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A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)
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2014 Reads > WoE: Women in Earthsea

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Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments So, um, is anyone else having a hard time dealing with the seemingly sexist tones in this book? I'm a third of the way through and it's hard for me, especially knowing this was written by a woman, to not want to get upset about it. Does this get addressed...ever? I'm a little surprised considering who the author is.


Nathan (tenebrous) | 377 comments I too found it interesting that women figured so little in the book. A teenage boy with no thoughts of women?


Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments Yes, the gender issues throughout are problematic. It is a sexist world, with some more powerful women emerging later in the cycle. As I mentioned in the covers thread, my edition has all four stories and so I tend to see them as a whole work.

There are more female characters in the later books, and particularly in Tehanu some of the issues are raised. It is, however, still debated as to whether the final book has a feminist conclusion or an anti-feminist one. Tehanu was written to address the gender issues of the first three books (as le Guin says in her "Earthsea Revisioned"). She also addresses it in this interview in The Guardian in 2004: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2004...

- its quite near the end. Basically, she feels that when she wrote the first three she hadn't developed enough as a writer to breakaway from the traditional gender roles. She then tried to address this in Tehanu.


terpkristin | 4144 comments Great info, Louise!

I too had the feeling that the book was pretty sexist (I'm about a quarter way through) and was surprised. Not only is it traditional gender roles for *any* genre, it seems SUPER-typical for fantasy, the role of the "evil witch" or temptress.

I'm enjoying what I've read so far, so maybe I'll work through the rest of the "Earthsea Cycle."


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments I think characterization is probably the weakest part of this book in general. Particularly for the women, but for the men, too. Ged is the only dynamic character, and he really only changes once.


message 6: by Louise (last edited Feb 02, 2014 07:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments Fey wrote: "I was having trouble getting into this for the way female characters - or lack thereof - were portrayed and I am glad I'm not the only one. I'm about halfway through now, and the only female charac..."

I understand what you're saying, because I really can't read early science fiction. However, on the development thing - I think what she's saying is that, at the time (1968), she wasn't really aware that what she was doing was wrong. She was writing in a genre and reflecting the traditions of that genre with less awareness. It was the default, and it just wasn't as common to consider that it might not be. If she was approaching writing the novel from an anthropological perspective (both her parents were anthropologists), she may have been reflecting the interpretation of medieval societies prevalent at the time. That women didn't have as much of a role. It's not necessarily an accurate interpretation but we've come a long way since the 60s.

So, by being saying she wasn't developed enough, it's not that she wasn't confident doing it, but that she didn't know it could be done. I think I read somewhere that Ged wasn't actually intended to be either male or female as such, but just a person, but again, male is default so he ended up being male. If that makes sense. He's intended as the generic hero figure.

That said, this was published just a year before Left Hand of Darkness. However, that's science fiction. I'd argue that breaking boundaries was more common in that genre at the time whereas fantasy was still relatively unexplored.

There is a major female character in book two, by the way. It's just the gender roles that aren't dealt with, not the overall presence of female characters.


message 7: by Rob, Roberator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rob (robzak) | 6785 comments Mod
I guess I don't get how she can write characters of color and not female characters. Characters of color seem to be less common in today's novels than women are. It seems odd for her to break one 'standard' and make excuses about another.

That said I'm enjoying it so far.


Kristina | 588 comments Why does a book have to have a strong female character? I didn't even really notice the lack of female-ness in the story. The story is about Ged-who is more interested in proving himself at the school, and then recovering from what happened to him. I'm not sure that not having a love interest, or a influential female teacher, or whatever would have made the story any better.


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Kristina wrote: "Why does a book have to have a strong female character? I didn't even really notice the lack of female-ness in the story. The story is about Ged-who is more interested in proving himself at the s..."

But of the two women who do show up in the book, one is a witch and the other is a seductive evil sorceress who isn't even working on her own, but is married to an even more powerful sorcerer. The women that were there could have been given more sophisticated characterization.


Sandi (sandikal) | 1212 comments I would much rather have half-formed or non-existent female characters than see women portrayed primarily by their looks and sexuality. (I'm looking at you, Robert Heinlein and Peter F. Hamilton.)


Michele | 1154 comments I'm one of the minority I guess who enjoys a sexy gorgeous smart woman, who also enjoys having babies and cooking and keeping her man happy. Of course the man must appreciate all this and do his part in return. I Like Heinlein!

