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  1. #1
    Appy Polly Logies
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    Social Aspect of Gender Relations in WoT

    I don't know if a topic like this has come up already, but here goes:

    Has anyone wondered WHY so many of the male characters in WoT see women as defenseless, in need of protection, and not subject to the same punishments as men? For example, Mat swears never to kill a woman, Rand can't stand sending women to death, etc.

    How did this attitude toward women develope in the WoT world?

    In the real world, this attitude would be more understandable given the almost total dominance of men in politics and war in non-tribal societies, leading to the common male belief that women are the "weaker sex".

    However in WoT, women hold as much, if not more political power. Andor is always ruled by a woman, and in one country, men are the second-class citizens! Aes Sedai, the baddest asses of Randland, have been all women for ages. Admittedly, real-world cultures have been ruled by a woman and managed to keep their gender prejudices, but right down to the bottom rung of the social ladder, in backwater Two Rivers, women hold as much, if not more power than men. Jordan makes it quite clear that the City Council takes orders from the Women's Circle, and Nynaeve went so far as to beat men with a club when they slighted her.

    So where exactly did Rand, Mat, and others get the idea that women are defenseless? Their chauvinism is strangely out of place in a world like WoT, which exists in a state of total gender equality. Does Jordan really believe that such behavior is genetically predisposed, defeating both the significant cultural pressures of Randland to treat women equally, and the most basic laws of survival?

    What does everyone else think?

  2. #2
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    Hrm I think it has more to do with there up bringing and there age at the time. Not all WoT men have a problem with killing women. Oh and Mat might have sworn never to kill another women but he did order one killed in CoT.

  3. #3
    Barcelona! milamber_reborn's Avatar
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    Maybe they respect women.

  4. #4
    Give me liberty! Ouroboros's Avatar
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    Re: Social Aspect of Gender Relations in WoT

    Originally posted by Oorag
    So where exactly did Rand, Mat, and others get the idea that women are defenseless? Their chauvinism is strangely out of place in a world like WoT, which exists in a state of total gender equality.
    Good question, good post. I don't really know what the answer is, but I'll play devil's advocate for a bit

    Certainly, the Aes Sedai represent an interesting phenomenon, in the sense that they are effectively beyond being bound by the will of the men around them (at least, until the emergence of the Black Tower). Nothing comparable has existed at any point in our own history: the closest we had were the myths of the Amazons... and in the end of our stories, the Amazons fell foul of their male enemies...

    I wonder to what extent do the Aes Sedai actually actively engineer a better world for all women in a radical way? We know that they engage in various charity projects, but this isn't exactly an all-out war for gender equality (which, by one means or another, they could have waged without spilling a drop of blood). The answer is probably that like most large, powerful and elderly elitist organisations they are primarily conservative in nature and dedicated to preserving the status quo.

    States such as Saldaea and Andor may theoretically have a female ruler, but so did the British empire at various junctures: and it was a perfect example of a patriarchal society where women were far down the ladder in terms of social, political and economic power.

    Broadly speaking, the WoT society in my opinion still resembles to a greater degree our own male-dominated feudal history rather than a utopian gender-equal society.

    Does Jordan really believe that such behavior is genetically predisposed, defeating both the significant cultural pressures of Randland to treat women equally, and the most basic laws of survival?
    What does everyone else think?
    Jordan does appear to be an essentialist; that is, he appears to believe that men and women are intrinsically different in the nature of their outlook on life and behaviour, whether for biological or cultural reasons.

    In the Two Rivers there is much lip-service paid to the notion that the Women's Circle bend the men around their little finger. Vice versa, the male-run village council believe they make the decisions. As in most rural hamlets where there is no top-down power structure, but rather just a loose collective, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

    To what degree this impacted on Rand's attitudes towards women is hard to say, let's face it- RJ couldn't write a hero who wasn't modelled on southern manners... whether it makes sense in context or not
    Last edited by Ouroboros; June 1st, 2003 at 11:12 AM.

  5. #5
    immer noch dabei Ntschotschi's Avatar
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    I think the reason is that although women hold considerable power in Randland they don't do fighting.
    The Aes Sedais have their warders and all or most of the warleaders are men.
    There seems to be some kind of split power: women have the say in internal matters of organizing households and societys, men have to lead in times of war.
    This attitude is quite congruent with the structure of known matriarchal societies: There's never complete domination of women over men as in patriarchal societies.
    In times of war, war chiefs were chosen and men did the actual fighting.

