Analysis

Four Sexist Themes From The Wheel of Time

If you’re completely unfamiliar with high fantasy literature (in which case, I apologize in advance for the Red Wedding), The Wheel of Time is a series of books first written by Robert Jordan and later finished by Brandon Sanderson after Mr. Jordan passed away. It consists of 14 main books, a prequel novel, some comic books, and a handful of video games. The story spans years, and has had dedicated fans since the first book was published in 1990.

The WoT setting is incredibly rich and complex. Almost everything has a series specific name attached to it rather than relying on existing fantasy archetypes. Magic users are called channelers, female channelers make up an organization called the Aes Sedai, and magic itself is referred to as the One Power. The setting is also extremely sexist.

1. Magic Comes Bundled With Gender Roles

The magic system in the Wheel of Time is incredibly complicated, but the short version is that the One Power is divided into two halves, a male half and a female half. Men use one, women use the other. This might sound like an unnecessary distinction, but the books are very quick to tell you that there are inherent differences between man magic and woman magic.

The first noted difference is that men are better with earth and fire magic, while women are better with air and water. I suppose burning rocks are manly? The second, and far more profound difference is in how the magic is used. Men must seize control of their power. They must dominate and control it, wield it like a weapon. Women must submit to their power, providing gentle guidance.

WoT’s magic system forces men to behave one way and women another. Who they are, the essential nature of their character, is supplanted by the type of plumbing they were born with. If you’re a man like me who’s never felt particularly like dominating or controlling anyone, you’ll be a terrible channeler.

Our real life society is full of gender roles that prescribe men and women to act a certain way, but those are almost entirely social in nature. In WoT, those gender roles are written into the very fabric of the universe. Men must act in one way and women in another. In real life, this is the kind of thinking that leads to men being relentlessly bullied for wanting to wear pink and women being told their place is in the kitchen.

These conceits don’t even work within the context of the story. For example, take Moiraine Damodred, one of the best characters in the series. She is a channeler who, for the early books at least, works almost entirely with earth and fire. This makes complete sense for her character. She is absolutely unflappable; stoic in the face of terrors that would drive lesser characters mad. However, if you ever do manage to anger her, she will destroy you utterly and completely.

Sounds in line with earth and fire, right? That’s too bad for Moiraine, because by her own words she’s better with water and air – just by nature of being a woman. At that point it starts to strain believably. If she’s not as good with earth and fire, why does she keep using them?

Moiraine’s dominating nature is also one of the most defining things about her. She will take no guff from anyone, and she does not suffer fools. There’s nothing submissive about her, and yet supposedly she channels her power by submitting to it.

2. Man Magic Is Stronger Than Woman Magic

WoT characters love to talk about the complementary nature of masculine and feminine, that the two are inherently different yet both are required to do great things. That’s an admirable thought, but it’s somewhat undermined by the fact that male channelers are straight up more powerful on average than their female counterparts. This is described as being similar to the way that men are, on average, physically stronger than women.

In exchange, women have the ability to link their powers together, because, I suppose, women are just better at having friends than men (remember, gender roles FTW!). Unfortunately, this ability is shown to be of little practical use beyond a few major plot points, because linking the powers of multiple women together doesn’t result in their strength being directly combined. Instead, the leader gets a bonus to her power, at the cost of the other women in the link not being able to do anything.

To put it in gaming terms: four women can each cast a 5d6 fireball. Linking them together will result in a single 10d6 fireball. The problem is not hard to spot.

To be 100% fair, WoT also makes the claim that women are more “deft” or “dexterous” with their power, but after reading nine books, I could never figure out exactly what that meant. Whatever the author’s intent, it’s demonstrated over and over again that all other factors being equal, it will take multiple female channelers to match a single male. Any advantage women are supposed to have does not come across.

I’m not sure I even need to explain the problem here, but I will anyway. Magic in a fantasy story like WoT is a direct representation of how much a character can affect the world around them through an expression of their will. It goes beyond what is physical and reaches directly into the soul. Tying a character’s magical ability directly to their gender in this manner is delivering one message: women are less important than men.

While it’s true that WoT does have women who are stronger channelers than some of the men around them, it’s made very clear that these are exceptions to the rule. In a twisted sort of fairness, this is also harmful to men. No man, no matter how good he is with people, no matter how much sense it would make for his character, can link his magic without a woman there to help. Ever.

There’s no defense for this double dose of sexism. Not only does it continue the trend of gender roles behind enforced by WoT’s very laws of physics, but it puts women firmly in a secondary role to men. This is a real problem that women face in many places here on Earth, and celebrating it as the natural way of things is just wrong. Interestingly enough, when Wizards of the Coast adapted WoT as a roleplaying game, they left out the idea that men were stronger channelers than women. I wonder why?

3. Women Are Portrayed as Evil for Doing an Important Job

After that last one, it might seem like things couldn’t get any worse, but there is more to come. First, a little background on the setting, spoiler free! At the start of the WoT books, the male half of the One Power has been tainted by the Dark One, a being who is basically the devil. This means that any male channeler will, sooner rather than later, go insane and kill everyone around them. Usually they leave a crater.

The Red Ajah are the group of Aes Sedai – female channelers – tasked with dealing with this terrible situation. Rather than initiating a kill-on-sight policy or something equally draconian, these women go to great pains to capture any male channeler they can find. They then use their own power to remove the man’s ability, leaving him alive and no longer in danger of going insane.

This might sound like the best possible solution to a terrible problem, but no one else in the series, including the author, seems to think so. The Red Ajah are portrayed as a bunch of man hating she-demons whose only real purpose in life is to make males miserable. They hate and distrust all men, even the Warders who are trained exclusively to aid and protect Aes Sedai. Oh, and a lot of them are lesbians, because of course they are.

Imagine a story set in the real world, in which the FBI is America’s only defense against a group of incredibly wealthy robber barons whose financial schemes will leave the entire country in ruins. Now imagine that every FBI agent in the story is a villainous caricature with an irrational hatred for anyone making more than $100,000 a year. They hound the main character mercilessly for no reason other than that his new job has given him a pay raise. Starting to see the problem?

The Red Ajah perform an essential service, yet they are treated almost universally as evil. How dare they raise a hand against the dangerous madmen that are male channelers! Sometimes the story paints them to be as bad or worse than the Dark One. It would be one thing if a few of their members had gotten overly zealous over the long years, but almost the entire group is portrayed this way. They hound and persecute the main character when all he wants to do is save the world, except these mean women won’t let him!

The man-hating element is so over the top that it would be funny if WoT wasn’t playing it so seriously. The idea that powerful women are all out to oppress and victimize men is something that our own society has yet to shake off; seeing it writ large in this series is just painful. Choosing to make a large portion of them gay takes the whole affair into the realm of homophobia as well. Everyone knows that lesbianism and man hating go hand in hand, right? No? Oh.

4. Men Can’t Handle Powerful Women

As WoT is a world in which any male channeler will go crazy and die, the only channelers walking around openly are female. The Aes Sedai have a pretty important role in society: advising rulers, hunting down spawn of the Dark One, and wielding considerable political power of their own. They are also, almost to a woman, unmarried.

Is this because their careers make it difficult to balance a family, or because of some ancient tradition shrouded in mysticism? No. It’s because, at least according to the main characters, most men can’t handle being married to a woman more powerful than they are. This trend is continued in other areas as well. Men are almost universally freaked out by Aes Sedai, and not just because the One Power itself is scary.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of men in real life are clearly afraid of powerful women. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have such wonderful gems as the men’s rights movement. It is both realistic and interesting to have a certain amount of that in a fantasy setting. However, the extreme to which WoT takes it is just silly. Magic has been an all-female profession for centuries by the time the first book starts. Society has had plenty of time to adjust, and yet the books expect you to believe that no men have figured out the potential benefits of having a magical wife.

Take a look at a list of powerful and/or wealthy women in the real world, and then see how many of them are unmarried. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, wealthy author JK Rowling, Chair of the Federal Reserve Janet Yellen: all of them have husbands. At the very least, there should be hordes of men trying to court Aes Sedai for the political benefit alone.

The larger context of men being continually freaked out by these same women makes even less sense. Supposedly, the high levels of distrust and sometimes outright hatred all stem from an event more than 3,000 years in the past when channelers went crazy and caused widespread destruction. Except those were male channelers, and their female counterparts were the only ones around to stop them. As the books go forward, it is revealed that the forces of evil acted secretly to make people distrust Aes Sedai, but the ratios are just way off. The message that gets sent is that men can’t handle the idea of powerful women, which I find to be both insulting and untrue.

Reading the Wheel of Time, it’s clear that Robert Jordan didn’t have the intention of writing a sexist story. The books have a large representation of female characters, and some of them are really good. I maintain that Moiraine is the best character in the series, but that’s just me. The underlying issues are just that, hidden below the surface. It’s easy to miss them, but they go right on reinforcing harmful perceptions of both men and women nonetheless. WoT can still be an enjoyable series, but it’s important to be aware of what the books are actually saying.

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Comments

  1. Tsuki-llama

    Thank you for this! I read the entire series, and while it had a lot going for it (and for a while was my favorite fantasy series), the overt sexism really, really bothered me.

    Even worse is when fans try to excuse it by saying “no no, the most powerful institutions are ruled by women! He’s *subverting* the sexism trope!” – superficially that appears to be the case, but isn’t true at all, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    One of the outcomes I was most looking forward to at the conclusion was men and women channelers finally reconciling and working together to save the world…and it never happened (and when it did, the Aes Sedai were dragged into it kicking and screaming). One of the biggest letdowns ever.

    Anyway, it’s nice to see that someone else had the same issues with WoT as me, and especially refreshing to see a man pointing out problems with sexism in fantasy =)

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Yay! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t notice the sexism on my first read through, but then I was quite young at the time so I claim that as my defense. There’s a lot more I could have talked about, but I think these are the four really big ones.

    • Charles

      This comment and article in general saddens me. I feel everyone is missing such a major thematic plot to the Wheel of Time.

      The wheel of time actually attempts to talk about the imbalance of sexism in society. It represents men and women differently without assigning a direct gender hierarchy. In fact, it represents a world where females have had the matriarchy society for thousands of years due to the power of the white tower and you can see it in the conversations that even village women and men have with each other, up to the majority of rulers being queens or having a female matriarch of sorts (Tanchiko). In many cases, in the society that Jordan has made, men are subservient to women.

      I think an issue that many feminists have with the WOT is that it is a criticism of societal imbalance, including the dangers of replacing a patriarchy with a matriarchy. For all the listed criticisms in the article about sexist topics, I think they’re all bunk.

      Gender roles and magic… I just don’t even know where to go with this. There is literally a transgendered magic user in the books who got the greatest op a transgendered person could have by the Dark One himself.

      Men are stronger individually but women can link and together are stronger than any man can be. Again this is an issue that many extreme feminists have is that Men and Women are Different, that doesn’t mean more of less. Plus some of the women in this series are as strong as possible. In terms of power Rand and Nymeave are close, Rand is just a genius with the power because of LTT.

      The Red Ajah represent toxic feminism, it is an important job, but as an institution of power it went too far. Plus it was culling the human race from the power. Again, this is a calling of a society out of balance, that misandry is common amongst the Red Ajah and that this article’s author doesn’t touch on that is a bit concerning.

      Men can’t handle powerful women? All the main characters got shacked up with one another. Egwene with a prince, Nymeave with Lan the Man. Mat with Tuon.

      Why didn’t people marry Aes Sedai? Maybe because the Aes Sedai don’t want to marry and have babies because they have important jobs and they live a long time. That’s like asking a CEO to take a break and have romance and kids. High powered PEOPLE (men and women) have a tough time with that.

      Also large power dynamics are often difficult relationships. If I married Beyonce for example, it would be hard to hold her respect or to not be so overwhelmed by how much I adored her and damage the mutual respect. Mutual respect is important in any relationship and it can be hard for both men and women in relationships where the power dynamic difference is astronomically large.

      It saddens me, I grew up with strong feminist role models in parents and family friends, but I’ve noticed that many people are incapable of seeing that the goal of feminism is to uplift women, not crush men.

      Feminism, just like masculinity, can be toxic, hateful, and divisive, all depending on the person/group representing it. The Red Ajah represent that aspect, as much as the Blue and Green represent other positive feminist aspects. The split in the tower really was a criticism of the split in feminism in the mid 90s and early 2000s.

      This article is an example of not critically reading and/or of being incapable of self criticism.

      • Thibault

        the whole “equal but different” excuse sounds nice in theory, except for one thing : in the quasi-totality of cases the actual physical differences do not influence competence in any way, the difference is only present because of arbitrairy social rules.

        And while in WoT those difference are physical, it is ultimatly the Author who made it so and as such we have the right to question this choice. He made those differences in a very stereotypical sexist way.

        The fact is the average male chaneller are more powerful than female chaneller. A group or male chaneller is more powerful than a group of femal chaneller, even with linking. And it still presents males as naturally dominant and women naturally submissive, wich is a sexist message

        the trans character of the setting is the dark one, a.k.a the bad guy. No matter how OP he is, it is still a case of the “evil gay ” trope (well trans, but the mecanic behind the trope is the same) : the only transgender character is a freak because god forbid that we present a transgender person as being normal.

        And while we could argue that it tries to show that matriarchy is as bad as partiarchy is a good message in a vacuum, the only ones today believing our society is in danger of becoming poisonnously martiriarchal are anti-feminist sexist conspiracy theorists.

        As such we can really questions the intentions of the authors. The fact that the poster child of martriarchy in-universe, the Aes Sedai are composed of stereotypical men-hating lesbian feminazi doesn’t exactly help.

        Even the very same CEO who have problems finding love still manage to have families for the most part. It proves that power dynamics do not screw people *that* much as to make things like respect or healthy relationship impossible, far from it. But the Aes Sedai are almost all celibate to a rificulous degree. Even without all thous problems we are told that “men don’t like women more powerful than them” (yes no matter how many character are married to powerful women, most of wich being more powerful than the ones they married by the way, it is the cannon reason), wich is not only very wrong, but also say a lot about the mentality behind the creation the setting.

        I seriously question the “feminism” of your entourage growing up if you think pointing the sexist wrinting when it is actually sexist, wether you like it or not, as crushing men.

      • Thibault

        This *comment* is an example of not critically reading and/or of being incapable of self criticism.

      • TigRaine

        I absolutely agree with everything you said. As an avid fantasy reader yet a very independent woman, I was always frustrated with the tropes of fantasy women over the years. Then when I was 17 I was introduced to WoT and it blew my mind. That women were the Rulers and had the power and made the decisions was amazing to me, and the fact that the biological differences of male and female play out in the Power itself was such a clever thing to put into a magic system. I can work very well with my hands, I am physically strong and yet, unless I join with my sister, I am not as strong as my brother. It’s that simple! There are BIOLOGICAL differences to men and women and the fact that Jordan addressed that in his world is really incredible and inspiring to me. I felt, while reading this article, that the author was more actively looking for something to nitpick instead of looking truthfully at the deeper meaning in the world Jordan created. It’s hands down the best representation of female characters in a fantasy setting, ever. And I don’t see a single fault with that.

  2. Marle

    I am having a fresh go at this series after a few years. I’ve made several attempts over the past two decades, but it was always the overtly sexist themes that put me off before. I just can’t seem to get invested in a world where men and women so obviously despise one another.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I know what you mean, it’s why I could never finish the series. There are plenty of Discworld books out there if you want something with much better gender relationships. The Gentleman Bastard series is pretty good too.

  3. Nathan

    The points are true, albeit the wording is somewhat exaggerated. The sexism annoyed me a lot too when I re-read it after I have got more educated about feminism.

    re:Moiraine: “If she’s not as good with earth and fire, why does she keep using them?”

    Umm because good luck killing Trollocks with water&air xD Though I guess there must exist destructive waves of those elements, but it’s most likely more straightforward with earth & fire

    “They are also, almost to a woman, unmarried. Is this because their careers make it difficult to balance a family, or because of some ancient tradition shrouded in mysticism? No. It’s because, at least according to the main characters, most men can’t handle being married to a woman more powerful than they are.”

    Outliving any potential spouse by 150-250 years could also have a part in it Actually it’s openly stated by more than one character if I remember well.

    I agree that the Red Ajah are portrayed quite negatively, though I guess it’s worth mentioning, that removing someone’s channeling ability is basically a death sentence, as those people all eventually succumb to terminal depression. So I can see the negative sentiments against them (also what some of them did by stilling male channelers and getting them lynched by village mobs), but it’s true, that it’s not proportional to the danger male channelers would mean.