Also, it may be wrong, but every red-blooded man I have ever known looks at a woman and sizes her up sexually, though most don't like to admit it, in case they get yelled at. Hell, I look at both men and women and make quick judgments about their hotness. I also notice whether or not they are fat or too skinny for my taste, or too old or ugly or whatever. So when I read a description in a book about a woman's sexy factor, I just roll my eyes and go on reading.

I don't like too many evil sexy seductresses, especially if they are just a bunch of clichés, but if that's how the fantasy world is set up, then I'm usually, "You go girl! Use that stupid man's sex drive to get what you want!"

I think the feisty, "buck the system," tomboy, whatever, female character is getting a little tired. I find watching a woman manipulate a patriarchal system to make it work for her, finding a man and earning his respect and love so that he has no problem with her being powerful, etc. very interesting and realistic. Lady Trent in The Natural History of Dragons is a good example. Even Lessa in the Pern books ends up an equal partner with F'lar.

Certainly a fantasy world where women and men are considered equal in all the ways that matter is great. But given our own history, I think it makes a lot of sense that a medieval style fantasy would have inequalities of all sorts.

I guess I find subtlety and compromise and wisdom and compassion and challenge within a complex unequal system, and perhaps a slow change within that system, more interesting sometimes.

I went way off on a tangent here. I don't mind a general lack of female characters once in a while, and I think this book is Ged's story and it doesn't really need any female companions/rivals/love interests added to it. It's told simply and fairly straightforward and I like it that way.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments Joanna wrote: "But of the two women who do show up in the book, one is a witch and the other is a seductive evil sorceress who isn't even working on her own, but is married to an even more powerful sorcerer."

Also Vetch(Estarriol)'s sister Yarrow(Kest).

For what it's worth, the dynamic gets flipped in the second book, which has mostly female characters and only two male characters of note. It's similarly a very personal story, as only Arha/Tenar gets significant character development.


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Joe Informatico wrote: "Joanna wrote: "But of the two women who do show up in the book, one is a witch and the other is a seductive evil sorceress who isn't even working on her own, but is married to an even more powerful..."

I had forgotten about Yarrow. She is a much better character. I wish she had featured a little more prominently.


message 14: by Olivia (last edited Feb 04, 2014 05:30AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments Kristina wrote: "Why does a book have to have a strong female character? I didn't even really notice the lack of female-ness in the story. The story is about Ged-who is more interested in proving himself at the s..."

There is a marked difference between a book having a male focus and a book that consistently paints women as inferior to men "weak as a woman's magic" etc - or that only when women are present with equal power, they are there to function as Eve - a temptress that leads men astray. Earthsea makes every mention of a woman a point of showing they are inferior to their male counterparts either through talent which is "weaker" or with intent only to tempt, trick and betray. It's really frustrating.


There are tons of male-centric fantasy, with a male lead who certainly is the focus, yet with female characters that vary from strong to weak but all are painted with more than one dimension.

TLDR version: women are people too and should be written as such. It can be very difficult to manage to read a book when it is written with women defined as inferior without providing commentary on that societal structure at all.

At least that's how it is for me.


message 15: by Anne (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anne Nydam | 5 comments Interesting that LeGuin said she wrote the culture as sexist sort of accidentally, because I always assumed she'd done it on purpose in order to explore those issues. Admittedly I'm thinking of the whole Earthsea cycle here, rather than just "A Wizard," and, as people have mentioned, there's a lot more focus on women in later books. The thing is, though, that in this first book LeGuin has, for whatever reason, set up a world that is (sadly) not in any way improbable or rare. She shows the interesting ways these sexist attitudes (powerful women are evil, good women are invisible, all women are irrelevant to Important Manly Things) warp the culture. Then in later books she faces these attitudes head-on by showing characters becoming explicitly aware of them instead of just taking them for granted.

All that said, I didn't like "A Wizard" a bit when I read it as a kid because as far as I was concerned it was about an arrogant boy who did stupid things, just like the stupid, arrogant boys I disliked at school! I was definitely hungry for good female heroes at the time, and even now I appreciate the book only as the introduction to other books I like much more.


