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Postgraduate paper

Postby bgscholar » 16 Jun 2009 09:22

My paper has a lot to do with the Bene Gesserit, so I guess this is the most relevant place to post this. Basically, I found the lack of analysis about the women of Dune really weird, so I decided to do my own research on this topic and see what was there. I have been working on this project for awhile now, but it was only two weeks ago that I found Omphalos' secondary sources page that listed a couple of longer papers that have already been done on similar themes, but a) these are not widely published and didn't come in any of my searches on electronic databases b) the Phd by Dr. Silliman is focused on propaganda foremost c) the paper by the Czech student is written in English as a second language and isn't the most academic (citing wikipedia). So, the only paper about which I am not sure exactly what it covers is the Tai Estopy one. If you know how to access this, Omphalos, I would appreciate any help. I emailed Fulbright College where it was written, but no one has answered yet.

That being said, I think I have something unique to contribute and I will attempt to get published somewhere when I am done, so that my paper doesn't become yet another of these works that just sit unread and gather dust! What's the point if no one reads it? The only widely-published articles that deal with women in Dune were published in the 1970s and both are short, surface analyses. I disagree with them and am hoping to prove them wrong. :)

My thesis is basically that the women in Dune -- specifically the Bene Gesserit as seen through Jessica, but also including Chani, Alia, Fremen women, and other minor female characters -- have agency in several ways through religion, their bodies (fighting, prana-bindu control, etc.), and politics. I am also planning on discussing the men's reactions to the women in the novel, because they use words like 'witch' that critiques immediately point to and say, 'See? Herbert thought women were evil.' C'mon. Jessica is hardly evil. For a novel of the 1960s, I think that Herbert was quite ahead of his time not only in predicting the Middle East oil crisis and rise in religious fanaticism, but also seeing things like reproductive technology changing to the point that scientists are working on being able to pre-select the sex of children. So I am trying to address the positive aspects of women in the novel as well as conceding that there are instances of restrictions on women, but overall saying that the less liberating aspects don't overshadow female power and agency in the text.
"Even Dune's historians were shockingly slow to recognize that the real Dune story is Jessica's."

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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 16 Jun 2009 09:56

I can't wait to see it! Don't hesitate for ask for any help we might be able to offer.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby SadisticCynic » 16 Jun 2009 10:03

Interesting.

In reading Dune I thought that Herbert had great respect for women as opposed to downgrading them. Anyone who thinks the witch reference means that women are evil wasn't reading properly (I notice you don't think this :clap: ). As far as I understood they were called witches as a prejudiced term by people who simply didn't like the unstoppable (near enough) political machinations of the Bene Gesserit and wanted to deride them.

I hope when you're done you get this published or whatever. Sounds like it would be an excellent read. :)
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 16 Jun 2009 10:17

SadisticCynic wrote:Interesting.

In reading Dune I thought that Herbert had great respect for women as opposed to downgrading them. Anyone who thinks the witch reference means that women are evil wasn't reading properly (I notice you don't think this :clap: ). As far as I understood they were called witches as a prejudiced term by people who simply didn't like the unstoppable (near enough) political machinations of the Bene Gesserit and wanted to deride them.

I hope when you're done you get this published or whatever. Sounds like it would be an excellent read. :)


I don't think people knew about their political manipulations at the time of Dune. Hawat knew practically nothing about Jessica's abilities.

They were called witches because their powers weren't understood.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby SadisticCynic » 16 Jun 2009 10:24

You're right. Fist within the glove sort of thing...

Need to start thinking about a re-read.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Omphalos » 16 Jun 2009 10:56

Sadistic Cynic, I agree that FH had respect for women. The only problem that I had with the way he depicted them in the books is that most of them accomplish their goals with male strategies; force, domination and coercion. That certainly is one way that women throughout history have made names for themselves, but its not the only way, and it really was not innovative because he said little, in my opinion, about feminine virtues and feminine success strategies.

bgscholar, I am going to PM you in a moment with a way to track down Estopy. Ive done the leg work, I just havent tracked her (him?) down yet.

You may also want to take a look through the rest of the list. The Women Worldwalkers book has some feminist criticism of Herbert, and there is a note of a call for papers that looks like an effort to put together a second feminist book. The editor may not be willing to share until she gets her book published, but one never knows. There is also a fictional BG Training Manual floating around out there. I don't think Ive added it to the list yet, but I should have it at home, if you are interested. Its fun, but that's about it.

You may want to look through the Greenwood Press line of SF books. Ill bet that there is some more feminist criticism of Herbert in one or more of those books.

BTW, which two papers are you referring to? If y ou h ave a bibliography, I would LOVE to see it, so I can bring mine up to speed.

