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Oathbringer Leeds signing ()
#2 Copy

Questioner

What's the concept of the safehand?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes. There's a writerly answer and an in-world answer. Which do you want to know?

Questioner

Let's do the writer answer.

Brandon Sanderson

Writer answer, so. I am fascinated by taboo. I am fascinated by the fact that in Asia you don't show your, the bottom of your foot to people. It's terribly offensive. I am fascinated that in some cultures some parts of the body are shown and others aren't. Things that we would consider vulgar, to other people are not, and vice versa. It just fascinates me as a writer and when I approached the books I was looking for a ways that I could give a feel for a human culture but not one that we have seen before and the safehand grew out of that.

Words of Radiance Seattle signing ()
#3 Copy

Questioner

Safehands: Where did, that-- like why? Is there like a cultural *inaudible*?

Brandon Sanderson

There is a culture-- Now the actual answer to that is because different cultures have really different mores, and if you go around our world you will find places where, for instance, showing the bottom of your foot-- where the bottom of your foot is offensive, or where showing certain parts of your anatomy is not offensive that it is here. And that is very common, it's part of what it means to be human.

Now if you want to trace back in Rosharan time, there is actually a moment that you can point at and say "this is where it started" and it started right after the Recreance where all these Shardblades and Shardplate were suddenly out there everywhere, and certain people in power wanted to make sure that half the population didn't have access to them, and so they started emphasizing a certain philosophy book that had been written by a woman that said "feminine arts were one-handed, masculine arts were two-handed".

And because of this it became culturally ingrained, which then-- basically it was a misogynistic ploy to keep the women from having the Shardblades, and then in that a certain movement of the women seized writing, and that's when men stopped writing. It's kind of a reciprocation on it. But that's kind of where it went, but it's become much bigger than that, if that makes any sense.

Questioner

What do you do if you safehand is your dominant hand?

Brandon Sanderson

If you are darkeyed it's not a problem, you just wear a glove. If you are lighteyed then you learn to write with your non-dominant hand, which is a problem.

Footnote: The book here is likely Arts and Majesty, referenced in WoR 25
Firefight Atlanta signing ()
#5 Copy

Questioner

She wanted to know, the safehand, is it always the left hand or is it--

Brandon Sanderson

It is.

Questioner

That's what I thought, she thought it was just the non-dominant hand.

Brandon Sanderson

Nope, it is the-- So it's rough on lefties. But remember, most non-nobles they just wear a glove, so it's not such a big deal for them. It's when you're noble and left handed that you kind of have a problem.

Stuttgart signing ()
#6 Copy

Questioner (paraphrased)

Why do Vorin women have to hide their left hand?

Brandon Sanderson (paraphrased)

Originally, a woman wrote a book about female and male arts, which claimed women could do things like art with one hand while men needed two for their arts, like fighting. Eventually, it evolved and just stuck as a taboo, but it's a cultural thing.

It's similar to how some things are perfectly fine in our Western culture but would be frowned upon in, say, Korea. I wanted to add some weirdness to their culture, something that is pretty normal to them, but strange to us. Taboos usually are strange.

Shadows of Self Lansing signing ()
#7 Copy

Questioner

The thing about women eating sweeter foods, and how sharp the gender divide was and-- I just found that worldbuilding really interesting, so how do you get inspired by that?

Brandon Sanderson

So I noticed that a lot of cultures have these really stark gender disparities. And I think in America we don't—like even around the world we still have a lot of them—in America we kind of-- I'm glad we don't because I think it is actual progress to not [have these disparities]. But at the same time that's a really big part of so many different cultures that I wanted to play with that idea.

And I loved in The Wheel of Time how Robert Jordan had the magic word differently [...] and so I was looking for a long time for something I can do that plays with the idea of gender roles, and that's kind of what rose out of it. It actually came from when I was working on the history and the moment when the men kind of seized control of the Shardblades. You know about this?

Questioner

Yeah, I read about it online.

Brandon Sanderson

So that moment I'm like "alright, there's a divergence there. How do they strictly define the gender roles to maintain the power of these weapons?" And I think that's-- and I just kind of built from there.