David (dbigwood) LeGuin, in general, is good with female characters. You do have to remember when this book was written, in the 60s sci-fi and fantasy just didn't do justice to women. LeGuin wrote a story for Playboy and had to shorten her first name to initials, U. K. LeGuin, because guys wouldn't read a story written by a woman. Some of the essays in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction deal with the topic.


Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments David wrote: "LeGuin, in general, is good with female characters. You do have to remember when this book was written, in the 60s sci-fi and fantasy just didn't do justice to women. LeGuin wrote a story for Playb..."

Hi David. Yes I'm well aware that's why I was shocked enough to post this thread. It was jarring, I actually had to double check if I had the right book.

If anything I think that this serves as a prime example of why we NEED diversity in fantasy and science fiction. It sounds like from what others posted LeGuin wrote this book with such female-deminishing tones because she honestly didn't know how to write fantasy otherwise--it was the only way she'd ever seen it? So even though she was a woman she didn't know how to write about women because she hadn't read anything of herself in fiction.

I was thinking about this versus say, The Hobbit, on my commute this morning. Hobbit is so devoid of female characters that they added one to the film right? I enjoy and love that book--despite the lack of female characters. Not *all* fiction has to pass Bechdel (or whatever) so long as when women ARE present they are either written with consideration or that the reason they aren't serves a point. And I don't think that should be limited to women--men should get it too. I'm not about to decry this here but praise a book full of man bashing that serves no purpose. This would hold for diversity of race, ethnicity, culture, religion, polka dots versus stripes whatever.


Steve (plinth) | 179 comments To be more precise, there are four female characters in the book that have any significance at all (at least in relation to Sparrowhawk):

Ged's Aunt (no name)
Serret
Yarrow
The Exiled Princess (no name)

Of the four, only two have names. Yarrow serves really as a Basil Exposition character, Ged's aunt barely more.

Both Serret and Ged's aunt aren't particularly nice people (Ged's aunt is shown using her magic skills in ways that are petty or vindictive and "women's magic" gets dissed pretty hard, IIRC).

Seen in the light of UKL's greater opus, it is outstandingly bad at its portrayal of women. It does, however, fit into the genre at the time it was written, except for the quality of the writing, which is very nice.


message 19: by Dharmakirti (last edited Feb 04, 2014 01:38PM) (new) - added it

Dharmakirti | 942 comments But what about bi, gay and lesbian characters? Where are they? And no trans characters? Not only is Earthsea sexist but it's also a homophobic and transphobic place! Why does anyone read this, it is immoral.

Maybe it is just my male privilege, but the lack of female characters is not at all impacting my enjoyment of Ged's story. I am kicking myself for not having read this before; this would've rocked my world had I read it as a teenager!


Joanna Chaplin | 1175 comments Dharmakirti wrote: "But what about bi, gay and lesbian characters? Where are they? And no trans characters? Not only is Earthsea sexist but it's also a homophobic and transphobic place! Why does anyone read this, it..."

It's OK to enjoy problematic things. But I think it's important to talk about it.


Alexander (technogoth) | 171 comments Dharmakirti wrote: "But what about bi, gay and lesbian characters? Where are they? And no trans characters? Not only is Earthsea sexist but it's also a homophobic and transphobic place! Why does anyone read this, it..."

Isn't Ged gay? I just assumed he was considering his comments towards the female characters in the book. He described them as ugly, or uninteresting and a waste of time. The only woman he spends time with uses magic to trick him into it.


terpkristin | 4144 comments Dharmakirti wrote: "But what about bi, gay and lesbian characters? Where are they? And no trans characters? Not only is Earthsea sexist but it's also a homophobic and transphobic place! Why does anyone read this, it is immoral.

Maybe it is just my male privilege, but the lack of female characters is not at all impacting my enjoyment of Ged's story. I am kicking myself for not having read this before; this would've rocked my world had I read it as a teenager!"


Well there are two separate issues, one which is unfair but it is what it is.

My big beef is the first issue. The women that are in the book are in very stereotypical "evil" or "temptress" roles. I find that disappointing. To be honest, though, at a bit more than halfway through, I don't see why Ged's skin color matters (even if it was ground breaking at the time for it to have non-white characters). That may change later, I'm not sure...

