Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Way of Kings Readalong: Gender roles on Roshar





We've seen a little bit about the differences in what members of different genders are allowed and encouraged to do. I thought it was interesting how things like reading were entrusted only to women, since reading is how you gain knowledge (and power!), and it seems like the men were the ones who wanted all the power in this world. So here's a discussion post about the different gender roles and what some possible implications are.

But first, a few words from Brandon Sanderson:

I found this video on YouTube where Sanderson talks a bit about gender roles in history and in The Way of Kings. It's only a minute or two in the middle of the video (4:30-6:58), but I thought it was interesting.

YouTube is being annoying and I cannot embed the video so here's a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqeKPBHquOg

Gender differences on Roshar

A table of some basic differences in genders:

Men
Women
Can read glyphs
Can read and write
Masculine arts: business, soldiery, leadership, dueling, farming, surgery
Feminine arts: music, painting, writing, logic, and science
Role in war: fighting and strategizing
Role in war: Administrative matters, passing along information
Rules of appearance: none
Rules of appearance: All women who are past the age of adolescence must guard their “safehand” by covering it with a long sleeve or glove.
Other roles: Ardent
Other roles: Ardent

Last week Michelle @ Book Hangovers asked about safehands last week, and I figured there had to be a better explanation than the one I pieced together. Turns out there is! Here is Sanderson's answer from a Q&A on Goodreads:

There will be more explanation in-world as it comes along, but it's for much the same reason that in some cultures in our world you don't show people the bottoms of your feet, and in other cultures showing the top of your head is offensive. It's part of what has grown out of the Vorin culture, and there are reasons for it. One of them has to do with a famous book written by an artist who claimed that true feminine pursuits and arts were those that could be performed with one hand, while masculine arts were those performed with two hands, in a way associating delicacy with women and brute force with men. Some people in Roshar disagree with this idea, but the custom has grown out of that foundational work on masculine and feminine arts. That's where that came from. One aspect of this is that women began to paint one-handed and do things one-handed in upper, higher society. You'll notice that the lower classes don't pay a lot of attention to it—they'll just wear a glove.
As a student of human nature and of anthropology, it fascinates me how some cultures create one thing as being taboo whereas in another culture, the same thing can be very much not taboo. It's just what we do as people.
There's more to it than that, but that will stand for now. 


Going back to the video, Sanderson mentions something about needing a married pair of men and women to make things work. In a war, you need the generals and the soldiers, and you also need someone who can relay information and take care of administrative matters. While one role is more direct in its application to war, both are equally necessary. 

I thought this was interesting, since it kind of speaks to how gender roles are distributed on Roshar - the men think they are the ones with power, doing things like providing food, being surgeons, and slaying enemies, but women hold the knowledge and arts that everyone depends on. The women may not be directly contributing to survival, but they are in charge of all the things that make us human - the arts, the intellectual pursuit of science, and writing.

I thought this was an interesting choice, since in our society we equate knowledge with power. So the women are secretly in charge, but the men can keep thinking that they are in power? Dalinar makes a remark at some point about how unseemly it would be for a man to write - I think it was in the context of not knowing who wrote the words in blood next to Gavilar. Clearly he doesn't envy the women's ability to read and write, or possess knowledge that he has no access to.

Another thought - if people are only valuable in pairs, what about people who are gay or choose to be unmarried? I would assume that these situations are quietly frowned upon but I can't really picture a world without a few people who don't follow the norm. It also seems like Ardents are outside of gender roles, since Kabsal is allowed to eat the "feminine" food jam. So do they renounce their gender when they join ardentia? But then what about when they leave? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

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15 comments:

  1. This subject is endlessly fascinating to me. I love how women aren't relegated to "accessories" or delicate, useless flowers in this society. Like you said, the "womanly pursuits" are just as necessary (almost moreso) as the men's - they're the ones who study and invent and record the knowledge of the world... and then the men go do the dangerous stuff and hit things. :P I think they make a joke about this somewhere in one book but I can't for the life of me remember where!

    One thing I think is SUPER interesting/hilarious (and I can't remember what book this is in but it's not a spoiler), but often when women write books, they transcribe the main text as dictated by a man (probably their husband), and then they make little footnotes in their own script that only the women read - like "Well ACTUALLY he's totally exaggerating here. I was there, and it really happened like this..." XD

    Also - I'm really excited to learn how this division between men and women worked with the Knights Radiant - because men and women were both knights and both fought - so what else might've bridged the gap between genders w/ the Knights??

    Your question about sexual orientation and unmarried people is a REALLY good one. While unmarried men and women may have some challenges, like an unmarried male captain needing to find an unmarried woman scholar to do administrative tasks, I think those kinds of "partnership" situations even out. As for sexual orientation, it's probably much the same. If there were a gay captain, he'd just have to find a woman to do the administrative stuff.

    Related note: I heard a rumor at one of the Sanderson events that I went to, that one of the bridgemen is gay, which I REALLY hope is true! If there's one thing lacking in the Cosmere (or at least, that hasn't been represented yet), it's this type of diversity. Crossing my fingers that we see this in Book 3.

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  2. Michelle {Book Hangovers}July 9, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    Great discussion topic. You were pretty much right about the "safe hand" deal. I was baffled when I read the part where the men almost sounded offended with thought of even reading a book. The only thing they seem good at or have any use for is fighting. Dueling and battle.

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  3. Excellent topic! I thought it was divided fairly well. The women while seeming out of they of the 'man's world' are actually the ones really driving it while the men are basically like mouthpieces of the women's progress.


