Julianna Baggott’s novel Pure, challenges normative understandings of the gender binary by creating an America where desolation has forced the remainder of civilization to fight for survival, while simultaneously reinforcing it through the privileged lives of the Pure. For the Pure who reside in the Dome, gender roles and binaries are strictly enforced through the separation of women and men into differing fields of study and roles of importance. While those who reside outside, fend for their lives and safety no matter their gender. Through the critique of the differing forms of gender roles and binarism present within the Dome’s society and the contrasting enforcement found within the outside culture, this blog post will determine how gender roles negatively affect the ways in which girl’s construct their social, and private self.
Baggott’s utilization of the gender binary in her depiction of the Dome’s society helps to contrast the survivors on the outside’s lack of gender roles and instead focuses on their will to survive; enforcing that the gender binary itself is a construct used to control its civilization. By keeping the women of the Dome, complacent and ‘weak’ – focused on arts, and childrearing – they have less of an opportunity to be heard, or take part in society (Baggott 57-58). Within the Dome, women are specifically used for their reproductive capabilities and their brains. Whilst the men are used for their physical capabilities, which are enhanced to make them even stronger than usual (Baggott 14). Baggott’s choice to have the men of the Dome coded to be strong and fast, while the women usefulness is founded in their reproductive capabilities, reinforces hegemonic masculinity, “the pattern of practice (i.e., things done…) that allowed men’s dominance over women” (Connell 832). While furthering to show that women are not meant to work ‘real-life’ jobs, “I’ve heard they don’t let the boys take art, only things that have real-life applications, like science” (Baggott 61).
Baggott’s novel is influential to young adult girls as it depicts Pure women as reproductive entities first, before seeing them as brains. In her article, From Girlhood, Girls, to Girls’ Studies: The Power of Text, Dawn H. Currie explores the representation of girlhood within text to discover how girls construct their identities, “commercial interests [are] major players in normalizing societal expectations about what it means to be a woman and, by extension, to be a girl” (19). The novel, further reinforces negative ideals through the ‘imprisonment’ of Lyda within the rehabilitation facility because she is thought to be mentally unstable due to what they believe is a lie. In short, Lyda is segregated as a form of punishment, her hair is cut off, and she is interrogated, often through the insinuation that she is lying because she is in cahoots with Partridge (Baggott 97-101, 171).
Baggott’s decision to have Pure set in America allows her young adult reader to find themselves while learning their place in society (Day 12). Baggott is able to challenge the gender roles present within our current society by pushing them to the extreme in her creation of the Dome’s culture and and the civilization outside of it. YA dystopian literature present young women as agents of change (Day 7), Baggot does the same through her two main female characters. Baggott has Lyda and Pressia react against the sexism in their lives rather than let it overtake them. Young girls reading this will not only see themselves in these two female characters, and agree with what the characters are thinking, but they will also be influenced into rebelling against similar systems of thought present within our society. In the Dome, while men go through coding sessions, girls are not coded due to “too much fear of damaging their reproductive organs, which is more important than enhancing their minds or bodies” (Baggott 323). Baggott offers the reader the opportunity to disagree with the Dome’s gender binary that women’s worth is founded in their reproductive organs. Baggott wants her young adult readers to know that women are more than their bodies; that they deserve the right to enhance their minds. Further, girls in the Dome are expected to marry, which further reinforces the idea that women’s importance is based on their reproductive capabilities. Baggott illustrates this through Ellery Willux’s plan for Lyda to marry his son Partridge. However, Lyda is resistance to Willux’s plan, stating that she does not need to marry Partridge (Baggott 326). Here Lyda openly disagrees with the social norm that her worth is based on her marrying a man.
Meanwhile, the women outside the Dome have learned how to scavenge and fight for their survival in the deadly world they reside. However, Pressia still experiences gender roles. Baggott specifically critiques the common ideology that women belong in the kitchen through Ingership’s belief that since Pressia is a girl she longs to see a proper kitchen. Pressia, focused solely on her survival, is disgusted at this assumption (Baggott 243). Pressia’s instinct to survive is more potent than her want to reside within a kitchen due to the lack of gender socialization within her world. To her, survival is more important than adhering to old gender roles. In this instance, Pressia is forced to play along in order to survive her present situation. By having Pressia respond this way, Baggott shows that when young girls adhere to expected gender roles it is not always by choice, rather they are fulfilling a role they are expected to perform or need to perform to navigate society.
Julianna Baggott’s Pure may reinforce gender roles and binaries upon its characters, but young adult girls reading are given the opportunity to form their own opinions against common gender norms. Baggott’s representations of girlhood found in Pressia and Lyda’s life experiences show that others force the gender roles and binaries they experience upon them. Therefore, Pressia and Lyda’s rebellion and dismissal of normative ideologies creates a discourse for young adult girls to join and hopefully rebel against in their own societies.
Baggott, Julianna. Pure. Grand Central Publishing, 2013.
Connell, R. W. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender & Society, vol. 19, no. 6, 6 Dec. 2005, pp. 829–859. doi:10.1177/0891243205278639.
Currie, Dawn H. From Girlhood, Girls, to Girls’ Studies: The Power of Text. Edited by Clare Bradford and Mavis Reimer, Waterloo, ON, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2015.
Day, Sara; Green-Barteet, Miranda; and Montz, Amy. Introduction: From “New Woman” to “Future Girl”: The Roots and the Rise of the Female Protagonist in Contemporary Young Adult Dystopias. Routledge, 2016.
Does the resistance against gender roles and binarism within Baggott’s plot influence the chances of young adults, specifically young women, rebelling against society’s strict gender roles? Or does resistance to these roles only exist within a fictional post-apocalyptic or dystopian world?
In the case of this novel, would you agree that there is privilege in safety? How is this reproduced in society today? Could Baggott have represented this better, and therefore created a better social commentary?