Sexism in The Wise Man’s Fear, part 1

One aspect of The Wise Man’s Fear that I became increasingly uncomfortable with is its portrayal of women. To a lesser extent, this was also somewhat true of the first book, but became impossible to ignore in the sequel by about halfway through. Here’s my more generalized review, posted yesterday.

There are several strong female characters with whom Kvothe forms friendships, and this is a positive, healthy aspect of the books. Hespe the mercenary and Sheyn the teacher are great examples. These strong female characters seem scattered around, one in each of the many groups Kvothe interacts with. It may be a form of tokenism.The series probably doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, but it’s typically hard for a book with a first person male narrator to do that. Here’s a good video explaining what the Bechdel test is and why it’s a useful way to examine sexism in media. Although the video’s examples are movies, not books, it makes a good point.

It seems clear for many reasons that The Kingkiller Chronicle is a set of books that cater to and are about men. As a woman reader I felt alienated when reading certain parts of the book, and hopefully this post and tomorrow’s will explain why.

Here’s a fun passage where Fela, a female character, justifies the male gaze:

“There’s looking and there’s looking. When some men look at you it’s a greasy thing. It makes you want to have a bath. With other men it’s nice. It helps you know you’re beautiful.”

So some women get a self-esteem boost when non-creepy men show approval of their appearance. It’s just a hop, skip and jump from there to a place where women only get self-esteem from men’s approval. That’s how the male gaze gives men power over women. But women are more than pretty scenery. Their bodies are not there to appeal to men’s sense of aesthetics. Their bodies are there because they have people inside of them who have things to do. That should not have to be said. That’s why justifying the male gaze is offensive, and putting those words inside a female character is insidious.

Kvothe spends a long section of The Wise Man’s Fear traveling through the country of Adem, a foreign land with a different language and culture that he spends a lot of time learning. I found many gender issues in this section because the peculiarities of the Adem culture seemed to create a sort of male paradise.

While living with the Adem, Kvothe takes lessons in a local form of martial arts. When he inadvertently gets arroused while practicing fighting with Vashet, his female instructor who “smells like sex,” she initiates some very “business-like” sex so that he will not be distracted during lessons. This becomes a regular part of their training. Kvothe finds the situation awkward, but it is explained away as an example of cultural differences in attitudes toward sex. The whole idea seemed to me like the set-up for a hot-for-teacher porno, an irrelevant scene inserted into the novel to titillate male readers. My biggest objection is that the idea that men are unable to concentrate or accomplish anything once arroused, and that they need periodic release in order to function, contributes to rape culture. Men who feel entitled to sex and helpless without regular intercourse have the attitudes of a potential rapist.

Though Vashet’s culture’s permissive attitudes toward sex are presented as logical and “civilized,” a “barbarian” culture in which men are embarrassed by innappropriate arrousal, try to function normally when distracted by sexual thoughts, and do not expect regular sex, is safer for women. Sexual freedom is a good thing, but a culture that encourages frequent casual sex is better for men than for women. Even beyond issues of whether or not women are more likely to get raped in a society that encourages casual sex (probably), or whether they prefer long-term relationships more often than men (I think they usually do), there’s such a thing as an orgasm gap. In casual encounters men have more orgasms than women do. Of course, in a culture with no shame attached to sex and no nudity taboo, some of the cultural roots of the orgasm gap might shrivel up, but because of Rothfuss’s polite vagueness and his lack of desire to write erotica (sincere thanks, Pat), we don’t know whether or not these trysts have an equitable distribution of pleasure. If the purpose of Vashet’s sex with Kvothe was relieving his arrousal, and her pleasure is not mentioned, it seems likely that she simply services him, with no reciprocity. How liberated.

Apparently a cultural quirk of the Adem is that they do not believe that men have any part in making babies. They are human and reproduce normally; they just have a faulty understanding of biology because their extreme promiscuity seems to have prevented them from ever seeing a causal relationship between sex and pregnancy. This view is portrayed as disempowering for men, because they are seen as incapable of leaving a legacy in this world. But it also creates an entire nation of single mothers. No social support for mothers is mentioned. What a horrible situation for women. Kvothe, the foreigner, is the only one who brings up any form of birth control, so it makes no sense that the Adem women are not pregnant all the time with babies they will have to raise alone. Men, on the other hand, are blithely free from all responsibility.

Kvothe has a conversation about cultral differences in sex with Penthe, a fresh Adem conquest. She said she was attracted to him because he had a lot of “anger,” She explains that in sex, a woman “takes” a man’s “anger.” This word choice and phrasing are kind of scary, bringing domestic violence to mind. However, it seems to be only a bad translation for “passion” or some similar idea, because she defines it thus: “It is a desire. It is a making. It is a wanting of life….All things that live have anger. It is the fire in them that makes them want to move and grow and do and make.” In Adem thought, both men and women have this anger, but not in equal measures. She explains, “women have many uses for their anger. And men have more anger than they can use, too much for their own good.” Men have more passion and desire for life than women?!? Are you kidding? How offensive. This passage masquerades as if it is explaining real sex differences in a way that is fair and equitable, only to insult women by saying they’re good at keeping busy. Here‘s a thorough argument about why the idea that men’s superior zest for life comes out in an increased sex drive is demeaning to women.

Sadly, the anti-feminist dystopia of the Adem is not the worst part of the book. Tomorrow: a dangerously seductive fairy.

46 thoughts on “Sexism in The Wise Man’s Fear, part 1

  1. Pingback: Sexism in The Wise Man’s Fear, part 2 | MeReader

  2. The whole culture is nonsensical. Apologists say that it’s meant to ridicule medieval views on women as incubators. Only, you know, “women as incubators” was observable. If Rothfuss was an actual feminist, he’d realize several things:
    1) Adem lesbians never get pregnant
    2) mercenary women (who apparently don’t have sex with outsiders) don’t get pregnant while on missions
    3) people would fucking take note of this stuff.

    > Sadly, the anti-feminist dystopia of the Adem is not the worst part of the book.
    The worst part of the book is the ending, why doesn’t anyone notice it? I can’t wait until Jo Walton on TOR finally gets to it and how the whole epileptic trees guesswork they’ve been doing collapses because Where-Did-The-Dollar-Go Rothfuss can’t be trusted to plot a book for toddlers. “You screw one goat”, indeed.

    This blog is awesome!

    • Thanks for the compliments and for referring me to Jo Walton’s re-read project! I’ve been spending the last few days trying to catch up on that, and hope to engage that community on feminist issues (and their lack of attention to them) soon.

      It was Walton who pointed out that WMF technically does pass the Bechdel Test. (I considered re-writing the post, or writing a new post as a correction, but I think this comment does the same job.) While in Severn, Kvothe follows Denna and eavesdrops on her conversation with a desperate girl. They talk about what the girl’s options are in life, discussing the pros and cons of high-class and low-class prostitution. This scene only meets Bechdel’s criteria in the most technical of ways, and is not particularly affirming for women, for these reasons:
      1) our hero Kvothe is a creepy stalker violating the privacy of a woman he seems to love
      2) in the conversation we only ever hear Denna’s voice, not the other girl’s
      3) the conversation is about prostitution, which you could argue means the conversation is, at root, about men, because the girls discuss strategies to make a living from men’s desires.