    Btw in my headcanon people’s channeling ability between saidin/saidar depends on their dominant/submissive personality regardless of gender Channelers could even be able to channel both, just be naturally better at one based on their natural preference. Just an idea.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      “Btw in my headcanon people’s channeling ability between saidin/saidar depends on their dominant/submissive personality regardless of gender :)”

      If only that had been true in the series. Thumbs up for a good idea though.

      As to killing with air or water, just watch Legend of Korra season 3. It’s hard to fight when the breath is literally sucked out of your lungs.

      • Rand al'Thor

        Although this was pretty long ago, I have to comment on it. The whole plot revolves around the idea that saidin is tainted. Thus, men would be able to channel and there would be no point of the first couple books because Rand would not be going mad.

        As a huge fan of the series, however many problems it has, I slightly disagree with this. But that doesn’t matter.

      • Anton

        Ya but id rather light 100 trollocs on fire than pull the air from trolloc lungs, like a dumbass

        • Oska-sedai

          What’s wrong with a subtle approach? We know that drawing heat out (as opposed to heating something up) is universally accepted. Fire is the go-to in many fantasy series because you don’t have to be clever to set something on fire. Now, using Air and Water to draw so much heat from a Trolloc their blood freezes? Forcing Air *into* their lungs to cause them to pop like angry meat balloons? Drawing the Water out of a Trolloc so they mummify mid-step? We have multiple examples in every book in the series of male and female channelers using Air to hold someone or something still. Crush those Trollocs like an empty soda can with less collateral damage. Honestly, it’s a failure of the imagination to say someone’s a dumbass for using Air to kill.

          • Cannoli

            This is actually done, sort of, in the books. In Book 3, when Nynaeve, Elayne & Egwene attack the Myrdraal, each one independently uses a different method. Egwene, who is not in the best headspace at the moment, experiencing a version of PTSD that manifests in impulses to violence, sets the Myrdraal on fire, but they are still alive (and considering how deadly Myrdraal are even after a mortal wound and how their bodies thrash even after death, no less dangerous to the people around them). Elayne, who will later manifest great strength in Air, crushes the Myrdraal’s bodies together into a ball. This is far more effective, as the flows of air restrain them even as they are crushed to death. Nynaeve then uses balefire to finally kill them & destroy their corpses. The most effective weapon of the three was the one the intuitive & emotional Nynaeve called up instinctively, and which uses flows of all five Powers. In other words, it is the attack at which men or women would be equally skilled. The least effective attack was the most commonly associated with violence, and happened to be the one using the Power associated with men, as well as the method most likely turned to out of violent, toxically masculine, reflexes. The second most effective attack was with Air, the female-associated Power. Furthermore, the women who used it is the one most associated of the trio with diplomacy, peace-making and gentle persuasion (by choice, as hard power has been something with which she is very familiar) and the one who is far and away the most rational and logical in her thought process.

            Jordan’s hierarchy is clear – reflexive violence is inferior to rational decision-making and a holistic approach is the most effective. The most successful character is the emotional female Healer and the least is the one in the midst of a character arc where she is seeking to exert control through violence.

            The three characters went through something similar in the prior book when confronted with captives who had tortured slaves. Egwene lashed out to hurt them, Elayne thought out a rationale for punishing them, but it was ultimately Nynaeve who sentenced them to justice, subjecting them to their own coercive instruments, and the threat of their own servile institution visiting upon them the fate they had dealt to others. She even made the point that she was leaving their ultimate fate up to, well, fate, and as it turned out, because she did not kill them, but exposed their vulnerability to their fellow slaver-masters, they were both motivated and in a position later in the series to help free other women from the same slavery, and more good came out of Nynaeve’s decision.

            This is the pattern of Jordan’s narratives and story morals, so it’s pretty clear what we are supposed to take away from what is really the only place in the story where we see different methods of “magical” fighting contrasted.

      • Twig

        Really? I’ve read the series multiple times and I’ve got to say this smacks of “contempt before investigation” the leaps it takes to extrapolate the source material to you’re preconceived notions aren’t just huge, but require a dismissal of the other half of the source material.

        Most errant & important, you’re presuming that the presentation of flawed problematic people & scenarios are an endorsement of what they are, rather than a socially-realistic scenario based on progressive changes made in reaction to the very history of the world as it plays out. It’s not meant to be a utopia & is never put forward as such.

        I’m not going to go point for point, cuz yeesh, but… Most of the green ajah are married to their warders… Some take multiple husbands.
        It’s only after centuries of conditioning that the entire population hate & fear men who can channel. The red ajah progress to the mentality they got to as well, & even have to adapt when their ajah’s existence is threatened & their chickens come home to roost.

        It’s also fantasy, you’re projecting problematic modern social scenarios onto the books. I have a working theory that fav/hated characters from the series speak to the individual not the book. & your article really further demonstrated my point on a larger scale. Thanks for that.

        The characterization in WoT is so fantastic because everyone has issues & blind spots. Things are the way they are, not because they’re supposed to be, but because of the fucked up process that made them that way.
        Spoilers, but the shadow has infiltrated everywhere and have been guiding the entire course of human events.

        You’re robbing yourself of some great insight into the human condition, with your reactionary pearl clutching.

        • MD

          This comment wins.

  4. Lee

    I feel like you are cherry-picking your cited examples to support your over-exaggerated claims.

    “If you’re a man like me who’s never felt particularly like dominating or controlling anyone, you’ll be a terrible channeler.”

    This is simply not true. There are plenty examples of men who have no desire to dominate and many women who are anything but submissive, wielding their half of the One Power with great success. Dominating and submitting to the One Power means nothing about who you are or what kind of personality you have. It only describes the manner in which you wield the One Power. Additionally, you left out the True Power which is gender neutral.

    “If she’s not as good with earth and fire, why does she keep using them?”

    Because they are effective tools for killing Trollocs and Halfmen… Should Rand never bind someone with air simply because he’s better with earth and fire, despite the fact air is the best tool for immobilizing someone?

    “Unfortunately, this ability is shown to be of little practical use beyond a few major plot points, because…”

    It’s of little practical use because it’s difficult to perform and requires an immense amount of trust in whoever is assuming control of the link, not because the power of each individual doesn’t stack perfectly. It may not be a frequent tactic, but it’s very effective allowing a group of female channelers to perform feats an equal group of men cannot.

    “To be 100% fair, WoT also makes the claim that women are more “deft” or “dexterous” with their power, but after reading nine books, I could never figure out exactly what that meant… Any advantage women are supposed to have does not come across.”

    Some of this happens later than the 9th book, but let’s see…
    1. It was a woman who figured out how to reverse severing. (Nynaeve)
    2. It was a womam who rediscovered a method for creating Ter’angreal. (Elayne)
    3. It was women who were the most adept at creating complex disguises and infiltration. (Mesaana, Moghedien, Lanfear)
    4. The most adept user of compulsion was a woman. (Graendal)
    5. A woman pioneers a completely new weave that can undo balefire. (Egwene)
    5. A woman is ultimately responsible for cleansing Saidin. (Nynaeve)

    “Tying a character’s magical ability directly to their gender in this manner is delivering one message: women are less important than men.”

    This seems like a rather shallow conclusion you are making, not the author. See list of important things done solely by women above.

    “There’s no defense for this double dose of sexism.”

    Sure there is. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses brought to the table by both genders instead of cherry picking individual qualities like “individual strength” and basing your entire view of a character’s worth on that alone.

    “This might sound like the best possible solution to a terrible problem, but no one else in the series, including the author, seems to think so.”

    You conviently leave out the fact that to most channelers, male and female alike, being severed is a fate worse than death.

    You also over generalize the Red Ajah. Yes, many of them mistrust or hate men, but not all. You say the man-hating element is over the top while completely ignore the Green Ajah that in many ways acts as the Red Ajah’s counter balance. Again, you cite only the parts you want to support you claim and ignore the rest.

    “They are also, almost to a woman, unmarried.”

    Except for a pretty sizable portion of the Green Ajah which have multiple warders or elect to marry their warder.

    “Men are almost universally freaked out by Aes Sedai, and not just because the One Power itself is scary.”

    While some characters may say they “can’t handle” powerful women, this is not the primary reason. While Aes Sedai call themselves “Servants of All” their help usually comes with a price… usually one you didn’t see coming. The overwhelming majority of Aes Sedai (especially those involved in politics) are plotters and schemers leading to a general air of mistrust. Most non-channelers are aware of this and avoid them if possible. Hell, even other female channelers avoid them (Wise Ones and Windfinders). Your assumption that men aren’t lining up to court Aes Sedai because the can’t handle powerful women is a little myopic.

    • Fausto

      Thank you!

    • Kitan

      SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS OMG for the ENTIRE SERIES! Read at your own risk.

      It was also a woman who discovered how to Heal madness. That’s something that couldn’t even be done in the Age of Legends, which is seen as the pinnacle of human civilization and of knowledge and use of the One Power.

      People steer clear of Aes Sedai because “every gift from an Aes Sedai has a hook in it” and “the truth an Aes Sedai tells is not the truth you think you hear.” Aes Sedai are literally trained to be manipulative in order to achieve their own ends (and no one truly knows their goals, often not even other Aes Sedai). Both men and women avoid them and rarely seek their aid because they’re so manipulative. I certainly wouldn’t want to marry someone as manipulative as an Aes Sedai.

      And yes, a reason most of them don’t marry is because they’ll outlive their husband by 200-250 years. An Aes Sedai will outlive her children and grandchildren, and maybe even her great-grandchildren.

      There’s a scene where Pevara Sedai looks at length at a group of porcelain dolls she bought a while ago to represent her family because she misses them so much. It’s heartbreaking.

      As an Aes Sedai, I certainly wouldn’t want to marry in a situation like that. In a situation like that, I’d probably only make close friends among fellow Aes Sedai, who will have a lifespan similar to my own.

      As for being submissive or dominant, Cadsuane has, arguably, the strongest personality in the books. She’s domineering, controlling, commanding – and an extremely skilled channeler of saidar, the female half of the One Power you have to guide instead of force. Androl is very submissive, but despite his small ability, he seizes saidin, the male half of the One Power and actually has a very rare Talent with the Power.

      Robert Jordan said once that when he set out to write the Wheel of Time, one of the things he thought was “What would the world look like if women never had to fight for their rights?”

      The books begin with the genders being very separate, but we see them coming together in the last three books. After Tarmon Gai’don, with the sexes fighting together equally now that the Taint is cleansed, we easily foresee a world where gender doesn’t matter, where female and male channelers both reside in the White Tower (refer to Egwene’s vision in tel’aran’rhiod where the rose window is replaced by a window of the Aes Sedai symbol). At the end you see women as Warders, Asha’man who have bonded their wives and bonded other Aes Sedai, Aes Sedai who have bonded other Asha’man. Further, even earlier in the series, if an Aes Sedai burns out the only way to keep her alive is to find her a husband NOW.

      Gender roles are different in the Wheel of Time because the world is radically different than ours, but they come together at the end of the series and they’ll come together more as the Wheel continues to turn.

      • Soma Sedai

        And speaking of dominant v. submissive:

        FAR MADDING anyone?

        The men of Far Madding are very submissive and almost considered second class citizens. Women from Far Madding are very strong, confident, and in control. And as there are several named Aes Sedai from Far Madding (including Cadsuane and Verin!) I think equating the ability to channel saidar with having to have a submissive personality is a flat out lie, or at best a complete misreading of whatever point you get to.

        The One Power is stated to work by Saidin and Saidar pushing against each other yet complimenting each other. This was literally described by Moiraine in the first chapters of the first book, after they’ve fled the Two Rivers.

        In this *fantasy world* much like in the real world, men and women have stereotypical generalized strengths and weaknesses. Some women are stronger than any man physically, but the vast majority are not. In the Age of Legends, the greatest works were done by men and women working together, just like throughout our actual history. Strengths and weaknesses compliment each other. There’s a reason the ancient symbol of Aes Sedai is what it is.

      • Alex

        The books begin with the genders being very separate, but we see them coming together in the last three books.

        Hmmm, I wonder why that might be? It seems possible that it might have something to do with those three books having been written by a different author, who was almost thirty years younger and grew up after second-wave feminism had dramatically altered the landscape American culture. Robert Jordan was born and raised in an era when gender essentialism was so universally accepted as simply “the way things are” that only a tiny fraction of people of his generation ever thought to question it. Furthermore, he was born and raised in South Carolina, was a devout Christian, served in the army and attended college at The Citadel, an all-male, ultraconservative military academy. Given that background, it’s remarkable that his books are as forward-looking as they are in terms of significant roles for women, and totally unremarkable that many aspects of the world-building are nevertheless quite sexist.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          A comment was deleted here for personally insulting another commentor. We’re fine with strong disagreement, but personal attacks are over the line.

        • Josh

          Brandon Sanderson wrote the last three books using Robert Jordan’s rather expansive collection of material he had already written and annotated. Jordan prepared many of those notes when it became apparent that he would not live long enough to see it through to the end. Jordan’s wife, Harriett, was also his editor. She called Brandon Sanderson because she felt that he was capable of writing the books as close to Robert Jordan’s style as closely as could as could be done using them. Robert Jordan was one of his main influences. As such, He kept all of the finished parts in their place. In fact, there are entire sections that he left untouched from the original drafts. Written by Jordan, himself.

        • Marinius

          you also have to remember that RJ wrote down almost the entirety of the plot down on his death bed so that his vision of the book could come to fruition.

          all y’all also seem to forget that almost all the female characters in this are ‘strong’. egwene becomes the youngest ruler of the tower ever. nynaeve is stubborn and makes sure she gets her say and need i mention Faile, Tuon, moiraine and Lanfear?

          all of them strong, very independant women who also are in relationships, with the exception of lanfear of course. the narrative that people don’t marry aes sedai because they’re strong doesn’t fit. alot of men do, usually warders, but the general populace shy away from them because they’re not normal, in the sense thst they can literally rip you from ever having existed.

    • Mar

      THANK YOU for this! I found this book series incredibly empowering for women for many of the reasons you suggested, especially in Egwene’s rise to power and how she’s able to fight with Rand as an equal. The strength in the Wheel of Time series is that everyone STARTS OUT immature (sexism being one of the traits of immaturity), but the characters grow and learn from their elders and play to their own strengths.

      This author obviously never saw the series morph and grow, and deigned to judge the whole by only glancing at a part. Which is an immature way of judging, but is perfectly understandable. He’s right that the first few books are sexist, but that is because the characters in the beginning are immature and ignorant about how the world really works.

      • Sara

        I agree. Strangely I think the most sexist aspect wasn’t mentioned at all here. In that, whenever a female character is introduced, they seem strong, independant, unflappable, mysterious, and intelligent.

        Within a book or 2 they’re reduced to hysteria and irrational rage and illogical logic.

        I don’t think Jordan is overtly sexist. I think he was simply a man that grew up in the 50s and has had these ideas ingrained in his mind. I mean that may be part, it may also be partly that the time period (fictional middle ages) he was trying to portray did have very polarized ideas of men and women. And, overall, he was just not a great writer. Great ideas, but inconsistent and poorly described while also recycling the same ideas too many times (I mean how many times did one of the boys crush a cup?) Sad and disappointing. I think it would have maybe been better if I hadn’t read The Sword of Truth series right before this though. Which shared alot of ideas but had better themes and overall better writting.

        But then again, in Jordan’s book, at least women wear pants. If they do need to preform at least a dozen curtseys with or without a dress.

        • Syrath

          Saying Robert Jordan “isn’t a great writer” is a bit odd. You dont sell 90 million books in a series if you arent exceptional at writing. Certainly RJ wont win any best author in the word awards but he is certain exceptional at writing and world building in the same manner as GRRM.

          • kris

            There are loads of successful authors who have trash technique. Being able to scratch a common itch doesn’t make you a great writer, it just makes you popular for a year or maybe even a few generations. But you don’t hear about Wieland or Pamela anymore for a reason; they were popular, but not good.

            (I’m not commenting on RJ here since I’ve only read the first book. I just wound up here bc I was having serious issues with the female characters and wanted to see if they improved at all.)

