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Mackaxx

Bakker and Women II

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So, how does he do with the ladies? Does an interest in and a slightly deeper understanding of matters of the mind give one an advantage with women?

These questions and more will be discussed herein.

Or we can talk about whores.

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[quote]She sums it up better than I ever could. I don't know where this rosy-glasses portrait of the middle ages comes from, given that a common subjegation meme from Jerome onward blamed women for the Fall and generally classed them as beneath men in virtually every aspect (unless they gave their chastity for Christ). Sure there were exceptions, but that is exactely what they were, exceptions.[/quote]I agree with that; medieval times for women were really brutal, far moreso than most portrayals indicate. Depending on the location of course, and the time.

I think the difference that I'd like to point out is that there existed exceptions in medieval periods. There exist none in Earwa.
SPOILER: TJE
It remains to be seen what the Swayal school is like, but it's only indicated offscreen and is again entirely because of Kellhus that it exists at all. Serwa is another character that might indicate something else, but it's hard to say; she's not given a single speaking chance that I remember. And of course, none of these people would have any power were it not for Kellhus.

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[quote]I think the difference that I'd like to point out is that there existed exceptions in medieval periods. There exist none in Earwa.[/quote]

That we've seen.

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[quote]The thing which gets my goat, I think, is the presumption that the books don't hold more than what meets the eye.[/quote]

I think this is where part of the disconnect is. I really didn't see much of this in that particular thread. Clearly, you did. Whose view is more correct, I dunno.

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[quote]That we've seen.[/quote]Oh, assuredly. It very well could be that things are going to change and that we will see some idea of women in higher spots or positions other than whoredom or motherdom.
SPOILER: TJE
And in fact, there are good hints that there will be
. But it's tough when the things we do see are so misogynistic and the roles women are in when we do see them are as these essentially misogynistic roles.

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[quote]generally classed them as beneath men in virtually every aspect (unless they gave their chastity for Christ). Sure there were exceptions, but that is exactely what they were, exceptions.[/quote]

There were more than just [i]exceptions[/i] in medeavil times. There was a social set up in which woman could attain power legitimately - nunneries. Not just nunneries, but joint religious orders such as Fontrevault where a woman was always the head. The church was the single most powerful political organ in these times, and it ceded rather a lot of control to woman. The notion that an empowered woman would be tokenism is really flying in the face of history.

*shrug* but this is not a direct analogue to medaevil times, I know. So perhaps it's ok to take out the only societal element where woman directed their own lives. I just thought that a lot of these people who have said medaevil life was utterly shit for woman, and there was little for them outside of marriage or prostitution were perhaps forgetting something ( or mentioning it tangentially, like it was not a legitimate option, and was only for god-botherers, which would of course be putting rather a modern spin on things.)

I read the books about 4 years ago, and am only just reading The ThousandFold Thought now, after repeated nagging by my partner :P. So I'm not too good on specific descriptions and occurences of woman in the text. However, one of the reasons it has taken me so long to pick up the story again is that it left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Not because Esme was a whore ( though I do think she is romanticised a little) or that Serwe was a cipher, or that Istrya was perverted. More through the [i]utter absence[/i] of woman of any kind in the text. I do not demand [i]empowered[/i] woman within texts - but I do like to see evidence that normal woman exist. None of the characters seem to have mothers, sisters, daughters.

This would be acceptable in a book where genetically, woman are a subset race of men, breeders only ( as has been done often in sci-fi) and we are not really discussing humans but an alien variant thereof. But this is not the case, as Esme is clearly very intelligent ( as is Istrya, in her own way - she has a limited amount of power, whether gained through sex or not ) so it is not impossible for woman to gain power, merely difficult. It's not so much about power though, as simple visibility. Woman are invisible in these books.


[quote]The thing I've learned over the past several years is that if you give people the whiff of a rat they [i]will[/i] find one.[/quote]
Hmm. Well, when I read these books first, they were not widely discussed. I am not someone who goes looking for poor treatment of women in books - I've been reading old school sci-fi since I was five and I doubt I'd be able to stomach any of that if I was allergic to poor treatment of woman in literature. However, my first post on the Bakker books was on the treatment of woman in the text and how disturbing I found it. I was not sniffing out rats as much as being bitten by a rather big and nasty one.

