Book Review: Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes // Amanda Backer Lappin, MS
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I often find myself clicking on the Buzzfeed-type articles with lists of books. Anything about books in a list format immediately draws my eye. As a feminist, I am looking for books that promote feminist scholarship and act as social commentaries on what it means to be a woman. Many of the same books pop up over and over again on all the various lists (see links below). But one book is seemingly absent from these lists: Egalia’s Daughters. A good friend of mine, who was a Women and Gender Studies major in college, lent me this book calling it a “must read.” I had never heard of it and dove in, not knowing what to expect.
Egalia’s Daughters is a satire and social commentary on the role of gender socialization and power. In Egalia’s Daughters, many of the gender roles are reversed. The Wim (women) are in control and the Menwim (men) are the “lesser sex.” Women rule the primary industry of fishing. Men are expected to stay at home with the children and spend time curling their beards and embroidering. Gerd Brantenberg, a Norwegian author and feminist writer, wrote the novel in 1977* but many of the observations ring true for today’s social landscape.
Egalia’s Daughters covers everything from government, politics, sex, and work, to relationships, clothing, and rape. Wim rule the society, hold all major public offices, and are sexually dominant. This book is not a utopia of what it would be like if women ruled the world (not a later iteration of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herlandfor example). Brantenberg is not saying that society would be better if women were solely in charge. The main message in Egalia’s Daughters is that gender classification may not be the enemy of society. Rather, the way gender classification is used to assert dominance and power is what we should be weary of. In the book, women have power and it has always been that way. They cannot imagine anything different. Because they have always had the power, they are in charge of how history is recorded and interpreted. The women in charge assert their dominance and list biological reasons that they are superior. They cite “scientific” evidence to support their claims, reminiscent of conversations in our own history of intelligence based on physical brain size or having a penis.
One of the main characters, Petronius, longs to be a seawom (person, typically female, who fishes). The book opens with Petronius speaking with his mother, Bram, about wanting to live a life at sea like Wim (women). In Egalia, men are expected to stay home with children once they are born while the females return to work in government, the sea, etc. Bram is lecturing Petronius about the ways of the world and how,” a mother can never be like a father to a child” (Brantenberg, 1985, p. 9). Men are seen as having natural talents at caring for children that women do not possess. Petronius, in anger, laments, “It’s more dreary and depressing not being able to be what one wants!” Bram answers him, “Who said you can’t be what you want? All I’m saying is, you must be realistic. You can’t have your cake and eat it too…You’ll have to stop reading all of those adventure stories about the exploits of seawim and stick to books for boys instead. Then your dreams will be more realistic. No real menwim want to go to sea” (Brantenberg, 1985, p. 9).
Bram speaks to the assigned gender roles of men and women and how it “must be.” This passage is just from the first page of the book. The 269 page book packs in social commentary on almost every aspect of gender socialization and societal expectations and manages to be both serious and funny. The one aspect of this book that may be hard to get into at first is the language. Brantenberg plays with language to show how even the way we use language to talk about and classify individuals is highly gendered. The language is tedious but worth it. It adds to the overall point that Brantenberg is trying to make. We must all seriously think about how gender socialization and power play a role in our society.
*English translation printed in 1985
Written by: Amanda Backer Lappin, MS – The University of Kansas
Brantenberg, G. (1985). Egalia’s Daughters: A satire of the sexes. Seattle, WA: Seal Press.
Other feminist books: