Let's coin a new term: "Wotism"

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by Thadlerian, Jul 8, 2006.

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    Thadlerian

    Thadlerian Riftsound resident

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    The Definition

    "Wotism": A term describing a recurring trend in Speculative Fiction storytelling (prose and motion picture): A tendency for the majority of a story's relevant female characters to be conspicuously shallow, vicious/hateful, violent and encumbersome, especially when compared to their male counterparts. The term is derived from Robert Jordan's Fantasy series "The Wheel of Time", WoT, the story in which wotism is the most striking, although far from the only one in which it occurs.


    The Meaning

    Now I've read only five of the Wheel of Time novels (two years ago), but that is irrelevant, as this is not about that series, but the trend. These first five books contain an abundance of relevant content, enough to exemplify the main points of identification of wotism. I will now go through them, as characteristics of female characters in wotist plots:

    First of all:
    1: They're very powerful characters.
    Be cautious here. Powerful is very easily confused with strong. By a "strong character", I mean a strenght which is primarily mental, such as an ability to plan, a consequent morality, a confidence in others, resourcefulness and suchlike. Power, on the other hand, is just the ability to induce others to do things they would not have done, or to hurt them. Power comes physically, politically and normatively. The females of WoT do not have strenght, they have only power. The aes sedai are powerful magic wielders, with which the can affect large things, as well as deal damage. Morgase, as a queen, has political power. Nynaeve has normative power as a village "wisdom": She can strike the males over their heads with her staff without them protesting or resisting. These powers make them able to affect tehir environs, but they do not make them good, strong characters.

    So, we know they're powerful. That means they can take care of themselves, at least. Or does it? How can it then be that:
    2: They always need rescuing?
    Rescuing, of course, is a relative term. Aviendha, for example, used her power to kill a monster that would have attacked Rand from behind. She rescued him, in other words. But when it comes to classic rescuing (boy X retrieves girl Y from uncomfortable and dangerous location Z, where she is trapped/prisoned), the gender pattern goes only one way. Perrin rescues Faile from that parallel dimension thing in book 3. Mat rescues several of the girls from a prison in Tear, or something, in book 3, and they beat him up in return. Thom and Juilin rescue Nynaeve and some other girl from some evil person who (easily) tricked them in book 5. The classic rescue, in other words, is a boy privilege.

    A reason for this tendency may perhaps be explained as such:
    3: They're rash, and lack the ability to assess a situation.
    Egwene attacks children of light with her magic somewhere in book 3 or so, only one of many impulsive actions indicating a tendency all the females seem to have: They all like to jump to conclusions, which makes them easy to fool, as noted in point 2.

    Back to the main train of thought: Rescue the girls and you're be lucky if you only got an earful, and now you're late for your Saving The World appointment as well. Why do the boys never notice how the girls always:
    4: Loudly and violently express their disdain/distrust/hatred for boys?
    WoT is a scene of war. This is the so-called Gender War, or the Gender Military Operation, as we call situations in which one side attacks while the other sits passively receiving. The girls abuse the boys, who grudgingly turn the other cheek and go on with saving the world. Elayne hires Aviendha to abuse Rand through most of book 4. You all know Perrin and Faile. Most especially, Nynaeve is quoted in a wide range of situations in which she adresses various faults of men, like violence, not to mention her infamous "braid-pulling", a gesure of disdain directed at the males present.

    They hate boys, then. That should mean they make good friends among themselves. But you soon find that:
    5: They hate each other as well.
    The girls never seem to fail chastising each other with their magical powers. The White Tower can be easily written off as a powerbase due to the constant bickering of its denizens. Everywhere in Randland, pecking order seems to be a fundamental rule of living.

    As you read the books, you notice that the girls do far more bad stuff than the boys. How can their boy-hatred be maintained under such circumstances? The only reason can be that:
    6: They completely lack introspection.
    There is a very clear paradox which exemplifies this in book 5 (or was it book 4), in which Nynaeve through her thoughts express her disdain for the boys' tendency to use violent means to solve problems. This could be a very valid point, if not for the fact that she adds she would have liked to knock them all over their heads to teach them that violence is wrong.

