I’ve been reading a lot of posts that basically go along the lines of “Locke Lamora is a creep/sexist douchebag and Sabetha is awesome,” and some of the reasons listed make me so uncomfortable that I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion:
It’s true that Sabetha is an awesome female character. She’s strong, independent, intelligent, and responsible. At the same time, Locke is an awesome character. He’s smart, responsible, gentle with children, and ultimately good despite his many schemes. Actually, he’s a great guy: he’s technically a good son, a devout man (to the Crooked Warden), a faithful lover, and a loving brother. He puts others’ needs above his own - it’s clear in every book that he puts the other Gentlemen Bastards’ welfare above his own. So first order of business: understanding that we do not need to trash Locke in order to love Sabetha.
There’s a giant double standard in this fandom. Let me put it like this: if Locke were a girl and Sabetha were a man, and girl!Locke had a crush on boy!Sabetha for the longest time, stammered whenever she saw him, did everything she could think of to make him happy, and on the flip side, boy!Sabetha toyed with girl!Locke’s emotions, left her, drugged her, and snapped at her all the time, this relationship would be rightfully categorized as abusive and boy!Sabetha would be castigated by fandom. Right now, this is how Sabetha and Locke’s relationship is - except Sabetha is the girl and Locke is the boy. The fact that the genders are flipped does not justify boy!Sabetha’s actions, nor does it justify Sabetha’s actions in TRoT. I think we can acknowledge that no, Sabetha isn’t kind to Locke at all. If there must be a victim - and I’m not saying there is - in the Locke/Sabetha relationship, it’s Locke. Sabetha has wronged Locke.
I’ve seen it said that Locke is a creep. He…really isn’t. I’ve been on the receiving end of crushes before, and if any of the boys were like Locke, I wouldn’t be half as bothered as I was by the crushes. Here’s the thing: Locke doesn’t harass. He presses, yes, to get a straight answer, and he doesn’t give up - but his not giving up doesn’t affect Sabetha, because he gives her the freedom to do whatever she likes, sleep with whomever she wants. He loves her without imposing his own desires on her, and that’s rare. I’m not sure why fandom thinks he’s creepy. Yes, he always tries to impress her, and sometimes he forgets how to talk in front of her, but girls do that in front of guys too and nobody thinks less of those girls. I’m sure that if anyone told a girl that she’s creepy for having a crush on a guy and forgetting how to speak to him, this fandom would castigate that person and comfort that girl. Why is Locke creepy for doing the same then? Is it the huge romantic gestures? Let me quote a piece of HIMYM here: “If both people are into each other, then a big romantic gesture works: Dobler, but if one person isn’t into the other, the same gesture comes off serial-killer crazy: Dahmer.” We know that Sabetha does like Locke. Hence, Locke’s crazy actions come off as Dobler.
Now on the other hand, Sabetha is a bit…cruel. Here’s the thing: I love her immensely. I relate to her a lot, and I get why she snaps at Locke. The way she reacts to his crush is perfectly normal, and I’ve done far worse in her place. Sabetha doesn’t want to lead Locke on. Sabetha doesn’t want to toy with Locke’s emotions, because he isn’t one of her marks. And that’s why I really like teenage Sabetha and really couldn’t forgive her for drugging Locke using his feelings. Perhaps they are rivals, but Sabetha took the job for many reasons - she took it to see Locke again, not just to run away from her pursuers. She does her best to maintain the rivalry because she wants the Gentlemen Bastards to make it out of the games alive. She understands that those feelings are sacred to Locke - and in a way to her - and using those feelings against Locke is truly a new low for her. Personally, I think Locke handles the situation perfectly - he is rightfully mad, but he swallows his anger and makes his feelings clear to Sabetha, again. I find it very interesting that he’s the one to talk about feelings rather than Sabetha; it’s rare that the male protagonist is the one to talk about feelings, and the female protagonist says instead, “No chick flick moments.” So let’s applaud Scott Lynch for reversing the gender roles here.
But honestly? The fact that Sabetha has wronged Locke doesn’t mean she’s an evil bitch. It just makes her human, which makes her character just so much more awesome. Kudos to Scott for not putting Sabetha on a pedestal. I’m a big fan of yanking girls off their pedestals, because I hate the idea that females in fiction are either pure, self-sacrificing martyrs, or they’re evil, conniving bitches. If male characters are allowed to be a bit amoral, so are girls. Girls should never be required to be paragons of virtue who steer the heroes straight; girls should not always be relegated to the position of “the heart,” the one who does nothing but be loved and give strength to the hero by existing or dying tragically. The point I’m trying to make is that we can love Sabetha for being flawed. Sabetha’s actions don’t need to be justified for her to be loved as a character. It’s high time that we have a female character who makes mistakes - not Twilight, oops I chose the wrong guy mistakes - but real mistakes, owns up to those mistakes, and is loved despite those mistakes.
I want to praise TRoT for fighting sexism, but I don’t want to applaud it by trashing Locke and praising Sabetha for doing things that really shouldn’t be praised. What I want to say is that TRoT is awesome because for once, the girl has the power to fuck up. For once, it’s not the guy fucking up to save the girl and then getting called back from the dark side by the girl’s love. TRoT is groundbreaking because Sabetha does things that are awful and not praise-worthy at all, but the author doesn’t label her as a evil bitch - he highlights the ingenuity of her actions and shows that she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. He demonstrates that women are allowed to make mistakes that men make and still be loved. And that, my friends, is why we are allowed to say that Sabetha can be a bitch to Locke and still say that she’s awesome, and why we don’t need to trash Locke in order to love Sabetha.
PS: this double standard is valid in so many fandoms that I can’t help but start feel that guys are really drawing the shorter end of the stick here. Even in slash fiction, the guy who bottoms is always the “girl” and naturally has the moral high ground. Even when he’s actually a guy, should not be considered the “girl,” and should not have the moral high ground. Fandom, I think we need to reexamine and reevaluate our moral views right now.