      Even taking this scene into account, I still consider the series to be books that cater to and are about men. This scene of two women talking together is so rare in the book that the community called it the “Bechdel scene.” The Bechdel test sets a really low standard. It takes more than a single scene to be inclusive to half of the world’s population.

      • Thatoneannoyingguywhoisrantingonlinebecausehefinishedhissociologyworkaheadofschedulesohedecidedtobeatroll on said:

        you make lots of valid points however you are comiiting a bit of a fallacy here, several in fact.
        the whole statement about women being empowered by feeling attractive to a man, and thus that means the only thing that the writer believes is empowering to women is being found a attractive by a man, is incredibly contrived. the statement does not even defend itself other than the hop skip and a jump arqument. that is akin to saying that i like eating strawberries, so naturally i only ever eat strawberries. if you wanted to make a point you should have pointed out that it encourages men to stare at womens bodies out of pure objectifacation on no other basis than that it could on select grounds that are entirely contingent upon the thoughts of the person the man is staring at it could be empowering. that i could see as a reasonable argument, the slippery death spiral situation suggested above does not fit that billing unfortunately.
        no women are talking to each other about anything but men so the book is sexist. firstly, the book is written in the first person from the point of view of a man and the majority of the interacion in this book is one on one, as it should be (too many characters in a conversation make honesty seem improbable so it is more interesting and intimate to read one on one conversations). it would litterally be completely impossible to have a one on one conversation with two women in this setting. secondly in an overwhelming majority most of the converations in this book, that happen to be between two people of the same gender fall into two categories, people of simialr ages talk about their intended romances, or an older or more experienced person giving advice to a neophyte. As the book is not from the perspective of a woman, it would be nearly impossible for an older/more experienced woman to be giving one on one consultation on life choices to a younger one in a book that cannot have a scene from a female perspective.i say nearly impossible because there actually is a scene in the book, which to your great credit you point out. thirdly, the book is about a sixteen year old boy! as someone who was once a sixteen year old boy, and somewhat of the nerdy- musical type of person that kvothe is, i can state from first hand experience, that we nerds will hardly if ever bear witness to, especially more than one, woman at any time actually letting us know something meaningful about their lives. its all very “see you here’s the book you were looking for” (that one was a reference to the Wise Man’s Fear, not my actual life though it might as well have been). fourthly there are conversations, heard in passing where two or more women will be talking about daily annoyances that happen at universities. granted they are in passing, but as i stated before most of the actual conversations are one on one and the male narrator kind of deters having any such conversations. and lastly all the conversations between multiple women, that are actual conversations, are around inept men asking for advice. if anything this book insults men more than women (though in truth we probably deserve the insult).

        • You say that I use a slippery slope argument to explain why Fela’s comment about the male gaze is objectionable. I guess you’re right. In later comments I clarify my issue with that comment. Fela justifies benevolent sexism, saying it’s ok for men to objectify women as long as they’re not creepy about it. But benevolent sexism is not ok because it still reduces women to objects. See later comments and follow links to a better explanation of my ideas.

          My understanding of the rest of this comment is that you’re giving me a long explanation of why the point of view makes it particularly hard for WMF to pass the Bechdel test. I agree that having a first person male narrator does make it particularly hard for a story to jump through the hoop that the Bechdel test sets up. I said as much in a later comment when I compared the book to the Game of Thrones series. I think you misunderstand the purpose of the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test is not about declaring that books are sexist or not sexist. It’s a litmus test to see which perspectives the narrative values. It shows us when a story is male-centered to the extent that it excludes the female perspective. It’s best used to evaluate not just one story at a time, but entire groups of stories. For example, researchers recently ran all the movies released in 2013 through the Bechdel test and realized that the ones that passed it made more money than the ones that didn’t. The Bechdel test is best used to point out industry-wide disparities in gender representation, rather than as a nitpicking magnifying glass for individual works. I only use it here as shorthand to show how male-centered the story was and why it was alienating to me as a female reader.

      • Agreed. I can effectively argue against almost every point you make here, and there. But I wont because for the most part, I cant bring myself to care about your “issues”, as I find that the major point against your “issues” is your unwillingness to read the test from the “intended” angle, which is ignorant. I hate this crusading feminist outlook, where everything is the enemy. It seems to me that you are cherry-picking your arguments and “reading between the lines” where, in fact, there is nothing between the lines. For example your “single mother” comment – its totally baseless when obviously there is no example in the book of a single mother struggling in any way. So you can just as much say that the single mothers are better off as you can say that they are in a “horrible situation”. Perhaps the whole community helps look after the child? We don’t know, and therefore basing a feminist point on it is, funnily enough, pointless. But as I said, I cant be bothered to argue really. All I know is that NotW and WMF are absolutely incredible books, and that I will continue to truly enjoy them, as will mum, and my female friends.

        • It’s hard to address criticisms of shallowness that are themselves one line deep. I would urge anyone who disagrees with what I’ve said in this post to go to the discussion linked above. In that forum, I backtracked on the “single mother” problem, acknowleging that Adem children are raised communally. Tomorrow and the next day, I am posting excerpts from that discussion because I wrote some things there that I want made public on my blog. On Wednesday, my post will address what you call my “unwillingness to read the text from the “intended” angle” and “cherry-picking.”

          I agree that NotW and WMF are enjoyable books; I said as much in my original reviews of both (http://mereader.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/the-name-of-the-wind/ and http://mereader.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/the-wise-mans-fear/). I am planning to read the next book and hope that some of my issues are resolved in it. Enjoying a text and finding problems with it are not mutually exclusive. Finding problems with something and starting a discussion about it are not the same as “crusading” or seeing everything as “the enemy.” I really don’t know what else to say to you; it’s hard to have a productive conversation when one party rejects arguments out of hand just because they’re feminist.

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  4. “Did you read Mark’s comment above to which I was replying?”
    I did, but I’m replying to your reply in terms of the complete assembly of comments I’ve seen from you (here and at tor.com-thanks for the link)

    “I hate this crusading feminist outlook, where everything is the enemy.”
    The first part of this sentence (crusading feminist outlook) is bad, you’re entirely justified in being offended. The second part I agree with because of statements like this.
    “So some women get a self-esteem boost when non-creepy men show approval of their appearance. It’s just a hop, skip and jump from there to a place where women only get self-esteem from men’s approval.”
    The “hop skip and jump” clearly hasn’t happened. If it’s a cautionary mention warning people to avoid the hopping and jumping, fine, but I don’t see that indicated.

    I’ve been reading your other posts, but I’ll certainly focus on your highlights.

