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Companions, Concubines, and Chastities — Is this the Female Future?

'Only Ever Yours' is a revelatory realisation of where society is heading.

Louise O'Neill's award winning novel Only Ever Yours is catagorised as dystopian, but reading it I didn't feel like I was entering a disastrous future world, full of prophesies yet to pass — it felt like I was looking in to the minds of men like Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh, and Ted Turner, suddenly privy to their not-so-secret fantasies of how women could best be trained to serve them. 

We are all Concubines, Companions, AND Chastities.

Set in "The School," the eves — the all-female student body — spend every moment of their lives training to be the best woman they can possibly be. In a world where female children are no longer born, but designed, the eves grow up knowing their sole purpose is to serve men in any way possible. Sealed off from the rest of the "Euro Zone," the eves have never seen a male face and are taught by an all female faculty known as the Chastities — but know they are always being watched by the most important men of their age.

Every year, there are three eves designed for every one man born, and the eves are judged from afar by the men they were designed to serve. A weekly "foto" is taken of the eves for the Inheritants — the highest ranking men in the Euro Zone — to rank numerically.

Eves #1 to #10 know that they will most likely end up as the Companions of the Inheritants: a coveted role in which they marry, give birth to as many sons as possible and are then "terminated" at age 40, only to be replaced by a newer, younger eve who will continue producing sons.

The lower ranking eves will live their lives as Concubines — prostitutes that don't make a profit. They exist solely to indulge the sexual whims and fantasies of the Inheritants, to "always be willing" and never question a mans demands.

Freida, our sixteen year old protagonist, is terrified that she will rank below #10 and end up as a Concubine, forced to smile and squeal with pleasure through any and every depraved sexual act a man can think of. The Concubines fulfill these desires so that the Companions are saved from the more perverted desires of their husbands; engaging mostly in conventional sex to produce a baby.

Ending up as a Chastity is an even worse option for Freida. Never leaving the school, never seeing the outside world, the Chastities are there to teach the eves to become perfect women, both physically and mentally, while punishing them for any unseemly and unladylike behaviour. Having her hair shaved and donning the black cloak of the Chastities scares her even more than the idea of joining the Third of the Concubines — at least the Concubines get to leave the School and live in the main Euro Zone.

O'Neill's twist on the traditional Madonna-Whore Paradigm goes a step further, dividing women into three distinct catagories that unfortunately are already being placed upon us in 2017.

I have previously been a Concubine — enjoying sex, but never being taken seriously as a potential life-mate by my sexual partners at the time. I have been a Companion — in a loving relationship, having "normal" sex and never seen as sexually adventurous by that partner. I am now a Chastity, abstaining from sex for personal reasons and once a male acquaintance knew this I was deemed pointless and he ceased to even speak to me.

The Thirds applied to the eves in Only Ever Yours are already applied to women in the minds of some men, the only difference is we are not formally labelled as such for the world to see. 

Fat Girls Must Be Made Obsolete

Over night, the School plays a pre-recorded set of messages to sink in to the subconscious' of the eves and help them to make the right choices "on their own."

"I am pretty. I am a good girl. I always do as I'm told."

"I am a good girl. I am appealing to others. I am always agreeable."

"I have far to go because I need to get better and better."

These messages are an unknown influence to the vast majority of the eves, played only when they sleep — and they always sleep, thanks to the SleepSound medication provided for any girls with sleep troubles — tiredness is not attractive, and not attractive is not allowed: but Freida, unable to sleep because of the artificial heat pumped into the eves' dormitories to detoxify their pores, hears them all.

The lessons of how to look and behave don't end with the pre-recorded reminders, though. All eves are given a target weight; skinny and chubby are not allowed, and they must eat according to whether they need to gain or lose weight, either at the FatGirl buffet or the BeBetter buffet... I think you know which one offers chocolate cake and which one offers liquid lunch.

Even in the School, though, skinny is more acceptable than fat, and to be called skinny by any of the high ranking eves elicits gleeful smiles and thanks from the recipient. Fat, however, is another story...

"Fat girls must be made obsolete. No one will love a fat girl. No one wants a fat girl." — all are repeatedly regularly and religiously by the Chastities and high ranking eves, reminding themselves and each other to stay away from the FatGirl buffet, lest they drop a number in the next foto ranking.

We as a society are all given the same message. Through magazine covers, high-fashion runways, TV personalities and our peers, we are reminded that to be fat is to be unwanted. No one wants to see a fat girl on the cover of Vogue Italia, no one would buy a magazine with a fat girl on the cover. No one wants to be forced to look at a fat girl as they watch TV with their morning coffee.

We are told constantly that to be fat is to be obsolete; we are told this by the lack of representation of larger women in pop culture and media. They are not used to represent the female gender in discussion panels and chat shows — their opinions and thoughts are invalid because of their size. 

Underground

Any eve found to break a rule or guideline is threatened by the Chastities with the mysterious "Underground" — a place where defective and disobedient eves are sent to be tested on to isolate the gene or genes responsible for them stepping out of line, to remove it from the next batch of eves.

Freida is threatened by Chastity-Ruth with being sent underground when she cries — crying is ugly, crying makes your skin blotchy and your face damp and makes you develop frown lines. To cry is to make yourself unappealing to men; and Freida exists only to appeal to men. Shamed for every tear shed by the Chastities, to Freida even displays of passion such as shouting or swearing are stricly forbidden, for fear of developing wrinkles and seeming unladylike.

Isn't this what we do with emotional women already? Put them away, somewhere men won't be faced with the horror of a passionate female, somewhere they can be emotional and therefore disgusting in private?

If a famous woman is unfortunate enough to be photographed crying by paparazzi she is on the front page of glossy magazines and gossip websites the next day; the headline declaring her an emotional wreck in the middle of a breakdown. If a female politician dares to speak loudly or get upset over a topic of discussion the media shames her, hypothesising over whether or not it's her "time of the month;" as if a woman cannot experience anger and indignation in the same way as a man, only if her female hormones tell her to.

Are we not all already subject to the shaming and retribution to the Chastities that are our magazines and colleagues? Are we not all already at the mercy of the patriarchy when it comes to being catagorized as sluts and whores if we risk voicing our enjoyment of sex? Are we not all already being made to feel useless and like wasted space by male and female peers alike if we elect not to have children, or even worse, biologically cannot carry them?

To me, Only Ever Yours is simply a magnifying mirror, held up to the collective face of society to show us our myriad flaws and errors... but how many of us will try and correct them and become a more accepting society that welcomes and celebrates women's individual traits and choices is anyones guess.

Disclaimer: I am not chastising men as an entire gender, but the ways society shapes some men (and women) to think, behave, and treat women.

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