Femininity As ‘Disability’ In Parable Of The Sower (Angie K. & Jennifer B.)

Lauren, the protagonist in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of The Sower, is represented as a powerful female character. While the world around her is crumbling she is one of few characters who seems to understand the dire situation of the world and who wants to do something about it. Her stepmother, Cory, and her friend, Joanne, both traditionally conform to female traits. They live under the rule of men, and do not question the way in which things are run. Lauren is able to question the society she is in, and even plans to leave in order to live what she hopes will be a better life. However, Lauren’s character is not able to escape the traditional roles that female characters are meant to fill, as expressed by her ‘hyperempathy syndrome,’ the fact that Lauren is a sharer. This means that Lauren is inflicted with any pain that those around her are feeling, or that she perceives is being felt.

Traditionally female characters are emotional, a trait that we have come to recognize as being part of the stereotypical female. In this way Butler has Lauren conform to the traditional female ideal through a sort of disability. We recognize empathy as a trait that girls and women are ‘meant to have,’ and so giving Lauren hyperempathy syndrome forces her to conform with that idealized femininity. If it were not for her hyperempathy syndrome Lauren would be more powerful in her fight to freedom, and it is this trait that holds her back. Without this emotional ‘disability’ Lauren would be a more powerful character, but she is restrained by her feminine conformity. We see then that a traditionally feminine characteristic has come to represent something negative, showing the negative view on the stereotypical female.

Her emotional attachment to others is seen as a disability by other characters in the novel, such as Harry who is frightened about what this disability means. Although Lauren has a syndrome that has been diagnosed even her father acts as if it is something that is not real. “He [Lauren’s father] tells me, ‘You can beat this thing. You don’t have to give into it.’” (Butler 11). It is almost as if Lauren’s father wants to ignore what is natural to her, as if this ‘feminine’ trait that Lauren is faced with is something that she can ‘beat’. Tom Moylan states that Lauren’s hyperempathy syndrome “informs and shapes her entire existence and her lifelong religious-political project.” (228). In this way a ‘feminine’ characteristic that Lauren is seemingly burdened with is what motivates her and her actions throughout the novel. However Moylan also believes that Lauren turns this syndrome into a “personal gift that endows her with the extra transformative strength that eventually informs her work as a visionary and social reformer.” (228). In this light the traditionally feminine comes to represent something good, although Lauren had to be given a ‘disability’ in order to achieve this. We come to see that the traditional feminine trait of empathy is both a benefit and a hindrance in different aspects, as shown through Lauren’s own inner conflict with hyperempathy syndrome. Lauren’s “disability” may hamper her physical strength, but this vulnerability gives her the emotional strength to navigate the complex social problems and guide her people to achieve social reform.

Throughout the novel Lauren is rendered ‘useless’ by her empathy, as she falls down, passes out, or can no longer be helpful because of the pain that she feels. Often this is the easiest way to remove Lauren from the action, her female emotions making her too ‘weak’ to be violent past the first shot. “I knew at once I’d hit him. He didn’t fall, but I felt his pain, and I wasn’t good for anything else for a while.” (Butler 296). In this way Butler is able to give Lauren some agency, while having an excuse to keep her out of the brunt of the action. Eliane Rubinstein-Avila, states that “If female protagonists assert their agency, they risk being perceived as unfeminine, unattractive—lesbians, freaks, and by definition threats to unexamined social norms.” (370). Through this line of thought it is necessary for Lauren to be taken out of the action to preserve her femininity, while still making it seem to the reader as if she were performing with a kind of agency. Lauren is already perceived as an opinionated and intense individual, and so it is with the disability of empathy that Butler constructs her as a feminine and “attractive” character to the reader. A similar example could be seen in The Hunger Games, with Katniss given a makeover to detract attention from her intense, “unfeminine” attitude.

To continue this idea, it seems as though strong female characters must be characterized as feminine in one way or another, in order to be an appealing leader. Lauren must be given the “disability” of empathy in order to satisfy the femininity requirements of society. It is as though an act of violence must be committed against a girl in order for her to fit the model of girlhood. Lauren is inflicted with the physical and emotional pain of others to satisfy the emotional need of a stereotypical woman. Similarly, Katniss’ makeover could be described as a violent attack on her character, as the unnecessariness of makeup and fancy clothing goes against the core of her being. As well, women in politics and in the media face a similar violence in a majority of interviews. They are explicitly required to detail their personal lives and maintain their composure in a way that is not asked of men. Lack of vulnerability is seen as being “too cold,” whereas emotions are seen as signs of weakness. Butler expresses these same ideas in giving Lauren the “disability” of hyperempathy. In order for Lauren to be viewed as a powerful leader she must possess empathy, and in this case it is exaggerated in the form of hyperempathy.

