Currently, I am six books into Robert Jordan’s acclaimed and beloved fantasy series, and six books with putting up with the irritating display of female characters. I literally want to tug at my braid every time Elayne comes onto the page. There is something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth how all the women are written as manipulative and their entire lives revolve around controlling men using their natural ways. Of course, characters like Rand and Perrin, too good and heroic to say anything outright and the targets of the control make this rampant representation much worse.
But why did Jordan create the Aes Sedai? Are they a representation of all women? Or just a select few? Why are women always trying to control men?
Elayne is the worst offender in my opinion. Her insistence that she is going to bond Rand as a Warder, despite the fact that he doesn’t want to be, nor has she consulted him about it, and how when he is her Warder he is going to do everything she says and tell her every thought and feeling he expresses leaving him no privacy, is quite frankly frightening. If the roles were reversed and it as Rand who sought to have total control over Elayne, this wouldn’t be treated with the ill-timed crack at humour and endearingness that I feel Jordan is attempting. Oh, look at Elayne trying to control Rand. Women know best after all. Isn’t that funny.
No, it is not.
The Wheel of Time isn’t a gritty series. It doesn’t have the rawness of Abercrombie’s fiction, the primitive survival of Brett’s world or the savage politics of Martin’s Westeros. But it is an important fantasy series. I remember when I read The Eye of the World and found myself wondering why it had so many familiarities. Sometimes I felt like was reading Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter. It was influenced by the greats and influenced even more. So, can I forgive Jordan for his sexist rhetoric and characterisation?
The answer is yes and that is because of one character, his saving grace. Nynaeve Al’Mere. Where there is an Elayne, thank god there is a Nynaeve. She is ill-tempered, stubborn, strong-willed and determined. She is everything a female character should be. She is flawed. She struggles, she can barely use the One Power without losing her temper. Yet she loves Lan fiercely. She risked her life to protect the Emond’s Field clan and will continue to until they are safe. She is complex. She is a fighter and she is a woman. Yes, she exhibits the manipulation of all of Jordan’s female characters. But I honestly feel Nynaeve is Jordan’s best and most realistic female character in his series.
Min is a cliché. The girl who “dresses like a boy”, because the convince of trousers is only reserved for men. Elayne is a typical princess, entitled and presumptive of everyone falling into her view of the world. The Aes Sedai are an institution of manipulative women; I still wonder what Jordan’s inspiration for this came from.
But Nyneave is Nynaeve. I know some people will not understand why I love her character so much and why I believe she is so important. But when we ask for strong female characters, we are not asking for Mary Sue; we are asking for Nynaeve Al’Mere. We want a flawed, relatable and realistic woman who struggles and fights (not always physically), who is determined and who will do anything for the people she loves. We want someone who is well written and that doesn’t mean a rehashed cliché and stereotype of what White Western Feminism believes a strong woman looks like. Not all women can fight with a sword; strength is not measured by physicality. Some women fight with their character and there is no other character as strong-willed as Nynaeve.