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15 April 2011 @ 02:15 pm
Epic Fantasy is for the Boys, go back to Sex in the City, Girls.  
Even if you're not a fan of fantasy in general or A Song of Ice and Fire in particular this review of the upcoming television show A Game of Thrones will probably piss you off. I wrote a letter to the editor at the New York Times but that was only 150 words. I would like to write a full rebuttal here if I may.

Dear Ms. Bellafante,

Reviewers certainly are allowed to let their person tastes, their biases and their opinions flavor their reviews. Afterall, that's the point of a review. The public picks their favorite and most trusted reviewers based on how similar their tastes run and uses their opinions as a good yardstick as to whether or not they will be attending a play or art exhibit, listening to a certain band, or watching a certain movie. Or in this case a certain TV show. Even the greatest works of art have their detractors - despite his bestsellers many people dislike Stephen King and I am sure we could find those who hate Shakespeare if we look hard enough.

But it is one thing to dislike something or even to venomously hate it. It's another to insult an entire group of people's intelligence (in this case a group you belong to) and label a whole spectrum of fiction as the property of one gender.

Your assertion that women won't like “A Game of Thrones” and that it belongs to "boy's fiction" is erroneous at best and sexist at worst. In your review you imply that women aren't smart enough to enjoy its complicated plot twists and turns and that the political intrigue just aren't a lady's cup of tea. For some reason you also believe that the creators of the serious added sex as a desperate bid for female fans.

First of all I love the Meereenese Knot that is A Game of Thrones's story and funnily enough I am a woman. In fact, George R.R. Martin's writing, characterization and plotting are the number one reason that I love it. And I am not alone. While you may know no women who are fantasy fans I know a great many. And while they aren't all Martin fans a majority of them are.

There are several fully formed female characters in A Song of Ice and Fire and not a one a simple fantasy stereotype. Daenerys Targaryen (who I hear in the show is naked "every 15 minutes") blossoms from a frightened young girl into a young woman poised to become one of the strongest leaders the 7 Kingdoms will ever see. Even Sansa Stark changes from a pampered, perfect lady into a cunning politically motivated apprentice. Cat Stark and Cersei Lannister and Briennie of Tarth and Asha Greyjoy and Arya Stark and even the dead Lyanna Stark will all surprise you in their actions and motivations.

But personally I don't need female characters to become invested in a book. Martin's male characters are equally as complete and compelling. And I like them just as much.

Your second point, about how the only thing a woman will enjoy in the show is sex, is so backward I don't know where to begin. The fact that the network felt the need to add even more gratuitous sex to a book already chock-full of erotic and titillating scenes is not a turn on for me, it's a turn off. The move left me wondering if I will even watch the show. There is a lot of sex in the books and I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch something with that much sex in it,let alone the amount that they have decided to ratchet it up to. Implying that the levels of sex and nudity are anything other than a nod to our patriarchal society is ludicrous.

Finally, epic fantasy is not, should never, ever be, considered "boy's fiction." To even imply it is egregiously misinformed. This ridiculously sexist opinion is something that has been ruining our entertainment industry for decades. Horror and science fiction suffer because people consider it boring or repulsive to women. Fantasy (usually) suffers because people consider it too light and childlike to hold a man's attention. Ignoring the numbers, we make video games with larger and larger breasted women because we think that men are the only gamers out there. We are forced to sit through genre film and franchises that perpetuate terrible gender tropes that hurt both men and women. The comic industry is only just now figuring out that women read their books even though the numbers of women at geek-centric conventions has been exploding in the last decade. Women writers are turned down because they don't write stuff publishers think women will like to read or their work is decked out to look like something it's not while they try to market to the wrong group of readers, stupidly assuming that men won't be able to read something a woman wrote while simultaneously believing women won't be willing to try to follow a story as complex as this. All women read is romance and love stories, after all. (That last bit was sarcasm)

The worst part about this is that two of the greatest feminists of the last century - Marion Zimmer Bradley and Ursula K. Le Guin - are authors of epic fantasy. Because of narrow minded jackasses like yourself they have never been given the notoriety they deserve, the notoriety afforded to their male peers, especially Le Guin. I already spoke about the number of women attending conventions but I want to bring the fans up again. What about them? There are countless fans of epic fantasy who are women, certainly more than those who simply like Martin. My friends who don't like him invariably have another epic fantasy series they adore. Your ignorant remarks are an insult to women like Mercedes Lackey, to Gail Z. Martin, to Jennifer Fallon, to Elizabeth Bear, to Lois McMaster Bujold, to J.K. Rowling, to Anne Bishop, to Jacqueline Carey, to Robin Hobb, to Patricia Briggs and many other fine authors. I can imagine that every single one of them and each fan would disagree with your assessment that no woman would prefer The Hobbit over Lorrie Moore.

Please don't group the entire gender into your hatred of all things geek. We don't stand with you and we never will. You are certainly allowed to loathe all things speculative fiction but don't spread the vile lies that they belong to the men. We women are working too hard to stand by while you perpetuate stereotypes.

Jenna M. Pitman
Author of Fantasy and Horror

(Post Script:
There is so no climate change allegory, the first book was published in 1996, before climate change was even something your average person talked about, and the seasons were always a big part of the story.)

Edited to add:
io9 is better than me. Their reaction is fun.
Current Mood: aggravatedaggravated
Incorrigible Medievalist: I wish this too...ycleped on April 15th, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
I'm not really hot on Stephen King or Shakespeare, so yeah, got that in one.

Anyway, I don't think books can be said to belong to anyone in particular, excluding of course books about physical health or those rancid dating manuals that say right on the cover that women/men are supposed to read them. And even then, other people can read them to learn (Yes, even the rancid dating books; a terrible warning can be just as effective as a good example). I always figured fantasy books were for, y'know, people who liked magic and dragons and medieval times. Hearing for the first time that all the low-end, not-very-challenging fantasy is for women blows my mind. I mean, really, most people enjoy a popcorn book now and then, and anyone who's ever been to a con (or seen a teen movie, or been on the internet) knows that there are a lot of dudes out there who love them some fake swords and magic missiles. This is not only insulting, it's completely insane, as she clearly does not inhabit the same world as everyone else.
Jennaspitphyre on April 15th, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC)
She said that fantasy is "boy fiction," it's the people who publish books and produce movies who think that fantasy is wishy-washy and therefor it's for children, women, and unwashed, geeky man-childs. Though for some reason horror and sf also belong to the unwashed, geeky man-childs, just the slightly more masculine ones.

It's a pretty common assumption for the "not geek" crowd which is still a majority of the world despite the internet and the fact that we see fandom everywhere. I was just furious with the subtle implications that it was just too much work and women won't care for anything so complicated :/
(no subject) - ycleped on April 17th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
MiriamGmiriamg on April 15th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
I'm a fantasy writer and last time I checked I was still a woman.
Jennaspitphyre on April 15th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
It's a miracle! ;) (Links maybe?)
(no subject) - miriamg on April 17th, 2011 12:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 16th, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - elialshadowpine on April 17th, 2011 03:06 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
Jennaspitphyre on April 16th, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC)
It depends on the author. George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson have across the board appeal as well, probably because their characters are just so strong. Even Orson Scott Card's older work has a pretty strong female fanbase. The Lord of the Rings is pretty gender neutral in it's appeal as well but I think the only reason why women aren't as frequently rabid fans of Tolkien is (despite but I say in the article) there aren't any female characters really. But women do still like the books and appreciate it and there certainly are some who are rabid fan girls.

Then you get authors like Paul Kearney whose books are so WTF?!ly male that you never want to touch them again.

But yeah, Bradley, Le Guin, McMaster Bujold, and (hey!) J.K. Rowling have significant male followings. An ex boyfriend of mine turned me on to Le Guin and usually the people I hear praising her ARE men. And I don't think Bradley, Bujold or Rowling would have been nearly as popular had men not been picking up their books over the years.

It really irritates me that when the great names of fantasy as listed off these women are NOT included. I can sort of see Rowling, her work is considered for kids and young adults. Ok. But the others? Why not? They sell just as well. Bradley was writing a sf/fantasy series in the 70s and you STILL can find all of the books and anthologies for sale so they're STILL in print 40 years later. She was one of the founding members of the SCA and certain conventions. Le Guin's Earthsea series is considered a classic and still in print along with all the rest of her work. The Lathe of Heaven is required reading in some college and high school courses!

