Impromptu musings on Ana Mendieta and phenomenology

“…the human body provides the fundamental mediation point between thought and the world. The world and the subject reflect and flow into each other through the body that provides the living bond with the world.”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Phenomenology of Perception

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban artist and a refugee in America from the age of 12, escaping Fidel Castro’s regime with her family. Her artworks in land-art, video, sculpture and photography are all centered  around the relationship of the body and landscape, our physical connection the earth. The artist herself states that the intention of the work is to repair the bond the she lost to her homeland as an adolescent, to address the displacement and feeling of otherness as an immigrant in the US. The mythical link of femininity and nature – the presence of the concept of Mother Earth; but also effects of colonialism and the violence that women’s bodies in areas of civil unrest are subjected to, are powerful readings of Mendieta’s Silueta series.


The Silueta are sort of land sculptures preserved in photographs – and there is a vast collection of them, created through Ana’s career. She would create silhouettes of her own body in grass, dirt, snow etc. sometimes using plants to enhance the outline, sometimes digging, and later, blood. Sometimes she would be present in the flesh, and sometimes the work would be a performance rather than a sculpture. What connects all of the Silueta is the raw, corporeal connection to the Earth, performed countless times in different locations like a compulsive search for a connection with one’s surroundings, a desire to return to the roots of one’s being.

What strikes me as fascinating is that seeking of tangible relationship to Earth, especially today when we live most of our lives through digital media. At the time of their making, the Silueta were very much a commentary on feminism, violence and cultural identity. Those critiques are obviously still just as relevant. However, these earth-body works can also illustrate the ever-growing concern of the state of the environment and the detachment to nature in our everyday lives. The force with which Mendieta inserts her body into the landscape, becoming part of it has the effect of being shaken awake from a slumber; do I remember how it feels to lay on grass, make snow angels or be buried in fine sand on a beach?

Although Ana Mendieta’s work is political and serious, springing from a chaotic experience of displacement, there is also joy and a sense of security in it. In phenomenology, the approach to the world is to observe whatever sensations and experiences are present in consciousness. It is sort of an immersive way of studying the surrounding world and phenomena through direct experience. As such, this is not a particularly scientific method of discovery, but one that focuses on the subjective realities that each of experience.

The body is the vantage point from which the world is apprehended, and through the combination of physical and sensory input, one’s experience becomes part of the fabric of reality. There is also an interesting parallel to vipassana meditation, which I practice irregularly. The whole point of that school of meditative practice is to simply observe whatever rises in consciousness whether it be a physical sensation, a sound or a worry – none of those are more or less important pieces of reality at that moment; they just happen to draw our attention. Especially the practice of walking meditation seems to be connected to the notion of body as a mediator between things we understand as internal or external to our minds. The meticulous, conscious act of lifting, moving and placing one’s feet one at a time creates spatial awareness and builds one’s understanding of space and place from the bottom up unlike the all-too familiar reality in which we live most of our lives in: the constant hurrying from point A to B while looking at our phones and being irritated by slow walkers blocking the way to the soon closing train doors.

Going back to Silueta, as physical imprints, immobile and quiet, they speak loudly a message of grounded, self-aware existence. Despite the morbid link, which the crime scene like outlines of bodies of Silueta have, to the way the artist passed away; by falling from the 34th floor onto the roof of a below deli, the work is more about action, overcoming and strength; and less about defeat and victimhood. Albeit mere shapes of bodies on the ground, their raised hands and sheer physicality of being dug, drawn and shaped in the earth, they seem oddly full of live.


A Girl Like Me

Today, the 8th of March, is the International Women’s Day, and so I thought I would say something about my experience of womanhood. It isn’t an easy task by any means, and the more I think about my gender, the less I can separate that experience from the rest of my identity. I was born a girl and I have always seen myself as a girl. Before I became aware of feminism as a concept I never noticed sexism in my life. In Finland, and other Nordic countries, children tend to be raised in a very no-nonsense manner where gender stereotypes aren’t enforced particularly forcefully. I danced ballet and played princess, but I also roamed around the woods and played basketball. All kids participate in same activities at school; boys do sewing and girls woodworking. Stereotypically, I have never been into ball games, maths or hammering things; but instead I loved figure skating, literature and designing clothes. So in many ways, I’m a textbook example of a girl.

