Alisha Stidam Professor Heiniger

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Alisha Stidam
Professor Heiniger
29 April 2015

The Impact of Women on the Plot of Literary Quests

Social gender roles refer to the roles that are traditionally associated with women and men” (Filiz 519). In early society, men have had more power over women. In general, men have had more power over women because men have held more dominating social roles in society than women have held. An example of this is in literary quests, where men fight in war, whereas women stay at home during the war. In this situation men have the more dominant role because they are risking their lives, in order to protect their family, land and country. However, women have the less predominant role because while their husbands are at battle, the women are at home waiting for their husband to come home, mainly for sex. Particularly in literary quests that include, The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Lais of Marie de France, men have been the predominant gender role due to war and hierarchy. While it is true that the male gender has dominated within these quests, this paper will explore how the female gender has made significant plot advancements in these literary quests, specifically with love as a platform for sovereignty.

Beginning with The Epic of Gilgamesh, the two main male characters are Gilgamesh and Enkidu, who both hold the predominant role in the plot. These two main characters develop a powerful relationship that gives them a vast amount of power through the epic. Two artworks found in a "modern re-imagining essay" by N.S. Anderson were done in representation of Gilgamesh and Enkidu's relationship (Yuen). The first, shows Gilgamesh holding Enkidu in his arms at the crux of his death. Here, Gilgamesh and Enkidu's brotherly love is truly shown when we see Gilgamesh weeping for his dear friend Enkidu. This image is a great representation of the mourning that Gilgamesh does over Enkidu. The left picture shows Enkidu reciprocating his bond for Gilgamesh through his hand positioning. Both images are ones of embrace and love. They show that while people can differ by human and divine qualities, they still can come together as one, regardless of those characteristics. In in this case, the two males come together to form a powerful relationship; a relationship that gives them power over all women in The Epic of Gilgamesh. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh’s mourning sends a message of him feeling a loss of power, despite that he has not. This proves the power of their relationship, where the loss of a best friend impacts the other best friend to the point that he feels a loss of power. Both artworks send the message of how friendship and love are a prevailing part of the literary quest and the hero’s journey. The love that Gilgamesh and Enkidu share is used to build a platform for power and this is later seen as the method that women use later in literary quests to gain power too.

Gilgamesh is the King of Uruk and because he is the king, he has the power to rule. Gilgamesh is two thirds divine and one third human, which also gives him great power (5). Throughout The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh develops a fraternal relationship with Enkidu. Gilgamesh is an extremely human like character, while on the contrary Enkidu is an animal like character. Both of the main male figures in this epic are at two extremes of the spectrum between being human and being animal like. Gilgamesh is so human that he constantly craves sex. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, sex is a symbol of power. Gilgamesh is constantly craving sex because sex is power and power is happiness. Enkidu is brought to Gilgamesh to help him become less human and more animal like. In the same way, Gilgamesh helps Enkidu become less animal like and more human like. The two best friends fraternal love for each other that helps the two find a balance between being human and animal like.

Gilgamesh shows Enkidu that he needs more sex, in order to become more human like. Sex is where women become involved in the plot of this epic. While men are the dominate figures in the plot because of their higher status in society, women create a heterosexual relationship with men that the male gender badly desires. Since sex is power, it is fair to say that sex is the platform for a women’s power. The following quote further explains just how much power women have in The Epic of Gilgamesh, “…the female can be dangerous because her knowledge has the potential to create or destroy depending upon how she is approached and how her power is used. In the ancient tale of Gilgamesh women represent not only great wisdom and power but also temptation and ruin” (Tomko). Not only do men have power with sex, but women also have power with sex. Women may be controlled by men wanting to constantly have sex with them, however women also have the power to control men with sex too. Due to this fact, women advance the plot of this epic considerably. As seen with the case of Shamhat being brought to Enkidu, women play a substantial role in the hero and the sidekick’s journey. Enkidu and Shamhat had sex for seven nights, and without this Enkidu would have never been through the act of being taught how to become a man (181). At first, Enkidu feels like he has lost his animal like qualities after sleeping with Shamhat. This is why women like Shamhat are so powerful to the point that they become dangerous because Shamhat made Enkidu feel like he had lost his original self-identity, ultimately making him feel like he had no identity at all. Before Enkidu was able to see the good in what Shamhat was doing, he first felt a loss of morality. Shamhat prepares Enkidu for the future plot of the epic. This is why the female role in the plot is dangerous, because without it Enkidu’s character would be a weak one, whereas with the female role of Shamhat, Enkidu becomes a powerful higher status male figure.