The second issue is a bit of a double-standard, but it is what it is. UKL, being a woman (and being a woman writing a book in a time when women were burning their bras and such, seeking greater empowerment) writing a book with women so...non-present (and stereotypical when they are) just seems "wrong." Nobody would fault a male author for making a male-only book or male-dominated book. And personally, I rarely if ever care about the gender of the protagonist...but that a woman author, writing a book in the late 60's...it's disappointing, especially when she addressed race.


Casey | 654 comments I think it's fine to recognize how women are portrayed but it's equally important to note when it was written. Le Guin acknowledges her inability to break with traditional gender roles, and assuming this is true, why can't we accept this as a reflection of society and an author's struggle to find her voice?


Casey | 654 comments Dharmakirti wrote: "I am kicking myself for not having read this before; this would've rocked my world had I read it as a teenager!"


Agreed!


message 25: by Olivia (last edited Feb 05, 2014 08:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments Dharmakirti wrote: "But what about bi, gay and lesbian characters? Where are they? And no trans characters? Not only is Earthsea sexist but it's also a homophobic and transphobic place! Why does anyone read this, it..."

That reads suspiciously dismissive of the discussion here. Again like I said my point is that not ALL books have to always be a diversity fest. Not all books can include all kinds of characters. That's not the problem. IT's that if you DO choose to include a character who is a (woman, gay, non-white) then you have a certain standard to be held to when writing those characters rather than writing charIcatures.


message 26: by Serendi (new)

Serendi | 833 comments I don't get why people are mad at an author for writing something that's dated now when it wasn't dated when s/he wrote it. I don't have a problem with not liking it or not wanting to read it. But expecting an author to have adhered to a standard that didn't exist when s/he wrote doesn't make sense to me.


Steve (plinth) | 179 comments I don't think it's so much getting mad at the author, but instead is more analogous to looking at clothing styles of the 60's and thinking, "but UKL has such good taste now, how could she have designed clothes in that style?" even when her actual designs were good compared to the others. (example of what 60's clothing might have looked like).


message 28: by Dharmakirti (last edited Feb 05, 2014 12:48PM) (new) - added it

Dharmakirti | 942 comments Olivia wrote: "That reads suspiciously dismissive of the discussion here. Again like I said my point is that not ALL books have to always be a diversity fest. Not all books can include all kinds of characters. That's not the problem. IT's that if you DO choose to include a character who is a (woman, gay, non-white) then you have a certain standard to be held to when writing those characters rather than writing charIcatures.

It reads suspiciously dismissive because, well, I am being slighly dismissive in a snarky, assholey type of way. My apologies for causing offense.

You state, "...IT's that if you DO choose to include a character who is a (woman, gay, non-white) then you have a certain standard to be held to when writing those characters rather than writing charIcatures.

I simply don't agree with this. For me, an author can depict their characters in whatever way they think will most effectively get their point across.
It's about the difference between depiction and endorsement. If Ms. Leguin (or any author) were endorsing a worldview that says, for example, women < men, then I would take issue.

Also, I would say that every character in Earthsea is a sterotype/caricature, not just the women. The length of the novel doesn't really allow Ms. Leguin the time to do much of any character development.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2481 comments Serendi wrote: "But expecting an author to have adhered to a standard that didn't exist when s/he wrote doesn't make sense to me. "

Yeah, I totally agree.


Nathan (tenebrous) | 377 comments Olivia wrote: . . . if you DO choose to include a character who is a (woman, gay, non-white) then you have a certain standard to be held to when writing those characters rather than writing charicatures."

Dharmakirti wrote: "Also, I would say that every character in Earthsea is a sterotype/caricature, not just the women. The length of the novel doesn't really allow Ms. Leguin the time to do much of any character development. "

Indeed. Ged himself is a barely scetched in achetype. Why then, is it reasonable to ask the females, that have so little play in the book, to be more complex than a crone or seductress type of character? Is it that you view these types as negative?

Moreover, the 2nd Archmage (forgot his name) had black skin but he was written as a architype too. Was that bad?

What I find more interesting is the setting never seems to escape a European context, though when I started thinking of Ged as Polynesian (brown skin, lives on an island) I started imagining the setting differently.


Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments Dharmakirti wrote: "Olivia wrote: "That reads suspiciously dismissive of the discussion here. Again like I said my point is that not ALL books have to always be a diversity fest. Not all books can include all kinds of..."

So maybe don't be snarky when the discussion is meant to be engaging and ya know, a discussion?

