There was a moment in Honor Harrington: The Honor of the Queen which convinced me of something four months in the Middle East could not. The Honor Harrington books are not particularly inspired; but because I’ve known the characters since I was a preteen, I’ll listen to them. The series also takes me out of myself, to a place where I am more open to uncomfortable ideas.
In The Honor of the Queen (spoilers!), our heroine and her loyal crew travel to Grayson, a planet where women lack the legal rights they have in Honor’s home society. Women cannot own property, vote, or control to whom they are married. It is unseemly for any woman to be in a man’s presence without her “protector.” Honor’s female crew members, accustomed to unquestioning equality, are glared at and sexually harassed by the men of the planet. Honor herself is ignored by senior members of the military who are made uncomfortable by her gender, even when Grayson is being attacked by Masada.
Masada makes Grayson look like Sweden. Women on Grayson can expect a life of private study and physical safety–Masadan women are kept literally barefoot and pregnant and beaten by their fathers and husbands. The men in the society blame women not only for man’s fall from grace, but also every military defeat at the hands of the Graysons. What little we see of Masadan women in this middle of this military space opera is grim and heart-breaking.
Near the end of the book, Honor discovers than some of her people have been taken captive by the Masadans. When she frees them, she discovers that all but two of her female grew members have been murdered a way I refuse to describe here. Part way through the Masadan commander’s gloating portrayal of their deaths I realized: it is difficult to be a part-time person.
On both Masada and Grayson, women were part-time people. They had social standing in their homes, but no social standing in public, or government, or their faiths. It was easier for the Masadans to use Honor’s crews as objects because they were used to being able to treat women as non-people in most of their society.
This progression is not unavoidable: societies where women have limited rights are not necessarily also societies where women are treated as objects in the worst way possible. But I believe they are at a much greater risk than ones where women are legally equal.
“My duty is not affected by what others may or may not do to discharge their own.”–Honor Harrington