I’m having the kind of day where thirty windows are open on my computer screen and I can never finish one thing before the next thing has distracted me. Ooh, shiny over here. Ooh, urgent over there. Ooh, what the heck is this? Example: I have started at least three new posts on my blog. I keep losing them, not because the computer is doing anything, but because I open a new tab and wind up elsewhere and forget where the past post was. I finally started closing the long line of windows down at the bottom of my screen and got back to this one, the very first one I started about five hours ago. Sigh.
My scatter-brained day goes along with my disjointed week. I’ve been having the kind of week where I want to rant about stupid things on the internet and have to try to stop myself. Stupid things like if Kanye West was female, (s)he would have been involuntarily committed already. And probably with a conservatorship locked into place that (s)he would have vast trouble getting out of. And I can’t decide whether it’s more annoying that a woman would never be allowed the craziness he’s spouting or sad that no one is getting him the help he needs. Maybe it’s both. But even more annoying/sad is the fact that I actually don’t care about Kanye West at all or really know anything about him apart from what shows up in the headlines of my news feed, so why am I wasting my time with an opinion? It’s the measure of a distracted week. I’ve had to stop looking at Facebook because it’s been so hard not to respond to things where the stupid just hurts.
I tried reading Jim Butcher’s first Harry Dresden novel, Storm Front, this week. I did not get far. I wanted to send a friend to a decent post on the sexism in the book and I couldn’t find it — far too many of the posts I found were trying to defend the book from charges of sexism when really, no, the book is so over-the-top misogynistic that it is unreadable for me. Obviously, other people’s mileage may vary. But here’s a run-down of my experience reading the book, saved for posterity:
A lengthy description of Murphy, the female cop, pushes a few buttons because it’s so sexualized, but eh, whatever. I keep reading.
“an indelicate sound from so small a woman”. I roll my eyes. Criticizing her behavior in relation to her gender? Totally cheesy.
On opening doors: “try and convict me if I’m bad person for thinking so. I enjoy treating a woman like a lady… it irritates the hell out of Murphy who had to fight and claw and play dirty with the hairiest men in Chicago to get as far as she has.” The narrator, Dresden, prioritizes his enjoyment over her irritation, even as he acknowledges how hard she’s had to work to get where she is. So unpack that a little — why has she had to work so hard? Because men don’t respect her. And what is Harry doing? Not respecting her. Prioritizing his feelings over hers. Treating her feelings, in fact, with total disdain. He wants to do what he wants to do, he wants to treat her as he likes, and he doesn’t care how she feels about it.
Okay, so Harry’s an ass, but then Butcher says “she took an odd sort of comfort in our ritual” — which means the author is claiming that she wants to be treated like a lady when she’s upset. YUCK. That’s rape-culture in action. She says she doesn’t like it, but you can ignore her, because she really does. So sexist. So insulting. But I keep reading, because hey, lots of people love this guy and I can get through it.
Next, though, Harry decides the killer is a woman, because “Woman are better at hating than men. They can focus is better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain meaner than wizards. This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me.” Murphy calls him out on his chauvinism and he gets angry, despite that clearly being a totally sexist comment. It doesn’t get much more sexist than stereotyping half of humanity as better at hating and meaner.
Murphy smiled, “a curving of her lips that was a vibrantly feminine expression, making her look entirely too pretty to be such a hardass.” Gender stereotyping,
saying she’s too pretty to be tough. Ick.
Next, “Murphy set the hook a second later. She looked up at my eyes for a daring second before she turned away, her face tired and honest and proud. “I need to know everything you can tell me, Harry. Please.” “Classic lady in distress. For one of those liberated, professional women, she knew exactly how to jerk my old-fashioned chain around.” Bad enough that he’s viewing her as a lady in distress, but he (Butcher) is writing her as manipulative, as playing at being a lady in distress in order to control the guy. A female character using female wiles — a glance direct in the eyes, a plea — to manipulate a guy. And the female character is supposed to be a tough professional badass. It’s demeaning. Very unpleasant, absolutely misogynistic. She shouldn’t have to seduce the guy to get him to do his job and she shouldn’t be using seduction as a technique to get people to do their jobs. Sexist not just on the part of Dresden, sexist on the part of the author.
Next up, the client, Monica. A very thorough, very sexualized description. She’s not a middle-aged housewife, she’s a good-looking woman, tasteful makeup, fullness of mouth to look very feminine, in good shape, wholesome and all-American. She blushes and “she had a good face for blushing, fair skin that colored girlishly. It was quite fetching, really.” One could argue that it’s the noir detective stories that are sexist but Dresden is making conscious choices to equate “girlish” and “fetching”. Women are not mature equals, rational human beings with the same feelings and motivations as men, they’re sex objects and childish. Pretty much the definition of patronizing.
And then we have, “Besides, I could never resist going to the aid of a lady in distress. Even if she wasn’t completely one hundred percent sure that she wanted to be rescued by me.” This is the big strong male knows better than silly foolish woman stereotype, and from a female POV, it’s unpleasant, stupid, unsympathetic and yeah, sexist. Classic rape culture. Believe it or not, it still wasn’t the deal breaker for me, though.
Our third female character is Susan. She fainted after meeting his eyes. He likes her smirk because it does interesting things to her lips which were already attractive. She leaned toward him, deliberately letting him look down her cleavage. She quirked a smile that promised things. All of this would be okay — sure, she’s sexualized, but she’s clearly the romantic interest, so that’s not inappropriate, but then — UGH. “even though she used her charm and femininity relentlessly in pursuit of her stories, she had no concept of just how attractive she really was — I had seen that when I looked within her last year.” This is vomit-in-my-mouth horrible. “Most men are off-balance by now”. She is, in fact, a character who goes around flashing her cleavage in order to get what she wants, using that attractiveness that she doesn’t even know she’s got to manipulate poor helpless men.
“They say we wizards are subtle. But believe you me, we’ve got nothing, nothing at all, on women.” Woman italicized.
At that point, I looked at my overdrive page reader and realized I was on page 100 out of 3661 (it was a six book set) and if I kept going, I would have to put up with 36x more of this, and I closed overdrive.
The stereotypes — the girlish client, the seductive vamp, the hardboiled cop who doesn’t like to treated like a lady — are bad but not enough to stop me reading. But the way he sexualizes all of them, the way he has woman manipulating men, the way he views women as Other with a monolithic single identity that is subtle, mean, vengeful — but most profoundly the lack of empathy the character has in determining that what he enjoys/wants is more important than what the woman in the situation enjoys/wants — that’s sexism. And misogyny. And I’m told he gets better, and I do understand that the author was trying for a 1940’s noir detective style attitude, but my life is too short to bother.
And now I should go write a book. I hope your Thursdays are treating you well!