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Maia

Bakker and Women

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The main thing that bothers me about Bakker's women is not so much their prostitute-ness, so much as the way that they are [i]entirely defined by their relations to the men[/i]. Serwe is the most obvious example; her entire role is as a prize for Kellhus & Cnaiur to fight over (and then a token death for Kellhus to get very slightly upset about). Esme has rather more personality, but her job is pretty much the same as Serwe's - she's there for Kellhus & Akka to win/lose, she's there to get (sexually) menaced by the baddies; her super secret policing skills are very much secondary to her main role as prize/victim.

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Rape as a weapon isn't really about sex but power. One can argue that everything in Bakker is ultimately about power, but I think it's pretty clear that there's (again) a vast difference between female characters functioning as whores to gain some measure of livelihood/power for themselves because [i]that's all the narrative allows them[/i], and male characters generally using sex as a weapon [i]as just one of many approaches they can use to the same ends.[/i].

And in the end, I echo Kalbear's question: [i]why?[/i] Why does Bakker have such a hard-on for "problematizing" gender stereotypes of women by, basically, taking it to an extreme when it seems ancillary to the main focus of his narrative (at least, in the first three books)? And why does he do it yet again in [i]Neuropath[/i]? Sure, everyone ends up looking bad in his works -- but there's a lot of kinds of bad that the men suffer, while it seems to always be the same for women, whether it's in Eärwa or near-future America.

Sheep,

No idea what the cult is about. Haven't read TJE. If his motive really was "this'll pacify the feminists", well, that sort of proves a point.

Now, as I've said before, I think he's just fine continuing to write the series as he has written. One example of problematizing women does not necessarily make a pattern. But it was very odd to read that he did much the same in [i]Neuropath[/i]

Arthmail,

I think the argument that his depiction of women is not really sexist, but instead simply bad writing, is an appealing one.

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[quote name='Ran' post='1674727' date='Feb 5 2009, 05.06']Rape as a weapon isn't really about sex but power. One can argue that everything in Bakker is ultimately about power, but I think it's pretty clear that there's (again) a vast difference between female characters functioning as whores to gain some measure of livelihood/power for themselves because [i]that's all the narrative allows them[/i], and male characters generally using sex as a weapon [i]as just one of many approaches they can use to the same ends.[/i].[/quote]

Huh?

There's basically 3 major female characters.

The Empress - Powerful on her own. Uses sex as a tool like any other. She's no different from any of the men in the story.

Serwe - Doesn't "use" sex at all. She IS used. She's a puppet. Sold into slavery at a young age and used her entire life.(As a sidenote, it's almost funny that Kellhus is the only one with genuine affection for her in her entire life. Though he still uses her.)

Esmenet - She's a whore. She makes a living having sex. The thing is, once she leaves her life as a whore behind, she doesn't use sex as a tool at all. She lives and sleeps with Achamian because she loves, and does the same with Kellhus. She doesn't seduce him, he seduces her. She has sex used AGAINST her.

Of the 2 that actually use sex as a tool, one is no different from the men in the story and the other was a whore and used only used sex as a tool in that capacity.

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[quote name='Shryke' post='1674714' date='Feb 5 2009, 09.50']It was a direct answer to his question.[/quote]

Certainly, but what use is a direct answer if it misses the point?

[quote]Most of the male characters have used sex for their own non-sexual purposes at some point. Sex isn't just a women's weapon.[/quote]

I don't think that was the claim being made at all. The point was that sex is the main dimension to the women's role: they use it as a weapon not because men don't or can't, but because the writer portrays it as the only way they can significantly influence the story. In other words, it's not [i]only[/i] a woman's weapon, it's a woman's [i]only[/i] weapon.

ETA - that, by the way, is the point of the original question as I understand it - not my view of Bakker's writing.

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What mormont said. Women in the narrative have no choice but to use sex to get what they want. Men in the narrative always have other options.

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[quote name='mormont' post='1674733' date='Feb 5 2009, 05.20']I don't think that was the claim being made at all. The point was that sex is the main dimension to the women's role: they use it as a weapon not because men don't or can't, but because the writer portrays it as the only way they can significantly influence the story. In other words, it's not [i]only[/i] a woman's weapon, it's a woman's [i]only[/i] weapon.[/quote]

And what other weapon would you expect a peasent women to have? Especially when your takling about influencing nobility.

The only women who uses sex as a weapon is The Empress, who's got plenty of other power too.

