Aunt Maria (first post): A woman should know her place

The eponymous villain of Diana Wynne Jones’ Aunt Maria (I rather prefer the British title, Black Maria) is a nasty piece of work—I can see why Jones listed her as one of the characters in her books she hates most.

The manipulative granny plays on her relatives feelings (“Of course I don’t expect breakfast in bed—I’m sure somehow I can make it down those steep stairs alone.”) so relentless, you hate her even before it turns out she’s also a sorceress, part of a cabal that runs her town on the principle that men and women have their own spheres and must never, never step outside them. And feels completely justified in so doing. It’s one of the few Jones books with a political/social theme rather than focusing on individual or family growth as a subject.
Coincidentally, I finished that just after reading this blog post by Echidne discussing the belligerence and misogyny some male online gamers throw at women who dare enter their domain. Not that this is some phenomenon unique to gamers: Echidne and other feminists have noted how often this reaction follows women’s entrance into a male sphere.
As Barbara Ehrenreich points out in Blood Rites, for a number of men the definition of being a man is that you’re doing something women can’t/don’t/won’t do. Living in a man’s world is the way you prove your manhood. So when a woman takes a man’s job, some men take it like castration: If a woman does it, their proof of manhood just disappeared.
As multiple women have testified over the years, men don’t take this well.
Not that this problem is unique to women. As I’ve noted before, a lot of conservative anger seems fueled by the fact that power—once unquestionably the domain of white, straight, Christian men—is now open to women, blacks, Latinos and openly gay men (not that we’ve become egalitarian, but we’ve come very far from the world I was born into).
And as Paul Cornell recently pointed out in an issue of the Knight and Squire comic-book, Victorian England loved the idea of everyone having a divinely appointed place—the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, as one hymn puts it (God having assigned each to his station in life).
But I think women get it in the neck worse than anyone in this regard. You can find far more voices in the mainstream arguing that women should be in the same position they were 50 years ago than making the same about black people or Jews.
The voices are wrong. But they’re loud and they need to be fought, constantly. As the blogger Jeanne d’Arc once put it “Once you believe that certain groups of people have a ‘place’ in society that exists outside of the context of what they are best at and how much potential they have to contribute to society – and regardless of how awkwardly they fit into that ‘place’ – you are already playing in their ballpark.”


Filed under Politics

2 responses to “Aunt Maria (first post): A woman should know her place

  1. Pingback: Undead sexist cliches: Women don’t need feminism because they already have all the power « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Diana Wynne Jones | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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