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Much has been said about the overabundance of white men in classic literature (modern or otherwise) and the skewed perspective on gender and racial issues that inevitably results from this. This problem has elicited a range of responses, from vows to read only female authors to comparatively subtle calls to invite more women to live on our bookshelves.
My response is more on the moderate side. Women make up about half of the population, so ideally I would like to see people reading a roughly equal number of male and female authors. (Of course, I would like to see people reading, period. The literacy statistics in this country are beyond depressing.) I enjoy reading a great many male authors. After all, some of the fiercest and most progressive female heroines were created by men (Bathsheba Everdene, Éowyn, and Lisbeth Salander come to mind).
That said, I do sometimes run into gender problems in literature that I just can’t ignore. A couple of months ago I listened to the audiobook edition of Lord of the Flies, which was read by the author, William Golding. In his introduction to the book, Golding explained why the story doesn’t have any girls in it.
If you land with a group of little boys they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls will be. Don’t ask me why and this is a terrible thing to say because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality. This is nothing to do with equality at all.
The other thing is…if they’d been little boys and little girls, we being who we are, sex would have raised its lovely head, and I didn’t want this book to be about sex. I mean sex is too trivial a thing to get in with a story like this which was about the problem of evil and the problem of how people are to live together in society, not just as lovers or man and wife…
These five sentences contain a little bit of truth and a whole lot of ignorance and illogic. Here is a sentence-by-sentence analysis of Golding’s introduction and an explanation of why I take issue with his statements.
“If you land with a group of little boys they are more like scaled-down society that a group of little girls will be.”
This is undoubtedly true.
“Don’t ask me why and this is a terrible thing to say because I’m going to be chased from hell to breakfast by all the women who talk about equality.”
This is one of the most puzzling statements I have ever heard. One of the most brilliant authors of the twentieth century could not figure out why the social, political, and moral dynamics of a group of little boys would more closely resemble those of society at large than would those of a group of little girls. Perhaps Golding was going senile in his later years or maybe he was much denser than the literary community gave him credit for. I would hate to charge him with willful ignorance, but assuming that all of his faculties were intact when he made that statement, I see no other option.
Patriarchy has been the predominant force in the world for, well, a very long time. Men have had a far greater hand in shaping cultures and civilizations than women, so it’s not even remotely surprising that scaled-down society would look about as masculine as society writ large. I suspect Golding knew this, but why he felt the need to claim ignorance is beyond me. And yes, I am now chasing him beyond the grave from hell to breakfast. And I will steal all his bacon.
“This is nothing to do with equality at all.”
Well, yes, it does. You see if women had enjoyed approximately the same social, political, and economic power as men throughout the ages, society–and subsequently, a scaled-down version of it–would look very, very different.
“The other thing is…if they’d been little boys and little girls, we being who we are, sex would have raised his lovely head, and I didn’t want this book to be about sex.”
Also true. And I fully respect his desire to exclude the topic of sex from the book.
“I mean, sex is too trivial a thing to get in with a story like this which was about the problem of evil and the problem of how people are to live together in society, not just as lovers or man and wife…”
And here is the crux of why I found this introduction so troubling. It’s not the fact that Golding chose not to address the issue of sex; it’s his rationale for doing so. Sex cannot be separated from the problem of evil in our society or any society around the world, as he implies here. Sex is not just about how people live together as lovers or man and wife. It would be nice if it was, but there is this great big ugly complication called rape. And as far as historians and anthropologists can tell, rape has been one of the most prevalent evils in virtually every society since the dawn of man. Whether or not sex is trivial is debatable, but what cannot be disputed is that rape is not trivial–at least not to victims, which, quite frankly, is all that matters.A #Feminist Deconstruction of #WilliamGolding's Introduction to the LORD OF THE FLIES AudiobookClick To Tweet
Lord of the Flies is an excellent book and the fact that there are no girls in the story doesn’t bother me in the least. If Golding had said that he simply wanted to focus on specific societal problems, such as male-on-male violence, tribal psychology, and the all-too-human tendency to stand back in fear while evil people to do terrible things, and he thought that an all-male cast of characters would best serve that end, I could happily accept that. But he didn’t. In this short introduction, he tried to disassociate sex and gender from the larger problem of evil, which simply doesn’t work.
Golding also says in his introduction, “I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men; they are far superior and always have been.” Well, no, we’re not. Our inner darkness just has a tendency to express itself in different ways. I understand that Golding came from an era in which many of the false gender stereotypes that have been dispelled today were still prevalent, but it would have been nice if he could have acknowledged gender-based violence (or at the very least not swept it under the rug) and refrained from overcompensating for it by placing women on a dehumanizing pedestal.