    • K

      Thank you

    • TigRaine

      Thank you Lee! You’re exactly right. And to add about Moiraine using fire and earth, it is stated SEVERAL times in the books that while Fire and Earth are typically stronger areas for men and Air and Water are typically stronger for women, that is not always the case. Moiraine is one of those cases, yes, but Egwene is not – she is strongest at earth and fire. It all boils down to what is the general for the genders, then takes individuality into consideration. It’s very accurate as per real life and that anyone can complain about it astounds me.

  5. Rkichard

    Thanks for posting this – I’m half way through The Dragon Reborn and I’m finding the sexism doesn’t make me want to stop reading (because he paints an amazing picture of the world, characters and brilliant events), however it’s pretty frustrating, not because I have a problem with sexism in a book like this but that it’s just BORING!!

    Almost EVERY female character thinks men are all fools.

    I could understand SOME women thinking that way but ALL of them?!?

    I think Robert Jordan’s sexism shows more about the fact that he doesn’t have a good grasp on the complexities of individual characters. It seems as though a lot of the characters are one dimensional – e.g. sexist and head strong

    Thanks again

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      True. There’s real “battle of the sexes” shtick going in much of the books, which doesn’t seem to resonate with any of the other plotting.

      • Nick B

        It’s a fantasy world. They’re not supposed to act like your real-world Mom. They act in ways that make sense in the context of the fantasy universe. And the universe is designed specifically to twist late 20th-century gender expectations in unusual ways.

        For example, reread that first bit of the books. Rand is going to the tavern for a festival with his dad. Along the way they encounter a member of the village council, who gets reamed out for meddling in Women’s Circle business for daring to criticize the Circle’s choice for Wisdom. Then then encounter the Wisdom herself, who turns out to be 25. She cannot tell anyone when they should plant their crops, which is a) probably the most important decision any farming village has to make in a year, b) is not something Western women would have been trusted with traditionally, and c) Cenn seems to be right: it’s a bit heavy for a 25-year-old of any gender.

        Then the peddler arrives. He tells tales of War. Everyone panics. The Village Council springs into action. Nyneave participates in the meeting, because while women apparently have the clout to keep anyone from questioning whether a 25-year-old-girl should really be one of the most important people in the village; the village council lacks the clout to keep said 25-year-old out of it’s only important meeting in literal years.

        In later books additional duties are revealed for the Women’s Circle. They enforce sexual norms by controlling marriage. The Wisdom is in charge of healing, which means they have powers of Quarantine. They also make it their business to hide anything they think of as Women’s business from their menfolk completely.

        After rereading the books dozens of times I’ll be damned if I can name you a single capital-P-Power a Two Rivers Mayor actually has. It mostly seems to be chairing meetings, waiting for everyone to vote, and then asking for volunteers. It’s comparable to being Queen of the UK. Despite the fact Men are firmly banned from Women’s Circle Decisions that affect everyone, women always seem to be intimately involved with any decision that should theoretically fall to the male half of the town.

        Of course, given that magic exists, only women can use it, and Nyneave is a natural, all this is perfectly rational. Of course the women are in charge of healing, they are the only ones who can do it. Of course the 25-year-old says when to plant, her magical powers put her in touch with the atmosphere so she can predict the weather. Of course the Council protects her from Councilor Cenn Buie and puts up with her barging in, she is the only person in the village who can do either important of those things properly and that demands respect.

        Moreover, given that the Aes Sedai are also all female, it’s not at all surprising that women the world over think of themselves as the natural decision-makers. And if you’re the natural decision-making gender, then the other gender must be stupid/weak/etc.

        This is actually what I love about the books. Jordan has taken the human animal, and put us in a very different social and political context. It’s the same reason I read SciFi.

  6. Nick B

    I think you missed the point of the book. The whole magic system is sexist, not because RJ likes sexism (this is a man who married a divorcee with a kid in 1980 in South Carolina, so he’s got more feminist cred then 99% of bloggers), it’s that he’s showing sexism and gender roles are ridiculous in real life. So you get lots of relationship advice to the woman, that’s identical to the advice her male significant other receives, in the very next damn chapter; societies with numerous and varied gender roles and no negative repercussions from having that gender do that thing, etc.

    So he gives people a reason to be sexist. To make the book actually interesting, rather then a long story of men raping women because of course men rape women, he flips the gender role. The women get slightly weaker powers, but don’t go insane and die, so everyone whose anyone not only has a female Aes Sedai they deal with, they also owe her favors, and incidentally she’s probably got about 50 years life-experience and an education from the most exclusive institution in the world to beat them over the head with.

    The Reds are not nearly as bad as you imply. Pevera, for one, is a Red because she wants to do a job, not because she hates men. What you;re picking up on is that most of the point of view characters who comment about the Red Ajah are either Blue or Green, and the Blue/Green alliance does not like Reds.

    As for number four, did we read the same book? There’s an entire Andoran Queendom that is explicitly run on the basis that the Queen’s husband is nobody. In fact most of the action takes place there, and one reason few doubt Rand when he says the country was taken over by the Devil is that the Devil’s man tried to rule as King. The Green Ajah are known to have multiple husbands, the highest-ranking Aes Sedai Egwene actually gets married (sparking a “can Gawyn deal with a wife who is more powerful and smarter then him” subplot), etc. The reason the other Ajahs don’t have husbands seems to be a combination of a) extremely careerist culture (“What, you’re doing something that isn’t logic? Are you ok?” would be the reaction Sarene got from her White Ajah Colleagues if they discovered her love poetry), b) so many other things to do, and c) a deep burning desire to not have kids you will outlive by 100 years. There’s probably some truth to d) men can’t handle us; in the sense that several male characters would rather die then kiss an Aes Sedai, but there’s a difference between “can;t have any husband I want,” and “can’t have a husband at all.”

    BTW, if you encountered a 120-year-old member of a secretive order of magicians whose idea of Tuesday was trying to implement some long-term plan with a time-horizon longer then your natural life, has access to the highest levels of society, and could kill you with a thought if some rule she swears is really really binding didn’t forbid using the Power to kill people, you’d be pretty suspicious too.

  7. Krssven

    It sounds like Jordan was attempting to invert normal gender roles while also letting Western cultural sexism influence everything, probably without even realising it. Some of the worst sexist/misogynist behaviour and attitudes come from people who believe they’re anything but. I’ll leave final judgement until I’ve read the books through, but I have less inclination to do so now.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I suspect Jordan, while well intentioned, was trapped by his notions of gender roles. There are some very good female characters in the books, but the overall setting and cosmology is super sexist.

      • Nick

        Like I said before, exploring gender roles is the point. To the extent epic fantasy is allowed to have a theme beyond “whoa, that shit that was cool,” the theme is exploration of gender roles. And he’s tipped the power-balance in favor of women by driving all male magic-users insane just to see what happens.

        You get benign matriarchy in Andor. You get formally patriarchal Aiel, with a military that’s 11/12 male; but the female Wise Ones have so much influence that it’s hard for anyone to tell they technically have no actual power, and the gender role busting (at least in 90s America) Maidens of the Spear. Tarabon actually has a complicated gender-based Balance of Powers system with a male King and a female Panarch. You get Sea Folk, who let men run the actual buying and selling of good on their ships and not much else; whereas in Arad Doman it’s women who get into the Legislature by becoming big-time merchants, etc.

        That’s the major way he differentiates his societies. Every little country doesn’t get it’s own religion, currency, and language (altho the Illianers get a really strong accent). But everybody has interesting little gender role quirks, and the differences in political systems seem to be based on the local gender roles.

      • Ed

        Oren you completely bungled this. You have zero clues as to what the WoT is about. Is their sexism in the series? Sure. Big deal. Sexism exist and always will however you assumptions of what is sexist in this series is so ludicrous you should seek employment in another field.

      • bdUNN

        Why do you only respond to people who agree with you? Confirmation biased. The above posters ripped everything you said to shreds.

    • Nick

      It’s not just invert. It’s not that everything that we associate with men gets flipped. But women are definitely the gender of people who think “of course when I barge into this meeting about an issue I clearly don’t understand, when I proceed to put in my two cents everyone will thank me for being brilliant.” And he goes through numerous variations on the theme because most cultures in the books have their own unique gender roles.

      So if you can handle bending your mind around gender roles to the point that you don’t go “what the fuck? why is this woman acting like those sexist guys I hate?” you’ll be fine with that bit of the book. Altho it seems to be a problem for a surprising number of people who claim to be absolutely convinced that if you raised girls like they were boys they’d be just as aggressively assholeish.

      The problem is homosexuality. The series was first written back when the first Bush was President, which was years before Clinton got accused of being too pro-gay for implementing “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and signing the Defense of Marriage Act. And the first books in particular really reflect that. Lesbianism is acknowledged to exist, extremely obliquely in most cases (“pillow friend” is the euphemism, the series is never explicit about sex), but is generally considered something a young woman does while in Aes Sedai training, and if she doesn’t grow out of it there’s something wrong with her. Male homosexuality is simply ignored.

      Later books are quite open-minded, but the fact that Jordan’s got a dozen or two main characters floating around, who all had a hetero love interest baked into their story lines by 1993, which will take several hundred pages each to resolve, means that positive depictions of homosexuality tend to consist of people thinking “that guy is great, he’d be perfect for my sister, I wish he was into girls” and leaving it at that.

      • Cannoli

        Since Jordan was more interested in depicting relationships and interactions between men & women, there really isn’t much room for homosexuals in the story. And there doesn’t need to be. That sort of thing is entirely up to the author’s preferences, beliefs or whims. How about the fact that redheads are disproportionately represented among major characters and love interests? How about the fact that the two lightest complected main characters are descended from a person of color? There’s no reason why that kind of disproportionate representation should be a problem, nor should the proportion of straight to gay characters. Not to mention it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth, because inevitably, there will be arguments about the way they are portrayed and how dare a cis straight white man attempt to appropriate the homosexual experience…

        Finally, that idea that in WoT, homosexuality is seen as just a phase is one I am sick of hearing about. That notion was expressed by exactly one character as a personal opinion. Tarna says that in the context of refusing her mentor’s sexual advances once she was promoted (I am unsure whether the connotation is supposed to be that Galina waited until Tarna was promoted to make advances, or that Tarna only felt able to refuse her advances once she had reached equal rank), that such relationships were fine for novices & Accepted but should stop once Aes Sedai. For Tarna, who is heterosexual, that means once she had the freedom to choose her partners, the mature thing to do is stop stringing along lesbians or bisexual women for carnal gratification, and engage in relationships appropriate to one’s sexuality. When she was a novice and an Accepted, she was forbidden male partners, and not in a position to make a permanent commitment, so she wasn’t doing any harm with shallow sexual indulgences with other women, despite not wanting them for a partner. She makes this assessment as a criticism of Elaida doing the same thing, with a former sexual partner from training, who is trying to renew their relationship to spy on Elaida. We are not talking about anything like normal or appropriate sexual relationships here, but rather people using sex for personal manipulation and deception, which Tarna compares to using classmates for sexual relief, instead of honest and genuine relationships. There is no disapproval expressed toward other speculated relationships. When Merean reveals Moiraine & Siuan’s sexual relationship, Cadsuane gives no indication that it was wrong, nor do Saerin & company view the possibility of Seaine & Pevara being lovers as immature or regressive. Shalon & Ailil hide their relationship because Shalon is married and Ailil’s culture is very private, and those who find out take advantage of their own reasons for seeking to hide it, but not out of any censorious position. In fact, they’re surprised that Shalon & Ailil found it necessary to hide.

      • marinius

        i don’t think you can call the absence of homosexuality a problem. the book is so focused around the duality of man and woman that there really isn’t much space for it. also, this was from a man born in 1948, he grew up during 1950-60s. the fact that he didn’t add anything negative about homosexuality is more like a virtue to me.

    • John

      Why are you suggesting to understand the themes and nuance of a book you just admitted to not reading? It’s also telling that the author of this blog doesn’t think that that is an issue.

      • Krssven

        If you’d read the comment properly you wouldn’t have needed to yourself.

        Having read the first book, I have very few issues with how the world is laid out and how the genders are approached. Complaining about it might seem clever, but I don’t see the same complaints about other fantasy novels. Even LotR is sexist if you look at it in terms of today’s gender roles (no female characters have a major impact on the story except one, and she wouldn’t have been there had it been known to the men).

        • Phoenyx

          I’m not certain why ‘no one is complaining about this when it happens in other books’ (by the way, they are) is a suitable defense.

  8. Jaeger

    This article is really strange. It complains about sexist themes from a fantasy novel. You realize it is a fantasy novel right? But let’s play along with your sensitive non-sense.

    1. Magic Comes Bundled With Gender Roles

    Who cares. It’s the author’s choice how magic in his world works. It’s fantasy. You think it’s impossible for Moiraine to play a role and submit to saidar? Also she is stoic and badass but not really dominant per say. She does what she has to do. You obviously think about sexist themes all the time so you see it every where.

    2. 2. Man Magic Is Stronger Than Woman Magic

    I’d say it makes perfect sense. Did you know that the average male’s body is between 3 and 10 times physically stronger than a female human’s body? Also, the women have an advantage men don’t have with the possibility to link. Even the mighty Dragon has to fear women linked. Advantages and disadvantages. I see no sexism here.

    3. 3. Women Are Portrayed as Evil for Doing an Important Job

    The Red Ajah are just one small percentage of female channelers, and they are portrayed as evil for setting up false dragons and deceiving the public, not for doing their jobs, lol. Again, not seeing anything sexist here.

    4. 4. Men Can’t Handle Powerful Women

    I think you are reading too much into this. Most people do not like having to deal with anyone in a position of higher authority than them, regardless of gender. If ANYTHING, I’d say this novel empowers the female quite a bit. You seriously do not understand this novel. Your article makes no sense. All four points are debunked; there is no true sexism in this novel.

    • AGS

      You’re being plainly sexist. Here we go:

      1. I doubt that it was the author’s intention, but if it were as plain as you think it was, then it’d be definitely sexist. For example, I might write a book where characters bash on black people all the time. Would you consider it racist or “just a fantasy”?
      2. Hum, no. Women can train and be stronger than men. Men might make friends easier than women. It all depends on the person. Also, you talk about men being stronger than women, but where is this strength applied? From my personal experience at martial arts, women are more precise and obstinated than men. They know they might be weaker, but they also know where to hit. So, your argument makes no sense.
      3. The old, “I see nothing wrong with powerful women being bashed just because they’re powerful women”.
      4. If what you said was true, then why we never heard women say they don’t like “powerful men”? It’s because society still expects the men to have more power than the woman in relationships and both are punished if it doesn’t happen.

      You debunked nothing. You just proved to be blatantly sexist.

      • Noneyabiz

        Lol that’s just silly. The thing that is sexist about this series are a lot of the female characters themselves, nynaeve especially. Check out what i wrote below if you ever see this.

        Also, on average men’s body’s are stronger. On average, they’re stronger in martial arts as well. That is due to again, their bodies. Fact. Nothing sexist about that.

        • Cay Reet

          However, arguing with a stronger body when it comes to magic, which is a mental power at its core, is a very strange thing, indeed.
          Why is ‘man magic’ stronger? Because the author thinks men should be stronger in this respect as well. Not because there is any logical reason for that.
          I could just as well argue women are stronger in magic, because their menstrual cycle makes them more connected to nature which fuels magic. Bam! Women have stronger magic than men. It’s only the author who decides on how magic works, because it doesn’t exist in our world, so we have no ‘real life’ experience with it.

          And in martial arts, just to rub that in, technique and ability count far higher than pure physical strength. If both fighters have the same level of ability, then the physical strength MAY make a difference, but only in that case.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Editor’s Note: I deleted a comment that was previously here because it violated our comments policy by insulting another commenter. That is not allowed.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Editor’s Note: I have now deleted a second comment. Telling someone they know nothing is still a personal attack and it is not allowed.

        • Phoenyx

          All stories come from people in the ‘real world’, and they are meant to say something. They do not exist in a vacuum. They are not ‘just fantasy’.

          This commentary how the world in the books is not sexist is based on a false notion that the world just somehow exists and the author’s choices don’t play into the equation at all.

          The author chooses their magic system. They made choices. It is one of a myriad of choices. The author’s decision to base the magic system on gender says something that is, indeed, sexist — regardless of what any individual characters do or say in the text. Because the notion plays directly into stereotypes of men and women, which is the very definition of sexism. So yes, it’s sexist whether you see that or not.

          • Dirk

            There are many reasons why you would choose to make your magic system reflect real world realities other than you are unconsciously sexist.