Except that I was never really interested in boys.
At school, it was sort of necessary to have crushes on boys to be seen as normal, so I went along with it. My old diary entries are filled with childish pining for this or that boy or celebrity, and it was thrilling to slow-dance at parties or be kissed on the lips. But all of my friends were always girls. My home or school environment wasn’t overtly homophobic but you could still sense that most people found it kind of weird or gross. I remember when in secondary school, one of the girls in my class was openly bisexual. I felt wordless admiration at her courage but as I’ve always been a perfectionist people-pleaser, I didn’t allow myself to relate to her. None of this was conscious by the way. It’s only years later that I’ve pieced it together.
I don’t know what age I became aware of at least being more into girls than guys, but even that knowledge I only relayed to a few selected friends. Even though I never consciously kept my sexual orientation a secret, I think the biggest fear holding me back was that if I was to accept being gay, then that’s what I would only be known as: that lesbian. For a teenager with body image issues, anxiety and frail sense of self-worth, being labelled distinctly different from everybody else would have been a nightmare. In reality, it probably wouldn’t have been that that big of a deal at all, but when you’re 16 it’s all about life and death. When I came out at 18 most of my friends just shrugged or said something like “oh finally”.

So what is it like being a woman now?
Funnily enough, since I came out I’ve had more everyday challenges when it comes to being a woman. I’ve had to face the suffocating heteronormativity of our society where if I am nice to a male person, it is more often than not taken as a sign of attraction on my part when in truth I’m just naturally a caring person. Like any other girl wearing a skirt, high heels and lipstick, I have to suffer through catcalling and comments from random strangers. When I’m out alone in the dark, I’m always ready to kick, scream or run. I constantly blurt out the line “I’m gay by the way” because that works better than “I’m not interested”.
To me, the differences between sexes or genders are pretty insignificant, and I don’t identify as a woman as an opposition to men. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man any more than I know what it’s like to be a straight woman. Perhaps my entire experience as a woman is simply my experience as myself, as the person that I, and only I am.
I’m an outspoken feminist and openly gay, but if there wasn’t discrimination and prejudice against women and sexual minorities in the world, I don’t think these parts of my identity would be as important as they are. I shout equality for women and gays from the rooftops because so many cannot. I get irritated when I’m made to feel like I should apologise for either not being a man or being romantically or sexually interested in men.
It’s only really adversity that makes me think about my gender and how it is entangled with my sexuality, which is somewhat depressing I suppose.
Shouldn’t I find my womanhood empowering?

I don’t know. But regardless, I do know that I like being a girl. A girl like me.

Check your advocacy

feminismikollaasi“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names.
As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men.
Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

– Patrick Rothfuss

As passionate as I am about some of my own views I think it is also important to think about advocacy in general. Regardless of the cause, communication is key in making a difference. It is impossible to have a conversation with someone who merely fires off tag lines like a pinball machine while dodging difficult questions. What I mean by this is as soon as I hear things like “check your privilege” or “meat is murder” I automatically switch off. It’s not that I even disagree with either of these particular statements; I just don’t think that they are appropriate for anything else than for banners for a protest. The problem with catchy one-liners is that they are so easy to throw around that they quickly turn into static noise without substance. Once at a meeting with a visual merchandiser we talked about how there was now a bunch of buzz-words that they weren’t allowed to use in marketing anymore because the consumer market had started to resent them. Similar inflation can happen in any topic of public discussion where specific words or phrases are excessively used across media outlets. This is especially true to Twitter and clickbait headlines where a very compact expression needs to pack a punch and catch people’s attention. Replacing independent thinking, rationality and well-constructed arguments with 120-character statements just kills the conversation for me. There is no shortage of social justice memes to choose from – and all of them send me spiralling down into desperation with equal intensity, but let’s tackle a recent favourite, “white feminism”.

