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Bakker - A Discussion of Rectal Miracles


Francis Buck

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I really don’t get this. I’m not playing dumb. To me, it holds women to infinitely lower intellectual standards than men. The whole argument goes against every moral fibre in my body.

Not, not really. I'm certain if the situation is reversed, men would be turned off by a hypothetical fantasy series that contains no interesting male characters. It just so happens that this scenario is far less likely to be the case given how much the genre skews in a male direction anyway. That said, I'm quite sure that a book like The Mists of Avalon, which is very female-centric, has far more female readers than males, and I'm not even accusing the book of having uninteresting male characters.

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what a thread full of carping offendants.

offensive (adj.) "attacking" (1540s), "insulting" (1570s), both from Middle French offensif (16c.) and directly from Medieval Latin offensivus, from Latin offens-, past participle stem of offendere "offend" (see offend). Related: Offensively; offensiveness.

offend (v.)

early 14c., "to sin against (someone)," from Old French ofendre "transgress, antagonize," and directly from Latin offendere "to hit, strike against," figuratively "to stumble, commit a fault, displease, trespass against, provoke," from ob "against" (see ob-) + -fendere "to strike" (found only in compounds; see defend).

Meaning "to violate (a law), to make a moral false step, to commit a crime" is from late 14c. Meaning "to wound the feelings" is from late 14c. The literal sense of "to attack, assail" is attested from late 14c.; this has been lost in Modern English, but is preserved in offense and offensive. Related: Offended; offending.

so, is it all merely gustatory, without rigor?

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Not, not really. I'm certain if the situation is reversed, men would be turned off by a hypothetical fantasy series that contains no interesting male characters. It just so happens that this scenario is far less likely to be the case given how much the genre skews in a male direction anyway. That said, I'm quite sure that a book like The Mists of Avalon, which is very female-centric, has far more female readers than males, and I'm not even accusing the book of having uninteresting male characters.

Yeah, the genre matters. Epic fantasy traditionally has a lot to do with wish fulfillment.

But beyond that, TDTCB has both of its major female characters raped, brutally and repetitively in Serwe's case. And her rapist, Cnauir, is seen as a character with admirable qualities, the symbol of potent masculinity in the text.

There may be male characters raped, but the text doesn't give this much focus.

As for Orange is the New Black, I think the difference is historically [historical] marginalization. So we could understand someone saying the lack of interesting black/gay/female characters ruins a show for them, but would be taken aback by someone saying a show needs more white/straight/male characters.

It's the gradient of historical imbalance that figures into the criticism.

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It's the gradient of historical imbalance that figures into the criticism.

But I have the entire romance genre on my side. There is no lack of females in literature. With the urban vampire crap, probably not even in fantasy.

Women are not a marginalised group in literature.

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But beyond that, TDTCB has both of its major female characters raped, brutally and repetitively in Serwe's case. And her rapist, Cnauir, is seen as a character with admirable qualities, the symbol of potent masculinity in the text.

There may be male characters raped, but the text doesn't give this much focus.

I might be wrong but I don't think this has anything to do with why the series has so very female readers. If Esmenet had a more interesting story and if she never devolved into the sad role of the proverbial female in a two male love triangle, that would have greatly helped matters. Regrettably, the best that Bakker could do to generate conflict between his two male leads involved borrowing liberally from third-rate Mexican telenovelas. That is the point when his editor should have stepped and told him he could do better.

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And her rapist, Cnauir, is seen as a character with admirable qualities, the symbol of potent masculinity in the text.

Hrm... what?

Women are not a marginalised group in literature.

I know you weren't responding to me from last page but thank you for writing that regardless.

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I might be wrong but I don't think this has anything to do with why the series has so very female readers. If Esmenet had a more interesting story and if she never devolved into the sad role of the proverbial female in a two male love triangle, that would have greatly helped matters.

To be clear, I'm recalling [stating] complaints I recall being mentioned in the past. I suspect you are correct though, as there are novels with brutalized women that seem to have lots of female readers. Room comes to mind. Also Bluest Eye and Beloved.