    “Without specific reasons to back up your criticisms, they amount to empty name-calling. ”
    I’m actually okay with this, but if it means anything to you the tactful response indicates that you’re worth taking seriously.

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  6. Pingback: Authors as ‘friends’, sexism and stuff « Kaya Toast & Coffee

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  8. Thank you for pointing out the sexism in those books. I already feared I was the only one who noticed it.
    Some women in the books only seem to be there to point out how respectful Kvothe treats women. The author seems to consider himself a feminist, and I guess he thinks he’s writing a feminist hero…but he doesn’t, and it is made worse by his – or Kvothe’s – arrogance.

    However, I do think you are a bit harsh with your criticism of the Adem culture. The thought that they have an orgasm gap never entered my mind. The women intiate sex – of course they enjoy it! I never had casual sex myself, and was shocked to find out via the link you provided that there are women who have casual sex although they don’t have an orgasm most of the times. I mean, that’s the point of casual sex, or isn’t it? Having an orgasm?
    Why else would one do it?
    To me it was clear that Adem women have an orgasm every time they have sex. However, I do agree that Vashet’s suggestion that they have sex because Kvothe is aroused, did seem strange. After thinking about it, I remembered that Vashet made a comment on how attractive she considered Kvothe’s body. One could take that to mean she had only been waiting for an opportunity to suggest sex without shocking the “barbarian” too much.
    (But of course it’s possible that Kvothe didn’t think about that at all, and/or that the author didn’t too)
    I was appaled by the fact that Vashet beat him – not just in training but as a punishement – was clearly his teacher, and yet not only had they sex, but Kvothe made music for her in order to get her to like him again. Which is, if you switch sex and music, quite as disturbing as their having sex. I can suspend disbelief enough so I can enjoy the story in spite of teacher-student-sex, but if the author then starts to break the taboos of his fictional foreign culture, too…

    Vashet asked Kvothe whether he wanted to take care of his little arousal problem himself. That made quite clear, in my opinion, that she knows men don’t need sex with women.
    Also, in our culture, we do believe that it is harmful to people to have no friends. This does not lead to anyone being expected to be friends with someone they don’t like. It is assumed everyone who wants to have friends will eventually find some.

    Regarding consent (don’t know whether it was you, but someone mentioned the issue), I did take Tempis question “…does he want to pay me for sex?” to mean that there is no stigma attached to talking about sex at all, and that it is the normal course of action to just ask whether someone wants to have sex – not just for women, but for men, too. (And that Tempi wouldn’t have been that surprised if the mercenary would have said that, yes, he wants to pay Tempi for sex) I was never quite sure whether Tempi was making a joke or whether his question was serious, though, but strongly suspected that he didn’t joke – he doesn’t speak the language well, doesn’t know the culture and therefore cannot know whether others will understand his joke.

    And, while it is certainly near impossible that a society has never found out that men play a role in reproduction, I never thought men didn’t have responsibility for children. There are cultures where a man raises his sisters’ children, and I automatically assumed the Adem to be such a culture. (I have no idea whether the author did his research and knew about that and just wasn’t able to add it to the text, or whether he just assumed there was communism, or whether he didn’t think about it at all)

    Regarding the concept of “Anger”, I never associated it with domestic violence. I thought it had unfortunate implications to talk of it as “Anger” if it just was a neutral form of energy.
    However, there was – in our misogynist world – a belief that women needed sex and uteruses that didn’t regularly get some would move around in the body and cause mischief, causing “hysteria”
    So I guess it is possible for a society to believe that men need sex to be healthy and happy, and still not feel any compulsion to provide men with sex on a regular basis but rather think “bad luck, but their problem”.

    Sorry if there are grammar or vocabulary mistakes in here, English isn’t my mothertongue.

    • I agree that casual sex is pretty pointless unless both parties get off; that’s one reason I too have never tried it. I think in our society, women who have casual sex even though they don’t have orgasms from it are using that behavior to get other needs met: the need for touch and human connection, the hope of beginning a relationship, the sexual thrill of giving another person pleasure, the validation of being considered attractive. I think it’s entirely reasonable to suspect that there is a much smaller orgasm gap in Adem culture, if one exists at all, thanks to cultural factors. Many of the reasons women often don’t get off with near-strangers have to do with body image, self-consciousness, and sexual guilt, and these are problems that probably don’t exist for the Adem. But there are physiological/biological reasons too, like the position of the clitoris and the fact that on average women need to be stimulated for a longer time than men, and these factors have a lot of variation among individuals.

      I agree with your interpretation of Tempi’s comment there. You’re right that there’s probably no stigma to talking about sex for the Adem, since sex is as natural as breathing for them. I’m not sure how the lack of stigma connects to the issue of consent, though. Just because a communication is destigmatized doesn’t mean that it’s clear or unambiguous, and conversation around consent needs to be crystal clear.

      You’re right that Adem men probably do seem to have some kinds of kinship responsibilities for raising children. That’s a point I backtracked on in the TOR thread and in my blog post discussing what happened on that thread. You’re right that in automatically assuming a nation of single mothers I wasn’t giving the Adem or Rothfuss enough credit; I was a bit too harsh.

      The concept of ‘anger’ isn’t associated with domestic violence in the text; that’s an association I made as a reader, but one that I feel is fair and justified by the textual evidence. I also think the word ‘anger’ has unfortunate implications.

      Thanks for your responses to my blog and I hope you continue to visit!

  9. PS: I see why you think there might be a problem with rape. If sex is as normal as talking to someone, rape might not be considered a special kind of evil, and maybe treated like we treat people who force others to listen to their boring chatter – nothing more than a nuisance.
    But I don’t think that has to be the case. In our culture, we consider eating something nice and enjoyable and part of everyday life, but would nevertheless consider force-feeding someone in order to humiliate her or him as torture, wouldn’t we? Well, most of us, anyway.
    In short, sensible people consider everything torture that is done with the intent to torture someone, regardless of how harmless it may be if someone wants it. (Sleep-deprivation would be another example.)

    • My main issue with the Adem society’s potential for rape has to do with communication. Poor or ambiguous communication leads to situations where consent is not clear and mutual pleasure unlikely. I talked about this in the TOR thread and in the post where I rehashed the TOR thread (both are linked above in the comments). But you’re right that in a society where sex is just another bodily function, rape might be destigmatized, or people wouldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t just consent automatically, and so rape victims would get no sympathy at all.

      • Thanks a lot for your reply!
        You imply that, because it is considered a good thing to pack several meanings into one sentence, the hearer could just understand what he wants to understand. That is probably true for flirting, where one wants to give the other something to think about.
        But for talking about consent or the lack thereof, I am sure they have a more explicit way of talking – as a culture of mercenaries, they need to communicate clearly in combat, for example.
        When reading the book I imagined their way of talking to be like poetry – which usually causes the recipient to try to understand as many meanings as possible, not to read into it what she or he wants to hear.
        (During his whole stay in Ademre, Kvothe is never once misunderstood, as one would think would have happened if it was impossible to talk clearly.)

