Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Crown of Swords Read Through #5: Forced Attentions

By Linda

For a book with quite a few amusing scenes, A Crown of Swords discusses some serious issues, notably sexual harassment and rape.

The forcible transfer of Lan’s bond to Myrelle was regarded by Siuan as rape:

Aes Sedai put bonding a man against his will on a level with rape.

- A Crown of Swords, A Morning of Victory

An unbidden Warder bond is a form of involuntary intimacy even though Moiraine meant well. (It will be interesting to see if Siuan says anything to Moiraine about it.) Myrelle went further and at the least tried to get Lan into her bed as part of his therapy; the bite mark on Lan’s neck and Nisao’s comment that Lan has his attractions suggest Myrelle succeeded, but Myrelle’s blushes could be taken either way. When Myrelle said “that explains” after Egwene told her that Nynaeve and Lan love each other, she might have been referring to his reluctance.

Myrelle had Lan’s interests at heart, but it is clear from her metaphor of Lan being a wolfhound (Lord of Chaos, Weaves of the Power) and her belief that a dying woman could choose her husband’s next wife, that however well she cares for men, she looks on the man as lesser, not capable of making his own choices. One reason is that most of her Warders had newly broken bonds and so were very mentally ill at the time she acquired them. Lan, for instance, just didn’t care what happened to him:

The eyes of a man who knew he was dead and could not make himself care, a man waiting, almost eager, for that long sleep.

- A Crown of Swords, Mashiara

This is why she made decisions about their wellbeing on their behalf. The relationship of Myrelle and Lan explores the grey area of rape and sexual harassment. Myrelle and Moiraine were trying to save Lan, and they made the change to the bond before Lan even met Nynaeve.

Someone who was undoubtedly raped is Morgase, who gave forced consent to Valda to avoid being tortured again by Asunawa:

Another matter entirely to say yes because she feared facing Asunawa's knotted cords and needles again, feared worse that he would have gotten to eventually. However she had screamed under Asunawa's ministrations, Valda was the one who had showed her the true borders of her courage, so far short of where she had believed. Valda's touch, his bed, could be forgotten, with time, but she would never be able to wash the shame of that "yes" from her lips.

- A Crown of Swords, The Irrevocable Words

She felt utterly soiled – as much from her ‘weakness’ in agreeing to escape more physical agony as from the actual act itself. (The chapter title refers to her ‘yes’ as irrevocable as much as it does to her abdication, since the former was the catalyst for the latter.)

According to Whitecloak law, women who have trained in the White Tower are witches and therefore Darkfriends, deserving only of execution. Even the rumour that a high-up Whitecloak consorted with a witch would lose the Whitecloaks a lot of credibility. Yet Valda was keen to have sex with one and not as part of her official torture either, since he obtained her ‘agreement’ first. Such hypocrisy occurred in the witch-hunts of the 17th century. It is an interesting reflection on his character that he said it was the best sex he had ever had (Knife of Dreams, Prologue).

In reverse, Rand thought he had raped Min and she had to persuade him otherwise.

Another who was coerced into sex is Mat Cauthon, a twenty year old farm boy who caught the eye of the forty-something Queen of Altara. Not a little of her interest in him was due to the exoticness or cachet of bedding a ta’veren.

Such an unequal relationship did not interest Mat but Tylin ignored his refusal:

More intently; he had never chased any woman who let him know she did not want to be chased.

- A Crown of Swords, The Festival of Birds

Tylin made a tacit admission that she forced her attentions on Mat with the small red flowers woven on the handle of his breakfast basket:

"Mistress Corly," she said in the icy voice of a queen pronouncing judgment, "explained to Nynaeve and me the significance of those red flowers on the basket... I will not keep any promise to a man who could force his attentions on a woman, on any woman”

- A Crown of Swords, Six Stories

Tacit, yet embarrassingly public for Mat made worse for being misinterpreted by all and sundry.

Mat found Tylin's harassment so upsetting that

Of the two [Moghedien and Tylin], he would rather confront Moghedien. He touched the foxhead hanging in the open neck of his shirt. At least he had some protection against Moghedien. Against Tylin, he had no more than he did against the Daughter of the bloody Nine Moons, whoever she was.

- A Crown of Swords, A Note from the Palace

At least twice he felt like weeping from the humiliation and powerlessness of his position, once even in public. He definitely refused her attentions:

That woman won't take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She's starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag!

