within their bodies. This new power causes a paradigm shift where women become the dominant gender. But as we all know, power corrupts, and the women become abusive in the same way that men are abusive in a patriarchal society.

Social change almost always happens at a grassroots level.

“There is a scent of something in the air, a smell like rainfall after a long drought. First one person, then five, then five hundred, then villages, then cities, then states. Bud to bud and leaf to leaf. Something new is happening. The scale of the thing has increased.”

(p. 108)

A great metaphor for social change is the wave. Waves begin small, as ripples, like the beginnings of a grassroots movement. But then the wave grows until it becomes a powerful force, obliterating the old paradigm.

“It was like being part of a wave of water,” she says. “A wave of spray from the ocean feels powerful, but it is only there for a moment, the sun dries the puddles and the water is gone. The only wave that changes anything is the tsunami. You have to tear down the houses and destroy the land if you want to be sure no one will forget you.”

(p. 148)

Changing a power structure is never easy. Like an old tree, its roots and branches spread out and become entwined in society in ways that are not always obvious.

She sees it all in that instant, the shape of the tree of power. Root to tip, branching and re-branching. Of course, the old tree still stands. There is only one way, and that is to blast it entirely to pieces.

(p. 364)

And often, it is only when historians look back on events, can we get a perspective on how the power structure shifted and what events might have contributed to the shift.

When historians talk of this moment they talk about “tensions” and “global instability.” They posit the “resurgence of old structures” and the “inflexibility of existing belief patterns.” Power has her ways. She acts on people, and people act on her.

(p. 370)

This book makes me think about the power structures in the world today: political, social, economic, etc. As change seems to occur faster and faster in our high-tech world, I cannot help but wonder just how much longer our current hierarchies of power will last. Sometimes I feel that the tsunami is racing toward our shore. I suppose I can only wait and watch.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Thoughts on “Don Quixote” – Part 4: The Portrayal of Women

quixoteandwomen

So for this post, I wanted to look at the way women are portrayed in Don Quixote. I’ll start by sharing a few passages and then provide my thoughts.


If, then, the mine of her honour, beauty, virtue, and modesty yields thee without labour all the wealth it contains and thou canst wish for, why wilt thou dig the earth in search of fresh new veins, of new unknown treasure, risking the collapse of all, since it but rests on the feeble props of her weak nature?

(p. 337)


At these words Luscinda looked up at Cardenio, at first beginning to recognise him by his voice and then satisfying herself by her eyes that it was he, and hardly knowing what she did, and heedless of all considerations of decorum, she flung her arms around his neck and pressing her face close to his, said, “Yes, my dear lord, you are the true master of this your slave, even though adverse fate interpose again, and fresh dangers threaten this life that hangs on yours.”

(p. 377)


I follow another, easier, and to my mind wiser course, and that is to rail at the frivolity of women, at their inconstancy, their double dealing, their broken promises, their unkept pledges, and in short the want of reflection they show in fixing their affections and inclinations.

(p. 525)


At first, I felt disgusted and angered at the way women are depicted in this book. I find it deeply offensive to assert that anyone’s race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation makes that person less than equal. I understand that ideas shift throughout history, and what is considered an acceptable belief at one point can be completely rejected at another stage in history, but that still doesn’t make it any more palatable to me.

But as I sat and pondered on this, an idea struck me that changed my view of how Cervantes was portraying women. This text is a complete farce. It is meant to be ridiculous and comical, while addressing truths between the lines. This made me begin to wonder if Cervantes was putting these beliefs out there as being ludicrous, in the same way that Don Quixote’s beliefs regarding chivalry are completely insane and comical. And the more I thought about this, the more it seemed to ring true for me. I believe that Cervantes was pointing out just how silly the established belief of women being lesser than men actually is. He basically used comedy as a form of social criticism, and I love that.

When artists challenge the paradigms of their time, humor is a great tool. It is less threatening, but still forces people to face their prejudices and biases, a tradition that is still alive and well thanks to SNL and Stephen Colbert.

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Scarlet Witch: Issue #07 – Male/Female Duality and the Subtlety of Artistic Expression

ScarletWitch_07

This arc continues to surprise and impress me. Not only is the writing and artwork excellent, but the creative team is bold enough to incorporate thought-provoking ideas. And they do so in a way that challenges to reader to look below the surface at to what is implied instead of what is overtly stated.

In this issue, Wanda collaborates with a Hong Kong detective named Alice Gulliver, also known as the Wu, who possesses mystical power. Alice is an intriguing character, specifically because of her balance of male and female energy. She has managed to incorporate aspects of her father and her mother into her being, becoming a balanced individual that transcends gender roles and bias.

Alice: My father was a Hong Kong detective, killed by one of the triads. My mother was the city’s magical heroine, the August Wu of the Coral Shore… murdered by a demonic entity.

Wanda: So you chose your father’s life and keep your inherited powers a secret?

Alice: On the down-low, that’s right.

A sign of great art, in my opinion, is to express something subtly, through what is consciously left out of dialog and what is conveyed through images. In this tale, there is a sexual attraction between Wanda and Alice that is only hinted at through the dialog and the images, particularly the eyes. I’ve always felt that eyes are the most expressive feature of a person’s face, and the artists captured an attraction through the way the eyes are rendered. It’s subtle, but clearly there.