        Furthermore, I read some texts about date rape and it seems that (at least most) date rapists know exactly what they are doing; that they don’t misunderstand anything but just use that as an excuse. I therefore figure that those Adem who want consensual sex won’t accidentally become rapists.

        Also, while the Adem language is ambigious, the gestures don’t seem to be.

        I therefore suspect that rape is somewhat less common in Ademre than in our world, or exactly as common, but not significantly more. (Assuming, of course, that it is not considered impolite to say no to sex. THAT would indeed make Adem culture a rape culture of the worst kind. I doubt that the author had that in mind, though)

        • I guess I was just so annoyed with the general atmosphere of sexism in the book that I was less inclined to give Rothfuss the benefit of the doubt than you are. I assumed that things were about the same as things are for us, or worse. I hope that the Ademre have a more explicit way of talking about consent, but there was no specific evidence of that in the book, so I assumed that things with them can be just as gray and misunderstood as things here. The sexual assault scandal in our own military should be ample evidence that a military culture that teaches clear communication on the battlefield is not necessarily a place that is safe for women. You’re right that rape is more about power than lust, and rapists know what they’re doing. Misunderstanding is just a bad excuse. So maybe when I latched onto the idea of clear communication around consent I was kind of following a red herring. In some ways the Adem culture is more healthy than ours in the way it treats sex, and in others, it’s just bizarre. You’re right that the idea of saying no being impolite or strange could be a worse problem than communication. Rothfuss makes it sound like the Adem have so much sex that not being up for it at any moment would be considered odd. Someone with a low sex drive might have a hard time fitting in, and might feel pressured to do it when he/she’s not in the mood. Not cool.

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  11. I feel that you have misunderstood a lot of things Mr. Rothfuss portrays in his book. I have been to 11 countries so far in my life and lived in 4, the longest being Germany and Japan at 2 years and 10 years respectively. My experiences were immersive and not connected to the military or government. I speak German and Japanese and have experienced daily life there firsthand. As a result, I’ve seen a lot of cultures that actually closely resemble some of those portrayed in the Kingkiller Chronicles and found the similarities striking. Ademre was especially well-done, closely paralleling my training in aikido in Japan. The Japanese have surprisingly liberal notions about sex; it was once considered the role of an older woman in the family to teach a young man how to have sex (obviously not blood-related). Children were the responsibility of the entire village and even now modern Japanese are very communal in their social structures.

    Germans have no sex taboo; if you forget your bathing suit, you swim naked. Men and women change in the same locker rooms together. Taking notice of someone else’s nudity in a sexual light is considered the pinnacle of bad taste.

    America, with its strict sex taboos and Puritan roots, is its own worst enemy in terms of sexual issues. My Japanese friends find it sad that Americans make so many jokes about sex (something Japanese would find perverse) yet completely fail to enjoy it. My German friends expressed similar sentiment; they didn’t understand why Americans find it acceptable to show bloody violence on TV but treat a woman’s breast as if it was shameful.

    My girlfriend, who is Japanese and a very liberated woman by any culture’s standard, finds it sad that some American women are so uncomfortable with their sexuality that they can’t accept compliments about their appearance without feeling threatened or insulted. She makes an effort to dress well and take care of her appearance; if people didn’t notice, she’d be annoyed. She also brought a male coworker down for sexual harassment, and encouraged several other women to step forward and defend themselves as well.

    You said: “a “barbarian” culture in which men are embarrassed by innappropriate arrousal (sic), try to function normally when distracted by sexual thoughts, and do not expect regular sex, is safer for women.””

    The United States has one of the highest reported cases of rape per capita, despite all of our appropriate shame and normalcy, so that’s not a thing. A high school girl in Japan can walk alone through the streets of downtown Tokyo at night and not fear molestation. A female friend of mine in LA reveled in being able to walk outside in the evening as long as she had a male friend along with her to make her less of a target.

    You also said:

    “So some women get a self-esteem boost when non-creepy men show approval of their appearance. It’s just a hop, skip and jump from there to a place where women only get self-esteem from men’s approval.”

    Of course it’s not. Everyone has a certain desire for approval, but you’re describing it as if admiration were a gateway drug for low self-esteem. False correlation.

    A few more points, in no particular order:

    Rothfuss does imply that the women in the book, and in Ademre, are properly satisfied sexually. He doesn’t come right out and say he made sure they all finished, but he did mention that he wasn’t able to complete one of Felurian’s techniques because, well, she didn’t make it that far. I’m pretty sure that’s not a bad thing.

    The description of men having more “anger” than women cast men in an inferior light, not the other way around. Women have a superior role in Ademre. They are looked up to; they run the fighting schools and are considered superior warriors. They have more uses and outlets for their passion so it’s better utilized. Men, however, are considered “empty branches”, implying that their lives are not as fulfilling. As a man I found that particular passage depressing and annoying, so I think the perceived sexism doesn’t run in the direction you’re used to.

    The “smell like sex” comment: yes, the way you wrote it was offensive. Unfortunately you’ve taken the words out of context and twisted their meaning. Also, a cultural belief that a man functions better when he has release does not contribute to a rape culture. A common misconception is that rape is about sex, when in fact it’s about having power over someone. There are many modern cultures that believe humans are animals and that sex is merely a function of biology. Teaching someone to feel ashamed and hate themselves for wanting sex is more likely to create the circumstances for rape than teaching them that it’s normal, and that it’s okay to ask someone to help you out when you feel the urge. If you think that sexual frustration leads to rape, then at the very least have the decency to treat the physical problem and make sure your men know how to masturbate.

    What is the problem with having an herb that acts as a male contraceptive? If only! It takes the onus off of women (sexual equality), and if such a thing existed a man who didn’t usedit would be considered irresponsible. I once met a man who was using a type of male contraceptive, which required giving himself an injection in the thigh once a week. He did it out of love and consideration for his wife, who couldn’t take the pill.

    Incidentally, Rothfuss’s books do pass the Bechdel test. Twice, off the top of my head. I can cite them if you wish, but I think it would be more productive if you were to read the books again instead of just skipping to the parts that offend you.

    • You feel that I’ve misunderstood Rothfuss; I feel you’ve misunderstood me and that we don’t actually disagree as much as you seem to think we do.

      I certainly agree with you that some aspects of America’s cultural approach to sexuality are dysfunctional, and I believe the original piece said as much. I also agree that some aspects of other cultures’ different approaches may be healthier, and that they might have been part of Rothfuss’s inspiration in creating the Ademre. I don’t really think we disagree here.

