Bloodchild and the Gender Binary
Our modern day society has a very rigid and adhered to gender binary . With the binary, a certain power dynamic exists. That is to say, males have the majority of the power while females are left to scrap over what’s left. Octavia Butler aims to challenge that with Bloodchild. In her science fiction work Bloodchild, Octavia Butler criticizes the power dynamic of the gender binary by creating a world where the power dynamic of men and women are reversed.
In Bloodchild we have a planet where Terran (human) and Tlic (alien worm-like species) exist together. On this planet, the only Tlic that live to old age are female. Additionally, Tlic are mainly interested in male Terran. This sets up a background for which we can see a power struggle between the two races. As we continue on in the essay, we will see that Butler is comparing the female Tlic in the alien society to males in our society, and the male Terran in the alien society to females in our society.
In this society the Tlic regulate most of Terran daily life. “This wasn’t our only gun… Firearms were illegal in the preserve.” (Butler 12). “Since Terrans were forbidden motorized vehicles except certain farm equipment, I knew this must be Lomas’s Tlic…” (Butler 17). These two passages describe some of the restrictions the Tlic have put on Terran life. This is similar to how women in our society are told what to do or what not to do, what they can or cannot wear, or what they can or cannot say. While in today’s day and age it may not be as straightforward, women are still taught these ideals in a subtle way through gender performances in the gender binary . Butler is criticizing this practice in our modern day society.
In addition to regulating what the Terran can and cannot do, Tlic have imposed another law upon the Terran. Terran mothers must give 1 child (preferably male) to a Tlic “mother”. “The preserve was hers by the time she came back to my mother to collect what she probably saw as her just reward… T’Gatoi liked the idea of choosing an infant.” (Butler 8). This passage talks about the sense of entitlement the Tlic’s have over the Terran. There is a sense of hesitance in Gan’s voice when he says “what she probably saw as her just reward.” He has been told all his life that the Tlic deserve a Terran child, yet he doesn’t quite believe it. Butler is making a statement about men in our society. Many shows such as the Bachelor have this idea of men choosing a woman to marry . This idea is of men picking a woman is ingrained in our society, and Butler is criticizing it.
As if stealing a child from their mother wasn’t enough, the Terran males that are chosen are forced to bear Tlic young in a violent way. The violence of the childbearing can be seen in the birthing process. “And she opened him. His body convulsed with the first cut. He almost tore himself away from me. The sound he made, I had never heard such sounds come from anything human. T’Gatoi seemed to pay no attention as lengthened and deepened the cut, now and then pausing to lick away blood… I felt as though I were helping her torture him, helping her consume him… She found the first grub. It was fat and deep red with his blood – both inside and out. It had already eaten its own egg case but apparently had not yet begun to eat its host.” (Butler 15). This refers to the “birthing” process between Tlic and Terran. In order to birth Tlic young, a Terran must go through excruciating pain where the Tlic cuts him open and picks around in his guts until they find the “young” which are eating the Terran’s body. The Terran have no say in whether or not to have this process done to them, it is forced upon them. Often times Terran die as a result of this childbirth. This further shows the nature of the power dynamic between the Tlic and the Terran. While the Tlic are not put in harm’s way, Terran risk their lives to give birth to these monstrosities for the Tlic. Butler seems to be commenting on our childbirth, and how it creates a certain power dynamic. Men are not put in harm’s way at all while women suffer through the pain of childbirth in addition to bearing the child inside of themselves for 9 long months.
The Tlic see the Terran as nothing more than a means, a mean to bear young. We see this when Qui’s older brother tells Gan about the birth he saw. “’I saw them eat a man… The Tlic wouldn’t open the man because she had nothing to feed the grubs… He was in so much pain, he told her to kill him. He begged her to kill him. Finally, she did… I saw the grubs eat their way out, then burrow in again, still eating.’” (Butler 20). Generally when a birthing occurs, Tlic have an animal carcass they put the grubs in. The grubs eat the animal instead of the Terran male so the Tlic can maintain the façade of caring for the Terran. However in this case the Tlic mother had no animal carcass. Thus she let her children eat the man alive in order to protect their lives. This is more commentary on the power dynamic between the Tlic and the Terran. The Tlic don’t value Terran life, they value the service of childbearing the Terran provide.
In a final vie for control, the Tlic decide when and where the impregnation of the host Terran will happen. This is just one way that Tlic maintain dominance over the Terran. “’I will impant the first egg tonight,’ she said… ‘Now!’… ‘I must do it to someone tonight.’” (Butler 27). T’Gatoi is telling Gan about how she is going to impregnate him tonight. She removes all agency he has and forces it to happen to him tonight. Gan is clearly not ready for this to happen to him as further evidence in the next paragraph. “I knew what to do, what to expect. I had been told all my life… She undulated slowly against me, her muscles forcing the egg from her body into mine.” This passage describes what seems like a rape scene. By the tone of the passage and the use of such words as “expect” and “forcing” we see that Gan is clearly not ready to do this. However, T’Gatoi forces this upon him and, being in a situation of less power, he must oblige. Butler is again criticizing the power dynamic of our society. She is showing that those with less power must do things they do not want to because those with more power are forcing it upon them.
Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild is a science fiction work about an alien society. However, it is more than that. It is a commentary on our society as well. By reversing the power dynamic of the alien society, Butler is able to make commentary of ours. She is looking at how the gender binary between men and women creates a stark difference in authority. With this extreme look at power, Butler is attempting to show us the evils of the binary and the evils of the power dynamic in our society.
Butler, Octavia. "Bloodchild." Bloodchild and Other Stories. 2 ed. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005. Print.