(urth) 'King Rat' and the abuse of women in Gene Wolfe's stories

Gerry Quinn gerryq at indigo.ie
Wed Mar 9 06:01:04 PST 2011

I agree he gets it about right.  Wolfe is unlikely to win any awards for feminist SF, but accusations of misogyny are a bit strong, unless misogyny is defined so widely as to be useless for descriptive purposes..

Definitions of misogyny vary from the literal "hatred of women" to "holding a distasteful opinion about women as a group".  Clearly anybody holding an opinion about women as a group is at risk of falling into the latter category for someone, even if the opinion might be considered complimentary by many.

I think the accusations of misogyny stem from two, perhaps three sources.  First, Wolfe's female characters are typically not so much in the forefront or as strongly delineated as the males.  This may reasonably be excused on the grounds that Wolfe is male; for most authors, writing one's own gender seems likely to be an easier task.  I would not harshly criticise a woman author for writing stronger female characters!

Second, Wolfe clearly believes that traditional gender roles reflect certain realities of human nature, and his books tend to reflect that.  For many, this belief is so obviously true as to need no debate.  For others, to state or imply it is to take a reactionary stance that opposes all that is pure and good according to current progressive thinking.  In their view, making such a statement is in itself a thoughtcrime sufficient to warrant the accusation of misogyny, even when the gender roles are just different, without one being intrinsically inferior.

The third source is exemplified by rantings such as those of 'Lepton', who asserts in effect that any mistreatment of women depicted in a book demonstrates the author's misogyny, even when equal or greater mistreatment of men is depicted just as prominently.  My guess is that Lepton is actually motivated at base by the second sourse above, but does not have the wit to express it in coherent form, so he falls back on this.  His argument might have some force if Wolfe were wrining porn, or torture porn, but clearly he is not.  Wolfe's sex scenes are not lubricious.  The most visceral torture scene is that in which Thea's maidservant has her leg flayed, and I find it hard to believe anyone would read it to enjoy the evocation.

- Gerry Quinn

  From: Daniel Petersen 

  On a wholly different note, have you all read the latest Silk for Calde blog post on Wolfe?  A really well reasoned article on this issue of misogyny in Wolfe:

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