Gerd Brantenberg: Egalias døtre (UK: The Daughters of Egalia ; US: Egalia’s Daughters)
This novel is set in the fictitious country of Egalia (i.e. Equalia) whose geography and history seem to have little connection with Norway or, indeed, any other country I recognise. However, the country differs from Norway and every other country on the planet in one key respect. The traditional male and female roles have been reversed.
The country seems to have been created not by the Founding Fathers but the Moulding Mothers and, in particular, Donna Jessica, who recognised the natural injustice of the situation.
In this society women are called wom (plural: wim) and men menwom (plural: menwim). Female is fele, while male is mafele. God is a woman so people say Oh My Lady, and not Oh My Lord! A teenage male is a called a maidman. We have masculine intution, the rights of wom, wom-made fibres, womo sapiens, Bloody Maurices instead of Bloody Marys and daughter of a dog instead of son of a bitch. And swopcock is the equivalent of wife-swapping. Note that unlike our society where female is an expansion of male and woman an expansion of man, Egalia reverses it with menwim an expansion of wim and mafele an expansion of fele.
We follow the Bram family. The head of the family is Ruth Bram. She has an important role as a director. She is Ms Bram, her husband or housebound as husbands are called in this book, is Msass Christopher Bram. Note that men takes their wives’ surnames on marriage rather than the other way round.
Ruth works at an important job as head of the National Cooperative Directorate, where she earns a top salary, while Christopher stays at home looking after the children – Petronius, who will reach sixteen during the course of the book, and Ba. There is a shortage of children, particularly of the important ones – girls – and Ruth will later become pregnant. It was Christopher who was taking the contraceptive pill and he who had to stop taking it. As an obedient housebound, he did but he is not happy about it. He says he is fed up of bringing up the children and wants more time to himself. Ruth cannot understand this. He has lots of time . All he has to do is look after the children and house and prepare meals, which surely leaves him lots of time. In any case, why does he need time – just to gossip with his friends? Eventually, she will have him castrated.
Christopher, like most men, spends a lot of time grooming himself. After all he wants to look nice for his wife. He shampoos and blowdries his beard and wears nice clothes – colourful blouses, skirts and dresses. Indeed, he wants some more pretty things and asks Ruth for the money but she refuses. She merely wears tunics and baggy trousers.
Of course, he also wears a fancy peho. The word peho seems to be a contraction of penis holder. Post-pubescent males must wear them. It seems to be something like a codpiece of yore. It is a contraption that encloses the genitals but is often fancy and draws attention to itself. In a way, it may be seen as the male equivalent of a bra. Just as the bra can draw attention to a woman’s breasts, the peho draws attention to a man’s genitals and women look at them and comment on them. Just as it is generally considered the norm for a woman to wear a bra in our society so men are expected to wear a peho here. There is, of course, an anti-peho movement, including burning the peho, mirroring the burning the bra movement,
We also follow the history and the complicated politics. We follow a particular parliamentary election, with several parties, including a few minor parties (religious, men’s liberation – the majority of members of parliament are women) and it gets messy.
There are a few plot-lines, in addition to the one involving the election. One key character is Spn Lisello Owlmoss. Spn is short for Spinnerman which means what we would called bachelor and is clearly the male equivalent of spinster. He had had a quick fling with the woman who is now his boss, headmistress at the school where he teaches, Gerd Bosomby. She has rejected him and his biological son is now being brought up by another man, who is continually brow-beaten by Ms Bosomby. Owlmoss cannot keep control of his class, which includes Ba Bram. The pupils mock him and behave badly. He gets into trouble when he dares to suggest that, at one time in history, men were in charge.
Petronius Bram had always wanted to be a diver. The problem with that, apart from the fact that it is clearly not a profession suitable for a male, is how to wear a diving suit and a peho. However, thanks to a friend of Ruth Bram, Liz Bareskerry, a professional diver, he is allowed to go on the all-woman boat. (Horror! A man on a boat brings bad luck). The key activity of divers is to catch spearbiters. Spearbiters are a form of shark and have become a huge delicacy. However they are ferocious and, as their name implies, they can easily bite through traditional harpoons. The divers now fire a harpoon into their open mouths and they are hauled up by other women in the boat. Of course, the women have no qualms about cutting the throats of the spearbiters hauled onboard, no problems with the blood and guts and no sympathy for a wounded spearbiter, while Petronius, a typical weak male, very much does.
Later, Petronius and some friends form a masculist group fighting for men’s liberation and Spn Owlmoss joins them and tells them (and us) the history of men’s liberation through the ages. They even experiment with homosexuality, which very much exists, both male and female versions, but is kept underground.
One key event in every young man’s life is the maidmen’s ball, clearly the equivalent of the prom. Men (maidmen) have to dress up, with their smart pehoes and fancy handbags and clothes. They do a dance at the beginning, curtsey and then the women pick the one they want, often groping them and making obscene comments. One difference is the maidman rooms. The woman reserve a room, pick the man of their choice and then take him to a maidman’s room and have their wicked way with him. Petronius is picked by Gro Maydaughter, a descendant of the fisherwim, i.e. the women who lived by the sea and fished and who now dive but whose way of life has almost disappeared, Though she is ten years older than Petronius and essentially rapes him in the maidman’s room, the pair become close though have their ups and downs.
A society where menwim rule! Where menwim plan and govern society! Unthinkable!, is Ruth Bram’s comment which is, of course, a mockery of the idea of of a society where women rule being unthinkable in our world . Brantenberg brilliantly shows the inconsistencies of much what we take for granted about the respective roles of men and women. The fact that children flourished best under their fathers’ care was something everyone knew just as we assume that children flourish best under a mother’s care. When it is proposed by the masculists that men be paid for bringing up children and looking after the house, the retort is Surely nobody could seriously be proposing that menwim ought to be paid for doing something they did voluntarily out of love for wim and children! In this book, it is taken for granted that women grope men and beat their wives and while the obverse is changing in our society, it still very much exists.
While Brantenberg is very serious in her intent, showing the illogicalities in the respective roles of men and women in our society, at times she can also be very amusing, as the few of the many examples she uses I have mentioned show. However, clearly her aim is to damn the current approach and, to a great extent, this male cannot entirely disagree with her.
First published 1977 by Pax Forlag
First published in English in 1985 by Seal Press/Journeyman
Translated by Louis Mackay