- A Crown of Swords, Six Stories

Rape is sex with forced consent or without consent; whether the wronged party has an orgasm during the act, or eventually develops an acceptance of the situation, or even fondness for the rapist, is immaterial.

So why did Mat stay and not run?

Mat felt a responsibility to keep Nynaeve and Elayne safe since he had promised to do so. He knew what a dangerous situation they were in. If he left the palace, they might think he broke his promises:

He would not put it past Nynaeve and Elayne to claim he had broken some agreement and put an end to their promises.

- A Crown of Swords, The Festival of Birds

The girls’ promises were conditions that enabled Mat to watch over them. In fact, when Elayne mistakenly thought that Mat had forced himself upon Tylin she immediately said all her promises to him were abolished.

Mat was trapped. He needed to stay in the palace to keep Nynaeve and Elayne safe, yet Tylin being Queen and much older than he, and the Ebou Dari law that a woman killing a man was considered justified unless it was proven differently all intimidated him into complying.

Mat was panicking when he made this decision to stay and comply. Not surprisingly, since Tylin pulled a knife on him.

When the situation was made plain to Elayne, she didn’t take the crime and Mat’s feelings seriously. Mat being sexually experienced (though not of this type of situation) she thought he ‘asked for it’ or deserved it. Unfortunately this happens often in the real world too.

The theme of rape and sexual harassment continues in later books – a parallel of the Land and nations being raped by the Shadow – with Toveine searching out sexually inexperienced youths, Red Ajah Head Galina’s favouritism toward Accepted who will probably choose Red and sexual advances to them once they are new Aes Sedai, and Therava’s sado-sexual relationship with Galina (excellently analysed by MJJ in her Pillowfriends article).


LordJuss said...

I (as a man) found the Mat/Tylin scenes in aCoS funny the first time I read them and very disturbing the second. I suspect I've grown up somewhat between the two readings (8 years apart). It occured to me this time through that Tylin's unpleasant (and unexpected) death could be seen as the price for her actions. The Gholam would probably not have gone near her had she not been so near Mat.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with you about the "severity" of Mat and Tylin. I can see the themes here, and I think that this is a gray area that is meant to be that, gray.

I certainly don't agree with the assertion above that her death was "just desserts."

Mat is a young man, just recently accostomed to be the chaser. He is out of his depth and is taken advantage of, but I believe it is a far stretch from that to rape. Had she not been so forward, it is not unreasonable to believe that Mat would have pursued Tylin, (or at least considered her with in a sexual context, he goes so faraas to admit to her allure and beauty several times) even though he does make an effort to generally avoid powerful women, being attracted to the "seemingly" weaker set of the fairer sex. I'm not sure how positive a light that puts him in, really. I guess we all want what we want and are attracted to what we desire.

Morgase/Valda is a much more definative case of rape where I assert that the Mat/Tylin was more a case of free will. Mat made choices of acquiesence, where Morgase had none. The threats levied at Mat was truly thinly veiled flirting repartee, that despite his protests, I am not sure how seriously he even took them. Morgase was forced to choose between the depths of two darknesses.

That being said, as I write this I am forced to concede that rape and sexual abuse, especially between adults, are mostly about power, and clearly Tylin is dominating the situation through her position. Still, "Methinks he doth protest too much."

I love your website. I find your articles to be enlighting and a handy reference. I have always wanted to be able to dedicate the amount of study you have here to these great works and have never had the way or the time.

Justin Harris

Fanatic-Templar said...

Mat was forced to have sex he did not want at knifepoint. I don't really know how it could be clearer than that.

Linda said...

Ben: Nor I. It was RJ's light, "let's keep it PG" approach that deceived, I think.

I don't think Mat protests too much. If he doesn't want to have sex with Tylin, he shouldn't be forced into doing so.

People go hysterical over Cadsuane and let Tylin's actions pass.

To take a concrete example, if someone close to you steals from you and you don't denounce them, they have still stolen from you. Tylin stole Mat's rights.

LordJuss said...

To be clear, I wouldn't characterise Tylin's death as 'just desserts' and specifically avoided that phrase. It just occured that, in RJ's writing, those who abuse their power rarely get away with it in the long run - and that Tylin was a case in point.

Regarding Cadsuane, I've always found the hysteria slightly odd. She is a bully, but also a skilled Aes Sedai with (generally) the right motives. Her arrogance has never bothered me as much as that demonstrated by the other sisters as her self-opinion matches her ability. I don't like her, but I respect her. I'll be interested to see what you have to say about her in the aCoS read through.


