Last chapter, a large amount of misogyny resulted in Jaxom insulting Mirrim regularly about her dragon’s likelihood of mating soon. And then Jaxom did some mating of his own.
The White Dragon: Chapter XII: Content Notes: Dubious Consent Rape, Rape Apologia
(15.7.6, the day after the last chapter)
Okay, so I was wrong about a lack of consequences discussion…ish. The chapter opens with Jaxom trying very hard not to think about Ruth’s lack of ardor, with two separate green dragon risings to bring the matter back to the forefront of Jaxom’s mind. On the second, the Weyrlingmaster takes a long look at Jaxom, which sends him into a giant shame spiral, enough to get Ruth agitated from his mindset. Jaxom says he’s okay, but what’s going on has his focus:
With a challenging snarl, the green dragon was airborne, the blues and browns after her while she repeated her taunting challenge.
On the killing ground, their riders closed into a knot around the green’s rider. All too quickly, challenger and pursuers dwindled to specks in the sky. Their riders half-ran, half-stumbled to the Lower Caverns and the chamber reserved there.
Jaxom had never witnessed a mating flight of dragons. He swallowed, trying to moisten his dry throat. He felt heart and blood thudding and a tension he usually experienced only as he held Corana’s slender body against him. He suddenly wondered which dragon had flown Mirrim’s Path, which rider had-
[…Jaxom’s thought process is interrupted by the Weyrlingmaster giving him consolation on Ruth’s disinterest…]
Jaxom thought of the skyborne beasts. Unwillingly he thought of their riders in the inner room, linked to their dragons in an emotional struggle that was resolved in a strengthening and fusing of the links between dragons and riders. Jaxom thought of Mirrim. And of Corana.
With a groan, he sprang on Ruth’s neck, fleeting the emotional atmosphere of Fort Weyr, trying to flee from his sudden realization of what he had probably always known about riders but had only this very morning assimilated.
He had intended to go to the lake to immerse himself in the cold waters and let that icy shock cure his body and chill the torment in his mind. But Ruth instead took him to the Plateau Hold.
Before we talk mating again, here’s another confirmed case of a dragon altering the destination point of their rider based on an emotional state. Ruth has determined that Jaxom needs Corana more than he needs a cold bath. Which suggests that Ruth understands this sex thing perfectly well in terms of feelings and emotions, is just that he’s not interested in dragons. He’s normal.
Also, I’m having trouble figuring out what Jaxom is reacting to with such force. Is it the group sex aspect that could be going on, depending on whether the green is satisfied with one partner, or will mate and then mate again with a different dragon? (Or the possible orgy among the riders that may develop anyway from the sexual feelings their dragons are having.) Is it the thought of potentially violent sex being done to Mirrim while Path is mating, and Jaxom is feeling some form of regret or sorrow at how cruel and callous his remarks were to Mirrim about the upcoming flight? (If this were previous Jaxom, this would be the likely interpretation, but current Jerkass Jaxom makes this a less likely solution.) Perhaps Jaxom is feeling oogie at the possibility of having sex with a man while their dragons mate, as Mirrim is the only female green rider? As Holdbred, from what we understand, that might be seen as something unnatural and disturbing about the dragonriders – but then again, Jaxom’s ward is a dragonrider, so it’s unlikely that particular issue would have crept into Jaxom’s upbringing, unless Lytol is a single voice in a cacaphony of Hold people saying otherwise. I think the text supports this option best, because it would be a group of men headed to the Lower Caverns, Jaxom thinking about sex, then about what he said to Mirrim, then about men and sex and him, and then he takes off for the cold shower to get it out of his head. Ruth doesn’t quite get it, and so thinks to shunt Jaxom to Corana because he can tell Jaxom is thinking about sex, and the mating flight is clearly influencing his psyche, although he can’t quite parse it all out completely.
Anyway, Jaxom finds Corana, and he intends to have sex with her. Whether she’s in the mood or consenting or not.
Corana, recovering from surprise at his unexpected arrival, waved a welcome. Instead of rushing toward him as she usually did, she smoothed back her hair and blotted the perspiration beading her face.