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[quote name='Ran' post='1674727' date='Feb 5 2009, 11.06']And why does he do it yet again in [i]Neuropath[/i]?

No idea what the cult is about. Haven't read TJE. If his motive really was "this'll pacify the feminists", well, that sort of proves a point.[/quote]


I don't see Cult of Yatwer pacifyng any feminists.

SPOILER: TJE
They are really nasty characters and their agenda is definitely unsympathetic. One thing must be said for them though: they do have a shitload of agenda.


Re: Neuropath, I really don't get this.

SPOILER: Neuropath
Of three major female characters one uses sex, but she is one of the baddies. Two others are protagonist's wife and daughter and their part is typical for this kind of story. Cliched? perhaps, but not sexist, unless you want to argue that thriller genre is sexist as such.

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[quote name='Ran' post='1674738' date='Feb 5 2009, 11.24']What mormont said. Women in the narrative have no choice but to use sex to get what they want. Men in the narrative always have other options.[/quote]
— that claim I could sort of accept. I believe that sex is indeed one of the few tools available to women in pre-feminist societies.

So it’s a point I largely agree with.

But I don’t see it reflected very much in the book:

Because we’re aren’t seeing much of it. I can’t remember Esmi using sex [i]at all[/i]. (Not on-screen. Maybe I’m selectively forgetting something about her time as a whore. I’m happy to be corrected.) Serwë uses sex to get “what she wants” in one instance I can remember, but that’s also in a flashback about her time as a slave in House Gaunum. The Evil Queen uses sex a lot, but she [i]certainly[/i] has other options.

So I don’t see it. As far as I can see, women in Bakkerworld in general have no power at all, no way whatsoever to get “what they want.” Using sex or anything else. Neither do most men, for that matter. The book follows three individuals that are exceptional in that respect.

1. Serwë is not only a woman, but a slave, so she has even less power than a random woman. I’m slightly baffled that people who normally hold non-detestable viewpoints want to characterise her as somebody who uses sex to get what she wants. She’s a bedslave, for crying out loud! She has [i]no[/i] options.

2. Esmenet is exceptional for her society in that she is economically and socially independent and self-employed, a requirement for her to figure in the narrative. That power base is of course [i]entirely[/i] built on her ability to control access to her reproductive system, which is compatible with the characterisation I quote Ran for. But that part of Esmenet’s life happens largely off-screen, the narrative is devoted to show [i]the other side[/i] of Esmenet. Where she isn’t a whore. So the book specifically focusses on [i]something else[/i].

3. And the queen — well, I’ve said it already. No way she’s an example of a person with limited options. She’s in the top .00001% of powerful people in the world. She kills, manipulates, and schemes with the best of men. Oh, [i]and[/i] she uses sex.

(To make this clear: I am not saying “No woman in Bakker’s book uses sex to get what she wants.” Because the queen sure does.)

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[quote name='Happy Ent' post='1674810' date='Feb 5 2009, 07.16']�" that claim I could sort of accept. I believe that sex is indeed one of the few tools available to women in pre-feminist societies.[/quote]

Sure. My beef with Bakker is that he keeps women on the more dismal end of what was historically realistic in RL... but sees nothing at all wrong with supplying his men with various fantastical abilities, to provide them with short-cuts to power.

Moreover, these fantastical abilities seem to exist in complete isolation, without having an effect on the setting that they plausibly should. The same applies to all the non-human races too, of course.

[quote]She’s a bedslave, for crying out loud! She has [i]no[/i] options.[/quote]

And why did she have to be a bedslave? Couldn't her character have been essentially the same if she was somebody's unhappy young wife? Wouldn't it have illustrated the point re: abuse of women even better? Really, it seemed to me that she was only a concubine for titillation purposes.

[quote]She kills, manipulates, and schemes with the best of men. Oh, [i]and[/i] she uses sex.[/quote]

Wasn't she initially a courtesan who caught the eye of the Emperor and slept her way to power? I seem to remember something along those lines.


Oh, and the Inchoroi! Mysoginism elevated to an interstellar phenomenon courtesy of Bakker! They hated females so much that they just had to go for the abysmally stupid womb plague, rather than for some more intelligent method of genocide, that wouldn't have gotten their assess kicked and left the humans to spread and multiply at leisure!

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[quote name='Maia' post='1674842' date='Feb 5 2009, 13.52']Really, it seemed to me that she was only a concubine for titillation purposes.[/quote]
You find her titillating? Interesting. I don’t get that vibe at all.