"I simply don't agree with this. For me, an author can depict their characters in whatever way they think will most effectively get their point across.
It's about the difference between depiction and endorsement. If Ms. Leguin (or any author) were endorsing a worldview that says, for example, women < men, then I would take issue. "

Oh I agree--but my question is, then what is the point of depicting women as stupid and "less than" men within the context of this world?

I finished the book and found the afterword particularly useful about this. She confirms she basically just didn't know how to write women any other way because traditionally in fantasy women were worth less than men. So her point was simply "following tradition" thus making it feel exactly like it is, kind of outdated and sexist.


Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments Nathan wrote: "Olivia wrote: . . . if you DO choose to include a character who is a (woman, gay, non-white) then you have a certain standard to be held to when writing those characters rather than writing charica..."

I think Le Guin sums it up best in her afterword

"The part of the tradition that I knew best was mostly written (or rewritten for children) in England and northern Europe . The principal characters were men. If the story was heroic, the hero was a white man; most dark-skinned people were inferior or evil. If there was a woman in the story, she was a passive object of desire and rescue (a beautiful blond princess); active women (dark, witches) usually caused destruction or tragedy. Anyway, the stories weren’t about the women.
They were about men, what men did, and what was important to men. It’s in this sense that A Wizard was perfectly conventional. The hero does what a man is supposed to do: he uses his strength, wits, and courage to rise from humble beginnings to great fame and power, in a world where women are secondary, a man’s world.

Therefore I'm being told to engage in a book where the world is defined to set women as secondary. It is hard for me to engage as much with a story in a world where this is the POV for little reason other than "tradition" --

I get the whole argument about how a work is a “snapshot of the era it was made in” – and I don’t think works should be dismissed because they fail to live up to our current standards, but we should continue to discuss why what was acceptable then is not now and not ignore it completely either. Hence the thread!


message 33: by Thane (new)

Thane | 476 comments Joanna wrote: "I think characterization is probably the weakest part of this book in general. Particularly for the women, but for the men, too. Ged is the only dynamic character, and he really only changes once."

I agree with this. Personally, I don't think that women are treated sexist so much as nobody else does anything except serve the story. One guy is immediately the friend, the other a rival. Everyone else is either mysterious or superstitious.

But, I think this isn't really a novel. It feels like more of a Telling. Like something that would be passed on verbally. The specific details surrounding everyone else doesn't matter. Only the journey of the main hero.

This is fine, it's just a different kind of story. I think we're richer for it.


message 34: by kvon (new) - rated it 5 stars

kvon | 562 comments She had another (post consciousness-raising) essay about her use of gender in Left Hand of Darkness, wishing that her neuter gendered characters hadn't defaulted to male pronouns, with samples of chapters using female and made up pronouns instead. But she too much enjoyed the sentence 'The king was pregnant.' She did write a sequel story on Gethen using more female characterization. I find these essays of how a writer can change her mind over a fifty year career fascinating.

Also, I believe it was the fifth book (of short stories) where we find out that there is a subtle magic to make male wizards not interested in sex, somehow linking sexual relations with the loss of magical power. I think it was related to curbing the abuse of power, perhaps. That was one thing I'd never noticed in the original trilogy as a teenager, although that might have been my own blind spots. Tehanu spoiler: (view spoiler) For me the sixth book, The Other Wind, tried to retcon too much of the sociology of the world, and broke it for me.


message 35: by Duy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Duy Nguyen (amou) The focus of the book to me was all on Ged and that was it. Even minor characters seem very minor.

Sexist is an issue but it also did happen and can also make a good plot, so can stereotypes and cliches.

I don't see lots of people complaining when a book is being really sexist or stereotypical against men in a strong female protagonist book.

In the end to me it's just a fictional book to go and lose yourself and not deal with life issues like that. Why expend energy thinking like that when you can campaign against it in real life.

I'd understand if it was a non-fictional trying to subdue the world to follow those standards but reading is meant to be fun.

But if you can't get past it, then that's just who you are and nothing is wrong with that either.

I can't say much as this is my first book I read of her's. The story doesn't get any better in terms of what you are looking for.

Hope you finish it anyways~

Good readingz =)


Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments Duy wrote: "In the end to me it's just a fictional book to go and lose yourself and not deal with life issues like that. Why expend energy thinking like that when you can campaign against it in real life."