The phrase “white feminism” is generally used to represent one’s distaste of feminist speech that focuses on white women and ignores racial issues thus excluding women of colour. Technically anyone can be a “white feminist” regardless of their own skin colour or gender if the feminism that they promote is racially biased or exclusive. Fundamentally, the critique brought forward by this phrase is valid, but compressing the message into an easily misunderstood, and possibly provoking term seems counterproductive. I would predict that most people who hear “white feminism” assume that it describes all white women, implying that the fact of their skin tone automatically makes them racist. Because this is exactly what my first impression was. Needless to say that such a rhetoric doesn’t exactly encourage people to take into heart the very real issues related to ethnicity in the context of women’s rights. It is not surprising that upon being or feeling accused of something before having so much as a chance to voice their opinion, people tend to shut down or lash out, and not listen any further.

That said, I do think that there are times when when using more aggressive and inflammatory language is appropriate. Debates, speeches and protests can get very heated and emotional, and in instances where provoking reactions in your audience is precisely the goal, then it can be effective to boost up your message with evocative vocabulary. However, more often than not this kind of language only appeals to those who are already on your side, and you end up preaching to the choir. If that is what you want, then by all means. To be honest though, I still can’t see how using the term “white feminism” would be beneficial to the feminist movement. And I shall explain why.

There is a time and a place for big words when we are trying to emphasise the difference between our stance and that of our opponent’s. We want to draw a clear line between us and them and build up group mentality. That’s all fine even though personally I tend to frown upon the practice of blatantly demonising the other – unless they are a glaring bigot in which case they tend to do the job perfectly well by themselves.
I find that the problem with “white feminism” is that it drives a wedge within the feminist movement. And I think that this problem is both in the practice of ignoring racial issues, which is what this term is supposed to convey, and in using said term to discuss this issue. Obviously, women of colour tend to be at a bigger socio-economic disadvantage than white women. Many of these women live in third world countries or war zones of course, and my knowledge of the history and politics involved is nowhere near a level where I would feel comfortable discussing that particular struggle. There are many factors regulating the quality of life in conflicted and unstable areas. At any given time culture, tradition and religion are some of those things, and we can all disagree on how big of a part they play in the mistreatment of women. In my books, that part is significant.
It is all too easy to let oneself fall into the apologist void of “it’s part of their culture, and we must respect it” in the fear of being labelled a racist or islamophobic or whatever is the next trendy accusation. I couldn’t care less from which angle you look at it – the tradition of female genital mutilation is torture, not culture. This atrocity is only the tip of the iceberg, and there are numerous more covert ways in which girls and women face discrimination in the name of tradition.

Debating  the significance of scarves and veils that cover more or less of a woman’s head has been all the rage for a while now. Are they signs of oppression? Are they empowering? Is it totally “white” and ignorant to even consider that they might be problematic?
I suppose they can be either one like just about anything else. I wouldn’t even bother weighing in on this if I could be sure that the decision of what to wear was always the woman’s, and only hers. But alas, I can’t. The problem really isn’t the veil itself but whether its use is part of misogynous tradition. There are those who think that we shouldn’t criticise any culture of anything because it is their culture. What such people are really saying is that those who have had the misfortune of being born into a culture where casual violence against women is condoned, are inherently different from those who were born into as peaceful a society as can be found on Earth today. To say that white people shouldn’t interfere because they don’t understand the culture, and women of colour don’t need to be saved anyway, is equal to knowing that your neighbour beats up their partner and not taking any action to help. Just because the victim of violence hasn’t come to you for help doesn’t mean that they want to be beaten.

