gender in slow river


One of the topics we didn't discuss in class yet about Slow River, interestingly enough, is gender relations. Perhaps because the majority of the characters are female, this is not as obvious an issue as in earlier novels we've read; most of the character interaction is between women, in effect denying the gender discussion. In this, however, Griffith makes the gender discussion simply different, rather than obsolete. The first obvious difference is the fact that the child abuser, the perpetrator of incest, is the mother of the family, not the father. It is a different twist that this is actually closer to the "Oedipal form" of the family than the norm; while we see the potential for incest, it is absolutely startling to imagine the female parent as the one abusing her power and her children, though in the original story, it is of course the mother and son who commit incest. What are the implications of this surprise? For one, it destroys the image of the perfect mother, the caring and nurturing soul that all women must be. While this is certainly not a positive image of woman, because it contrasts a stereotype it can still be considered useful in helping society change the way it perceives the genders. Further, sexual abuse is usually more about the power involved than the actual sexual act (though it can probably be assumed the perpetrator does derive pleasure from the act), once again going against the female stereotype. It is not the father in Lore's family who has the power, it is the mother.

Of course, one could argue that because the non-stereotypical ideas are portrayed by a rather negative character, Griffith shows women who act beyond "their place" are all bad. I don't see this as true, however, because while the main evil originates in female characters, so does the main good. Griffith is simply showing two things: women can be any sort of individual, rather than be fit into long-perpetrated ideals of delicacy and kindness; also, conversely, that good people and bad can be of any gender. Another thing we must realize, however, is that the nearly female world she created is not the complete world, and the real world has not yet thrown out the old ideas. When Lore attempts to team with Paolo against the corrupt Hepple, Paolo shouts, " 'I don't need a woman to fight my battles!' " (172). Paolo can't accept the idea that Lore may be able to help him because she has more knowledge and confidence. To him, all that matters is that she is female, and that it is somehow disgraceful to elicit help from a woman. Lore is utterly shocked at his response, and understandably so: she has the means and the desire to help, but is refused on a rather trite condition. While the following quotation is not specifically about gender relations, it can be tied to them: "I wondered how many more centuries it would take to break the physically-stronger-equals-morally-superior equation . . ." (259). Historically, this has been a gender issue; men naturally have more muscle than women, which has determined much of how the world operates. In the modern era, however, physical strength means very little compared to strength of intellect, and yet those of better physical strength assume superiority. Lore quickly dismisses her thought rather cynically, assuming that humanity will, indeed, never change. This doesn't give us much hope for gender relations either, unless the intelligent weak(er) can somehow reach the assuming buff.

As a final note about relationships in general, it was interesting to read a novel in which all sexual encounters are between women. Not only do they happen rather frequently, but it is generally unusual and quite unheard of in our previous novels. The only vaguely heterosexual encounter is Lore's porn video of her parents, which was completely made up, as if she was trying to find some way such a relation could work. Also interestingly, the only scenes that occur in first person are between Lore and Magyar. This seems to suggest by the first person narrative either that finding someone who actually would love her helped Lore understand her identity, or the opposite: that in finding her identity, she found love.