[quote]Now obviously..MOST fantasy writers are not too hot on women. But what annoys me here is that the book is otherwise so intelligent. It ain't froth, so I'd expect the cliches of froth (women existing only for a romantic/sexual element) to be left behind.[/quote]

[quote]yeah, I agree tokenism is bad. And I do see that in a book set around a moving army, like this one, any strong female character is going to be out of place if she ISN'T a camp follower. However..In history as I read it, whether they held officially important positions or not, women still maintained strong and influential roles in society and politics whatever the setting. To assume because women were not recognised as important, with titles and roles, seems to assume women were merely docile until the point of feminism ocurring. Which I doubt.

And to build any world..with character back histories, where one would assume the female would have some influence, etc..with little to no discussion of women..seems as artificial as sticking extraneous female characters in.[/quote]

That was written in 2004. It wasn't jumping on bandwagons, or looking for rats, it was honest puzzlement at why such a good author would do such a thing. Which is the question Kal has been asking all thread, and really, has not got an answer to apart from ' I did it deliberately' and 'you are missing the subtext'

[quote]I think I've provided enough grounds to at least consider the possibility that at the very least this isn't your run-of-the-mill sexism. Maybe it's more subtle, and therefore more dangerous.[/quote]

Well, I'd agree with that. Definitely more subtle, as a lot of intelligent people in this thread do not see any sexism in the books. More subtle as it is very difficult for me to logically articulate why it disturbs me to the point of not reading books that in other ways I thoroughly enjoyed.

I still do not understand why Bakker is doing this. It's subtle enough that it genuinely does not fly on the radar of those who are not concerned about female depiction, yet dangerous enough that alienates a large part of his readership who are alert to these things. I don't think the discussion it provokes is a genuinely interesting one or groundbreaking one - nobody in this thread seems motivated to rethink their position in any way. Those declaiming the position of woman in the books are seen as 'tokenists', those advocating the books are seen as mysognists and nobody is budging. So really, what is the point? what is the subtext I am so obviously missing? What is the reason behind creating a one sex society and then putting in intelligent members of the other sex to show the other sex is there- but just - invisible?

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There's lots of women in the books. TWP features camp whores a plenty.


As for no one rethinking their position, i tihnk the majority of the people not on the "want more women" side generally don't understand what people are complaining about.

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[quote name='needle' post='1685384' date='Feb 13 2009, 02.48']Well, I'd agree with that. Definitely more subtle, as a lot of intelligent people in this thread do not see any sexism in the books. More subtle as it is very difficult for me to logically articulate why it disturbs me to the point of not reading books that in other ways I thoroughly enjoyed.[/quote]

Fee, good post. I'm not a misogynist, I don't think [maybe you'd know better :P] but I wouldn't agree that people [i]aren't[/i] seeing the sexism in the books. To my mind it’s rather a case of the sexism in the books as having a legitimate place because of the various cultures of Earwa, while the plotting of the story has kept the common woman out of the narrative only out of necessity. But then again, the common man is out as well.

I've been thinking a lot of late about Bakker's choice to make Esmenet a whore, and I keep coming back to Achamian's character and what type of woman it would be socially 'acceptable' for him to befriend in such a manner, as well and perhaps more importantly, what kind of woman Achamian could stomach on a personal level [talking worldly here, as opposed to noble-caste] To him she is Esmenet who happens to be a whore [and all the pain that's brought him over the years] instead of the whore Esmenet.

Then there's the dancing around the theme of damnation as well, and besides sorcerers whores are it [damned I mean, that we know of so far]

I don't know.

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[quote name='Shryke' post='1685387' date='Feb 13 2009, 11.54']There's lots of women in the books. TWP features camp whores a plenty.


As for no one rethinking their position, i tihnk the majority of the people not on the "want more women" side generally don't understand what people are complaining about.[/quote]


Yeah but those women are about as important to the story as coat hangers, i.e. not at all. They are invisible.

As feedle points out, even during the medieval ages, women had ways to get more power in their lives and to be visible, but in Bakker's books there is no such way.

