Are men physically superior to women

Science fiction novel "The Gift" : When men have to be afraid

Margaret Atwood once said: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them. ”The feeling of fear of violence is part of most women's lives, as the MeToo movement has made clear. The fear of walking home alone at night. The fear that a “no” will not be accepted. Sometimes even the fear of your own partner, father or boss. Every third woman in Germany has already experienced physical or sexual violence - almost always from men.

What would happen if that relationship turned around? What if women were the more physically superior and men the ones to be scared? British author Naomi Alderman explores this question in her science fiction novel "The Gift", which she dedicated to her friend and mentor Margaret Atwood. The starting point of their story, which begins today, is as simple as it is radical: teenagers around the world develop a muscle-like cord that runs along their collarbone. The strand produces electricity - similar to electric eels - and allows you to give off electric shocks through your hands. With this, the young women can inflict great pain on other people and even kill them. You can transfer this ability to older women, female babies are born with the strand from now on. Thus begins a new age in which women are the stronger sex.

Women are no more good-natured than men

From the point of view of four characters, Alderman describes the upheavals that the discovery of the gift led to over a period of a decade. There are: Roxy, the daughter of a London drug lord, whose gift is extraordinarily strong; the orphan Allie, who founded a female religion as "Mother Eve"; the ambitious politician Margot, who first has to hide her strength; and the young Nigerian journalist Tunde, who is the first to publish a video of the gift online. Tunde is also there live when women in Saudi Arabia proclaim the revolution and forced prostitutes in Moldova take revenge on their tormentors. At first his mood is as euphoric as that of women, until he gradually realizes that as a man he can no longer move safely everywhere. With drastic depictions of violence, Alderman makes it clear that women are not essentially gentler and more good-natured than men. Whoever has power is abusing it, so the dark message of her book.

"The Gift" is Alderman's fourth novel. It won the British Women's Prize for Fiction, the New York Times selected it as one of the ten best novels of 2017, and Barack Obama put it at the top of his recommended reading list. An adaptation of the book as a TV series is being planned and should have a similar impact as the film adaptation of Atwood's “Report of the Maid”. Like Atwood, Alderman in her novel, which bears the more meaningful title “The Power” in English, is primarily about describing how power structures arise and solidify until a society accepts them as natural.

Comment on the present

Alderman frames their story with an exchange of letters that takes place several millennia after the discovery of power. A young writer sends his established colleague the manuscript of a historical novel he wrote: “The Gift”. In the meantime, the physical superiority of women has been transformed into social power, with all the clichéd ideas that go with it. "My feeling tells me - and hopefully yours, too - that a world led by men would be friendlier, nicer, more loving and more caring," the author writes to her colleague and then explains the evolutionary story to him in a latently condescending tone. Men were always the keepers of the house, while women had to be more aggressive and violent to protect their children. Male soldiers, as he mentions them in his manuscript, are therefore implausible and at most arouse sexual fantasies in her.

Like any good science fiction work, “Die Gabe” is less a vision of the future than a commentary on the present. By turning the status quo upside down, Alderman makes his absurdity clear. Male readers could read what it is like to live with fear of violence from the opposite sex.

Naomi Alderman: The Gift. Novel. Translated from the English by Sabine Thiele. Heyne Verlag, Munich 2018. 480 pages, € 16.99.

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