It has been the history of social roles that we see in literary quests like The Epic of Gilgamesh that has led to the same social roles for men and women in later society. In an “…investigation that examined 580 stories in the top three local television news programs in a North-eastern U.S. television market for a two-week period” it was discovered that males had more dominant social roles over women in the news industry (Danilewicz 822). It was found that the greater population was more likely to tune into a newscast with a male reporter, versus a female reporter. It is true that earlier on in news broadcasting, gender role were not equal because in history males have held a higher role over females, as seen in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Due to this fact, a coding procedure was put in place to help eliminate gender inequality. This coding procedure was as follows, “Each story in the newscast was coded for the following variables: order in the newscast, gender of reporter, gender of anchor, number of sources interviewed, gender, source expertise (expert or nonexpert) and story topic” (825). Note, the majority of these coding procedures revolved around gender, in efforts to put an end to gender inequality in the television industry. Women have just as important roles as males, specifically when broadcasting. Men can learn from women, just as equally as women can learn from males. Women can only help further advance the television industry through the knowledge that they bring to the table, as well as the knowledge that males bring to the table. This is why the coding procedure put in place was so important, because without it women would not have a platform to present their knowledge, and ultimately advance the television industry. This investigation is similar to the role of women in The Epic of Gilgamesh because in both cases, women use a platform as their form of power. In the television study, the coding procedure acted as a women’s platform and in The Epic of Gilgamesh, sex and love were a women’s platform.

A second epic where women play an important role in the plot is The Lais of Marie de France. This epic is one of the first instances seen in literature where women have had more control than men and where women played a bigger role than men in the plotline. The women in this story use courtly love as a stage to control the men throughout The Lais, which is what gave females the more predominant role in the plot. In the story Guigemar in The Lais of Marie de France, love was defined as, “…an invisible wound within the body” (Marie de France 43). Men fell in love with married women of a higher status, and because of this men had no chance of getting with the women they wanted to. This is exactly what courtly love was during medieval times; falling in love with someone who you could not have, and in particular falling in love with a married women of higher status than yourself. Not being able to have the one you love was exactly the “invisible wound within the body” talked about in Guigemar. Men did everything to try and win over women. Knights changed the way they talked, cleaned up their appearance and became more chivalrous. Typically knights were masculine fighters in battle. When courtly love was introduced by women during medieval times, it produced more civilized knights, rather than war driven knights. The idea that men were not able to have what they wanted, that being women, drove them to be the best knights that they were able to be, all in efforts to win over the women that they were in love with.

There is a fine example of a man trying to win a woman over in the story of Guigemar. There is a knight who is named Guigemar who has no interest in love that is until he is cursed by a deer. The deer tells Guigemar that he will never be relieved of the curse until he finds a women to love faithfully with all of his heart. Courtly love is then seen in this case because the knight falls in love with a married woman who is married to a Lord. The lord is of higher status than the knight and this makes it hard for Guigemar to get the wife of the lord. At first, Guigemar is set out to find any women, just so he can break the curse that was cast upon him by the deer. However, as the story progresses, Guigemar actually falls deeply in love with the woman when he has to rescue her from the Lord. A married women makes a man who is of a lower status than her husband risk the hierarchal system, in order for him to find love (Marie de France 30-59). This instance shows us just how much power women truly do have, but also they danger that they have the potential to cause. While women were using courtly love as a way to produce better rounded knights, it also caused some knights to break the feudal hierarchy, which was truly dangerous during the dark ages.

During medieval times the feudal hierarchy began with the lowest status of peasants, then knights, nobles and lords, and then at the top of the pyramid were the kings. Fraternal love in The Lais of Marie de France was the same type of fraternal love seen between Gilgamesh and Enkidu in The Epic of Gilgamesh between men in a feudal hierarchy. Knights were trying to clean up to be the best knights around for the women they loved, however fraternal love sometimes got in the way of getting the women that they wanted. Knights and peasants fell in love with women who were married to a man above them in the feudal hierarchy. A knight never betrayed those of a higher status than himself, and because of this knights would never try to pursue a women married to a king, if they wanted to honor fraternal love. If a knight or peasant slept with a king’s wife, fraternal love was put at risk. Sleeping with another man’s wife goes against the loyal friendship that brotherly love encompasses. King at the top of the pyramid in the feudal hierarchy had more power over men at the bottom of the pyramid, so sleeping with a king’s wife was seen as breaking the feudal hierarchy, and therefore going against fraternal love too.