Again it comes back the "What is the point of the extreme misogyny of the society created? What point does it prove?"
I find it hard to just accept without questioning or thinking a society that is so extremely misogynist; more so than any historical society, without asking the question "Why?".

If this is the author's intention, then he has partly succeeded, and as is obvious in this thread; partly failed, since a lot of people accept it without needing any specific justification for it.

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While I'm in no way comparing Bakker to Goodkind*, much of this discussion is reminding me a lot of the arguments we've had with the Yeardlings in the past, where the arguments are all framed within the book's setting. For example, we're often told that Richard [i]had no other choice[/i] than to kill all the peace protestors, because of plot devices A, B and C, and that [i]it doesn't make him a bad person[/i]. This is to entirely disregard the author's[b] deliberate decision[/b] to (eg) put the peace protestors there in the first place and to close off all other possible strategies. So yeah, we can say that Akka's only possible female love interest would have been a whore, but only because Bakker made it that way.


*honestly, I'm really not, it's just that Tairy is the author that we've had the most practice at dissecting, and much of the board will be familiar with the arguments.

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[quote name='Lyanna Stark' post='1685519' date='Feb 13 2009, 07.18']Again it comes back the "What is the point of the extreme misogyny of the society created? What point does it prove?" I find it hard to just accept without questioning or thinking a society that is so extremely misogynist; [i]more so[/i] than any historical society, without asking the question "Why?".

If this is the author's intention, then he has partly succeeded, and as is obvious in this thread; partly failed, since a lot of people accept it without needing any specific justification for it.[/quote]

[i]More so[/i]? How's that, and what justification is actually required? Egypt is the only classical culture I'd think women were moderately better off in than their contemporaries, excepting perhaps Sparta [although both are arguable] and unfortuantely this story isn't about nuns of medieval times, so...

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Fee,

Good points all. The fact is that the trilogy does not in fact have a lot of women. It has a lot of female-gendered props. There seem to be a dozen whores who get lines in TWP, yet not a single one of them has a name, a family, or anything else.

They're color, not characters.

Bakker's made deliberate choices. Whether those choices best served his various interests, who can say?

Min,

Indeed.

AA,

The first three books present a world where there is no role for women that does not involve sex and breeding. This is not because it's "not part of the story" but instead, near as I've been able to understand, because it's a deliberate choice.

Even the incredibly misogynistic classical Athenians had spaces for women that stood outside of that very narrow area.

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[quote name='Azor Ahai' post='1685533' date='Feb 13 2009, 15.29'][i]More so[/i]? How's that, and what justification is actually required? Egypt is the only classical culture I'd think women were moderately better off in than their contemporaries, excepting perhaps Sparta [although both are arguable] and unfortuantely this story isn't about nuns of medieval times, so...[/quote]


Really? the only women we ever saw in Bakker's books were whores, a pleasure slave and a mad queen. Women are sold as cattle, the lowest of the low.

I find it difficult to believe you can find a lot of cultures where this was the case.

This is also not a case of showing that for most women life sucked (this can often be the case) but that ALL the women we see in Bakker's books (not talking about TJE since I have no yet read it) are whores, or variety of whores, and they are all using sex as their only weapon in their fight for power.

Apart from the three women who actually have a PoV (sort of, Istrya doesn't really have one as such) there are no women. They're coat hangers; non existant. They could have been cows or sheep and nobody would have batted an eyelid.


Like Fee said, people assume that before emancipation, women were like sheep; meek and basically background, and then suddenly with feminism, women started to magically exist!

Even in strictly patriarcal works like the Bible and the Quran, there are a lot of female characters. They have names, families and personalities. They are not coat hangers.

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[quote name='Ran' post='1685534' date='Feb 13 2009, 07.29']AA,

The first three books present a world where there is no role for women that does not involve sex and breeding. This is not because it's "not part of the story" but instead, near as I've been able to understand, because it's a deliberate choice.

Even the incredibly misogynistic classical Athenians had spaces for women that stood outside of that very narrow area.[/quote]

Of course it is, but I'd ask so what? Every choice an author makes is deliberate. Do I pause here to expound on a slice of the life, or does the narative carry Achamian through the market in search of that face he recognized instead, leaving little time for discourse with merchant women on the inequities of the Nansur?

