Do the successful get a free pass?

Patrick Rothfuss just completed an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit in the  r/fantasy subreddit. It was a huge event, with over 1500 comments, and something like 25,000 unique visitors. During the event, the following conversation took place:

rothfussMy response was most closely approximated to shock. I put it on Twitter. It was retweeted. Some female fans decried it. Otherwise, silence. I should not be surprised. Successful people with gobs of social power are often left to their own devices. I cannot in good conscience let this one go.

See, people who are immensely successful, with a massive following and the kind of social power that political candidates would salivate over, are in essence providing a model of behavior for their fans, admirers, and imitators. It’s a responsibility whether they want it or not, something former NBA player Charles Barkley parodied in this ad,

I hate to break it to you, Chuck. But you were a role model then and you’re still one today. And so is Pat Rothfuss.

By not objecting to the comment on Reddit, Rothfuss functionally condoned the behavior. By responding to it, and participating in the masturbatory exchange that followed, Rothfuss demonstrated a camaraderie with the concept that his female characters exist solely for the benefit of the male gaze. He is normalizing a culture in which men feel entitled to have access to “attractive” women, judge women’s worth on their “attractiveness”, and not consider women as anything other than objects for view/consumption. I think what bothers me most of all is that the science fiction and fantasy community has done nothing but rail against this kind of mentality for the past several years and yet one of its most successful is perfectly fine participating in it.

Worst of all, perhaps, is that Reddit as a community has an underlying reputation for misogyny. It is widely populated by young men in the 18-35 demographic. What, from a marketing perspective, you might call “the holy grail”. Jim Hines, an author heavily committed to gender equality, decided not to participate in a Reddit AMA for exactly this reason. He believed, that by participating on the site he was condoning their behavior. I think Hines took things a little far, but the sentiment is right on. If we want change we must participate in helping it occur. By engaging in this behavior on Reddit, Rothfuss is telling them their past, and future, behavior is fine. I’m of the opinion that allowing this to skate does irreparable damage the message we’re trying to send.

If the Reddit question was the first example of Rothfuss doing something questionable as it relates to women, I would keep my mouth shut. But, for the past several years he has published a pin-up calendar for his Worldbuilders charity that depicts female characters from genre novels in alluring poses. He’s even got some high profile women authors to contribute their characters to the project. Why is the calendar problematic? Because the man is framed as the viewer, and the woman as the viewed. The calendar is celebrating science fiction and fantasy, and thus framing the woman as a passive recipient in the art excludes them from an active role in the making, creating, and consuming of the genres themselves. Of course, none of that is nearly as egregious at the comment that opened this post, but it points to a pattern of behavior. A pattern which none of the big dogs have deemed appropriate to call out.

I’m aware that many of women involved in the project have argued that the calendar is not inherently sexist. There have been others who disagree, generally people with no power. Natalie Luhrs, editor of Masque Books and blogger at Radish Reviews, recently wrote about the subject. It was met with deafening silence. Katie Baker wrote about the subject for Jezebel in 2011. Baker also highlighted some other odd interactions from Rothfuss. Yet, in all this, we’ve yet to see any major figure from within the science fiction and fantasy community say anything that would correct what is, at least occasionally, sexist behavior. But, this really doesn’t have to do with Patrick Rothfuss. As often as he’s wrong, he’s been right a lot more. He is overall a force for good. The larger issue though is the implied free pass that someone gets when their profile is such that they become untouchable.

Most of the individuals with real power to provide a mallet of loving correction are people just like Rothfuss. Authors with major platforms who don’t mind carving out a social position. The term, mallet of loving correction, is probably familiar. It’s a John Scalzi-ism, one of the internet’s self proclaimed police force for the good and righteous. Except, when it comes to the successful. When it comes to people who fall under the “don’t shit where you eat” axiom, the internet is eerily silent.

The Reddit comment was buried in a place such internet raconteurs may not frequent. It’s quite possible despite my Tweeting (I am, after all, not a big deal) none of them saw it. It’s also quite possible that they spoke to Rothfuss about it in private. It’s also entirely possible that every one is a little nervous about the social power of the immensely successful and it’s best not to poke the hive of rather energetic fan bases. I don’t know. But, we seem perfectly happy to speak out both sides of our mouth when it comes to people with power. And as far as I’m concerned that is bold faced hypocrisy. Our internet police force cannot only choose to engage when it can’t harm their own professional standing. At least it can’t if their genuinely interested in change.

Or, maybe they’re just pandering by engaging when it’s convenient. Tell me I’m wrong. Oh, and donate to Worldbuilders. It’s a really great cause.

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer's Book Review. When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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Comments
  • Kathryn (@Loerwyn) January 16, 2014 at 11:47 am

    One problem I had – and you didn’t pick up on it despite bringing together two linked points – was Rothfuss contributed to Jim C. Hines’ excellent series of posts about sexism in cover art, along with Mary Robinette Kowal (may have spelt her name wrong), John Scalzi (I think) and a small group of others. I was actually kinda shocked that Rothfuss would then go and do this. That said, I know you were ‘in’ on a conversation I had after (though you didn’t respond) on Twitter where a few of your followers confirmed that what I’d heard about Rothfuss’ female characters was indeed true, i.e. they’re problematic. I think it was the Pornokitsch review that really turned me off even considering his work.