Anyway... I'm going to shut my geeky mouth :P
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 18th, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Carissa Anne: Natalie - empressmissxtravesty on April 16th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC)
Oh no. The link to the article isn't loading right now (could be my internet), but I know this is going to piss me off. George R.R. Martin has been one of my favorite fantasy writers for years, and this series is one of the best I've ever read. You're not alone, no matter what the reviewer may say.
bunnika: bunny: roarbunnika on April 16th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
A crappily-formatted cut-and-paste, because I still had it open in my browser. :-)
A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms

With the amount of money apparently spent on “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy epic set in a quasi-medieval somewhereland beginning Sunday on HBO, a show like “Mad Men” might have the financing to continue into the second term of a Malia Obama presidency. “Game of Thrones” is a cast-of-at-least-many-hundreds production, with sweeping “Braveheart” shots of warrior hordes. Keeping track of the principals alone feels as though it requires the focused memory of someone who can play bridge at a Warren Buffett level of adeptness. In a sense the series, which will span 10 episodes, ought to come with a warning like, “If you can’t count cards, please return to reruns of ‘Sex and the City.’ ”

Shot largely on location in the fields and hills of Northern Ireland and Malta, “Game of Thrones” is green and ripe and good-looking. Here the term green carries double meaning as both visual descriptive and allegory. Embedded in the narrative is a vague global-warming horror story. Rival dynasties vie for control over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros — a territory where summers are measured in years, not months, and where winters can extend for decades.

How did this come to pass? We are in the universe of dwarfs, armor, wenches, braids, loincloth. The strange temperatures clearly are not the fault of a reliance on inefficient HVAC systems. Given the bizarre climate of the landmass at the center of the bloody disputes — and the series rejects no opportunity to showcase a beheading or to offer a slashed throat close-up — you have to wonder what all the fuss is about. We are not talking about Palm Beach.

The bigger question, though, is: What is “Game of Thrones” doing on HBO? The series claims as one of its executive producers the screenwriter and best-selling author David Benioff, whose excellent script for Spike Lee’s post-9/11 meditation, “25th Hour,” did not suggest a writer with Middle Earth proclivities. Five years ago, however, Mr. Benioff began reading George R. R. Martin’s series of books, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” fell in love and sought to adapt “Game of Thrones,” one of the installments.

The show has been elaborately made to the point that producers turned to a professional at something called the Language Creation Society to design a vocabulary for the savage Dothraki nomads who provide some of the more Playboy-TV-style plot points and who are forced to speak in subtitles. Like “The Tudors” and “The Borgias” on Showtime and the “Spartacus” series on Starz, “Game of Thrones,” is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch, even if it is more sophisticated than its predecessors. It says something about current American attitudes toward sex that with the exception of the lurid and awful “Californication,” nearly all eroticism on television is past tense. The imagined historical universe of “Game of Thrones” gives license for unhindered bed-jumping — here sibling intimacy is hardly confined to emotional exchange.

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Since the arrival of “The Sopranos” more than a decade ago, HBO has distinguished itself as a corporate auteur committed, when it is as its most intelligent and dazzling, to examining the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart: the Mafia, municipal government (“The Wire”), the Roman empire (“Rome”), the American West (“Deadwood”), religious fundamentalism (“Big Love”).
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 16th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
bunnika: bunny: roarbunnika on April 16th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
Honestly, the first thought I couldn't get out of my brain was: Who the hell is Lorrie Moore?

I don't read much fantasy, because of what I had read, it was difficult to find books that I didn't find rather insultingly misogynistic. But I recognize this entirely as a problem of who was recommending them to me: My incredibly misogynistic ex-partner. It's a genre I'd like to have feminist recommendations in, because (once I have something crazy like time to read) I'd like to give the genre another chance. I like fantasy worlds (and I'm a gamer, and play lots of RPGs--which is apparently not possible according to the reviewer), and find it offensive to suggest that these worlds, by their very nature, are not appealing to women. I can't even begin to understand the logic behind that.

I really dislike the "these genres are for girls, those are for boys" concept in any media. Good plot, writing, and character development will appeal across the board--or at least it would, if people would stop insisting on ridiculous stereotypes that scare people away from good entertainment. Reviews like this do nothing to help the cause of furthering good art.
Jennaspitphyre on April 16th, 2011 04:47 pm (UTC)
Honestly, the first thought I couldn't get out of my brain was: Who the hell is Lorrie Moore?