But we’re seeing different things. For me, Serwë’s main characteristic is that she is mind-numbingly [i]dumb[/i]. That was the main surprise, that an author has the guts to make one of his POVs really naïve. (A bit like why I like GRRM’s Theon chapters.) Of course, reading the mind of a completely helpless slave was also fascinating and gut-wrenching — we get another slave POV somewhere, I think a Scarlet Spire slave. And there are two street urchins, Echo and whatshisname. I find these things really interesting and would like more of them.

[quote]Wasn't she initially a courtesan who caught the eye of the Emperor and slept her way to power? I seem to remember something along those lines.[/quote]
Oh, that would be interesting.

--*--

I still don’t get the general argument. Yes, a woman’s life in pre-feminist societies is a sad vale of tears. Yes, Bakker goes out of his way to show us that. (But not with all his female characters. But certainly with Serwë.) How is that not a good thing?

Is the tacit argument something of the form: fiction shapes reality, and therefore the author must provide positive role models? (In that case, I largely disagree, even though there is a Star Trek angle that I find interesting. But I may invent a straw man here, so I don’t want to pursue the line of thought until somebody explains the problem to me. Pretend I’m really slow. Pretend I’m Serwë.)

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This is a very interesting discussion.


[quote]3. And the queen — well, I’ve said it already. No way she’s an example of a person with limited options. She’s in the top .00001% of powerful people in the world. She kills, manipulates, and schemes with the best of men. Oh, and she uses sex.[/quote]

I think the main issue I have with the Queen is that indeed, she has a lot of other options, but the only scheming she actually does on screen is that she uses sex. The main power dynamic between her and her son, the Emperor, is based on her using sex as a weapon. I've toyed with the idea that maybe she was a skin spy for a very long time, maybe even since Xerius was little, as that would perhaps explain it better. (Actually, I think I mentally made that adjustment since I just found her use of sex baffling and totally weird.)

Serwe I am fine with. She is set up to be a character you just can't stand, and she is extremely difficult to read as it is almost physically painful how she becomes subhumanised. Esme I am also fine with, plus I think her story is interesting based on the fact that she does a de facto "class trip" plus she also, in some respects, transcends her gender. (Good point there HE.)

The Queen still bugs me, since her behaviour makes no sense to me. She has several options to use her power, yet she chooses sex and she does it in a very odd way. Maybe this is bad writing on Bakker's part, but it just feels like her breaking the incest taboo with her son hasn't got any reason at all, and you'd think that for someone to break such an incredibly strong human taboo, you need an incredibly strong reason. Yet she doesn't really have one except for "is a meddling old crone".

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[quote name='Maia']Sure. My beef with Bakker is that he keeps women on the more dismal end of what was historically realistic in RL... but sees nothing at all wrong with supplying his men with various fantastical abilities, to provide them with short-cuts to power.[/quote]

The only fantastical abilities I can think of are sorcery and the Dûnyain training/breeding, and there is no indication that there are no fully trained female Dûnyain. As for sorcery, we know that there are women who are capable of it, but none of the major Schools in the first trilogy train any because of extreme prejudices of both historical and religious origin.

[quote name='Maia']Moreover, these fantastical abilities seem to exist in complete isolation, without having an effect on the setting that they plausibly should. The same applies to all the non-human races too, of course.[/quote]

Well, Dûnyain do exist in complete physical isolation, while sorcerers are pariahs who are barely tolerated by the Thousand Temples (though it was not always so, there have been very real efforts to wipe out the Schools in the past) and whose abilities seem to be almost universally destructive.

[quote name='Maia']Oh, and the Inchoroi! Mysoginism elevated to an interstellar phenomenon courtesy of Bakker! They hated females so much that they just had to go for the abysmally stupid womb plague, rather than for some more intelligent method of genocide, that wouldn't have gotten their assess kicked and left the humans to spread and multiply at leisure![/quote]

Well the Womb-Plague was created before humanity became important in Eärwa (the only humans around before the Breaking of the Gates were slaves of the Nonmen, and apparently not particularly well treated ones at that) so that neglecting them in their original plan seems like an understandable oversight. The question why they killed the females of the species and left all the Ishroi around to almost exterminate them is more relevant.
Frankly, before crying "mysoginy", I cut the author some slack and think he just tried to create a "dying" elder race that you find in many, many works of fantasy literature, and instead of modelling them completely on Tolkien's elves, he mixed it up a little and drew a parallel with the Ents and their missing Entwifes instead.