Just to clarify, I am not saying that white women need to save coloured women. I am not saying that the burqa is oppressive and the mini skirt empowering. And of course, Islam, which I keep referring to, is not a race. And of course, race itself is an arbitrary concept however culturally relevant. I may have strayed away from the topic of feminist advocacy into straight up advocating feminism, but hopefully I have made at least half a point. Perhaps what feminism in Western countries currently suffers from is detachment from severe oppression. Are we, the fortunate ones, so used to freedom of expression, economic independence, contraceptives and certain amount of social security that we have forgotten what life as a woman used to be like? The notion that women of colour don’t need to be saved by white women is correct in that we shouldn’t victimise and infantilise those who live in adverse conditions. But as there is a power imbalance like there is one between the sexes, shouldn’t we try to do something about it by sharing resources when we can.

Finally, I think that there are more and less important feminist agendas that have to be dealt with. Those accused of “white feminism” are in that moment focusing on a less pressing issue that mainly concerns more privileged women who are mostly white. Is this outright wrong? Is it unethical to try to improve your own situation if someone else has it worse? As far as I understand, this seems to be at the core of the judgement of “white feminism”. That because in general white women are better off than women of colour, they should pay less attention to issues directly and exclusively related to themselves. This is certainly true when it comes to overall representation and visibility of racial issues in feminism. There is diversity lacking in the public discourse for sure. But I also think that if we want to make genuine progress in women’s rights across the globe people can’t be chastised for sometimes thinking about themselves and their own situation. We can all agree that being whistled at when crossing the road is nothing compared to being forced to marry a man four times your age when you are still a child. These issues can and must be worked on in many levels simultaneously. Feminism is after all about equality, and anyone who departs from that is not a feminist regardless of what they claim.

The point about advocacy – and this applies to any cause – that I wanted to make is that the choice of words really matters. I matters whether you want to bring more people to your cause or not. By using popular internet memes instead of your own words can easily alienate the very audience your message ought to reach.

The Gender Police

blacksheepI’m listening to The Thinking Atheist podcast episode from last summer and the topic of discussion is transgender issues. As a conversation starter the host reads out loud a couple of bigoted and misinformed views of people who feel entitled to weigh in on certain trans-celebs’ experiences. I got particularly annoyed by a Facebook response to Caitlyn Jenner from a middle-aged lady, Emilee Danielson who asserts that “Mr. Jenner” has no right to identify as a woman because there is a multitude of innately feminine experiences that “he” will never be able to have, including period pains, menopause and pregnancy.

This also ties in with a very recent campaign launched by the youth sect of a Finnish right wing, nationalist political party “True Finns” (How do I hate the English translation they use!). I’m not actually sure what’s going on with the campaign now because it immediately faced an onslaught of backlash and ridicule in social media. Anyway the point of it was to enforce traditional gender roles and get rid of “confusion” and “needless complexity” that that arise from a more fluid definition of gender. Wearing baseball caps stating ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ these young conservative actives call for the right for boys to be boys and girls to be girls because according to them our sexual nature is clear-cut binary. Not only is the statement scientifically inaccurate, but it also dismisses the difference between sex and gender entirely. To their defence, in the Finnish language, we only have one word that covers the two terms, and so confusion is understandable. However, one would think that in a campaign seeking to reduce confusion more research into the socio-biological study of the topic of gender should have been done. But maybe that’s just me, and to be honest, these True Finns are notorious for making rather outrageous and poorly justified claims in public. Therefore I shouldn’t be surprised.

I would suggest that behind these – or any – truth claims about sex and gender are some very deeply rooted misconceptions: 1.) sex and gender are interchangeable words for the same thing, 2.) there is a clear-cut binary division in sex/gender, and 3.) there is something inherently special about one’s gender that is also inherently different from the other.

