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

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Wed Mar 9 06:41:05 PST 2011

Ah, yes---our old friend Lepton. I suggest we read him to find out what 
NOT to think.

As a side note, it is of course exactly that "different, without one 
being intrinsically inferior" that is contested. But yes, I think the 
criticism is classic kneejerkism.

Wolfe is more interested in moral explorations than social ones, to the 
extent that they can be separated, and he's no Octavia Butler. There Are 
Doors postulates a society that is arguably more female-dominated than 
our own in some ways, and it's clearly a dystopia. But it's hardly worse 
than our world, and if it is worse, it's only in the same ways, or 
analogous/reversed ones, that our world is bad. It's a projection based 
on misogynist male fears, but not on misogyny per se. It incorporates 
rules that are false here, but very familiar (being Faery-like).

Neither world is fair; both worlds are run by compassionately depicted 
flawed humans who do the best they can under the rules.

On 3/9/2011 9:01 AM, Gerry Quinn wrote:
> 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 <mailto:danielottojackpetersen at gmail.com>
>     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:
>     http://silk4calde.blogspot.com/2011/03/king-rat-and-abuse-of-women-in-gene.html
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