Men were depended on by females throughout history, because males ruled the feudal hierarchy, which gave men the power. The power that men had introduced a sense of fear in a women. This was because if a women were to be unfaithful to her husband during medieval times, there was the potential of getting hurt, beheaded or facing death as a consequence. However, when courtly love was introduced during medieval times, the male dominant social role began to lessen because women used courtly love to propel their power.

As time progressed throughout history, the importance of the female role was recognized more and is still being recognized in present day society. In an article published in Modern Day Dads it was quoted that “…as a generation comes to pass, the roles that society has placed on us, or we have inherited, melt away as we define our own existence as independent people” (Dad). From The Epic of Gilgamesh to The Lais of Marie de France a transition is seen in the importance of females. While the ideas of male dominance have been passed down from generation to generation, the article in Modern Day Dads explains that the human population is learning from the past. This meaning that, humans began to notice the importance of the female role in society more and that idea has been passed on to the next generation. It is now okay for a dad to be a stay at home dad, whereas in history women have strictly had the role of staying at home. The article also continues to explain that a “workaholic” father is draining and this is why in society today families where both the husband and the wife work is most common (Dad). Females are becoming more independent because society has recognized them as an equal to the male gender. The idea that women have no identity, other than that of their husbands, is now being diminished. Women and men are seen as equals in a family now and this is important because it shows us that in the future it will not be necessary for women to have a platform in order to have power.

While it is true that women are in the process of being recognized by society with the same social role as men, it is also fair to say that women and men are still not completely equal, as there still are cases when women are given a platform in order to have power. The reality of social gender roles, is that there is still male dominance and society must continue to improve equality for all women. For example, there is still gender stereotyping that goes on in the workplace. Stereotypically nursing, hairdressing and child care are all female professions. Likewise it is a stereotype that male professions include engineering, army related jobs, plumbers, electricians and construction contractors (Lampousaki). In order for females to gain equality, gender stereotyping in the workplace has to end.

There are even “factors hindering women’s professional development” where the number one factor contributing to this issue is that the “business sector is dominated by men”, and due to this procedures have been set to try to eliminate this fact (Lampousaki). In this survey done stating the fact that males dominate the business sector, another part of that same survey stated that women thought men dominated the work sector. However, the most informative part of this survey was that even men agreed that the business sector was dominated by their own gender. This proves that male dominance is still a big part of society today, so much so that it affects the ability for females to further professional development. Women are not able to climb up the seniority ladder because male dominance puts men at the top of seniority, solely based on gender. This is a huge obstacle for women all around the globe and the truth of the matter is that women have just as equal of a job set of skills as men do, and therefore gender dominance needs to be eliminated from society completely.

It is evident that male dominance has been as long term part of society, as seen in literary quests such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Lais of Marie de France. More importantly the role of women and their love in these epics cannot be overlooked because without women and the love that they bring, there is no plot advancement. Throughout history, improvements in gender equality have been made, where women have achieved sovereignty. This progression is seen from The Epic of Gilgamesh to The Lais of Marie de France to current society occurrences such as in the workplace. Due to the fact that it is just progression that has been made, in regards to gender equality, there has not been a definite elimination of male dominance, as it is necessary for women to have a platform to obtain power. In order for the line between social gender roles of men and women in society to become equal, further education of male dominance needs to occur. With this, society can become more aware of the situation and use this to their knowledge to solidify gender equality for everyone, in hopes that the importance of the female role is never undermined anymore and that there is no longer a need for a platform to obtain sovereignty and equality for all women.

Works Cited

Adana, Filiz, et al. "Views of Male University Students about Social Gender Roles; an Example

from East of Turkey." Journal of Family Violence 26.7 (2011): 519-26. ProQuest. Print.

Dad. “Are ‘Gender Roles’ Still Prevalent?” Dads. Modern Day Dads, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 7

April 2015.

Danilewicz, Anna, and Roger Desmond. "Women Are On, But Not In, the News: Gender Roles

in Local Television News." Sex Roles 62.11-12 (2010): 822-829. Print. 

Lampousaki, Sofia. “Stereotypes about gender and work.” Eurofound. Eurofound, 22 Jun 2010.

Web. 7 April 2015.

Marie de France. The Lais of Marie de France. Trans. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante.  Grand

Rapids: Baker Academic, 1978.

Tomko, Seth. “The Role of Women in the Epic of Gilgamesh.” HubPages. HubPages Inc., 13

Mar. 2015. Web. 7 April 2015.

Yuen, Isaac. “The Epic of Gilgamesh, Three Ways.” Ekostories., 21 Nov. 2013.

Web. 7 April 2015.

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