Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

WisCon: Discworld and Gender Issues

This was absolutely the panel I hoped it would be. We talked about so many things and I at least had a great time; other people seemed to be too, so yay, I was really happy, thank you to the awesome co-panelists and audience.

Quick links for people who were at the panel:

The amazing dwarf gender story:

Modern Love (2906 words) by Penknife
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Discworld
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Original Character/Original Character
Characters: Original Characters, Angua
Additional Tags: Community: lgbtfest, Gender Issues, Queer Themes, Transgender, Podfic Available
Summary: It's amazing how the world rarely gets less complicated.

analysis of gender performance in Monstrous Regiment

person re-reading Discworld with lots of great discussion in posts and comments: [personal profile] skygiants

Assume spoilers for all of Discworld below the cut.


In 39 books to date, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series does a lot of good things with gender themes and some less than good things. Let's talk about the wide range of female characters in Discworld, their different kinds of agency, the number of stories that center on female relationships, and the problematic of strains of gender essentialism and heteronormativity, especially in Discworld's non-human species.

M: Kate Nepveu
Bronwyn Bjorkman
Rhea Ewing
E. Cabell Hankinson Gathman
Jenny Nilsson

Here are some things I remember us talking about! It is not in the least comprehensive.

We talked about the basic lack of a framework for queer or trans* characters to exist or be talked about in Discworld. There are characters you could understand that way, but it's very hard to tell if they would claim that identity because they don't have the concepts, or even if the narrative intended them to be read that way. So, Maladict(a) and Jackrum in _Monstrous Regiment_ could certainly be read as trans men, but. I read Tonker and Lofty in _MR_ as a lesbian couple, but I'm not sure the text makes that explicit.

There is the professor in _Unseen Academicals_ who is unequivocally gay, and while IIRC (I didn't finish my re-read in time after all!) Ridcully is a little "err what?" about that news, he accepts it pretty well. There is also the very confusing couple in _UA_ of the dwarf fashion designer and Pepe, about whom I find hard to understand the authorial intent or the characters' identifications; I am re-reading this one right now and will report back.

So, yes, it's true that Discworld was trying on this ground, but.

_MR_ and other books, especially the Witch books, do have as a central theme the expansion of roles available to women (as defined on the Disc). For all of _MR_'s weirdness and possible fails [*] , it does end with the available PUBLIC roles for women quite emphatically broadened. I also like _Carpe Jugulum_ for this, when the narrative tries to force Nanny into the crone role and she eventually rejects it, and when Magrat doesn't see why she should stay home just because she has a baby. (Motherhood does less well by Sybil, unfortunately.)

[*] As I said in my booklog entry -- here are all my Discworld posts -- it edges toward "women performing as women are more civilized," though I think it could be read to avoid that. Um, among other things--I'm hurrying through this, sorry.

But we also talked about the gendering of magic and work via the witches. Other panelists brought this up, which was great, because I hadn't realized that--_Equal Rites_ was so long ago, in my defense--but when you take the gendered split of magic in everyone but Esk (I haven't re-read _I Shall Wear Midnight_ yet either, but people say that her reappearance there doesn't really address the issue), plus the characterization of witches' work as all the dirty difficult caretaking that never gets acknowledged (which is present in Granny's conflict in, umm, _CJ_?, but incredibly prominent in the Tiffany books), then that's pretty sucky. Cabell, I think, pointed out that in some ways the books say one thing about gender but show another, that Granny and Nanny are incredibly valued and everyone does know all the things they do, but still, no male witches.

Another thing we mentioned is the many different ways of being witches and how great that is. We also mentioned Agnes and [personal profile] skygiants point that no protagonist ever loses as badly as she does in _Maskerade_, with a side trip into Pratchett's occasional fat-shaming and body stereotypes.

I asked if any of his conventionally attractive beautiful (edited for accuracy, sorry) women had brains. The only example anyone came up with was Angua, and then led into two things, a discussion of Angua and of whether there were any human women in the Watch. The first is easier yes, Precious Jolson, who gets a tiny speaking part in _Snuff_ (which is a TERRIBLE book, do not read) in which we learn that she is from fake-Africa and is a very large jolly woman, GAH. Angua, some people said they didn't like her as much as they think they should; I suggested maybe it's because her relationship with Carrot is pretty unfortunate in the whole "dog following him around" thing (and indeed her own thoughts have a lot of ambivalence about them--I find Angua one of Discworld's most *aware* characters and I love her POV because of it), someone else suggested because she feels more "real" than most of the characters, like she's been plopped into Discworld from a less zany universe and doesn't quite fit in.

Uh, this is not at all the order we did things in, so I'm sure I'm going to miss stuff! I mentioned Susan not being Duchess, and missing the opportunity of her wielding political power. Then someone pointed out her and Vetinari engaging in political maneuvering against each other (after all, Sto Helit and Ankh-Morpork are really close to each other), and then we all had a moment to wish for that fanfic. One of the panelists kindly reminded me that we _did_ see Keli being a ruler, briefly, and that she remains in power after the end of the book, but again, we never see her again. (Magrat is co-ruler and we see hardly any of that.)

Re: Susan, we also said that it's interesting the way the books keep trying to set up romances for her that just vanish or fall even more flat than usual, it's like Pratchett thinks this is the story that she should have and she resists it with all her might because she's SUSAN. Oh, and we also talked about how Tiffany/Roland looked like such a sure thing in the third book and then it wasn't, which was abrupt narratively but which we liked. Of course we all forgot until halfway through the discussion that Tiffany _does_ end up paired off at the end of the fourth book, which suggests that he was not really very memorable, heh, but is too bad compared to one of Tamora Pierce's series that does a much more satisfying job of this idea that you don't end up with your teenage crush and may not end up partnered off for life at ALL at the end of your series, gasp shock!

We actually talked a lot about the non-human species early, about the way that dwarf gender started out looking interesting and kind of hit its high point in _The Fifth Elephant_ where Vimes gets yelled at for asking the sexes of a famous historical couple--they were both dwarves, he's told, that's all that's important. But then it starts sliding downhill until Vimes can tell which dwarves are female by the fact that they coo over a human baby. People pointed out that the only way dwarves can apparently perform femininity is a very human-stereotypical way, and there's no equivalent way to perform masculinity because that's assumed by all the characters to be the default gender . . . and other things that I forget or am getting mixed up in the story I linked to above.

(Oh, and the Low King is female but not out.)

We talked about imposition of human stereotypical gender on genderless bodies, specifically the Auditors and Gladys (the golem in _Going Postal_ and _Making Money_). Someone (and my dear panelists, you were awesome and I am very sorry that I cannot attribute most of these more specifically) said that it would be great if we could read those characters as being forced into a box by Discworld's narrative conventions and trying to fight their way out of it, because that is a very Discworld kind of story, but that they don't get that (Gladys goes from one extreme stereotype to another, Myria LeJean/Unity kills herself).

Oh wow, this is already incredibly long and I am very close to running out of time. So, quickly: female relationships and mentorships, yay. Almost entirely confined to Witch books + _MR_ (10/39 books), though arguably the later Watch books have a bit of female relationships and Susan has a few friends early in _Soul Music_ (who then vanish). Henpecked husband thread = awful. Angel in the house thing = awful. Um, I can't remember anything else and I have to check out now, but I am sure more will come, or if you remember (or just want to talk about stuff), please feel free to comment!

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