So. If the title and my shameless infatuation for all writings Tamora Pierce didn’t clue you in, I’m reading Mastiff, the third book in the Beka Cooper series. (That Amazon link likely contains plot spoilers — and so might this post, though this post likely won’t contain major ones.)
The Premise: These books are set in Tortall but earlier in history than Alanna’s time. (Maybe on the order of 150-200 years before, just going on memory and not fact-checking anything.) Beka is a Dog, basically like a police officer. She is on a Hunt, searching for a kidnapped child.
The Hunt brings Beka and the rest of her party to a noble’s castle, a castle where the dominant religion includes concepts of the Gentle Mother — that is, that women should be refined, detached, and subservient home makers rather than continuing to engage in men’s work. As a devoted Dog, one can imagine how well this goes over with Beka.
The Hunt party — including two men and two women** — has been traveling cross country over some fairly remote terrain; as such, they have been dressed accordingly. When they reach the castle, where the count requests that they stay overnight, someone — I suspect the countess — requests that both women wear dresses to dinner. The other woman, who is not a Dog, seems to agree without much fuss, for reasons I assume are her own. No one requests that the men in the party alter what they’re wearing.
Beka balks. At first I thought it was because she hated dresses; then I remembered that she’s worn dresses in past books — both of them? — without much fuss. They are maybe not her favoritest things ever, but not clothing items to which she’s had overwhelming objection. Then I wondered if she bristled at a noble telling her what to do, a feeling somewhat more in line with Beka’s personality but still not spot on. Then she said this:
“People,” the count said flatly. “My dear, this can be handled after supper. [Name redacted to reduce spoilers], you and the wench must dress. It is the rule of my house.”
I felt sick to my gut, but i stood and faced the old canker blossom. “Your Highness, my lord, my lady, I may not,” I told them, trying not to sound rude. I knew I was courting that whipping the count had spoken of. “I am a Provost’s Guard on a Hunt. I eat, I sleep, I do all manner of things, but until I bring down my prey, I am on duty. I wear my uniform.”
- She was just trying to do her fucking job. Whatever other motivations she may have had for not wanting to don a dress, the fact that she had a duty to remain on duty — and in uniform — is both legitimate and foremost.
- While I was totally cheering on Beka’s refusal to dress, I also assumed that her primary reason was personal aversion, either to the dress itself (understandable) or to being requested or required to playing along with a misogynist religious movement (also understandable). But until Beka said something, it hadn’t entered my mind that her primary reason for refusing had to do with professional, legal, and moral obligations.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to say I both empathized very deeply and experienced my own reality check. There are plenty of times when I get frustrated with people interfering with various aspects of my appearance — my clothes, yes, but also my mobility, my hair, my makeup or lack thereof — as I’m going, “I am just trying to do my job or otherwise get on with my day to day life. Butt the fuck out already!”
At the same time — even when I check myself — there is some part of me who first puts that perceived contrariness onto the individual rather than onto the establishment.
** Also Pounce and Achoo. Of course I would not leave them out.