      In the quote you cite from my post that begins, “a ‘barbarian’ culture,” my main issue is with male entitlement, a term I used in the original post. Men should not believe they are entitled to sex; that is unsafe for women and creates a culture that normalizes and rationalizes rape. I viewed the Ademre as a culture where men (and women) could begin to feel entitled to sex, and that felt scary to me. Commenter Gowan above would seem to agree with me about the potential for problems of entitlement here. I agree that our culture has more shame associated with sex than other cultures, and that the shame doesn’t by itself prevent rape. I agree that rape is about power, not sex. Entitlement is also about power. In date rape situations, men have used their raging erections as excuses for why they need to have sex regardless of their partner’s consent. This idea is one of many reasons why people sometimes blame the victim in date rape. (My review of Sophie’s Choice gets into this issue a little bit too: http://mereader.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/sophies-choice/) In this way, a cultural belief that men need regular sexual release does contribute to men’s sense of entitlement, which contributes to rape culture. I agree that masturbation should not be stigmatized. I don’t feel that your issues with what I say here directly address my main concern, which I stated like this: “My biggest objection is that the idea that men are unable to concentrate or accomplish anything once arroused, and that they need periodic release in order to function, contributes to rape culture. Men who feel entitled to sex and helpless without regular intercourse have the attitudes of a potential rapist.”

      On the male gaze: President Obama’s recent remarks about how California’s female attorney general is the best looking one in the nation, and the drama about that might help me make this point. This article does a good job of explaining why it was a good example of benevolent sexism, what that is, and why it’s worth getting upset about. http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/04/05/why_obama_s_compliments_to_kamala_harris_aren_t_harmless_but_part_of_a_larger.html
      The lines from WMF that I quoted seem to be making a distinction between benevolent and hostile sexism, and saying that benevolent sexism is ok, and it’s all the more convincing because a female character is the one saying it. But it’s not ok. My point is that women’s purpose in life is not to be looked at by men, but benevolent sexism insists on reducing them to objects.

      In the scenes where Rothfuss implies females are sexually satisfied, he uses their pleasure mostly as a way to show the male partner’s sexual prowess, so I don’t find it particularly liberating. Perhaps you’re right that there’s no ‘orgasm gap’ here, as I feared, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the sex that’s happening is between equals or focused equally on mutual pleasure.

      On anger: I agree that this cultural idea is not particularly good for men. Patriarchy does not have to be entirely good for men to be patriarchy. There is a nasty flip side to every idea and policy that appears to advantage one group over another. For example, if men have all the good jobs and women don’t get any opportunities, then men also have the burden of having to provide materially for their families, because no one else is allowed to do it. If men wield greater physical power and have access to weapons and train each other to use them and exclude women from these opportunities, they are also more likely to be victims of violence or war, while women are exempted from the draft and paternalistically protected. These situations were created by sexism (and capitalism and a culture of violence), and they’re bad for both women and men. Men can be just as trapped by narrow gender roles and cultural ideas as woomen are. I think the Adem’s ideas about anger and reproduction work the same way: there are advantages and disadvantages for both sexes and no one is allowed to have a full human experience of both the good and bad of both sides. I think we actually agree here more than you think.

      I agree that it would be nice if a male contraceptive existed and was commonly used in the US. When I brought up birth control, I was wondering about the fact that the promiscuous Adem don’t seem to use any, yet they don’t have a population explosion and their women seem to spend no more time pregnant than other women. Kvothe’s status as a foreigner among the Adem was more remarkable to me here than his sex. I don’t know where you got the idea that I wouldn’t be psyched about a male contraceptive.

      I acknowledged the series’ passing the Bechdel test in an earlier comment. But I maintain that the series is male-centered. The Bechdel test is only a convenient, potentially revealing rule of thumb, not a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card or an automatic feminist seal of approval. It sets the standard pretty damn low, actually.

  12. I disagree with your criticism of the Adem culture as anti-feminist because it seems to be based on the assumption that this is a patriarchal culture, with all the attendant problems that creates. It’s not. It’s matriarchal. Women hold the reigns of authority, and are physically superior to boot.

    How can male on female rape be a problem when women hold the upper hand (both socially and physically)? If anything, female on male rape should more likely be a problem. Yet even that seems unlikely in a society that prizes following a moral code, where sense of community is so strong that Tempi considers exile worse than death.

    This is not a male paradise in any sense other than they have lots of casual sex, and that’s a pretty dim view on men if you think that’s all it takes to make a paradise for us. I would effectively be second class citizens in Adem society… which is actually rather instructional. It gives me a brief glimpse of what is must be like for female readers with a lot of our media (or hell, even other parts of this very book).

    All that said, I was more irritated at the Adem’s odd ignorance of biology, and incredibly condescension towards foreigners. Their pragmatism is frankly barbaric in a lot of instances despite considering themselves civilized.

    • See the comment above, third-to-last paragraph on patriarchy. Leaving aside whether the Adem is a patriarchy or matriarchy, the fact is that the society seems to be bad for both men and women because it does not allow people of either sex to express their full humanity, yet they think they’re super enlightened, and based on the way he presents them, Rothfuss seems to agree. I totally agree with you about the Adem’s messed-up sense of superiority–they’re pretty much cultural supremacists–and thier lack of understanding of reproduction.

      • I agree with that paragraph, patriarchy can be bad for men as well. It just seems like most of the arguments you pose in the piece only make sense if this is actually a patriarchy.

        Specifically with the casual sex, we are given no indication that women are not enjoying themselves, nor are we given an indication that they are expected to have sex when they do not wish it. With the sex between Vashet and Kvothe, frankly, if I became aroused like that, I would be incredibly embarrassed and unable to continue my lessons either. So, I don’t find the revelation that she considered it a distraction from their work to be surprising, and clearly he did try to reciprocate with some of the “moves” he learned. The whole scene, far from titillating, was rather brusk and, well, “business-like”. It seemed more illustrative of their cultural penchant for pragmatism than a juvenile hot-for-teacher scenario.

        I guess I don’t understand where you draw the conclusion that this /has/ to be a bad situation for women.

        We are talking about a society where, apparently, there are no negative repercussions from having sex. They aren’t aware that it causes pregnancy, so it doesn’t have any bearing on their decision making process. They have no STDs. For the aforementioned reasons, I expect rape to be a rather rare crime, and rape culture to be non-existent. They clearly do not have a problem with multiple partners, or slut-shaming. The act isn’t even considered particularly intimate. Expression of warmth through the face/voice is considered far more intimate.

        Given all of that, why /wouldn’t/ people have sex whenever they want with whoever they want?

        I’m leaving the above as is. However, having typed all that, I think I just realized that Rothfuss might have made them ignorant of biology precisely so there wouldn’t be any consequences to sex. The risks of pregnancy and the issues of child rearing in this society are apparently just a naturally occurring phenomenon for the Adem. If they weren’t ignorant, then sex has consequences and their society becomes a good deal more complicated.

        I don’t think that changes my analysis of the Adem exactly, but that still leaves the question of why he felt it important to create such a society in the first place if it requires ignorance of basic biology as a premise…

  13. Please read “The Song of Ice and Fire” series by George RR Martin, beloved by millions of both genders. If you think Patrick Rothfuss is a sexist, you will positively faint after reading that. Following this article, I completely get why people are afraid of feminists. Sometimes, it reaches a limit. Please do not over interpret things so much and remember, Kvothe was a boy of 16 at the time, fully an adolescent.