Because art, in all forms, is about connecting. How can someone lose themselves in a world where they feel like they aren't represented and/or represented fairly? Not just women but all races/religions/whatever.

“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?" And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.” -- I've always really liked that.


message 37: by Julian (last edited Feb 07, 2014 11:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julian Arce | 71 comments I simply think that the book shows it's age. I was a couple of days ago watching Disney's Cinderella and when one of the (boy) mice tried his hand at sewing a (girl) mice took the needle away and told him "this is a woman's job" (at least on Spanish translation it does). She was about to get mad at it, and I reminded her how old the movie was.

Perhaps it is hard to grasp how much we have advanced on social (gender, race, sexual minorities) in the last 50 years - there are people living now that grew up in a more segregated, sexist world. On that regard I think is unfair to judge LeGuin over it. What she mentioned in the afterword is more than enough for me - she was a new author, and this was her first request by a publisher to write something for them. Of course she wouldn't want to rock the boat too hard, she wanted the book to do well - if anything I think that making the main characters non-white was daring enough.


AndrewP (andrewca) | 2481 comments Julián wrote: "Perhaps it is hard to grasp how much we have advanced on social (gender, race, sexual minorities) in the last 50 years "

Assuming you are living in the western world. In many other places the trend is going radically in the opposite direction.


message 39: by Dazerla (new)

Dazerla | 222 comments Olivia wrote: "So, um, is anyone else having a hard time dealing with the seemingly sexist tones in this book? I'm a third of the way through and it's hard for me, especially knowing this was written by a woman,..."

Yes, in fact this why Earthsea is my least favorite Le Guin's work, having read it previously. I started last night and was already groaning about the female characterization. It's paticularly bad for me because I really enjoy most of her other works and can't help but compare them.


Jonathon Dez-la-lour (jd2607) | 173 comments Although yes, the female characters in this book are pretty much entirely one-dimensional and fit quite easily into so-called "traditional" gender roles for fantasy novels, I found that it was the same with the male characters too. The only character that showed any development, to me, was Ged and even then it was fairly limited. The one thought that kept coming back to me was that characters were showing up and just hitting one note repeatedly, be it the evil sorceress, the temptress or the plucky side-kick.

I think that perhaps saying that the portrayal of women in the book is sexist is taking it a little bit too far. For me, sexist implies a certain maliciousness of intent and an unfair bias towards or against a particular gender. Now, hear me out, because I can practically hear the screams of "how can this not be sexist?" coming out of the computer as I type.

All of the characters in this book are flat and under-developed, it's not just the women. Vetch sits in the role of plucky sidekick/best friend throughout the book and doesn't venture from that. I always got the feeling that Le Guin was portraying women in a sexist world, rather than sexistly portraying women and those are two very different things, and that the references to women being weak or inferior to men in some way was, in fact, the narrator reflecting the views and beliefs of the fictional society we were being shown rather than being a reflection of Le Guin's own thoughts on the matter.

Are the portrayals of women shallow? Yes. Problematic in the light of 21st century beliefs and attitudes? Certainly.

But, at the time of writing, societal and literary trends all leaned towards these "traditional" gender roles and at the start of your career as a writer it can be difficult to break with established conventions, especially if you want to actually be published.


message 41: by Serendi (new)

Serendi | 833 comments I recently read The Song of Roland (medieval French epic) for a face-to-face book club, and I think this book fits very well in that mold. People are one-note, you know what that note is from the time they're introduced, and they play out the story in a way that fits who they are. The character traits are very likely what the audience would expect them to be. You find this with most pre-printing-press epics, as near as I can tell.


Rob Secundus (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments I'm not sure people are really looking at the narration in the right way here. The narrator is not Le Guin. The narrator is not even a nameless omniscient narrator. The narrator exists in this world, and is passing on a tale from that world. She is privileged above the ordinary tellers in that she seems to have some kind of secret knowledge of Ged, but she remains a storyteller very much removed from him (which results in what some have complained as a lack of characterization). Le Guin creates a narrator that is part of this sexist world, and then she makes the issues in that sexist world apparent. This isn't like Tolkien, where after reading the Hobbit you go, "oh wait, where were the women? Are....are women not able to go on adventures?" This is a book where the narrator tells you flat out "witch's magic is inferior to wizards." And then doesn't explain it. She plops this massive, sexist assumption on you that has no basis, as far as we can tell, in the way the world actually works. It's incredibly uncomfortable. It's jarring. And that is what makes this book about a sexist society itself a not-sexist text. It makes the reader both aware and uncomfortable of those issues. Le Guin may not have intended it, but these problems were clearly on some level on her mind when writing.