At the end of the issue, Alice hesitates for a frame, eyes are averted, building tension. Then in the following frame, her eyes turn back to Wanda as she springs a question.

Alice: Hey… err … do you want to grab a drink? We can discuss how I do things differently.

Wanda: I don’t drink, Alice. I’m sorry.

Alice: How about tea? I know an amazing tea house.

Wanda: Oh. Now tea, I do.

And in the final frame, the two women walk off together.

I’m really impressed that a main-stream comic has taken on sexuality and gender issues. It takes courage, especially in an environment that appears to be more and more hostile to the LGBT community (looking at the states that have recently enacted legislation restricting rights of LGBT citizens).

I recently listened to a TED podcast that talked about moving beyond tolerance, and I have been thinking about that a lot since listening. Tolerating people who are different is not enough. We need to embrace diversity and not merely tolerate those who are different. I think this comic is a step toward embracing differences, and for that, I applaud the writers and artists who collaborated on this.

Cheers, and thanks for stopping by.

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JLA Witchblade

JlaWitchblade

Several weeks ago, when I went to the comic store to pick up my latest issues, the woman working there told me that they had gotten this graphic novel as part of a collection they purchased. Since they know I am a Witchblade fan, they set it aside for me in case I was interested. The price was right, so I figured I would purchase it. It took me a while to get around to it, but this morning I finally got around to reading it and it was pretty good.

The graphic novel is a stand-alone story and was published in 2000. The basic premise is that Kenneth Irons has enlisted the help of Lex Luthor in acquiring the Witchblade. Sara is injured and taken the the Justice League headquarters for treatment. While she is there, the Witchblade determines that Wonder Woman is the more powerful female, hence more suitable bearer, and the artifact detaches itself from Sara and “chooses” Wonder Woman. The result is that Wonder Woman becomes corrupted by the weapon’s darker power and turns on the other members of the Justice League. At the climax, there is a confrontation between Sara Pezzini and Wonder Woman.

I found this tale to be entertaining and fun. There is nothing deep or thought-provoking, just a basic retelling of the classic “power corrupts” motif. There was some irony here that did not escape my attention, though. The women characters were definitely depicted as sexually idealized, which is annoying. But the irony is that at one part of the novel, Wonder Woman is addressing the United Nations, scantily clad and looking like a teen poster pinup, and talking about the importance of women opposing patriarchy and assuming leadership roles in the world.

… As you are all well aware, our mother planet faces grave economic, environmental and social problems; in order to solve them—I call upon women across the globe to rise up and throw off the yoke of patriarchal tyranny!

I was glad to see that there was at least an attempt to promote gender equality here, but as is evident, there is still a long way to go.

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“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

LeftHandDarkness

First off, I want to say that this book is outstanding. If you have not read it, then you must add it to your list. It works on so many levels. I am only going to be able to scratch the surface of this book’s depth. There is a lot of deep symbolism woven into this beautifully vivid and well-written piece of literature.

The basic premise of the book is that an envoy named Genly Ai visits an inhabited planet to inquire whether they are open to joining an interplanetary alliance whose goal is to share culture and ideas, thereby advancing the various civilizations. The planet Gethen, which Ai is visiting, is populated by beings who are bi-gender and take on a dominant gender when time comes to mate.

Le Guin uses the ambisexual Gethenians as a Jungian symbol for unified persons. They symbolize a balance between the anima and the animus. And while they recognize the existence of duality, they have an innate sense of oneness.

Ai brooded, and after some time he said, “You’re isolated, and undivided. Perhaps you are as obsessed with wholeness as we are with dualism.”

“We are dualists too. Duality is an essential, isn’t it? So long as there is myself and the other.”

(p. 252)

Le Guin expands on the concept of opposites combined into a balanced whole, employing symbols of light and darkness, of fire and ice, of life and death, to represent the importance of a balanced duality to maintain a spiritual whole.

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are on, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

(p. 252)

Throughout the book, the symbol that kept coming to mind for me was the yin and yang. As I was to discover later on in the book, this was intentional on the part of the writer.

“Fear’s very useful. Like darkness; like shadows.” Estraven’s smile was an ugly split in a peeling, cracked brown mask, thatched with black fur and set with two flecks of black rock. “It’s queer that daylight’s not enough. We need the shadows, in order to walk.”

“Give me your notebook a moment.”

He had just noted down our day’s journey and done some calculation of mileage and rations. He pushed the little tablet and carbon-pencil around the Chabe stove to me. On the blank leaf glued to the inner back cover I drew the double curve within the circle, and blackened the yin half of the symbol, then pushed it back to my companion. “Do you know that sign?”

He looked at it a long time with a strange look, but he said, “No.”

“It’s found on Earth, and on Hain-Davenant, and on Chiffewar. It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness . . . how did that go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on snow.”

(pp. 286 – 287)

As I said at the beginning of the post, there is no way I can cover everything in this book. In addition to what I mentioned, the book also explores social and political structures, how myths evolve from actual events, concepts of patriotism, and spiritual and psychological exploration. While this book falls into the “science fiction” category, to me it is much more and transcends the genre. I highly recommend this book to everyone. If’ you’ve read it, feel free to share your thoughts below.

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