A Different Way of Looking at Hierarchy

I’ve been thinking about Sandra’s post about hierarchy in Lilith’s Brood, and while I agree with her notion that the hierarchy the humans can, and often do, employ involves “imbalances of power in relationships,” I had a sort of epiphany when finishing up Lilith’s Brood that led me to a different definition of hierarchy that I believe the Oankali see as humans’ fatal flaw. Sandra makes a good point about hierarchy being present in human and Oankali relationship when it comes to one group having more power than another. It’s clear that that is present considering adults have more say than children, even regarding ooloi. However, I think that the type of hierarchy that ultimately led to human destruction and would most likely lead to it again is different.

In Adulthood Rites, I noticed there was repeated instances of sexism—not carried out by Butler, but by her human characters. Women are repeatedly treated as objects by resisters. Akin’s captors main reason for keeping him is so that they can trade him for a woman (341). Women are compared to or put on the same level as metal—a trade good—various times. Phoenix “had more women than any other village because it traded metal for them” (345). When Akin meets to two other Oankali children while in captivity their “…traders took away not a woman but as many metal tools and as much gold as they could carry, plus books that were more valuable than gold” (369). Furthermore, when Tate is telling Akin that Phoenix hadn’t been raided yet she tells him that “[the resisters] have occasionally [tried to raid Phoenix]—trying to steal metal or women” (402). Every time I would read women being described as on par to metal I would roll my eyes and try to get past it.

I couldn’t figure out why Butler would depict women in this way and I was really struggling with it. I know Dr. McCoy says Butler never does anything facetiously, so I kept trying to work through Butler’s reason for consistently juxtaposing women with trade goods. It wasn’t until I encounter a scene in Metamorphosis where women are once again not treated the same as men: “Those who looked female would be raped. Those who looked male would be killed” (565). After reading this, I was so frustrated that women aren’t even considered enough of a threat to be killed, just used. I kept thinking why is Butler doing this? And it finally hit me: Butler is showing us the human’s fatal hierarchical tendencies in practice. That’s why I think when the Oankali talk about human hierarchy they mean to go beyond the definition of a power imbalance to a hierarchy where people at the bottom of the hierarchy become less human and their lives are seen as not as important. This is evident with the resisters treatment of women and when the resisters call Lilith and the other humans who cooperate with the Oankali animals or pets. The hierarchy that the Oankali see as the end of humanity is the one that leads people to dehumanize others and not care what happens to them.

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