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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 16 Jun 2009 11:12

Omphalos wrote:There is also a fictional BG Training Manual floating around out there. I don't think Ive added it to the list yet, but I should have it at home, if you are interested. Its fun, but that's about it.


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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 16 Jun 2009 11:13

I didn't see it in the original post, but you should consider the Tleilaxu treatment of women. IMO the paper would have a huge hole in it without that.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Omphalos » 16 Jun 2009 12:17

Have you read the Silliman paper, bgscholar? What did it have to say about the use of the term "witch?" I got the feeling that term was put out there by the BG to get a certain reaction, not to merely be applied pejoratively by men to the women. If Silliman did not discuss both potential aspects of the genesis of that term, she may have missed the boat. That has HUGE propaganda potential.

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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby A Thing of Eternity » 16 Jun 2009 12:23

I always got messages like "women are very strong" and "sometimes when men think they're the ones in control it's really the women getting things done" out of Dune. I came away from it with a very pro-women message, other than the concept of the KH, which was a bit male-dominant, but that doesn't count because it was absolutely central to the plot.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 16 Jun 2009 12:58

I think Jessica is just as strong a character as Paul in Dune, if not moreso. He'd have been nothing without her.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby bgscholar » 16 Jun 2009 13:38

Omphalos wrote:You may also want to take a look through the rest of the list. The Women Worldwalkers book has some feminist criticism of Herbert...

BTW, which two papers are you referring to? If you have a bibliography, I would LOVE to see it, so I can bring mine up to speed.


Oh, there's a special place in my heart for Miriam Youngerman Miller's "Women of Dune: Frank Herbert as Social Reactionary?" I found her piece last year completely by accident and it's a little better than Jack Hand's "The Traditionalism of Women's Roles in Frank Herbert's Dune" but not by much. They both just grab a few quotes from the book and throw them up for the entire support of their arguments that Herbert was just doing the same old thing with female characters. I will admit it is fun tearing them to shreds... And those are the two articles I was referring to. Other critiques regarding the women in Dune have just been a couple paragraphs inside larger articles and books, and so haven't quite warranted as much consideration or scorn. My bibliography has a lot of the same things as yours, maybe some other ones, I can check.
"Even Dune's historians were shockingly slow to recognize that the real Dune story is Jessica's."

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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby bgscholar » 16 Jun 2009 13:42

Freakzilla wrote:I didn't see it in the original post, but you should consider the Tleilaxu treatment of women. IMO the paper would have a huge hole in it without that.


Yes, the Tleilaxu treat women horribly! But they do not feature much in the first novel; therefore, I can neatly avoid them and all their creepiness. Who would have thought that the Bene Gesserit end up lusting after the axlotl tanks? Shame, shame.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby SadisticCynic » 16 Jun 2009 13:53

I always got messages like "women are very strong" and "sometimes when men think they're the ones in control it's really the women getting things done" out of Dune.


I agree with this. I was first forming my opinions of women (among many other things) when I first read Dune and Herbert's work along with some other things were big influences on my thoughts.


Omphalos is there any good material I can read "about feminine virtues and feminine success strategies." I believe there are definite differences between men and women and find the idea fascinating but I don't know where to start. Even if you know some concepts I can search around for that would be helpful.

Women in Dune don't seem to get the spotlight as much but the impression (as A Thing Of Eternity said) is that women are the ones getting things done or at least providing the pathway for some characters to achieve what they achieve. Something I think that can be seen in real life as well.

And finally,
But I assure you, your paper will not go unread if you share it with the group here!


Definitely!
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 16 Jun 2009 13:53

bgscholar wrote:
Freakzilla wrote:I didn't see it in the original post, but you should consider the Tleilaxu treatment of women. IMO the paper would have a huge hole in it without that.


Yes, the Tleilaxu treat women horribly! But they do not feature much in the first novel; therefore, I can neatly avoid them and all their creepiness. Who would have thought that the Bene Gesserit end up lusting after the axlotl tanks? Shame, shame.


Ah, I didn't understand that you were confining this paper to Dune only.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby bgscholar » 16 Jun 2009 14:31

With the length allotment I have, my advisor recommended sticking to just the first so I could have a thorough analysis of one, rather than a broad analysis of several. I hope to continue with the other ones at some point, but the first novel does seem to be the most clear-cut regarding women, as in later ones Chani and Irulan are squabbling, Leto is developed a lot more than Ghanima and is in control, Jessica disappears for awhile, and Wensicia Corrino is scheming. But the Bene Gesserit do dominate the later novels, so there's something interesting.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 16 Jun 2009 14:47

bgscholar wrote:With the length allotment I have, my advisor recommended sticking to just the first so I could have a thorough analysis of one, rather than a broad analysis of several. I hope to continue with the other ones at some point, but the first novel does seem to be the most clear-cut regarding women, as in later ones Chani and Irulan are squabbling, Leto is developed a lot more than Ghanima and is in control, Jessica disappears for awhile, and Wensicia Corrino is scheming. But the Bene Gesserit do dominate the later novels, so there's something interesting.