            Namely to comment on those realities. So if you choose to make men stronger magicians (on average) than women. It could be because you’re sexist (and you believe women are inherently weaker than men). Or you know, you could decide to do it because it would allow you to better deliver commentary on the real world where men are physically.stronger (on average) than women.

            And WoT gives a lot of commentary about strength.

    • Katie

      “But it’s fantasy” is a pathetic argument.

      • Krssven

        Not sure why people don’t like this point when it’s made. In a fantasy novel we’re suspending disbelief about magic, monsters, Wizards, witches and a whole host of things that only exist in the story. But switch up conventional gender roles and show an alternate way of gender interaction in this world and you’re being lambasted by today’s post-modern society.

        In these books, the society works in a different way. Had Jordan actually been sexist as it is alleged, he’d have just put more conventional gender roles into his work. There wouldn’t have been any need to subvert anything because in a lot of fantasy, most women are royalty or otherwise not massively involved in the story.

    • Katie

      “I’d say it makes perfect sense. Did you know that the average male’s body is between 3 and 10 times physically stronger than a female human’s body? ”

      But it’s fantasy.

  9. Triaxx2

    For the first point, there are a few things to mention. Tops on the list is the repeated mention that the greatest works were done by men and women working together. Second, while they take control in different ways, nothing stops men from submitting to Saidar and manipulating it, nor does anything stop women from forcing Saidin to their will, aside from requiring a link with a woman/man.

    As for ‘man magic’ being stronger, it always seemed to me that they were mis-estimating various strengths. For example, later on, we see Rand weave a single strand of air around an entire group of enemies, where females would have used multiple strands to do the same. That’s deft and dexterous versus brute force. On the other hand, we meet a Seafolk Windfinder who manipulates massive flows of air, that one of the other powerful channelers admits she couldn’t. Later still, we see Aviendha use fire as her primary method of offense, but when she puts out a fire near the start of one of the later books, she stirs up dirt and diverts a massive water spout out of a river. Egwene is discovered not only to have started a fire to dry herself out in the first book, but later learns to find ores in the ground, and hardens nearly an entire harbor chain into a massive piece of unbreakable metal.

    The Red Ajah aren’t portrayed as evil necessarily. But they’re jerks about it. Men are Gentled, and then either abandoned to the ‘mercy’ of their neighbors, or they’re taken back to the seat of Aes Sedai power and are watched. As they waste away. Aes Sedai who are Stilled are expected to leave and die peacefully on their own, or to find something else to fill the loss. A chance men aren’t given. We later get a look inside the Ajah’s and see that some of them don’t like men. Some of them just find them untrustworthy, or have other reasons. And yes, some of them are lesbians, but so, are a lot of characters if only for a bit. Moraine Siuan for example. Most of them simply break off the relationships as a natural course of events. Even so, Reds are considered snobbish and arrogant even by the standards of the other Ajah. Plus we hear from Logain that they set up false dragons just so they could be knocked down. Whether that’s true or not is never established.

    As for that last one… keep reading. We learn Aiel customs. She comes to him and proposes. He has to fight his way to her and defeat her. We learn Sea Folk customs. Whoever commands in public obeys in private. Mostly it’s the woman who commands in public. Altaran men give their wives Marriage knives to use on them if they displease them. Or Davram Bashere and his wife Deira who scream back and forth at each other. Not to mention Faile and Perrin. He’s spent his life holding back strength to keep from hurting others, and she wants him to use all his strength.

    He’s not arguing against strong women. He’s arguing for equal partnerships.

    • Cannoli

      It IS established, as untrue. Egwene says to Siuan in a later book, “Without your lie about Logain & the Reds…” and Siuan does not challenge the point. The context of the discussion is ABOUT the value of lying. Siuan is plainly ashamed of her ability to lie that no one else knows about and wants to be magically compelled against lying as soon as the means are available. If she had not been lying, she would have made that point to Egwene.

  10. Ronny Nassar

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  11. Noneyabiz

    I only looked at the 4 bullet points you had at the beginning of each section, so I’m not sure if it was included. Did you talk about how a lot of the female main characters, nynaeve especially, are bigots? They’re so sexist it’s despising. Almost every other thought Nynaeve has is something sexist about men. To be honest, I’ve never even seen a male main character in a book act this sexist towards women, unless they were a villian.

    I mean, granted Nynaeve is an immature and terrible person in general, but the sexist attitude she has is over the top. Both egwene and elaine share this trait as well. Feels like it’s almost insulting towards women.. kind of like.. “you always say men are sexist in stories!?!? Well I’ll write a story with sexist women that are MUCH worse!!” Obviously that wasn’t the intention, but it’s so blatant it feels like that was the intent.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I didn’t specifically address that one, although you’re right that it is bizarrely prevalent. It’s part of WoT’s whole “men are this way, women are this way” motif that leads to so many of its other problems.

      • bdUNN

        you make comparisons to the real world which is silly while simultaneously making it sound like you don’t live in the real world.

        why do you only reply to people who agree with you?

        • SanQuin

          I noticed the same trend with the author of this post. He only replies to people who agree with him. I do agree with him on some points about the series but I do feel like this whole post is an over generalisation of the whole idea of the series. Many commenters make valid arguments against this post and I do feel siding with them instead of the author.

  12. Anton

    On the sexism of magic, even if the male chanaler is more weak willed, doesnt mean their a bad chaneler, in fact this is never mentioned. What makes a man a good or bad chaneler is how much saidan they can hold. also good luck killing trolocs with air and water. and just because men are stronger with earth and fire doesnt mean women are particularly weak in them.It really seems that your just looking for an excuse to get triggered. And so what if men are “stronger” on average. Many of the powerful chanelers are female, and are much stronger than the men. Also not being able to circle is a pretty big deal, and if men could circle saidin probably would not have been tainted and possible the dark on would never have broken free. Also you dont get how circles work. If circles sucked that much they would’nt us them. your annalogy sucked, and thats not how they work it would be more like a 30d6 fireball, not 10d6. So i think you were just looking for an excuse to rag on one of most inclusive fanatsy storyies, with some of the mot powerful female characters in the fantasy genre.

  13. Gardenlummox

    I love fantasy and world building and am constantly frustrated by sexist themes and one dimensional female characters (although I believe this to be more generally ignorant sexism than intentional). So when I saw this article about a series I’ve just started (there are not many series you can say that about when your on book three:)) I was more than a little bit disappointed. I was already concerned about the imbalance of powers and the constant stereotyping of each sex by both sexes but was so charmed by the world Robert Jordan created that I was willing to read on and hope that the series would become about the creation of a golden age reborn by a reunification of the sexes after centuries of decay caused by an imbalance in the two sexes. A theme too really get behind bearing in mind what gender segregation has done to our own reality.

    Having read Oren’s piece I was unsure if I wanted to continue reading, what with the length of the series and my abhorrence of any kind of stereotype in particular gender stereotypes. It is one thing to have a few ignorant characters another to have fifteen books of largely ignorant characters and a sexist premise. I also know I’m not always the best judge of sexism being a man raised in a patriarchy! As a kid I loved David Eddings and I think that played no small part in reinforcing patriarchal assumptions in my young brain.

    Too conclude my waffle I think I will finish the series (or at least read on a ways), I am encouraged by the writers who say the books get less sexist (thank you) as the characters mature as this mirrors my own life experience and you have to have wrong in fiction to proof (i.e test) the right. After all a good villain is measured by how much you loathe them, sexism and bigotry in general make for a good villain. The damage to society is done when sexism is portrayed as normal.

    Also I would like too commend a largely civil debate and say thanks to Oren for initiating it. Mythcreants rule!

    • Nick

      It’s not a series that challenges sexism by showing a utopia where sexism is gone. It’s a series that challenges sexism by subtly changing 80s/90s gender norms (he actually conceived of the book in ’84), adding some completely unrealistic blatantly sexist physics (ie: having magic, and divvying it up by gender), and than runs with the result. Which is both vaguely recognizable as late 80s/early 90s gender norms, and completely different.

      It also really demonstrates the limits of the art form. This kind of series is really long, and whole the use of point-of-view characters makes you think you’ve got a good handle on what’s going on Jordan very rarely gives you both sides of a dispute. A lot of the criticisms from feminists on the internet either come from people who didn’t wait for the other penny to drop because the series was too long (Rand’s “harem” looks terrible when you first read about it in 9 but in the next five books he has actually a girlfriend, who lets two of her friends fuck him. they each do it once, when they’re horny, and Rand never has any control over when he gets laid or who does the laying); or because the point-of-view characters you actually get to read are incredibly biased.

      To use one of these examples, the Blue Ajah has been allied with the Green against the Red for literally centuries when the books start. Almost all Aes Sedai and warders who get multiple points-of-view are Blue/Green, and almost all of the rest are strong partisans of Rand and therefore suspicious of the Red.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        It’s not a series that challenges sexism at all. It bakes sexism directly into the physical laws of the world. Rand having a harim is also stupid, but it’s a small side issue compared to man magic litterally being more powerful than woman magic. I’m not sure what your point is about the Blue and Green Ajahs. It’s very clear in the books that the Red are the evil Ajah. WoT is an extremely sexist story, there’s no getting around it. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, but denying that point is just denying reality. I’ve heard it gets better after Brandon Sanderson takes over, but that’s a whole lot of Jordan to get through.

        • Nick

          The entire point of the books is that he made physics sexist, and even most of the sexism based on physics turned out to be stupid. Everybody has radically different gender roles, which are frequently contradictory (ie: sea folk women are military commanders and men trade, whereas the Domani do it the other way around; the fact that both nations seem to do fine at both trading and fighting implies that banning men from military command is just as stupid as banning women from trade), the girls team saves the world just as consistently as the boys team despite “weaker” magic, no Ta’varen status, etc…

          As for the Blue/Green/Red thing, the the PoVs are not the gospel, they are PoVs. The Green Ajah thinks Reds are man-hating psychopaths, so a PoV section from a Green is going to say Reds are man-hating psychopaths. The Blues will put it more delicately because they’re politicians at heart, but that doesn’t mean that they’re objective about their long-term rivals. Most of the rest of the PoVs from people who know what Ajahs are come from people in Rand’s inner circle, and they spend a significant amount of time trying to keep the Reds from getting their hands on him.

          • bdUNN

            He really doesn’t understand the point of this theme of the books.

          • SunlessNick

            Since you’ve clearly read this subthread of comments, are you going to admit that your “Oren only replies to people who agree with him” claim is bullshit?

          • Nick B

            @SunlessNick: I wouldn’t go so far as to say Oren never replies to people who disagree with him, but I’ve made quite a few posts disagreeing with him he responded precisely once. That wasn;t a long post, it only dealt with one of my objections.

            I don’t blame him for that, he does have a life and responding to someone who has read a 12k page series recently when you have not read said 12k page series recently is not trivial.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Since there seems to be some question about when I respond to comments, I thought I’d chime in.

            I generally respond on one of two conditions.

            1. A person has said something friendly and I want to be friendly back. I enjoy compliments as much as the next blogger.

            2. Someone brings something new to the conversation in good faith. This has to be something I genuinely didn’t consider.

            If someone disagrees with me, and my response would simply be to restate what I already laid out in the article, then I don’t bother as it would be a waste of time. I’ve made my argument, I’m confident in it, and people will judge for themselves if I was correct.

            Most of the time, comments that disagree with me fall into latter category.

        • Marinius

          there’s alot here i want to unpack.

          you’re saying that the world of WOT is physically sexist. i kinda get the point but i disagree. lets take saidar for example, nowhere is it stated that anyone has to be submissive to channel saidar. nynaeve, the strongest female channeler in living memory, is also one of the least submissive people in the book. you don’t need to be submissive to be strong in saidar and you don’t need to be dominant to be strong in saidin, as far as i could gather it is a mix of destiny, genetics and randomness.

          rand is one of the few men to have a harem, and yet you don’t scoff at all when the green ajah marry several men. it just seems like polygamy is not taboo in this society. rand has three wives, the cheifs of the aiel do as well, and the green ajah have many husbands.

          the magic system is different between men and women yes, and men are inherently stronger. but women have the ability to link. also women are more dexterous, they can weave great weaves and totally new weaves. Rand, who is the strongest channeler has to be careful not to be caught by the Red ajah since linking is really strong. and you’re painting the picture that any man is stronger than any woman. not true, nynaeve is almost on par with rand in power, but rand is also the prophecised dragon. if you count him out the top of chanelling would be one of three, Lanfear, Nynaeve and Ishamael.

          the red isn’t evil. it’s definetly not good but not evil either. they’re tasked with gentling men with channeling abilites and are thus an adversary to rand because he is literally the strongest male channeler out there. the red works everyday with finding and gentling very dangerous men, then you’re certain to adopt some biases especially if you live in the echo chambers taht are the ajahs. the reds aren’t evil, but they are antagonists, why? because they provide a hinderance for the plot, where rand has to fulfill his destiny and the red wants to control him. not because they’re women.

    • John

      Please don’t stop reading a book because of a random blog written by someone who has a juvenile understanding of the themes presented. There is a lot of material, and they can be forgiven for not understanding, but to go out of their way to smear a book that that don’t understand is suspect. Everyones customs are derived from some ancient custom or event, usually from the Age of Legends or the breaking, that has since been twisted and now is unrecognizable. Writing about a theme is not advocating for a theme.

      • Cay Reet

        But choosing a theme means you see use in it.

        There are many ancient civilisations which might have been pretty sexist (written data on ancient civilisation is usually pretty limited, so it’s hard to say and some new finds contradict things seen as ‘factual’ before), but there also are those in which men and women are equal.

        The author chose how magic works in his world. The author chose how men and women interact with each other and the opposite gender. The author chose how society is structured.
        WoT is not a series of historical novels which deal with real historical settings of our own past. It is a fantasy world. A fantasy world is shaped only by the decisions of the author and nothing else. If the author chooses to incorporate sexist themes to such an extent, there is reason to call them out on it. The same is true for an author writing a novel or series of novels which are sexist towards men.

        If the sexist themes don’t bother you, you are free to read the novels, but they’re still fair game for commenting on, just as the bad writing of other books, which is featured in this blog as well.

        • Nick

          To be feminist a work must by definition challenge sexism. There are two ways to challenge sexism. In one you can create a world without sexism in any form, and show everything working. This is what Star Trek does (except in that stupid finale). The other is to show sexism, and to show that it is both arbitrary (ie: your idea on what women are suited for has more on your cultural traditions than objective reality), and stupid. Generally this is done by taking standard Western gender roles and remixing them in some interesting way to see what happens.

          Wheel of Time, Buffy, and pretty much every single feminist work I have ever seen except Star Trek has some very strong gender roles. They’re generally not the standard gender roles (in Buffy, for example, Xander gets to be hapless sidekick, Giles gets to teacher, Spike gets Spikified; but Buffy gets to be the bad-ass of bad-asses, Willow gets to be powerful enough to be the “Big Bad” in Season 6, and even Cordy ends up with amazing supernatural powers), but they need to be related to western gender roles as a way of commenting on those roles.

          So yes, Jordan sees value in examining gender roles. Since one cannot examine that which does not exist in the universe, he has hella strong gender roles. And the examination is extremely detailed and complex. Every country has it’s own gender roles, all of which are clearly inspired by contemporary gender roles but also highly different. Some of them are enforced by Physics (as Buffy enforces the “all slayers must be pretty teenage girls” by physics), but unlike Buffy even the ones that are enforced by Physics are shown to be stupid wastes of time by the end of the series.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            If Wheel of Time ever challenges sexism, it does so in book 10 or later, which is way too late. At best, Sanderson maybe gets some credit for trying to fix Jordan’s mistakes.

          • Quinte

            I think the argument over whether wheel of time is sexist or not, is more about how you interpret feminism. I may be wrong but the impression I got was that Robert Jordan was writing from feminist perspective given his background and considering wheel of time sexist is similar to considering the American government corrupt and non-democratic.
            I do think it would be more interesting to discuss how our notions of feminism have changed

  14. Nick

    The first book includes a lengthy subplot where Rand is trying to bully his girlfriend into giving up her career as an Aes Sedai so she can be his farm-wife. He is not portrayed positively for trying this. You might be one of those early 20s whipper-snappers who have never had a friend have to deal with this, but I promise you back when the series was written there were a lot of people who considered themselves pro-women’s rights who would have thought Rand had a point.

