Dragonseye: This Is How You Treat Women?

Last time, the creepiness continued, in addition to the head of the teachers’ college deciding that what degrading Pern needs is less knowledge, compartmentalized, rather than a broad commitment to the arts and sciences. Surely we can’t have a whole book full of…oh, who am I trying to kid?

Dragonseye: Chapter III: Content Notes: Misogyny, Sexism, Patriarchal Attitudes

Chapter III starts with a Hatching. And a demonstration that, even though everyone wants a more permanent relic for the future, the earworm music is working as intended.

And more confusion about exactly how professional the relationship between K’vin and Zulaya is and is supposed to be.

Zulaya patted his [Paulin’s] hand encouragingly. “You can ask what progress he’s made on that project.”
K’vin, coming up behind them, casually laid a hand on his Weyrwoman’s shoulder, acting as proprietary of her as her dragon was of her clutch. Amused, Paulin coughed into his hand and hurriedly excused himself.
“He’s worried about that fail-safe,” Zulaya said, almost amused by K’vin’s show of jealousy but not about to remark on it.
“You’re looking very beautiful in that new dress,” he said, eyeing it.
“Do I? Why, thank you, Key,” she said, twisting her hips to make the skirt whirl.

And then they talk about tapestries as a possible fail-safe.

So here’s my confusion. The first chapter made it pretty clear that K’vin desperately hopes for a more intimate relationship to go along with the Wetrleadership, and that Zulaya is essentially keeping it professional – appearing with him when needed for public confidence or when they have to make decisions together, but not actually interested in him that way. They both have been around each other a lot, because she uses a nickname for him from before he was actually a dragonrider.

Here, however, K’vin gets possessively jealous of her. Paulin is amused, Zulaya almost is, but she’s not going to tell him off in public about it (which makes sense – unified leadership), but then when he compliments her dress, the narrative makes it sound like she’s flirting with him. If I were some sort of, say, redpiller or someone carrying a torch big enough to light the night sky by itself, I’d point to this as “evidence” that what Zulaya “really wants” is K’vin to take her without respecting any no she might put up.

Despite that what we are going to receive next is all sorts of information about Impression and how hatchlings and candidates react differently to Impression and are carefully watched to make sure they form a strong and healthy bond, there’s one thing I’d love to know – do dragons influence the mental states of their riders outside of the mating frenzy? I’m not sure we’ve received a definitive answer, although there have been instances where dragons are asked to speak with other dragons about the mental states of their riders, so it’s thoroughly possible. If this is a case of draconic emotion leaking through (there is a Hatching about to start, after all, so Zulaya’s queen could be feeling a lot of emotions other than her usual set), it is be nice for that to get flagged, because it’s otherwise easy to interpret in a way inconsistent with Zulaya’s character.

There’s also this particular gem, in case anyone wondered how deeply entrenched toxic ideas are in Weyr culture this early.

But then, a rider was the dragon, and the dragon the rider, in a partnership that was so unwavering, its cessation resulted in suicide for the dragon who lost his mate. The unfortunate rider was as apt to take his life as not. If he lived, he was only half a man, totally bereft by his loss. Female riders were less apt to suicide: they at least had the option of sublimating their loss by having children.
When the little fire-lizards, who had supplied the genetic material to bioengineer the dragons, a former male rider found some solace in such companionship.

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

That sentence about women riders is just laced with Unfortunate Implications, many of which I’m not sure Pernese society sees as all that Unfortunate. Or possibly as just Implications. There’s no saving men riders, they’ll either kill themselves or live as broken shells. But women! If they have a loss of dragon, get them pregnant as soon as possible because babies make everything better and anchor people to reality.

Because postpartum depression doesn’t exist. Because women obviously don’t abort children they don’t want (despite the numerous references to women doing exactly that, some of which will be following shortly), and they certainly don’t commit suicide over the thought of raising a child fathered on them by force. And it’s not like pregnancy and birth here is a painless affair – cesarians exist, and there are probably many stories on the planet about kids whose mothers died in childbirth.

But no, women who lose their draconic companions will very clearly find their purpose again in raising children.

As the eggs begin their rocking dance, K’vin muses on how he needs enough candidates to Impress on the greens.

Greens with male riders tended to be more volatile, apt to ignore their Weyrleader’s orders in the excitement of a Fall–in short, they tended to unnecessarily show off their bravery to the rest of the Weyr. Female riders, on the other hand, while more stable, tended to get pregnant frequently, unless they were very careful, since the greens were usually very sexually active. Even spontaneous abortions due to the extreme cold of between required sensible convalescence, so female green riders were all too often off the duty roster for periods of time. “Taking a short dragon-ride” was now a euphemism for ending an unwanted pregnancy. Still, K’vin had fallen on the side of preferring females when Search provided them.