So let’s start with the difference of sex and gender. In short, sex describes one’s biological properties, and is somewhat easier to define. Most people are born with either two X chromosomes and female reproductive organs, or with one X and one Y chromosome and male reproductive organs. So there is the binary, plain and simple – or is it? Although rare there are those who are born intersex i.e. with some elements from both reproductive organs. Sadly, very few of those babies get to grow old enough to know whether they want a surgery or not, and are often assigned a gender by their parents and doctors in infancy. And we can’t always even look to the chromosomes to know what’s going on because some people with female reproductive organs are born with three X chromosomes or even a traditionally male combo XY. So reducing both sex and gender into a the combination of sex chromosomes and denying the validity of alternative gender identities seems rather ignorant.

Which brings us to gender. Gender in a nutshell is a social construct, which traditionally holds all of our preconceptions of how people of one or another gender are or should be. It shows in ways in which we express ourselves to the world, and in how we feel about our place amongst people of other genders. Gender as a term is in constant flux and can seem elusive especially if you, like me are cis-gendered i.e. your biological sex matches your gender identity, and you’ve never had to ponder what being certain gender means to you.

But let’s go back to the Facebook post and Emilee’s view on who gets to identify as a woman. According to her the formative experiences of womanhood include the physical experiences arising from female reproductive systems and hormonal changes, the challenges of motherhood and the fear of male violence. And as trans-women can’t have all of those experiences they don’t get to be called female? How about the women who are sterile? Or those who never want biological children? Are they somehow lesser than women who go through period pains and pregnancy? The problem with this narrow description of womanhood, which boils down to ovaries is its exclusiveness especially in today’s world where it is increasingly socially acceptable to choose to leave no offspring. Needless to say this view also perpetuates conventional nuclear family structure, which in turn leads to the conclusion that women belong in the home whilst men rule the world. Of course, it is entirely possible to be a mother and also work and realise one’s dreams outside the family, but saying that motherhood is the pinnacle of femininity is archaic – and so 1950’s.

Then there is this experience of fear for male violence when alone in the dark  – apparently unattainable by trans-women.

“You will never know what it is like to have your car break down on the side of the road and when a couple men stop to help your prayer is that their intentions are good because there is no way on earth you have the ability to physically hang let alone overpower them.”

I have two issues with this statement. First of all, to insinuate that trans-women are not vulnerable to violent crimes is simply ridiculous. The Human Rights Campaign reports that there were more reported transgender homicide victims in 2015 than any previous year. These crimes are not recorded as hate crimes but for the sake of this argument this isn’t really even relevant. The point is that the fear of violence is very much present in many trans-women’s lives – probably even more so than an average cis-woman’s due to the prejudice and lack of empathy towards trans-identities.

It bears a mention that most victims of these crimes are not only transgender but also people of colour, and in this light it is probably accurate to say that Caitlyn Jenner personally is not at risk of violence to the same degree as the victims mentioned in the HRC report. However, also Emilee is white and so statistically safer than any woman of colour – cis or trans. Of course fear and statistics don’t go hand in hand but the claim that trans-women having lived or living in male bodies are unfamiliar with the experience is plain ignorance and lack of compassion.

The other huge problem in this passage is the notion of fear for violence inflicted by men as an integral part of the “true” female identity. I find this one of the most misogynistic statements about femininity that I’ve ever heard – especially coming from a woman. That to have a full and real experience of womanhood we must feel inferior to men to such a degree that we are afraid. Just to clarify, I completely understand why many women feel unsafe walking alone at night and uneasy in the presence of strange men. I am by no means saying that the feeling is irrational and weak and stupid – no. I don’t really experience this myself but I empathise with anyone who does, and the rare times that I’ve been outside at night alone, I have made sure to be alert and cognisant of my environment.

The real issue is seeing the fear of male violence as an inherent part of womanhood without which one cannot identify as a female. This kind of thinking perpetuates inequality between genders and promotes traditional gender roles where woman is seen as less than complete, and man as the ultimate human. In short, it implies that a woman needs a man to protect her from other men, which is seriously counterproductive to feminism and social equality at large. To promote such a view is to promote the experience of self-inflicted victimhood, which only leads to passivity, lazy name-calling and making complaints instead of taking action in one’s own life. There is really nothing worse than to teach ourselves and our children to adopt an overarching fear of a group of people. I was never told by anyone to avoid being raped or attacked by doing this, that or the other thing, and somehow I learned to carry myself with confidence instead of paranoia. I’m not saying I’m untouchable; bad things can happen to anyone. But to hold fear at the core of an authentic gender identity is to put a stop to progress.

