thendara house, book one, chapter two

I guess I’ve put it off long enough. One chapter every third of a year, right? Stormy weather reminds me of Darkover, so here’s my… not really review of Chapter 2 of Thendara House. You can find Chapter 1 in this tag.

Jaelle’s POV in this chapter, and I’m not going to get too recappy like I did with the last one. I basically bookmarked the parts I wanted to discuss for some reason and now I’m going back over them.

Like page 20. Jaelle, getting dressed in the morning, is remarking on how… unusual her uniform feels. Little wonder: it is nothing she has ever known. Every inch of it is synthetic. It’s skintight where her old clothes were generous. Skintight clothes can be massively uncomfortable if you don’t normally wear them. If you’re used to wearing something baggier because it keeps people’s eyes off you, double that discomfort. Jaelle feels like everyone’s going to stare at her, and for what? The uniform doesn’t make a lick of sense to her! “Cut looser, and with the press-together seam in front, it would have been an admirable dress for a woman if she was breast-feeding a child, but this way it seemed a waste of materials…”

And Peter? You aren’t helping. Every man in the HQ will be envying you, indeed. That wouldn’t comfort me if I were getting dressed in the morning, either. Maybe I have a Darkovan sense of propriety, but I’m not interested in being stared at. Glanced at, glanced at again, by someone who sees something worthwhile in my face? Sure. Or the way that I carry myself. But not because I’m wearing something so tight you can see my spare bike tire.

Jaelle changes into her own clothes on page 21 because she feels like a prostitute in the uniform. I don’t blame her. I don’t go out in tunics and tights that form-fitting either. Dignity: can we have it? Can we, as women, dress for practicality? Jaelle knows she has to go outside in hideous weather and can’t imagine that tunic and tights being nearly warm enough. She knows her planet. She doesn’t know HQ has tunnels yet.

It’s worth noting that we’re going to find out in this chapter that the main reason uniform is so important is a chip that says a person is who she is. Um. Is there some reason Jaelle can’t have a culturally-appropriate uniform, if that chip is the biggest deal? Seriously, why can’t Jaelle wear her own stuff and a bracelet or something?

Page 21 is also the first time we encounter the importance of names. To the Terrans, by virtue of her marriage to Peter, Jaelle has become, legally, Mrs. Peter Haldane. That is the polar opposite of a Renunciate’s custom, which is to bear her own name and the name of her mother or foster-mother. The word used to describe Jaelle, speaking her new name for identification purposes, is meek. Quite unlike the Jaelle we’re going to know, trust me.

So Jaelle gets through the first half of her day, stops for a singularly unpalatable lunch, and we’re on page 29 when she hits on something interesting:

“…she realized she was still angry about the moment when she had walked naked between the rows of machines. None of the men had been offensive, they had not noticed that she was female. But they should have noticed . . . that she was in fact female and would have feelings about displaying herself in front of strange men.”

In Terran culture, by implication, people have no qualms about their nudity. Has the Terran Empire, then, achieved perfection? Has it become a place where women can walk around in next to nothing and suffer no consequences? Peter says that men will envy him, seeing Jaelle in the skintight uniform, so we know that it’s still “natural” to see a woman’s body before her self. How did it become unnatural for women to shrug that off? What keeps things civilized enough? Are men now polite enough never to remark on a woman’s body before they remark on who she is?

We have not gotten that far yet, so I have sympathy for Jaelle here. Feminism isn’t done working yet. Until that day when it’s standard for men to stop seeing our bodies first, I’m going to be more comfortable going naked or nearly so among women (who, at least, if they lust, have manners about it). And there are women who feel uncomfortable among women! But I feel safer with them. I would be fine in a women’s bathhouse. I would be secure enough, trusting enough, that if one of those women made me uncomfortable, a dialogue could be had and a sincere apology received. Because yeah, it’s naive to assume women can’t be just as awful as men — but women know the feeling better.

The chapter ends with Jaelle realizing Peter is just like every other dude she’s known: he thinks of her as an extension of himself, as the name thing suggests. He resents the authority of women like Jaelle’s new boss, Cholayna Ares, who is fabulous! He resents having come second to Magda, ever. This is Jaelle’s first big uh-oh moment. She may have made the biggest mistake of her life. How is she going to cope?

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