Sexism and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series by Abby Goldsmith

“Separate But Equal.”

There’s a slogan which most people associate with the propaganda against the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Separation is just a step away from disadvantage and stereotype, which is a step away from oppression. For this reason, I have trouble accepting the notion that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” We are all human, and gender crossovers do exist.

Robert Jordan makes a point in his Wheel of Time saga to starkly delineate the separate properties of male and female. Everything in that world is a balance between the two. Men and women have different functions and behave in separate ways, and in Randland (as fans refer to it), no crossovers exist.

In my article Robert Jordan: Genius or Hack?, I praised the author for his powerful portrayal of female characters. While my opinion on that remains firm, I left out my criticism. Here I’m going to let loose. I do have some bones to pick about Robert Jordan’s apparent opinion of womenfolk.

Some uncomfortable examples:

1.

Let’s go for worst first. As I recall, there was a scene where Perrin “put Faile over his knee” until she couldn’t sit down later… meaning he spanked her. Hello, domestic violence? Not once do we see a woman physically humiliating her husband like this. Strangely, Faile forgives Perrin almost immediately. I might have dismissed this scene as a fluke, or some kind of weird Robert Jordan fantasy… except I read some of his historical fiction under the name Reagan O’Neal. More than once in the Fallon series, women are beaten by big, strong men, and then forgive them as though nothing happened.

Yes, there were some cultures where domestic violence was commonplace, and the old South was one of them. But a world dominated by women who can channel the One Power does not strike me as a world that would permit that type of society. Perrin’s treatment of Faile doesn’t quite fit. I get the feeling that Jordan was implying that women (in general) do not mind being beaten as long as they’re in love with the man doing the beating. I beg to differ!!! That’s how many solid relationships fall apart.

2.

During the first three volumes, I was under the impression that men and women during the Age of Legends had been equal in the One Power. Some men were stronger than women, and some women stronger than men. Remember, we’re talking about the One Power here, not physical strength. Well… later in the series, it was mentioned that men were generally stronger than women during the Age of Legends. One of the characters specifically thought that this made sense because men are generally stronger physically.

Once again, I beg to differ about this reasoning! Men are often stronger than women physically… so to create a balance, wouldn’t women be stronger in the One Power? The Wheel of Time is all about balance: the Light and the Shadow, saidar and saidin, female and male. If Jordan feels the need to make men stronger in the One Power- and I can understand his desire to do this- then he should have spared us the faulty logic. I’d rather just pass it off as a fact of nature. Say they evolved that way.

3.

Polygamy. Yes, we are dealing with a male fantasy author- but once again, equality and balance are not apparent. We hear about polyandry (the practice of a woman having more than one husband) in the Aiel culture, but it’s rare, and we never see an example. Meanwhile, we see many Aiel men with two or three wives. And I can’t neglect to mention Rand… and Min, and Aviendha, and Elayne! The improbability of four people sharing each other like this is heightened by the fact that Jordan promotes womenfolk as a sort of ‘sisterhood.’ Women in Randland all ‘understand’ each other.

It’s women’s intuition, I guess. But in real life, women are just as human and just as jealous as men, and I can’t see that type of arrangement working very well. To me, the idea of multiple spouses and true love going together is more fanciful than possible. Yes, it might work in a few cases… but it would be just as likely to work with one woman and two or three men.

4.

Why was Birgitte ta’veren (she has the ability to affect the tapestry of fate), while Nynaeve, Elayne, Egwene, Min, and Aviendha are not? The only explanation I can think of is a plot device by the author to heighten the importance of the male characters (Mat, Perrin, and Rand) in contrast to the women. Birgitte was once a legendary archer, and so the spotlight was once on her, but now she has been torn out of the Wheel… and is no longer ta’veren, I assume. Although Birgitte and the other female characters may help save the world, and complete more heroic acts than Mat and Perrin put together, they are not ta’veren. Otherwise they might seem equally important to Mat or Perrin.

5.

Finally, let’s acknowledge the fact that women seem to get stripped naked quite often in the Wheel of Time. Again, there is an imbalance. How often have we seen men naked in Randland?

The larger picture:

As his fans know, Robert Jordan is one of the few authors of any gender in any fictional genre who has the skill and motivation to give us major female characters. He’s not afraid to devote long segments of the story to the adventures of heroines, and he gives them enough personality to keep them interesting. It’s not all about naked scenes for teenage boys to drool over. And in all fairness, there was that segment in A Crown of Swords where Mat was raped by Queen Tylin and then forced to be her sex pet.

Jordan has some very peculiar views about male and female relationships. Some of his ideas seem far removed from reality, and some are almost offensive… but I find most of his opinions to be humorous and interesting. Part of the inherent fun of reading is to catch that glimpse into the secret mind of the author. I can forgive him for a few sentences which may be construed as sexist.

http://www.bluestarfolly.com/abby/

You can email the author of this article at Abby@wayforward.com

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Abby Goldsmith, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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