    But wait a second. The girls can't be completely negatively posed against the boys. They seem to harbour some feelings for them as well, otherwise, how come:
    7: They're constantly jealous of the boys?
    Any possibility a boy is even looking at another girl other than the one which the plot has assigned to him is reason enough for chastising. The whole Aviendha affair was about preventing Rand from straying. But again the lack of introspection kicks in: Egwene dances with that guy from the pacifist gypsy tribe in book 1, like Faile does with Lord Luc in book 4.

    Oh dear, how can there possibly be happy matchmaking and marriage with all this hatred and lack of confidence? The solution for the boys, you see, is rather simple. Winning a girl just needs a little effort, because:
    8: They need to be tamed before they can be used.
    It's not much of an effort, though. All that is needed is for the boy to do what they always do: Gaze at the horizon with a serious face, be quiet, thoughtful and handsome (in a strictly masculine way). It worked for Lan to win Nynaeve, it worked for Rand to win Aviendha, and Perrin doing real man's work in the smithy did the trick for the Perrin-Faile affair too.

    Sort of as a concluding point, we can say that:
    9: The girls are mysteriously devoid of characteristics that traditionally is being associated with the feminine.
    Compassion, solidarity, patience, endurance, calm; characteristics females in general fiction tend to have. But these qualities are non-existent in WoT. No, wait, they're not. So, who is it that is so compassionate, solidaric, patient, endurant and calm? Hey presto! It's the boys, of course!

    That's all. No, wait. I have been unfair, depicting the WoT females with purely negative characteristics. I seem to have forgotten that they all share the single most important quality a woman can have in Fantasy:
    10: They're all extremely, astoundingly beautiful.
    Perfect faces, perfect bodies. Even in the WoT appendix, the supposedly most objective voice, Egwene is described as "A beautiful young woman from Emond's Field". Especially the bodies part, which Jordan repeatedly brings to our attention. Further, he rarely fails to hand his readers long exclusively female nudity scenes, like the aes sedai rite of passage.


    The Essence
    In fewer words: The female characters are throroughly unsympathetic. They bicker, manipulate and abuse. Male characters specifically don't. Male characters even apologize when they turn evil (book 2). The females tend to hold the power in Randland, and Jordan makes a great effort to show how undeserved that is, how they abuse it. The females rarely help the plot forward, they rather seem to justify their existence by providing satisfaction to the young male reader: Patient struggle against their abuse, while saving the world, is at last rewarded with their bodies.


    The Context
    Here's my theory: Wotism is a statement, subconsciously or actively, inevitably a politically ideological one. But it must not be confused with traditional gender discrimination. Wotism is not an independent statement. It is a reaction. A reaction against feminism. This is in accordance with a certain spirit of the age: In today's West, there is a growing number of men who feel alienated and disenfranchised in society; that feminism has gone too far, and that men are being marginalized. Considering the still substantial wage and power discrimination in society, not to mention the unprecedented popcultural objectification of the female body (which also the Fantasy genre speculates very heavily in), it seems a most peculiar idea. Nevertheless, it is a relevant one: Young male readers want affirmation that what they believe is right, and books like Wheel of Time give them just that. In conclusion, the motivation can be seen as both a political and commercial one: To comment on society, as well as spur book sales.


    Wotism in practice
    Here's what I've assessed so far about which books/pictures are wotist, some that may be in the grey area, as well as some that definitely aren't:
    Positively wotist:
    The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan - Obviously.
    The Belgariad by David Eddings - I've only read Pawn of Prophecy, but there were signs in abundance, mostly near the end.
    Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind - Lots of strange stuff in here, but a lot of the points from my list are recognizable.
    Various animes, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Steamboy - These strenghten my theory that wotism wasn't invented at a fixed point of time, but rather tends to develop again and again in parallel circles.

    Slightly uncertain, but probably not wotist
    A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin - I am in doubt about this one: GRRM has an undeniable knack of creating unlikeable females (Ygritte, the Tully sisters, Cersei), while at the same time telling stories through profoundly benevolent and altruist males (Ned, Jon Snow, Sam). The whole Gender Military Operation issue is absent, though, and all most of the characters seem mature, with a certain ambiguity.
    Malazan Books of the Fallen by Steven Erikson - I've only read two of these, but Felisin seems to me to fit with most of the points on my Meaning list. She is, however only one character, whereas wotism tends to treat all the characters that way. And that would be unfair to characters like Apsalar, Tattersail and Lorn.

