11 November 2014

“Perhaps the women are made of cast-iron”

In The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum introduces the character of General Jinjur, leader of an army of girls. She aims to depose the Scarecrow as ruler of the central part of Oz. Why? “Because the Emerald City has been ruled by men long enough, for one reason,” she says.

Jinjur is thus a comedic version of turn-of-the-century suffragists. And soon she succeeds in conquering the Emerald City. When the Scarecrow returns with his friend the Tin Woodman and others, they find domestic society turned upside-down:
As they passed the rows of houses they saw through the open doors that men were sweeping and dusting and washing dishes, while the women sat around in groups, gossiping and laughing.

“What has happened?” the Scarecrow asked a sad-looking man with a bushy beard, who wore an apron and was wheeling a baby-carriage along the sidewalk.

“Why, we’ve had a revolution, your Majesty as you ought to know very well,” replied the man; “and since you went away the women have been running things to suit themselves. I’m glad you have decided to come back and restore order, for doing housework and minding the children is wearing out the strength of every man in the Emerald City.”

“Hm!” said the Scarecrow, thoughtfully. “If it is such hard work as you say, how did the women manage it so easily?”

“I really do not know” replied the man, with a deep sigh. “Perhaps the women are made of cast-iron.”
At the end of the book, Glinda conquers Jinjur and crowns the young princess Ozma. As for the conflict between the genders, Baum writes:
At once the men of the Emerald City cast off their aprons. And it is said that the women were so tired eating of their husbands’ cooking that they all hailed the conquest of Jinjur with Joy. Certain it is that, rushing one and all to the kitchens of their houses, the good wives prepared so delicious a feast for the weary men that harmony was immediately restored in every family.
Baum was on record as a supporter of woman suffrage, and had even written about a female US President by the 1990s. His mother-in-law, Matilda Gage, was one of America’s most radical feminist authors. Without that history, however, I don’t know if people would be so quick to read this part of the book as a gentle parody of feminism rather than a dismissal of it.

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