Linda said...

It's true that RJ usually ensured that abusers of power face the consequences of their actions. Therava is one who so far as gotten away largely unscathed.

Cadsuane's bullying is in part a tactic to keep the Black Ajah away and part tactic to keep Rand off balance. That is why until The Gathering Storm she never bullied the blameless or the weak.

I intend to make one post analysing Cadsuane during the read-through and it will be during Winter's Heart.

LordJuss said...

Yes, I've wondered whether Therava has some terrible fate awaiting her. On the other hand, she was not that much worse than the other Shaido wise ones except with Galina.

I'm trying to think of where Cadsuane bullied someone blameless or weak in tGS. Tam was certainly blameless but not (as his response showed) weak.



Anonymous said...

What inexperienced youths did Toveine lure? She's bonded to Logain, and he hardly counts as an inexperienced youth.

Linda said...

THese ones:

[Mistress Doweel] had no mercy on anyone who tried to shirk the backbreaking labor that she herself shared, and less than none for a woman who sneaked away to
comfort herself with a pretty boy. That had been Toveine's life these past twenty years...[Logain was] Not at all like the pretty boys Toveine liked, eager and grateful and so easily controlled.

The Path of Daggers, The Extra Bit

Toveine's bondage to Logain, and the shame of leading the Tower expedition to this end, is her come-uppance.

Anonymous said...

I've never really bought the idea that Rand could have mistakenly believed he'd raped Min. I mean, compare how he acts/thinks in aCoS 33 (A Bath) vs. tFoH 31 (The Far Snows). He's confused after both encounters, but at least with Aviendha he understands that it had been a mutual indulgence, even though her attitude had previously been combative and she herself was in denial about her feelings.

The idea that he could then later drastically misinterpret his encounter with his close friend Min, who had been physically and verbally expressive of her attraction to him for many weeks, is just not believable.

I mean, even if we could grant RJ the conceit that Rand was oblivious to Min's true feelings throughout LoC, despite her flirting and snuggling and kissing,(which strains credulity for any adult), the idea that he would misinterpret her feelings when she pulls him into bed is silly, if not downright insulting to Rand's intelligence.

Wouldn't she have told him how much she loved him while they were in the act? Wouldn't she have stayed in bed with him through the night and into the morning? Wouldn't she have woken up with him and made it clear how happy she was with the events of the evening?

Again, it seems that the whole "Rand is guilty for days over thinking he raped Min." thing is just a clumsy way of adding in drama and female chauvinism to the story. As a teenager I was naive enough to accept it, but as an adult, it's simply implausible.

Practice Swords said...

Yeah its really very nice and informative article.And The idea that he could then later drastically misinterpret his encounter with his close friend Min. thanks for sharing with us.

Anonymous said...

in ebu dar they have a long standing tradition of pretties. a young man or woman before marrying may have one final fling as a pretty. another is a duel may be fought over a man or women and then he/she must go with the victor as spoils of their victory.

leyla said...

Mat was definitely raped by Tylin. I felt so bad for him when he was about to cry and everyone teased him about it like it was awful! As the above commentator said, pretties are a tradition. Just because something is a tradition doesn't make it right. Also, the pretty presumably *agrees* to the arrangement, and is not held at knife-point and forcibly stripped with said knife! I agree with whoever said that Tylin was killed because of her abuse of power. It's a horrible way to die, but I guess that's what happens for raping one of the three most important saviors of creation! :-/

jazznbluesfests said...

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Anonymous said...

Personally, I was intrigued that Jordan had Tylin rape Mat.

Without getting into details, I have heard several accounts of males (having no particular physical profile) being raped by females.

This is something to which organizations for rape victims absolutely never pay anything other than lipservice. They only say something to the effect of "hit the rapist in that region." Well, if the rapist doesn't have that type of organ, it wouldn't do much good.

At that point, the only theoretical advice would be to try to ignore it. Try mentioning that to a woman who is being raped...

I'm sure Jordan meant to raise the profile of men being raped, in which case I will remember him even better than I would have done.

Linda said...

Thank you for your comment.

Unfortunately rape is handled poorly by counselling services and the courts. Often the victim is blamed - and Elayne thought that Mat 'asked for it' or 'earned it'. This is a reaction I find particularly vile no matter who it is said about.

Readers have denied that Mat was raped ("how could such a thing happen to a cool guy?"), but Jordan did intend these scenes to be a rape. Harriet made the comment at the time that it was a well-written example of such a crime.