Humankind has a history of oppressing women’s bodies. Foot binding, the restrictions of gender roles, and unreasonable societal expectations of age and beauty are all timeless examples of this oppression. However, a relevant issue in the United States is reproductive rights. While there are few efforts made to encourage the development of new forms of male contraception, hundreds of provisions have been made in 2017 alone to restrict abortion access at the state level. Percival Everett’s Zulus contains many examples of injustice at the sake of the female body, with Alice Achitophel as our victim of it.
Alice Achitophel lives in a post-thermonuclear war society, where each woman is expected to be sterilized. Due to Alice’s weight (300 pounds) she believes she has no reason to have the procedure done because she probably won’t have sex. “She had thought to herself then that the people at the hospital had seen her and knew she was fat and ugly and could see from her file that she was an old maid, probably knew that she had never kept company with a man” (12). First, the readers see that this sterilization is forced and therefore not the women’s choice, which is just another example of this oppression. Secondly, Alice Achitophel believes she is unworthy of love and intimacy because of her weight, which is clearly an idea that’s been instilled by society. Her unattractiveness is not a fact, but a matter of opinion. Alice is referred to as the “fat woman” multiple times throughout the novel, suggesting that this objective description may be the only way see her.
A coworker of mine told me over the summer that she lost her health care because she made more money than usual the prior month, and that she was no longer able to pay for her birth control or many other health services. While birth control technically isn’t considered necessary, so many people want to use it that its price and accessibility are a prominent issue in modern America. While the women in Zulus aren’t given the option of contraceptives, this situation still connects to the novel in the sense that the government makes it difficult to make choices regarding one’s own body.
“…the opening body yielding the complete woman, full of the brain and emotions of her fat mother, earth mother, Alice Achitophel” (109). When Alice gives birth, she gives birth to a more attractive version of herself–a rebirth, in a sense. This new Alice is more determined and confident. This situation in nature is a contradiction to obsolete ideas of how women should behave and the expectations placed upon them. While the end of the novel is morbid because Kevin Peters and Alice pull the lever and end the world, it’s also empowering. The end reminds us that even those who are oppressed can always resist.