Regarding Athens, granted, although we hear and read a lot about these other spaces for women, don't we. Plato, Socrates, all those great minds forcused on the polis, civic duty and roles therein, even that writer of the comedy where the women conspired to stop the war by uniformly rejecting to have sex with men?

I have lots of women in my book, because the ruling culture and a few of the clannish and tribes are matriarchal. But I'm going for an almost prehistoric sense of pre-society, somewhat. This is my choice. I suppose I'm going to be getting a lot of flak from the skewed views of the misogynists.

[rolls eyes]

Seriously.

I feel bad for Scott right now, I think he's getting the wrong end of a lot of personal bias.


ETA: I have to go, but I'll be back. I'm actually starting to run out of patience.

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I do see the point of those who decry Bakker's use of women in Earwa. And if it wasn't for the way he treats many other groups, I would agree. But one of the things that I had a hard time with when I first read the books was the treatment of any other group but that of the main driving forces of the books - Kellhus, Achamian, Cnaiur, and the various, hard-to-remember leaders of the various countries who become embroiled in the holy war.

Bakker has some points to make, and all the characters more or less serve this function. Now, if you find these characters fascinating, as I do, you will enjoy these books. But if you're looking for a fleshed-out portrayal of a land and its people (including women), you'll be disappointed and see biases that I don't believe are really there. Common people, period, are totally ignored except to be Sranc-fodder. The various countries pretty much all blend into one, making it harder to remember their leaders, add to that their names (!)

Bakker's work is somewhat like an old portrait where the landscape is misty and amorphous, whereas the central figure(s) spring from the canvas.

Now, the question of why he has chosen to make the few women in his story important only in how their sex has placed them. I noted it when reading the stories and read on. I don't require every book I read to be all things to me. If I want a book with interesting, powerful women, I'll read something else.

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Bakker seems very cognizant of what consequences his choices entailed. Among them is the fact that a number of readers are alienated from the text, and not in a pleasant-mental-frission-creating way but a why-should-I-care way. Like he said, "It sucks", but hey, there are those who think it sucks that more people aren't bothered by some of the themes and subtexts.

Sucks to be a writer, sucks to be a reader.

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[quote name='Azor Ahai' post='1685562' date='Feb 13 2009, 14.56']I have lots of women in my book, because the ruling culture and a few of the clannish and tribes are matriarchal. But I'm going for an almost prehistoric sense of pre-society, somewhat. This is my choice. I suppose I'm going to be getting a lot of flak from the skewed views of the misogynists.[/quote]

Haha. You've got lots of women in your book, have you? Have a cookie. I expect some of your best friends are women too, aren't they?

I don't know why I'm so surprised that this part is so hard to get across, and I'm soooo sorry you're starting to run out of patience, but before you go, try looking at it the other way round. Imagine a book in which 90% of the characters were female. Maybe some female merchants, some nuns, some queens, a whole horde of slavering Amazon women (none of which are wearing chainmail bikinis, might I add), a prophetess, a witch, lots of courtly ladies (none of whom seem to have husbands or sons, and certainly never mention them). Then there's your 3 token blokes, who occasionally get called on to open jars. Of course, at one point in book 2, our main heroine wanders through a camp of male sewage workers, some of whom even get a line or two of dialogue, and then there's that builder who turns up halfway through book 3 and is immediately eaten by a monster... that's enough men for you, isn't it? Why are you still complaining?

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[quote]Of course it is, but I'd ask so what? Every choice an author makes is deliberate.[/quote]

Exactly. Every choice is deliberate, hence we must ask ourselves upon reading: why the extreme misogyny? What point does it make, if any?


As for "I have lots of women in my book", that is about the same as saying "I know somebody who is gay, hence I am not a homophobe". Lots of people know lots of women and gay people, and that doesn't determine whether or not they're bigots. They probably aren't, but they may be.

Nobody here has called Bakker a sexist either (apart from possibly Ran) since we're discussing his novels, not his personal convictions.


:lol: @ Min's description

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:lol: ^^ @ Min's Woman's World.

ETA: Write it - if you've got characters as interesting as Cnaiur in it, your career is made.

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