In the third chapter of Page, Neal helps Kel realize the terrifying possibility that she must face due to Joren and his buddies new form of bullying. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Page.
Chapter Three: Brawl
Oh god, I promise to freak out about those two reveals at the end, I swear, so let’s get through some of the other stuff in this chapter before I flail everywhere.
Trigger Warning: Misogyny. It’s impossible to talk about this chapter without talking about this in depth, so warning here and for the comments.
Actually… usually, I do this because it’s fun to be introspective and thoughtful, and then slam my hands down on my keyboard and hope words come out, but the end of this chapter truly frames the entire thing. Pierce has introduced a conflict into this book that truly disturbs me because it’s so real, it’s so possible, and it’s so visceral. I groaned at the name of this chapter – “Brawl” – because I knew Lord Wyldon wouldn’t be happy if Kel was involved in yet another fight. I’m now able to understand what a frightening bit of foreshadowing that was. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT THIS WAS LEADING TO.
Through this and a number of events in this chapter, Pierce explores the complicated roles that women are expected to live up to in Corus. In Lalasa, we see how abuse, fear, internalized misogyny, and victim blaming can affect young girls. It’s frustrating and sad to know that Lalasa has already had to cope with such traumatic things at such a young age, and Pierce characterizes her in a way to show how various manifestations of abuse pop up in her behavior. Kel herself doesn’t quite understand this dynamic, and it’s why she’s so insistent that Lalasa simply learn to stop being so meek. Well, it’s not that simple, Kel, and I know that from experience. I was a very meek teenager, quick to be humble to a fault, unable to stand up for myself. It took years to unpack that sort of behavior, and while I may be more aggressive about standing up for things that I see as wrong, it doesn’t mean I’m cured of that trauma, you know? There are definitely social situations where my anxiety gets the best of me, and I end up reverting right back to that shy and quiet teenager that I once was. (Hell, I just had one of those experiences a few days ago!) I’m hoping that in future chapters, Kel realizes that… well, not everyone is her or has her take on life.
The entire sequence where all the pages complain about the physical brutality of their training totally called back to my days of Cross Country practice in high school. That sort of dread was palpable! I remember the weeks leading up to our camp week, which we’d have in San Diego every year just before school started. The whole point of that time period was to get us out of our comfort zone, so we’d have a week of some of the worst workouts I’ve ever done in my entire life. You were relieved to be done them, and then you woke up the next day, nearly unable to move, and somehow, you’d have to complete a running circuit that was EVEN WORSE THAN THE DAY BEFORE. Our reward was always a week running in San Diego away from parents and the death call that is living in Riverside. But there’s no hope like this in sight for the pages, who must deal with the increased weights and more demanding classes in a much more relentless manner than I was ever accustomed to.
I have no deep thoughts about Jump hanging out with Lord Wyldon. I just need to say WHAT THE FUCK, HOW IS THAT EVEN HAPPENING. Because what the fuck. Also, casual reminder that so far, Lord Wyldon has treated a dog better than he has treated Kel. THAT’S JARRING. And look, I know I’m still trying my hardest to see some depth and growth in Lord Wyldon, but I couldn’t get my mind to unthink this. He’s shown more affection and kindness to Jump than Kel in the last year. WELL.
So, let’s get to it. Lord, this is still so painful to read a second time:
In a nearby stall Garvey muttered, “So, Faleron, you’re friends with her now because you can have her whenever you want?”
I’m glad that later in this chapter, Tamora Pierce (through Neal) calls this what this is: the sexualization of women. It does represent a new level of desperation of these assholes, and it still hurts to read it. Kel is ELEVEN YEARS OLD. Garvey is already shaming Kel about her sexuality AT ELEVEN YEARS OLD. Do not take my word for it, though. I’m going to largely just talk about this issue in a general sense because I don’t experience this particular phenomenon as a man. I’ve seen it happen, granted, and as someone who has run Internet communities for a decade, I can at least assure you that this is a widespread, pervasive problem, and the more men you gather into one place, the more likely you’ll see this sort of behavior.
Anyway, I’m not here to mansplain misogyny to anyone, so I’ll defer to people who actually experience this. I did want to talk about how Kel deals with this. Initially, she doesn’t want to fight with these boys anymore, and I thought this was because of Wyldon’s warning in the last chapter. Then Neal insults Garvey by insinuating that he’s gay. If you watch the video, you’ll see me somehow miss the fact that this happened and not realize it until Kel brilliantly calls him out for it. While I do understand Neal’s desire to bring up the only thing that will truly hurt Garvey, I’m so endlessly pleased that Kel still says it wasn’t fair for him to make this a negative thing. (Can I just flail about that now? CANON CONFIRMATION THAT QUEERNESS/HOMOSEXUALITY EXISTS IN THIS SERIES, AND THAT THE YAMANI CULTURE BASICALLY DOESN’T GIVE A FUCK ABOUT IT, AND OH MY GOD, CAN WE PLEASE GET SOME QUEER CHARACTERS SOON, THAT WOULD BE AMAZING.)
The brawl that follows Neal’s comments is one of the more violent things in a Tortall book, but it’s the shame that these characters feel that really hits home. (Well, and the fact that even the goddamn animals knew how bad this was that they GOT INVOLVED. Holy shit!) They all fucked up, sure, but having Wyldon scold them just… oh god, the disappointment is too visceral for me! Of course, this is only made worse when Neal explains why he decided to bait Garvey:
“See, Kel, if all of a sudden everyone’s getting into fights about your virtue, maybe the Stump will get rid of you after all.”
This sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. And yeah, it’s probable that I missed where this was heading because I’m a dude and this shit doesn’t happen to me in this context. It hurt. I realized very suddenly and painfully what these assholes were doing: giving Wyldon a reason to get rid of Kel because she’s a girl. It’s that same old bullshit about how having a woman around means that she’ll “distract” the men and make it hard for camaraderie to develop because women are so distracting. They’re creating the very stereotype on purpose, hoping to appeal to Wyldon’s sexist side, and THAT’S SO FUCKING DISTURBING TO ME. She is eleven. Some of these boys are barely older than her, and they don’t even think twice about treating her so terribly. Jesus, y’all, this is too much. How? How does she combat this? How can she explain this dynamic to the other boys in the hopes of getting them to stop fighting for her “virtue”? I mean, I’m glad that Neal understands this and knows what is happening, but this feels huge.
I guess I just can’t get over the fact that Kel is eleven. And I know a lot of y’all were exposed to misogyny at a young age, not just because I’ve heard this. I know that I experienced racism before I was ten, and it wasn’t that long afterwards that I understood homophobia, too. In that sense, I didn’t really get to be a kid because I was already scared of who I was before I ever left elementary school. My heart goes out for Kel, and I hope she can find allies to fight back against Joren and his friends without feeding into Wyldon’s fears. Honestly, I don’t know how she’s going to do that.
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