Monday, December 12, 2011

The Black Dagger Brotherhood: Treatment of women

Having finally finished the Black Dagger Brotherhood series (until the next book comes out, anyway) I feel a profound sense of relief. Not that there weren’t enjoyable elements - the story in the background was amusing and the snark was delicious - but there was also a whole lot of trainwreck going on here. there’s a lot I could talk about here (and already have and no doubt will in the future) but altogether it’s a book in itself. So today I’m going to look at the treatment of women in the series and why it often caused me to roll my eyes so much I think I got friction burns.

Firstly, I have to look at the treatment of women in this series. The Dudebros (as the Brotherhood will now be known because of their eternally awful language and behaviour. And not just -ism based, but also the slightly ridiculous ghetto-wannabe-tough guy speech they use) all have a purpose and reason in their life. They’re warriors driven to defend their race from extinction (even if they do spend more time getting drunk and getting laid in dodgy clubs). This is their reason for being and their passion. Now let’s look at the ladies:

Beth - dead end journalist job that she thinks has no future. Is sad and lonely and pretty hopeless. Mary - dead-end job she doesn’t enjoy, beneath her skill level she’s not happy and has medical worries. Marissa - wanders around the edge of parties being sad and lonely. No, really, this is what she does. Bella - I have no idea what she did, hang around her home trying to escape her brother’s suffocating presence. Ehlena was a nurse with a family - and wealth and position. Cormia - a virgin priestess who didn’t enjoy it very much. Dr. Jane has a job! she’s a surgeon - but she has no advancement prospects and has to leave the town to go any further and is unhappy... Xhex? Exists to be Rehvenge’s gopher and then loses that and is just kind of drifting and Payne lived her entire life as a prisoner, a comatosed one for most of it

And what happens? In swoops their Dudebro and their old life ends, entirely. They quit their jobs, drop any friends they had (assuming they had any. Most of these women had no-one and seemed to be in a holding pattern until their man showed up. Life begins when the Dudebro arrives), everything they had ends and all ties are cut - Dr. Jane even faked her own death (well, sort of since death was involved).

Sure, to some degree the same happens with Butch and Manuel - but, in Butch's case joining the Brotherhood and leaving humanity becomes his story. He’s not Butch, the human hanger on or Marissa’s love interest - he’s turned into a vampire and becomes the Dhestroyer, essential tool in the war against the lessers, mentioned in prophesy, the bringer of the end of the Omega. He’s more integrated and more a part of the Dudebro story and world than Marissa, the vampire, is. He's integral to the series - not her.

Even Manuel – he couldn’t just join the Dudebros, he, alone of all the human love interests, maintains his real world ties. And like Butch, he can claim kinship with Wrath – unlike any of the women, he needs to have his own link to the Dudebros to justify his presence, (even Payne has her place through Vishous) he needs his own links, he can’t have a presence through his lover like Mary or Beth or Cormia or Marissa or Xhex, or Bella, or even Ehlena and Jane

And after they have their Dudebro story and are happily ever after brushed aside. No, really, their stories pretty much end there - we see Beth in passing as an extra appendage for Wrath and Dr. Jane wanders around being the angst receiver for Vishous but that’s about it. Are Mary, Ehlena, Marissa and Bella even still alive? We see the other Dudebro’s drifting in and out but these women have pretty much fallen off the planet. Their own stories end there, they become an extra appendage of the man they’re linked to - and not even a big, useful appendage like a limb. They become toes or little fingers. Once their romance is established their stories are no longer relevant or worthy of our attention.

Ok, now let’s look at this Madonna/whore thing we have going on in the books. All of the heroines are largely not sexually active. Payne, Cormia and Marissa are virgins. Beth, as a pre-trans vampire, was sexually uninterested. Ehlena had had a past relationship that ended badly and was then more consumed with job and family, Xhex had had a bad previous relationship and then didn’t get involved too often because of her Symphath secret, Mary and Jane were either too sad or too busy and Bella, as a “female of worth” in vampire society was not having sex.