    In second book half the plot is a scheme by the devil to destroy the world by enslaving a couple of women, the people chosen to carry this scheme out are entirely female, and the girls manage to thwart it without any male help whatsoever. It also includes a reverse of the fairy tale “trapped princess”; trope because Elayne manages to avoid being collared and helps get the collar off of Egwene.

    In almost every book a new country is introduced. All these people speak the same language, and they all have roughly the same religion. Where they tend to differ is in gender roles.Which means each country is a challenge to the sexism of all the other countries, and since al of these sexisms are different from the one we live in every day, it is also a challenge to our sexism.

    • Cannoli

      Rand’s problem with Egwene’s plan was that it was stupid. Nynaeve got the job at <24 because her skills were well-known and established. Anybody coming into a community as an outsider will have to prove herself first. There is no way some village is going to hire a 20 year old they don't know to be the co-leader. What's more, Rand does not want Egwene to just be his farmwife, he's not even sure about the relationship, he's actually disconcerted because he realizes subconsciously that this throws his world out of whack. The whole community has been acting like Rand and Egwene are going to be married. Rand is not even allowed to dance with any girls Egwene does not trust. They are 19 & 17 and considered old enough for marriage, and suddenly Rand is being thrown back into the single pool with most people their age already paired up, with his only option to follow Egwene away from everything he knows, and no prospects for making a living, because she is hungry for power. Rand's expectations in life were to keep living on his father's farm and tend their sheep, because that's how everyone does it. You can't just go to a new town and start farming or grazing your sheep. They'd both have to start over, among strangers, and work their way into positions of trust and try saving up to buy a new farm. Good luck. It is established in the books that a military career is very lucrative compared to farming, but despite rising to the second highest rank in a national military, Tam is no more prosperous than anyone else in the Two Rivers. Probably because he spent all his amassed soldier's earnings buying his farm. Note too, that the Amyrlin sent Tam & Abell home with a great deal of money, but they still are not wealthy. Because they probably needed the money to recover from the hits their farms would have taken in their absence.

      Going along with Egwene's plan is unrealistic for Rand, and for Egwene. Letting Egwene go leaves Rand cut off from any decent prospects for marriage, since all the suitable girls would have picked out other guys once Egwene called dibs on Rand. Egwene is the one who inititated their relationship and had the village recognize her claim and shut Rand off from another choice, and now she's leaving him high and dry.

      And this is not a case of a woman moving to the city to pursue a career she cannot in the sticks, or going to Hollywood or Silicon Valley or New York, because that's where her industry is based. Egwene could stay in the village, treating sick and injured people and helping with the sorts of things a Wisdom's apprentice does. She is not going to Caemlyn or even Baerlon, to expand her horizons, she just wants to move to another small village where she can be the big cheese. Egwene is unwilling to stay in Mayberry where she's Sherriff Taylor's deputy, she only wants to carry a badge in a town where she is the sherriff. She isn't after the job, she's after the power.

      Rand's very mild upset reaction to Egwene's plan is not at all unfounded. He's in an all-but-formally committed relationship, and his partner is making unilateral plans that affect him too, which are not only unrealistic, but founded in selfishness, not self-improvement.

      • Nick

        Egwene can’t stay in the village. She has to go to Tar Valon or there’s an 80% she’ll die screaming like Doral Barran’s first apprentice. She has to go to Tar Valon, and learn to channel properly. Once she’s gotten herself to novice she could probably go back home in theory, but if she does not want to come back home why should she?

        • Cannoli

          And that has nothing to do with the topic, which was Rand’s reaction to Egwene’s plan to leave, and the motivations for Egwene’s plan to leave. Neither of them knows she can channel or the effects thereof, and that does not figure into her plans. If she did know about it, it would still not justify her seeking out a Wisdom job in another village. If Rand had known she could channel, he would have accepted her need to go to Tar Valon. What’s interesting is that the same does not apply to Egwene – she is remarkably unsympathetic to Perrin when the tables are turned. Once Elyas says Perrin can learn to talk to wolves, but Egwene can’t, she wants nothing more to do with him, or his offer to protect them from the Trollocs, insisting that they are going to Tar Valon, no matter what, without even bothering to consult Perrin’s feelings or wishes, as Perrin himself points out in ironic fashion.

          • Nick

            You know the start of the book, where there’s a Trolloc attack in the Two Rivers, and everyone has to flee on the road to Taren’s Ferry to Baerlon? So before they’ve even met Min? That’s when all this is revealed.

            Right after they cross the river Moiraine explains all this. She then tests Egwene for ability to channel, and Rand’s first thought is “She has to fail, she has to.” It’s Chapter 12 of Eye of the World if you care to check. Rand’s reaction is understandable given that he’s a 19-year-old whose entire life-plan has just up-ended, but that does not make him the good guy.

            Egwene’s reaction to Perrin is in a similiar category.

          • Cannoli

            For Rand’s reaction to be comparable to Egwene’s, Rand would have to, right at that moment insist that they are NOT going to stay with Moiraine, but rather they are going to leave for the destination that gratifies HIM. It is well-established at this point that Rand and every one of his friends from the village who is not Egwene do not trust Aes Sedai in general. Moiraine is the only example they have met and they find her behavior highly suspect, without even knowing the worst of what she has done. They are aware she is manipulating them and withholding information. They do not know that the coins she gave them have weaves that are akin to roofies & a GPS tracker, by the description of their effects that Moiraine later gives.

            Rand is not upset by his girlfriend seeking her own path or chasing dreams, he is upset by her joining a disreputable organization that exercises malicious power throughout the world, and the only example of her suddenly chosen profession is shady at best.

            Egwene has no such reason to be down on wolfbrothers, as the one example she has encountered has offered them food, protection & guidance without asking anything in return or trying to make them follow any course of action. Nonetheless, upon hearing that Perrin can learn & she can’t, she insists on not only refusing Elyas’ aid, but wants to take specific pains to camp apart from him and proceed on the course of action that serves her wishes. They really are not comparable at all.

  15. Martin

    At the risk of necroing an old blog post, since you bought up the Red Redding, I was just wondering if you had any plans to do any analyses on the GoT series, or even just the first chapter like you done for some other books. They appear to be pretty popular (or at the least the tv show is), and I’d love to see your take on how gender is handled by G. R. R. Martin or even just his prose/characters in general

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      We probably won’t do a Writing Lesson’s post on GoT’s first chapter, because Martin’s prose is decent but not exceptional, and we really need it to be very good or very bad to make the post interesting.

      We talk about GoT sometimes, but for some reason it’s never been a major focus. Mostly because it’s been such a long time since any of us read it. Although considering all the problems book 5 had, that might be worth a post or two.

      • Martin

        Thanks so much for the quick reply.nJust want to say I’m a big fan of your work and it’s definitely got me thinking of a lot areas where I need to improve in my writing. I feel like I’m at that same level where my prose is decent for the most part, but I definitely need to work on showing more than telling and fall into the heavy use of unnessecary adverbs as well. I guess, I’m stuck at what separates adequate prose from truly great prose?
        Another question that’s been on my mind is how nessecary is great prose to telling a great story?

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          No problem Martin, really glad you’re enjoying the site. I can’t say for sure what separates adequate prose from great prose, but Chris has a number of great articles on the subject.

          If you haven’t read it already, I’d recommend this one as a starting point: https://mythcreants.com/blog/seven-rules-of-effective-prose/

          You can also click on “Wordcraft” under “Writing” on the top left of the site.

          As to the question of if a great story needs great prose: prose is a quality just like plot, characters, and setting. Ideally, your story will be great at all of them, but in the real world no story is perfect.

          George RR Martin, for example, has okay prose, but his plot and setting are very strong, so he’s still successful. The Southern Reach has incredibly strong prose, which covers for the story when it’s plot stumbles sometimes.

  16. Ajay

    Love that I’m not the only fan defensive about this poorly reasoned hatred of a wonderful series.

    A lot has been covered thoroughly so I’ll just stick to a few things instead of going after everything wrong.

    There are men who would marry Aes Sedai, sometimes they become Warders and sometimes they actually do get married.
    A large part of the hesitancy on the part of men ISN’T because they are powerful women like the heads of state, it’s because in a large amount of the world MAGIC is distrusted and feared. Forgo the romance aspect and just focus on the power. How many people would be eager to make friends with someone who has vast not understood powers that also happen to allow them the ability to squash you like a bug LITERALLY? It’s common enough for people in our world to be intimidated by people who look physically large and strong and​ potentially capable of hurting us by intent or accident. How much more intimidated would the casual person be by a power so great that a group of people with that power destroyed a world?
    It’s like trying to buddy up to a Kryptonian.
    Now add in the romance aspect and logical outcomes.
    1) the ageless poker face thing they keep up so much of the time is hard to handle.
    2) they possess an education FAR beyond what the average person has. Extremely intimidating.
    3) there’s an understanding that Aes Sedai live in the White Tower or they travel around on missions the average person wouldn’t even understand. To marry one means either you follow them on the road, you move to the White Tower and leave your friends and family behind, or you stay there and they drop in occasionally.

    So you have an extremely intimidating person, hard to understand, unlikely to have any kind of normal/expected marriage, and probably isn’t going to be around long enough for you to get to know anyway.
    Not counting the legends and fact that they’ll outlive you by several lifetimes.
    How many people would be able to handle that or see it as reasonable to try? Just from the perspective of a potential suitor.
    And if you notice I dropped gender designation and it’s unnerving regardless.

    And as for the Red Ajah. It’s explained in the books. They spend a lifetime of centuries hunting down dangerous men. They CAN’T detect Saidin directly. Which means every time they go out to do their job Every Single Male They See is potentially their target. Every one is a possible man shaped disaster slipping into madness.
    How can you expect them all to go through decades of that and it not have any influence on how they view men in general?
    The lesbian thing? The White Tower has a decent number of lesbians and bisexuals in it. It’s common enough that in one book a few Aes Sedai find it strange that a woman they caught having a relationship was embarrassed by it.

    Plus you’re talking about a 3000 year history of women trying to convince novices to join their faction when the chance comes. A woman who has become suspicious of men in general through 200 years of experience is going to look at candidates who won’t have trouble being suspicious of men. Hell, encouraging a candidate who sees them all as innocent or is fond of them could even end up with them ignoring a sign of danger and getting killed.
    Naturally you’re going to get a fair amount of women who just plain dislike men being in that group.
    It’s not the only one who has members like that, and not all it’s members hate men, but 3000 years will build up a culture.

    • Cay Reet

      Yet all of this is built directly into the books which make a deep divide (which you have explained here very well) between the sexes and show powerful women as someone no man wants to be close to. It was also the author’s choice to make men more powerful on the whole, even though magic is not a power anchored in physical strength (which would at least make it more logical).
      The point is that the whole WoT world is built on sexist premises and not, at least while the original author was writing it, to challenge sexism. It was just left there for everyone to look at and approve of.

  17. Zack

    Thank you for writing this. I had a similar experience with WoT. The series was recommended to me by a friend and while I enjoyed it for a time, the blatant sexist vibes I was getting turned me off. The distinctions between the sexes constantly drawn in narrative, let alone the gender role enforced magic system, felt uncomfortable and unnecessary. After reading your article it practically confirms what I was feeling. WoT has sexism baked into its premise, narrative, and physics. For all the talk of harmony and balance between the two forces early on, there really isn’t. However, I do applaud the series for portraying powerful women actually doing important things and being integral to the plot.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Glad you enjoyed the article Zack. I had much the same experience as you. Some of the individual characters are quite good, but the overarching rules of the setting have serious problems.

  18. Jai

    I think you’ve reached the point where you started looking for issues to dislike it. Whether you like it or not, Robert Jordan gave a very real world outlook of men and woman (normal gender roles adapted to that unique fantasy situation)

    Either you’re jobless or you’re a complainer. According to you, Jordans worldbuiding seems to be the problem. I personally think you’re focusing too much on being politically correct while he’s given a more realistic view of how things would turn out in that scenario. Reality is harsh and people avoid it naturally, without even trying. Most people today think reality is different because of all the books and movies they see but thats how things work. People are harsh and they aren’t perfect. He depicted that really well

  19. Michael

    The people who defend these themes never seem to get one simple fact: Jordan chose them. He isn’t simply documenting things in the world. So far as that world is concerned, he’s God. Their creation was his choice. Now, you may dispute that it’s a bad thing, but these were things he put in.

    I share the dislike of the innate gender divide he gave the world. Moreover, this isn’t just a matter of the magic. What really came to annoy me was the personal interactions between many male and female characters. After a while, their constant refrain of “What do women want?” and “Men are all idiots who need to be led” becomes incredibly tedious.

    That said, there are good aspects. I find the world building quite laudable, along with the intrigue which the plot shows. Unfortunately it’s not only the sexist themes, but that it was so lengthy and slow which deters me. I don’t know whether I’ll finish the series. Eventually perhaps.

    • Nick

      It’s very interesting the reaction of some feminists to the sexism in the series. Nobody points out that all the governments he depicts are hereditary, which is his choice; because it’s well known that an artist working in fantasy will have more Kings than Prime Ministers.

      As I’ve said before, the sexism in the books is the artistic point of the books. He trying to recreate Western gender roles of his generation, and twist them, to show the absurdity of the gender roles. And in the environment he grew up with a paternalistic attitude by men towards woman was extremely common. If you want a fantasy world which challenges sexism by making all the women Uhura it’s not gonna be fun for you, if you want one which challenges it by showing multiple different kinds and proving they’re all equally ridiculous you’ll like the books.

      BTW, generally the “what do women want?” sections are actually “what does this woman want” sections, which are frequently followed immediately by a PoV from the woman in question in which she is asking the same thing. Since almost al the characters are in their late teens/early 20s it would be kinda weird if they knew how to in a romantic relationship.

      If there’s no female PoV it’s generally smart to take a second and replay that section from her point of view. When you do that it’s obvious that certain male characters (Perrin mostly) have problems with women because those male characters are total dimwits.

      And, yeah, the books really drag in the middle. With 12k pages there’s a lot of middle. But it gets better, starting with 9, and even more after Sanderson took over with 12.

      • Michael

        I’m not sure what the prevelance of hereditary monarchies has to do with anything. That’s kind of par for the course in most fantasy, and not related directly to sexism. I for one would like to see more republics and diverse forms of government however.

        Did he say that, or is this your interpretation? If that was the case, I don’t think it worked too well. Maybe it would be make more of an impression on people who didn’t already think gender roles of his generation were ridiculous (such as me, since I’m from a younger generation).

        Well from what I recall, the comments were more general, i.e. “I’ll never understand women”. Usually this was spurred by some interaction with Egwene, Elaine and Nynaeve, to be sure. That was more of a minor complaint, which is that it got old real fast for me. More of a personal taste thing.

        They all came off as dimwits in regards to women from what I recall (therefore the “What do women want?” stuff).

        I have only read through Lord of Chaos so far. They’ve got their merits, or I wouldn’t have kept reading that long, but the length is daunting.

        • Nick

          It’s just an interesting contrast. The dude makes the artistic choice to create a fantasy novel that examines sexism by contrasting multiple different kinds of sexism, and a lot of feminists default response is to cal it problematic.

          He hasn’t actually said this about the theme explicitly, but his attitude towards everything was ‘read and find out.’ he said that so much that it got an abbreviation: RAFO. So you’re supposed to do some thinking.

          If you read the books through there’re a lot of different nations, which all speak the same language, all have pretty much the same religion, the Western ones al seem to have near-identical political systems and material cultures. Everything that differs is either trivial stuff like clothes, or involves gender roles. Tarabon has two rulers, one of whom is a “Panarch” and is female. Andor has a hereditary monarch, but she must be female, and the male role is basically “Queen’s favorite brother”. Domani women get high in politics by being effective merchants, they perfect the sexpot thing because they want to screw foreign (and mostly male) merchants at the negotiating table. Domani men get high in politics by fighting. The Sea Folk do it the other way around. Except you’d better pray your spouse doesn’t screw up, because you get promoted as a couple. Mat getting raped by Tylin (happens in the very next book, BTW) would only happen that way in Ebou Dar because that’s the only place the genders work like that.

          As for their dimwittery, it is fucking annoying. One of the things that keeps me sane when both genders are being clueless about their SOs is “these people are 19, these people are 19, these people are 19,” because all three boys are 19 in Book 1. Faile turns out to be much younger, Egwene and Elayne closer to 17 or so, and Nyneave’s 24-25ish makes her the old lady.