I'm not so sure that FH might have "changed his tone" as the latter books are merely a study of the BG.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Omphalos » 16 Jun 2009 16:18

SadisticCynic wrote:
Omphalos is there any good material I can read "about feminine virtues and feminine success strategies." I believe there are definite differences between men and women and find the idea fascinating but I don't know where to start. Even if you know some concepts I can search around for that would be helpful.


There is lots of feminist criticism out there. The problem is that it is one of the most contested critical analyses because what goes into those criticisms is always completely subjective. Lots of feminist critics claim to have objective stances, but the critical method, IMHO, is just too flawed to reach any objective truth. That is not to say that it's useless; its not. And then again, what critical method actually gives purely objective results? None I can think of!

Id suggest reading the feminist works first. There are plenty in SF. Check out this link. Its all the books I have reviewed that have a feminist bent. Something in there might interest you and get you going. I know of plenty more and am happy to discuss them if you like.

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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby SadisticCynic » 16 Jun 2009 16:31

Thanks man, I'll have a look in the library and see if any of those are there.

I have read The Handmaid's Tale, and although I'm sure it has some interesting details in it I was mostly overcome by boredom. I attribute this however to Atwood's writing as I also read Oryx and Crake and found the same thing. Definitely noticed the strong relationship to 1984 though.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby bgscholar » 16 Jun 2009 17:13

I like Atwood a lot, but she isn't really an SF writer. She dabbles in it for some books to make a stronger point.

There are several types of feminism, but I haven't found many clear types of feminist literary analysis. That is, when literature classes teach the different types of theory, they will list the major ones as Marxist, Psychoanalysis, Feminist, Historical, etc. but it seems like the feminist category is just way too broad to be useful as is. You really have to find a particular critique or two and work off of the author's line of thought; otherwise, you find yourself wondering how to frame a coherent argument around all the characteristics of female characters in a work without just plot summarizing every little thing they do.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Omphalos » 16 Jun 2009 21:07

Atwood is a feminist writer who borrows SF themes to tell her stories sometimes. That makes her an occasional SF writer, even in one of those major themes is political in nature.

There are two problems with feminist critique. The first I mentioned above. It is entirely subjective, and there really is no one standard that you can point to.

The second is that there is a dichotomy in feminist thought that I personally find unresolvable. With "literary feminism," for want of a better term, the critic is interested in pointing out differences. The basic idea is to find things in the artifact that you are deconstructing that reflect a feminine outlook or advance feminist agenda. But politically the feminist goals are generally equality, or at least parity.

I still really like feminist pieces. They tend to be a LOT bloodier and more devastating, and I like stuff like that.

I have reviews of both up at my site. The 1984 review is still undergoing revisions, but its largely complete.

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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby bgscholar » 17 Jun 2009 16:49

Omphalos wrote:The second is that there is a dichotomy in feminist thought that I personally find unresolvable. With "literary feminism," for want of a better term, the critic is interested in pointing out differences. The basic idea is to find things in the artifact that you are deconstructing that reflect a feminine outlook or advance feminist agenda. But politically the feminist goals are generally equality, or at least parity.


What specifically do you find unresolvable? And what would you propose to fix this?
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Omphalos » 17 Jun 2009 18:29

bgscholar wrote:
Omphalos wrote:The second is that there is a dichotomy in feminist thought that I personally find unresolvable. With "literary feminism," for want of a better term, the critic is interested in pointing out differences. The basic idea is to find things in the artifact that you are deconstructing that reflect a feminine outlook or advance feminist agenda. But politically the feminist goals are generally equality, or at least parity.


What specifically do you find unresolvable? And what would you propose to fix this?



Maybe "unresolvable" was too strong a word. Certainly not resolvable without some work though. The problem I see is with the purpose of feminists when communicating with non-feminists. Its not that either political or literary feminism are inherently disfunctional. I personally think that there are differences between the genders, but that parity/equality is a good thing to strive for. But problems arise whenever someone invokes the term "feminism." People have different expectations when that word is used because of the difference in scopes of literary and social feminism. When that happens not only does the message of the critic become diluted, but a risk that the author or advocate wont be taken seriously arises.