    The problem that I think exists is that generally authors are somewhat unable to be held to account for what they say or do. I mean Tor US haven’t dropped OSC despite the HUGE controversies about him and his behaviour, and I can’t imagine that authors get more of a “okay, guy, tone it down a bit” from their agents/editors, so really an author can say what he or she or they like without really getting into any bother. Heck, the controversies about Howey, Ringo, Card, Brian Wood (in comics), etc., etc., haven’t really done much to limit their success. Why? I think it’s generally because people don’t give a dang or have this notion that author =/= their work, to which I say go read some Modesitt and learn yourself something (or, on the other end of the scale, go read Hamlet’s Father and tell me Card isn’t a foaming-at-the-mouth rabid asshole). On top of that, the blogosphere and the Twitosphere and the Facebook peeps form a minority, generally perhaps not even 10% of an author’s fanbase. We can rally against this stuff and shout it down and point out all the issues, but we’ll never reach every fan, we’ll never reach those who plod into a bookstore every so often to pick out a book. It’s a case of unavoidable ignorance, and that protects authors.

    So I mean whilst I can vow to never buy a Rothfuss book after this, it means nothing. Nothing will change, even if you were the most famous blogger of them all, simply because you cannot reach enough people and convince enough people it’s an issue to do something about it.

    Um. Rant over.

    • Jared January 16, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Yeah, it is a horrible dash of unpleasant reality, isn’t it? We’re in an online bubble that generally encourages progressivism and thoughtfulness but, out In The World, way too many just don’t give a shit. Thus OSC, et. al.

      I also agree with A person – Rothfuss, however troublesome I’ve found his books and his stupid calendar (and his *weak* defense to that – where he dumped all the blame on the artist, if I recall correctly) – I’ve generally got the impression that he’s on the side of the angels. He had a chance to be a role model, and instead he chose to be ‘one of the guys’. To err is human, but it is also disappointing.

      • Kathryn (@Loerwyn) January 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm

        Indeed. I mean he’s probably a pleasant chap and he’s made his name as much as a personality as he has an author – I mean just think about con season when you get the Ahmed/Rothfuss/Cole/Hines games going on and so forth – and yeah, we do make mistakes, but what I *personally* would like to see is Rothfuss come forward, take responsibility, apologise and show he’s learned.

        Will he? Probably. But will it be a face-saving moment or an actual attempt to try and change his behaviour? I think we’d have to see such a statement *and* his next book to decide. And truth be told, I don’t tend to have much faith in these things.

  • Emmie Mears January 16, 2014 at 11:49 am

    I think you kind of nailed it when you said that people fear the social power of the successful. Especially people trying to break into the same field, and especially when said people are a member of an underrepresented demographic.

    It’s a continuing point of frustration for me as a fantasy writer, and as much as there is increasing dialogue about these sorts of things, the actual momentum to shift things is a ponderous beast.

    Thanks for speaking up.

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) January 16, 2014 at 11:52 am

    The sports analogy, Justin is spot on. Although some athletes may declaim being a role model, and people say that “sports figures should not be your role models.”, wishing doesn’t make it so.

    Visible people are role models, whether they want it or not. This is true of nobles, monarchs, sports figures…and successful writers.

    I did tweet about that Calendar and my disquiet about it–but only ever received engagement from Clarion folk who challenged my thoughts about it being sexist. Otherwise, it was crickets.

    Challenging the successful is risky, and a lot of people are risk-averse. We don’t challenge those who could harm our own standing or people that we think should be good people. Or people we consider friends. We put on blinders. Human nature.

    That last bit ties into problems at cons, where the inexcusable behavior of some individuals (toward women, primarily) *gets* excused and and a pass. And it shouldn’t.

  • A person January 16, 2014 at 11:54 am

    I find this more disappointing than upsetting. Rothfuss had a perfect opportunity to say something snarky about fetishizing female body parts and actually have that “problematic” demographic listen (because misogynists only listen to men), and he utterly failed to do anything interesting, instead playing in to an unfunny and trite discussion about cup size. How dull.

  • Jennifer January 16, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for this article, Justin.

  • Beverly January 16, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    I think this authority/power thing is hard-wired into us; but, speaking up and creating dialogue spaces is exactly what we can do to combat it. When I first started getting involved with conventions, I began to hear whispers among other women on which editor to watch out for, or which author to watch out for. Women whisper among themselves, and only when they trust each other to a certain degree. I wish we (I mean all people here, not only women) spoke out more about people in power behaving badly, and that when we did there weren’t so many people quick to rush to their defense. I can’t help but feel this and things like it have some connection with the Milgram experiment findings.

  • buggedReader January 16, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    this is stupid waste of time and comes out as a huge troll. We have better things to read and be concerned about. From online exchanges I am pretty sure Pat is not a sexist guy. You need a life.. Stop being a wuss and write about good books

  • Dustin January 16, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I see this both ways. Fela is in many ways the ‘Ms. Fanservice’ character in KKC if we care about the tropes. Part of that includes a physical description. In the book, you can say she has a ‘generous amount of busom’ or simply say ‘busty’, but you can’t give it any kind of cup size or modern measurement because it would take the reader out of the story. In a setting such as an ‘Ask Me ANYTHING’ where is has no official bearing on the story, why not take the opportunity to provide a more modern physical description of a character many people are attracted to?