Regrettably, the best that Bakker could do to generate conflict between his two male leads involved borrowing liberally from third-rate Mexican telenovelas. That is the point when his editor should have stepped and told him he could do better.

Heh, yeah, that might've been a problem as well.

Hrm... what?

I mean he is at least a partially sympathetic POV. Think about how many people find Serwe annoying and how many think Cnauir is an awesome character.

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There may be male characters raped, but the text doesn't give this much focus.

This is a perfect example of reader bias. I am hard pressed to think of a book with more male rape than Bakker’s. I can easily think of books with more female rape (GRRM).

Kellhus is raped in POV. Serwë’s rapes happen mostly off focus.

The only interesting thing about the female rapes in Bakker’s books is that they happen to women whose inner thoughts we are privy to. And notably these rapes are not character-motivating, which is (I find) a detestable cliche.

In GRRM, rapes happen to non-player characters. (See extensively describe, pages-long rape of Lamb girl in Game, whose function is to motivate Dany for crying out loud. No attention is ever paid to the victim.)

In Abercrombie, WhatsHerName was raped “before”, which motivates her.

In Lynch, rapes don’t happen because all whores are happy, self-empowered businesswomen with a heart of gold.

These are the genre tropes that make me sick. As a feminist.

Mieville uses rapes to make some intellectually pedestrian political statements. Doesn’t make me sick, it’s just boring.

Instead, Bakker shows us some rapes that actually outrage me and gives stunning studies of the victims. I think this is amazing. You may all read much better books than me, but I haven’t found anything comparable in genre literature.

Sorry, the argument from rape simply doesn’t convince me. I think Bakker scores lots of points on this card.

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(he's mentioned that his editor suggested making Conphas a woman, which he dismissed and she warned him that it would turn off female readers)

OMFG, this is fucking genius. Conphas as a woman undermines a lot of gender sterotypes in a lot of fascinating ways that would continually pay off in a way you could build upon and build upon to make a really effective case about gender and fantasy or gender and medieval worlds/belief systems. And on a series macro level, Conphas as a woman sets the first series up in dramatic counterpoint to the empress of the second series (Esmenet). The comparison then between Empress Conphas and Empress Esmenet invites all sorts of thematic treatments of how gender differs between class, nature/nurture, inheritance vs merit and so on and so forth. That's a really fucking great

editorial suggestion that would have innumerably strengthened the narrative (and simultaneously forwarded Bakker's state goals) in phenomenal, breathtaking ways.

And how delicious would it have been to have the only person who naturally can resist Kellhus, Conphas, be a woman, as well? That in and of itself would have brought forth many of the hopelessly buried themes about how Kellhus uses the trappings of modernity to enslave Esmenet and Serwe into a worse off state than they were before, because the reader would directly compare that the pre-modern Conphas was better off than the modern Esmenet, it would say that feminism can backfire, particularly if you're enslaved by ideology.

EDIT: Actually, I do remember him possibly acknowledging it when someone asked him why the Schools didn't have women over at Three Seas years back. He said he just assumed "because misogyny", but he may have been wrong on that one.

I've always thought that was a mistake. The Few are too rare and valuable - even in a civilization as patriarchal as the Three Seas, you'd think the potential gain to a School by greatly increasing their ranks would outweigh potential social stigma, especially since Sorcerers are already stigmatized and feared.

I've always thought this was a mistake as well. A better explanation (and in keeping with the 'because misogyny' of the world and in-world disproven by Dunyain mothers not undermining the group unity at the expense of their children) would have been that schools believed that female sorcerers are more loyal to their children than their school, so women undermined school unity which was a more disastrous outcome for the collective group because only united could they oppose other schools effectively and maintain independence or pseudo independence from the states and religions of Earwa.

I think the wrong argument is being made. I find it far more likely that women do not read his books because of the dearth of interesting female characters, not because they are easily offended or because the books happen to be sexist.