To resolve it I think that critics and politicians should acknowledge the difference in scopes and make it clear what they are trying to do. In other words, communicate the purpose of their message before they make it. To say clearly whether their purpose is to point out differences or to advocate for equality. Make it clear that they understand that the minds of listeners/readers may subconsiously find conflict where none is intended. That is easy enough to do when writing a feminist review of a book. Not as easy to do when making a political speech, but possible, and certainly a message that should be repeated.

I personally think that feminist critiques and policies are valueable. I just wish that those with feminist ideologies acknowledged the problems inherent in communicating their worldview to others.

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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby Freakzilla » 19 Jun 2009 08:20

Women are evil.
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Re: Postgraduate paper

Postby bgscholar » 19 Jun 2009 15:18

Omphalos wrote:
bgscholar wrote:
Omphalos wrote:The second is that there is a dichotomy in feminist thought that I personally find unresolvable. With "literary feminism," for want of a better term, the critic is interested in pointing out differences. The basic idea is to find things in the artifact that you are deconstructing that reflect a feminine outlook or advance feminist agenda. But politically the feminist goals are generally equality, or at least parity.


What specifically do you find unresolvable? And what would you propose to fix this?


Maybe "unresolvable" was too strong a word. Certainly not resolvable without some work though. The problem I see is with the purpose of feminists when communicating with non-feminists. Its not that either political or literary feminism are inherently disfunctional. I personally think that there are differences between the genders, but that parity/equality is a good thing to strive for. But problems arise whenever someone invokes the term "feminism." People have different expectations when that word is used because of the difference in scopes of literary and social feminism. When that happens not only does the message of the critic become diluted, but a risk that the author or advocate wont be taken seriously arises.

To resolve it I think that critics and politicians should acknowledge the difference in scopes and make it clear what they are trying to do. In other words, communicate the purpose of their message before they make it. To say clearly whether their purpose is to point out differences or to advocate for equality. Make it clear that they understand that the minds of listeners/readers may subconsiously find conflict where none is intended. That is easy enough to do when writing a feminist review of a book. Not as easy to do when making a political speech, but possible, and certainly a message that should be repeated.

I personally think that feminist critiques and policies are valueable. I just wish that those with feminist ideologies acknowledged the problems inherent in communicating their worldview to others.


A big part of the problem is the terminology itself, because ever since at least the 1970s opponents of women's equality have done their best to dirty the term "feminist" so that it's a smear to use it against a woman or group of people. Many women today will make it clear that "I'm not a feminist, but...." and then go on to state many things in the feminist agenda. Yes, there are extremes as in any political movement, but oftentimes these are also exaggerated by opponents (see the right wing movement).

I don't think there's a huge difference between what literary feminist critics are trying to do and what activists are trying to do, although academia forgets that the real-world issues can sometimes be more important than writing theory in a book. Literary critics usually want to look and see how women (and men) are being characterized in novels, poems, etc. because up until recently, women have often been portrayed with a few set characteristics that doesn't make them seem like real people with lives outside of the men in their lives. Because literature has the power to shape our perceptions about life, it's important to look at what values children and then adults are receiving from what they read and learn in school from a young age. But then on the other hand, striving for equality in the political realm is also important because that directly impacts stuff that regulates people's lives, like the law and constitutions, etc. I assume literary feminist critics are also feminists in the political sense, but their focus is on pointing out how stereotypes and positive/negative characterizations/plots/etc. are reflected in culture, whereas political feminists focus on pointing out the problems in everyday life and how these can be remedied.

And of course it's hard for feminists to make their point to non-feminists, not only because of the negative image propagated in the media a lot of the time, but also because many people, especially men but also including women, don't see or don't want to see any gender problems in the world. Men have a hard time comprehending what it's like to be a woman and face constant discrimination and hurdles in life and the professional world, and women get frustrated that men occupy most of the positions of power, everything from boardrooms to government. Most people are indoctrinated with gender roles so early, we never stop to question them. The only clear differences between women and men are some biological ones. Social conditioning takes care of the rest. Popular culture loves to propagate stereotypes like that men are naturally violent, and women are naturally nurturing, but what purpose are these stereotypes serving? Feminists try to see past the rhetoric and ideology that we are fed from birth and notice patterns of power and who is benefitting from them.

It takes looking hard and critically at values and ideas, and a lot of the time people would just rather not and instead pretend that everything has been fixed and we are all living in a great, enlightened age. Then you know either they got a faulty history education, or they are just sticking their heads in the sands about the state of the world. And no, equality doesn’t necessarily mean treating women and men the same; pregnancy is one issue where this doesn’t work. However, it does mean treating women and men as human beings without one being superior to the other. Such a simple concept really, but not in implementation. But these are just my thoughts on the subject. :)
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