When I was in junior high, I wanted nothing more than to fit in with my peers. I wore the neon clothes, the parachute pants, and the jelly shoes. I listened to Michael Jackson and Madonna along with the rest of them (although I had a secret crush on the Monkees). All these years later, I still want to fit in, but darn it if my perverse nature doesn’t make that impossible.
My book blogging coterie ADORES(!) the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah Maas. I wanted to love it as much as my friends did, but wasn’t able to muster up the same level of enthusiasm as everyone else. The trilogy was entertaining enough with high adventure and epic romances. At times the language was poetic and the fictional world almost came to life for me, but…
- It was kind of cheesy. Such melodrama!
- And it dragged on a bit too long. I was bored by the interminable hand-wringing and the overly drawn out battle scenes.
- But most troubling to me were the depictions of roles assigned to men and women and by the relationships between the two. This particularly surprised me because Sarah Maas is touted as a feminist author.
I liked that the books included some strong female characters. Feyre, for all her faults, was brave and determined to do the right thing. Nesta and Mor were also impressive. Unfortunately, the scope for how women can be strong or effective seems rather narrow in this world. Strength, at least as depicted here, involves facing physical threats, whether it’s starvation, confrontation with wild beasts or repulsing malignant magical forces.
The strong people in these books possess either a cruel or rude streak. Consider, for a moment, the play acting that’s required by Feyre and Rhysand in the Court of Nightmares, or Nesta’s nasty behavior as she tries to protect her little sister. The strong ones either use brutality or threats to protect those important to them. I would have liked to have seen more episodes where kindness and diplomacy were shown as strengths. Showing the kind and gentle Elain as something more than a pawn would have gone a long way to assuage the dissatisfaction I felt in this regard. The one moment of bravery she is given is so out-of-character that it didn’t work for me. The only notable example of kindness being a strength was when Feyre gave her jewelry to the creepy starving water creatures.
I personally find it distasteful when main characters use their sexuality to manipulate others. As long as humans feel sexual urges, I suppose we can’t get away from that as being a primary way to motivate some; however, if a text is being promoted as feminist, then I think it shouldn’t rely so much on its characters being able to get what they want because someone wants to fuck them. We’ve seen plenty of examples of that in books for decades upon decades. Give us something where the characters effect change through cleverness, hard work, kindness, toughness, etc. I’m not going to argue that these books don’t include examples of those things, but they rely overly much on sexuality.
Of course, much of the appeal of these books is the romance and steamy sex scenes. I love a good romance as much as anyone and can be titillated by a good sex scene. Other bloggers (here’s one) have already detailed their concerns with consent issues in these books. Given some of the troubling outcomes we’ve seen with rape trials (she was drunk or asleep; she wore provocative clothing; she was outside after dark; she was nice to me), I concur with readers who reject as unsatisfactory any explanation for the non-consensual sexual acts in these books. I believe we need to keep the lines of acceptability less muddied than they are. There are a number of troubling scenes, but Rhysand’s treatment of Feyre while under the mountain seems to be widely processed in the following manner: Sure, so and so forced her to wear revealing clothes, dance seductively for him and drink a beverage that made her black out–but he did so to protect her. FUCK THAT NONSENSE! That’s NOT ok.
The author has a fertile imagination. Surely, she could have come up with some other scenario where Rhysand could have protected Feyre by keeping her dignity intact and by allowing her some say in her treatment. What’s worse is that Feyre forgives him so quickly for all of this. If you ask me, it’s like the pathetic sentence given to Brock Turner. It devalues the crime. I also think it’s a version of a rape fantasy–watered down, yes, but upsetting all the same.
I, along with a lot of womankind, have been indoctrinated into the cult of “bad boys are sexy.” I’m trying my damndest to break free of that though. I would much rather see good boys shown as drool-worthy. Why? I suffered through a long relationship to someone who didn’t treat me right. I didn’t recognize certain behaviors as unacceptable for far too long. There’s a lot of complicated psychology involved there, but I do partly blame the bad boy trope in romances as something that made me think being treated less than well was ok. It’s not. End of story.