Cocowhat by depizan

How is it that nobody has discovered or synthesized an effective birth control method by this point in time? There’s got to be something in the plant life that can be put to use for this purpose. And something else that can theoretically be usefully turned into condoms or other such coverings. Or even some sort of sex toy that can be close at hand for any rider. If for absolutely no other reason than to cut down on the number of days fighting dragonriders spend in post-pregnancy convalescence.

A hormonal birth control could be secretly passed among the women without any men knowing about it. Because I can’t imagine green riders being complicit in this scheme, unless the days of convalescence are the only breaks they get in the schedule of fighting Thread and doing chores about the Weyr.

All the same, there have been a couple hundred years to see and perfect some form of making it so that every green isn’t either “pre-pregnant,” pregnant, or post-pregnant all of their lives.

We’re also told “Three of the other greens made for lads who had demonstrated homosexual preferences in their holds.” So, apparently, it’s been codified at this point that greens will go to gay men as well as women. I had initially thought that the displays of unprovoked bravado by greens with men riders were just about proving that you were equally as manly as the other colors, despite riding women dragons and being with women riders. But now that it’s canon some of the men riding greens are gay, those displays might also be an attempt to attract a mate from the other rider colors. It’s not the best time for it, but that’s really no other time where a green would be able to show off her abilities.

I’m still not very happy at the continual placing of gay men in the lesser dragon ranks and the near continual insistence on human heteronormativity as the only way to get to lead your Weyr. As K’vin and Zulaya are proving to us, there’s no actual need for the Weyrleaders to be an actual couple, or even sexually interested in each other, outside of their dragons’ desires. There’s probably some really good fic out there that examines and tries to fix these issues.

To answer an earlier question, apparently Hatchings are also times of strong emotion, and those reverberate through the dragonriders as well. Not so strong that K’vin can’t spare a thought that Zulaya looks beautiful in her dress with a backdrop of sun filtered through dragon, but there’s plenty of emotional states being broadcast at this point in time.

Raised voices outside briefly threaten to distract him, but someone else appears to be dealing with it, until one of the greens on the sand makes a beeline for the entryway, where a new girl has just entered, and makes Impression with her. This does not please the girl’s companions, and they try to separate the two. This goes poorly.

K’vin had one look at the shock on his face, the fear on the girl’s, before the dragon has the man down and was trying to open her jaws wide enough to fit around his head.
T’dam, being nearer, plunged to the rescue. The girl, Debera, was also trying to detach her dragonet from her father, for that’s what she was calling him.
“Father! Father! Leave him alone, Morath. He can’t touch me now, I’m a dragonrider. Morath, do you hear me?”
Except that K’vin was very anxious that Morath might have already injured the man, he was close to laughing at this Debera’s tone of authority. The girl had instinctively adopted the right attitude with her newly hatched charge. No wonder she’d been Searched…and at some hold evidently not too far away.
[…enough bodies are present to separate the two, but Morath isn’t done with him yet…]
He would hurt you. He would own you. You are mine and I am yours and no one comes between us, Morath was saying so ferociously that every rider heard her.

The details come out very quickly that Debera was betrothed by her father to someone that would strengthen family ties and open a new mine, but then the riders came and told her she was a candidate. Debera wanted to go, but her father didn’t show her the letter and told the arranged marriage that Debera had refused to come to the Grounds. Her father is full of venom that the riders get priority and that their coming around had changed Debera very clearly for the worse.

Wounds got nothing to do with my righteous anger, Lord Holder. I know what I know, and I know we had it all arranged and you should stick up for your holders, not these Weyrfolk and their queer customs and doings, and I dunno what will happen to my daughter.” At this point he began to weep, more in frustrated anger than from the pain of the now well-anesthetized injuries. “She was a good girl until they come. A good biddable girl!”

Oh, the juxtaposition here between the narrative putting in Menolly’s mouth that the girls at Paradise River are “biddable” as a compliment, and here, where is absolutely clear that “biddable” is a bad thing when it conflicts with dragonriders getting candidates.

On a more meta level, however, I have this character, Lavel, to thank for finally articulating what should have been a running theme throughout the series right from the very beginning – that dragonriders are strange people with strange customs, and certainly strange sexual practices, that interfere with the business of Holds, ruin alliances, and otherwise disrupt the business of “normal” people on the planet. Even though most people acknowledge that they’re necessary for continued survival, especially during Threadfall, there should be gigantic resentment among the holders, if not the Lords themselves, about being beholden to the dragons and the way they function essentially above the laws and customs of everyone else. That it’s the fourteenth book before this point is getting any serious treatment says something.

