They were eager to give me the scoop on Ardrossian accomplishments. Women of the inner circle, they gushed, now had access to scientific fertilization methods. No one in the higher circles had had to engage in the ugliness for many years.
Another comment, this one from Magni Olla, whose words, I sensed, fell on the group with some discomfort. I had no idea what she was saying but it sounded distinctly bitchy to me. Linnlahkeh again faithfully translated, though I thought I read embarrassment on her face: “Magdi Olla think the modern ways have make our daughters too… leisure?”
She looked at me to provide whatever word she was grasping for. I looked back at her blankly, wracked my brain for possible substitutes.
“Lazy?” I finally offered, tentatively.
Linnlahkeh smiled broadly. “Yes. That is it. Lazy.” She dropped her voice a bit to add, “Magni Olla also say this mean we do not have the true khekhli now, either, she say young women like …easy way, do not care about tradition.”
Yes, definitely something snide there. But what did she mean by the khekhli? I had to ask.
Linnlahkeh struggled to translate. “What is your word for this? When the fhyllyana is done most correct, when young woman is success, have child inside, you understand? She sacrifice herself for to get child, the he must serve his second purpose. This is the… pure? Puriting?”
“Purification?” I suggested, feeling a little queasy.
“Yes. Purification. You know this. A matriarch who do not do this allows the…shame? The… taint? to visit their house into the next generation. It is for honor of the family, for honor of the young woman …” she struggled again for the right word, “The ancient teachings very clear. Male who serves first purpose must serve second purpose. It is sacred to our people. I am sorry you not come at a time when you can see a khekhli. I would like to know how it is same or different than yours.”
Linnlahkeh then quietly added something I took to be her own comment. “Magdi Olla has those who follow her, who also believe the khekhli that is done after the Magdena Magna’s new ways to get child, that it is not right, not…pure. They will not partake. There is some…tensing? Tension? Yes. Only an Elder of her stature could say such a thing. I hope you forgive the not pleasant talk.”
I had absolutely no response to this tortured explanation. First purpose? Second purpose? It didn’t sound like they were talking about heavy lifting. I had no idea what she meant by that word “partake”, either, and the deeper we went, the less I trusted Linnlahkeh’s translating capabilities. I took a long moment to sip my drink, trying to connect these dots. Childbirth. Ugliness. Modern fertilization. Ritualized impregnation. What the hell went on here? Either I was totally misreading things, or this culture was seriously, maybe dangerously, twisted.
My confused thoughts were interrupted by more questions coming from the ladies of the Circle. Clearly, this was all just the stuff of their everyday lives. Instead they wanted to know more about me… since I was never able to have children, then I had remained pure? Was that the source of my wisdom and old age? They greatly envied me.
My strength and power must truly be great, that I was able to be in direct contact with my manlings without their even being appropriately robed and veiled. Was I not repulsed by them? (more laughter) Did they require much beating to subdue their urges and make them serve loyally?
I was having to fight waves of panic now. What I thought I was hearing stretched my ability to believe. Surely it couldn’t be that they used men for fertilization and then… that ‘second purpose’? Oh, god, this wasn’t good.
Just where were all the men here? Where did they keep them? And what did they do to them?
Yet, here were these perfectly bright, lovely, elegant women, chatting on amiably about a life that was obviously normal to them. While Linnlahkeh was talking to the others, my mind wandered off, and all too horribly, the memory of Rosie popped into my head. Rosie, from the Women’s Shelter, in another lifetime, on another world.
Rosie was yet another abuse victim I counseled in that long-ago, far-away job. I saw her sporadically over several months, always when she ran to us after her “fiancé” had beaten her black and blue.
And every time, once she’d had a chance to catch her breath, she would explain to me very calmly and logically how much he loved her, how well he treated her, how the latest injuries were only an isolated incident, and due solely to her own failure to please. Then she would go back into the same violent house, until she was back again. Until she just stopped showing up, and we never heard from her again, never heard whether anyone ever even found her body.
Talking to Rosie, trying to use my own logic in the face of her crazy rationalizing, was what finally convinced me that the world truly was mad. It was dealing with that madness that drove me on to my own inner quest, desperately seeking whatever I could find that would help me deal with the insanity all around me. I knew I either had to find something that made sense, or I would go mad myself.
That’s what I was remembering now, that totally blank expression on Rosie’s face when I tried to even suggest that what she called love was actually something far from that. Rosie simply knew what she knew. If love had always been delivered with a fist, then that’s what love was.
That’s what was hitting me right then. That sense of total disorientation, the realization that there was no communication here, translations or not. These women were worlds apart from me. This wasn’t just a matriarchal society. It was misandrist.
Bet you didn’t know there was a word for it – misandry – the hatred or dislike of men. The masculine version of misogyny. Not something we heard a lot about back on Earth, where patriarchal societies were still the norm – at least when I left, they were. I’d stumbled onto the word years before, reading some of the more extreme feminist literature. All those extremists always gave me the willies. And boy, oh, boy, was I getting a grand case of the willies now.
My thoughts kept spinning back to Earth. I remembered how people in China, faced with a governmentally imposed one-child limit, would kill girl babies in hopes of having a boy the next time. I remembered how women were treated in such medieval ways in many parts of the world, things like honor killings, even in the 21st century. Was it really so surprising that somewhere in the universe there would be a world where they’d simply flipped the sexism model? Once a skewed viewpoint gets codified into ritual, cultures run off the rails everywhere.
The trouble was, that intellectual understanding did nothing to tamp down my rising fear. I’d come here with three others, three men. And being a man on Ardros, I was starting to figure out, was a very, very precarious position.
“Speaking of my manlings,” I said, rising from the low seat, “I think I need to get back and keep an eye on them.”