Yay! It's not just me!
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 16th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bunnika on April 16th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - violetice on April 16th, 2011 07:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 16th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - bunnika on April 16th, 2011 05:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - violetice on April 16th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 16th, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - elialshadowpine on April 17th, 2011 03:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 18th, 2011 09:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - goddess_help_me on April 20th, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - elialshadowpine on April 17th, 2011 03:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
beckylautilus: ichibeakervioletice on April 16th, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC)
In a sense the series, which will span 10 episodes, ought to come with a warning like, “If you can’t count cards, please return to reruns of ‘Sex and the City.’ ”
wow wtf. There are plenty of horrible lines in this review but that was the worst one. I guess my delicate female brain can't keep track of the wide cast of characters and complex plot.

Good rant, I love these books. Too bad I don't have HBO (or even cable), I really hope they do a good job with the TV series.
bunnikabunnika on April 16th, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
HBO shows aaaaaaalways make it to DVD. Netflix! I love a ton of cable shows, and hell, I don't even have an antenna for broadcast, let alone cable.
(no subject) - violetice on April 16th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 16th, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - violetice on April 16th, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 16th, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - elialshadowpine on April 17th, 2011 03:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
philstar22: LOTS: Rahl guhphilstar22 on April 16th, 2011 11:33 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. Although more sex might be a turn on for me, except that I'm positive that it is sex filmed with the male gaze in mind rather than that of both genders, as is true of 90% of sex on tv. Sex where the entire focus is on the female's body and very little of the man is seen at all is clearly being filmed for men, and I'm not sure how this reviewer could think otherwise.

I really hate the idea of gendering genres or really any media. Because different people like different things regardless of gender. I personally usually tend to prefer things that are supposedly for men than stuff for women. I find romance boring and tedious and most period pieces lame and historically inaccurate. Give me lots of action with strong characterization mixed in any day. In fact, even within fantasy, I tend to dislike the stuff supposedly written for women.
Jennaspitphyre on April 18th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
After watching the show I can assure you that ALL of the sex and nudity was designed for the male gaze. Loving and subtle scenes from the books were even taken out or rewritten. Awesome, no?
(no subject) - philstar22 on April 18th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - spitphyre on April 20th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
purple01_prosepurple01_prose on April 17th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
Um, if I liked the Tudors for the political intrigue, the Mists of Avalon for actual plot/magick/realistic female characters who mess up, Tamora Pierce for EVERYTHING, Orson Scott Card's Bean series because I found the premise interesting, does that mean I don't fit into her ideals of femininity? Because, okay, I *do* know women who dislike fantasy, but those that don't are far outweighed by those who do in my acquaintance. Some of my nearest, dearest friends are Trekkies/Star Wars/Buffy/Firefly fanatics. Does that mean that they're not "feminine" either?

She is limited by her own bias, and when it is so disgustingly clear, should she be paid to write anything like this? Because I foresee the shitstorm spawned by this writing to be epic.
Elial Shadowpine: [tamora pierce] Alanna and Faithfulelialshadowpine on April 17th, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)
Tamora Pierce for EVERYTHING

Eee fellow Tammy fan! :D

I used to be on her web board years and years back, 'til I got fed up with the drama, and one of the recurring questions was about movies. I hafta say, as much as I'd love to see some of her books live-action, I kinda hope they don't because I don't trust they wouldn't completely ruin it.
(no subject) - purple01_prose on April 18th, 2011 01:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
boundbyash: Snow leopardboundbyash on April 20th, 2011 12:15 am (UTC)
It's sickening that in this day and age there continues to be such blatantly sexist thinking. I can't help thinking of the sf author James Tiptree Jr.; for years this author produced well-received books and short stories, but nobody knew who he was. One thing most (male) reviewers were certain of - this author was a man, because he wrote like only a man could write. Guess again. Turns out she was a woman in her sixties. Totally turned the sf literature on its ass. Forty years later and we still have this type of thinking.

Personally, I love science fiction, fantasy, and horror; I also love romance, historical dramas and epics. In other words, I am a woman, and I read ALL genres. Why would I want to limit myself, and miss out on so many great reads.

The reviewer's idea that HBO added "more sex" for women viewers is so ridiculous it leaves me speechless. Sex must be why I watched the new Star Trek movie (to see Spock and Uhura get it on); it must be why I watch Doctor Who (to see the Doctor find true love at last). Honestly, this idea that women only watch sf for sex and/or romance is laughable. I have to laugh, because if I didn"t, I'd just be so full of rage.