    Definitely not wotist
    His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman - The males and the females are balanced up against each other, equally strong: Lyra and Will, lord Asriel and miss Coulter.
    An anime counterweight: Studio Ghibli films, as well as Haibane Renmei - Far from all anime are wotist.
    Discworld by Terry Pratchett - Strong characters like Susan Sto Helit, Sybil Ramkin, the Witches, and, most of all, Tiffany Aching.


    So...
    So, what do you think? Do you recognize wotism in WoT? Have you felt it in books that I haven't mentioned here? Could there be alternative motivations? Any consequences for future Fantasy? Let me hear.
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    Lacedaemonian

    Lacedaemonian A Plume of Smoke

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    Excellent peice mate. The Malazan series, however, does not fall into this trap. He treats gender on a level ground.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I've got to admit I've not read a single one of the WoT series. That's because reading Jordan's Conan novels in the '80s so repulsed me with the way he handled women, who came in two types: the stereotypical "whore with the heart of gold" who was so sweet she made my teeth ache, or the "castrating b****h" who was on the far side of psychotic on the issue.

    Which brings me to another point: It's odd to me that many of the older writers, up until the 1950s or so, were much better at having female characters in fantasy that had some strength to them; they were more rounded, fully-realized characters than what has largely come after (with some notable exceptions). Certainly this latter is true with the Howardian pastichists in the main; only a few of those writing REH-influenced work in the latter 1970s and early 1980s steered away from that. Even Howard, though not creating a great number of truly memorable female -- in comparison to male -- characters, tended to not make them as one- or two-dimensional as that. In the few cases he did, it was usually with tongue-in-cheek, sending up the stereotype (as with Muriela in "Jewels of Gwahlur", where he actually uses the phrase, after yet another rescue by Conan, that "she went into the usual clinch"; this was not bad writing; Howard was thumbing his nose at the idea without doing without a paycheck). If one reads his work carefully, it's obvious he was fascinated by strong women, or women who, through adversity, learned how strong they were; and no few of his women characters either save his hero's bacon, or become valuable sword-companions along the way. This is something that his pasticheurs would do well to study more closely, considering a lifelong bachelor in a particularly sexist time and state could pull it off better than they.

    Overall, I began seeing this trend really taking serious form around the mid-80s, and it has just gotten worse, from what I've seen, in fantasy in general. There are exceptions, but that's just it: they are the exceptions. I can't stand flat characters, period, male or female, in general. And with writers doing books of this size, spending so much time with their characters, for my money there's no excuse for it at all.
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    dwndrgn

    dwndrgn Fierce Vowelless One Staff Member

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    Well, it's an interesting thought, but I don't agree. Sure, most of the young female characters are impulsive and apt to act with their emotions rather than their brains - but, this is something that a great deal of regular real-world girls do. And the fact that most of these women have power at hand emphasises this tendency and I would think enhances it. Power corrupts. If you could, with very little effort, act immediately upon your emotions as a youth this is going to color how you deal with life and how you see life in later years.

    Nynaeve's wanting to 'hit them over the head' thoughts, and the female character's inevitable dressing-down of the men - have you ever sat around with a bunch of women and listened as they discuss men? The general thoughts tend to be 'I'd like to knock some sense into that boy'. Now, granted, this is a wide generalization but women didn't get the stereotypical names of fishwife or nag for no reason whatsoever. From my experience, there's a grain of truth to those - and if those women had magical power to back it up? I could see them becoming like these characters.

    Well, I just got up after a late night and it's been years since I read the first 6 books so I can't think all that properly on it or give examples but I think that yes, to some extent the women are a little one-dimensional, but hardly as strongly so as you seem to think.
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    Rane Longfox

    Rane Longfox Red Rane

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    Well, WoTism is quite a well known phenomenon online now, but I've never seen such a detailed description. Congrats.
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    orionsixwings

    orionsixwings Demosthenes

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    One very good reason why I stopped reading WOT. Love this new word though!!! Very funny!
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    rikkkkup

    rikkkkup New Member

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    How was it decided that "wotism" described the women in the wheel of time? I would think that it described the wheel of time as a whole..
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    LOL. Welcome to the forums, mate. As I said, I've not read them, but when I was working at a SFF bookstore, the feedback I got from those there who had would tend to agree with you....:rolleyes:

    Oh, and come on in; the water's.... well, all over the tea room, actually....
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    rikkkkup

    rikkkkup New Member

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    :p Thanks .. I saw this and thought I'd pop in.."wotism" has been the name of some huge wheel of time forums for years .. This seems like a nice place to chat it up a bit though :).. I can't use smilies yet :-(
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    Paige Turner

    Paige Turner Just another busted robot

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    A privilege afforded only to those who have endured The Gruntlet!