          The length is the big problem with the books. People read enough to get frustrated, but they don’t read enough to RAFO. For example, by my calculations you have 6,495 pages left. That’s not a weekend.

          • Michael

            So you don’t know whether that’s what he intended with it? If so, it sure is unclear to many people.

            Honestly, that was a minor quibble that I also had with the books-an odd lack of diversity in some areas, i.e. the same language, religion, etc. It contrasts strangely with the cultural differences in others. One time I remember reading a Q&A where Jordan defended at least the language bit by saying they wouldn’t have evolved too much in the time span. I don’t think that’s true. Then again, this is a problem with basically all fantasy. I don’t want to pick on him too much with that.

            The religion thing also. He said there’s really no ritual as they all know it’s real, so there isn’t a need. Yet the people in our world that believe their religion to be true still go for ritual-including him, as I understand it. I just thought that was somewhat odd. Again though, common with fantasy, despite the setting in a quasi-medieval world most times.

            True, it’s easy to forget they are still teenagers and don’t age much, given you don’t know how much time has passed in the books very clearly.

            I will probably finish them eventually. There’s no rush, thankfully. It just takes some time.

        • Nick

          He’s never made it explicit, but you read he books and pretty much the only non-cosmetic differences between the main continent cultures have to do with gender, the magic is gender-based, etc.

          It’s hard to think of what else he was doing with the books. A lot of things with those books only become clear if you read them. Rand’s harem, for example, sounds like a teenage boys fantasy when you first hear about it, but if you read the books all the way through basically what’s happened is his long-term girlfriend has given him permission to sleep with her two friends when they feel like it. They feel like it once each. And then the books end.

          Otherwise it is very conventional 80s/90s fantasy. The language thing is just not justified — yeah Artur Hawkwing conquered all these people, but how did he force them all to speak the same language? But it’s standard fantasy.

          Fans have actually made some quite detailed timelines:
          http://www.encyclopaedia-wot.org/history/timeline.html
          The whole series takes two years, Rand and the Boys start at roughly 19 and a half. Egwene and Elayne are 17ish.

          • Michael

            I certainly knew the gender stuff is a very major theme, just not whether he meant to show up stereotypes.

            I haven’t gotten into the “Rand harem” stuff yet, and by what you’ve said that doesn’t even really seem like a good name for it. More polyamory.

            Yeah, like I said, that’s a standard fantasy, sci-fi issue. The language thing is just not something they want to really deal with. I think it would be interesting, even aside from realism.

            One thing which he did that I liked is all the different calendars. That was confusing, though accurate to history in the complexity. How exactly do they determine how much time passes in the books?

          • Nick`

            The way it happens at first it feels like he’s about to make every 13-year-old boys dream come true: a redhead, a blonde, AND a brunette who are extremely hot and so into the idea they force it on you. There’s actually some women who stop reading at that point because they think they know where it’s going.

            The redhead bangs him out that night, gets pregnant, and proceed to spend the rest of the books doing important shit like uniting Andor against the devil. She simply has no time for her boy-toy, even if he’s the Dragon Reborn. The blonde decides that it would be inappropriate for an apprentice to sleep with the Car’a’carn, so she focuses on her studies. She doesn’t figure out the trick to becoming a Wise Woman until the end of the last book, so there’s no sex there until the Last Battle has already started.

            But if you go “oh shit this is going to be horrible” and jet in Book 7 you won’t know that happens.

            That whole harem story is one of the reasons I say the point of the books is juggle with your gender expectations and see what happens. There’s not much reason to include it except to mind-fuck you, by showing you that (contrary to your teenage expectations) your sex partners have minds of their own.

  20. Sara

    You know I recently read that Jordan’s model for ALL his female characters was his wife. And I think that alone explains a lot of the female sided sexism in the novels. Not to mention their near identical viewpoints and opinions and mannerisms.

    It’s NEVER good to form multiple characters off of the general character of a single person. I think, most likely, the male MCs were modeled after himself or his father. I think that’s precisely why alot of the ideas from one character carry over to another even though they all argue and seem to hate each other half the time.

    That combined with the fact that HIS WIFE was his editor means that his editor probably wouldn’t want to tell him it’s not wise to do this in the long run but also that the editor may not have even noticed. People have a hard time recognizing these things, especially when they’re not an experienced professional.

    And, like I said earlier, RJ was a man that grew up in the 50s. During that time there was an insane amount of social propaganda stating all the ways men and women were fundamentally different. Obviously he broke away from some of this, in his writing at least, but I feel like the overall idea (that men are women are simply different and will never agree or understand each other) largely influenced his themes between characters.

    Honestly the severely stunted character development is what turned me off on the books and I believe it could have made up for the dull lingering drawl of the books that came in the middle. I however have read the entire series. Including the prequel.

  21. David Bowles

    After reading about his background more, I’ve concluded Jordan was a hack author and a sexist know-nothing. This article is spot-on, and doesn’t even bring up the TERRIBLE character Nyneave. I should have stopped reading after Book 7, like my smart friends.

  22. Kaz

    Whats bothers me the most is the reccurent underlying implication that women should not be given any position of power. In this series where at a first glance women hold all the power, yet are so obivously and frustratingly incompetent that you just want to ring their ears. From the ignorant and overly confident aes sedai especially egwene, to the wise women and the sea folk, it drove me mad. That whole series could have been written in 6 books if the men character were the one making the decisions. And the fact that this is the feeling one gets after reading it, makes it worse than sexist; it makes you sexist against your will.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s a really good point. WoT is all about making women seem irresponsible and untrustworthy.

    • Nick

      This Egwene-hate really reminds me of Hillary-hate. The woman does nothing less then reunite the Tower in time for the Last Battle. Then she dies fighting the devil. And all anyone can talk about is how unlikeable she was.

      Same with the Sea Folk. Yes they’re mean to some characters who actually perform femininity in a way that is considered acceptable in the earl 21st century. But that’s not because they’re horrible leaders. They’re great leaders. They get the very very best deal possible and then force the Aes Sedai to stick to it. This is exactly what you’d expect a bunch of male Merchant Princes to do. But a woman who acts as mercenary as Han Solo isn’t a lovable rogue, she’s a harridan.

      As for the rest, in a book where the world is about to end unless he hero can fulfill the prophecy, the current leadership always sucks. If it did not suck you wouldn’t need the Messiah-character. The High Lords are horrible people. The Sean’chen and their opponents in the East have, at best, chosen a terrible time to start killing each-other. The Andorran leadership is actually moral, but everyone still insists on fighting a ridiculous Civil War while Rand is trying to marshall forces for TG.

      • Casey Boudoin

        Really only responding to the Egwene part. Her achievements aren’t really a part of the hate, as far as i’m concerned. It’s her personality. She’s an ass, a major one. Like Nyneave in the beginning is almost as bad and gets called out once by Rand and that’s it. Like right before the Last Battle she has a huge pointless pissing contest with Rand about breaking the seal. And every part of its stupid.

        1. The seal is already breaking so not breaking it insn’t an option
        2. She claims that she has authority over it when Rand actually has the seal. He only told her to be nice.
        3. She tries to get the other nations to support her when she knows that everyone needs to be aligned right now.
        4. Was willing to manipulate Rand because she thought he was going crazy. (personality issue not a logic one)
        5. Claims that she will fight him which is idiotic because he’s stronger than nearly all of the White Tower combined and would be really stupid because infighting causes more problems
        6. Doesn’t actually have an alternative plan other than do what happened last time even though it won’t work and no one knows how to do it
        7. When she was called out by Rand wanting to have Saidin be tainted again so that Aes Sedai wouldn’t have any competition on the magic front she doesn’t deny it and only calls him a name.

        This leader made at least 6 stupid decisions on the precipice of the final battle that could have destroyed everything. And also ignored a giant peace treaty so she could argue the one thing she was prepared for instead.

        Honestly, besides reuniting a tower, she’s a moron who got like half of Mat’s luck in this series.

        • Nick

          Don’t know how I missed this comment, but I did. So a slightly belated reply.

          Egwene in this case was caught by surprise by Rand. Generally in politics if you want other power-brokers to go along with what you want you have tell them before-hand. They do not like surprises. More importantly there’s an old saying “where you stand depends on where you sit.” Egwene’s job is literally “Watcher of the Seals,” her powerbase is a bunch of hyper-conservative, 150-year-old super-women who won’t respect someone who gives in to a 20-year-old boy.

          So he shows up, surprises her by telling her her job is about to ended, humiliates her in front of a bunch of people she needs to respect her? And then it’s 100% her fault that she fights him on the issue? Not really. Not even close.

          In fact that seems to have been part of his plan. She (and the rest of the Tower) has to convince a bunch of people to go along with her not-seal-breaking plan or they’ll lose, which means she has to tell them what’s going on and get them to the Fields of Merrilor, which means that he doesn’t have to show up in every nobleman’s Manor House with a long sales pitch. Some Sister will do it for him. And once everyone is within Ta’varen range they’ll end up doing what the pattern needs, which means that he’ll get his way on the Seals. Or he won’t, which will mean he was wrong about the Seals.

          Keep in mind the entire situation. Egwene starts with a Tower that’s obsessed with internal politics and controlling the Dragon. Her lot want to depose Elaida, and think Siuan and Moiraine gave Rand to much freedom. Elaida’s lot pretty much want to collar Rand and imprison the first Egwene lot. Her convincing everyone to stop fighting each-other, and support Rand, is kinda a big deal.

          I do agree that she’s got ridiculous luck in some situations. Her being picked as the new Amyrlin is some Ta’varen stuff, her later exploits as a prisoner of Elaida are even more Ta’va’enish.

          • Cannoli

            Except Egwene does NOT convince everyone “to stop fighting each other and support Rand.” Egwene is the single individual most committed to fighting “each other”. When she comes to Salidar, she immediately starts asking why they aren’t marching to war already and upon being told that there is very little enthusiasm for fighting their sisters, begins scheming up ways to trick her followers into getting into a war. First she manufactures a phantom menace to convince them to move away from the area, and in the direction of the enemy, then she takes advantage of her friends’ desire to help her, by using their army to scare more recruits to her forces, then she engineers a conflict with a nation on the path of her march to create a pretext to have the legislature declare war without knowing the declaration gives her dictatorial powers. Then she orders them to Travel with the Power directly to the city and begin besieging it, and she comes up with a plan that will blockade the harbors to further enhance their siege, without regard to what that will do to the ordinary people of the city. Egwene is the worst war-monger in the books! And the whole time she held power, she did not do one thing with regard to the world at large. She never sent ambassadors or tried to make alliances with other nations. She didn’t do anything to alleviate any of the actual crises that did not involve the rankings of power among the elite of the world’s 1%. The one piece of good for the world done by her side, her friends’ finding and using the Bowl of the Winds to alleviate diabolically-imposed global warming, received condemnation and rebukes from her because it might endanger her political position! She prioritized her power & status over the world enduring a drought and summer heat in the middle of winter.

            When it comes to the question of calling quits on the civil war, with the Last Battle looming, Egwene specifically, in her stream of consciousness, where there is no reason to lie, says that she won’t give way to Elaida, because Elaida will punish the people who publically slandered her and took up arms in rebellion against her authority. Remember, the authority of the Amyrlin is such that Egwene can punish women sixteen times her age for being sarcastic to her. Egwene can punish sarcasm, but Elaida wanting to punish slander and armed rebellion (a capital offense everywhere, throughout human history) means Egwene cannot possibly give way to her. Even if it means carrying on yet another pointless, internecine conflict while supernatural Evil gathers its strength to destroy the world.

            Rand did not humiliate Egwene, unless you think she is entitled to groveling. When you consider all of her behavior toward him, through his entire career as a leader and ruler, he was far nicer than she deserved. All he did was (rightly) refuse to submit to her authority, when she has no claim to authority over him. It’s only Egwene’s ego and insecurities that make her think he’s doing anything wrong.

            If Rand and all those other rulers need someone to stand up to them and tell them when they are wrong, how much more does Egwene? Whom does she have for that? The most powerful Sitters can be punished for questioning her military experience, and she holds her Warder to an unprecedented standard of servility and deference. Even in private meetings with her oldest friends, she still makes them kiss her ring and even makes that groveling a condition of friendship, suggesting that Nynaeve treating her like a friend is somehow an insult, because it means Nynaeve is refusing the submission she would give another Amyrlin!

            When did Egwene ever show Rand the respect due the Dragon Reborn? All she did was ridicule his authority or responsibilities and talk down about him to his followers. When he orders the Aiel not to commit atrocities, Egwene tells Sorilea, “Don’t worry, I’m sure he can be made to see reason.” Even if his ego MIGHT get out of control, really, any decent person’s priority at that moment should be supporting the anti-war-crime policy.

            Where Egwene is always mentally affirming that she has outgrown the Two Rivers, that she has moved past being the innkeeper’s daughter, she is scoffing at Rand saying he is busy, because of his duties as ruler of Tear, thinking “he was a shepherd, not a king”. When Rand is the Dragon Reborn, chief of chiefs of the Aiel and acclaimed ruler of two nations, when Mat is a military commander who has achieved unprecedented success against Aiel, Egwene refuses to think of them as anything other than farmboys from back home, denying them the credit for their achievements or respect of their positions. But when she is given a position within an organization they dislike and whose authority they have never acknowledged, she is put out that they aren’t dancing at her whims, like the Pope being furious that Jewish classmates at his high school reunion are not kneeling to him.

          • Nick

            If Egwene does not get the Tower moving against Elaida, it will unite behind Elaida. That’s why she focuses on her war with Elaida, and given that Elaida would enslave Rand her keeping that war active was kinda good.

            If Egwene takes a level of lip from Rand that Siuan would not have taken from the King of Illian, her Aes Sedai support base will rebel against her and start drifting towards Elaida. Thus if Rand wanted her to support his policies Rand would have needed to grovel.

            You don’t have to like her personally to acknowledge that if anyone else had been rebel Amyrlin Rand would have been totally fucked.

          • Cannoli

            “If Egwene does not get the Tower moving against Elaida, it will unite behind Elaida. That’s why she focuses on her war with Elaida, and given that Elaida would enslave Rand her keeping that war active was kinda good.”

            Except Egwene herself says that is not her motivation or priority. She SAYS that she would be willing to have the Tower unite under Elaida, and the only reason she does not accept this scenario is that Elaida will harshly punish the rebels. She makes absolutely no caveats about how Elaida is going to treat Rand. Sometimes she brings that up when discussing Elaida with people who support Rand, but Egwene’s priority is power. She started out wary of Elaida because Elaida was hostile to her when she was in training, and then deposed her patron, and her friends DID believe that about Elaida and weren’t having anything to do with her side.

            Egwene’s helpful to Rand with regard to the Tower, in the way that the Forsakens’ scheming is helpful to Rand by keeping the forces of the Shadow diverted. That’s not why they are doing it and Rand doesn’t owe them anything for it.

            “If Egwene takes a level of lip from Rand that Siuan would not have taken from the King of Illian, her Aes Sedai support base will rebel against her and start drifting towards Elaida.”

            How are they going to do that when they have no idea where she is, and if they did find out, she’s a collared damane? Also, Rand is not just the King of Illian, he is the Dragon Reborn, and he is far more powerful than any King of Illian. He might even have more resources than Artur Hawkwing did, and he had the Tower under siege. The Aes Sedai are pragmatists if you are strong enough to defy them. They might scheme to punish you later on, but they’ll roll with it as long as they have to.

            “Thus if Rand wanted her to support his policies Rand would have needed to grovel.”

            Except he didn’t, he just used reverse psychology, because from the beginning of the series to the end, Rand has always been able to predict her reactions and read her intentions.

            “You don’t have to like her personally to acknowledge that if anyone else had been rebel Amyrlin Rand would have been totally fucked.”

            How can you claim this, when absolutely nothing Rand did or required, had anything to do with the identity of the rebel Amyrlin. Rather, had the rebels named anyone but Egwene, Rand would not have done them as many favors as he did. The way that Egwene in particular helped, was indirectly and through the Pattern putting her in a place where her personality and motivations would do what was necessary. In the case of the Tower, it was necessary that the Tower be broken and its attention divided, so it would be unable to interfere with Rand. But since every Aes Sedai passes a test where you prove your loyalty to the Tower or die, eventually, they would have ended the split and gone home. What Egwene brought to the game was an ego out of proportion to her abilities or accomplishments, an ambition that dominated all other agendas or interests and a total refusal to submit to anyone else’s authority unless she has no other choice.
            That last even explains why she picked Rand out of all the boys in the village for a future husband – because he lived on a farm with no other women. Once she married Rand, she would be the mistress of their household, instead of one of many junior woman in the typical Two Rivers family. That’s also why she wants to move away to be Wisdom in a different village, rather than work with Nynaeve – she won’t do a job under someone else’s authority. As apprentice to Nynaeve, even if it lasted her whole life, she could still do the work, still care for her sick neighbors and serve the community, but, Rand realizes the minute he is told about her apprenticeship, Egwene will never tolerate being subordinate any longer than she has to.