    However, she is much more than just an object for Kvothe (or the readers’) hormones. She’s a strong woman, the first we see to learn to master a name and make their ring. As a reader, I would be very interested in learning more about her exploits and as a person. That has to do very little with her cup size and much more to do with her as a character.

    Basically, I don’t think it was in the absolute best taste, but I feel that there are much worse things that can come out of an AMA and it was harmless IMO. As far as the calendar, if it sells more than something a tad more tasteful would, I’m sure the people benefitting care more about the aid they receive than if a fantasy character is exploited in the process. The only reputation to be hurt is Mr. Rothfuss’ and the people who choose to lend their characters. It’s their reputation to sour if they so choose, and at least it’s being done for a good cause.

    • Justin Landon January 16, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Good comment. Thanks Dustin.

    • jennygadget January 16, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      If “providing a more modern physical description of a character” was the point, than may I ask, as a person who wears bras, what the fuck saying “C” or “D” is supposed to tell anyone? Other the same thing as “busty”? Because “C” and “D” alone are not actual sizes.

      That to me was the giveaway that this answer was more about playing along than actually giving out information.

      • Lise January 16, 2014 at 2:09 pm

        Because “C” and “D” alone are not actual sizes.

        So I was wrong. Someone besides me DOES KNOW THIS. *highfive*

        Augh. I’d be pissed that this was a sexist thing, except so many women I know don’t even realize this. (And wonder why they get bras that don’t fit…)

        • jennygadget January 16, 2014 at 4:34 pm

          Hah. Yes, it’s true that there are a lot of women that don’t know this.

          I still blame sexism though, because it’s very much the idea that bras are for dressing for men/as if you were a Victoria’s Secret model*/for controlling your wayward ladyparts that perpetuates this. If talking about our bodies wasn’t always presented as sexual and/or shameful, this knowledge would be more accessible.

          *In fact, the “generous C, maybe D” is an oh so very Victoria’s Secret way of talking about bras. A wide range of band sizes? What’s that? Cup sizes larger than D? You must be joking.

          • Dustin January 16, 2014 at 5:46 pm

            I’ll admit to being completely uneducated in this regard (not because of the stereotype of a virgin/inexperienced fantasy reader, but just never has concerned me). I had just thought it was like a 1-4 scale with A being a 1 and D being a 4 and those being relative to the rest of one’s body size.

            Back on topic though, I think the question could have been better answered more delicately while still being true to his mental image of the character. However, given the massive amount of questions he got in that small span of time, I’m not surprised or offended that he simply stated the first thing that came to mind and continued on answering questions.

          • Lise January 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm

            Dustin
            I’ll admit to being completely uneducated in this regard (not because of the stereotype of a virgin/inexperienced fantasy reader, but just never has concerned me). I had just thought it was like a 1-4 scale with A being a 1 and D being a 4 and those being relative to the rest of one’s body size.
            Back on topic though, I think the question could have been better answered more delicately while still being true to his mental image of the character. However, given the massive amount of questions he got in that small span of time, I’m not surprised or offended that he simply stated the first thing that came to mind and continued on answering questions.

            Well, you are part right — it is a relative measure. Cup size is measured by subtracting the measurement of the upper or lower bust (band size) from the measurement across the widest part of the bust. These are classified into A (1″ difference), B (2″ difference), C, etc based on the difference. But there’s no upper limit on it; and moreover, given that band sizes have some ease to them, a woman who wears a 36C could probably also wear a 34D. I, for example, have largeish breasts, but I’m also fat (I’ll get the “lol ur fat” out of the way right now), so I could probably fit a 40A, but usually wear a 36D, because it’s, yanno. Possible to find.

            So to say Fela is a “C or D cup” means nothing, AND sounds like male wish fulfillment–because I’m pretty sure all these slathering fanboys wouldn’t be so excited if they found out she was a 40C.

          • jennygadget January 17, 2014 at 12:46 am

            “I’m not surprised or offended that he simply stated the first thing that came to mind and continued on answering questions.”

            That’s so awesome that you aren’t “surprised or offended” but I really don’t think how _you_ feel about *wink wink* *nudge nudge * questions about women’s bra sizes is the fundamental question here.

            And to clarify, I’m not “surprised” either. Why? because this is a cliched question for sexists to ask actual women when they want to put them in their place. A commonly known fact that I’m amazed has yet to be brought up. Also “offended” is a trite word for how this exchange made me feel. Gross. On display. Mocked. Unwelcome. would all be better and more accurate.

            My point about how bra sizes actually work was the one that Lise expanded on. The answer Rothfuss gave doesn’t mean anything beyond “yes, she fits the current ideal for masturbatory fantasies.” It has no actual meaning when it comes to size. Which means that this answer was not about imparting factual information, it was about confirming their view of this character as existing for their sexual pleasure.

            “…because I’m pretty sure all these slathering fanboys wouldn’t be so excited if they found out she was a 40C.”

            Yeah, I’m just…the whole part where the women reading this exchange wear actual bras and so have actual bras with real sizes and wear C and D and hell even A and J sized cups seems to be consistently forgotten. In both the initial exchange and in some people’s responses to it.

  • Lise January 16, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    I completely missed this because I consider Reddit a wretched hive of scum and villainy and refuse to take part in it.

    But.

    This is really, really tone-deaf of Pat, at the least.

