In Chapter 7, Le Guin gives us some interesting insight into the role of women in Urrasti culture through Vea Doem Oiie. As Vea tours Shevek around Neo Esseia she shares her experience with the propertarian society on Urras and a woman’s place in it.
Ever since his conversation with Kimoe about the status of women on Urras, Shevek has been under the impression that, according to the Urrasti, women were significantly inferior to men. Kimoe’s simple disbelief that he could ever consider women equals – “You can’t pretend, surely, in your work, that women are your equals?” (Le Guin, 17) – erased all hope Shevek had that Urras and Anarres could relate on this point. Given this, what I found most interesting about Vea’s interpretation of a female’s role was that she believes them to be, in fact, superior to men on Urras. According to Vea, “women do exactly as they like” (Le Guin, 214). And this isn’t limited to dressing up, hosting parties and sleeping until noon (as I have been led to believe by previous encounters with Urrasti women). As Shevek so deftly puts it – what is it they do? “Why, run the men, of course!” (Le Guin, 215). Vea paints a picture of women who seem to be content with compliance, because they secretly know that they control the men in other, less overt ways. The difference between men and women is not that men are more important to society or dominant over the women, but that the two genders become “self-content” in very different ways. While this seems like a great balance (the men get what they want but the women are all happy appearing inferior), I still feel like I would be uncomfortable in a situation such as this. What do you all think – is the pleasure of being self-content worth the price of others thinking of you as a subordinate? If you’re self-content, does it matter if other people think you’re inferior?
Vea’s assertion becomes a bit less convincing when, later in the evening, she is talking physics with Shevek and some of his peers. After attempting to enter the conversation, a man discredits her point and she is “relieved to be put in her place” (Le Guin, 224). It doesn’t seem that she is content to seem inferior while secretly be in control in this situation, she is just more comfortable being in “her place”, which happens to be on a lower intellectual plane than the men.
And so Le Guin presents a philosophy of Urrasti women (as delivered to us by Vea) that seems to contrast the action we see later in the chapter. Do you see some way the actions and words of Urrasti women in practice hold to the theory Vea presented? Also, we’ve seen that on Anarres things aren’t really as equal as they seem – the women scientists are never quite as smart as Shevek needs them to be. On the other hand, women on Urras seem to be very successful at what they do (even though it is not the same thing that men do). Which society do you think is really more equal between the genders? And this is quite broad, but what message is Le Guin trying to send by presenting women in these ways?