Review of the Novel Egalia’s Daughters
Egalia’s Daughter by Gerd Brantenberg is an interesting and informative feministic fantasy novel that illustrates the paradox of human nature. Brantenberg uses satire to espouse that social prejudices are not caused by physical characteristics of individuals, rather, they are due to cultural, historical, and economic reasons. In this novel, Brantenberg reverses the contemporary gender-roles in order to deconstruct the conventional prejudices that prevail towards the two sexes. Consequently, the novel realigns the ordinary social setting from being patriarchal to matriarchal, which enables the author to critic the biases that prevail in the current society.
Petronius, who is the male protagonist in the novel, illustrates the gender biases that exist in the current society. In the beginning of the novel, he asks his mother Ruth Bram if he can become a seaman when he grows up. Unfortunately, she rebukes his idea and alludes that he is destined to stay at home and take care of his future children. Bram’s view is in line with that of Egalsund, the matriarchal society where she resides. In this society, women are the head of the family and the government, while men take care of children. Bram’s remarks clearly show that Petronius does not have a say over his future. Interestingly, just like women in patriarchal societies, he can be passed over for a job or any promotion despite his skills or effort. This form of bias is commonly referred to as “the glass ceiling.” Therefore, like most women in patriarchal societies, he may be paid less than a woman and be subjected to more scrutiny and criticism because of his gender.
Brantenberg shows the theme of social prejudices and biases when he describes Petronius inability to decide on whom to marry. Petronius meets a girl called Gro Maydaughter in a local festival and he falls in love with her. Unfortunately, he is raped by three women near his house before Gro decides to marry him, which makes him despise his matriarchal society. This scene illustrates that like most women in our current society, he does not have control over his body. When he informs his mother of his ordeal, she rebuffs at him:
“There, I knew it! You went to meet someone. You met her and she assualted you. Ripped off your peho, forced you to have sex with her. That’s what happened, isn’t it Petronius? I only want the best for you” (69).
Although Petronius says it was not his fault, his mother is overly insistent that he was raped at his own free will. Interestingly, instead of pressing charges against the women who defiled her son, Bram tells him that he is no longer allowed to visit the beach after dark. This section illustrates the prejudices in the current society where the victim is the one who normally bears the blame. Moreover, it also shows the stigma associated with rape, which is shown by Petronius attempt to hide the rape incidence from his family.
Brantenberg cleverly shows the discriminative nature of language and how it is used to promote social prejudices. In Egalia’s Daughter, language is used to illustrate the dominance of women in all spheres of life. In this society, most names are referenced to women’s titles, which shows their superiority to men. For example, manwom means man and wom refers to a woman. Similarly, mafele means male and fele woman. The fact that men’s names subordinate those of women shows that they have a lower social status in Egalsund. Brantenberg mainly aims at emphasizing that language can be used to exclude certain people in the society. With the rise of feminism, there has been an increase in gender inclusiveness in titles by the introduction of words such as chairwoman or chairperson, clergywoman, and policewoman. However, there is still some level of bias in names such as mankind that do not have an equal “female” word. In my view, it is impossible to have a one hundred percent neutral names since every society has some level of gender based prejudices. Nevertheless, we should aim at introducing more neutral and inclusive names in our dictionary.
Semiology is used in the novel to illustrate the social setting and ranking of men in Egalsund. In this matriarchal society, men cloth in a manner that shows they are inferior to women. Based on semiology, the way people dress communicates to the society about the social ranking and identity. For example, a crown on a king’s head shows that he is a leader. In Egalia’s Daughter, an interesting attire “peho” is worn by men. Peho, which means penis holder, shows that men are subjected to humiliating and unnecessary mistreatment in order to show off a part of their body. In describing the displeasure that males experienced, Brantenberg notes,
“The boys said it was awkward and uncomfortable, cramming your penis into that stupid box. And it was so impractical when you had to pee” (12).
On the contrary, women had the choice of what to wear. In fact, they even wore trousers and they did not wear bras or pehos. In our current society, bras are almost a must wear for women, which results in women breasts being objectified. On the contrary, men’s breasts have not been sexualized and it is common for them to be exposed. The objectification of men is so common in Egalia’s Daughters that they spend a considerable amount of their time discussing on the length of their penises. For example, Petronius says,
“If Dad came with him, he and the shop assistant would stand there discussing the length, colour, and quality interminably. Ought he to have a size five with a B-tube or a size six with an A-tube…” (13).
Similarly, most women in our current society discuss the size of their breast and the most appropriate bra size. Therefore, besides the semiology purpose of using ‘pehos’ to illustrate social ranking of men, it also creates humor and emboldens the topic of objectification of women’s bodies.
Egalia’s Daughters also highlights the importance of social justice and inclusiveness in enabling people to coexist. Before men were able to command authority in Egalsund society, they painfully had to abide by what women wanted. Consequently, there was a lot of contempt amongst couples. For example, Although Christopher does not want his wife to have another baby, he cannot enforce this decision since the woman is the head of the family. Brantenberg notes,
“There was no social pressure on Ruth to have another child. And now what would happen? Ruth would get leave from her job for the duration of her pregnancy, if she wanted it, so he would have her under his feet at home all day…Christopher turned impetuously towards her. ‘Can’t you stop it’ (88)?
Obviously, the prejudices in Egalsund society made most males to be disappointed with its setting. Brantenberg inclusion of this scene is thus important in showing the importance of inclusiveness in most patriarchal societies in order to ensure all parties are satisfied with the ultimate decisions.
In order to re-affirm individualization of all actions in the society, Petronius and his friends rebelled against Egalsund matriarchal society. In one incident when Petronius and his friend Baldrian are harassed by a woman in an ordinary club, they told her they were going to for gays. This scene shows that individuals can determine their actions and have different views. In the latter chapters of the book, men are able to install a democratic system which enables them to have a voice in the society. Consequently, when Gro gives birth to Petronius child, the latter agrees to care for the kid but he refuses fatherhood-protection or any relationship with her. In addition, Petronius and Christopher conclude that women in Egalian society are glorified because they are homosexuals (Brantenberg, 197). Although this thought is unconvincing and exaggerated, it clearly illustrates that there cannot be a just society unless it is inclusive and respects all genders. Further, it shows that individuals can express their own independent thoughts and actions.
Brantenberg approach in deconstructing the gender issues and how the society is administered enables the reader to have a clear understanding of the realities of the world. In particular, she illustrates the impact of sexual orientation and class on women. By analyzing language, romantic notions, and semiotics, she is able to illustrate the prejudices in the world and how they limit women from attaining their full potential. Finally, she highlights on solutions that women can use in ensuring the society is more inclusive.
Brantenberg, Gerd. Egalia’s Daughters. Journeymen Press, 1985.