ETA:
[quote name='Lyanna Stark']The Queen still bugs me, since her behaviour makes no sense to me. She has several options to use her power, yet she chooses sex and she does it in a very odd way. Maybe this is bad writing on Bakker's part, but it just feels like her breaking the incest taboo with her son hasn't got any reason at all, and you'd think that for someone to break such an incredibly strong human taboo, you need an incredibly strong reason. Yet she doesn't really have one except for "is a meddling old crone".[/quote]

I always assumed that was just to show the decadence and depravity of the Ikurei dynasty in general, them being modelled on western European stereotypes of the Eastern Roman Empire and all that.

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To say that changing some of the dynamics of at least one of the key female leads doesn't make sense within the context of a story is a complete waste of breath, because an author can do whatever the hell he pleases. Within a male dominated society in RL, there existed possible parallels for him to draw from for women that were not all based on some misguided notion that women's only real source of power was sex. It doesn't require the monumental change that you seem to think, Mackaxx, nor is it something deseigned to suite everyone or their "delicate" sensibilities. Thats just posturing.
And then going off into some snide little aside about the betrayal of barbarians in the book is really taking an issue that matters to some people and spitting on it because you don't agree. I imagine its much easier to deride others opinions than discuss them perhaps? Aside from the ridiculousness of your argument that has only been brought up so that the entire thing can enter the realm of the absurd, it's still not addressing what i see as the fundamental problem. (As a side note, attempts like this are really only intended to obfuscate the issue....like watching the Republicans with much of anything that they have said over the last 8 years, its an attempt to hide the issue behind derision and weak arguments.)
Bakker is lazy as shit when it comes to portrarying women in his world.

Happy Ent: You like to use the word hyperbole, and critique other peoples arguments, but i would self-examine your delivery before going much further. It'll help you out in the end.
As for the women being whores, yes, they all have some quality that could be put within the classical definition of whore. According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, a whore is defined as: (1)a woman who engages in sexual acts for money. Prostitue - also a promiscous or immoral woman. (2)a male who engages in sexual acts for money. (3)a venal or unscrupulous person.
Now admittidly the definition is pretty broad, and could actually apply to half the fucking cast in Bakkers book when considered in that light, but it backs up the claim that i have made before. All the women, all three, are whores. Even the frail example that a few of you like to truck out as some sort of shining example of Bakkers even distribution of women, the empress, fits within this category. She uses sex to manipulate her son, either directly or indirectly through the women she brings to him. If Bakker had [i]chosen[/i] to, (and again i will say chosen...he could have chosen to do things any way he wanted to in his books), he could have removed the emperor character and simply had the empress in charge. (But oh noes, that would have fundamentally changed the fabric of his world, probably ripping a hole in reality....sniff, sniff.) If she is some paragon of womanly power, why not the final step, remove the emperor. Because when you have this much vaunted female character who is in truth secondary to an incompetent male, it only belittles whatever position she might have actually had.

But i digress. At the end of the day, Bakker's potrayal of women is however he wishes it to be. He wrote it, he owns it, he decided on the history of the world and the relevancy of its characters within. Claiming that he should examine other racial groups in some pc attempt to be all inclusive is ridiculous posturing, because he doesn't readily deal with those groups. He does deal with the women, and he sets all of them down the same path. That, to me, is just lazy and boring.

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[quote name='Jon AS' post='1674880' date='Feb 5 2009, 13.36']The only fantastical abilities I can think of are sorcery and the Dûnyain training/breeding, and there is no indication that there are no fully trained female Dûnyain.[/quote]

I don't think this really helps the case. All it does is change the issue from whether we don't see any female Dunyain because there are none, to whether there might possibly be some but the author decided not to include any or mention them. Either way, the basic issue remains the same - there are none in the story.

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[quote name='mormont']I don't think this really helps the case. All it does is change the issue from whether we don't see any female Dunyain because there are none, to whether there might possibly be some but the author decided not to include any or mention them. Either way, the basic issue remains the same - there are none in the story.[/quote]

Maia's objections seem to be more with Bakker's worldbuilding in general, and Kellhus' lack of prejudice towards women to me is a strong enough indicator that the Dûnyain don't share the same views on gender roles as their world born cousins.
And Kellhus and his father being male became a necessity as soon as the attitudes towards women in the Three Seas were established. This is, I think, important to note: Bakker decided to portray this horribly sexist society, and in order to stay consistent with this world characters have to conform to certain gender roles. It's an all or nothing kind of deal, Kellhus can't be female if the plot is to follow even roughly the same path as it does now.

