Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Crewel and a Roundabout Rant about Misogyny in Fiction

So, awhile ago I read this post about Crewel and gender in dystopian YA novels, and it influenced me to skip reading Crewel. But then my mother, who is a librarian, told me one of her colleagues liked it and she wanted to know my opinion. So I tried to put away my misgivings, but ultimately, Crewel was a painful reading experience for me. I've tried to enumerate why below.

First, the summary from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has always been special. When her parents discover her gift—the ability to weave the very fabric of reality—they train her to hide it. For good reason, they don’t want her to become a Spinster — one of the elite, beautiful, and deadly women who determine what people eat, where they live, how many children they have, and even when they die.

Thrust into the opulent Western Coventry, Adelice will be tried, tested and tempted as she navigates the deadly politics at play behind its walls.  Now caught in a web of lies and forbidden romance, she must unravel the sinister truth behind her own unspeakable power.  Her world is hanging by a thread, and Adelice, alone, can decide to save it — or destroy it.

Enter a tangled world of secrets and intrigue where a girl is in charge of other’s destinies, but not her own.

#1: It's just not well-written. The world is terribly constructed. It's labeled as dystopian, but dystopian worlds are based in science fiction, not magic. The author never really makes it clear what the main character, Adelice, sees when she weaves the threads of time and space, how she can use the looms to zoom in on the weave of their world. Also, she can just freeze time around her by warping the weave around her so she can hang out in this little bubble with this guy she wants to kiss. That's magic. It doesn't even follow the previously established rules of her own world. And the Creweler, the head Spinster, can make new things. Like she can just weave a lake or whatever she wants. And I don't understand how that works. Are people just standing outside their house and then a lake plops down next to them and they start screaming? Does other stuff have to move apart to make room for the lake? None of this was adequately explained. 

#2: It's a misogynist's fantasy. It has this weird retro sexism going on. And it's definitely not dystopian, because dystopian takes elements of what we as a society are doing now and extrapolate from them to create a possible future world for us. Hunger Games did this quite well. So did classics like 1984. This world that the author has created does not fit that mold. It does not resemble our world, or our future, or even any time in our past really. It's weird. It's like the author took every retro sexist thing she could think of and put it in there, but never commented on it. I mean, sometimes characters sort of mentioned that it sucked but then they would be like, but that's just the way things are. And no one's trying to fight the rampant misogyny, not even in some minor way. The book is about the oppression of everyone, not the oppression of women. Even though women are BLATANTLY being oppressed more than men in this world. Another reason why it's not dystopian. Dystopians feature societies that tried to bring equality for everyone and then later became corrupt and failed or someone seized total power. But the point is that everyone is oppressed equally. 

And hello, calling the weavers Spinsters? You've got to be kidding me. And I cannot believe in a future world where women can only be nurses, teachers, and secretaries. WOMEN CAN'T EVEN BE FARMERS?! Excuse me, women have been the backbone of agriculture since the dawn of time. Another unbelievable part of the novel is that neighborhoods are gender segregated for children. So once you have a boy, you have to only have more boys, no girls (they have control over the gender of the child and stuff, of course), to prevent interaction that could lead to BAD THINGS. Also, only some women have the power to weave for some reason. And when they are sixteen, girls are tested for the ability to weave the fabric of time and space, and the place where they take potential Spinsters is this weird compound that was almost like a brothel minus the prostitutes. If you don't pass the test to be a Spinster, you can't leave, you have to be a maid or a hairdresser or other domestic servant. And the whole group of women are overseen by the Guild, this group of men (don't even get me started on how political office gets passed down through the male blood line). But why would women who can weave the fabric of time and space allow themselves to be controlled by a guild of men??

I'm not going to sugarcoat it: I just hate the main character. She's a typical, arrogant non-intersectional feminist. For those who don't know, intersectional feminists also fight for the struggles of women of color, trans women, lgbt women, and women of different socioeconomic status. Not just the other privileged white women (and this girl is pale). I don't understand how race works in this book. I think the author thinks that race isn't an issue in the world she's created, but the book reads as racist. For example, Adelice sees this girl and describes her as having "tawny skin" and admires her "exotic beauty" and I'm just like, really? You didn't get the memo about not referring to people of other races as exotic? Okay. And she describes her maid as having stereotypically Asian features, and then says that she understand why the Spinsters take so much care in their looks because they could never let "inferior women" look better than them. WOAH. Is she inferior because she's asian? Because she's a maid? And Adelice doesn't have any introspection about how the inferiority is just a misguided opinion of the Spinsters, she seems to endorse that racist idea. 

Adelice just thinks she's above everyone else. She sees all the other Spinsters as vapid, stupid and overeager, even though those girls don't know anything else but to want to be a spinster. She just whines all the time, "Oh noooo, I have to be pampered and have my hair and makeup done and this is just like, not what I care about because I'm better than those other girls that do and hair and makeup is a waste of time." When Adelice sees that "exotic" girl hanging on a politician's arm, she starts slut shaming her. Also, Spinsters are told not to have sex because that will make them lose their abilities (which turns out to be a lie to control them). And then there are two guys Adelice gets involved with. One guy she just kisses, but the other guy is the one she really "loves." He was married before, and his wife died, and the society took their child away. Horrible, right? And our lovely protagonist thinks, "I don't like that he was married. Not one bit. Even if he isn't anymore." And this was before they ever kissed! And then later she says, "He was a husband, a father, and I'm nothing and never will be." BECAUSE WOMEN'S ROLES DON'T COUNT FOR ANYTHING. Even though before she was so arrogant about herself. Sigh. And of course the lesbian character killed herself, because all lesbian characters must be crazy or die. 

The problem with this book is that I've only seen a couple of other people comment on these issues. I don't understand how other people are reading this and not even seeing a FRACTION of what I see. The problem with this book is that people are reading it and going, yup that's how women are treated, and just accepting it as normal, and this book just contributes to harmful ideas about women and race and everything, and I just can't. It made me ill at times to read it, and I had to take breaks. I know it's "just a book" but honestly, I feel like people have a responsibility to think long and hard about what they are putting out into the world. Especially in YA, when so many readers are looking for characters like themselves, I think it's lazy to make a book that's misogynistic and racist. I'm sure this was not the author's intention, but it's what happened. I don't mind if characters are racist and misogynistic if it's part of the story, but there's no authorial distance, and that's why the book turned out to be so painfully misogynistic. And I don't know why people can't just take an extra little bit of time to get it right.

This was already long, and I could go on and on about this book, so I'll just stop right here. I think I refrained from swearing, which was a struggle. Tl;dr: it's like an alternate history novel where we somehow managed to develop all this technology but we never progressed past the worst part (and I do mean the worst part) of gender dynamics from the 19th century. Somehow.

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