Discussion Questions:

Octavia Butler constructs Lauren as a powerful female leader with the disability of empathy. Power is a trait that is generally considered to be masculine. Do you think that a powerful female could exist without some nod to femininity (ie. empathy, appearance, romance)?

Do you think Lauren’s disability victimizes her, and how does this potential victimization contribute to her role as a powerful female leader? How do you think this would change if she were male?

Works Cited

Butler, Octavia. Parable Of The Sower. Grand Central Publishing, 1993.

Moylan, Tom. “Octavia Butler’s Parables.” Scraps of The Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia,  

               Dystopia. Westview Press, 2000, 223-245.

Rubinstein-Avila, Eliane. “Examining Representations of Young Adult Female

Protagonists through Critical Race Feminism.” Changing English, Vol. 14, No. 3,

               2007, 363-374.

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17 thoughts on “Femininity As ‘Disability’ In Parable Of The Sower (Angie K. & Jennifer B.)

  1. I really like and agree with the argument that having hyperempathy is in some ways a disability because it renders Lauren useless in situations when she needs to be active and in control. I understand your argument that in some ways hyperempathy is a feminine trait but I don’t fully agree with this idea. When I was reading the novel I didn’t think that her hyperempathy made her feminine, especially towards the end of the novel when a male character with hyperempathy is introduced. Having a male character with hyperempathy, I think, detracts from the potential feminine qualities of empathy. Additionally, because Butler creates Lauren to be such a strong and powerful character I think her hyperempathy and her determination to travel in this harsh world when she knows the pain she could be in because of it just makes her stronger. Also, I think Lauren’s caring and nurturing attitude towards young children which we see throughout the novel is more of a feminine trait than her hyperempathy.

    I agree that strength is generally associated with masculinity and this is enhanced by Butler when she makes Lauren present as a male for safety reasons and I do think a powerful female character could exist without some nod to femininity. However, especially in Young Adult dystopian fiction I doubt an author will ever create a completely un-feminine powerful female protagonist because they are aiming their novels at teenagers, and teenage girls typically want to be reading about romance. I also think this it is unlikely this will happen because when the protagonist is an adolescent female she is supposed to be representing adolescents in the real world – who are not perfect and strong and who do adhere to at least some attributes of femininity.

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  2. I agree with the argument that Lauren’s hyperempathy is a feminine quality, which stands out even more in this male – dominate society she lives in. That being said, I really enjoyed how you said “Lauren’s “disability” may hamper her physical strength, but this vulnerability gives her the emotional strength to navigate the complex social problems and guide her people to achieve social reform”. I know that her condition is seen as a disability in the novel, but I would not see it as such in terms of feeling emotional empathy, rather than the physical pain. Although the pain is what dominates her hyperempathy, I would argue that her ability to empathize with other people, especially those she encounters outside the wall, is an important stepping stone in Lauren creating her Earthseed community. Lauren is able to see past divisions such as race, gender and class because she knows that it really doesn’t matter on the outside world, all that matters is that she survives. Especially when she encounters characters with children. I would argue that Lauren does have other inherently feminine traits, aside from her hyperempathy. She sees a mother with a child, and instantly feels like she has to care for them. In Robledo, she also taught the kids, as well as her friends because she knew they had to be educated. It could be argued that this is also due to her hyperempathy. In terms of your second discussion question, I think that she is definitely victimized both because of her hyperempathy, and her gender. The physical hindrance of her condition is the thing that sets her back in terms of trying to survive. I think Lauren was afraid to tell her group about it at first because it would make her seem weak, and she was trying to be a leader. As is found out in the end, however, Lauren’s ability to feel emotional empathy is what sets her apart as the leader, as she is able to accept this knew group and begin her journey toward Earthseed. With that said, I also think that this would change, in this society in particular, if she was a male. As a girl, Lauren is already victimized in her world, and her hyperempathy is another added struggle. If she were male, it might be easier for her to deal with it in some ways because she would not already be an easy target.

