Gender & Hierarchy In Memory Seed

by stephenpalmersf

In a Guardian article recently, Germaine Greer said that aiming for equality was a “profoundly conservative goal” for women. She continued: “What everybody has accepted is the idea of equality feminism. It will change nothing. War is made against civilian populations where women and children are the principal casualties in places like Syria, whether in collapsing buildings or bombed schools. War is now completely made by the rich with their extraordinary killing machines, killing the poor who have no comeback. Women are drawing level with men in this profoundly destructive world that we live in and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the wrong way. We’re getting nowhere. If we’re going to change things I think we’re going to have to start creating a women’s polity that is strong, that has its own way of operating, that makes contact with women in places like Syria, and that challenges the right of destructive nations.” Women needed to: “aim higher and achieve more than simply drawing level with men and entering into traditionally male-dominated fields,” Greer said. “If what happens when women discover when they join the army is they discover it’s no place for a sane human being then they’ve learned something.” (Melissa Davey, The Guardian, 8/3/17)

Most reviewers of my 1996 debut novel Memory Seed remarked on the almost exclusively female cast, with just deKray and a hint of a couple of others as males. This was in part a reaction to reports I was reading about how environmental pollution is changing the biology of animals, feminising males, but it was also a response to patriarchy in all its forms, which I have argued against for over thirty years.

Germaine Greer’s point above is that by creating “equality feminism” women are divesting themselves of the same humane faculties that men – i.e. boys – divest themselves of in all patriarchal societies. To operate in a power hierarchy you have to lose most of your emotional connection – your human connection – with others. This can be observed in any male hierarchy, but it is particularly obvious in the army example quoted by Greer. To counter this lack, men devised honour – which is nothing more than disconnected connectedness – to bind themselves together. Honour is a joke: for boys. Buddy-ship meanwhile is just the matey, lower class version of honour.

Men make friends because of what they do. Women make friends because of who they are.

In Memory Seed I wanted to tell an exciting story of struggle against phenomenal forces, but there was also some philosophy behind the verdancy. The main theme was that of rejecting the possibility of salvation through others. All those who succeed at the end of the novel get to their position by their own efforts.

There are two main examples of failed, male-style structures in the novel: the temple of the Goddess and the Red Brigade. The former is a classic male hierarchy, with a lone figure at the top (Taziqi), a number of lesser figures beneath her including Tashyndy, and then a more general mass of adherents to the religion. But Tashyndy at the end of the novel is well aware that the devotional wisdom of the Goddess has failed: ’We failed because our vision failed. What is the Goddess but a symbol of the Earth? We have been kneeling as supplicants before our own destruction, worshipping green death, death handed out impartially by a force from which consideration of humanity has long since vanished… if it was ever present.’

Tashyndy is in an earlier scene aware of the coming redundancy of institutionalised power in the male style: ‘What are you going to do,’ Arrahaquen asked, ‘now the Citadel is gone?’ ‘Rien Zir continues her life,’ said Taziqi. ‘We are here to understand her thought.’ ‘If you mean,’ Tashyndy added, ‘do we plan to rule Kray ourselves, then the answer is no. Power is now a redundant notion. Only local groups exist, vying for food and water.’

By this Tashyndy means ‘power after the demise of the Red Brigade in the Citadel.’ The Red Brigade is Kray’s ruling council – the top of the hierarchy in classic male style. But Tashyndy is not so wedded as others to the notion of absolute power, and she becomes aware that changed circumstances mean changed plans. Taziqi however cannot make this jump, except at the very end of the novel when no other choice remains.

The Red Brigade themselves are just as short sighted as those in the Goddess temple. They pin their hopes on the conscoosities (noophytes) who they assume will help them escape the doomed city. But in placing their faith in others on the basis of virtually no evidence they fail: The plan had been for the Red Brigade to escape to the Spaceflower in a rocket, a choice of home mentioned by the noophytes to Deese-lin and Spyne, who had interpreted the idea as an actual prophecy. But Arrahaquen could find no definite strategy, and she began to wonder if the Red Brigade themselves had been fooled by, or had misunderstood, the noophytes.

Or as Germaine Greer said: “… You don’t need to have letters after your name to be a grand academic. You just have to be somebody who is earnest in your search for truth and try hard not to indulge in self-deception.”

It was into Arrahaquen’s and Zinina’s hands that I placed the task of escape (Graaf-lin is also a self-deceiver). Of Arrahaquen: She had been taught all her life not to be selfish, for the sake of Kray, but now she needed to act for herself. For Zinina: Zinina went to sit in the study. Graaff-lin was indeed an intelligent woman, yet Zinina felt sure that despite her orthodoxy there was a subversive side to the aamlon, timid perhaps, but there none the less. It was a trait Zinina could exploit…

Both Arrahaquen and Zinina feel they can only act in the service of truth – and therefore survive – by escaping the constraints of stifling tradition inside the Citadel. Within that hierarchy they are mere pawns, denied their humanity, denied freedom, denied knowledge. It is of course a classic technique of those, male or female, wielding the dead hand of masculine power to withhold that knowledge necessary for individuals to take their own decisions. This technique is used by the Red Brigade and by the temple of the Goddess. But only as the truth begins to dawn on Taziqi does she allow Arrahaquen to glimpse the wyrm ball that is the temple’s access to the noophytes.

There are no humane power structures in Kray. Despite the all-female cast, overwhelmingly the women of Kray assume the standard male posture: hierarchical, limited, passive. Only a few independents acting in loose association throw off the shackles of traditional thought in order to make their own way to possible escape: [Zinina] was a free woman of the city now, an independent. It was up to her to make meaning from her life and from what little future remained. The word for formal freedom in Kray is independent. Independents in Kray are a social class, like defenders (receivers of the bounty of the Citadel) or revellers.

Having said that, there is one doubter in the Red Brigade: ‘Information,’ Katoh-lin scoffed, sitting back and throwing a pen upon the table to indicate that this was her final word. ‘Information indeed. What… we require is knowledge.’ ‘My decision stands,’ said the Portreeve. She paused. ‘And that is final.’

“If what happens when women discover when they join the army is they discover it’s no place for a sane human being then they’ve learned something,” Greer said. The same applies in the city of Kray. Zinina knows there is no hope for her inside the Citadel because of its ruthless power structure, which utilises people as pawns. At great risk to herself, she escapes. Arrahaquen thinks and acts similarly but is in an even more difficult position, being the daughter of an important official. In both cases, freedom to act in the real world is found only outside the standard power structures. Independence is the key. The noophyte plan of the Red Brigade is a fantasy, as is the Goddess-mediated future of Taziqi’s temple.

As the mysterious surgeon in the Clocktower says: “The problem was that I had some strange ideas, and the Red Brigade do not like strange ideas. I believed that humanity could save itself. The Red Brigade believed they could be saved by others. Exposed as a freethinker – worse, as a freethinker who dared to explore the mystery of the Clocktower – I was exiled…”

Save yourself.

Memory Seed ebook cover

Memory Seed