Perhaps it took the author this long to come up with a solution, as one is very swiftly forthcoming that essentially makes the argument “Yes, it looks weird from the outside, but if you actually lived here and got to observe us, you’d see it wasn’t that weird at all.” And the narrative is swift to assure us that most families find having a dragonrider to be good – extra prestige to your bloodline, and available transportation, to boot.

Listening to the vitriol in Lavel’s criticism of Weyr life upset both Weyrleaders and Lord Holders. It was true that certain customs and habits had been developed in the Weyrs to suit dragon needs, but promiscuity was certainly not encouraged. In fact, there was a very strictly observed code of conduct within the Weyr. There might not be formal union contracts, but no rider reneged on his word to a woman nor failed to make provision for any children of the pairing. And few Weyrbred children, reaching puberty, left the Weyr for the grandparental holds even if they failed to Impress.

Why would they, when they clearly have the best lives in the Weyrs? No pressure to be married off to anyone, a modest degree of independence, and, generally speaking, supplies delivered to you without having to do the deadly work of fighting Thread.

I am laughing somewhat at the insistence that promiscuity is not encouraged in the Weyr, and that children are provided for. These both sound very much like things that might be impressed upon gold queen riders and would-be Weyrwomen, but not actually true in the Weyrs outside the upper-crust bubble. The green dragons and their notoriously high sex drives provide narrative justification as to why it’s not promiscuity if it just so happens that certain men and women are getting their fill of sex with each other, and we’ve already had plenty of paragraphs devoted to the part where aborting is sufficiently common that there’s a widespread euphemism for it. Given that kids are raised communally, and there doesn’t seem to be any specific income share or supply share that each dragonrider is allotted and would have to share with their children and partners, apart from “childbirth is deadly”, there doesn’t seem to be any incentive toward abortion.

So Zulaya and K’vin might believe everyone follows the code of conduct wholeheartedly, but the evidence of reality strongly suggests their belief is unjustified. But the narrative wants us to believe, too, but letting us listen in as Lady Salda delivers a tongue-lashing to Lavel about how he’s really just upset that he can’t sell his daughter for more land, despite having plenty of other children (and commenting that Lavel will wear his wife out in the same way that he did his last wife with all the childbirth, which should give us an echo of how Fax did the same thing to his conquered women, including Lady Gemma.) If we want to find blame and weird sexual practice, the narrative would have us blame Holders who use their wives as baby factories. Which is very much an acceptable target, but the narrative is shielding the dragonriders from proper criticism, as it has for all of these books.

After sending Lavel on his way back, and a quick mention that the dragons of this time are not to their full designed size, K’vin makes the rounds and deals with the question of the late match, including a sister of a candidate that K’vin will eventually call “spiteful”, even though each attempt she makes at gossip and conversation is cut off by physical violence, such as pinching, being kicked under the table, or other actions intended to make her be quiet. Yet she’s the spiteful one. Probably because she’s a girl who actually wants to talk about interesting things, rather than just sitting there silently until a man gives her leave to talk.

K’vin tries to reassure everyone that a situation like the late match is under control and not actually answering aloud what might happen if dragons didn’t find their match.

Early on, the records mentioned five occasions when a dragonet had not found a compatible personality. It’s subsequent death had upset the Weyr to the point where every effort was then made to eliminate a second occurrence, including accepting the dragon’s choice from among spectators.

So, according to the chronology of the novels, Mirrim is not all that groundbreaking, but is instead just a reoccurrence of something that hasn’t happened in a good long while.

Except that incidents like these would surely be part of the Records of any given Weyr, and so each Hatching, someone should be on the lookout for just a scenario happening, instead of being confused or worse about it when it does happen.

There’s also a bit that K’vin thinks, instead of says, about how some eggs don’t hatch, and that when they had the tech to examine them, all but three had clear causes of non-viability. The other three, nobody knows, and their eggs were set adrift in hyperspace swiftly, so as not to alarm anyone.

There are small things, too, like how a new rider prefers to be S’mon, because he didn’t like being a Thomas, or any possible contractions of that, which annoys his father for having shucked being the tenth Thomas of the line. And different speculation about Debera’s origins and reasons for being late. K’vin puts out gossip where he can, before his head gets turned by the entrance of Debera herself.

Someone had given her a green gown which showed off a most womanly body, and the style of it as well as the color suited Debera. The deep clear green set off her fine complexion and a head of curling bronze-colored hair which was attractively dressed, not straggling unkempt around a sweaty distraught face. No doubt Tisha, the headwoman, had had a hand in the transformation. Zulaya had once said Tisha treated all the Weyrgirls like live dolls, dressing them up and fussing with their hair. Nor was Tisha herself childless, but her excess of maternal instinct was an asset in the Weyr.

