In the sixteenth part of Monstrous Regiment, Polly tries to reveal her secret, only to be met with a surprise. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of stereotypes associated with sex work, nonconsensual drugging, misogyny.
Seriously, there are small moments in which Jackrum becomes tolerable in this section, but Pratchett then quickly reminds me that he is truly, truly awful, that he’s more interested in himself than anyone else, and that his experience fighting wars for nearly has entire life has warped his view of the world. I say this because it is true that, on the surface, he appears to “accept” all the women of the Ins-and-Outs. Acceptance is good, right? He doesn’t kick them out! This is a victory… right?
Only it doesn’t feel like a victory, and throughout this long scene, Jackrum still says some messed up nonsense about these people. Like this, for instance!
“You know I’m a woman, Sarge,” said Polly.
“Yup. I wouldn’t trust you to shave cheese.”
Does… does he think women don’t shave? Maybe they don’t in the Discworld, for all I know, but this is just so callous and ridiculous. So was this:
“Weren’t sure about Maladict and still ain’t, because with a vampire, who knows? And not sure about you, Carborundum, because with a troll, who cares? No offense.”
It’s part of his outlook on the women of the group, too. He isn’t accepting of them because he’s a progressive person who believes in gender equality. No, he seems way more interested in arrogance, in upstaging Polly’s admission by claiming to have known the whole time that these weren’t actually young men. And to his credit, I do believe that about him. As it turns out, he was the one who helped out Polly very early in the novel by giving her socks. It seemed so perplexing to me! How could he be so insulting towards women but then not kick them out?
Well, as it turns out, he has LOTS of fun ideas about women, and guess what? He’s totally willing to share them at a moment’s notice! Like when he compares all of them to LIONS. Because lionesses are fierce, so a group fo women soldiers must be fierce, too, right??? OH, and what about BEETLES. Because comparing women to INSECTS is TOTALLY A GREAT IDEA that has NO INSULTING ASPECTS TO IT WHATSOEVER.
I mean, he names other reasons—he says he didn’t want to embarrass them in front of Strappi, he got distracted, they actually did well, he wanted to keep them safe!!!—but lord, the dude sure knows how to be insulting right alongside all his compliments. So it’s not at all surprising to me that he then suggests that the best way for Polly and her friends to get in the Keep is to… steal clothing from other women. Borogravian women, I might add. Y’all, holy shit, that whole sequence is a NIGHTMARE. I was actually into it because I appreciated that Pratchett was giving us a look at what the Borogravian army looked like in this specific predicament. They were dug in outside the Keep, they had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and they’d just built what basically amounted to a full city. And what else were they supposed to do? As we’d heard from both de Worde and from Vimes’s POV, this war had turned into a waiting game. Thus, there was more to the army camp then just a bunch of tents, and that includes sex workers, who have their own section hidden away from the main camp. We also got to see Jackrum’s reputation in action when he runs into a sentry guard whose father he once fought in a bar. Because… well, that’s the sort of thing that Jackrum would do, isn’t it? OF COURSE IT IS.
There is a sense of realism to the sex workers who are on shit, given that they’re tired and clearly overworked. On top of that, exactly zero of the women soldiers were equipped to handle their first experience with sex workers, so the whole thing is terribly awkward. Well, then there’s the reveal of why Jackrum’s soldiers are always called the Ins-and-Outs, and THAT is super uncomfortable. But it all kind of pales to the trope that crops up here: of the cheating, malicious sex worker who tries to drug a man just so they can rob them. Y’all, it is far more common for a sex worker to be on the receiving end of violence than the other way around. This trope is pretty pervasive in media—books, film, TV shows, you name it—and it furthers the stereotype that sex workers are inherently immoral people. I was hoping that Pratchett was going to subvert it, but it seems to be played straight here. Maybe it’ll change in a future scene? I get the sense that we won’t see the sex workers, that they existed to solve this plot problemand demonstrate just how terrible Jackrum is. Which we knew? I don’t think we needed him to strike the lead sex worker and steal all their money to know he’s a gross person.
It’s an uncomfortable moment, sure, but I know if it was intended to be that way.
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