    I think what bothers me the most is that he answered with no hesitation. It reads like… of course he has this information, filed under F, for Fela! I mean, if I were asked the cup size of my female characters, this is not something I’d have off the top of my head! If I really felt compelled(!) to answer for some reason, I’d probably have to say, “well, she’s a larger lady, so she probably has a larger bust; on the other hand, she probably also has a larger frame, and we all know that cup sizes are a relative measure, right?” (spoiler alert: no one knows this).

    Moreover, I doubt anybody asked about Kvothe’s schlong, so. There’s that double standard, again. (If only I’d known, I would have asked. Or Bast. I think I’d rather know that about Bast. Ask Me Anything, indeed). And this is sandwiched in the middle of this post, but it’s a very important point. If you are ever in doubt of whether or not something is appropriate to do in regards to your female characters, ask, “Would this be appropriate for a guy?”

    But the proper response should have been: not answering at all. Or answering to say, “I really don’t want to encourage you guys to view my characters this way.” I would have even accepted the former, coupled with “but… she is probably a larger-busted lady, because [reasons].” Reasons he didn’t pull out of his Sexy Fela Masturbation file.

    In reading his books, I feel this fundamental conflict in how he portrays his female characters. Denna annoys the fuck out of me, being this bundle of mystery-instead-of-personality. His depictions of Fela go back and forth; sometimes she seems interesting (I liked the whole revenge-on-Ambrose arc); sometimes she is just someone Kvothe gets to rescue. On the other hand, I liked the Adem women we met. And there’s Devi, who is amazing.

    I feel like he’s still figuring this stuff out, so I am willing to cut him some slack. But in general I agree with your assessment that he has a sort of privilege and responsibility, as one of the shining names of modern fantasy, to be more careful with these sorts of issues.

  • Andrew Liptak January 16, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I think you’re dead on – for another example, look at the views of Orson Scott Card. He’s said some incredibly stupid things over the years, promotes some horrific viewpoints, but still, his books sell oodles of copies.

    • Kathryn (@Loerwyn) January 16, 2014 at 1:34 pm

      Joke’s on him because he still hasn’t – AFAIK – bested Ender’s Game in terms of critical acclaim, sales or anything.

    • JJ Litke January 16, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      The books may sell, but the movie was on Variety’s list of Biggest Box Office Bombs of 2013. According to Wikipedia, it’s finally taken in enough to cover its budget. There’s no way to know how much of the lack of interest was caused by the outcry against Card, but it’s probably a safe bet that Hollywood won’t take a risk on more movies from his books.

  • Andrew Liptak January 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    I’m not sure I agree. Since 1987 (after Ender’s Game won its last award), Card’s been nominated for 89 separate awards for 48 different works and for him as a person a bunch of other times. Of those, he’s won 10 awards: World Fantasy, 3 Hugos and a Nebula. Speaker for the Dead has won a lot of awards, and Tor (despite their ability to rightly fire an editor for sexual harassment) still touts him as one of their A-level authors, especially with the latest bunch of Ender books that have come out. I’d say he’s got the popularity to keep up his popularity momentum. I’m not suggesting that Rothfuss is in the same category, but that he does have quite a bit of popular momentum going for him.

    • Kathryn (@Loerwyn) January 16, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Card has popularity, etc., that’s undeniable, but I think it’s pretty clear he hasn’t been able to best his ‘key’ work. Of course this isn’t necessarily uncommon, but for such a prolific author with such a high profile, it seems odd that his most popular work is nearing on thirty years old. Hopefully, though, this should lessen off to some degree following the flop of the movie and so on.

      • Barb Caffrey January 23, 2014 at 1:17 am

        Personally, I think the reason OSC hasn’t topped “Ender’s Game” or “Speaker for the Dead” is precisely _because_ he’s so prolific. He’s not spending time polishing his novels, because he doesn’t have time to do that — instead, the excellent Tor editors must be doing yeoman’s work, because otherwise there’s absolutely no way OSC would be able to get all those novels out the door.

        Another possibility is that OSC may have a research assistant (or two, or twenty) go over his finished novels after the editorial suggestions come in. (He’d not be the only writer who does this, as apparently Brandon Sanderson does the same thing.) That’s why the work now is not as polished, not as distinct, as it was before, one of these two reasons — and both of them come back to the same place: He’s so prolific, there’s no way he has enough time to polish and refine anything to this level.

        (The only one I’ve read who _is_ prolific and manages to polish his ideas, BTW, is L.E. Modesitt, Jr. Whose best work may also be behind him, but not quite as _far_ behind, and who’s put out plenty of good stuff in the last few years that rivals his best stuff, too.)

  • Jared January 16, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Part of the problem seems to be the refusal to separate author and text.

    And this, in fairness, falls on both sides -

    1) Rothfuss can write terrible books and not be a sexist person
    2) Rothfuss can write amazing books and still be a person who does dumb shit*

    A case like this sort of falls into the latter category. He’s done something stupid, but calling *him* on it out is seen as an attack on him, his books and everyone that likes those books. Which gives us one possible answer to Justin’s original question: why does not one call him on it?

    Well, it seems *actually detrimental* – to dare to treat Rothfuss as a mistake-prone human is to risk being slated/hated by his fans. Justin has nothing to lose but traffic (sorry, dude). But were he, say, another fantasy author, he’d be losing sales.

    *OSC is a different case. Rothfuss may be a case of “love the sinner, hate the sin”, OSC is an active proponent of evil.