    I was baffled by the distinction over the food though. I can't believe they actually take it that far. Who the hell cares what kind of taste in food you have just feed me! xD


    Nikki! I remember that part! I think it's from WoR with Navani mentioning it. I thought it was awesome xD Be like, "Okay, THIS is what actually happened" lol.


    As for the Knight Radiants maybe they were separated by order? As in, Say all Windrunners are male, and all Edgedancers are females type of thing. As of now we haven't met anyone that developed their powers on their own that is from the same order, which is why I'm thinking that maybe the orders could have been separated by gender as well. Wouldn't that be interesting?


    As for same-sex couple, I don't think it'd be that much of a hardship. Just cause it's better to work in male-female pairs doesn't mean your personal life has to follow the same way. Both genders are hired out for their work anyway.


    But as Nikki said, it'd be great if we had some diversity in that sense :)

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  4. Interesting post! I remember thinking the same about queer folk while I was reading it though - because women *do* have a very strong, defined place in Roshar, but only in partnership with a man. (I can't help wondering if that's Sanderson's own politics shining through a bit...)

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  5. Oh yeah, the footnotes thing came up in this week's section, actually! Jasnah makes a note about how she embellished Gavilar's words to make him sound smarter haha
    I find the fact that the women can read and write really interesting. Have you read Eon by Alison Goodman? There's a "woman's language" in it so that women who are oppressed can write to each other in code for help or pass on advice. I think here it keeps the women from being oppressed because they have power and autonomy through control of language.
    I didn't think about the knights - good point!
    That would be so awesome! Fantasy is making strides :)

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  6. At first I was ticked off at Dalinar's thick-headedness about reading and writing, but then I realized that it's just the way his culture works so I can't blame him. Well, you know the highprinces and their subtle power struggles - all that testosterone has to go somewhere! :P

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  7. Yeah, I imagine there's lots of men out there with a sweet-tooth who would love some jam!
    I'm assuming Windrunners and Edgedancers are going to show up later, because I have no idea what those are lol @Nikki I think that was for you :)

    I saw somewhere that the female arts can be done with one hand while the male ones require two (which is symbolized by the women's safe hand). But we still don't know why that is.
    Hmmm that's true. I guess they'd just adjust professionally by working with a partner but then be married/live with someone else.

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  8. Still, I feel like Jasnah and Navani are examples of women who aren't dependent on men to be respected or have importance. You're right though - so far it seems like Roshar is strictly cis-gendered and gender binary.

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  9. Oh. OOPS! I think Windrunners are mentioned in WoK at one point, but yes Edgedancers is in WoR. Totally forgot lol.


    Mostly what I'm getting at is that I think the Knight Radiants Orders might have been split by gender, and the female only Radiants leaned more to what is now known as 'womanly' arts, and it grew from there.

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  10. I'm putting part of my comment here so you can see it xD


    Nikki! I remember that part! I think it's from WoR with Navani mentioning it. I thought it was awesome xD Be like, "Okay, THIS is what actually happened" lol.

    As for the Knight Radiants maybe they were separated by order? As in, Say all Windrunners are male, and all Edgedancers are females type of thing. As of now we haven't met anyone that developed their powers on their own that is from the same order, which is why I'm thinking that maybe the orders could have been separated by gender as well. Wouldn't that be interesting?

    OH! OH!! What if that's what Sanderson meant by 'there is more to it but I'm leaving it at for now'?! Maybe that's where all the distinctions between male and female arts started from. They took it from the divisions of the orders themselves. Ahhh! I want the third book already! D:

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  11. oooooooooh cool idea!

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  12. {I don't consider any of my comments spoilers, but I do make a couple references to WoR so... idk. Nothing plotty or character-related though}



    @Nyx @ Unraveling Words This is a great theory about the gender-divisions being influenced by the orders of Knights Radiant, but I have some doubts that surgebinding abilities are gender-specific. There's a reference in Words of Radiance to "women who danced in the skies", which I'm pretty sure means they were Windrunners. And in the current timeline, a few surgebinding abilities *have* been shown to be possessed by people of different genders... I'm thinking of spoilery things right now though!



    I'm also fairly sure there was gender diversity in groups of more ancient Knights of the same order, which are talked about in certain other sections... but... more spoilers!!

    Something I think DOES have a definite basis in the Knights, though, is the lighteyes/darkeyes division. But I can't remember how much I can say about this without spoiling, either. Ugh. STUPID SPOILERS. lol

    @Kritika Yeah you quoted the one-handed/two-handed thing in your post!

    "It's part of what has grown out of the Vorin culture, and there are reasons for it. One of them has to do with a famous book written by an artist who claimed that true feminine pursuits and arts were those that could be performed with one hand, while masculine arts were those performed with two hands, in a way associating delicacy with women and brute force with men."

    So that might be where it started, just a silly little thing, women covering their "safehand" to prove they weren't using it and could do all their feminine arts one-handed, and then over time it actually became impolite to uncover the safehand at all? That's so fascinating to me!!

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  13. YES!! That's exactly what I was talking about, lol. I love that the women do this. XD

    I haven't read Eon... but it sounds like a similar, if weirdly opposite, thing. In both cases women are empowered by having their own language, but in Roshar they're not oppressed, and in Eon they use the language to *fight* oppression. That's super interesting!

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  14. Eon has really interesting gender roles. Almost none of the characters conform to gender stereotypes or the gender binary, and embracing who you are is a big part of the storyline. I really liked it!

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  15. lol I looked at a lot of places before I compiled the post so I forgot I included that already :)

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