  14. It’s sad to me that apparently so many people have nothing better to do than nitpick a good fantasy novel.

    I am female, and I myself have said the exact same thing Fela did. So how is making a female character say it somehow reprehensible? Just because you’re too much of a prude to enjoy men thinking you’re beautiful doesn’t mean you get to put words in every other woman’s mouth.

    You get mad at a man writing a female character (with feminists, nothing will ever be good enough) because you infer things that aren’t there. You read between the lines and say “This must be exactly what he meant” when it’s anything but. Keep on knocking down those strawmen, that will certainly help women’s rights.

    You talk about the Adem culture promoting rape culture – can you just step back for a second and accept that this is a fantasy novel where cultural norms and ideas aren’t the same as our world? Obviously in the novels, PR makes it clear that the women are the societal leaders. Penthe’s actions towards Kvothe show that she enjoys sex more than any Adem men we’ve seen so far. She’s empowered by it. The only way this turns around to somehow being a lie is when you try to impose our world standards onto theirs, or when you say to yourself “There’s no way a women could ever truly think that or act that way”. In my opinion, that’s even more sexist and misogynistic than the men writing this stuff because you’re imposing YOUR idea of what a women “should be” onto others. Just because you’re a woman doing it doesn’t make it better than a man doing it.

    I’m not saying PR’s treatment of women is amazing or that he’s a shining beacon of feminism. But for a guy writing a fantasy novel (that also has first-person male narrator) I think he’s done a fine job. If you really want someone to nag about read The Wheel of Time series. At least then you’d have some justification for your hatred.

  15. Mary Jo, I am deeply, deeply impressed by your ability to respond to every comment here without any sensed hostility or agitation. You’re calm as can be, even in the face of others who make comments in less than respectful ways, or ways in which are far off the calm-cool-collected mark. That’s really admirable.

    I enjoyed reading both sides of the conversation, and find the topic both devastating and fascinating, in a fantasy novel (influenced in total part by the world that raised Rothfuss himself, thus having total implications that cannot be written off as outside the scope of this kind of analysis) AND as it pertains to “reality.”

    If you really want to expand yourself in this area, I highly recommend you (and any others out there) read “Divine Duality: The Power of Reconciliation Between Women and Men” by Will Keepin and Cynthia Brix. It will offer not only the power to find “cracks in the picture”, but the power of new insight, and power to heal.

    Much love to you. Thanks for the good medicine. ;)

  16. Well, I have been thinking about the possible sexism factor in The Kingkiller Chronicle for a while. There are some statements indicating a one-sided provision about the place of women in a society in the books; however, it would take a long while to examine all of them one by one and the actual reason why I am here is I want to say some things about your opinions about the Ademre.

    First of all, women in Ademre tend to be way more powerfull than men, because a female, in terms of her natural structure, is a more suitable gender to perform Lethani than a man. This difference between men and women in terms of natural structure also shapes the very structure of their society, in which women are above men in social hierarchy.That being said, the belief that only women has the power to reproduce takes their already above status to an even higher point; and as the gap between two genders grows wider, women starts to be seen as more and more like masters to men (as it is already suggested with the rule that only women can teach Lethani; teachers being the masters).

    Accordingly, women are the ruling gender of this society and as the ruling people, they cannot be defied. So if a man wants to have sex with a woman and she doesn’t want it, he cannot force his way into her, since it would have consequences. And let’s say that he is an idiot and tries to force his way into a woman; she would, most likely, easily beat him to death. That is why, there is no contribution to rape culture as you suggest.

    Secondly, the sentence “women have many uses for their anger. And men have more anger than they can use, too much for their own good.” doesn’t mean that men have more anger than women. What she actually says is that while women have many ways to spend their angers, men don’t; that’s why men have too much anger in themselves, since they don’t have any means to burn it out, contrary to women, who can use it in Lethani and reproducing and etc. Which means, both women and men have the same amount of anger in themselves (it changes from person to person without discrimination of gender) but men just don’t actually need the amount of anger they have, and that’s why it is “too much for their own good”.

    And you cannot judge the entire society’s women’s attitude towards sex by only looking at Vashat’s. The way these people look at sex is entirely different from ours and thus cannot be judged from the perspective we have gained through the sense of normality in our society. What you define as ‘normal’ may be ‘anormal’ for them. And even if it is anormal, you can’t say that it is sexist or anti-feminist, since what Vashat does for Kvothe can also be done the other way around. If Vashat gets so horny that she can’t focus on the training, Kvothe might do the same for her. Yes, women enjoy sex, too, and, again, yes, it is the same even in Ademre if you remember Penthe’s lust life and how much she enjoys sex. I don’t mean that everyone enjoys man-and-woman-involved-sex, I am just saying this for those who are straight.

    Another thing is if something is not mentioned, it doesn’t really mean it doesn’t exist at all. The fact that there was no mention of social support for single mothers (Yes, not every one of them is singe, since they can still be paired up, even if they don’t have a certain criteria for having sex only with each other) doesn’t conceal its possibility. And just by saying how cruel it is that a mother does not get support from the father takes us to the point of question your feminie beliefs. Do you mean to say that it is a bad thing to be a single mother by emphasizing its horribleness?

    And lastly, as for my own opinion for the social structure of Ademre, I belive it has a certain kind of feminist-utophian feeling to it; A society entirely based upon women’s domination over a country and its male residants. And Patrick Rothfuss might not be a feminist (which I don’t believe a male ever can or need to be) and the uthopia (as I call it) may not be perfect for everyone, which is very normal, but Ademre stil has the certain elements for a feminist-uthopia.

    • I’m glad your interpretation says that rape is rare in Ademre; I hope that is the case. The contribution to rape culture that I was discussing was this. The scene where Kvothe and Vashat are practicing and decide to have sex because he gets aroused promotes the idea that once a man has an erection, he MUST have sex and cannot concentrate until he is relieved. That idea that arousal necessitates sex is a myth that unscrupulous men use to coerce reluctant women into bed, or at worst, justify a rape. This scene’s presentation of that myth is particularly insidious because a woman is the one voicing the myth and suggesting sex as a release. In theory, a man could ‘service’ a woman the same way Vashat does for Kvothe here, but since women’s arousal is less obvious physically, it seems like it would happen less frequently.

      On anger: I’m glad your interpretation says that men and women are born with equal amounts of anger. I prefer that interpretation because I don’t like biological determinism. A society that gives one gender more outlets for anger than the other is unequal, though, and that’s the problem.

      On applying the standards of our world to a fictional world, see my other post: http://mereader.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/posts-from-tor-part-2/

      I said above that I have backtracked on my idea that all the women were single parents without support.

