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Halls of the Dark Muse

I Am Probably a Sexist

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There is a fairly common trend I have begun to notice. Oftentimes I will read a book of which I will really enjoy, and out of curiosity I will read other reviews, comments, critiques of said book to discover that the book is criticized for being sexist and my natural reflex reaction to such claims is to roll my eyes and think the people are being ridiculously oversensitive. It is true that when I am really enraged in a story and think the book is well crafted, and has a great plot, I am oblivious or desensitized to the nuances of how women or portrayed in the story or how many female characters may or may not be within the book. If it is a good book, I honestly don't really cared about that. If it is a book I am not enjoying very much than I might become more analytical of it. And I suppose part of it for me is the fact that I do not think the integrity of the art should be comprised by pressure from society to be more politically correct.

I really enjoy the writing of H.G Wells and I have noticed that a lot of people criticize him or do not enjoy his works because of the almost complete lack of woman within many of his books, and for me in a way I find it kind of refreshing to read a book in which there is not this need to create some romantic story line as a way to make the book more interesting, or appealing to women readers.

It is hard to find modern books which don't have some romantic love interest thrown into the mix somewhere even if that is not really what the main story is actually about and many authors feels the need to do that in order to appeal to women readers.

I am reading the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, and before I started reading him I have heard him trashed several times as being some kind of woman hating masochists because of the scenes of rape within his books. And yes, there is violence against women and rape within his books, but there is also a lot of war, and anyone who knows anything about history knows that with war there was often raping and pillaging, that was just a fact of life. It is not as if the rapist in his books are the heroes of the story, the people doing the raping or the bad guys, and it is portrayed in the books as a terrible thing to do. Terry Goodkind does not glorify rape in some positive way. And one of the main characters of the story is a strong, confident, powerful, intelligent woman.
As a reader of historical fiction and reading a lot of comments and criticism about different works of HF there seems to be this common trend that anytime a male author (regardless of context) writes about rape in a novel he is labeled as being a sexist. Obviously I am not defending rape, but just because a man within a work of fiction acknowledges the fact of life that sometimes women are raped does not mean he hates women.

But that is a tirade for a different day.

Mostly recently I have read this book called The Ritual, which I absolutely loved and thought was fantastic, and I was reading some of the reviews of the book and came across one in which this person went off on how sexist the book was.
First of all I will state the book is a horror novel, and it is about a group of four friends who go out on this hiking trip together. Three of them are married one of them seems to be happy in his marriage and the other two are separated from their wives and there is a lot of trash talk about their wives and the fourth is not in a committed relationship but just sleeps around with various different women. The only female characters to appear in the story are a strange old woman who hardly ever speaks, and a girl who is basically a total psychopath and described frequently as being fat.

So yeah maybe the book does not have very positive portrayals of women but for one thing it wasn't that kind of book, and I did not perceive it as being that the book and/or author was sexist but rather I saw it more of a reflection of the characters within the story. Yes the author could have had one of the hikers in the group be a strong, independent woman but that would have changed the whole dynamic of the story.

Consequently I will say that times the female characters that I tend to find the most offensive and insulting to women are usually in books that were written by women predominately for women, which everyone else raves about. And I am thinking to myself "really? you think this is a positive image of women?"

It could be a combination of my perhaps having some skewed and twisted views and the fact that I do tend to connect better to men than I do to women. I don't have any girlfriends. All of my closest friends are guys. So books that are perhaps more male/masculine driven appeal to me more, and do connect with me better than books that are more female/feminine driven.


  1. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    You see this:
    [QUOTE]and for me in a way I find it kind of refreshing to read a book in which there is not this need to create some romantic story line as a way to make the book more interesting, or appealing to women readers. [/]
    Is a classic 'sexist' comment and, perhaps, the crux of the misunderstanding about sexism in books and the reason many women rail against the portrayal of women in books (e.g. solely there to prop up male characters, to add love interest or sexual interest or sexual exploitation) or the portrayal of books for women. In fact your whole post sums it up in a roundabout kind of way. Just because you're a women doesn't mean you're interested in romance. Women manage to have whole lives filled with action, activity, intrigue, exploits and dramas which have nothing to do with men or the domestic sphere. So why do these things not exist, or seem so hard to find, in literature (and movies)? Interestingly in the movies they are now starting to understand that you can take a character which has been written as a man and cast a woman in the role and there is no need to make any changes because, you know what: women are people too. Flawed and interesting, just like men. Just poorly represented, typecast and, often, dismissed. I think this is also a problem with the idea of the 'strong, independent female role model'. I'm not too fussed about an idealistic representation of women, but a realistic and representative one would be nice. The issue with rape in books is that it's often there for male titillation, and contributes (in a roundabout way, as lots of things do) to the ongoing representation of women as being for male consumption and male desire being the primary appetite being served rather than historical accuracy.
    Updated 01-29-2016 at 12:51 PM by TheFifthElement
  2. Dark Muse's Avatar
    That is an interesting point about the idea of women characters often being used as a way to prop up male characters. As I indicated with H.G wells as long as I think the story is good, I could happily read a book which had an entirely, or predominately male cast as it were. I usually relate better to the male characters than the women anyway honestly. But it would be interesting to read a book with predominately female characters in which there was not any romance, or love-interest.

    Oftentimes books that are written by women authors featuring female characters annoy me more than the books that get criticized as being sexist. Perhaps it is in part because the author is trying too hard to create that positive, strong female role model. It would be nice to read a book featuring a female character who is indeed very humanly flawed and whose life does not revolve around finding love.

    In regards to the rape issue. I can understand where you are coming from and the point you are making but as someone who is genuinely interested in history, I think it would be naive to write a work of HF where you just pretend like rape was not very much a fact of that time period and life in that time. It is an acknowledgement of things which actually happened. I would not want to read some idealized, romanticized version of history where all the violence and bad things are swept under the rug, so not to offend anyone's delicate sensibilities.