“Jaxom,” she began as he strode toward her, the urgency in his loins increasing at the sight of her, “I wish you wouldn’t-”
He silenced her half-teasing scold with a kiss, felt something hard clout him along his side. Pinning her against him with his right arm, he found the offending hoe with his left hand. Wrenching it from her grasp, he spun it away from them. Corana wriggled to get free, as unprepared for this mood in him as he was. He held her closer, trying to temper the pressures rising within him until she could respond. She smelled of the earth and her own sweat. Her hair, covering his face as he kissed her throat and breast, also smelled of sun and sweat, and the odors excited him further. Somewhere in the back of his mind was a green dragon, shrieking her defiance. Somewhere, too closer to his need, was that vision of dragonriders in an inner room, waiting, with an excitement that matched his own, waiting until the green dragon had been captured by the fastest, the strongest or the smartest of her pursuers. But it was Corana he was holding in his arms, and Corana who was beginning to respond to his need. They were on the warm ground, the dampness of earth she had just hoed soft under his elbows and knees. The sun was warm on his buttocks as he tried to erase the memory of those riders half-stumbling toward the inner room, and the mocking taunt of a green dragon in flight. He did not resist or deny Ruth’s familiar beloved touch as his orgasm released the turmoil of body and mind.
*sigh* I liked you a lot more when you were younger, Jaxom, before this culture got to you.
What, exactly, could Corana do in this situation that would have resulted in Jaxom not raping her, short of killing him with that hoe? (Which would bring its own consequences down on her) If she refuses him, he’s the Lord of Ruatha and can make life miserable for her. Or he can take her on a dragon ride somewhere and leave her. Or he could be violent to her. There’s no way for her to escape the situation, because on Pern, like other patriarchal societies, the men hold all the power. It’s why the law can take into account things like whether or not coercion was involved when there are accusations – because the boss can threaten someone’s job, especially in an “at-will” employment situation, and make it seem like the firing was over something other than a refusal to have sex.
Additionally, Jaxom, Corana not going along with your desires immediately is not any sort of signal of “restrict my freedom and hold me in place until I go along with it.” This whole scene is a mess and reflects horribly on Jaxom and the societies of Pern.
Other than the apparent need to show Jaxom committing rape, it’s still unclear what about the mating part still has him so distressed. The text in this section does seem to support the idea that Jaxom is having trouble with the idea that he’s going to have sex with another man on a mating flight, and worse, that he’s going to enjoy it at least as much as he does having sex with Corana. Since there are no visible well-adjusted male couples (or polygons) for Jaxom (or us) to take cues from, despite the fact that there should be hundreds of them based on “no women dragonriders except queens!”, the conclusion we have to go with us that dragonriders are not comfortable with those relationships, either, despite their reputation for sexual liberty. Which is sad and makes me wonder how an attitude like that survived all the generations of dragons and riders.
Now that he’s done raping Corana, we go onward to the next day, and Jaxom takes that cold bath he was trying for yesterday, and lets Ruth out to hunt while he thinks about yesterday. Unexpectedly (at least by the standards of these books), Jaxom regrets what he has done.
Jaxom was not pleased with himself. He was thoroughly disgusted and revolted by the way he had used Corana. The fact that she seemed to have matched what he had to admit was a violent lust dismayed him. Their relationship, once innocent pleasure, had somehow been sullied. He wasn’t at all certain that he cared to continue as her lover, an attitude that posed another unpleasant burden of guilt. One point in his favor, he had helped her finish the hoeing his importunity had interrupted. That way she’d not be in trouble with Fidello for shorting her task. The young grain was important. But he ought not to have taken Corana like that. Doing so was inexcusable.
It’s old Jaxom, peeking through again! And having thoughts in the place where he is best-suited, at the intersection of dragonrider and Lord Holder. It would be better for him to be thinking about this less as “oogie, man-sex” and more about how, as a powerful person, he has the ability to get sex from women who may not be consenting because they are less powerful than him. And that, if Ruth ever starts to take an interest in green or gold dragons, that he might be consumed by that lust and commit rape again. He doesn’t have the indoctrination of Weyr culture that just treats dragon lust as part of reality, and Holder culture, while it clearly thinks nothing of impregnating women and leaving them to raise the kids with no support, it apparently hasn’t explicitly gone far enough to approve of casual rape all the time. This could be a great opportunity for Jaxom to explore what life is being a person who wants consent in their partners being stuck in a world that basically ignores consent every time they have the opportunity.
Instead, the narrative chooses to make Ruth the mouthpiece for rape apologia. The otherwise asexual Ruth. Because, really, the only cover that the narrative can provide for that apologia, especially when Jaxom is actually feeling bad about this and would otherwise have to engage in on-page self-examination, is for it to sound like Ruth is just asking innocent questions and making innocent statements. So this quote picks up exactly where we left off:
She liked it very much. Ruth’s thought touched him so unexpectedly that Jaxom jerked straight.