            So the Pattern put this power-hungry megalomaniac, who is willing to lie, cheat and blackmail to get her way, into a position opposing the Amyrlin Seat, which means that as long as Egwene has any agency at all, she is going to be resisting the reunification of the Tower under any rule but her own. Rand needed the Tower to be split to keep them from interfering with his saving the world, and the best way to do that was to make Egwene think she has a chance at supreme leadership as long as she keeps up the fight and escalates a general strike to a full-blown war.

          • Nick

            “Favors”? Rand did the rebels “favors”? Rand talked to them, but he also talked to Elaida. Even after Elaida’s embassy kidnapped him he didn’t declare in their favor.

            If anyone had been rebel Amyrlin except Egwene all the sisters would have drifted back to the Tower, the only people punished would have been Egwene, the Blues, and the leaders of the rebel hall. That’s why Siuan put the idea in their heads. You would have gotten more kidnapping attempts, the Tower would have more credibility with the nobility because there only would have been one, etc.

            And yes, from the point of view of the Amyrlin seat she is entitled to groveling. She’s a Pope analogue and you’re supposed to kiss the ring. Rand is at best an equal. If she admits he’s an equal she gets weakened in the eyes of the Tower because Romanada Sedai isn’t going to admit he’s an equal. Neither is Lelaine.

  23. Carolina

    And you manage to read nine books of this?!! Why?! So many good books in world.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      There’s no accounting for the tastes of youth! But seriously, sexism didn’t always bother me as much as it does now, and epic fantasy scratches an itch that’s hard to get at any other way.

    • Nick

      Keep in mind this is a pretty one-sided report. Book one, for example, includes a fairly lengthy subplot where Rand tries to convince his girlfriend to give up her dreams of magic-use and go home to be a farm-wife. Rand comes off as a whiny little fuck despite being the hero of the entire damn series. Given that in 1990 one of the biggest feminist complaints was that everyone wanted their careers to take second place to their husband’s careers, and it’s still a problem for many women today, Oren giving the books zero feminism points seems rather stupid.

      Oren only read 2/3 the series, he read it roughly 15 years ago, and he refuses to respond to anyone who actually remembers what the books say, you probably should not take his word on any of this as gospel.

      All his points are somewhat silly, but given that subplot in Book 1 his point 4 strikes me as particularly silly. Men not wanting powerful women is part of it, but so is the fact that a) Aes Sedai are career-driven and toddlers get in the way, b) AS live centuries so they’ll outlive the kids, c) the heroines all end up married to equals (and one gets pregnant, but the books end before she gives birth), etc. it’s just stupid to seriously argue that books promote the idea that men should fear marrying powerful women.

      I could go on about that, but whenever you point out to Oren that the books he remembers are not the actual books he doesn’t look into it and tell you whether he still disagrees with you, he just ignores you.

  24. Saumya Kulp

    Are there any non binary people in W.O.T? I feel the gendered system would be great for exploring that. Great article.

    • Cay Reet

      That’s actually a pretty interesting idea. Would a non-binary person be able to do all kinds of magic or no magic at all? Would they be able to choose what kind of magic they can do?

      That would actually be a reason for me to make such a strictly-gendered system – so you can explore what it does in such a case.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      As far as I know there are no non-binary characters in WoT. I’ve been told that in the later books (I only got through book 9) there’s a character who can be read as trans through the right lens, but the execution is super messy.

      However, even if someone were to use a system like WoT to validate a non-binary or trans character, I would still say it’s a bad idea because it’s still telling women (cis and trans both) that they’re behavior and abilities are directly limited by their gender.

      • Cay Reet

        You could read it like that … or you could show that the system actually doesn’t work like everyone thought, because a non-binary character can choose what magic to do. Women were only trained in specific parts of magic, as were men, but the truth is both could do all – and the non-binary character proves that.

        • Nick

          I can’t think of anyone whose really non-binary. There are people who are sorta-Trans:
          They’re servants of the Dark One who died. Since the Dark One controls the souls of the dead he can bring people back, but only if he’s managed to steal a living human body. A couple of them end up in bodies of the “wrong” gender, but still ue their original gender magic.

  25. Casey Boudoin

    My main issue with the series as im in the middle of reading it is just the amount of aggravating and unnecessary annoyance most of the female cast is.

    Like don’t get me wrong. Rand is denser than he should be, Mat is a straight ass for the first 3 books, and Perrin needs to stand up for himself.

    But Nyneave is a hypocritical pain in the ass, Aviendha gets angry for no reason. Egwene is just so hypocritical and stupid its mind numbing. And Moraine is probably the prime example of being unhelpful and stupid for no reason.

    And what makes this worse is that when they aren’t around men they’re fine. They make some mistakes but they aren’t perfect and it makes sense whenever they get into trouble and have issues. But the second any guy is around their cahracters essentially become bitch, nag, you’re wrong, mean, and idiocy.

    Like there is literally a whole subplot in book 4 where Egwene and Elayne have this thought process about Rand and its his fault.

    I like him but I can’t stay. He knows and won’t stop me from going. I want him to ask me to stay. I won’t say it right out. He should know this already. Men are confusing. Men are simple. Rand is wrong for not acting on the thing I didn’t tell him about and should feel bad.

    And that goes on for nearly 2/3’rds of the book.

    I can deal with the gender based power system, read some spoilers but the True Power should be evil so it shouldn’t count in the gender spectrum. I can deal with the insane amount of stupid plots going on because people refuse to talk to one another. I can deal with cahracters falling fo the same traps and NOT KILLING MOGHEDEIN when they have her trapped. But this every female character, except Min so far thank god, has to be a giant fucking bitch for no reason is making it really hard to finihs the series. And their the good guys for crying out loud.

    Also Moraine is a prime example of insanity because she does the same thing the people in the past did and is hoping for a different result.

    • Nick

      If you don’t like the characters you probably shouldn’t finish. It’s a very character-driven series. But I do like the characters, so I shall defend them.

      1) Moraine is a bad-ass doing her best. She’s got no idea what’s going to happen next. The Chosen One is a 19-year-old boy who is very impulsive and she has no way of knowing which impulses are 19-year-old-boy stuff and which are chosen one stuff. Jordan’s motto was “Read and Find Out,” and if you go all the way to the end she will become one of your favorites.

      2) The girls you’re mentioning are roughly 18 in Book 4. 18-year-olds of both genders have major problems in communicating with their SOs. Elayne becomes much better at dealing with Rand as the books go on, and is one of my favorites by the end. But Egwene is always to interested in power politics to be relatable.

      In some ways it would be better if he’d started everyone in their mid-20s, because there’d be less teenage drama, but you try selling fantasy books starring a team of 24-year-olds in 1995.

      3) I will warn you that starting in Book 6 Perrin gets into teenage drama that’s much worse. This is not clear just reading through the books once. If you RAFO and re-read the first scene between Rand and Berelain, Berelain’s motives become clear. If you then replay the scene that led to the latest Perrin/Berelain/Faile brouhaha, assuming you know only what Faile knows, it will become very clear why poor 15-year-old Faile is angry. None of this gets explained explicitly in the text because the PoV character is Perrin, and his 20-year-old ass has no clue why all these women are mad at him.

      So it’s not just girls. Matt also has some drama when he finds his Daughter-of-the-Nine-Moons, but I have never met anyone who did not love those scenes.

      4) The Moghi thing is one of several high-risk moves everyone takes during the books that mostly work out. I haven’t re-read in awhile, but my memory is that one actually works out as close to perfect as it could.

  26. StyxD

    This article inspired me to learn more about the deal with Wheel of Time’s magic system, and I found a little gem in the fandom wiki.

    Apparently, True Power is a gender-neutral counterpart of One Power, but it comes from the devil. And the people who initially tried to tap into it (not knowing it comes from the devil) did it because they thought the gendered nature of One Power limits and hampers scientific advancement. They ended up releasing the devil and basically destroying the world as it was back then.

    So… trying to abolish God-given gender roles (One Power comes from the Creator) equals serving the devil and will lead to the collapse of the world!

    Can it get even more blatant?

    But I can sorta see a conservative Christian writing something like this.

    Unless the information on the wiki is inaccurate, in which case I apologize. I just found it funny in the context of the article.

    • Nick

      It’s like many of the things on this page, just right enough to be complicated to refute. But I’ll try.

      For one thing, the True Power is never really a significant plot point because almost nobody can use it. It’s a special gift from the Dark One, and during the books 2-3 people actually get access to it. There’s no point of views from most of these people, so it tends to be an “oh shit Moridin’s got the True Power, the Great Lord loves him more than me!” and that’s it. There is a scene like you’re describing, but over 12,000 pages you get a lot of scenes. If he intended that to be a plot point he probably would have emphasized it. So you’re really over-analyzing. Encyclopaedia WoT is a good source if you want info on how prominent something is in these books, because it actually lists the number of mentions:
      http://encyclopaedia-wot.org/main/true_source/tp.html

      For another, there’s a point to making magic gendered. He’s doing this because he wants physics to basically require gender equality. Men and women need each-other, and they need each-other to both be powerful, or the magic does not work right. Making male magic kill it’s users (due to the Dark One’s taint) makes the society involved sick because it encourages the development of sexism.

      It’s anti-male sexism. That allows the creation of some truly fascinating female characters who don’t act like the women in your life. In some ways that’s annoying (Nyneave can be a real female chauvinist pig), in other ways it’s extremely liberating because these girls are running around saving the world without any sort of Imposter Syndrome.

  27. Ariel Schnee

    What are the gender roles on the colony planets?

    I’ve never finished the series. I’m not going to. I’ve had a wiccan curse placed on me that if I do I will die.

    So I don’t know if the books ever mentioned it. But… What are the gender roles on the colony planets?

  28. Cannoli

    This article describes some superficial perceptions about the setting. The view of the narrative is that the Reds ARE unfairly villified. It is in the last couple of Jordan’s books that we start getting inside looks at the Red sisters and they are much more impressive than their colleagues. When a world-wide magical event takes place that frightens all the female channelers, one group of Aes Sedai decides they need allies to face whatever did that. When one proposes teaming up with the men, the room breaks down into panic and hysterics. Meanwhile, the Red Ajah are shown to come to the exact same conclusion, and deal with it in a mature and intelligent manner, and not only that, undertake to be the go-betweens themselves, and change their own bylaws to form the association. But you don’t have to wait for book 11 to see that, you just have Lan, one of the most badass characters, whom many compare to Aragorn, TELL Perrin, the point of view character that the Reds get a bad rap and are honestly doing their best.
    The author says magic “is a direct representation of how much a character can affect the world around them through an expression of their will” and that’s precisely what those differences in male and female channelers mean. Despite the greater strength of the men, women being more efficient with their degree of power means they are equally effective in affecting the world around them through their wills. In fact, there are a number of instances in which stronger channelers are shown up by weaker channelers who are more effective from practice & experience. When a female proto-channeler makes the same objections in the first book about the differences in strength and alloted powers, her mentor tells her they are equally effective and the powers aren’t better or worse. Later on, it turns out that particular character is one of the women who are very strong with Earth. The only significant thing she does with that power turns out to be a grave mistake, and few other people do anything with Earth. The point about Moiraine using Fire & Earth so much is that she is so awesome, regardless of her handicap. Do you really think it’s better for a character to achieve things courtesy of a innate affinity, rather than brains or effort?

    And the bit that men can’t handle powerful women is not supposed to be taken as gospel truth, it is the view of one group of women who are isolated from the rest of humanity and are continously shown over the series to be wrong to do so. They blame the men for their own failures to connect with people and the fact that their organization does its best to brainwash them against outside ties and loyalties. A husband is just the sort of conflict of interest their organization does not want messing up their heads. Most powerful women in the series outside of said organization ARE married or engage in heterosexual relationships of their choice. Some are widowed, but two widowed queens are married by the end of the series, while another actively pursues and takes the lead in her affair with a younger man. The Aes Sedai are the ones who claim men can’t handle their power, but 4 of the 5 main Aes Sedai characters get married by the end of the series, and the fifth has a commited relationship and children, and we see that marriage is a pretty normal thing for female channelers in other groups (Wise Ones, Windfinders), not influenced by the Tower’s views.

  29. Sigma Umbra

    I wasn’t going to contribute, but I see recent comments, so I figure this doesn’t fall into the necromancy school of spells.

    Full disclosure: WoT will probably always be my favorite series, due in no small part to the fact that it was the first long-running mid/high fantasy I picked up. Also, I regularly have personal disagreements with Oren’s take on things, I’m finding as I read through.

    Having said that, and recognizing that several perspectives have already been offered, i just wanted to say to those sitting on the fence about reading/ finishing the series: Even rereading it with some of Oren’s legitimate points in mind, it does (to my mind) have a wealth of imagination-inspiring locations, characters, and interactions. And if you’re aware of the potential ideological pitfalls that you may disagree with as you read a work, they can be used as opportunity to clarify your own values while still enjoying an otherwise-engaging setting.

    • Cay Reet

      I agree with you tere.

      Every piece of fiction has problems and if you recognize it does, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t read it – you could even learn something about your own writing. Bad examples for handling something are still examples, if if you only learn how not to do something, and even a story with severe problems in one area (as the sexism here) can still be very good with other parts.

    • Cannoli

      Well said. I have never understood why “This series violates rules of my belief system and portrays things I believe to be wrong” is acceptable for some belief systems and not for others. If a fundamentalist Christian was complaining about all the ways Wheel of Time falls short on his scale, he’d be ridiculed off the internet anywhere but a Christian website or board. “The author does not portray this character’s sexist behavior as problematic” carries exactly as much weight for me as “The author does not portray this character’s sinful behavior as problematic”.

  30. Isaac

    Hmm. “Gender roles… are almost entirely social in nature…” Really. Well, that is only one of the most inaccurate assumptions touted by so many people today. Interestingly, it is actually not supported by the entirety of human history, nor is it supported by biology.

    Most evolutionary scientists are atheists and many despise the very notion of the existence of a “god.” But even those who are ardently biased against religion and religious ideas have had to agree that gender and gender roles are largely NOT socially constructed at all. Sure, there are mobs of third-wave feminists who rant and rave about this and quote various terribly skewed and fudged studies here and there, but the overall data on this is pretty conclusive.

    I am in no way making a claim about Jordan’s stories either way. But to think he is sexist because he understands and has implemented in his stories a truth which scientific, empirical data also supports… well, that is just silly. But then, in our modern age of “information” people rarely know how to even look for factual information, and even more rarely do they care about factual information or truth, if a lie is more convenient or more popular to believe.

    • Cay Reet

      The fact that several ‘jobs’ within of society have changed between being done by men and being done by women and that societies with little need for splitting jobs are usually not assuming that only one gender can do something (unless it’s fathering/conceiving, which is a biological and not a social thing) doesn’t mean that gender is a social construct?

      Look up social structures of pre-colonial Native American tribes, check the social structure of the Mongols (who have been nomadic for most of their existence). Look at the difference between ‘male’ and ‘female’ behaviour between modern societies and ancient societies (like the fact that modern society in the west says ‘real men don’t cry’ while Ancient Greek people said ‘a real man cries at appropriate times).

      Social roles (and gender roles are social roles) are not set in stone or based on any biological or genetical traits. They’re merely ways the society divides things between ‘male,’ ‘female,’ and ‘neutral.’

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Editor’s note: I have removed a comment for being hostile to another commenter. It’s fine to disagree, but starting of by accusing someone else of not reading the source material is not constructive.

  31. Nick

    I believe if you read the comment I replied to you’ll note he did not actually claim to have read the books.

  32. Scrivener

    I read the WoT about a year ago now I think, and I definitely think the story goes both ways. The thread was massive, so I didn’t read every comment so sorry if there are some repeat points.

    Generally speaking, I thought WoT had a wealth of what I considered strong female characters. There are parts of the story that definitely didn’t age well in terms of sexism, but there are other parts that still do okay. We’ve already pointed out most of them, I’m pretty sure.