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[quote name='Maia' post='1674842' date='Feb 5 2009, 07.52']Sure. My beef with Bakker is that he keeps women on the more dismal end of what was historically realistic in RL... but sees nothing at all wrong with supplying his men with various fantastical abilities, to provide them with short-cuts to power.

Moreover, these fantastical abilities seem to exist in complete isolation, without having an effect on the setting that they plausibly should. The same applies to all the non-human races too, of course.



And why did she have to be a bedslave? Couldn't her character have been essentially the same if she was somebody's unhappy young wife? Wouldn't it have illustrated the point re: abuse of women even better? Really, it seemed to me that she was only a concubine for titillation purposes.



Wasn't she initially a courtesan who caught the eye of the Emperor and slept her way to power? I seem to remember something along those lines.


Oh, and the Inchoroi! Mysoginism elevated to an interstellar phenomenon courtesy of Bakker! They hated females so much that they just had to go for the abysmally stupid womb plague, rather than for some more intelligent method of genocide, that wouldn't have gotten their assess kicked and left the humans to spread and multiply at leisure![/quote]


Methinks if you took away or changed most of what you don't like about the portrayal in the story, you'd have a very different story. :huh:


As a female who has been lucky to have lived a relatively safe existance, I really don't have a problem with the way Bakker portrays the women in the story. I think it works for the story and if you don't like it, perhaps the series is not for you. There's nothing wrong with that either. I can't get into Erikson myself so...

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[quote name='Arthmail' post='1674889' date='Feb 5 2009, 08.46']Happy Ent: You like to use the word hyperbole, and critique other peoples arguments, but i would self-examine your delivery before going much further. [i]It'll help you out in the end.[/i][/quote]

This whole bit sounds hypocritical to me...

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[quote name='mormont' post='1674896' date='Feb 5 2009, 14.52']I don't think this really helps the case. All it does is change the issue from whether we don't see any female Dunyain because there are none, to whether there might possibly be some but the author decided not to include any or mention them. Either way, the basic issue remains the same - there are none in the story.[/quote]


But the story isn't finished as yet - and it seems safe bet we will see more Dunyain, including females, sooner or later, especially considering where the plot seems to be going. Besides, as someone noticed, Kellhus seems completely free from anti-women prejudices common in Earwa, which does suugest something about Dunyain society.

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That's the one thing that holds me back from thinking that the case is closed on Bakker and depictions of women -- the work isn't done yet. I can't really see why he chose to problematize gender in this particular way, given what I've read so far. But it may be that all will become clear at the end.

As to Dûnyain society, they don't have any particular biases regarding worldborn people ... because they're ignorant children who are easily led. They're like slightly complex tools. Can a person be biased against power drills? So I'm not sure that the lack of bias regarding women necessarily means anything. Now, one would think that their intense eugenics would require them to give women extremely similar training and an extremely similar role in their philosophy, because that'd be one of the ways to test how good they are as a genetic stock, so it's also just as possible that Dûnyain women are equal to Dûnyain men...

But somehow I doubt it's quite that simple.

What would people think if it turns out that the Dûnyain basically keep women around as little more than breeding stock?

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[quote name='Max the Mostly Mediocre' post='1674274' date='Feb 5 2009, 01.15']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.[/quote]
'Tis true. I should have said I prefer my sword-and-sorcery be written with an eye toward literary qualities and entertainment rather than a thinly veiled political and ideological manifesto out to grind strawmen stones, as it were. But it seems there's a substantial contingent of people here who are simply unwilling to read unless the author panders to their particular ideological agenda in a major way.
[quote name='Serious Callers']Thats a book series waiting to happen. Kind of like the Merchants War Stross is making but with magic instead of modern economics.[/quote]
I think such an undertaking in general is far beyond the abilities of the people whose literary skills make for decent reading. An Émile Durkheim or a Max Weber might produce something decent, but neither gentleman - nor any of their spiritual successors - would tempt me to part with my money on an entertainment basis. The whole alternative history genre is ample evidence of how horrifyingly wrong things go when normal authors try their hands at this stuff.

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