      Ademre is not a feminist utopia; it is a straw man version of a feminist utopia. Feminists don’t want to replace patriarchy with matriarchy, but with equality. It’s interesting to do a thought experiment about what a society run by women would be like, but that doesn’t mean a society like that is what feminism is working toward. To the extent that MRAs and other misogynists/anti-feminists could point to Ademre and say, “see, look how terrible it would be if women were in charge,” its presentation here could actually be counterproductive to achieving the goals of feminism.

      • Well, erection is just a sign of arousal and there are three ways for it to go away. One: sex; two: masturbation; three: time.

        In their case, time is kind of out of option because she has a limited time to teach him the Lethani as best as she could to prepare him for the upcoming exam. And once you get aroused, it never goes away permanently as long as you have a trigger in front of you, which is Vashat’s herself. So, if they were to take breaks every time he got aroused, it would be impossible for them to work properly since he would have endless erections every other minutes. (By the way I don’t defend the idea that it is a normal thing for a man to get aroused whenever he see a woman; but the situation is different for Kvothe in the story. Because he had been in Fae, having sex with Felurian endlessly and it made him weak for the idea of sex. He can’t fully control himself when it comes to sex, and that is actually the reason why he says that she ‘smells like sex.’. His mind is still there in Fae.)

        Another option is masturbation. As the reason why they have sex and why he doesn’t just masturbate is related to each other, I will tell them together. Now, Adems are “civilised” people and their culture tells them that sex is a pretty normal thing and there is nothing to be ashamed of it; so, they causaly have sex with anyone, without caring who she or he is as long as he has a penis/she has a vagina. For us, it is completely different because our concept of sex is about two counter-sex persons’ forming a special bond between each other, and for some it is all about owning somebody; while they see it just some kind of an entertainment or a mere outlet for their desires (angers), without the thought of owning the other. Let’s say, if somebody is really aroused and asks a counter-sex to help him/her to let out his/her arousal, he/she would say “yes” without even thinking much if he/she doesn’t have anything more important to do at that moment. Accordingly, in these people’s eyes, it would probably be a uncivilised act to masturbate, since there is no need for it. And as what is normal for Vashat, they have sex.

        Moreover, even if rape was a frequent act in this society, it still would not indicate an anti-feminist point of view; since women can rape men, too. It would just be a corruption both bad for woman and man.

        And what you say on anger, about how it is unequal that women have more outlets than man is true, but it still doesn’t mean that it is an anti-feminist situation, since women have the advantage here. Yes, it is sexist, but it is sexist for men, and I don’t think you seek justice for men on your article.

        And lastly, it may not be a goal of feminism to replace patriarchy with matriarchy; but a feminist utopia generaly …”presents women as equal to or superior to men, having ownership over their reproductive functions.” (wikipedia), and sometimes they even remove or replace them completely from their society because they see men as the core of the problem. And Ademre meets with these criterias, which makes it a feminist utopia.

        And lastly, I don’t really see any indication that Ademre is a negative example for matriarchy and I, for myself, certainly wouldn’t think that it would be a catastrophe if women were in charge; but as you can’t win an argument against an ignorant person, you also can’t tell an ignorant person that this is not actually a negative example for a woman-in-charge society if he set his mind on it. So, I can acknowledge your last statement, but only because of the possibility Ademre might be misinterpreted.

        Citation for feminist utopia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopian_and_dystopian_fiction#Feminist_Utopias

        • There are more ways to deal with an erection than the three you mention. The most important option: ignore it. Pretend it’s not there. So what if it doesn’t go away and doesn’t get ‘satisfied’? I had a really hard time believing that Kvothe’s penis was so incredibly large that it literally got in the way during these exercises and hindered his movement that seriously. People can do other things while they’re aroused, and it’s best if our media makes it clear that sexual arousal is not all-consuming and urgent. Pretending that productive work cannot happen while a man is aroused is perpetuating a rape myth. Of course, ignoring an erection would be nonsensical to the Adem because sex is so much the opposite of a big deal to them. The only reason this is an issue I thought worth discussing AT ALL is because it has implications that support real-world rape culture.

          It may be true that I didn’t consider the disadvantages of this sexist society for its men as strongly in the original post, but my thinking on the Ademre has grown and evolved, as these comments (and other posts and the the TOR discussion) demonstrate. The cool thing about blogging is that I get to learn and grow through interactions with readers, but sometimes for that to happen I have to start out less-than-perfect. The impact of this society’s values and beliefs on its men are certainly equally important as their impact on the women. If I were writing the post again today I’d say as much.

          I certainly believe you that you were using the term ‘feminist utopia’ correctly when you say Ademre is one. However, in most literature that deals with utopias of some kind, there is usually a fine line between a utopia and a ‘dystopia.’ The very things that supposedly make a society perfect in fact make it unlivable. Maybe that’s one of the things happening here. When I said Ademre is a ‘straw man version of a feminist utopia,’ I mostly meant ideas like the ones here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/StrawFeminist and here: http://www.feministfrequency.com/2011/09/tropes-vs-women-6-the-straw-feminist/. A feminist utopia that is a matriarchy instead of egalitarian is potentially problematic because in so far as it presents itself as explicitly feminist, it misrepresents the goals of feminism. And misrepresenting feminism is what causes backlash. Since the word ‘feminism’ is nowhere in WMF, that’s probably not what’s happening here. So I don’t really think that Rothfuss is trying to sabotage feminism by creating a straw feminist utopia here. But some people who are overly concerned about Ademre’s men (and may or may not be the types to ask, “what about teh menz?” in real life, not you but maybe some of my other commenters) might see it that way, and interpret Ademre in a way that fuels their anti-feminist fire, but since they are who they are, they might interpret most things that way.

    • I’m glad your interpretation says that rape is rare in Ademre; I hope that is the case. The contribution to rape culture that I was discussing was this. The scene where Kvothe and Vashat are practicing and decide to have sex because he gets aroused promotes the idea that once a man has an erection, he MUST have sex and cannot concentrate until he is relieved. That idea that arousal necessitates sex is a myth that unscrupulous men use to coerce reluctant women into bed, or at worst, justify a rape. This scene’s presentation of that myth is particularly insidious because a woman is the one voicing the myth and suggesting sex as a release. In theory, a man could ‘service’ a woman the same way Vashat does for Kvothe here, but since women’s arousal is less obvious physically, it seems like it would happen less frequently.

      On anger: I’m glad your interpretation says that men and women are born with equal amounts of anger. I prefer that interpretation because I don’t like biological determinism. A society that gives one gender more outlets for anger than the other is unequal, though, and that’s the problem.

      On applying the standards of our world to a fictional world, see my other post: http://mereader.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/posts-from-tor-part-2/

      I said above that I have backtracked on my idea that all the women were single parents without support.

