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The importance of women in the Dune universe

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Who run the [Dune] world? Girls!

I think all of us who have watched Dune: Part 2 suffered from the Lisan al-Gaib disease. Every time I opened my mouth after seeing the movie, the quote immediately came out. All I could think about after the release was related to the film and this epic story. 

The universe created by Frank Herbert in 1965 stands over great pillars and explores themes that are very transcendent of their time. Political intrigue, religious power, imperialism, and environmental issues are some of the topics navigated by Herbert in Dune. 

Something we don’t see in Dune though is gender equality. This is a story based on power and hierarchy. We have dukes, barons, and an emperor that controls it all from above. 

Even though most power positions in Dune are dominated by male protagonists – shocking! –, women also hold a profound role. From the political and religious manipulations of the Bene Gesserit Order to the courageous minds of the Fremen warriors, women are central figures of force and influence in Herbert’s world. So be prepared to sandwalk all over this article while we dive into the importance of women in the Dune universe.

The Bene Gesserit sisterhood strikes back!

As mentioned, Dune it’s not a story about equality. Each person has a different role in their society, and men are at the center of the narrative. Yet there exists a group of women who work in the shadows of the government, controlling their leaders: the Bene Gesserit.

This Order is an ancient organization formed by women who, in many ways, work together to gain more authority and control. The Bene Gesserit don’t consider themselves a religious organization, but their training, symbolism, and methods say otherwise. The student trained by them had the power to control not only her mind and body but other people’s. 

One of the powers Bene Gesserit women have is that they can access their female ancestor’s memories, but not male ones. Also, they have very little knowledge when it comes to seeing or predicting the future. So they created this idea of a Kwisatz Haderach, the chosen one, whose powers unite space and time, being able to see the past and predict the future with precision. What this organization does is prepare the ground for the arrival of the Lisan al-Gaib – in Fremen language – the one who could be at all places at once, conquering, and controlling the whole universe.

Now that you can see our past, you can see your future.

Anya Taylor-Joy’s character says to Paul after he drinks the water of life.

For this being to exist, the Bene Gesserit created a reproduction program in which they would breed with powerful men of one of the Great Houses. This way, they could have control over whoever was born to be the Kwisatz Haderach. 

Their plan of putting the Kwisatz Haderach into the world was supposed to succeed when the daughter of Leto Atreides procreated with Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, nephew and successor of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen

But that didn’t work out because Lady Jessica, Leto’s lover, had plans of her own. Instead of choosing a girl – yes, Bene Gesserit can consciously pick the gender of their babies – Paul Atreides’ mother decided to give her husband an heir to the throne instead of an heiress. 

“This world had a Fremen name… Dune.”

But the Bene Gesserit Order is not all Dune has on female characters. Let’s talk about Fremen women. They are resourceful, independent, and powerful, but not only that, they are strong too. They are trained to fight, making them skilled – and prepared for combat – fighters. 

Fremen women are very important pieces to this puzzle, especially Chani. Who, unlike herself from the books, is not a believer of the prophecy of the Lisan al-Gaib.

The change was a choice made by the director Denis Villeneuve, who said is very sensitive and inspired “about the female condition and women’s relationship with power”, so he wanted to bring more of that to the Dune story.

Paul has to earn her respect, her trustworthiness, and her love. While the word of the Lisan al-Gaib is being spread across Arrakis, Chani is more worried about the survival of her own people: the Fremen. She is not a pessimistic person, but a realistic one, and someone who doesn’t believe that simply because it is written, a prophet is just going to show up and save them. 

Villeneuve explained that he wanted to make Chani a part of a group of Fremen who don’t believe in the prophecy. This way, the audience could feel the Dune people as the complex society that it is, and that not everyone believes in the messianic figure the Bene Gesserit say there is.

From Hollywood to Arrakis

Let’s also mention the stellar cast that they put together to work in Dune. Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Florence Pugh, Léa Seydoux, Charlotte Rampling  and even Anya Taylor-Joy – whose character has technically not even been born yet. These women are playing the roles of fierceful, intelligent, resourceful, complex and determined characters. But they each have their own distinguishing features, beliefs and motivations that make them very different.

Ferguson’s character, for instance, is more than just a duke’s concubine and a mother. Lady Jessica has power and influence of her own by being raised in the Bene Gesserit doctrine. But that does not mean she will do what she’s told. She decided to give Leto a son, even though she knew she was supposed to bear a girl. 

A great example of her dominance is when, in the first movie, Paul gets tested by the Reverend Mother with the Gom Jabbar. She tells him that if he had not passed, they could not let him live, because he inherits too much power. He then asks, “because I’m a duke’s son?”, and she immediately replies: “because you’re Jessica’s son”

Lady Jessica is not afraid of her sisters in the Bene Gesserit Order, in fact, as she often repeats, “fear is the mind-killer”, so she must not fear. And not only did she decide not to carry a girl in her womb, after Paul was born she taught him in the Bene Gesserit way. The fights, the control over his body and mind, and The Voice – a spine-chilling voice, actually, used to command others. 

Jessica gets even more powerful by becoming a Reverend Mother and a religious leader in the second installment of Dune. She, while pregnant of her daughter Alia (Anya Taylor-Joy) – who talks to her in the womb –, goes on a mission of preparing the people of Arrakis for the arrival of the messiah, the prophet, the Lisan al-Gaib, or simply her son, Paul Atreides.

“We must convert the non-believers one by one”.

Lady Jessica talking to her child in the womb about making people believe in the prophecy.

On the other side, we have Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan. Daughter of the Emperor Shaddam IV, and a student of the Bene Gesserit Order, her position is a very strategic one, where she possesses a sharp understanding of the ways of the empire. Her character embodies the complexities of power, duty, and ambition, using all the means necessary for her family to prevail. 

Charlotte Rampling might be the most powerful of them all. Or at least was. Rampling’s character is a Reverend Mother and also the emperor’s personal advisor. She is the one pulling the trigger of all major decisions that happen in the Imperium. With her imposing clothes and way of speaking, Rampling has a major and chilling presence every time she is on-screen. 

No one would dare to dehttps://twitter.com/Floydinflame/status/1776830873263898727fy her, but Lady Jessica and Paul Atreides, mother and son, did. Jessica is now a Reverend Mother herself, plus the mother of the Kwisatz Haderach. And Paul, well. He is the Kwisatz Haderach. 

In Dune, we get to experience an epic narrative, where power, prophecy, and politics intertwine, but we also get to explore the female characters through their complexity. 

In a universe dominated by men, these women operate with influence, strength, and power. So, as we wait for the next chapter of Dune, let’s raise our glasses to the women who run the world of Dune and that contribute to make this story what it is, a masterpiece. 


The article above was edited by Giulia Giampietro.

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Valentine Boutsiavaras

Casper Libero '25

just a journalism student trying to do journalism things. I'm a sports lover and a superhero fan. I love reading romance books, watching a good rom-com and binge-watching a new series :)