I agree. I think Serwe is interesting, but only in the way she interacts with the deliberately not-explained metaphysics. Serwe had so much passion, so much water, so much intuitive understanding that her perspective sometimes seems surreal. This is undermined by her then being shorehorned into such extreme positions vis-a-vis the men in her life, but given her character, it's natural she goes to such extremes. She lacks depth because she's more of a token-female than an effective character.

Not, not really. I'm certain if the situation is reversed, men would be turned off by a hypothetical fantasy series that contains no interesting male characters. It just so happens that this scenario is far less likely to be the case given how much the genre skews in a male direction anyway.

I think Anne McCaffrey has a ton of male readers and there's not an interesting male character in her series until the third book. And in some of her other series, there never is an interesting male character. She still manages to find plenty of readers.
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Hrm... what?

Yes, I was thinking the same thing.

Some readers may identify, but then many readers identify with crap like Twilight. Cnauir is specifically outlined to be a brutal, vicious man, and not "admirable" at all in a hypermasculine sense due to his repressed homosexuality alone. edit: C. is badass though in all the traditional ways.

I always find these gender arguments so repetitive and often narrow-focused. How is it "offensive" to accurately describe the lives of brutalized women, when these are fairly regular experiences in parts of the world?

edit: happy ent already expressed my feelings in a much better way. it seems that "agenda-rape" as plot-coupons and motivation is much more common that Bakker's bleak approach.

And let's be frank: the many, many other factors that have been mentioned as making Bakker niche--dense prose, difficult and structurally problematic pacing in the first book, a surfeit of Proper Nouns for concepts and characters, grimdark themes, etc.--make it difficult for many readers to get into the series, male and female. There are certainly other reasons than the initial presentation and thematic development of the female characters for the rejection by the masses of TSA, and a lot of those are articulated on goodreads, amazon, etc. The intensity of volume of those entirely invested in defining "proper" agency-focused gender depiction simply makes it the loudest, not the only, condemnation. IMO.

edit 3: brutalization alone does not tell the whole picture, as someone mentioned above. 50 shades S&M, for example, is devoured by legions of female readers... due to its wish fulfillment, which the spanking et al. give cartoonish 'edge' (as opposed to the plight of the aging whore, the sex-slave POV of Serwe, etc.)

I've never understood why Bakker gets all the flack for his treatment of gender (which is always sympathetic to the victimized) while Rothfuss tends to skate on with his terrible metaphors about how women are instruments to be played. Some would argue that PR is underlying with a red marker the bullshit Penthouse-fantasy of the alpha nerd that Kvothe ultimately represents, but his comments about the Hobbit and his weaksauce dismissal of the crits. of the latter half of TWF suggest otherwise.

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To be clear, I'm recalling [stating] complaints I recall being mentioned in the past. I suspect you are correct though, as there are novels with brutalized women that seem to have lots of female readers. Room comes to mind. Also Bluest Eye and Beloved.

That's the thing, there are plenty of properties that are demonstratively and inherently more sexist than this book series, yet remain wildly popular with women. That being the case, I firmly believe that Bakker's inability to attract female readers has little to do with the setting of his story or even the fact that he seems to have an obsession with whores. I just think the series, particularly the first trilogy, has not had very many female characters, and those it does have are simply not very good characters (with a few recent exceptions).

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Am I really the only person who thinks that Esmi is a great character? Is it because I’m male? I simply don’t understand this.

And Serwë is one of the most memorable characters in fantasy. I really haven’t seen anything like her POV. And the minor female characters in the later books are rich, varied, (and even powerful!),… I really don’t get it.

The only character that annoys me (which is on purpose, I believe) is male: Sorweel.

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I do think it's important to note that we don't really know how many women do or don't read the novels. I suspect our sampling is biased. Looking here there do seem to be females who really enjoyed the books.

Instead, Bakker shows us some rapes that actually outrage me and gives stunning studies of the victims. I think this is amazing. You may all read much better books than me, but I haven’t found anything comparable in genre literature.

I agree with the bolded, but the rapes do progress the narrative. Serwe's brutalization makes it easier for Kellhus to manipulate her. Esmi's rape by Aurang in TDTCB is what sets her off to find Akka...who then walks past her even she screams his name...

