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Gender in Ozma of Oz
The Splendid Dystopia in the Marvelous Land of Oz
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Gender in Ozma of Oz: 02/21/18

Gender in Ozma of Oz

Primarily I am reading (or in many cases re-reading) the Oz books in the context of my road narrative project. That said, it's difficult to read Ozma of Oz (1907) and not be aware of the way gender is handled, namely in the regards to Ozma and Bill the chicken.

There are already papers written on the Oz book and this Oz book in particular. If you have access to them via a university, you can read them. I don't currently and therefore might be recapitulating old — stale — musty even — ideas. That said, my brief post will be strictly a reading of Ozma of Oz from the text itself and my own reaction to it. Ozma of Oz in part, picks up the themes of transformation from The Marvelous Land of Oz. I use transformation rather than transition for two reasons. The first is that it includes the many other characters who aren't changing in terms of gender or gender expression but are in fact literally transforming: from inanimate object(s) to animate, such as Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse; dead to alive, the Gump; small to big, the Woggle Bug; and many into many different animals, Mombi. Tip, in the case, is the only one to transition and it is done through a magical transformation via Mombi's magic. The second reason is that it's the word used throughout the book. By Mombi's own admission when captured by Glinda: "I transformed her into— into— ... into a boy!.

Save for the cover where Ozma is clearly about ten years older than she is in the book and is drawn somewhere between a vamp and a Gibson girl, she is still recognizably the same character she was in The Marvelous Land of OZ. Her transformation isn't total. Besides looking very much like her former self, she also maintains the matter-of-fact, often tactless, approach to problems. (It takes a few more books for Ozma to grow into her leadership role).

Side by side comparisons of Tip and Ozma walking, both illustrated by John R. Neill

Despite an entire book being devoted to the life and times of Tip, Ozma from the moment she's released from Mombi's magic, is never dead-named. Not once — something many newer, more progressive books fail on.

That's not to say that her new (or restored) identity is completely accepted by the text either. Numerous times in the book when Ozma is being described, the adjective "girlish" is used, where it's never used for Dorothy or any other female child in the series. For instance when Ozma and her companions rescue Dorothy:

"'Oh, thank you very, very much!' cried Dorothy, who as soon as she heard the sweet voice of the girlish Ruler of Oz knew that she would soon learn to love her dearly." (Ozma of Oz, p. 110)

The appellation "girlish" is used often used in the context of comparing Dorothy (genuine Kansas farm girl) to Ozma (girlish ruler of Oz). In fact, the other big gender discussion is done through Dorothy's preconceived notions of gender, namely through her interactions with Bill.

Frankly, Bill, though a chicken, has the more interesting and compelling non-gender-conforming plot. Bill is a little yellow hen who washes overboard with Dorothy on the ship bound for Australia (or our world "Oz" if you will). After Bill lays an egg (as she does every morning in the book), Dorothy says, "by the way, may I inquire your name, ma'am?" (p. 31) The chicken's "somewhat gruff" reply is "My name is Bill."

Bill the chicken has only been talking for about two pages at this point, but has already correctly assessed the situation. Dorothy is a bit of a transphobe. Even after a lengthy explanation that yes, Bill knows she's "lady hen" and she knows she has a boy's name, and that she likes her name just fine, Dorothy declares, "But it's all wrong, you know" (p. 31) and promptly "fixes" the chicken's "problem" by renaming her "Billina."

If the name were really that minor an issue to the chicken, Bill would be Billina through the rest of the book. When the chicken is described from Dorothy's point of view (which is most of the book as it's a third person narrative, primarily from her vantage point), she is referred to as Billina. However, when introducing herself, Bill always says her name is Bill.

Despite having a new name forced upon her and being constantly scolded by Dorothy for not being "dignified" (meaning acting like a lady), Bill steps up and saves nearly everyone from the Nome King. (Dorothy manages to save herself and on prince of Ev through luck).

Acceptance of gender in Oz like the rest of the world seems to be one of privilege and passing. Ozma is mostly accepted because she dresses the part and accepts her new-to-her name without protest. Bill is chastised even when being heroic because she choses to be something other than hen or rooster — a demi-hen perhaps.

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