"The experience of oppressed people is that the living of one’s life is confined and shaped by forces and barriers which are not accidental or occasional and hence avoidable, but are systematically related to each other in such a way as to catch one between and among them and restrict or penalize motion in any direction. It is the experience of being caged in: all avenues, in every direction, are blocked or booby trapped."
- Marilyn Frye
In her novel Egalia’s Daughters, Gerd Brantenberg creates a world defined by the total inversion of gender roles where wim are the breadwinners and menwim the homemakers. Brantenberg’s satirical take on patriarchal power highlights the hypocrisy and ultimately arbitrary nature of gendered systems of power. In order to better understand Brantenberg’s treatment of power, we can look to Marilyn Frye’s essay Oppression. As the quote above illustrates, Frye explains that systematic oppression operates in such a way as to obscure its systematic nature and mislead individuals to see these injustices as isolated (Frye). This website explores four such injustices, or cage wires, and illustrates the egalian menwim’s movement’s attempts to address them – whether successful or not – in relation to the birdcage of oppression.
The four cage wires of beauty norms, parental responsibility, limited career opportunities, and the view of homosexuality as deviant appear isolated as Frye suggests. However, a closer examination reveals they are each only part of a matrix of domination that serves to protect the dominance of wom in Egalian society. For example, wim often use biological arguments to justify menwim’s role in the home and wim’s dominance in certain occupations. They argue that menwim are more naturally nurturing and do not have the physical build necessary for the demanding work of wim, such as the work of a seawom. In this example, the cage wires of beauty norms, limited career opportunities and financial dependence are all interconnected – with sexual “deviancy” remaining isolated to a certain section of the novel. In order to be attractive and worthy of fatherhood-protection, menwim must be round, fat, and physically weak. Such beauty standards, however, make menwim “unfit” for the work of wim. Furthermore, their “natural” role as fathers limits their ability to pursue desirable career opportunities, and this lack of opportunity to engage in financially compensated work in turn makes menwim fiscally dependent on the wim, the family breadwinners. Lastly, menwim’s position in the household reflects Adrienne Rich’s idea of compulsory heterosexuality (which is explored in more depth in our discussion of sexuality). Moreover, menwim’s lack of economic capital prevents individuals from having the freedom from the family structure to explore their sexuality. In this sense, all four wires work together to limit the mobility, freedom and agency of menwim in Egalian society, thus collectively illustrating the presence of the birdcage of oppression.
Throughout the novel, the underlying question of whether Egalia is a feminist dystopia or utopia arises. In evaluating this idea, it important to understand utopia as an ideal society for all parties involved, whatever that may look like. Thus, while Brantenberg’s satire might reverse the gender hierarchy, she fails to address the unequal distribution of power that defines our society. Rather than rewriting systems of power or reconstructing society itself, her inversion of gender roles simply changes who benefits and who is injured by the current structure. As our examination of the cage wires illustrate, Egalian society falls glaringly short of being a utopia.
Brantenberg, Gerd. Egalia's Daughters: a Satire of the Sexes. Translated by Louis Mackay, Seal
Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. Crossing Press, Trumansburg,