  6. #6
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    I had that thought too Ntschotschi, that even in a hypothetical society where women held ALL political power, the men would still probably be doing the fighting, thus allowing for the belief that women are physically defenseless.

    However, the problem I have with that is that our three young male heroes have all been raised to semi-adulthood in Two Rivers, a town that has seen absolutely no violence since the boys' birth. Rand is shocked that his father would even own a sword. Couple that with the fact that, as rural matrons, the women of Two Rivers are brawny, hard-working women, (eg the blacksmith's wife is almost as strong as he is, and Nynaeve beats on people with a club when angry), so there would be very little physical disparity between the sexes. Nothing in the boys' upbringing shows me where they would get their behavior. If anything, their background shows me that they, of all people, should not be harboring these illusions.

    And as far as Randland not being a gender-equal society Ouroboros, I point out that icon of the series is the "yin-yang" symbol, two different but equal sides of a whole. Male, female, Saidin, Saidar, different but equal. Randland is built around this principle. Therefore I feel it is safe to assume that Randland was intended to be a land of gender equality as written.

    As for "respecting women" milamber_reborn, I actually think that that their views are, in a backwards sort of way, chauvinism. If they really respected women, they'd be giving them the credit they deserve.

    Everyone is bringing up interesting points, though, I'm enjoying the discussion so far.

  7. #7
    Give me liberty! Ouroboros's Avatar
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    Originally posted by Oorag
    as rural matrons, the women of Two Rivers are brawny, hard-working women, (eg the blacksmith's wife is almost as strong as he is, and Nynaeve beats on people with a club when angry), so there would be very little physical disparity between the sexes.
    I don't know about that. Nynaeve and the blacksmith's wife may be physically and mentally powerful, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the women of the village are out lifting cows around and doing the kind of hunting and grunt work the men do. Rural women may be a tough breed, but that doesn't mean they are as physically capable as their men: the men are proportionately stronger as well !

    Tasks in the two rivers, as in any rural society, are gendered in nature. One type of work for men, another for women. A good example would be how healing is considered women's work, Smithing and hunting, men's work.

    Nothing in the boys' upbringing shows me where they would get their behavior.
    Bear in mind that the boys did grow up hunting, shooting, tracking, and using quarterstaff (Matt). Life in the Two Rivers may have been peaceful, but they were by no means a colony of politcally-correct gender-equal pacifists.

    I bet there were still fist-fights and bad blood (the Congars). Perrin was fascinated by the axe his master made, even to the point of training with it in secret, and all of them spent a good deal of time listening to merchant guards and roaming around in the woods.

    The girls didn't do these things.

    And as far as Randland not being a gender-equal society Ouroboros, I point out that icon of the series is the "yin-yang" symbol, two different but equal sides of a whole. Male, female, Saidin, Saidar, different but equal. Randland is built around this principle. Therefore I feel it is safe to assume that Randland was intended to be a land of gender equality as written.
    I don't think your logic on that one holds together.

    There is little in Jordan's writing that suggests he was trying to write a utopian gender-equal society. If he were, his characters would not be so essentialist and binary in their outlook on the sexes. In fact, it's just the opposite. It may be puzzling for you ... but that's the way he's written it.
    Last edited by Ouroboros; June 3rd, 2003 at 06:31 AM.

  8. #8
    et in arcadia ego Calandra's Avatar
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    Quote:

    To what degree this impacted on Rand's attitudes towards women is hard to say, let's face it- RJ couldn't write a hero who wasn't modelled on southern manners... whether it makes sense in context or not

    _____________________________

    I think you've hit the nail on the head here. There are definitely Southern US values at work here. While I no doubt may get bashed for generalising here, I think the Jordan has drawn a lot of stereotypes of the "chivalrous southern male" and the headstrong but ultimately weak "southern belle". I'm not saying that they are all a bunch of Scarlett O'hara's and Rhett Butler's, but the first time I read Jordan's bio at the back of the book, things became a lot clearer as to how and why his characters are drawn they way they are.

