In her novel, He She It, Marge Piercy questions ideas of gender and gender roles in a futuristic society. Piercy sets the stage of her story in a temporarily safe haven called Tikva, a Jewish slum where matriarchy holds a subtle but evident power. The story's central character is Shira Shipman, a highly educated recent divorcee, who has lost custody of her son to her ex-husband. While the deterioration of the marriage may mirror modern circumstances, the decision to give custody to the father is definitely a creation in Piercy's arcane world. Already, the reader is greeted with a gender role reversal. Typically, almost every society views the mother as the more crucial parental unit. Most American divorces result in children going with the mother, with fathers on weekends. Additionally, American society is replete with dead-beat dads or fathers who walk out on their families. In Norika, Josh is awarded custody of Ari simply because he has higher credit earnings, which would roughly translate into having more income in today's society. Motherly guidance and love is not an issue that the Multis comprehend, and neither does Josh, who grew up an orphan for most of his life. In fact, Norika inhabitants do not grasp the idea of "love" they way we do today. Shira seems to be the only character to possess romantic notions, evident in her previous relationships, and most importantly with Yod. To Shira, Yod is the man she never had, the child that was taken from her, and the epitome of safety and comfort; too bad he was a cyborg. Their relationship also tests typical gender roles and teaches about the importance of human perception.
[...] When Yod sacrifices himself for the safety of Tikvit, he lovingly iterates to Shira, have been my life.” Once he left, sense of loss drained her until she could barely walk, one step, another halting step, into the remainder of her life.” (425) Throughout the book, Piercy constantly reminds the reader of Yod's cyborg qualities and lack of humanity, but in the end, we have gradually become convinced that he is a complete person. What is more meaningful to prove love than self- sacrifice? [...]
[...] At the outset, she lacks all maternal qualities and prefers a life of danger and intrigue than one with her daughter, which is evident when she readily confesses: not an affectionate person, Shira, not the cuddly type. I'm loyal to death to those who are loyal to me. But I'm a warrior, not a mother." (200) At their reunion, Riva acts like a stranger and doesn't seek any kind of closeness with her daughter. She also reveals the truth about Shira's conception through artificial insemination, which had been the normal child bearing method of the Shipman clan for generations. [...]
[...] She forewent tradition by getting married, having a baby with the father in the normal way, and subsequently losing custody. However the term "normal" can only be applied to our current societal standards. In the story, Piercy observes that child conception and raising have varying norms and standards according to location. Some Norikans entertained triad marriages. According to Malkah, the women of the Shipman clan were never supposed to marry, for women could never trust men. Malkah, who never married and was artificially inseminated to bear Riva, is thrilled to have Shira back home, especially after all her warnings about Josh and the disappointing nature of men in her life have come true. [...]
[...] When Yod confesses that he also needs to be touched for "It is more important to me than the rest," Shira replies, that, you're like a woman.' She wanted to flow over him and bite him and swallow parts of him. She wanted to pull him into every orifice of her body. It was a hard succulent wanting, new to her. It made her feel strong." (189) It is evident that Piercy is playing with typical gender stereotypes as she explores the facets of both characters in this relationship. [...]
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