The Woman who Rides Like a Man: To Change a Culture
In an earlier post I’d discussed how Alanna’s journey to become knight mirrored real life examples of woman who changed societal expectation by challenging them and how change is brought about by those who chose to aim for it. But these changes occurred not only when someone was willing to change them, but in a time when enough of society was receptive to the change. But what if they aren’t? What if people refused to accept or even allow change because it would alter things that had remained unaltered for a long time or because the change threatens the power that they wield? What would you do then?
In Tamora Pierce’s novel, The Woman who Rides Like a Man, Alanna faces those very problems. Having earned her shield and killed Duke Roger in combat after finding evidence that he was trying to kill Jonathan and his family and seize the throne, Alanna heads out to find adventure. Heading south she is captured by the Bloody Hawk, a nomadic tribe group of the Bazhir and inducted into their tribe, something that is not received by all. For Alanna rides like a man and fights with sword and magic which is forbidden by custom to Bazhir woman. But Alanna must stay and challenge the Bazhir customs because their future and that of Tortall depends upon it.
The Bazhir are a group of people broken into tribes. Some are loyal to Tortall while others are against them. This division not only threatens the Bazhir, but could bring war on Tortall. Despite their differences, all tribes have one thing in common; the Voice. The Voice of the tribe is someone who, through ancient magic, embodies the memories and the history of the Bazhir and acts as a mediator and spiritual leader. The word of the Voice is accepted by all regardless of who the Voice is. The current Voice is dying, but he has chosen prince Jonathan to be his successor.
However, the Bazhir will not simply accept a northerner and the prince at that, not as they are. Can Alanna change a people whose traditions have remained unaltered for centuries? Can she change the stubborn hearts of the Bahir? The dangers and challenges ahead are great, but if she succeeds Alanna will have forged the path that Jonathan can use to meld permanent piece between his kingdom and the Bazhir.
Change is never easy nor is it universally accepted, but Alanna’s adventure among the Bazhir shows that sometimes change is not just about improving the lot of a group of people, but is needed for the sake of all.