In conclusion, I find the gender policing from the likes of conservative youth politicians and the Eileen Danielsons of the world boring and a waste of everyone’s time with their quick judgements and eagerness to put people’s identities in neat and contained boxes with no overlapping and no fluidity. Frankly, there are so many actual problems in every corner of our planet that getting overly agitated by someone’s non-conforming gender identity seems very petty and short-sighted. At least Mrs Danielson is just a regular person with some regressive opinions which she certainly is entitled to, but a political organisation should probably reconsider the target of its resources. If you are so threatened by the acceptance of diversity of unconventional gender roles in society that you feel the need to shout from the rooftops what it really means to be a woman, maybe consider seeking professional help. And I am sure to send you an invite back to the 50’s as soon as someone invents a time-machine.

Live, and let others live.
p.s. Listen to The Thinking Atheist!!

The Thinking Atheist Podcast – The Transgender Question
Emilee Danielson’s Facebook post
The HRC report
The Guardian’s article on the HRC report
Broadly – ‘He’s not done killing her’: Why so many trans women were murdered in 2015
Chromosomal anomalies
The True Finns campaign (in Finnish)
For some gender theory check out Gender Trouble and Undoing Gender by Judith Butler

A good old feminist book rant

books copyLet’s ignore the fact that I have been completely awol for the past couple of months, and jump right into my review/analysis/feminist rant inspired by my current favourite author Patrick Rohtfuss’ book series.

Reading the first two parts of Patrick Rothfuss’ to-be trilogy, The Kingkiller Chronicles turned out to be a completely unanticipated rollercoaster ride in the best possible way. Without conducting a more in-depth analysis of the plot and characters let’s just state that the bare bones of the story are pretty much identical to 90% of the fantasy books that I have read: a young, talented boy loses his family in a tragedy, lives in poverty, discovers magic and eventually proceeds to doing extraordinary things. Not a particularly exciting premise to be sure but rest assured that everything on top that – the flesh and blood of the story if you will – are well worth exploring. Not only does the author give shape to the story with beautifully intricate and at parts even poetic language, he also has the skill of balancing out profound ideas with witty and relatable humour.

The quality that I found most surprising and inspiring was the treatment of the female characters throughout. Many books in the fantasy genre tend to harbour worn-out feminine stereotypes with only a minimal female presence in central roles. Kingkiller Chronicles departs from this tradition by bringing in a number of well-developed, singular female characters none of whose reason for existence is to be a pretty accessory. The epitome of this is the careful construction of the Adem: a people that has its own cultural history, language, country and customs. Like any fantasy author, Rothfuss has created his own world with different geological and cultural areas, languages and so on. Adem is one such, and it differs from the predominating culture in a number of ways.

At first we only know as much as the protagonist; that the Adem only venture outside their own country as mercenaries. They are said to be excellent fighters whose appearance is stoic to the point of where it’s considered an oddity among the “general population”. They are seen as other. The fact that no one seems to have any first-hand experience with the Adem has spruced up a mass of rumours, each one more fantastical than the last. Of course, as the protagonist learns more, the strange customs start to make sense, which in itself is a poignant remark of the human nature. We naturally fear the unknown especially when it is a part of another culture. Racism at its core is fear turned into anger and hate. Anyone who takes time to reflect on another culture will notice that people are people no matter how they communicate and what they believe in.