Now let’s look at the guys - who use prostitutes, casual sex, random hookups and generally sex it up all the time - and when they don’t it’s because something is wrong with them - Zsadist and John Matthew with their trauma, Rehvenge because of the side-effects of his medicine, Phury because of his angst. They’re not “moral” celibates, they’re celibates because something’s wrong and a natural, happy, man would of course be shagging anything that would stay still long enough.

But let’s also look at the other women - specifically the wall to wall prostitutes. And there’s lots of prostitutes. Lots and lots and lots of them. And they’re disposable and have a huge death rate in the series. Even aside from prostitutes - Vishous refers to the women he hooks up with as “sluts”, Butch has considerable contempt for the prostitutes he frequents, as does Zsadist and Dr. Manello is outright contemptuous of the many women he sleeps with. There’s an ongoing theme of contempt for women who are not celibate or, at very least, very restrictive in who they sleep with. And, in case the message was lost, the deity of the vampires is called the Scribe Virgin.

Not, of course, that being sexually pure protects these women. All of them are victimised in some way. Kidnapping, stalking, raping and even dying; these women live in a state of constant peril. They need rescuing, avenging and protecting constantly. I think the last straw for me was when Payne was kidnapped in Lover Unleashed. It added nothing to the plot, nothing to the characterisations – just there so she can join the kidnapped club.

And we have to look at strength, specifically physical strength. Now, first we have to look at the oddness that is vampire genetics - specifically how the Dudebros have effectively been selectively bred. Brotherhood vampire sleeps with Chosen to produce more Chosen and Brotherhood. And the Brothers are different from civilians, they’re stronger, tougher and they’re huge. All of them are absolutely massive, same with the male aristocrats with warrior and soldier blood - Rehvenge, Qhuinn, Blaylock. Huge massive slabs of muscle. Sooo, surely the Chosen and female aristocrats are going to be pretty hefty ladies, right? No? Funny how that works. Now the exception to this rule has been Xhex and Payne - both of whom are women who can fight, kick arse and hold their own... but not for long. Xhex is repeatedly referred to as a “shemale” for her physical strength and then later is kidnapped and raped (in fact, she is even more abused than any of the other women in this series - making her strength even more undermined) and needs both rescuing and a lot of help avenging herself - I wouldn’t even say she managed to avenge herself given the circumstances. Her strength is taken from her and we end her book with her cooing over a wedding dress. Meanwhile Payne is paralysed - and while it’s a good depiction of a disabled character and something that we rarely see, that was quickly cured by orgasm. Just in case we hadn’t seen Payne sufficiently weakened, she was then kidnapped.

And we also have to take a second to side-eye the gender roles here, I’ve mentioned it in the past but it stands repeating. Any man who has ever ever even thought of sleeping with “their” women (or looking at their women, or standing near their women, or breathing the same air of their women) in the past gets attacked. In Lover Revealed Wrath had to be physically restrained from killing Butch because he was feeding on Beth to save his life. In Lover Mine John Matthew is pissed at Butch because he slept with Xhex – once, before John Matthew even became an adult vampire. Vishous hates Manny in Lover Unleashed and Lover Unbound because, before he met Jane, they almost started dating.

Yet, Wrath giving blood to help get Payne healed in Lover Unleashed? Beth is not only ok with it – but she suggested it. Only the men are possessive to this extreme degree. Just as only male vampires produce the bonding scent that labels their mates as their possessions. Just as only male vampires (rarely) take more than one mate but females cannot because the males are just too possessive and violent and aggressive.

After all this I’m not going to criticise the glymeria – the vampire aristocracy. Yes it’s grossly misogynist (and homophobic and abelist and classist and just plain nasty) but it’s acknowledge as such. It’s a portrayal of prejudice and challenged as such. And there’s so much more to criticise, it seems almost redundant.

What depresses me further is that the world here? The world is interesting, fascinating and the story would definitely pull me in gleefully. Sadly there’s a lot of problems to wade through to get to that story – and it makes it pretty unpleasant.