Grab your head bandages and clear your desks, Tor.commers, for the Wheel of Time Reread Redux is back!
All original posts are listed in The Wheel of Time Reread Index here, and all Redux posts will also be archived there as well. (The Wheel of Time Master Index, as always, is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general on Tor.com.)
The Wheel of Time Reread is also available as an e-book series! Yay!
All Reread Redux posts will contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series, so if you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Before we begin, a reminder that the format of the Reread Redux has changed: from now on I am only going to be commenting on chapters in which my reaction has changed significantly from before, based on the knowledge I had at the time.
Although once again, this time we aren’t skipping anything, so as you were.
Chapter 27: Within the Ways
Her full armed slap made spots dance in front of his eyes. “What did you mean,” she practically spat, “charging in here like a wild boar? You have no regard. None!”
He took a slow, deep breath. “I asked you before not to do that.” Her dark, tilted eyes widened as if he had said something infuriating. He was rubbing his cheek when her second slap caught him on the other side, nearly unhinging his jaw. The Aiel were watching interestedly, and Loial with his ears drooping.
“I told you not to do that,” he growled. Her fist was not very big, but her sudden punch to his shortribs drove most of the air from his lungs, hunching him over sideways, and she drew back her fist again. With a snarl, he seized her by the scruff of her neck and…
Well, it was her own fault. It was. He had asked her not to hit him, told her. Her own fault. He was surprised she had not tried to pull one of her knives, though; she seemed to carry as many as Mat.
She had been furious, of course. Furious with Loial for trying to intervene; she could take care of herself, thank you very much. Furious with Bain and Chiad for not intervening; she had been taken aback when they said they did not think she would want them to interfere in a fight she had picked. When you choose the fight, Bain had said, you must take the consequences, win or lose. But she did not seem even the tiniest bit angry with him any longer. That made him nervous. She had only stared at him, her dark eyes glistening with unshed tears, which made him feel guilty, which in turn made him angry. Why should he be guilty? Was he supposed to stand there and let her hit him to her heart’s content? She had mounted Swallow and sat there, very stiff-backed, refusing to sit gingerly, staring at him with an unreadable expression. It made him very nervous. He almost wished she had pulled a knife. Almost.
Ah, the Great Spanking Debacle of 2009. I remember it well. I’m pretty sure we all do.
(Even so, you will most likely want to go and refresh your memory of my original commentary for this post to fully make sense. And if you have time to peruse the comments, that’s worth a gander too.)
I gave some serious thought to simply skipping this chapter altogether, along with the rather large can of worms it opened. And I’m sure that there are probably some readers who would prefer that. But I decided upon reflection that I really could not do that, because what happened as a result of my original commentary on this chapter has had way too much impact, both on the Reread and on myself personally, to ignore. Also, I would be remiss if I did not take the chance to expand upon and/or clarify my position on the matter after having taken in the original responses to it.
It seems naïve in retrospect to say that I was shocked by the storm of controversy I triggered by my negative reaction to Perrin spanking Faile, but I really was. Shocked, I mean. And also naïve, actually. By 2009 I had been online for more than long enough to know that certain topics are practically guaranteed to bring out the vitriol in any online forum, but even so I don’t think it occurred to me, when writing that post, that the actual question of “whether it’s okay for a dude to spank his girlfriend” was one that there would be any controversy over whatsoever.
And, well. I got schooled on that assumption mighty quick, didn’t I.
Now, in comparison to your average Internet flamewar (especially these days), The Spanking Thread was actually pretty mild, and after the initial flareups and a few cautionary comments from the mods, the discussion mostly settled down. (At least as far down as I read, this time around; I confess I ran out of steam somewhere in the 200s.) For the most part, it was a reasonable, interesting debate, in fact.
That said, some of the sentiments expressed therein, even when presented calmly, I found anywhere from lightly upsetting to deeply disturbing—mostly, in the latter case, because the commenters themselves seemed to have no idea of what it was they were implying.
The biggest one of these was the “you act like a child, you get spanked like a child” comments. There were a number of these in various forms, but they generally boiled down to expressing how they didn’t understand what the big deal was in the first place: why shouldn’t he have spanked her? Frequently concurrent with this sentiment was the opinion that Perrin’s response to Faile’s attack on him was in fact laudable because it “punished” her bad behavior in a way that “did no lasting harm”.
First of all, the claim that being publicly humiliated in front of your entire circle of peers at the moment does “no lasting harm” is frankly astounding. The Aiel and Loial might have happened to have thought it of little consequence (which is fucked up in its own way), but if this had happened in front of other people Faile would need to command obedience and/or respect from, it could have wrecked any chance of that happening ever. Could you respect someone who’d just been turned over and paddled in front of you?
