In Michael Dorris’ short story Groom Service, the author depicts a gynocentric society that is matrilineal. This essay will examine the society in the aspects including the essential rules and customs, women as the most influential, the ideal characteristics for both genders, and aspects that might be applied to our society. In this gynocentric society, many rules differ from our society. For starters, women are the head of the household. Thus family inherence is passed through the maternal line. According to the story told by Theodore, the protagonists’ uncle,
“It’s a daughter-poor clan, and the one they’ve picked out for you is going to control everything someday: rich fishing sites, a big house. Behave yourself now, and you’ll get your reward. It’s not like you’re marrying the youngest sister with no prospects.”(Dorris,4) This quote shows that women are the owners of the property. Thus they are the head of the house, and men have to be married to them to have status. In our society, the woman has to live with the man after they are married; however, in their society, the mangoes live with the woman in her household.
Prices start at $12
Prices start at $11
Prices start at $14
Prices start at $12
Again, this rule was mentioned by Theodore to Bernard, the main character, “Your true home will remain here at your mother’s, just as it has been for me, but you can’t live here forever. You need independence, distance, the chance to be in a place where you were never a boy.” (Dorris, 4) From this, one can conclude that the man goes to live with his wife in their society. Despite the two rules that make women the leaders, men still have to propose to the women. Many examples exhibit this rule, and one of them is, “Groom service is the worst part, so make it as short as possible. Convince her family you won’t be a pain in the ass to live with.” (Dorris 4)
Yet, the story still has the men courting the women, even though the superiority has been completely reversed. Therefore, through the progression of the plot, one can deduce these crucial rules in their society from this story. The most influential people in Groom Service are clearly women. One family, in particular, Blanche’s family, is the most influential family in the story. The source of their power and influence are children, specifically daughters. Female offspring are more highly prized in the gynocentric society. “She’s [Marie] of pure quartz, A one-in-a-million that you find after walking the beach for half your life with your eyes on the ground.” (Dorris, 1) Women with daughters are of higher rank than women without daughters.
This is evident when Martha, Bernard’s mother is pleading with Blanche, Marie’s mother for a marriage proposal between their children. Marie is talking as though she is the inferior talking to a superior. In addition, power and influence in this society are relative to how many female offspring a family has. “Blanche’s daughter was the hope of the next generation, the one who had to bring in a husband and produce more daughters than her mother or aunt, if the family was to regain its position.” (Dorris, 3) This statement suggests that Blanche’s family is hoping that Marie’s potential marriage to Bernard will produce many female offspring that would raise their family’s position.
Another measure of how much power and influence a woman’s family has in society is natural resources. For example, Blanche’s family deals with fishing. A source of her family’s influence in their society would be her knowledge and access to good fishing sites. “For another, Blanche’s and Bonnie’s husbands had begun to join him on his hunts, to show him places to fish that only members of this household knew.” (Dorris, 6) Furthermore, a male can gain some influence in this society through marriages to powerful women. This is evident when Theodore urges Bernard to go through the ritual of groom service. “It’s a daughter-poor clan, and the one they’ve picked out for you is going to control everything someday: rich fishing sites, a big house.” (Dorris, 4)
This implies that if Bernard is successful with groom service, he may gain some influence with a powerful family. The ideal characteristics of women necessary to the gynocentric society are leadership traits, such as assertiveness, decision-making, and the ability to cook. Since women were seen as the dominant gender of the human species, leadership traits were adapted to show their control over the men. One of these traits is decision-making, which was displayed when Blanche decided whether the game Bernard brought to her was acceptable. Decision-making was necessary to ensure that the man who wanted to propose a marriage with their daughter was worthy enough to support their future wife.
Meanwhile, cooking was also considered an ideal characteristic. Throughout the story, men were seen as the servants who gathered the ingredients, while the women were seen as talented people who could change the game into something edible. Meanwhile, men’s ideal characteristics, which were important in the gynocentric society, seemed to be obedience, gratitude, and the ability to hunt. “You don’t complain…You stay out of the way because you never know what they’re going to find to dislike. You be what they want” (Dorris, 5). Throughout the story, as in this incident in which Theodore talked to Bernard, men were expected to do as the women told them because they were thought to be born inferior.
Gratitude was also considered an ideal characteristic because this was how the men were evaluated in the ritual. Whether or not the woman they are proposing to accept them is dependent on how the man shows that he appreciates the meal provided. Last but not least, men were expected to be able to hunt. The women depend on the men to gather the meat so they can cook; once again, their hunting abilities determine whether or not they are worthy as a husband. The society in Groom Service is very different from our society. It is a gynocentric society where the women rule and the men have to prove their ability to hunt for the woman’s hand in marriage. This is obviously unimaginable in our current society; however, the idea that one must prove their potential to their future spouse is an interesting one.
This could certainly be applied to our own society. A ritual performed by both sexes to prove their worth, fit as a couple, and provide basic necessities for each other. Perhaps it would lower the number of failed marriages because of the extensive ritual where only strong relationships could pass. In their society, the men would move into the women’s household after marriage. In our society, this would be shameful for the man and his family. Our society could take some of the qualities of the society in Groom Service and loosen the pressure of bringing pride to the men’s family. Nevertheless, the society in Groom Service is extremely radical and different from ours, and not much can be applied.
The short story Groom Service is about a society where women rule and it is matrilineal. It has many rules and customs including the Groom Service ritual for a marriage proposal and the men moving into the women’s household after marriage. In this society, women are the most influential because of their power and influence in a gynocentric society. The ideal characteristics for women are assertiveness, decision-making, and the ability to cook while the ideal characteristics for men are obedience, gratitude, and the ability to hunt. The aspect of a ritual for courting before marriage might be applied to our society.