What really impressed me about the way the Adem are portrayed is that their society is matriarchal. As feminism is at the centre of my academic intrigue I got sucked in in a heartbeat. I haven’t come across many matriarchal communities in my previous experiences of fantasy lit, and really the only other remarkable example that springs to mind is the genius satire, Egalia’s Daughters. Being a satirical matriarchy, Egalia is the exaggerated polar opposite to our world, and provokes the reader through humour until they see how absolutely constructed the prevailing patriarchal system that we live in actually is.

The Adem are portrayed as hard-working and humble people; not fanatic or eccentric in any way. They are just as suspicious about outsiders as the outsiders are of them. Unfamiliar customs are just as off-putting and strange to them, and in their eyes, their way of doing things is obviously the correct one. Everyone else is uncivilised.

That aside, their philosophy is a fascinating one. Central to the Adem’s belief system is the tradition of martial arts, which is also the way in which their mercenaries bring wealth into the community. The backbone of the art is the Lethani, a sort of a spiritual and ethical path that guides all of the Adem to do the right thing. The Lethani is an innate morale peculiar to the culture, that in their eyes is missing from the rest of the world. The Lethani guides one to use their fighting skills sparingly and only for a cause that is for the good of the Adem. What the Lethani really is and includes is rather obscure but what seems to be clear is that although the Adem are known fighters it is not of the spirit of the Lethani to relish violence.

Another side of the fighting is the Ketan, which reminds me of yoga and thai-chi as it is described to be a series of movements to be performed in continuation as close to perfection as possible. These movements are then incorporated into combat where they usually take your average non-Adem opponent by surprise.

The Adem regard women superior fighters to men as they have less anger, and are therefore better at controlling themselves. Lethani is about control and knowing when to fight. Men are deemed more impulsive, more prone to violence and therefore more likely to depart from the code of conduct. The notion that men are less valuable for the society is a no-brainer for the Adem and although the male protagonist finds himself rather offended by this he and the reader are forced to admit that it is no worse than the opposite view of women being seen as the weaker sex.

But like any other society, the Adem also have their ridiculous beliefs that put them back on the same level with other systems. Due to the dominating role of women in the society the Adem hold a belief that men have no part in procreation at all, which serves the power of matriarchy as it diminishes the relevance of man entirely. Although for the reader as well as for the protagonist this belief is complete nonsense it does serve a purpose regarding the fictional world it is set in. By giving this flaw to the otherwise beautiful culture it descends back into being just another set traditions and customs constructed by humans who want to believe that their way is the right way.

An interesting component of the Adem values is that they have no sex taboo. This is of course in line with the belief that the physical act is in no way related to conception. When there is no danger of forming unwanted familial ties through offspring sex becomes purely a physical act where both participants are seeking pleasure and release. Because of this there is no shame or sense of ownership of another’s body. The protagonist comes from a world similar to ours where women are easily labelled promiscuous and viewed as men’s property. Their sex is owned by one man, and prostitutes are at the lowest level of social hierarchy. This is a massive problem in our current world as well, and women are still much more easily labelled sluts than men for having multiple sex partners. The violation of the female body – and what is considered a violation is constantly questioned and debated; and debated by men no less. The right to one’s own body is not a given to women like it is for men, and the sex taboo is one of the man-made constructions fuelling this way of thinking.

That said, the carefully thought-out philosophy of the Adem is refreshing and I applaud Patrick Rothfuss for coming up with all of its complexities. It shows another example of a culture built upon a set of circumstances, history and beliefs. In some ways it is no better than patriarchy but it demonstrates that many of the patriarchal customs are nothing but myths and tired traditions that have no foundation in facts, but merely illusions that are set to keep up the power relations.

In my opinion, one of the great triumphs of The Kingkiller Chronicles is its conventional setting, which in the hands of the author, turns into quite something else than your average fantasy novel. Patrick Rothfuss shows that with great sensitivity and originality the tired cliché of a teenage boy with tragic childhood and special skills can surpass its predecessors and become a thought-provoking, entertaining and a heartfelt story, that manages to tap into very important points about how racism and sexism are fuelled by preconceptions and the inability to see people as people – equal on all levels.