But far more than that, I found this disturbing because, among other things, it inherently implies the belief that (a) Perrin has every right to decide whether Faile deserves “punishment” for “acting out” and (b) he has the right to both decide what that punishment is and to mete it out himself.
And you know what, if he was her father, he would have that right (up to a point). But Perrin is most decidedly NOT her father. And to blithely assign Faile’s love interest—or any male in her life other than her actual father, in fact—the punitive power of a parental authority figure is, to put it baldly, some deeply messed up hyper-patriarchal bullshit, y’all.
That is in fact the textbook definition of patriarchy, equating women to children—reducing them to permanently immature weaker beings who must be protected and disciplined by the stronger more rational wiser male authority figure(s) in their lives. That so many of the comments advocating the “good punishment” argument seemed to fail to even notice this connotation of their words was, in a word, unsettling.
Basically I don’t think this would at ALL have been the response had it been the other way around, or if both Faile and Perrin had been male. Of course, if Faile had been a man, it almost certainly would never have occurred to Perrin (or Jordan) to retaliate with a spanking in the first place. Which is exactly my point.
So what should Perrin have done, then, you ask, in the face of a woman continuing to attack him even after repeated requests to stop?
Well, that’s a good question. I just know that the answer to it is not frickin’ spanking.
As I said in the original commentary (if somewhat hesitantly), context matters. The important factor in how Perrin should have responded to Faile’s violence is not whether she is a woman, but what was appropriate under the circumstances. If Faile had been attacking with the intent to kill or seriously injure Perrin, then Perrin had every right to defend himself, violently if need be. But, it’s obvious here that serious injury was not Faile’s intent, because a woman who can kill a Trolloc with a thrown dagger can certainly make a very good try at maiming and/or killing the shit out of someone should she want to. So the question becomes murkier.
She was instead, as many commenters rightly pointed out, trying to provoke a response from Perrin. And I will also agree that, owing to her whackadoodle upbringing, she probably wanted that response to be aggressive, maybe even violent. What I absolutely do not think she either expected or wanted that response to be, was spanking.
Or at least I really hope that is not what we were supposed to believe. Whatever else I might want to say about Saldaean notions of romance, it’s at least pretty clear that it’s meant to show that the husband respects his wife’s strength even if (apparently) his must always be greater. I utterly fail to understand, then, how the degradation of treating someone like a recalcitrant child could possibly be construed as showing respect in any way whatsoever.
In other words, what happened here, as far as I can tell, is that Perrin chose a response which even Faile’s barmy cultural expectations found awful, which is saying something.
In any case, just because Faile wanted Perrin to come over all Saldaean and return violence for violence doesn’t mean he had to rise to the bait. Under the circumstances he could not have realistically walked away from her, perhaps (which would have been the most ideal response, to my mind), but if he was able to “seize her by the scruff of the neck” and spank her, then he was certainly capable of restraining her in a way that would stop her but not hurt her. In fact I’d be willing to bet that successfully restraining Faile would have actually done the trick, in that it would have satisfied her apparent need for Perrin to prove he is stronger than her without having to humiliate and infantilize her the way spanking did.
But you know, the more I get into the details the more it annoys me, because the whole situation is borked from the start. As commenter Ian Hurst put it, “[Jordan] wrote an abusive, manipulative woman into Perrin’s life, and then wrote Perrin reciprocating rather than rejecting her abuse, and living happily ever after as a result.” Basically I find the idea of actually wanting a relationship based on mutual aggression to be a completely incomprehensible concept to begin with, so trying to extrapolate what would have been an appropriate response for Perrin that isn’t simply “dump her ass and walk away” is… difficult.
But again, whatever the right response was, spanking wasn’t it.
*obligatory headdesk for old times’ sake*
Anyway. The whole thing was an eye-opening experience for me, to say the least. If nothing else, it definitely taught me to examine my unexamined assumptions about things.
But the most instructive (and gratifying) part of it was seeing how the Reread’s readers encompassed their first flamewar, calmed the furor, and then let it become part of the shared history that makes a community. You know you have a community when you have inside jokes about crazy shit we all did back in the day. I myself got the proof of that from my Rereaders at JordanCon 2012, in hilarious fashion:
Heh. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel strongly about this whole thing (clearly), but never let it be said I can’t laugh at myself while I’m at it. Thanks again, O My Peeps.
And I’m spent, so here we stop. Remember, if you start another flamewar in the comments you will have your Irony license revoked for at least a year, and we wouldn’t want that. So be good, for goodness’ sake, and I’ll be back in two weeks with Moar!