Octavia Butler’s dystopian novel, Parable of the Sower, describes American society in 2024 and how society has broken down ultimately leading to a mass anarchy and people only trusting one another for protection. Resources are scarce due to a faltering government and economy which leads to an increase in violence outside the walls of safety. Lauren Olamina, the main character, describes her experiences in this world and describes the society which she lives in. Through her descriptions, it is clear that society has returned to stereotypical gender roles including exploitation of women, gender essentialism, gender violence, and crossing gender boundaries. Through these various themes, the idea of gender in the year 2024 is described through Laurens experiences and visualizations of her world.
Exploitation of Women
Throughout the novel, the exploitation of women is repeatedly expressed through Lauren’s experiences. She has the gift of hyperempathy and can feel what others feel. A few examples of her experiences with this idea of exploitation of women include:
- Being in the car and seeing a naked “filthy” women stumbling on the road
- She cannot tell whether the woman is on drugs or if she had been raped
- She explains that this is normal occurrence for naked “used” women to roam the streets alone
- Even though Lauren was a woman as well, why did she refer to other women as filthy when she knew the situation which they were in?
This example provides insight as to how women were viewed and looked at. Even Lauren describes these women as “filthy” as they stumbled on the road after being used by various men. She describes that this is a normal occurrence as women are used frequently and tossed onto the streets naked and drugged. This would be correlated and similar to a modern day domestic abuse which occurs frequently and is accepted as a norm. All providing examples of how women were exploited and used by men.
- Jill and Allie (two of Laruen’s group of eight) are forced to flee from the severe exploitation of women by men
- this was described as a form of slavery which they were subject to
Lauren creates her new community with people who value the same ideals that she does. This includes two women who were forced to flee from the “slavery” of women as they were exploited and used frequently by men.
- Once returning to her destroyed neighborhood she walks the street and identifies various corpses
- Of these corpses, all of the women and girl had been brutally raped before they were killed (some weren’t even more than children
- Why were children included in the extreme abuse? At what age would this start and did Lauren ever experience this?
Once returning home she sees the many corpses and realizes that all of the women and children were raped before they were killed, this demonstrating how women and even children were exploited and used by men as objects rather than women.
These are a few of the various examples of the exploitation of women and how women were used and look at like objects rather than humans.
Gender essentialism is the idea that men and women act differently and have different opinions in life because there is a difference between the sexes. This idea comes up frequently throughout the novel as Lauren realizes the true differences between men and women and the various stereotypes which are connected with both.
- Lauren has an argument with her friend Joanne about outside the Robledo walls (Butler Ch. 5)
- Joanne explains that survival is impossible outside the walls, “if all you know how to do is take care of babies and cook”
- Why weren’t women educated in order to survive outside the walls especially if a destruction such as this one could affect them so largely?
- Why are the sexes thought of so differently?
This comment demonstrates the various expectations of women and how they were expected to stay home cook, clean, and take care of children. This demonstrates how there was a huge gap and difference between the two genders and how they were viewed in society.
- Lauren discussing Bianca Montoya and discussing her life
- She states, that her life is “pretty much what the neighborhood expects of anyone my age. Grow up a little more, get married, have babies.” (Butler Ch. 8)
This again describes how women and girls knew their role in society and how their life path would be. Their sole purpose was to cook, clean, and have babies while relying on their partner and the man to work. This demonstrating the fine line between men and women.
- Keith argues with his parents of leaving Robledo
- He tells them, “I’m a man! I shouldn’t be hiding in the house, hiding in the wall! I’m a man!” (Butler Ch. 8)
This provides an example of the flip side of gender essentialism throughout the novel as Keith feels that he is a strong man who should leave Robledo and not stay at home safe which was considered weak.
From Lauren’s experiences, it is clear that there is various violence which is associated with different genders and how they are treated.
- Lauren describes a time where family tried to do a good deed for a woman from the streets
- She describes how her mother and father tried to help a woman they found on the streets, once trying to help her a group of men jumped out and almost killed them for trying to help her.
- Why was it extremely important for women to be completely dehumanized to the point others were hurt for trying to help them?
This provides an example of how women weren’t looked at but anything but objects. Helping these women were looked at as bad because they didn’t deserve help. This demonstrates the gender violence and how some genders were violated and abused more so than others and how even people were abused for trying to help others.
Crossing Gender Boundaries
Crossing gender boundaries is a part of Butler’s novel as women weren’t allowed to leave or cross the walls of Robledo.
- Lauren disguises herself as a man and dresses as a man when leaving Robledo in order to maintain a façade of power.
- She states, “I’m going to dress up like a man” (Butler pg. 177)
- Why would this aid in crossing gender boundaries and potentially aid women in their search for some kind of equality?
This demonstrates the extremes which women would have to go to in order to be able to leave Robledo with a sense of power. She crosses this gender boundary as she dresses as if she is a man.
Butler, Octavia. “Parable of the Sower”. 1993.
Epes, Maggie. “Cover of Parable of the Sower”. December 5, 2017. Personal Photography.
Monahan, Steve. “A sad little girl, a broken world, a tear”. LinkedIn. May 25, 2017.
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sad-little-girl-broken-world-tear-steve-monahan. Accessed December 4, 2017.