  9. #9
    Junior my ass! ceros's Avatar
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    Perhaps you answered the question in the original post:

    Admittedly, real-world cultures have been ruled by a woman and managed to keep their gender prejudices
    The world of the WoT is a distant futuristic earth (read the fine print ... there's so much of it that you might not have realised that aspect) so why would not the gender roles remain the same despite a long passing of time

    As Jordan says, the wheel of time turns, legend turns to myth until the age that brought it comes once again ... our not-so-distant future is the myths of the age of legends that he keeps talking about ... a time where [wo]man has developed the mental capacity to control energy etc. etc. to break the world (i think if you look at the map at the front of the book it resembles a part of the Earth where the waters have risen - global warming.)

    SideNote: I think the spine of the world might be the san-andreas fault if you turn the map upside down (the poles may have swapped at some point).

    Taking this into account, the Earth's history has always been male dominated despite having female leaders. Randland (future-earth) was never meant to be genderally (is that a word?) equal just as it isn't now.

    ***

    I think Jordan has done very well in figuring it out, if only it's so long and frustrating in the process.
    Last edited by ceros; June 5th, 2003 at 09:31 PM.

  10. #10
    The Trickster
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    On paper Randland looks to be ruled by men - most leaders and head of noble Houses are men.But that is only on the surface - there are only a few men in the whole series who have the guts to resist women's demands - Gareth Brin comes to mind as an example.But most of the male characters do whatever any woman tells them to do, especially if she is Aes Sedai.They may grumble and complain but nevertheless comply. It really annoys me a lot when I re-read the books and see any woman just yelling and giving orders to a man who on paper should have more power - for instance Basel Jill did whatever his chef told him, that was quite stupid,IMHO.

    Bear in mind that most of the world is ruled by a woman - Seanchan's Empress(may she live forever) and in her country there are women soldiers and sailors and most importantly sul-dam.Sea Folk women are supreme to their men unless a war begins.In general - women either rule the country or manipulate the ruler.The only exception were the Whitecloaks.

  11. #11
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    I'm still having a hard time reconciling WoT as a world that is male-dominated.

    As pointed out, the Seanchan has a military filled with women, and is ruled by an Empress. The Aiel have fighting women and are ruled arguably, by their wise ones. The Sea Folk are ruled by their women and have integrated, egalitarian crews. That one country whose name I keep forgetting with the queen who practically rapes Mat actually has reversed the typical gender roles! Throughout Randland women are equally present in all matters of state. Right down to the grass roots of Two Rivers, women hold real political power over men on a day-to-day basis. This isn't just a case of men being informally ruled by their wives when they get home at night, women have an official political body, equal in power to the males, that makes decisions on the future of the community. How is this not an egalitarian society?

    The WoT world resembles my understanding of the early protocivilizations, where women were the rulers of their clans. Men hunted and fought, but women dominated every other communal matter. In such civilizations, I cannot see the men, who regularly found themselves subserviant to women, feeling that women are helpless, vulnerable, or weak.

  12. #12
    Give me liberty! Ouroboros's Avatar
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    Note- I was a bit rushed earlier on (was on a short break from work), so I have come back and lengthened slightly my post.

    In relation to Oorag's last post, it's probably worth remembering that simply because there may exist given societies in the WoT world where there is less disparity in terms of power relations between men and women than in our own history, this does not mean that they do not have clearly defined gender roles- in fact, they may be even more clearly delineated.

    As touched on in my earlier post, it is quite obvious that certain professions and tasks are considered male, and others are considered female. A clear example of this would be the Two Rivers assumption that only a female can adequately be a healer (and possibly by extension, a proper care giver). To carry on the focus on the Two Rivers, when Perrin hunts Trollocs with his 'companions' ... they are all male. Women don't seem to hunt and fight in the Two Rivers, for whatever reason, barring possibly Nynaeve's unusual tomboyish youth.

    Decision on given topics, and authority, is thus not necessarily split equally between the sexes- it depends on the particular situation. Windfinders may rule the roost in given situations, they must defer to their male master-at-arms in certain combatative situations (a rule which Mat uses to good effect at one point in the book).

    Likewise, the concern of the Two Rivers lads for the physical safety of their women is not surprising given that they come from a society where the men do the hunting and fighting, and the women do the healing and possibly general organising. They're not necessariy viewing their women as inferior or assuming they are entirely defenseless, they are simply following the gender role they have been programmed to. Aiel and Seanchan men might well behave differently in the same situation.

    Last edited by Ouroboros; June 9th, 2003 at 06:06 AM.

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