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Gender Socialization: An Analysis of “Egalia's Daughters” by Gerd Brantenberg

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In Gerd Brantenberg’s presentation of the world of Egalia, women lead governments and high-end careers while the men stay home looking after domestic affairs and busying themselves by trying to look attractive for their partners. In the context of Brantenberg’s novel, women are called “wim” and men, “menwim.” Everything about the world of Egalia is an opposite of our current society’s standardized image of gender and gender roles. For instance, Brantenberg uses terms such as “matriarchy” wherein women (or “wim”) are breadwinners wearing comfortable, practical clothes and expressing dissatisfaction when their “housebounds” do not look presentable enough. Egalia’s Daughters shows the socialization of gender and the separation between the privileged and non-privileged class in a satirical work that, if further explored, hints suggestively for reform and change. Knowing that Brantenberg’s novel was originally published in 1977 in Norway, it is understandable how the women of her time must feel about norms and standards of society that limit women to do whatever they want, dress however they liked and/ or choose a career they dreamed. Beneath the humor of the story, Brantenberg puts forward how the women during her time did not have equal opportunities with the men and were often discriminated for attempting to change the way things were. Besides the feminist theme of her novel, Gerd Brantenberg also more importantly reflected how there could never be equal chances to live an ideal lifestyle because of how the society is divided into two major classes: the privileged and the non-privileged. Dr. Jennifer Rea, in her analysis of Egalia’s Daughters and another novel of the same theme, suggests that Brantenberg’s satire “transforms… into a dialogue about social inequality in modern society.”

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There is much discussion about the roles of women and men in society. In the present setting, the rules have changed since 1977 but still there are situations that pose a challenge to women because of how people regard them as “improper for their gender.” In simple ways like fashion, for instance, the majority would argue that women are meant to look sexy or pretty in order to be accepted in society. Steven Schacht, a feminist heterosexual man, overtly compares the privilege of being born a male when he claims, “I can largely count on clothes[,] fashions that ensure my mobility and reinforce my status as an importan person whereas women often are expected to wear restrictive clothing designed to objectify their status as a subordinate in our society.” People of the same gender as Schacht may seem confused as to his reasons behind being an advocate for women when he clearly knows that he himself can enjoy the advantages of his sex without much concern about whether he will be accepted by the general public or not. It is decidedly demanding and difficult for men to accept that they are privileged, Schacht writes, because acceptance of the male advantage would consequently mean that males have no more reason not to change their ways. Schacht further explains that “to actually do so would mean that men would not only have to admit the unearned and unjust basis of their advantage but perhaps even personally change and give-up some of their privilege.”

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Looking back at the root of these gender differences, the general population might argue that differences in male and female characteristics and preferences have always been the way they are; girls prefer pink and boys would naturally choose blue. Women were born to favor “girly” things like magazines, fashion and makeup; while men highly esteem themselves with “manly” things such as cars, women and sports. But an article by Sharon Begley examines the scientific explanation behind this phenomenon of “girls being girls and boys being boys.” In Begley’s article, it was noted that a research study conducted by Lise Elliot, a neuroscientist, reported the way adults are today is a result of nurture rather than nature. Elliot published a book entitled “Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—And What We Can Do About It” in which she thoroughly pored over hundreds of books/ references and concluded that there is "little solid evidence of sex differences in children's brains.” Human brains, then, are neither superior nor inferior regardless of whether it belongs to female or male.

In relation to superiority and inferiority, modern society would view such terms as distinctions between the privileged and non-privileged. In addition to the issue of gender discrimination, there is also that vital underlying matter of social class and its advantages/ disadvantages. One’s social status is undeniably a significant factor when aiming to succeed in any particular field. Having social divisions that are either superior or inferior is consistent with the concept of oppression: where there are ooppressed, there is also an oppressor. Peggy McIntosh compares her feministic views with that of racism. As a white person, McIntosh comes to realize how the oppressor might not be aware of the kind of beliefs that he/ she grew up to be true or might not have been informed at any stage of his/ her growth. She articulates, “My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture.” In line with Schacht’s views of feminism, McIntosh’s views on racism also focuses on awareness of current actions that may be sensitive for others and reacting to this awareness with the intention of avoiding occurrences that would tolerate or aggravate the act of oppression.

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Various aspects of the book Egalia’s Daughters incorporate these same episodes of gender discrimination, socialization and oppression. During Brantenberg’s time, suggesting that women should be more empowered and deserve better treatment could have been quite a revolutionary move. In comparison to today’s society, Brantenberg’s book is more of an eye-opener. People today live more liberal lifestyles. Women enjoy going out at night without having been scolded for being raped because she went gallivanting beyond decent hours. Women enter into and succeed in careers and professions that were once thought to be exclusive only to men. The poor, although still judged unfairly because of their financial status and capability, can find ways to succeed if they strove harder. Today, people know that they can do better once they change for the better. People are aware of their potentials and often seek to make the most out of it. Gerd Brantenberg’s book, on the other hand, must not be taken for granted. In the course of today’s fast-paced culture, people tend to overlook acts of oppression. Both oppressor and oppressed may not notice how oppression is at work because of changes in the way media is displayed. Modern technology has played a great part in influencing people’s beliefs. In the last pages of her novel, Brantenberg refers to the final conversation between the protagonist Petronius Bram and his mother, Ruth: “If menwim weren't kept down, if they weren't restrained, if they weren't civilized, if they  weren't kept in their place, life would  perish.... And as always, Ruth Bram had the final word” (269). Perhaps Brantenberg’s book may not be as relevant as it was during her time but the reason behind the story remains a thought to ponder.

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