Gender roles and/or sexism in Narnia.

The cultures, creatures, geography — anything about the books!

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Re: Gender roles and/or sexism in Narnia.

Postby waggawerewolf27 » Mar 02, 2013 6:27 pm

I don't think that answering the points rather than the counterpoints shows anyone thinks you agree with them yourself. Basically it is a fairly good list of points either way, showing arguments for and against sexism in the Narnia Chronicles. I suspect, however, that most people here, would agree with the counterpoints you made, rather than the points you also made. And that respondents like myself, can't wait to get stuck into the points. :D

PhelanVelvet wrote:Someone in another thread, I'm sorry I can't remember who, pointed out that girls in the 1950s were not really expected to do more than marry and mother, and Susan is an example of someone who let those societal prejudices and pressures get the best of her.

Actually that someone was me since I am old enough to remember what life was like in the 1950's and subsequently, having been born in 1948. I even included a couple of old advertisements from the period for lipstick and nylons in the post which show the sort of general post war attitudes to women and their looks. They were Australian ads, but I doubt it was different elsewhere, given that both cosmetics and nylons were probably imports at the time.

And yes, my view of the importance of education in this thread, especially what Polly says about Susan, and its relationship to sexism, including in the Narnia series, does reflect a lifelong battle I've had on that subject. Girls in my day, who studied things like cooking and sewing, were ineligible for university entry at the time, even if they were otherwise clever enough, a rather short-sighted community attitude to take, given the importance of such subjects in the general economy to both men and women, in tourism, hospitality and entertainment, for example. But then, in those days, women worked for two-thirds of a man's pay for the same or equivalent work, because it was assumed the men would have to support a family, even when it was clearly obvious that supporting a family was about the last thing some men really wanted to do.

Before WW2, often both boys and girls were sent out to work as soon as possible to help support their families. Up till then, many children only went to school at all because of it being compulsory here. After WW2, when families were a bit wealthier, they would often sacrifice a girl's chance of higher education to ensure sons could go to university, on the basis the girls would only get married anyway. Except that some girls didn't get married. Even if they did, there was no guarantee the marriage would work out, that the husband wouldn't die, be injured, ill or just unemployed. But that was then in the 1950's and 1960's, when whole societies could be regarded as sexist, and when the injustices were also more obvious, such as the difficulties of supporting a family on one woman's wage, when she had no child care or useful career qualifications for a better job.

And yes, you are right about lots of girls being happy then about the status quo. Girls like Susan. Just as there were also boys for whom an unskilled job, or better, being employed in a trade, would be much more suitable than a university education. Would you say, maybe, if what Polly was referring to in LB was Susan's attitude that as she, too, would only marry, that she needn't work at school? Or would you say that she thought she needn't work at subjects unrelated to her immediate interests? Or, conversely, did she assume that she would never have to work for long? Or, depending on how you define education to include experiences in life, do you think that Polly really mean that Susan had also wasted whatever things she could have learned in Narnia? Maybe a bit of all four alternatives?

One definition of sexism is to disparage the other sex to promote one's own. That is so endemic in society that just about everyone is guilty of it to some degree or other. Polly, Lucy, Aravis and Jill are all guilty of it, even though their answers back to Edmund, Eustace, even Shasta, and, most definitely Digory, are warranted self-defence. But that does not mean that any of the boys weren't even more sexist themselves. Or that their remarks about girls, and especially those of Uncle Andrew were at all valid or right. Or that Susan was right to think that Lucy was insane, or not to fight back when the boys called her a wet-blanket. Maybe even when they resisted her calls for caution. Especially with Uncle Andrew's attitude to women, small children and those whom he regarded as lesser, I think that C.S.Lewis was showing how horrible sexism could be.

Considering my definition of sexism, I would have to agree that Susan is the least sexist character in the books since she doesn't disparage the boys but doesn't answer back when the boys disparage her. But, unfortunately, by not standing up for herself, as she should, she is conforming to a passive sexist stereotype which leaves her wide open to your criticisms of her. Sometimes one has to fight, and the trick is to know when and how it is appropriate to do so. You can't always yell for help, especially once the horn had gone missing. And it is no good hoping someone else will bail you out, especially if you do not believe in someone else or recognise when that the someone else is around to help. Even Susan had to learn there were times she would need to use effectively the bow and arrows she was given by Father Christmas.

I don't agree that Susan is some sort of atheist nor do I see her as religious at all. In fact I doubt that any of the children shown in the story, with the possible exception of Polly and Digory had a useful religious education. The Narnia stories, whatever you think about C.S.Lewis' Christianity, are still primarily about Good and Evil and how one responds to both. Otherwise, you'd have a book called simply "The Wardrobe" rather than "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". I think that the challenge for atheist thought is the one JK Rowling put out in PS/SS "There is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to take it" (last chapter of PS/SS, 1997). Or, as both Uncle Andrew and Jadis say in Magician's Nephew, "Men like me... are freed from common rules... Ours is a high and lonely destiny" , a definitely sexist statement in itself.

And yes, you are right about the dangers of getting too involved with fashion and looks as Susan appears to do in LB, by not questioning the obsession with clothes and looks foisted on women, in particular, in the 1950's to this day, as you say. You can't live only by good looks and fashionable clothes, however good presentation may aid one to get a job or find a suitable partner.

What would everyone else's definition of sexism be? Do the Narnia stories conform to your definition or do they contradict it?

Daughter of the King wrote:It was probably also the only private room on the entire ship, which Eustace seems to have conveniently forgotten.

Yes, Eustace conveniently forgot the elephant in the room. That elephant in the room was precisely the reason why Eustace wanted a private room. He didn't like sharing a room with Edmund, any more than Edmund liked having to share with him, and he liked the idea of having to share with Caspian as well, even less. Probably Eustace would have preferred that he went into the upstairs bedroom whilst Edmund and Lucy were forced to share, however, that would mean there was no room for his insect collection etc. And why should he dislodge himself for cousins, anyway?

That is also why when he finally got space to himself as a dragon, he began to realise it might be nice to be accepted in society rather than being a lonesome pariah, even if he was forced to share. (:ymouch: long post :ymsigh:)
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