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Maia

Bakker and Women

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[quote name='Bruce Galactus' post='1673992' date='Feb 4 2009, 21.09']To be honest, no. Because Kellhus does it FOR her. Both the class and gender-stuff is somewhat undercut by the fact that she does not achieve it herself: Her power is GIVEN not taken.[/quote]
I don’t understand that argument. It also strikes me as intellectually dishonest.

Is Bakker’s inclusion of Conphas proof of his misandrynic worldview, because, after all, Conphas’s power derives from something that was [i]given[/i] to him (his lineage). Or Akka (his sorcerous power). Or Kellhus (his breeding and conditioning and sorcerous power). Or Xerius. Or…

[i]All[/i] the males in the books were [i]given[/i] power, typically because culture or nature handed it to them, because the playing field was not level and they just happened to start on top.

Esmi is the only one who succeeds because she [i]can[/i]. She’s the modern character: once the playing field is levelled (in this case, by the Messiah), she wins.

(Akka would qualify to some extent, but he’s a failure, a weak anti-hero, meek and soft and helpless. Another clear example of Bakker’s misandrony, if you want.)

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Honestly I see the whole Bakker and women thing as probably a little akin to the actor who played Jar-Jar Binks cranking up the racist aspects of the character just to fuck with the sensibilities of white people. I have no idea why the world he created treats women the way it does, but he doesn't seem to be a misogynist (unlike a certain comic book writer mentioned upthread), so presumably there is some reason behind it. One thing that does bother me about Bakker, though, is that he does come off as a bit defensive when people call him out on this.

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[quote name='Kalbear' post='1674011' date='Feb 4 2009, 21.21']It means that women are in Bakker's world only for sex, and that sex is used as a commodity in some fashion.[/quote]
I don’t understand that at all. Maybe if you said “some women” or “many of the women we see in the book”.

[quote]That's a pretty anti-feminist standpoint to take as a baseline, even if it's shown somewhat negatively.[/quote]
I understand that even less, and it’s a constant reminder of how difficult these things are to discuss. In what sense is the claim “a pre-feminist society is pretty terrible, especially for women” is an anti-feminist viewpoint? I thought the opposite was true.

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[quote]I don’t understand that at all. Maybe if you said “some women” or “many of the women we see in the book”.[/quote]Is there an example of a woman in any of the books who isn't? Any women out there who aren't using sex as their commodity? Serwe, Istriya and Esmi all do. As does Mimara. Maybe the cult of Yatwer, but even that's arguable.
[quote]I understand that even less, and it’s a constant reminder of how difficult these things are to discuss. In what sense is the claim “a pre-feminist society is pretty terrible, especially for women” is an anti-feminist viewpoint? I thought the opposite was true.[/quote]It isn't that it's pre-feminist. It's that it is so violently anti-feminist. It goes out of its way to demonstrate how anti-feminist the world is, how completely out of power women are. All the female actors in the books use sex as their primary means of power (or have). None have power that they have established by themselves. Esmi isn't chosen because she's a better candidate than another man or woman; she's chosen because she has a vagina and is smart. [i]If Esmi can't bear children, she would have been completely ignored.[/i] Akka, Cnaiur all have traits that do come from others, but their talents and skills and merit are their own and have nothing to do with their cock. Esmi needs both intelligence and a womb.

Which is pretty anti-feminist if you're talking about equality among sexes and basing decisions on merit, not on sex. A better example of Kellhus and pro-feminism is
SPOILER: TJE
the witch school, which is clearly picking based on merit
, but that's it and barely showcased.

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[quote]It isn't that it's pre-feminist. It's that it is so violently anti-feminist. It goes out of its way to demonstrate how anti-feminist the world is, how completely out of power women are.[/quote]
Yes. Exactly. I still fail to understand how that portrayal is anything else than a feminist stance.

Feminism, as far as I understand it, is a political aganda. It’s not a claim about how nice pre-modern societes were to women. [i]On the contrary[/i]. Our wire here seem to be [i]completely[/i] crossed, and I seem to be unable to explain myself.

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[quote]Feminism, as far as I understand it, is a political aganda. It’s not a claim about how nice pre-modern societes were to women. On the contrary. Our wire here seem to be completely crossed, and I seem to be unable to explain myself.[/quote]

The problem is lack of agency.

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[quote name='Bruce Galactus' post='1674087' date='Feb 4 2009, 16.09']The problem is lack of agency.[/quote]Everyone lacks agency when Kellhus is involved.

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[quote]Everyone lacks agency when Kellhus is involved.[/quote]Not true.

