Originally published in 1984, Octavia Butler's 'Bloodchild' tells the story of an alien planet inhabited by ‘Terrans' (or humans) who have escaped the disasters facing planet Earth. The alien occupants of the planet, also known as ‘Tlics', are unable to bear their own young; as a result, they must use male Terrans as surrogates to host their eggs. Though 'Bloodchild' outwardly appears and is commonly thought to be a story about slavery, this essay will examine how Butler challenges conventional thinking and explores gender roles in 'Bloodchild'. It will argue that the reversal of traditional roles is meant to be a feminist statement on gender inequality and the social issues surrounding it.
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Starting at the very basis of the story, 'Bloodchild' begins by challenging typical gender roles. T'Gatoi, a female Tlic, assumes the role of the male while Gan, a male Terran takes on the female role and must carry T'Gatoi's babies to term. Unlike most stories we here in this day and age, 'Bloodchild' utilizes two very different protagonists—T'Gatoi being a strong and powerful female while Gan, though he is the narrator, is merely seen as a host. Further questioning our preconditioned notions about gender roles, 'Bloodchild' puts men into the unlikely position of being the egg carrier, or the one who is pregnant. While in our society, women are biologically responsible for bearing children and assuming a maternal role, things are reversed in 'Bloodchild'. The Terrans are viewed as much weaker than the Tlics and, thus, are destined to be the carriers—it is the only way for either species to survive: to depend on each other. By making Gan responsible for carrying T'Gatoi's children, Butler explores the role of a woman through a man's eyes and experience and vice versa. Though this role reversal was a very obvious and blatant example of gender role reversal, Butler focuses on more than just the physical experience of the pregnant male and touches on the mental and emotional toll that women would experience when going through a pregnancy. We see Gan put into a dilemma typically only experienced by females; he struggles with the pain and dangers related to childbirth, realizing that pregnancy is, indeed, a sacrifice. However, Gan knowingly accepts in the sacrifice of his own health and well-being for that of his sister. This protective instinct and sacrificial tendencies are typically more of a womanly, maternal instinct to have, but it is Gan in 'Bloodchild' who takes on this role, In turn, T'Gatoi is much more dominant and overpowering, further evidencing the destabilization of what we view as traditional gender roles.
Gender inequality was widely evidenced in 'Bloodchild', too. Exploring power dynamics and societal standards, we see T'Gatoi was portrayed as the more masculine figure of the story. Though female, she is dominant and overpowering in her relationship with Gan. On the other hand, Gan portrays the role of a submissive female. In our society, too, it's obvious that men tend to have the upper hand. They're seen, more often, as the stable decision-makers and usually have more positions of power—be it in the workplaces, politics or in a familial unit. In 'Bloodchild', however, it is the Tlics who hold the power, both in making decisions and politically. This is evidenced when Gan says on page 18, 'Yet I undressed and lay down beside her. I knew what to do, what to expect. I had been told all my life.' This line perfectly encapsulates the way that women tend to, or are expected to, view sexual encounters—hesitant, obedient, and compliant. Gan even says, on page 16, that T'Gatoi is manipulative—an issue that we traditionally see females struggle within situations with men (both sexually and otherwise).
Because of the gender inequality present in “Bloodchild”, and the obvious role-reversal, I think Butler was able to make a compelling argument about gender and what it means to be ‘male' or ‘female'. I believe that 'Bloodchild' was a powerful and thought-provoking piece on feminism and gender roles in our society today.