In a recent interview members of Ara'Kus were asked about the portrayal of violence toward women in our production.
You can read the full interview here: Ara'Kus Interview
We put this question to Aeterno Elementum stage director, active women's rights spokesperson, and writer, Tori McDonough. This was her response:
The Four Generals
The four generals are representative of the evils of mankind, and chosen or created based on criteria that is not entirely made clear, but presumably the potential for evil in their hearts as well as deeds already committed and potential to lead an army. If we are building a case off of "Who has the most malice in their heart”, I am sure that at least one of the most evil people in the world would be female. But we have to also look at factors such as the era in which Ara'kus takes place, the end-goal of our main protagonist, and of course the use of these characters within the greater scheme of "Aeterno Elementum” as a storytelling device.
In an era in which women are mostly viewed as property, the actions required to even garner the Demoness' attention are more likely to be done by men. Not that women are incapable of evil, but they lacked the access and social power to wield it. The Nobleman is pre-corrupted by wealth and the sin of greed garnered by his station, which for a man of the time holds few restrictions on his behavior, unlike his ‘Siren’, who is modest and ever the lady (as would be fitting for a woman of nobility in the times). The Warrior, whose wife is strong in her own way (but I’ll get to that) is also tainted with the blood of his many conquests, as befits a Viking King. The Assassin and Samurai have implied evils in their past as well, and it is important to note that they are all products of the corruption of man as much as they benefit from being born male, and each receives due punishment for this.
This still leaves us feeling unbalanced, until you take a look at the final battle. This is where we first see women as warriors, and it is important to note that the only women we see fight are on the side of good. There are those who are taken against their will and zombified for battle, but the only seasoned female warriors we see are fighting for good. When we look at the play objectively as a balance (as well as battle) of Good vs Evil, this is only the first of several things that makes me believe women are planted firmly on the side of Good. As with all things, however, there are gray areas.
The Wives and the Violence Against Them
As a feminist, this is the part of the show that bothered me the most. Each General has a wife (with the exception of the Samurai, who has another man’s wife as his lover), and not a single one of these women survives, and three of the four are killed by their own husbands. I struggled with how uncomfortable this made me, until I took a long look at how this seeming "Girl in the Fridge” trope was being presented. Yes, the women are used as devices to help motivate the Generals to join with the Demoness, as we see with the Assassin and Samurai especially. But I think it is important to point out that, in this opera about Good vs Evil, violence against women is placed firmly on the evil side.
There is no good man that strikes a lady, and we make that clear. With the artistic medium of an opera, dialogue is limited and thus the story is conveyed largely with the action of players on stage. How do you show an audience that a character is no good? Have him raise his hand to someone who carries no sword.
It is also of note that, in the case of the Warrior and the Nobleman, the slaying of their women comes at the Demoness’ order. This is mostly an exercise of power and is meant to show how detached these men have become from their former selves, destroying that which they loved most. It can also be said that the Demoness herself feels threatened by the potential power of love, wanting to destroy the women and preserve them as objects rather than let them live and possibly sway her new men away from the dark. She is looking to snuff out all light, including the one that she uses to tempt them in with.
The women themselves are varied - to be honest, I trust the shogun’s wife less than the Samurai, and the Viking Queen appears to be more of a stable leader than (either of) her husband(s), all while being the only wife ready to defend herself. The women are definitely pawns in the Demonesses game, just as every other character, but I feel that they were not entirely two-dimensional. The violence against them was used with a purpose to help progress the story rather than for the sake of violence, and only to demonstrate how evil men could become.
"The Demon Seductress” trope is as old as any monster story for a reason. Any time you have a female character who is any combination of intelligent, powerful, and/or sexy, chances are good she will be the villain of the story. The first time I saw Ara'kus, that was exactly what the Demoness character was, and while that was fine at first glance, it was not overly satisfying. Speaking with the creators of the show, it was clear they felt the same way and wanted to bring substance to this creature of fire that all else revolves around.
Looking at the initial seduction - that of the Priest - there is a definitely ‘Madonna and Child’ feel. She approaches the Priest in his hour of need and lays over him a feeling of comfort. Since he is a trusting soul, we watch as he falls for this trap and thinks his prayers have been answered without ever thinking to open his eyes and look (both literally and figuratively). Just as the Demoness is an embodiment of evil, the Priest stands at the opposite end of the spectrum in his goodness. There is room for an argument to be made about the male, chaste, religious figurehead being used as a representation for all things pure, but it is important to remember that this character is an exception to many rules. Among his own priestly brethren, there is greed and corruption, and he stands apart as the purest in the land. It’s exactly this purity and honest innocence that both draws the Demoness to him, and slowly opens her eyes.
Through the aerialist act we are meant to learn that the Demoness was an Angel who has since fallen, and while she is probably ingrained with a cynicism towards all men of the cloth or otherwise religious gestures, she finds such a sincerity in the Priest that she has trouble maintaining it. The Demoness is a conflicted character - she is clearly intelligent and attractive, but she struggles with the idea that this automatically makes her evil. When shown genuine affection from the Priest, she reacts like a child, and continues to play this game of "I want it, but I don’t want them to know I do”. She is conflicted even at the end, and I think that helps make this not just the story of the Wars and earth’s cleansing, but also a tale of her own path back towards redemption. The Demoness is not entirely deceptive in her role as mother - she gives each general a rebirth, cradles them in their final moments once they have fulfilled their duties, and while thus far in the telling of Aeterno Elementum the baby stolen from the Nobleman and his wife has been eaten, it is possible that she instead fosters this child until the end is nigh and returns her to the priest as a final act of repentance and the first of rebuilding. It is important to note, however, that the world’s last beacon of light is a female child, which seems to be the final clue that the women of Ara'kus are used as a symbol of good.