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Princes of Dol Amroth
February, 25 2006
Questions about the life and times of Imrahil and his family can be asked here, including questions about Ultimatums, Kin-Strife and the shorter stories. Discussions about Brand can go either here or in the Best-Loved Son thread, since his stories sort of overlap both cycles.
Denise, I think you raise some very interesting points about class, sex, and power. I think it's worth considering not only differences between power that derives from status/gender role and that which derives from personal attributes, but also the differences in power that exist for any individual, man or woman, in different spheres of their life.
I think that probably across all classes the difference between a powerful woman and a powerful man will be that, if she wields power (relatively speaking) a woman will do so despite her sex, while for men power is granted because of their sex. Any given man will, relatively speaking, be more or less suited to the power he holds -- whether it's a poor man who only has power over his wife, child, and dog, or a prince who holds power over many people. A man who is ill-suited to power might try to compensate by bullying those around him, or he might allow others to dominate him, effectively surrendering his power. Speaking only in the family milieu, the stereotype of a hen-pecked husband exists across class. But no one ever heard of a "hen-pecked" (rooster-pecked?) wife; because in the "natural order" of things men are automatically accorded power. Downtrodden wife, yes -- and they are commonly viewed with pity, not the mix of pity and derision that hen-pecked husbands receive.
A man who is suited to relative power will not have to try to dominate those around him. And so those around them would have more room to exercise their own will and influence.
So on that ground alone I somewhat doubt that the freedom/power that any given woman might have will be wholly dependent upon her socioeconomic status. Having said that, one must consider the avenues open to women of different classes for influence outside the home, and here is where I see the differences in education making a difference, as Denise has mentioned. An illiterate woman without marketable skills will usually be confined to menial labor that doesn't require a man's strength. Men *can* do that work, and often children can too, so it's not so highly valued; whereas the work that an illiterate, relatively unskilled man can do (in the pre-industrial world in particular) often *cannot* be done by women or children, and so it is more highly valued (and paid). Neither an unskilled man or an unskilled woman wield power over others outside their family, because they have no leverage. But the powerlessness of unskilled women is probably more than that of unskilled men, just because, in the eyes of the labor market, they're more easily replaced. This is just generally speaking, of course a loyal, competent servant would be more highly prized, men can't be wetnurses, etc.
Whereas for middle class men and women, with greater access to capital, the opportunities for each to wield outside influence are greater. If a woman is fortunate enough to be independent, or have a father, brother or husband who is confident enough with themselves to allow her to use her talents, she might well follow a path like Lorend's mother, Emlin, and ultimately have some power and influence in the community. Just as within the home a middle-class woman's power outside the home will also be despite her sex rather than because of it.
So I think what I'm suggesting is that regardless of class, women's ability to wield power in the home will be a function of a) their personal attributes, and b) their husbands/fathers/brother's regard for them, and respect for their abilities. Outside the home, socioeconomic status trumps sex regarding power, but with an interaction wherein for any given socioeconomic group, more external power is likely to be wielded by men than by women, and poor women are extremely unlikely to wield any power at all.
In an aristocratic hierarchy, by default the bulk of political (external) power is held by the upper class, along with, usually, considerable material wealth. There again power is given to men by default, especially when power is inherited via male primogeniture. Denise, I think you suggested that middle-class women might have more opportunity to wield external power than upper-class women, and I suspect that in some ways you're right there. Among the aristocracy, power is a function of bloodline, and unless you want to upset that applecart (which of course the aristos don't) you dont' question the right of the eldest male to hold power. You might question his *ability* (privately, if you're wise), but not his right. So while in the middle-class external power will be at least in part a function of access to capital and an indivdiual's intelligence and skill, and is therefore at least nominally open to women as well as men, power among the ruling class involves martial skills and, explicitly, sex and birth-order.
I don't know that we were specifically addressing these issues in our discussion of Hethlin's marital choice, but it's definitely a big part of why I think she ought to put off having children until she has really established herself as a warrior and military leader. Even among the elves there is an assumption that powerful males might be overly indulgent of the females they love, and that at least mortal women are unlikely to have superb martial skills -- remember how Haldir confessed that he had doubted that Hethlin's skill with a bow was as good as Elrohir said they were? “I will own, I thought his claims of your skill were exaggerated by affection. I find now that that was not so," he told her after her orc-killing feat at the inn.
If the March Warden of Lothlorien, who certainly knows that females can be powerful, had his doubts about the fighting abilities of mortal women, imagine how much more unlikely it will seem to the men of Gondor?
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