Let me be frank: this was a strange story. I can see how it would cause quite a stir, but also win Hugo and Nebula awards. Still, it was strange. I am often so preoccupied with my own fear of pregnancy and childbirth that I don’t think about male impregnation. However, as I was reading the short story, certain elements reminded me of medieval marriages. Before I break this down here is an extremely short crash course in Medieval marriage.
The marriages I will be talking about are between the upper class. Marriage was a financial and political contract between two men. Women were property that could help bind two clans or kingdoms with a male heir. Medieval England was divided by several feuding kingdoms, that were eventually connected with the takeover of the Tudors.
However, connecting clans or kingdoms is not what was reminiscent in Bloodchild. It is the conflicted emotion that many women felt about these marriages. Often, they would be marrying someone they did not know, so that differs from Gan’s grooming experience, however, his emotions surrounding the impregnation are similar. For many women, consummating the marriage was akin to rape, where the consent was forced upon them, even if they did not want to have sex with the man. They would have to lie there and do exactly what their new king wanted. It was not about love or connection; it was to continue the line. Again, Gan doesn’t seem to enjoy the impregnation process. He is literally drugged so he doesn’t feel the pain. The way Butler describes the process is like a drugged rape. This could not be done for any women in the middle ages. They had to endure the pain and maybe, although it was uncommon the first time, enjoy it. It doesn’t matter how these children felt (as both Gan and medieval women were both younger than and “inferior” to their impregnator). In both cases, the physical and emotional pain of the “vessels” are only taken into account after the impregnation. Gan and these women are the property of the impregnator.
The thing that felt most similar to medieval marriages was the conflict of pride and protection. For Gan, if he would not let T’Gatoi impregnate him, she would have impregnated his sister. He wanted to protect his sister from suffering as he had seen Bram suffer, so he gave himself up instead. As an older sibling, I identified with this. You want to protect your younger siblings from the horrors of the world, even if it means putting yourself at risk in the process. I can imagine it would be the same for many betrothed women in the medieval era; they would rather themselves marry for politics to allow their younger siblings to marry for love, or, more likely, to marry someone kinder than their betrothed. At the same time, there is pride in marrying a king, just like there is a strange pride in being T’Gatoi’s chosen. Pride and protection are conflicting emotions. One is selfless and the other is selfish. It’s a strange combination that does not exist in our modern-day marriages. However, in this dystopian future that Butler created, we see the same human emotions that were present in medieval marriages.