    • Justin Landon January 16, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      I don’t get a lot of traffic anyway. ;)

      • Jared January 16, 2014 at 2:15 pm

        Eh. Keep your readers. No one else wants them anyway. Loud-mouths and feminists, the lot of ‘em.

    • WHM January 16, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      I’ve been trying to figure out why this matters to me. I like Rothfuss’ novels. I also like much of what I’ve seen from him as a person (on twitter, in interviews, his blog posts, etc.).

      But I also have some reservations about his work — and some of those reservations revolve around how Rothfuss portrays women characters. I would like to see his fiction get better in this particular area. Does a flip, fan service comment on reddit suggest that he won’t/isn’t getting better in how he writes women characters? Maybe not. But it’s also not positive evidence in the direction I’d like to see his writing move. Now, of course, he can write whatever he wants. He doesn’t owe me anything. But I think, at least for me, it’s not so stark as 1 and 2. It’s a scale — not sides. And I was hoping that he was moving a particular direction on that scale.

    • Beverly January 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      We’re just more likely to see people we like (or think we like, which is often how we feel about people who entertain us,) in better terms.

      An analogy: my ex’s anger problems were excused at first because he never took them out on me. Until he did, and then they weren’t OK anymore. I should never have thought the way he treated people was acceptable, but I was into him, so I overlooked it and even defended him.

      I know these are two completely different things; however, I think the same sort of group dynamic behaviours end up applying to these situations. Some are writ small, and some are writ large.

      So again: yes. Good we are discussing, because that’s how we overcome and change The Way It Always Has Been.

      • Beverly January 16, 2014 at 3:37 pm

        Oops. That was supposed to be in reply to Jared. Doesn’t seem to have worked that way.

    • Kathryn (@Loerwyn) January 16, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      I think separating author and text is a dangerous thing, and I think you should always, at the very least, bear in mind that the author will be reflected in some way in that text. Card, Dnikdoog, Banks, Modesitt, and dozens, if not hundreds, of others use their books in a way that reflects their beliefs and ways of thinking. Some do it for good, some do it for what we consider ‘bad’. Authors can and do write things they don’t necessarily believe – I don’t think anyone would consider Martin to be a mass-murdering rapist who promotes destructive incestuous relationships even though that’s what his main works contain, but at the same time I wouldn’t consider him sexist because the women in his books are raped, y’know? I think it’s pretty clear from ASoIaF that Martin can and does understand and respect women in misogynistic situations and manages to give them power, albeit of a different sort.

      But if you go too far with separating works, you can try to defend the indefensible. How can you separate Card from Hamlet’s Father or Dnikdoog from Sword of Truthiness? You can’t. Those works are as much their beliefs as they are fictional pieces, more… allegory than story, I suppose, and if you try to separate the creator and the piece, then… you kinda lessen just how offensive or destructive such things can be. Not so much in Dnikdoog’s case, admittedly, but I think you understand my point.

      Writing bad female characters is not necessarily a sign of sexism. I’ll agree with that. There’s plenty of women who can’t write female characters, too. Making a sexist remark doesn’t necessarily make you sexist, either. I’d be reluctant to accuse Rothfuss of being a practitioner of sexism but I think it would be agreed on that his work – and this instance of behaviour – is sexist in some way.

      But… cynical moment here. How many mistakes can one make before it’s considered a problem?

  • Lise January 16, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    jennygadget
    I still blame sexism though, because it’s very much the idea that bras are for dressing for men/as if you were a Victoria’s Secret model*/for controlling your wayward ladyparts that perpetuates this. If talking about our bodies wasn’t always presented as sexual and/or shameful, this knowledge would be more accessible.
    *In fact, the “generous C, maybe D” is an oh so very Victoria’s Secret way of talking about bras. A wide range of band sizes? What’s that? Cup sizes larger than D? You must be joking.

    You speak the truth. I like your ideas and would subscribe to your newsletter!

  • Lise January 16, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Kathryn (@Loerwyn)
    Authors can and do write things they don’t necessarily believe – I don’t think anyone would consider Martin to be a mass-murdering rapist who promotes destructive incestuous relationships even though that’s what his main works contain, but at the same time I wouldn’t consider him sexist because the women in his books are raped, y’know? I think it’s pretty clear from ASoIaF that Martin can and does understand and respect women in misogynistic situations and manages to give them power, albeit of a different sort.

    I am not abundantly familiar with GRRM (I know, I’ll turn in my fantasy cred at the door), but my understanding is he does some questionable things, too, in how he describes female characters (the example I’ve heard cited is the “small breasts moving freely beneath her armor” description of Dany). And I think there is some value judgment in his decision to write a world that IS so rape-y.

    But everyone goofs up in some way some of the times; degree is what is really important. I won’t boycott Rothfuss because of this, but it’s something that will be in my mind when I read his stuff in the future. And I will be interested to see if he responds to this issue at all.

  • Herb January 16, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    This is a serious topic worthy of critical, nuanced debate. We can’t ever have that debate, however, if we don’t concede that A) people find other people attractive, B) this is ok, in some circumstances. It seems an odd thing to concede, considering literally everybody believes it, but it somehow gets passed over. Sex shows up in books because people are almost as interested in reading about it as having it. It’s not inherently problematic to admit this. Can you really fetishize a sexual organ? Why do we always approach sexualizing attractive people under an assumption that it is something only wicked men do, when non-wicked men do it as well, and women? Literally everyone but the asexual does. It may not be something we admit in polite company, but literature is emphatically not polite company, but rather where we bare our souls, from the truly wicked parts to the mundane parts that find other people sexually attractive.