Eh, Faint might be on to something with the soap opera comparsion. In fact the more I think about it the explanations for why women don't read the series probably falls more in line with why men don't read the series.

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Am I really the only person who thinks that Esmi is a great character? Is it because I’m male? I simply don’t understand this.

And Serwë is one of the most memorable characters in fantasy. I really haven’t seen anything like her POV. And the minor female characters in the later books are rich, varied, (and even powerful!),… I really don’t get it.

The only character that annoys me (which is on purpose, I believe) is male: Sorweel.

I think they are great characters, far better developed (through suffering) than most female characters in fantasy fiction... the plot-railroading of Esme in WLW did get on my aesthetic nerve, and the parts where she is marveling about Kellhus's brilliance in TWP are tiresome on re-reads.

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lockesnow +1 for Truth & Nerdanel. kuenjato +1 for post.

Am I really the only person who thinks that Esmi is a great character? Is it because I’m male? I simply don’t understand this.

I like Esmenet.

I do think it's important to note that we don't really know how many women do or don't read the novels. I suspect our sampling is biased. Looking here there do seem to be females who really enjoyed the books.

Goodreads' Want-To-Read TUC also supports a mixed readership. People identifying as female might simply not spend their time on forums arguing with us.

I agree with the bolded, but the rapes do progress the narrative. Serwe's brutalization makes it easier for Kellhus to manipulate her. Esmi's rape by Aurang in TDTCB is what sets her off to find Akka...who then walks past her even she screams his name...

Serwe's rape by Cnaiur triggers something in Kellhus but I don't think that's the point he decides to use her as tool against Cnaiur. Also, it would completely be our readerly assumptions that suspect she is only a plot device for Cnaiur's domination rather than some greater mechanism of the World as lockesnow sketched a little bit of above.

The Consult specifically choosing not to murder Esmenet after she was or wasn't of use to them. Geshrunni is killed and told that plucking out the Mandate's eyes are what they do. Inrau was going to be killed but he thought his suicide might communicate the complicity of the Consult to Achamian. The Mandate talks about all their spies being taken out. Esmenet is the only one who isn't killed. Did Aurang recognize in her the same 'prophecy' as Mimara? Esmenet doesn't have the luxury of agency at that point.

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I think they are great characters, far better developed (through suffering) than most female characters in fantasy fiction... the plot-railroading of Esme in WLW did get on my aesthetic nerve, and the parts where she is marveling about Kellhus's brilliance in TWP are tiresome on re-reads.

+1.

And Serwë is one of the most memorable characters in fantasy. I really haven’t seen anything like her POV. And the minor female characters in the later books are rich, varied, (and even powerful!),… I really don’t get it.

Perhaps we're overestimating the negative reaction to his female characters based on bad sampling then?

I mean, it's not like Bakker is super popular with male fantasy readers.

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I agree with the bolded, but the rapes do progress the narrative.

Oh, sure. It’s never gratuitous.

Serwe's brutalization makes it easier for Kellhus to manipulate her. Esmi's rape by Aurang in TDTCB is what sets her off to find Akka...who then walks past her even she screams his name...

Serwë’s brutalisation is there to make Kellhus feel compassion, a feeling that is alien to him. Serwë then develops agency when she tries to murder the sleeping Cnaiür, which would have been successful if not for Kellhus.

Esmi does not act because she was raped, but to warn Akka. It’s exactly not an example of a female character being motivated by her victimisation. She acts to protect a male character.

Eh, Faint might be on to something with the soap opera comparsion. In fact the more I think about it the explanations for why women don't read the series probably falls more in line with why men don't read the series.

Ah, no. I’m afraid that the argument “from lack of kick-ass female characters with agency” is, unfortunately, completely correct. It is the best explanation for why so many women dislike Bakkerworld. If he had put a few anachronistic, spunky Mary Sues in the books he’d be golden.

What I don’t understand is that women, and those who presume to talk for them, proudly make this argument. I would be embarrassed admitting that I don’t like Orange is the New Black because there aren’t any kick-ass male characters in there.

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