Questioner

It's really interesting though that women in a way are actually the creative minds-- they're actually not suppressed, but they're repressed in a different area.

Brandon Sanderson

It is, right. It's this weird repression where you can't do what you want, but they're actually in many ways the most powerful ones in society, but they're constrained by it.

Questioner

Yeah, they're the ones that are creative because men don't even read because they're not supposed to. I guess that's what's really interesting to me.

Brandon Sanderson

It was sooo much fun to figure some of these things out because it plays with expectations a little bit but also plays into them in really interesting ways.

General Reddit 2017 ()
#8 Copy

DinoDonkeyDoodle

I really hope /u/mistborn explores the issues a safehand causes like he did women using the One Power in his ending to WoT (ie, it is all arbitrary).

Brandon Sanderson

It's not exactly arbitrary, but it is completely sexist. See it as you would something like foot-binding on Earth--something that grew, over time, partially to mark/distinguish/hamper women with enough means to be "refined" enough to do something this wildly impractical. There's a reason darkeyed women (and a lot of lower lighteyed women) wear gloves.

Oathbringer San Francisco signing ()
#9 Copy

Questioner

I was wondering, in Roshar, if any of the women were left-handed, if that interfered with the safehand? Or do they force them to--

Brandon Sanderson

They force them. It doesn't work for everybody, but at least--I read into this--there are countries where you're not allowed to be, in our world, left-handed. It's not a thing. They just force people to not be left-handed. It works better for some than others...

General Reddit 2018 ()
#11 Copy

Amaowin

So men cannot write, it is a feminine art. Women do all the writing and reading while also covering their left hand with a sensible long sleeve (not godless whores). But what if a proper Vorin woman is born left-handed? Would she be forced to wear a glove in order to write? Or would she do her best to write with her right hand to avoid her sinful nature as a lefty? I wonder if these women write in secret, away from the lecherous eyes of others, and expose her safe hand to write freely.

These thoughts keep me up at night. I pity these left-handed Vorins for the rough life they must live.

Brandon Sanderson

This isn't as big a deal as you might think, because for a lot of the population, they just wear a glove and use their left hand.

It gets interesting when you are upper class, female, and left-handed. Part of the inspiration for the safehand was the way that the left hand is regarded as unclean in some of our cultures on Earth. You might be curious to read about what left-handed people did, historically, in some middle eastern cultures.

The short answer is "They learn to be ambidextrous" but the long answer is that it can be quite a pain, and very embarrassing. So yes, you are right to feel sorry for those left-handed Vorin women.

FanX Spring 2019 ()
#12 Copy

Questioner

So...what is the safehand about-- Like how did that develop into a thing, having one hand being scandalous?

Brandon Sanderson

So it relates back to philosophical treaties written in world, long ago, where a woman was saying 'these are feminine arts, these are masculine arts'; that sort of thing. It was partially a way to control access to Shardblades, when Shardblades and Shardplate first entered the-- common people being able to have them because the Knights Radiant had abandoned them. At the same time there was a struggle for power over language, and this happened long ago. Really the reason is "humans are weird".

Words of Radiance Seattle signing ()
#13 Copy

Questioner

With covering the safehand for women, how does that affect how left-handed women are treated or perceived?

Brandon Sanderson

Left-handed you are trained- Well it's not a big deal for darkeyes because they wear gloves. Lighteyed women are trained to use the right hand, even if they're left-handed; which does cause some problems, but that's how they are trained.

Shadows of Self release party ()
#14 Copy

Questioner

Miscellaneous questions about safehands. So the women are described playing instruments, are they just instruments they can play with one hand?

Brandon Sanderson

Yes, often feminine arts are one-handed arts, but you got to remember that one, a lot of the darkeyes will wear a glove instead, and number two, the safehands of some of the more utilitarian dresses are built with something like an oven-mitt glove on them, underneath, so you can grab things and stuff. So Shallan, she can grab her sketchbook with it and draw. But yes, feminine arts are supposed to be one-handed, so they would, y'know, try to play these it would be one-handed.