    • Liz Bourke January 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      You are putting words together in ways that do not make sense to me.

      Can you really fetishize a sexual organ?

      Yes. Fetishise: to make a fetish of, to obsess over. It is entirely possible to have an irrational or abnormal fixation or preoccupation with sexual characteristics. Not everyone goes around like twelve-year-old poorly-socialised boys saying, “BOOBIES!” or, “COCK!”

      Paying attention to sexual characteristics is for sexual, or potentially sexual, situations and partners. Not every situation is a potentially sexual situation – unless one is a person of creepiness.

      Why do we always approach sexualizing attractive people under an assumption that it is something only wicked men do

      Context. It matters. If one considers another person solely, or predominantly, in terms of how sexually attractive they are physically, one is behaving like a sex-obsessed asshat. If one focuses on their physical attributes rather than considering them as a whole person with desires and interests of their own, one is behaving like a sex-obsessed asshat who sees other people as objects for consumption – as things, rather than real humans.

      Evil , as Terry Pratchett appositely wrote (and more than once), “begins when you begin to treat people as things.”

      “There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.

      “It’s a lot more complicated than that –”

      “No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

      “Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes –”

      “But they starts with thinking about people as things …”

    • jennygadget January 16, 2014 at 5:48 pm

      Back when I worked in a bookstore Vogue Knitting came out with a “Men’s Issue.” The cover looked like this:

      http://jennygadget.tumblr.com/post/73550601729/vogue-knitting-the-mens-issue-my-apologies

      You should have seen my male coworkers FREAK THE FUCK OUT. And – what boggled me female coworkers and I – actually expected to not have to even be near the thing. Keep in mind, we regularly had magazine with covers like these come in:

      http://www.google.com/search?q=car+magazine&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=CmHYUo6VB8TuoASrnYD4BQ&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAQ&biw=1287&bih=922#q=lowriders+car+magazine&rls=en&tbm=isch

      And while I’m sure my female coworkers and I all had opinions about them (I know I did), we never said peep about them. And we all did our jobs and put them away and helped customers find them. Again, without complaint or comment.

      I really do not think that the issue in this case is that we think “only wicked men” are sexually attracted to people. It seems pretty clear to me that the issue is that we have been trained to act and talk as though only men have desire and only women are designed to be desired.

      And if we are going to talk about this issue productively then we need to break free from the mindset that says that women have to put up with everything that is thrown at them, so long as the person doing it “means well.” But that men can assume that women don’t even think that way about them.*

      *to be fair, attitudes about this have shifted a bit in the years since that cover came out, but it still persists and it seems very relevant to this particular comment.

    • Lise January 16, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Aren’t we having this debate, right here? So that somewhat undermines your point, unless you think everyone who has commented on this post to date is being irrational. Which is awfully tall hill to die on.

      I mean. Boobs are nice. I understand they are inherently aesthetic. I understand that people find them attractive. I think it is more than possible to hold this belief and also think he responded in an inappropriate way. He sexualized a character in a way he would not have done were that character male. Moreover, he did it readily.

      It’s like I said above. Do you think anyone would have asked about the size of Kvothe’s dick? Do you think Pat would have had so ready a reply? No. That is what bothers me, not because some dudes on Reddit somewhere like boobs.

  • Liz Bourke January 16, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Justin, in case I haven’t already mentioned it on Twitter: you’re a bloody decent bloke for engaging thoughtfully with the issue of a) what counts as sexist crap and b) who gets called on it.

  • Mia January 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    The successful often do get a free pass or perhaps wide latitude. With fans, they could often do no wrong and anyone who deigns to say otherwise is quickly vilified. We all likely have greater tolerance for the behavior of those we admire. What we’d immediately condemn as deplorable by someone unknown or unloved, we tend to dismiss of those we admire. We chalk it down to a joking remark, defend it as non-malicious or out of context, forgive it as a weak moment.

    What we say, what we find humor in, what we respond to, what we’re silent on– they all mean something and matter. It’s a reflection of our beliefs, whether we are conscious of them or not. It’s not a waste of time to consider them. If it is, then was it not a bigger waste of Mr. Rothfuss’ time to engage in a discussion of a fictional character’s breast size to indulge pubescent fantasies? Being touted as ask “anything” is not an order to turn off your tact or taste meter.

    Moreover, I doubt the entire body of humor would suffer if we no longer indulged in exchanges such as these. We’d all do well to find humor in something intelligent and creative rather than going for the easy laugh about baser subjects, if they were even funny to begin with.

    Whether people of stature and following like it or not, their behavior influences others, directly or indirectly. Perhaps it’s time to be more circumspect about those we hold dear, to view them through an objective lens. If they get applause for the good they do, why shouldn’t they concomitantly be called out when they do something objectionable?

    I loved and recommended Mr. Rothfuss’ books and blog. Admittedly though, my enjoyment has diminished over time. As Mr. Landon has pointed out, this is not his first stumble. I still think his prose is undeniably beautiful and he seems to have a big heart. But all this only emphasizes how deeply disappointing this instance is. Is it so evil? No, but he certainly missed an opportunity to make a meaningful statement as opposed to getting an easy laugh.

