The Weyrfolk of Pern are at the mercy of their dragon companions’ baser instincts. When a female dragon rises to mate with the male who catches her, the corresponding riders are overcome with lust themselves. Compelled by their empathic connection with the creatures — the woman associated with the fertile, golden queen dragon is automatically bound to the man associated with the fastest-flying, often the largest, bronze male dragon. This man, according to Weyr custom — becomes the Weyrleader, based solely on his virile dragon’s reproductive rights.

Um… Eew?

Anne McCaffrey is not an author who is exactly bound by rigid gender roles, so this isn’t a simple case to analyze. The protagonist of her book for young adults, Menolly of Dragonsinger, is a musician struggling to practice her talents in a world where instruments and writing songs are male-dominated activities. The character Mirrim in Dragonquest has aspirations to fight the Thread, even though she is a girl. These and other little clues, here and there, make it apparent that McCaffrey herself probably has feminist-leaning philosophies, which I respect. So what’s with this sexual domination thing? Why does she seem to be implying that a man’s dragon has to “fly a queen” to make him a worthy partner? Or capable of leading?

It’s almost as if McCaffrey’s saying, a woman doesn’t have to be dominated, but all women secretly want to be. Even if a woman is free to do what she chooses in every other aspect, still in sex she is bound to surrender; and that’s okay, as long as the man she’s surrendering to is virile and virtuous. The female characters to whom McCaffrey gives the most favor, anyway, certainly fit this model.

However, Kylara — the sort of bad girl of Dragonquest — does not. Unsatisfied with her weyrleader, she goes off on ambitious escapades, which (not coincidentally) result in the neglect of her dragon’s needs. If a man’s dragon “flying a queen” automatically makes him a worthy partner, then why does Kylara feel that her weyrleader is “so ineffectual”? She longs for a man more powerful and ambitious. Isn’t that understandable, that she would want someone more like herself? Why does the book’s ideology have to punish Kylara’s dragon, the sort of physical manifestation of her inner virtue, for pursuing something that might actually be satisfying to her?

I guess it bothers me whenever a book seems to indicate that physicality somehow necessarily correlates to innate goodness, competence, or quality. Though it’s only the dragon‘s physicality and fertility in question, the fact that it’s tied to a character’s virtue still bugs me; it puts one in mind of a Renaissance or even biblical worldview, where any physical scar must automatically indicate a spiritual curse. Shouldn’t we be done with this way of thinking?

I would argue that the tragedy of Kylara results from the injustice of Weyr custom, not merely her own cattiness. This idea that what her dragon wants is best, which is what McCaffrey seems to indicate… It leaves a lot to be desired. Not to mention the implication that things must go bad when a woman’s prowess goes un-dominated. Barf, barf I say!

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