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What then, I wonder, is the natural way of things? This, I begin to think, must be the central question of the book.
Those defending our misogynistic world declare the hierarchy of power between men and women as natural. Men dominating positions of leadership, being the usual perpetrators of violence, earning more money, viewed as something to do with a very basic, undeniable part of us all. To do with the difference between the brains of male and female rats, say, which somehow means women like to talk a lot and browse when they shop, and men like to be efficient and make intellectual powerful decisions regarding stock markets.
Could a dystopia, like that in TNWOT, where women are abducted, imprisoned, sleeping in dog boxes, and controlled by stick carrying men be viewed by some as a logical extension of the natural relations men and women? Wood presents both the probability that it could be interpreted like this at the same time as showing it as unnatural, as contrived and learned behavior.
Very early in the book, when the rules of the prison, the rules of the interactions between inmates and its staff are still being figured out, Teddy is cutting Yolanda's hair.
He frowned and said 'Shut up.' And then, experimentally, as if testing the word, as if he'd never said it before, had just learned it, added, 'You slut.'
Initially it seems yogi, diver, yoghurt eating dude Teddy seems uncomfortable in the company of traditionally conservative Boncer his fellow guard. Teddy reprimands Boncer for using the term faggot. But there's a sense that Teddy finds a kind of freedom as he comes to understand that in the prison the rules have changed. Previously observed etiquette no longer applies. Boncer's vile and explicit contempt for women provides inspiration for Teddy. And it's all a bit thrilling. Boncer is showing Teddy the way of men.
With Boncer, an out and out chauvinist Teddy is free to deride his ex girlfriend Hannah, for her oddly shaped toes, her crying, her inferior politics. He's free to be really nasty.
In general Teddy likes them natural but, let's face it, some of them are like, really hairy. Both Boncer and Teddy shudder in disgust, looking at the girls where they sit slumped in the dirt.
In calling Yolanda a slut, and slagging off his ex Teddy, like Boncer is wielding a stick that the women are powerless to defend themselves from. But is Teddy relaxing into a natural role, his true previously hidden self, or is he awkwardly adopting an unnatural cruelty?
While Boncer and Teddy take sadistic pleasure in hurting and humiliating the women, they also discuss which one of them they'd fuck, given the opportunity. Controlling the women sexually, lusting after them, wanting to fuck them, and hating them are all part of the same emotion. They coach each other in their attitudes. They choose them. They whittle them.
When Wood writes of her imagined prison she's also of course writing about the trapping and containment of women in the real world. What's going on in Wood's prison is not devastating because it is so outrageous, it is devastating because it is so familiar.
Don't believe the hype, I think Charlotte Wood is saying. Don't believe the rat brain evolutionary biologists, or the flakey brain imagists, or the Brock-it was-the-alcohol-what-do-you-expect-Turners-or the Donald Trumps. Misogyny, I think she's saying is a deliberate artificial creation. Not a chance evolution. Not, most definitely not, the natural way of things.
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