  • […] But Justin Landon of Staffer’s Book Review decided he would remark upon it: […]

  • grumula January 17, 2014 at 9:18 am

    he was asked to give a size, he gave an approximation, everyone lost their shit. it’s his character, he created her in his minds eye, every detail, he didn’t say “a big ol’ mouthfull of juicy d cups, or a nice plump c boioioioing, he said c or maybe d! and why the fuck is he a roll model just because he’s published a book, people are fucking retards imho, and should all go fuck off! yes, it is possible to say that women in fiction are awesome, and have a particular hight/weight/measurement, without it becoming some ludacrous impossible dichotomy!

    • Justin Landon January 20, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      I do believe the point rather missed you. Thanks for reading.

  • WordTipping January 17, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Great post and great comments. This is exactly why Staffer’s is in my RSS feed. My only disagreement with Justin’s post is this sentiment:

    As often as he’s wrong, he’s been right a lot more. He is overall a force for good.

    To me, this is an indulgence of bad behavior. If someone makes a habit of slapping ice-cream cones out of little kids hands, you don’t fix the situation by buying twice as many other kids ice-cream cones. You fix it by stopping the bad behavior. Accepting the logic that someone is a good person as long as they do more good than bad accepts the bad that occurred. It accepts the pain that bad caused. It accepts making a little kid cry as long as you make two others smile.

    • Justin Landon January 20, 2014 at 4:53 pm

      Well, sure, but making some sexist remarks doesn’t diminish his work with Worldbuilders. Nor does it off-set it. But, he does more good things than bad things. It’s a statement of fact, not a value judgement. Or at least I intended it that way.

  • Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea January 17, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    […] then I saw this comment on Staffer’s, and I felt moved to hold it up as an example of the old adage of “You shall know them by the […]

  • Jared January 17, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    Beverly
    Oops. That was supposed to be in reply to Jared. Doesn’t seem to have worked that way.

    I blame me. But, yes – definitely! I wonder if the system *should* be erred towards a positive bias? As in:

    - If we like the book, we start from a position of liking the author
    - If we like the author, we start from a position of like the book

    We do that naturally (I mean, I expect to read my friends’ books and like them), but that’s also not really separating book and author, is it? But… it is generally positive, so ok? I’m not sure. I want some sort of nice algebraic formula for behaviour, and that’s not going to happen, is it?

    • Beverly January 17, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      No, definitely it won’t be that way; but, it would make life simpler. :) Also, I don’t think it is inherently bad at all, just when it keeps people from realizing when it’s time to speak up.

  • Jared January 17, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Kathryn (@Loerwyn)
    But if you go too far with separating works, you can try to defend the indefensible. How can you separate Card from Hamlet’s Father or Dnikdoog from Sword of Truthiness? You can’t. Those works are as much their beliefs as they are fictional pieces, more… allegory than story, I suppose, and if you try to separate the creator and the piece, then… you kinda lessen just how offensive or destructive such things can be. Not so much in Dnikdoog’s case, admittedly, but I think you understand my point.

    Yes, absolutely. Again, I want a clean formula and it ain’t going to happen, is it? I mean, I won’t read Card’s stuff because I think he’s an active evillist. Not only will I never be able to separate the man and his work, but I don’t even want to.

    So, to turn it on its head, there are definitely lines where a terrible person becomes inseparable from their work. And, for any other industry… isn’t that true? We don’t eat our breakfasts at restaurants with homophobic owners. We boycott a coffee brand because they deforest the jungle. We wouldn’t go to a doctor who is racist. Why should authors/artists be any different?

    (I don’t know. But argh.)

    But… cynical moment here. How many mistakes can one make before it’s considered a problem?

    Yeah. I’m with you on that too. It isn’t like this is the first time Rothfuss has put his foot in his mouth in this particular way. YES, he is probably a good guy. Because everyone says so, and that should be our default assumption. (Because we’re nice human beings.) But, as Justin points out, after the calendar and the blog posts (and, as above, the content of his books), you’d think a) people would be scouring over what he says and b) he’d be far more careful.

    Which, I guess, is one of the key questions in Justin’s post!

  • Ben January 17, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    So before addressing whether the successful get a free pass, more specifically, is Rothfuss getting a free pass?

    I don’t know. This certainly isn’t the first time the question of Pat Rothfuss being sexist has come up. That Jezebel article from 2012 has hundreds of comments, which is rather a lot for a mainstream internet publication writing about a fantasy author (even a best selling one). That’s quite a large microscope to be put under for Rothfuss. Even if it ended with a legion of devoted Rothfites blindly defending their hallowed leader, he still probably lost sales as a result.

    If that were a blog post by a decidedly less successful author, I’d wager that this sort of behavior wouldn’t have been examined at all. Not being big enough to make a sizable splash is its own sort of free pass that Rothfuss doesn’t have any more. If he says some dumb shit, people will pay attention to it, and, hopefully, call him out on it. So in that respect, he doesn’t have a free pass. He’s accountable to the world at large, and if people have a problem with how he conducts himself as a human being, people can do something about it and not buy his books.