[quote]Feminism, as far as I understand it, is a political aganda. It’s not a claim about how nice pre-modern societes were to women. On the contrary. Our wire here seem to be completely crossed, and I seem to be unable to explain myself.[/quote]I don't think feminism is a political agenda specifically. A book can be strongly anti-feminist without being particularly political. Bakker, as I've said multiple times, writes a world that is very specifically and purposely sexist. Hugely so. He's said outright that this was a specific, willful choice of his. There are even reasonable reasons why the world is the way it is. But showcasing all women as whores, having no women have any particular agency (compare this to the three protagonists of Akka, Cnaiur and Kellhus, all of whom specifically have agency in the book) is a decidedly anti-feminist viewpoint. It's actively describing a world where women have no agency and are unequal - and he does so without really any alternatives.

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[quote name='Happy Ent' post='1674014' date='Feb 4 2009, 16.22'][i]All[/i] the males in the books were [i]given[/i] power, typically because culture or nature handed it to them, because the playing field was not level and they just happened to start on top.[/quote]

Well, that's how the things tended to go in such societies. Akka, though, rose because of his talents and not just the sorcerous one. There was also Martemius, IIRC, and the Shria. Having extraordinary talents and being devious and ruthless _was_ how common men succeeded in comparable historical eras.

[quote]Esmi is the only one who succeeds because she [i]can[/i]. She’s the modern character: once the playing field is levelled (in this case, by the Messiah), she wins.[/quote]

Huh? A ruler raising a common woman to power via marriage happened often enough in RL history. There is nothing modern about it. Nor does it have anything to do with a man making a career.

And speaking of Esmi's intelligence, her POV never seemed convincingly clever to me, unlike the male POVs. Yes, we were _told_ about her brilliance, but it didn't come, through, IMHO.
It seemed to me as well that _if_ she was all that smart, she should have been doing much better in her business.

Also, honestly, the whole situation with Akka didn't seem convincing either . I mean, why did she refuse to let him secure her financially? He could have easily done it and frankly, a woman in her situation should have been practical enough to agree to it. Particularly, if she already/still had Mimara when he offered (I don't remember if she did or not). The whole relationship just seemed so... overwrought.

Re: Kelhus and the witches, yes, it is kind of obvious, isn't it? They would be wholly loyal to the regime. Again, it seems totally implausible to me that it never occurred to anybody else, even when the future of humanity was at stake, during the Apocalypse.

And of course, given existence of reliable and powerful magic, a non-human race and a pack of genocidal aliens, comparisons with RL history are of limited value. We should judge what would be plausible in the setting where the very laws of physics are different.

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You have yet to provide any corrections of how you would have established the world only critiques of the world and claims of what is implausible "in the setting where the very laws of physics are different." Maia, would you mind sharing what you would have done differently?

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[quote name='Kalbear' post='1674133' date='Feb 4 2009, 22.35']Bakker, as I've said multiple times, writes a world that is very specifically and purposely sexist. Hugely so.[/quote]
With which I agree. Completely so.
[quote]But showcasing all women as whores, having no women have any particular agency (compare this to the three protagonists of Akka, Cnaiur and Kellhus, all of whom specifically have agency in the book) is a decidedly anti-feminist viewpoint.[/quote]
That’s what I don’t get.

(Also, your point would be stronger if it avoided the hyperbole. Esmi is a whore. Istrya is the fucking queen mother and possesses agency in abundance (agency, by the way, that does not derive from her being a skin spy. It doesn’t seem a [i]new[/i] trait to her.) Not all women in Bakkerworld are whores, in fact whores seem to be social outcasts.)

[quote]It's actively describing a world where women have no agency and are unequal - and he does so without really any alternatives.[/quote]
Absolutely. As I said, I would feel feminism were [i]betrayed[/i] if that was not the case, maybe because I happen to have a pretty bleak view of pre-feminist societies. I really can’t see how the feminist agenda is helped by pretending that [i]if you really wanted[/i] you could actually become an independent, self-empowered person. As if [i]personal drive[/i] (rather than societal constraints) were the main fetter.

(Am I misrepresenting your position? Then please correct it. As I said, I [i]really[/i]. Don’t. Get. It.)

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[quote name='Maia' post='1674157' date='Feb 4 2009, 22.44']Akka, though, rose because of his talents and not just the sorcerous one.[/quote]
I mentioned him as a possible counterexample. But he’s [i]weak[/i], a professional failure, whiny, and whatnot. Imagine if Bakker had written a [i]woman[/i] with his characteristics.

[quote]Having extraordinary talents and being devious and ruthless _was_ how common men succeeded in comparable historical eras.[/quote]
Yes, the military was probably one of the few places where meritocracy worked up to a certain level. That’s why stories are filled with soldiers, not peasants. (Same principle for whores, [i]mutatis mutandis[/i].)

[quote]Huh? A ruler raising a common woman to power via marriage happened often enough in RL history.[/quote]
Really? In an executive position like Esmi’s? She’s not just his queen. She has a [i]really[/i] important job in TTT.

[quote]And speaking of Esmi's intelligence, her POV never seemed convincingly clever to me, unlike the male POVs. Yes, we were _told_ about her brilliance, but it didn't come, through, IMHO.[/quote]
Agreed to some extent, also with your other points. (You wrote a long critique of the books once which I really enjoyed.)

