Recently I’ve been re-reading Patrick Rothfuss in anticipation of the forthcoming third book in The Kingkiller Chronicles. Like many, I became curious to look deeper at the author of a piece of work that I adore, so I
stalked scoured through his blog. And let me tell you, he’s pretty awesome!
He openly identifies as a feminist, he was a teacher, he’s been working on his books forever and kept persisting until he had them published, he has a kid that he dotes over and he frequently gives to charity. Nothing feels better than realizing that the person behind a piece of work that you admire is an all-round good guy, AMIRITE? I’m right.
Anyways, back to the feminism thing. I’ve always liked his female characters and was glad to see that his portrayal of them as complex and real people stemmed from inward respect. For example, Denna who is also known as Dianne, Dinnah, Dinay, Dyanae, Dinael, Dianah, Dyane, Donna and Alora. You choose. Denna and Rothfuss’s main protagonist, Kvothe, share a romantic relationship with one another. Yet, Denna loves her freedom and frequently disappears. She has a hidden past, and she always manages to find a way to survive and is reluctant to accept anyone’s help, including Kvothe’s.
That character is flawed and mysterious, and in no way a damsel in distress figure. So, in saying that, this blog doesn’t reflect on my opinion of his writing at all. This is just a little issue I had with one of Rothfuss’s blogs.
A fan of his wrote him with a question with regards a blog where he suggested he was hoping to go see Cabin In The Woods with an attractive woman who would “cling to [him] desperately for comfort” when the movie got scary. The question, as you’ve probably guessed, was: “How do you reconcile being a feminist and at the same time wanting to have pretty young girls cling to you for comfort?”
So far, so good. Rothfuss says something that re-establishes gender norms, is called out for it, but identifies as feminist – so let’s see where this goes guys! I KNOW I’M EXCITED TOO!
After very coherently explaining what feminism means to him (seriously, check it out, it’s a fantastic description) he then goes on to address the fact that occasionally he likes to indulge in machoism and that’s his choice:
“I don’t *have* to act like a big testosterone-y alpha-male protector of the wimmins… if I feel like it, I can indulge myself and play the part of the manly protector. If (and this is key) I’m not a dick about it. Here’s the thing: It feels good to be a big tough protector sometimes. Other times it feels good being protected.”
And right you are, Pat. Right you are. However I have two issues with the response. Firstly, he doesn’t apologize for stereotyping all women. Because, and this is important, it’s not just a specific attractive woman that he mentions, it’s just an attractive woman. If it were a specific woman that he had mentioned, then we could chalk it down to Pat’s knowledge of how this woman responds to horror movies. And, considering he’s married, he probably did have a specific woman in mind. However, Pat stereotypes women, and attractive women, nonetheless, to needing a strong protective man to hide behind during the scawee parts of the movie ( Note: I am one of these particular women, so don’t mind me as I make fun of myself).
Secondly, Pat’s response fails to address the cultural and societal pressures that result in many women reacting this way. If we’re speaking in terms of gender norms, women are squeamish. But why?? Discussing the cultural and societal norms that raise girls to act in defensive rather than offensive ways is a much more productive and fulfilling way to fully answer the fan’s question, with the surprise addition of also educating your fans – It’s win-win! I get that we all do gender normy things sometimes, and that’s alright, but we also have to consistently address where and how these gender norms have developed. So instead of saying “it’s okay to fit in and out of gender norms” let’s continue the conversation.
Boys and girls are raised in very different ways. Boys play with Action Men, while girls play with
Passive Barbie. Boys are encouraged to run around and get dirty, girls and encouraged to keep their hair tidy and their clothes neat. Boys are told to stop crying and harden up, girls are coddled and given comfort when they’re upset.
Generally, this type of language is the driving force behind gender norms and our responses to outside threats. Girls have been taught to run and hide, boys have been taught to stand up and fight. It’s negative for girls, because it makes us the helpless victims and encourages us to undervalue ourselves (and a myriad of other issues), but boys suffer too.
But the fact is that this type of language used to encourage little boys to “harden” up can be very damaging and has been linked to high rates of suicide in men. Gender norms aren’t something harmless that we can throw on and off, they’re damaging stereotypes that limits a person’s idea of themselves. Sure, we can go in and out of gender norms and hopefully not be judged too harshly for it, but they’re there and we need to have a conversation about it at every given opportunity.
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