(Zach's essay combines his midterm Essay 2 and his final exam Essay 2 into a single essay.)
A Gendered View of the Apocalypse
When I was eleven years old, I was absolutely obsessed with the book of Revelation and the apocalypse. I transferred to a private Lutheran school towards the end of my fifth grade year, and I became introduced to a very literal interpretation of scripture, and it seemed as if the basic core academic curriculum consisting of math, science, English, and social studies was put by the wayside to make room for saving our souls from eternal damnation. It certainly didn’t do anything to calm my clinically diagnosed anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. It wouldn’t be until much later that the scare gradually loosened its grip, allowing me to at least put it aside for a little while. Now, as a reasonably educated adult in my mid twenties, I am able to look at Revelation outside the narrow scope of the teachings of evangelical Christians. It no longer frightens me. Rather, I am fascinated by the recurring themes and tropes I seem to keep stumbling across. One thing I’ve noticed in the short time I’ve been in this class is that most apocalyptic scenarios are inherently archetypally masculine, and can carry misogynistic undertones.
In Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, essentially a re-telling of the Genesis story, Lauren, whose name is also passable as a male’s, is stripped of her femininity throughout the novel so that she can survive. Lauren is already portrayed as a sort of tomboy in that she is able to use a gun, and that she is not submissive. Later, in order to survive outside her neighborhood, she cuts her hair and attempts to dress like a man so that she and her group can avoid unnecessary trouble. This kind of masculinisation is essential in these kinds of post-apocalyptic scenarios, where one has little option but to steal, pillage, and kill in order to survive.
Another of Butler’s stories, “Speech Sounds”, the main character, Rye, is stripped of most of her femininity for most of the story. Rye is living in what is left of Los Angeles after a terrible epidemic has killed off many, and the survivors somehow lose their ability to speak or to read. Rye attempts to move to Pasadena where she has relatives, so that she will not be alone. Rye carries a gun, a classically phallic symbol, with her so that she can protect herself if she needs to. It is important to notice that every male character in this story with the exception of Obsidian is portrayed as violent or brusk. Rye is eventually able to display some of her femininity when she and Obsidian are intimate. However, it is after Obsidian’s death when she truly gains back her femininity and her purpose in that she must nurture the two children she meets toward the end of the story, who are able to speak. Again, femininity is what gives this story hope, as femininity protects and nourishes.
Stories like “Mozart in Mirrorshades” illustrate what Earth might be like after humans discover time travel, exploiting the Earth, which is typically regarded as feminine for its resources. All throughout Revelation, the Earth is ridden with plagues and curses and death. The Four Horsemen poison and taint Mother Earth. The Whore of Babylon can also be seen as the “last great woman” who must be overcome before all is made right with the Lord again. Finally, when Jesus returns in his ultimate glory, he is riding a white horse, ready to conquer and seize, two very masculine attributes. Essentially, Mother Earth is raped continuously until she is completely used and annihilated. At the end of Revelation, Christ’s new “bride” is New Jerusalem, which is akin to what the Earth should have been all along. New Jerusalem is pure and virginal, and does not symbolize a woman who is no longer valued because she has been tainted. Note that the only two females in Revelation are the woman who gives birth so that a dragon may eat her child, and the Whore of Babylon. All of the elders, all of the beasts, they are perceived as masculine by the audience.
Contrast this to “Chocco”, where the Sun People’s council of elders is exclusively female, and that who the next Memory Keeper will be is decided by these wise matriarchs. We learn that in “Chocco”, the human race as we know it, with all of our technology and machines, is extinct. The only things that remain of the “Machine People” are their ruins and their machines which are no longer usable, except for their metal, which is scrapped. This is a stark contrast to Revelation in that it is Mother Earth who ultimately has final victory over the oppressiveness and greed of a capitalist patriarchal society.
Demonization of women is not only found in Christian theology. This “curious woman” trope has its hand in Greek mythology as well, with the story of Pandora and her jar. Like Eve, Pandora is made from the Earth, and the gods and goddesses bestow her gifts. Zeus uses Pandora as a punishment to mankind because Prometheus had stolen the sacred fire from heaven. The idea is that women will create nothing but trouble for men, as they will seduce and distract them. Women chosen to represent movements and rebellions are typically in the vein of Athena rather than Artemis. Athena is asexual, born of Zeus’s head, fully armed, much like Lauren and Rye. She plays the boys’ game, unlike Artemis, a huntress goddess, who associates with women exclusively.
As Ashley Rhodes makes clear in her essay, “‘Drapes and Folds’ is by far the most feminine text [our class] [has] read. It focuses on the feminine perspective by relating feminine interest, diseases, and conversations.” While not necessarily apocalyptic, this story does show an eventual destruction of femininity. It was not until I read Rhodes’s essay that I thought of the story as more than just a dystopic future scenario. Women are stripped of their femininity through the literal removal of their breasts, and the forced application of a unisex body suit, and whatever else made them separate from men--fabric and expression through fashion, in this case. “Drapes and Folds” follows the eventual eradication of femininity up until after the very end, leading into a society that presumably has no individuality.
The personal conclusion I have come to is that I will not subscribe to any belief system that demonizes women. I have learned in class so far that, if anything, we should be respectable stewards of the Earth, and furthermore, honor its femininity. We must honor our mother from whence we came. Humankind was made from Earth, and to the Earth we shall return.