message 43: by Camilla (new)

Camilla (repressedpauper) I'm so annoyed at the amount of male privilege in this thread. Yes, the book is a product of its time in some ways. No, that does not mean it's unreasonable for a modern woman to feel uncomfortable at what is now sexist material, and it doesn't give you an excuse to be snarky.

Also, guys: you don't get to device what's sexist, sorry. I'm not trans*. I don't know how it feels to be trans*, and thus I don't get to decide that something that offends trans* people isn't transphobic. The same goes for sexism, racism, etc.


message 44: by Camilla (new)

Camilla (repressedpauper) *decide. Sorry, can't edit on mobile.


Jessica | 22 comments Love the story, but creepiest line:

"There is a saying on Gont, Weak as woman's magic, and there is another saying, Wicked as woman's magic."

Since this is the first novel of Le Guin's I've read, I will give her the benefit of the doubt. (Maybe she had a particularly nasty run-in with a group of mean girls & lashed out in a literary manner). Hopefully, her other stories have a more balanced outlook on females.


message 46: by Phil (last edited Feb 16, 2014 10:25PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Phil | 1140 comments Leanne wrote: "I'm so annoyed at the amount of male privilege in this thread. Yes, the book is a product of its time in some ways. No, that does not mean it's unreasonable for a modern woman to feel uncomfortable..."

You sound like you're almost as annoyed as I am when someone says I can't have a valid opinion on something because I'm a middle-aged, middle-class, white male.


message 47: by Olivia (last edited Feb 28, 2014 02:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments Phil wrote: "Leanne wrote: "I'm so annoyed at the amount of male privilege in this thread. Yes, the book is a product of its time in some ways. No, that does not mean it's unreasonable for a modern woman to fee..."

Phil you can have an opinion but something that a lot of those of us with privilege need to understand is that we will never really understand the experiences and need to listen more than we talk as a result. I say we because as a white woman, I know I will never be able to truly understand, and therefore need to accept when I'm told I am wrong about my assumptions/opinions, what it is like for a non-white woman in a western culture still rooted/steered by a white majority. Even in feminism we have struggles with privilege.

The same goes for men when it comes to the way male privilege dominated/continues to influence our world. Again I started this thread because I felt uncomfortable as a woman reading this book--as did many others here--and so to dismiss that or minimize it is indicative of your "privilege" i.e. being the majority and not being aware of what it is like to feel mis/under-represented.

Overlapping privilege as it pertains to white feminism specifically visually: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-YnciV2JiRIo...

http://campaignsick.blogspot.com/2014...

^^ is a great breakdown, especially at the beginning, of this. I think it's useful as a tool to remind myself even that within the realm of feminism, I get to be in a lucky majority and thus my experiences as a woman will differ from others.


message 48: by Thane (new)

Thane | 476 comments Anti-feminist = Neutral man? Hah. Silliness. Love how we must categorize everyone into tiny little circles on the way to Equality.


Olivia (oliviayoungers) | 115 comments Where does it say "="? It doesn't. It would be disingenuous to say it does. This diagram which is evaluating the issue of white feminism (which I included to make it clear that even WOMEN have levels of privilege within the sphere of feminism) simply puts them outside the circle in the same sphere. It doesn't conflate the two as being the same thing--just occupying the same "space"


message 50: by Thane (new)

Thane | 476 comments Disingenuous to me is that Western Feminism seems to be the only... ok, ONE of the only few concerns of the current scifi/fantasy crowd.

Maybe I've just read to many articles like this one. http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/sy...

Stoned to death for having a Facebook page? Horrendous. Yet, it's happening right here in 2014. Over 3000 women a day are forced into slavery. Not a month, a day!

Do I react poorly to these articles about being a proper ally to feminism and the like? Yep. Tearing down Ursula Le Guin for not being properly feminist in the '60's? Yeesh.

The articles very first point, Everyone has Privilege, is clearly untrue. Her second, You don't deserve a Medal, I heartily agree with.


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