    To respond to your first discussion question, I think it is very difficult to come by a strong female leader, in today’s society especially, who does not have some nod toward femininity (specifically speaking in terms of being ‘made up’). Every female in a position of power is in the spotlight, and constantly bombarded with media, and with that territory comes an expectation to dress the part. For example, Hillary Clinton is running for the president of the United States, and yet she still has to be constantly made up, and dressed appropriately for the cameras, because if she wasn’t wearing make up, I think that people would be more concerned about how she looked, as opposed to what she had to say. I am not saying I agree with this, nor do I think women should be ashamed of their feminine qualities, I just think it is unfortunate that such powerful figures are so often judged based on how they look, before anything else. In terms of the novel, I would argue that this is being done in the opposite way. On page 18, for example, Lauren says: “Fashion helps. You’re supposed to be dirty now. If you’re clean, you make a target of yourself. People think you’re showing off, trying to be better than they are… we all have filthy clothes to wear outside the wall.” Although this is the opposite of being made up like celebrities, I think it still demonstrates the importance of “dressing the part” in order to survive.

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  3. I agree with the point you raise about Lauren’s hyperempathy being both a benefit and a hindrance. Early in the text, Lauren’s hyperempathy is mainly presented as a hindrance. For example, when she shoots a dog during target practice, Lauren describes the moment in saying “I felt the impact of the bullet as a hard, solid blow—something beyond pain. Then I felt the dog die. I saw it jerk, shudder, stretch its body long, then freeze. I saw it die. I felt it die…I went a little numb. Without the bike, I would have collapsed” (45). In this case, Lauren’s hyperempathy renders her weak, and simultaneously feminine, through her excessive emotion and her inability to control it. Later in the text, though, we see the way in which Lauren somewhat transforms her hyperempathy into a source of power by the way she chooses to cope with it. While traveling with Harry and Zahra, Lauren tells us that “[t]he day [Zahra] and Harry use their knives, I hope they kill. If they don’t I might have to, to escape the pain” (178). In this case, Lauren recognizes what was once a hindrance to her, and reappropriates it into something powerful. In doing so, she is motivated to act in a way that her hyperempathy once did not allow her to—she is ready and willing to kill.

    Although Lauren’s hyperempathy, arguably, makes her feminine, she is still, undoubtedly, a powerful female character. Therefore, I contend that her character demonstrates the way in which women can be feminine AND powerful. What this suggests, then, is that femininity and masculinity do not necessarily equate to weakness and strength respectively. Lauren is hyperempathetic, which is considered inherently feminine, but she is also intelligent, brave, strong and resilient, which are traits typically associated with men and masculinity.

    Furthermore, I do not believe that a female must erase or disguise her femininity in order to be powerful because doing so essentially reinforces the paradigm that to be feminine is to be weak, while to be masculine is to be strong. In fact, women can, and should, be feminine while still being powerful in order to interrogate binary thinking. On the other hand, if Lauren’s character were male, I think his hyperempathy would feminize him and, thereby, render him weak in the same way that some may argue it does to Lauren. The feminization of a hyperempathetic male speaks directly to the problem with binary thinking.

    Overall, I think Lauren’s character, including her hyperempathy, disrupts feminine vs. masculine and weak vs. strong dichotomies. Lauren demonstrates the way in which girls and women can embrace their femininity, yet emerge as powerful and active beings nonetheless, which is an important message for not only young girls, but society as a whole

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  4. I appreciated your efforts to navigate the complex structure of Lauren’s girlhood since I myself was torn throughout reading the novel about whether her hyper-empathy contributed to a negative or stereotypical construction of femininity as opposed to something more positive. Sensitive, empathetic, caring – those are all traits commonly associated with women and Lauren experiences these feelings in an exaggerated way. There is definitely a viable argument for hyper-empathy emphasizing femaleness, but I have to respectfully disagree with the notion that it functions as a “disability”. I think that the reactions of supporting characters, such as Harry or Lauren’s father would have been similar had she been male.
    The thing I believe to be problematic about using that specific term is that having hyper-empathy doesn’t lead to significant social barriers for Lauren – she is able to participate in society at a high-functioning level and I would go so far as to argue that her hyper-empathy does more good than bad. Her “vulnerability” – a term you both used, which I really liked! – makes her stronger; after all, Butler couldn’t write Lauren’s character without flaws or obstacles. I did agree with your concession that the hyper-empathy “gives her the emotional strength to navigate the complex social problems and guide her people to achieve social reform,” because I genuinely found her ability to truly understand the pain of others to be a gift more than anything.
    As a female protagonist in what we are choosing to call YA fiction, Lauren was refreshingly honest, strategic, and unconcerned with stereotypically feminine things. I found that the brunt of her appeal stemmed from her smarts; her motivation and hope for a better future; her willingness to help others (which arguably stems from the hyper-empathy); and her keen awareness of the world around her. None of those attributes, in my opinion, have anything to do with her position as ‘woman,’ but rather emphasize that she is a born-leader. Again, thanks for contributing your opinions! I really enjoyed that your post forced me to think more deeply about the implications of Lauren’s hyper-empathy being paired with her position as female.