“How could you possibly know?”
When you are with Corana, her emotions are also very strong and just like yours. So I can feel her, too. Only at that time. Otherwise I do not hear her. Acceptance rather than regret colored Ruth’s tone. Almost as if he were relieved the contact was limited.
[…Ruth returns from eating…]
“So, do you like what you hear? Our lovemaking?” Jaxom asked, abruptly deciding to air his concern.
Yes. You enjoy it so much. It is good for you. I like it to be good for you.
Jaxom jumped to his feet, consumed by frustration and guilt. “But don’t you want it for yourself? Why are you always worried about me? Why didn’t you go fly that green?”
Why does that worry you? Why should I fly that green?
“Because you’re a dragon.”
I am a white dragon. Blues and browns, and occasionally a bronze, fly greens.
“You could have flown her. You could have flown her, Ruth!”
I did not wish to. You are upset again. I have upset you. Ruth extended his neck, his nose gently touching Jaxom’s face in apology.
Why, of course Corana likes it. It’s not like sex is a biological process engineered to be pleasurable so that the human species can continue to propagate and evolve, right? Such that someone who was taken without any consent at all might appear to be enjoying the sex anyway, because biology? No, we have to be assured that it wasn’t really a rape, or else Jaxom would be like many other protagonists and powerful men in this series, and Jaxom is supposed to be Different. So we must be assured that Corana liked all of it, including the method and the attitude, or else Jaxom might have second thoughts about getting into relationships when he’s not sure he’s going to be able to do them the way he wants.
This is also the first textual possibility that we get where Ruth could be ace, or intersex – it’s not that he couldn’t, it’s that he doesn’t wish to, or that he thinks he’s the wrong color for it. Ruth understands something of what the humans are doing, but doesn’t want it for himself. Respect his wishes, Jaxom. He’s not broken.
After this introspection, Jaxom makes busy work for himself sketching out the cove he went to before hoping back in time, using charcoal (“soft carbon stick”) and paper, using “softwood tree sap” (can you get rubber of some sort from a softwood?) to erase any mistakes. Lytol appears, examines the drawing and praises its accuracy, with a remark about the large size of the volcano (which, I believe, is the first time that word has been used to describe it in-text. Unless the Records of the past mention that name and a detailed description, religion-less and myth-less Pern should not be using a name which derives from a god (Vulcan), even though we still have plenty of possible cultural artifacts that survived from the Ancients) while reminding Jaxom that he’ll have an opportunity to fly with a fighting wing. With a request to be told when Jaxom plans on returning to the cove, Lytol leaves. Jaxom figures it an implicit permission to go back and find out more information about the men who went before and to collect a clutch of fire-lizard eggs while he’s at it.
We’re told that dragons transmit pictures to each other for use as space-time coordinates, pictures which they collect from riders. In Ruth’s case, he also gets pictures from fire-lizards. So it should be possible for a dragon to assist in holding a picture, with all its details, in the mind of their rider for something like sketching. Assuming the rider has enough skill, great works of art in the form of landscape painting should be a thing in Weyrs. Or someone, maybe the Harpers, should be commissioning these kinds of works so that dragonriders have a handy reference of places they can always keep in mind, so that the knowledge of the pictures doesn’t depend on oral transmission, which we have already seen fail spectacularly with regard to a lot of the other Crafts.
The next morning, Jaxom heads to the Weyr (by normal air, as his damp, wet, and hyperspace affairs from yesterday have made him sick (“caught a cold”, which is an idiomatic phrase on Terra, so I’m not sure it would survive on Pern, either)) and we finally get to see preparation for Threadfall. The first phase is building sacks of firestone and getting Ruth to chew up a lot of it so that his second stomach will be generating enough gas to be lit up by the time they contact Thread. After that, assignments are distributed – Ruth gets to fly with the queens’ wing, which Ruth is happy about but Jaxom feels slighted over. Which casually nullifies our opportunity to see the whole process. Jaxom is fighting his cold and mostly gets to observe the fighting dragons attack. His position in the queens’ wing is mostly to be a mobile turret to provide extra firepower on whichever side of the wing has highest concentration of Thread that has escaped the upper wings. After finishing up and being sent home early so as not to be seen by the ground crews, there’s shared happiness at having actually fought Thread and avoided getting hit, although Ruth is ready to vomit up the fire ash as soon as possible. After which, both of them head quickly to the cove on the Southern continent, and our chapter ends.
No doubt there will be Shenanigans.