Study Guide

The Golem and the Jinni Gender

By Helene Wecker

Gender

"Do you know what a golem is? […] It's a beast of burden. A lumbering, unthinking slave." (1.13, 1.15)

Sadly, at this time in human history, you could replace "golem" with "woman," and this sentence would still be historically accurate.

The women cooked and milked and mended as the sun traced its familiar path through the sky. (5.121)

When you take into consideration the fact that the Jinni was trapped in the flask for 1000 years, this puts Fadwa's sequence of events in about the year 900… which means the Golem is still spending her days much the same way a thousand years later. Hrm…

Sometimes we women must do men's work as well as our own. (9.114)

So basically, the women have to do everything. It's not like the men ever sit around and milk the goats or mend the clothes.

"When is the funeral?" [the Golem] asked.

"Tomorrow."

"I won't be allowed," she said, as if to confirm it.

"No," [Michael] sighed. "No women. I wish it were otherwise." (12.21-12.24)

It doesn't help women's rights that the religions are patriarchal, too—here we see the Golem even being forbidden from attending a funeral. The Golem later breaks this rule when she attends Michael—a.k.a. her husband's—funeral.

"How could I go out alone, after dark? I would be noticed, an unaccompanied woman on the street." (13.150)

The Golem has to stay in at night, not because of her safety, but because of her reputation. It's unseemly for a woman to be seen alone in public at any time, but especially at night.

"A man tells you to believe, and you believe?"

"It depends on the man." (16.47-16.48)

The Jinni is an unlikely source of feminist thought here. Even he thinks it's ridiculous for the Golem to follow a man's orders, and this coming from a guy who will sleep with a woman and never talk to her again.

[The Golem] wasn't human. She would never have children. Love itself might be beyond her. How could she say wouldn't have done the same as Anna, if she'd been born instead of made? (18.13)

The Golem sympathizes with Anna, even though other people look down on her for being unmarried and pregnant. The Golem is able to put herself in Anna's shoes and see how life really is for a girl of Anna's age and social class.

"Be careful, Chavaleh. You're fond of Anna, I am too, but there's no need to risk your reputation." (18.58)

We can only imagine the things that get said about Anna off-page—she's probably called a hussy or a woman of loose morals. Being pregnant without a husband seems to be the worst thing ever in 1899. Even by simply associating with such a trollop, some of Anna's bad morals might rub off on Chava.

After a moment's hesitation [the Golem] merely did what she'd seen the other girls do: she lifted his hand from where it had wandered and replaced it firmly on her waist. (18.127)

The Golem has to navigate the social mores of the day when she hits the dance club. She doesn't drop it low, or drop it like it's hot, or drop anything really, but she does learn that men aren't always gentleman and that she needs to firmly remind them of this when they try to cop a feel.

To Michael's utter regret he'd frozen, chagrined, as his Orthodox upbringing rushed clamoring to the fore, insisting that this was immodest, unbecoming in a wife—and slowly she'd removed her hand, and replaced it on his back, and resumed their rhythm. (20.43)

Michael gets a little too wrapped up in traditional gender roles, and this creates some complicated situations. Yes, he wants to sleep with his wife, but only in the tamest way possible. We have no idea exactly what the Golem did here, but clearly it's out of Michael's narrow bounds.