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    1. I agree with much of what you’re saying here, but the things you’ve identified as Lauren’s strengths–hopefulness, awareness, willingness to help others–are traits that are not necessarily associated with good leaders. I would argue that these traits are often constructed as feminine. Consider how Grayson feels it is necessary to hide his hyper-empathy–to him it makes him less of a man. Is this even a concern for Lauren?

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  5. Compulsory Heteronormativity/Power&Agency – Comment by Mirlande

    To answer your first question, from what I’ve seen in the novels we have read so far in class and my own novel for the book review, all of the female protagonists have always had some ‘traditional nod of femininity’. Whether it be Katniss and her softness/motherly protective roles towards Prim, or Lauren and her hyper-empathy syndrome, the authors have created these powerful characters with characteristics that are ‘normally’ seen as feminine in order to justify to the readers that they are in fact still females. Another idea about the authors needing to play to the audience of Young Adults and other readers, is the themes we discussed in class about ‘compulsory heteronormativity’. These female characters are strong in their goals and achievements in the novels, but the author still needs to play to a heteronormative society. And the only way to be successful in this way is to portray the female protagonists as strong and future girls, but also as strong future girls who cannot be truly successful without a compulsory heteronormative relationship. This can also reinforce the idea that women and girls cannot make change without having a man somewhere in their lives. And as you say “power is a trait that is considered to be more masculine”, then having a male and their masculinity in their lives will assist them to become even more powerful, as if they were unable to do this on their own. For example, I am thinking of the last discussion we had in class on Thursday about Lauren and her meeting Bankole. Lauren was already well on her way in the creation of her book of Earth Seeds. She was already able to defend and fend for herself outside of her community as well as inside. She had adopted people on the way of her journey headed north. These people who were or were not against the Earth Seed. She had already had the idea in her head to create the community. You can see with all of this she was doing well. But apparently, not well enough. Bankole had come along and there was the beginning to compulsory heteronormative relationship. With this relationship Butler has given Lauren an opportunity to become more powerful. Bankole is going to assist Lauren in having a location to start her community, land to grow food, and a place to settle. Lauren was not ‘truly’ successful in her achievements until she met Bankole. Bankole has the power to help Lauren in becoming even more successful, as if he and his masculinity can give her the things that she could not get on her own.
    As for your second question, when we were comparing themes in class on Thursday, I wanted to put empathy underneath power/agency. Yes, her hyper empathy syndrome makes her a victim when she is unable to fight back in moments that are crucial, but I also believe that throughout the novel Lauren was able to grow through this. They are even times in the novel when she discusses how there are parts of her syndrome that she has overcome, ie bleeding when others bleed. And I believe that as she moves farther along in her journey she pushes against her syndrome no matter how much it tries to keep her back, because she knows if she does not then she will die. She is pushing against this disability that reinforces her femininity in order to survive. I think this gives her power and agency within itself, because she is gaining power and agency by pushing back against this disability. She is gaining agency over herself, she is taking back the power/agency that she looses by being limited in what she can do to defend herself and others, by pushing through and defending herself even better. She throws the rock on top of the mans head with all of her force knowing full well that she will feel this pain. She stabs the man who has tackled her and taken her to the ground knowing full well that she will feel his pain. But she does so because she has no choice, she does so because she knows she has to survive. So whether or not this disability was given to her to reinforce feminist traits and make sure the readers still understand that she is female, Lauren is gaining power/agency within herself and pushing against what was given to her to keep her back, in order to be as powerful as she can be.