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If most other fantasy authors appear to also be guilty of being sexist why exactly do we end up doing these threads about Bakker over and over again?

Kellhus manipulating Esmi and that being the only reason she rose to power appears to be one of the arrows in the 'its sexist!' quiver but I'd say that if she was immune to manipulation/too smart for it then it would have been very very sexist indeed. If she rose to power despite Kellhus' intentions that likewise would have been sexist. Neither the boys, nor the girls manage to do this in the story, its all via the K man.

The fact that Kellhus, a slightly insane but very cold calculating machine saw a woman who was a whore for what she was worth, and elevated to a very high position indeed seems to me quite a positive portrayal of the abilities of women. The sexist establishment couldn't see past their stupid religion and historical baggage. Also, the path of least resistance to the ultimate goal, which is the one Kellhus follows, happens to include a woman becoming very very powerful. Think about that...

How [i]should[/i] Bakker have done it?

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It seems to me that Bakker's own words have been largely overlooked in the thread to date. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but what the hell, I'll quote the relevant bit of the [url="http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/2008/01/new-r-scott-bakker-q.html"]interview[/url] anyway:

[quote]First, let me say that I think I should be called out on the carpet on this issue, simply because I cover some pretty troubling ground. I certainly don’t believe in "quota characterization," either to be politically correct or to broaden the "gender appeal" of my books. Leave this for the after-school specials. I also don’t think that depiction automatically equals endorsement. The question that people should be asking, it seems to me, is one of whether I reinforce negative gender stereotypes or problematize them. If the books provide enough grist to argue this question, then the answer, it seems to me, automatically becomes the latter.

But the fact remains that a lot of people get hung up on my female characters: On the one hand, I self-consciously chose the harlot, the waif, and the harridan for my female characters, yet some seem to think a kind of unconscious moral defect chose them for me. If so, it would be a truly colossal coincidence that I would happen to pick the three misogynic types - I mean, isn’t it obvious that I’m up to something critical? On the other hand, I wanted my fantasy world to be realistic, to temper our yearning for premodern times with a good look at how ugly things got, particularly in times of war. When bad things happen to my female characters, it’s the circumstances that are being criticized, not the characters themselves![/quote]

Although I think I'm on board with Eloisa. It'd be one thing if it were exceptional. As it is, it seems to be par for the course for the genre. Even if he is fucking with things deliberately.

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[quote name='Maia' post='1673425' date='Feb 4 2009, 15.20']Again, it seems that folks think that laws of physics are more mutable than social conventions. Which is just sad.[/quote]
A medieval society makes pretty little sense overall in the face of the sort of magic that's overflowing most fantasy. Maintaining social conventions is a lot less stupid in the face of overwhelming magic ability than maintaining a massive, marginally productive agricultural lumpenproletariat, for instance. Or an essentially mercantile economy. Or an essentially feudal military. Or... the list is long.

There could be works that explored the impact of magic on social dynamics more seriously, I suppose. Personally, I'll take my sword-and-sorcery undiluted by political agendas, though, so long as the plot, pacing and characterization is fine. For a case study, consider the difference between the first three Earthsea novels and the follow-up where the brain eater had gotten to Le Guin.

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[quote name='Doran Doran' post='1674257' date='Feb 4 2009, 15.04']There could be works that explored the impact of magic on social dynamics more seriously, I suppose. Personally, I'll take my sword-and-sorcery undiluted by political agendas, though, so long as the plot, pacing and characterization is fine.[/quote]

Good luck with that. You cannot take political and social commentary out of fiction. It's just not possible. The dreaded subtext is always there. No matter what.

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[quote name='Doran Doran' post='1674257' date='Feb 4 2009, 23.04']A medieval society makes pretty little sense overall in the face of the sort of magic that's overflowing most fantasy. Maintaining social conventions is a lot less stupid in the face of overwhelming magic ability than maintaining a massive, marginally productive agricultural lumpenproletariat, for instance. Or an essentially mercantile economy. Or an essentially feudal military. Or... the list is long.[/quote]

Thats a book series waiting to happen. Kind of like the Merchants War Stross is making but with magic instead of modern economics.

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You guys are right, damn those authors for not writing accurate anthropological and sociological representations of their worlds. That sort of stuff is much more interesting than having the scene set vaguely in the background and a story being told. Alternate anthropology and alternate sociology stuff written like a university textbook would sell like hotcakes. Take all the subtlety out of literature, thats what i say!

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Which isn't to mention the fact that Bakker's world IS fairly realistic with the Magic. Magic is, by and large, useless for anything but blowing shit to pieces.

As for the women in the series, I've never understood the problem some people have. Saying "Why isn't there another women in the series who's all empowered and what not" is LITERALLY Tokenism. It's like a textbook fucking definition of Quota Writing.

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