Egalia's Daughters, Gerd Brantenberg

Egalia's Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes - Gerd Brantenberg

Menwim can't wear trousers, there wouldn't be room in there for their penises and shamebags!


Cleaning in the kitchen, we have this one shelf that tends to accumulate... stuff. And on it, I found my copy of this book, and realised I'd never reviewed it. I also realised, bye-the-bye, that to have got on that shelf, my daughter must have had it in the kitchen, which somehow makes me quite proud, because this is not obviously a book a 15 year old girl would pick up, but it is one that perhaps more should read.


The plot is simple, almost non-existent, although pleasant enough. A coming of age story, a young man making forays into the adult world, finding out it's not all a bed of roses, and just "being a grown-up" doesn't mean you get what you want. The plot is not the point though. 


What Brantenberg did, is simply flip the genders. On absolutely everything. Every place in our language, clothing, rituals, societal makeup, everywhere. I imagine she wrote a simple story about a young woman learning about feminism in the 70's, and then simply reversed everything, and therein lies the satire. 


Instead of men and women, we have wim, and manwim. Adolescent boys are taken on excruciating expeditions with their stay-at-home-dad's to the mall to buy their first peho's, and then complain how stupid and uncomfortable it is to have to cram their penises into those stupid boxes. The symbols of sporting prowess are the symbols of menstruation, not masculinity. 


The genius is that the author more or less doesn't comment on most of it, it just is what it is. And there's a lot of things that are so utterly invisible to us most of the time, but are cringe-worthy when they have a light shone on them in this way. 


Of course it's dated, in that it was written in the 70's, and it is oh so very 70's in tone. A lot has changed, but then, a lot hasn't. 


The only real reason to not read this, is that the language can be a little difficult. I'm not exactly a feminist scholar, there's probably a lot more to say about this than I can manage, but I do think this is something that is very worth picking up if you run across a copy. As an adult woman, old enough to remember the time depicted here, even for me the depth of impact gender has on our language was illuminating in itself. The writing is otherwise clear enough that you get the hang of the reversal within a chapter or two. I say that having read it in Swedish, which like the author's native Norwegian, has neutral gender pronouns available which to some extent mute the effect of biological sex. Reading it again in English made the whole thing even stronger.


Recommended for: Everyone who says they are a feminist, everyone who says they are not a feminist, everyone who is in favour of gender equality, and everyone who is a member of a dominant social class (here's looking at you, white middle class men) and therefore has no actual idea what it feels like to not be that. And every teenager, ever.


You may not precisely enjoy it, but I don't think it's possible to read this book without experiencing at least a small moment of revelation.