    That said, there were little things here and there that earned an eyeroll from me, and some things that bothered me that I couldn’t put my finger on…

    1. The male forsaken seem to get off easier than the female forsaken. Most of the time, when a male forsaken shows up (and they do typically get less screentime and development than female forsaken) they plot and battle with Rand and usually end up simply dying/getting scrubbed out of existence by Baelfire. Meanwhile, most of the time, at least up until the end of the series, when a female forsaken (and sometimes Black Ajah, other female darkfriends) fails they don’t simply DIE. They get PUNISHED. They are made to suffer, in far more detail than is ever implied with their male counterparts. In my view, the price of failure for a female darkfriend is way worse than the death the men get.

    2. The price of a male lens, SO many descriptions of bosoms. SO MANY. In the points of view of male characters, especially Mat it’s a bit more understandable. But I just felt like EVERY female description came with an assessment of her assets like…! I don’t need a description of every woman’s breast size and cleavage, ESPECIALLY not from the POV of other female characters. Sometimes? Sure. All the time? Nah. Not to mention the unnecessary phrasing of “she folded her arms under her breasts”. Just say she folded her arms! I laugh every time because while it isn’t explicitly a problem it’s just… So obvious to me as a woman that a man is trying to write women. Sometimes he succeeds and well… sometimes he fails.

    3. That one scene with Mat and Queen Tylin. You know the one. Jordan played it for laughs, and as a sort of foil to Mat’s womanizer character but jeez… Can we just all agree that scene didn’t age well? Like… I finished the scene and just thought “…. Did Mat just get raped??” It was so bizarre! Because the scene was obviously supposed to be comical, but… He cried at one point! It still boggles my mind. If Mat had been swapped out for a female character and Tylin a male one, no one would be laughing. Lest we forget that for Morgaise and several other female characters including villains being forced upon was NOT okay. And it really shouldn’t have been okay for Mat either.

    4. Even the more modest and reserved characters seemed to have some secret desire to be a sexpot. Again, this wouldn’t be so problematic if it didn’t seem to apply to SO many characters. In some cases being bawdy was kind of built into the culture. Think about it though. How often was a woman’s confidence level indicated (in the dream world or otherwise) by where her neckline was? How often was a woman who was characterized as modest shown to secretly want to go back on those values at the first sign of their love interest? Again, I don’t think this point was THAT problematic except for it was consistently inconsistent, and smacked more of fanservice than actual characterization.

    5. This connects a little to the first one, and you will see this a lot in movies. What is with the number of beautiful young women falling in love with unattractive and/or old dudes?? (I’m looking at you Thom) Again, it could definitely happen… But that this is a consistent pattern made my eyebrows go up more than once.

    I really did enjoy the Wheel of Time, though these were just a few of the things that bugged me as both a woman and perhaps a more “modern” (it wasn’t THAT long ago) reader.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Clearly I should have consulted you when I was writing this article, I could have had so much more content!

    • Cannoli

      “1. The male forsaken seem to get off easier than the female forsaken.” In the first place, even if this was true, it’s the ultimate evil entity doing this, so this is clearly not the narrative rewarding or punishing them. The fact that the only survivor of the Forsaken is female further undercuts your point. Your assertion that the male Forsakens’ fates are collectively worse than those of the female is dubious and highly subjective. The male Forsaken get punished as well, and there is no way to say which group suffers worse punishments.

      “2. The price of a male lens, SO many descriptions of bosoms.” And there are many descriptions by female characters of mens’ bodies and female PoV characters objectifying men’s bodies. Neither’s genitals are described, the books’ “rating” being something like PG13, but women admire men’s bottoms or calves or shoulders, as well as their faces. There is a female-dominated city, where men are made to dress to attract by that culture’s standards, while the (admittedly small sample of) female characters from that city do not dress to attract the male gaze, and wear their hair in utilitarian buns.
      That some readers feel there is a sexual component to Jordan clinically mentioning women’s breasts or bosom as something other than a prominently & centrally located part of her anatomy probably says more about them than the author.

      “3. That one scene with Mat and Queen Tylin.” He was not crying out of grief or trauma, but because his worldview was stood on its head, he was experiencing cognitive dissonance because he could not reconcile himself to a different version of sexual gender roles. The author explicitly stated that the joke in that relationship was Mat getting his own back and that’s what was in the story. To the extent that rape claims are plausible, it is because of the power dynamics that Mat felt unable to fully resist and effectively communicate his lack of consent to a sexual relationship. Jordan’s lack of explicit descriptions of sexual activity means we cannot say for sure if consent was gvien or refused, though Tylin seems to think he consented. But on the subject of those power dynamics, that is exactly what was in play for most of Mat’s sexual relationships. Tylin is his last partner before his wife, and the only times when the casual sex he apparently has been having offscreen was available would have been in Tear, before he came to the Waste & met Melindra, with whom he had a reluctantly exclusive relationship, and then in Cairhien before the journey that would eventually take him to Tylin. In both cases Mat was well-known to have a positon of influence and proximity to power. In Tear he is the friend of the conquering leader, who is a man of prophecy with unmatched powers and an army of deadly fighters personally loyal to him. It is clearly established that even members of the formerly ruling oligarchy, the High Lords of Tear, do not feel free to be rude or hostile to their new ruler’s friends and companions. Mat himself, in an incident in a card game with several noblemen, behaves in such a way that he thinks should have earned him a degree of hostile treatment, but they avoid his eyes and don’t actually do anything about him. If noblemen, the sons of the ruling council, do not feel they can safely rebuke or challenge his actions, how many of the women with whom he slept during his time in Tear felt they could freely or safely refuse consent? How many women in Cairhien, where his best friends’ armies were an occupying force, and Mat himself was the commander of one such army, which included what was effectively a military government of the town in which they were based, felt they could reject his sexual advances with no consequences?
      If Tylin is taking advantage of her position and power relative to Mat, it IS a reversal for him, and he has had considerable experience on the other side of that equation. THAT was the author’s point in writing their relationship.

      “4. Even the more modest and reserved characters seemed to have some secret desire to be a sexpot.” Yeah, no. Cadsuane, for one, did not. Nor was her lack of sexual experience or behavior an issue connected to her demeanor. She might have been a virgin – at the very least her list of appropriate possible partners seems to exclude any men at all, and her one comment on her own sexuality indicates she is heterosexual – whose clothing is fully-covering and not styled or designed for sexual attraction, but modest or demure could not be further from any description of her personality or behavior. Many other characters had little to no indication of sexuality. Moiraine has a love interest in the series, but only one conversation between them takes place in the books after their initial meetings, with no awareness of any sexual or romantic dynamic on the part of her love interest, who is the point of view character. Sex is almost never an issue in her point of view, and romance even less. IIRC, the only times sex is on her brain is when she makes a distinction between her jealousy of her work partner’s attentions & interests, and his sex life, specifically noting that while she was never jealous of his sexual partners, their working relationship is such that now that he has fallen in love, he is distracted from his duties and is experiencing a conflict of interest. The other time is her recollection of being shown an alternate reality where she had a sexual relationship with another character whom she does not regard as such.
      Between them, Moiraine and Cadsuane play important roles in the main character’s life and development from the first book to the last ones, both being absent in only one in the middle. They are major characters, for whom sex is a reality of life, but not important to them personally. The best characters I can think of fitting in the given description are the main female protagonists, but in each case, it is an expression of their interests in their love interests. Elayne falls in love early in the series, and as it progresses, she becomes more interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with the man she loves. Min’s & Aviendha’s sexual relationships lead both of them to a greater interest in performing conventional femininity. Nynaeve grew up in a rural village and upon becoming exposed to the outside world and traveling in more elite circles, develops an interest in dressing in more attractive & varied clothing. Elayne is the subject of another woman’s slut-shaming comment about her dressing immodestly and in service to male gaze and using sexuality in encounters with men, but in her own head, it is clear that she dresses to blend in with the fashions of whichever city or country she is in, some of which are more revealing than she is personally comfortable with. None of them have a “secret desire to be a sexpot” and it’s kind of gross to hang that label on women just because they are interested in their own appearances and their relationships with conventional feminine performance or actively pursue sexual relationships.

  33. Sarah

    I loved this series growing up, but I’ve since grown to notice all of these things and more. I was surprised you never mentioned any of the enormous sexism present in virtually every interaction with men and women in the series even outside the powers.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      There’s a lot more that could be written about for sure!

    • Sarah

      Adding to that, it’s so against the themes of the books.
      Women are important characters in their own right in the series. They lead, they have stories separate from men, they are independent and strong, and they even fight in war with abilities equal to men. The blatant sexism of the magic feels at odds with how women are otherwise portrayed.

      (reposted)

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Editor’s Note: Just letting you know I removed the comments you asked for. Let me know if you have any more trouble.

      • Sarah

        The funny thing is, I don’t think a gendered magic system need be inherently sexist, so long as it allows for A) broad exceptions and variations, like for transgender people, intersex people, or people who otherwise don’t fit, doesn’t enforce behavior but serves to illuminate the vast spectra of gender expression, and C) doesn’t place one above the other. No one seems willing to do this, though.

  34. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s Note: I’ve removed a comment for sexist and ableist language.

  35. Jonathan Gibb

    It is simply amazing to me, that in a story were society is matriarchal, and women treat men as idiots, and like they are a second class human beings, and meanwhile not being portrayed as sexist for doing so, and you think this story is sexist towards women? ABSOLUTELY INSANE!

    • Cay Reet

      There’s actually an article on this site which basically says ‘don’t flip a sexist story and make it sexist against men.’

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Also, just for the record, Randland (the unofficial name for WoT’s setting) is not matriarchal, nor does it ever claim to be so as far as I can tell.

  36. Krssven

    These comments are saying far more about people’s interpretations than it does about any apparent/claimed sexism. This is very different than to say the Eragon article where some people will defend anything if it’s popular.

    The best comment so far on the thread (from Cannoli):

    ‘None of them have a “secret desire to be a sexpot” and it’s kind of gross to hang that label on women just because they are interested in their own appearances and their relationships with conventional feminine performance or actively pursue sexual relationships.’

    This shows how the lens of your own interpretation can be very rose-tinted. If anything it is sexist to presume that a female character who is interested in their own appearance or pursues sexual relationships. We’ve fought hard to break those stereotypes!

  37. Writelhd

    Some (but not all) of Oren’s specific criticisms, and people’s strong opinions in general about various characters, might come from the close third person narration. The PoV characters are *not* reliable narrators. And they have contradictory opinions and ideas, and often sexist ideas, and don’t realize their own biases and ignorances. But since the first few books are more from the emond fielders’ frame (who are biased, ignorant of the world, and have heard about things only from rumor at first), you don’t always pick up on that right away. That explains the Red Ajah situation well: the narrative actually makes it very clear they are misunderstood and not evil at all, significant time is devoted to debunking that earlier misconception… but you gotta wade through a lot of POVs that don’t see it that way first, and wait for Sanderson’s less subtle hand to make it a little more obvious. I think Jordan intended to present us with contradictory ways of seeing things and have us interpret it for ourselves, without giving those things endorsement.

    I would say he was too subtle and slow about it, though, which is in itself a problem. if it takes too long to get there, then you lose readers before they get there, so they never know your brilliant subtle point. This is often a major lesson pointed out at mythcreants. Oren got lost before he got there, the framing was too overt for him. I see how that could be, the gendered nature of the magic is pretty blatantly base on gender essentialist ideas, that bothers me less personally (even as someone who has very low tolerance for gender essentialism), probably because I noticed it less on my first reading and so stuck with it far enough to witness how the inherent differences in the magic by gender are shown to equal out later. If I were writing it, I wouldn’t do it that way, and honestly probably wouldn’t pick up another work that was this gender essentialist at this point in my reading career. But, it’s essential to the way he’s done the story and the other strong aspects of the books compell me enough that I can go with it.

    I did get super *over* the in-world battle of the sexes though, I was over it even at 14 and it’s still painful now. I find the characters compelling anyway, and I find it clear from the text that the characters weren’t meant to be remotely correct in their continued assertions that the other gender was worthless. I picked up that their need to get over that and work together was *the* central theme, and if you follow that theme all the way through, there is movement and resolution in it. I think the annoying sexism at each other, the headdesk-worthy miscommunications, the over-the-top depictions of various gender roles in different cultures, and the gendered nature of the magic system, were the tools he chose to use to move that theme toward it’s conclusion, which was ultimately egalitarian. He might have tried some better tools ( it really is tedious how much “men are so stupid”/”women are so incomprehensible” angst we have to sit through)…but for me, anyway, the earnestness of the theme (have to work together) still comes through, and the depth of the world and the sheer coolness, for lack of better words, of the magic system in every other respect, were so compelling.

    • Cannoli

      I’d just like to point out that the same things you said in the beginning also apply to the gender-conflict issue. The characters to think that are all very young, and very inexperienced. The older characters, like Moiraine, Lan, Cadsuane, Thom, etc, do not do this. In fact, many of them (okay, of those four, just Thom) offer advice to their younger protegees on coping with their issues, most of which come down to “respect the other person’s PoV”, which is not gendered. The older characters who do make generalizations about the opposite sex tend to have more equanimity about the whole thing, in that the gendered or stereotypical qualities they perceive are not anything to fuss over, that they are simply different ways of doing things that tend to crop up.

      For instance, the earliest examples of gender conflict include Nynaeve’s conflicts with the Village Council, where the mayor remonstrates with her for publically saying the Council didn’t have a full set of brains among them, or where she hears that the Council is questioning a newly-arrived traveler about a war that people are concerned might affect the village, and she scoffs in public, where anyone can hear, that she is sure they are mishandling the questioning, and asking the wrong things. Yet, as the story develops, we come to realize that Nynaeve is not only relatively new to her position as Wisdom, the female counterpart of the Mayor, she is extremely young for the job, which is most often filled by a middle-aged woman, and she is already experienced at the job at the age of 24. So she’s overcompensating because she is both young and unsure of her authority, and because she is aware others question her maturity, judgment and competence. Except in some areas of the job not directly pertaining to leadership or judgment, she is preternaturally skilled, namely healing sick & injured people, and forecasting weather, both of which are equally life or death concerns for an agricultural community that lives off what they grow and raise, and whose liquidity depends entirely on cash crops. So Nynaeve NEEDS people to trust her authority, or they’ll start ignoring her magically correct advice on when to plant or harvest, and then they’ll starve. By the same token, the specific remit of her office, and of female legislature that chose her, is different from that of the mayor and the male council. Her perception that they are asking the wrong questions might be framed as a gender bias, but it is likely accurrate, and in truth, deriving from the differences in priorities and agendas of the two leadership offices and legislative bodies. Furthermore, because the two groups are jealous of each other’s authority, Nynaeve HAS to fight to a degree with the male side, lest the women of the circle perceive her as weak. And while the more troublesome men take exception to her attitude and want to push back, the more sensible and wiser members talk them down because they respect her authority, and probably recognize where she is coming from. Shortly after those incidents, the PoV character’s father, a member of the council, gives him a quick lesson on how leadership works using the council’s handling of the recent incident with the war news as an example. While he speaks dismissively of the more foolish men (such as the ones who get offended by Nynaeve), he says nothing about Nynaeve’s behavior barging in to their meeting. Likely because she did not disrupt it or interfere, and both sides “get” what the other does for public consumption.

      tl;dr – a lot of the “gender” conflicts are about something else entirely, and a lot of the agitation and conflict between them does not amount to much in the long run or big picture, and part of maintaining that status quo is that both sides respect the others’ position. That is a continual drumbeat throughout the series, as the characters rise in power and find themselves facing political opposition, and less perceptive or experienced characters see the opposition as wrong and are hostile to them, while the more experienced and perceptive characters remind them that it’s simply a matter of different points of view. ALL conflicts in WoT that are not against the Shadow, derive from different points of view, resulting from different experiences, different perceptions and different information. The greatest virtues, most rewarded by the story are trust and candor, and it is even shown how candor is effective against the untrustworthy.

      In that light, the perceptions of gender distinctions and essentialism are simply lies or deceptions the characters have to fight past to come together.

  38. Amniote

    MRAs are just ‘afraid of powerful women’? Why, of course! No-one wants to be legally protected from genital mutilation, rape, and domestic abuse, do they?

  39. Urszula

    What a great article. You put into words many of the things I noticed and found sexist. I still very much enjoy the series, but these aspects continued to bother me throughout all the books.

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