      Ademre is not a feminist utopia; it is a straw man version of a feminist utopia. Feminists don’t want to replace patriarchy with matriarchy, but with equality. It’s interesting to do a thought experiment about what a society run by women would be like, but that doesn’t mean a society like that is what feminism is working toward. To the extent that MRAs and other misogynists/anti-feminists could point to Ademre and say, “see, look how terrible it would be if women were in charge,” its presentation here could actually be counterproductive to achieving the goals of feminism.

  17. Mary Jo, I really do love your passion for feminism, which many dismiss too easily and others disregard completely, and your patience with all the counterarguements that others introduce all too fiest-ily, and you can undoubtedly stand your ground remarkably (I’m a poet). However, for me it remains that some people (admittedly women) recognize sexism and understand feminism better than others. Sometimes, it is necessary to look deeper because it’s a serious issue — I understand that. I just don’t believe that Patrick Rothfuss had thought out everything that far.

    Considering himself to be a feminist, and developing ‘strong’ female characters here and there, as well as creating a whole culture that features female superiority (or apparently not, since you brought up some arguements against that), I think Rothfuss thought he was pretty much good to go. Along with his interestingly complex plot, he probably didn’t think it was necessary to add another layer of feminism. Some people (as I witnessed in the other comments) did not share the same view as you because they believe everything to be in order, they did not do as much research as you, or they simply held a different perspective. Granted, Rothfuss probably built upon things he saw in real life, where even women say some things that they don’t realize may be offensive to themselves (in the case of Fela, I thought she was referring to the looks she liked getting from men as looks that appreciated her inner beauty, not beauty as the shallowness of physical appearance). Also, his words just may have had a different meaning than you’ve interpreted; I know I interpreted them differently.

    So me, — as a person, as a feminist — I think that calling Pat out on his sexism this indignantly (You’re quite good at being indignant, yaay feminism!) is a bit unfair. I personally love Denna, Fela, even Auri, for their own respective reasons but I also love Kvothe, and if he treated women like trash, I’d be worried. A female perspective would be awesome but for now, this is what I read the book for. Again, wonderful insight. You’re obviously someone who can be trusted to stand up for what they believe in, and don’t stop what you’re doing for women — but I love this book, and I don’t think Pat is alarmingly sexist.

    • I appreciate your compliments to my passion and patience. Thanks for reading and giving me the chance to make my case. I guess everyone brings their own perspective to a book and I was more apt to see stuff I didn’t like than you were. That doesn’t mean either of us is blind or wrong, just coming at it from different angles. I did enjoy most of this book too.

      You object to my tone because you think Rothfuss was doing his best to write a book that was feminist or at least not anti-feminist, so I’m being kind of strident in not giving him credit for that. Maybe you’re right. I have no idea what Rothfuss’s intentions were or what he was trying to accomplish in relation to feminism. In critical theory, there’s this idea called ‘the death of the author’ that means that we can’t use facts about the author’s life, or anything he or she said outside a book, to make sense of a book. The book is supposed to stand on its own. Giving an author the benefit of the doubt isn’t a thing.

      To summarize, my main problems with WMF are these, in order of importance:
      1) the Felurian episode, especially the last lines of that chapter, as I detail in the blog post immediately following this one,
      2) the episode where Vashet suggests sex to relieve Kvothe’s erection promotes a rape myth: the idea that once aroused, a man MUST have sex
      3) Fela’s endorsement of benevolent sexism and street harassment.
      I still haven’t read anyone commenting on these particular issues in a way that persuaded me that I’m wrong to criticize them.

      On your theory about 3)–never have I ever seen a guy give a girl a look that appreciated her inner beauty rather than physical appearance, except in the most intimate settings and relationships. I don’t believe this happens among strangers or acquaintances, which is the circumstance I thought Fela was talking about. I mean, do guys think of Mother Theresa as a pinup model? Did men flock to see her to appreciate her inner beauty? And if I thought a strange guy I didn’t know was looking at me and appreciating my inner beauty, I’d be pretty creeped out, probably even more than if he just thought I was hot. Because that implies a level of intimacy, that he knows me that well to judge my character or soul beautiful, and strangers pretending to intimacy is creepy.

      • Hindsight is 20/20, and I guess what Fela said did promote benevolent sexism but I didn’t notice it at the time because I trusted Fela as a character (to each their own). It probably had nothing to do with inner beauty at all, which would be admittedly creepy. However, I don’t think it’s just a “hop, skip and jump” from there to extremely low self esteem. I understand that you’ve considered this in earlier comments, and seeing as Fela is portrayed as a strong, intelligent, and capable girl who rejects most female stereotypes (as we see in The Name of the Wind when she feels useless for having to get rescued from a burning building, and as one of the few women who studies at the University,) I don’t believe she relies on men. Consequently, if she happens to gain confidence from non-creepy men looking at her, I don’t find that necessarily offensive as it is far from her only source of confidence. I just don’t want to berate the entire book because of one badly-relayed comment.

        To be honest, I can’t and do not want to argue for Felurian because that is a separate can of worms. I felt awkward reading that section of the book. Some women (Fae) may have that carnal of a sexual desire but I was certainly uncomfortable with it. However I must say, well, she is not human. Although it seems that she is the embodiment of an idea that caters to and for men, I think there was also strength in her character. While we are reading between the lines, she teaches men not to blindly follow beauty and lust, like a children’s fable. Kvothe, being the only one who had the presence of mind to get his head “out of the gutter” was able to see a side of her that was not primarily lust. Nevertheless, from a feminist perspective, there were many problems with it and what it may suggest to the population about women and/or sex. I still believe she was important to the book, to the plot — and I believe you can come up with a much better reason as to why she’s not.

        As for Vashet, I completely agree that she was wrong to offer Kvothe sex to get his mind off of his arousal. Be that as it may, that comes from me, and my perspective as it has been built about safe sex, the emotional attachment to sex, rape culture, etc. The Ademre are a completely different society with a completely different way of thinking. Their morality is fixated by the Lethani, which teaches them what is right and what is not. I couldn’t possibly begin to pretend I know what that’s like, so if I can’t give the author the benefit of the doubt, I can give Vashet the benefit of the doubt. If she had not offered Kvothe sex, Kvothe would’ve roughed it out and probably gotten punished for not being able to control himself and wasting valuable training time by Vashet. Now that I’ve heard your perspective I can see how the promotion of this idea that a man’s arousal MUST be attended to can be dangerous. However, the way I saw it, Vashet offered it herself because she thought it would be easiest, since it wasn’t a problem for her, not because she had to or because she thought there was no other way to go about it. She had no obligation, and there was no way Kvothe could’ve forced it upon her. She just couldn’t see why there was anything wrong with it. Although she had been around and seen the way others lived, she was an Adem warrior after all. I don’t think this is a significant enough answer to change your opinion anyways. Your arguements are more well thought out and research based, I’m just trying to stay true to the book. Maybe I’ll read it again and try to see it from a different perspective? All in all, thanks for taking the time to consider my perspective.

  18. All of this is invalid. Whoever wrote this obviously didn’t read the book properly. I suggest you read it again.

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