    Generally though, people are quite happy to sacrifice what is right for what makes them happy. When confronted between a choice between what they like and what is right, people will do all kinds of mental gymnastics to rationalize behavior they’d otherwise criticize. Luis Suarez racially abused a guy during a football match, but that’s easily explainable if you’re a Liverpool fan watching him score a record number of goals. Woody Allen maybe molested a 7 year old, but Annie Hall sure is a good movie. And have you tried those chicken biscuits at Chick-fil-a? And unfortunately, when the things you do positively effect enough people, the horrible things they do can easily be made irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

    Stuff like this, and the Jezebel article, are what keeps people who entertain us or who make lots of money for other people from getting a free pass when they do things that are shitty. It forces people to examine what they’re sacrificing for what benefits they’re getting. Ender’s Game bombed, and even though I and many others like me adored that book when we were kids, we didn’t go see the movie because OSC is a horrible human being. And sometimes there’s a line you cross where even the blindest supporters have to stop and think (see Deen, Paula).

    So while people unwilling to think critically about what they’re buying are going to support the things they love because they love them and give the men and women behind it a free pass for their sins, the rest of us won’t. And that’s not nothing.

    • Justin Landon January 20, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      Good comment, Ben. I’m trying to point out, perhaps unsuccessfully, that the Jezebel article is as you say–mainstream. Few within the SFF community have been willing to make a similar statement. Hence my premise.

    • JMP April 10, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      The majority of the comments on that Jezebel article were by fans uncritically defending Rothfuss. Just look down this string and you’ll find such fans who imagine that someone is beyond criticism simply because they are a published author and that all criticism is somehow the result of “jealousy”. Most of them don’t give a shit about sexism, and lack any conception of structural oppression (as Rothfuss also does), but are willing to give their favourite author a free pass in an area where they are clearly ignorant just because they like his books. Moreover, if you type “Patrick Rothfuss sexist” into google you will find more asinine posts defending Rothfuss against the Jezebel article, with nearly identical arguments that are made by those bright young fans below. So yes, Rothfuss really is getting a free pass.

      After all, it is not as if any of these critiques have changed his behaviour. He continues to act in the same way on these issues, validated by his fans and book sales, without any self-criticism or care that he has been criticized. This is the very definition of a “free pass”.

  • Josh January 17, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I think things like this are far too over analysed.

    Fela just happens to be an attractive women in a novel. Most men are attracted to attractive men, hence the attraction occurs. Yes of course we should always fight against things that degrade and humiliate women, but in the article it sounds like you want to eliminate any kind of references to basic human sexuality. Of course women in a pinup calender and the ‘viewed’ and the men are the ‘viewers’, it is inversely exactly the same in a male pinup calendar, which many women enjoy. Also, there would be many male readers who enjoy such encounters and writings with women and I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with that, unless it is in a very obviously sexist or derogatory context, which this is definitely not. They certainly don’t deserve to be demonised for it.

    All that aside, I think this post is just a tongue in cheek bit of fun that if anything has a completely sarcastic tone to it. Calling it ‘masturbatory’ is the most inflammatory statement I have ever heard.

  • Allan January 18, 2014 at 12:08 am

    Wow. This whole conversation is a wonderful example of blowing something out of proportion. I keep reading comments saying “Mr Rothfuss missed an opportunity to make a stand.” Oh please, give it a rest. Get off your soap box and invest in a sense of humour or at least accept that not everything that comes out off a persons mouth needs to be analysed as a social commentary and a stance on modern day sexism.

    Mr Rothfuss made a comment about what he pictures the cup size to be about a character he created. I think it is ridiculously hyperbolic to leap to this conclusion … “Rothfuss demonstrated a camaraderie with the concept that his female characters exist solely for the benefit of the male gaze. He is normalizing a culture in which men feel entitled to have access to “attractive” women, judge women’s worth on their “attractiveness”, and not consider women as anything other than objects for view/consumption.

    Would there have been an outrage if he said that she was an A-cup.

    I really enjoy this blog but I feel that this particular post was created with the intent to solely stir up needless controversy and reeks of a witch hunt.

  • Allan January 18, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Additionally, who hasn’t walked down the street and admired a man’s abs, or big arms. Or a woman’s legs or breasts. God forbid!!!!! If Mr Rothfuss wants Fela to be perceived as good looking or sexy you are just going to have to deal with it.

    Or not. I’ve wasted to much time on this topic anyway

  • WordTipping January 18, 2014 at 10:44 am

    But… cynical moment here. How many mistakes can one make before it’s considered a problem?

    It’s always a problem. The core question is how many time are you willing to overlook the problem? That is an elastic barrier that is 100% relative to each person and their experiences. With OSC, it was easy once I was aware of his POV. Othertimes it was harder and took longer before that elastic barrier finally broke. Penny Arcade and Mike Krahulik’s antics fall into that category for me. Sometimes I wish I had acted sooner and regret giving ‘just one more chance’. Other times, people surprise you and change. The important part is realizing it is a problem and challenging people on it. As Liz Bourke mentions in her blog post though, it is not easy. I know I am not always up to the challenge.

  • Book Bloggery Week-in-Review (43) January 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    […] Justin wonders: do the successful get a free pass? […]

  • […] much thought about the annoying literary pin-up calendars in a while – not since January, when Justin at Staffer’s Book Review brought it up again as being intensely problematic.  As I told Justin at the time, it was one of those low-level annoyances I’ve learned to live with […]

  • Gowan March 17, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Maybe it really was just how he pictured the character. Maybe he thinks as thouroughly about all of his characters and their anatomy. Maybe, if we asked him about the size of Kvothe’s penis, he would answer that question without hesitation, too. I guess someone should just ask and see what happens.

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