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      1. Of course not! As we discussed in class today;consent! Lauren is giving her consent to be in this relationship. And she has a choice to continue perusing it or not. Lauren has power within her own self and her own being. I am only saying that with Bankole she is stronger and even more powerful. He offers her a place to start her community of Earthseeds. Without him it would have been more difficult to do that, unless someone else came along and offered the same deal. She made it clear to him that she is all about EarthSeed and it is the most important thing to her, but her affection for him is still there. He understood this and offered her this deal. Come with me because this is how I feel and I can give you this, which is potentially something you would not be able to get if I was not around. Therefore, the mutual relationship does not diminish her personal power, because she has gotten where she had in the first place without him. But now that he is in her life, he is giving her the opportunity to become stronger and more powerful.

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      2. I understand your reading, and there is certainly textual evidence to support this. I’m not sure I agree though. It seems to me that Lauren is the unifying force in the book. Bankole is a plot device. Without him or his land, the novel doesn’t end as neatly as it does. It would end with uncertainty. I think Lauren would still go on to try to build EarthSeed without Bankole, but it would certainly take longer.

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  6. I think an important characteristic of Lauren’s hyperempathy to note is that it cripples her physically though not emotionally or mentally and the empathy itself does not prevent her from committing acts of violence. There is a certain power in doing what needs to be done regardless of the pain one will feel. Lauren knows that she will feel blinding pain and even undergo a mock “death” if she shoots or hurts another human being but she does so anyway to save her community. If the group is being attacked, she does not hesitate to defend herself or her friends because of the pain she will feel. Lauren grits her teeth and does what she has to for as long as she can before she is overcome with others’ pain.
    The effect her hyperempathy has had on her mentally has conditioned her to think in a way that seems opposite to how a girl is “meant” to feel. Though Lauren thinks like a stereotypical girl/woman in many scenarios—she feels for Amy Dunn, teaches children to read and cares deeply for her family—she also lacks empathy and remorse in many situations. When Lauren needs to commit an act of violence, she thinks first of her own pain, then of how that will affect her group and how she can end it as quickly as possible. Rather than worry about inflicting pain or mourning the potential death of someone she might hurt, Lauren thinks very practically and analytically about pain and death. She knows that on a practical level, she will have to kill the people she injures and inflicting pain—and by extension, death—is inevitable on this trip. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, she acknowledges that in order for her to survive, other people may need to die.
    In these ways, I think we can look at Lauren’s hyperempathy as less of an overall “feminine” disability, and more of an exclusively physical one that does not mentally feminize her. Her thoughts are not overly empathetic and, if anything, she seems to be less emotionally empathetic because of her disability—she ignores a lot of the suffering she sees around her in order to protect herself. I see your point that a feminine trait—empathy—is here being portrayed as a disability, but I think Lauren is still an incredibly strong character who is not very feminized regardless of her hyper empathy (not that strength and femininity are mutually exclusive).

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  7. “Octavia Butler constructs Lauren as a powerful female leader with the disability of empathy. Power is a trait that is generally considered to be masculine. Do you think that a powerful female could exist without some nod to femininity (ie. empathy, appearance, romance)?”

    I’m not sure whether this question is asking if a powerful female could objectively exist without a nod to femininity, or if a powerful female character could be allowed to exist without it, and be accepted by the reader. Objectively, I would say a ‘powerful female’ definitely could exist without conforming to femininity. In the way it’s constructed in current society, the concept of femininity is absolutely artificial as it involves actively modifying appearance and managing thoughts and behaviour. In this way, I think being ‘powerful’ would be easier if the woman in question rejects the tropes of femininity. This is in an ideal world though; current society punishes women who reject femininity, restricting their power in society.

    In terms of fiction, I think it’s much harder for authors to write female characters who aren’t feminine, simply because this is needed for likeability and relateability from the readership. As you mentioned, Katniss has to have a ‘make-over’ scene, and Lauren has hyper-empathy, which could be argued to be tactics to ‘balance out’ their distinctly unfeminine personalities.

    I like how you argued that for Lauren to be seen as feminine, through her hyper-empathy, an ‘act of violence’ must be enacted upon her. I think this works well as a way to look at how femininity is inflicted on all girls. Using Lauren’s disability we can look at the experiences of girlhood, like compulsory femininity, as a type of violence itself that is enacted on girls.