    No, it's not a typo. You have to catch the baby pig while wearing a blindfold.
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    Thadlerian

    Thadlerian Riftsound resident

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    The same way as Tourette Syndrome doesn't describe all the works of the physican Gilles de la Tourette, but rather a single syndrome that he determined, and which is named after him: Wotism doesn't describe the women of WoT, it describes a general tendency of modern Fantasy to practice a rather strange (and potentially counter-productive of gender equality) male-female differentiation. Which I first recognized in WoT (thus named), so that I could later recognize it in stuff like Pawn of Prophecy.

    As for the forum name... oh well, seems we'll have to compete for the term.
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    rikkkkup

    rikkkkup New Member

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    :-( Sorry.. the majority of your post seemed to bash on WoT females. So naturally, I assumed you intended to describe the wheel of time with this. I didn't think you had a broader scope in mind.
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    Werthead

    Werthead Lemming of Discord

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    I reposted this on another forum (Westeros.org's Literature Forum) to check the reactions there, some of which are pretty interesting.
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    Thadlerian

    Thadlerian Riftsound resident

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    Seems like I got a bit too much into WoT in my initial post. The numbered points were meant to be examples from WoT, explaining why I used the series as a base for the term. The Westeros responses seem to focus around me not understanding the series correctly, which might be right; it's been some years since I read them, and only the 5 first. But the term was meant more as a critizism of general tendencies of Speculative Fiction. I should have spent a little more time on the post it seems, but it took quite a while in itself...
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    jackokent

    jackokent Jack of all trades

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    Loved the definitions

    I was just wondering however, is it only male writers who are guilty of wotism or do female writers do it too? Are there writers out there who wotismise men?
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    Thadlerian

    Thadlerian Riftsound resident

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    That's a very interesting question. I've read very few female writers of Speculative Fiction, and they've seemed to be above the level on which a character's identity is founded on their gender. Doesn't mean there aren't, though. Only, it would feel rather strange. The writer would have to be very influenced by male colleagues.

    I've actually read one male writer wotismising men. A Norwegian guy named Ingar Knudsen jr., in a rather demonstrative book series called Amazons, in which gender defined identity, and all the men were baddies. But that's really a dead-end; I think wotism is connected to real-life thoughts and ideas, and I can hardly imagine such a theme becoming very popular in modern Fantasy circles.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    I've got to admit that I don't recall any such. Even where there's some pretty harsh criticism of male characters, it tends on the whole to be a few, or a group, rather than the whole. Perhaps the sole exception I can think of (and this is stretching it quite a bit) in my reading is the original short story "When It Changed" by Joanna Russ, which was the seed for her novel The Female Man. While she takes men to task for certain things, she doesn't really make them flat or two-dimensional, let alone one. It just seems to be something that is predominantly a male tendency, and even there it seems more limited in general than it used. Unfortunately, Fantasy is often where it is found most often, in my experience. But we again seem to be moving away from that with many of the more popular writers...
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    Nesacat

    Nesacat The Cat

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    Ah a word to explain why I stopped reading the Wheel of Time books after the fourth one. Great word though. Thanks. Am going to tuck it away someplace safe in the tea room.

    I'll agree with the others that I've not come across female writers who treat their male characters in the same way. No matter the nature of the stories, the men all tend to have well-rounded, many-dimensional characters. Wotism would seem to belong to the realm of male writers.

    Unless you count the real 'popcorn' romance novels but in those both the men and women are flattened almost out of all recognition.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Yes, the trite "like they'd been run over by a steamroller" doesn't even touch what you run into there....
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    Werthead

    Werthead Lemming of Discord

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    I think the problem using WoT as an example is that the men are not tremendously well-written or defined either, and usually let the women order and boss them around for no logical reason.

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