Once again, a good argument that the headwoman is the person who actually runs the Weyr, and is thus the person who wields the real power. Because if you can get someone who just came in on a hard ride, had a dragonet to feed, bathed, styled, and conveniently dressed in something that shows her curves within that time frame, you work magic, have multitudes of minions, or have an eidetic memory of where things are. Or some combination of the three.

K’vin is, thankfully, prevented from hitting on her by an interesting musicial sound. The perspective shifts to the musicians, who are deploying the new songs that have been crafted as one of the ways of reminding everyone of their duties and the gratitude they should have for the dragonriders, entitled the Duty Song and Dragonlove, respectively. They work excellently as earworms, and get sung multiple times, with the attending guests starting to join in with the singing after the first few times through. Weirdly, the success of the music world toward convicing Sheledon, as he plays it, that perhaps Clisser’s plan to gut education might have some merit.

Thus ends chapter three. Finally. That’s a lot of awful worldbuilding to have to go through, especially because it seems to be setting things up for the horrible things we already have experienced.

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3 thoughts on “Dragonseye: This Is How You Treat Women?

  1. genesistrine November 12, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Re K’vin and Zulaya, it’s become blatantly clear over the course of the decon what AMC’s kink is, so hopefully it’ll be less horrible than usual when it finally kicks in with these two….

    Hopefully.

    Re “BAYYYYBIES can compensate for losing your telepathic utterly loving and totally sympathetic life partner” ahaha oh my god there’s a really grim fanfic just *waiting* to be written there about a female dragonrider trying to replace her dead dragon with her children and how she genuinely can’t cope when they disagree with her or try and be their own people.

    Re greens and gay guys, don’t forget that it’s the author’s stated opinion that greens prefer “effeminate” gays (because she thinks that’s how gayness works – in her mind the greens go for the “feminine”, “receptive” type of gay guy). Though this Guardian article on toxic masculinity in the gay community is interesting reading in this context: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/09/gay-men-attitude-masculinity-sexuality-women

    The “children are provided for” vs “communal raising” thing is interesting – we’ve never seen Weyr men being particularly interested or involved fathers. We’re given Mirrim’s father’s name but he never appears on-page; Keevan in The Smallest Dragonboy and his father know each other but don’t seem close, and I’m not sre we’ve ever even seen F’lar and F’lessan *speak* to each other. It looks very like that’s a polite fiction used with outsiders and in reality children are fostered out to the women who want them and there’s no pressure on fathers to do anything at all.

    Whether this also applies to children with dragonrider fathers born outside the Weyrs I have no idea. Though I suppose there wouldn’t be any point to the polite fiction if kids outside the Weyr were being neglected….

    “Spiteful” Suze’s treatment irritated me too. Especially since K’vin’s amused by it right off, hur hur girl getting kicked to make her shut up, what fun.

  2. Silver Adept November 13, 2017 at 9:53 am

    One can always hope it won’t be blatant. Or that there might actually be discussion, negotiation, and consent before it does.

    There has to be a fanfic somewhere that tries to cover this idea, and it probably stars Brekke, since she’s the single rider that we know of that has been separated from her rider and wasn’t put into an irreversible fugue state.

    I can see “goes after men with bottoming tendencies” having a small justification because high sex drive stations, but the justification should be that greens go for people with high sex drives, regardless of orientation and top or bottom preferences. The author apparently doesn’t want to try and untangle the possibility of a dragon that’s going to be penetrated with a man that might want to do the penetrating.

    It certainly seems like a polite fiction told outside, which might have some social weight of “don’t go screwing outside the Weyr – the rules are different out there and children are complicated.” It does seem likely, though, that the Weyr would have a policy of “any child born to a dragonrider outside the Weyr is to be brought inside the Weyr to be raised” so as to cut down on the complications of someone having ties to both their land and their heritage, or messy arrangements of having to give up their land and pass it to someone to join the aerial defense squadron. (Since, as I recall, the things that make good dragonriders tend to be heritable.)

    I couldn’t figure out what was spiteful about Suze’s attempts, other than that she kept trying to talk even after several incidents of violence to get her to shut up. That’s not spiteful, unless you believe that men are the unquestioned rulers of women and to be obeyed at all times.

  3. genesistrine November 13, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    She seemed to be a bit ghoulish, as in “would the baby dragon die if it didn’t Impress?” but it’s a reasonable question, if uncomfortable for dragonriders. Maybe “spitefulness” on Pern is being unaware of or ignoring your social superiors’ wish that you’d shut up….

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