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  8. I really like your argument tying Lauren’s empathy to Katniss’ makeover from the Hunger Games. The need for an aspect of femininity in a female character is a trait which is often found within young adult dystopian fiction. Butler’s construction of of Lauren’s character as having hyper-empathy contrasts with the other “masculine” traits that she is assigned. This construction of girlhood is also shown in Collins’ development of Katniss’ character through the use of a makeover. Both characters are given an aspect of vulnerability through the authors’ construction of girlhood.
    This leads me to the discussion question that you posed regarding power. Within the framework of young adult fiction, it is rare to see a strong female protagonist who does not possess some form or representation of femininity. I would argue that this construction is partially due to the reinforced correlation of femininity and desirability in Western society’s construction of girlhood. Lauren’s hyper-empathy is both a site of power and weakness and I assert that she is able to consistently fulfil the role as powerful female leader throughout the novel.
    I really like jentombs1’s point that both femininity and Lauren’s experiences of girlhood represent a certain type of violence which girls experience today. I also agree that within the framework of YA literature it is very difficult to construct a girl/female character without aspects of femininity.

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  9. Very interesting argument!
    I think that a powerful female could exist without some nod to femininity, very generally speaking. However, considering the question in context of YA literature it seems that femininity comes up in come form or another. I assert that it is problematic to perceive femininity as a negative trait that suggests a person is weak or less powerful – I mean this in as a general comment, not to disagree with your arguments as I find them to be compelling in positioning Lauren as disabled by her hyper-empathy.
    Lauren is vulnerable to an extent because of her disability as she has to physically bear the pain and emotions of others which adds to her own experiences and burdens thus she has more to handle physically and emotionally compared to others. Yet it is important to consider, as was already mentioned above, that Lauren’s hyper-empathy also makes her consider her individual experience, feelings and emotions, before she acts so that she does not cause herself too much pain. I view Lauren’s hyper-empathy as causes her to consider her need to survive and fulfill her goals.
    If Lauren were a male her experience would differ because she might feel additional pressure as men are stereo typically expected to be stoic and less emotional, thus Lauren could possibly experience more self-consciousness about her hyper-empathy if she were male.

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  10. In response to your first question, in contemporary society, I don’t think power can truly exist in a woman without some sort of nod to traditional femininity. That’s not to say that I don’t WISH power could exist in a woman without this ‘constraint’ of femininity, but, just from what I have read and observed, it just does not seem possible in contemporary times. Within a novel, a female character who is powerful without this nod to femininity would be perceived by a publishing company as alienating the audience. She would be seen as too cold, too distant, too lacking those warm female characteristics one comes to expect in female characters. Even in real life we see this; just look at the recent presidential election. Hillary Clinton was constantly criticized for smiling too much, not smiling enough, for wearing pantsuits. Her femininity was always under fire because she was a woman running for a position of power. It always had to be there lest she be criticized as ‘heartless’ and ‘cold’. Of course, a woman cannot be too feminine if she is in a position of power, either, because then she would be criticized for being vapid, materialistic, etc. It is a fine line that women have to walk both in fiction and in reality.

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  11. I disagree that femininity is a disability in Parable of the Sower. I feel like it is more of a disadvantage than masculinity, however, feminine qualities are necessary to survival, especially the creation of a strong group. Without feminine qualities, like a nurturing instinct, Lauren’s group would not be able to expand and therefore making a more intimidating group. I don’t think that having a completely male group would be beneficial. A balance between masculinity and femininity is needed. Masculinity projects power and intimidation, so a pure masculine group would be less likely to help someone with young children. A group with feminine qualities in addition to masculine ones would be enable to build a strong and nurturing group, able to protecting one another especially weaker people.

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  12. I agree that in this world, hyperempathy is a disadvantage and seems to be based on the traditional idea that females have a greater capacity for empathy than males. While her hyperempathy can be seen as a disability in this world, there is another way to look at it. Octavia Butler is saying something powerful about the direction the world is heading in through the use of Lauren’s hyperempathy. The only reason her ability to feel other’s pain is a negative trait is that the rest of the world is self-interested and willing to do anything to survive, including injure and kill without a second thought. Lauren mentions that it would not be a problem if everyone had hyperempathy and that perhaps it would even be a good thing. The novel is not critiquing traditional feminine traits, but rather, the progression towards a world in which those traits are no longer valued or relevant. In other words, having empathy for others is not a bad quality, but it becomes a hindrance when the rest of the world has a kill-or-be-killed mentality. Perhaps Butler is making a statement about the qualities that are valuable in a modern capitalist society which benefit the individual but not the community. If this is the case, Lauren is disabled by her environment, not by hyperempathy itself.

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