When you say “Boy fiction” I want to kick you in the Tom Sawyer

Even if you are the New York Times. 

See, when you’re the New York Times, or you’re writing for the New York Times, people tend to believe what you say, and take it seriously.

One minute you’re disparaging an HBO series as boy fiction, the next a little girl is taking her Star Wars thermos to school and being told the Force is only with boy Jedi. 

Amy Ratcliffe well-rebutted Gina Bellafonte over here, and Alan Kistler at Newsarama had a great response too….A visual representation (brilliant) is here: For my part, I started getting annoyed on Twitter:

 Hey @nytimes, as soon as you say "Boy fiction" you're saying I can't/shouldn't/automatically don't like something because I'm a girl. Eff that.

And I kept getting annoyed the more I thought about it. Bellafonte’s review, as others have mentioned, does not REVIEW anything. One of her only insights is the line “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” (she then goes on to list other shows that featured institutional inquiry but doesn’t seem to see how Game of Thrones fits into that mix).

Game of Thrones is about SEVEN KINGDOMS. That’s like, AT LEAST SEVEN INSTITUTIONS.  Compare and contrast Game of Thrones and Rome, which Bellafonte evidently believed more worth HBO’s time and money….. the differences are primarily in the scope of the battle scenes and the number of commanders to which it is possible to swear allegiance. Are you House Stark or House Barantheon or House Lannister (goddess have mercy on your soul) or House Targeryen? Are you out for yourself or proud of your loyalty? How do you govern a giant-ass kingdom from a throne you stole? How do you regain that pesky throne? Can you even have politics without institutions?!

The writing of George R.R. Martin is, as I have mentioned before, problematic for women because so many characters are victims of misogyny and rape – main characters who fight back, like Arya and Daenarys, and supporting characters who are assaulted, insulted, shoved aside. My bottom line is that you can claim “medieval realism!!!” to justify your anti-woman brutality all you want – if you really wanted realism, you wouldn’t have included dragons and magic. Just saying. But that doesn’t mean I don’t, can’t, won’t, didn’t, and haven’t read and enjoyed this series.

I enjoyed The Hobbit and there’re barely 3 women in it. And none of them are even human or like, shop at The Gap so I know to identify with them, or drink Cosmos so I know to aspire to their level of sophistication, or anything! I love Star Wars even though Princess Leia is pretty much my sole point of woman-to-woman identification. I love Ender’s Game (woman count: 3). I love Dune (woman count: 5ish).

I don’t say this to let (male) science fiction and fantasy writers off the hook for creating more worlds for women and people of color and queer folks. I love best of all Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce, Phillip Pullman and Garth Nix  for their more inclusive representation and general kickassitude.

But we still live in a world where guys at my brother’s Games Workshop get into arguments about whether women can be Space Marines. Marines (which women already are) in SPACE (WHERE NOBODY IS).

And attitudes like those belonging to Ms. Bellafonte and whatever schmucks approved and edited this piece for the New York Times are part of the problem.

This entry was posted in Current Events, feminism, Game of Thrones and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to When you say “Boy fiction” I want to kick you in the Tom Sawyer

  1. braak says:

    I’m not sure, though that it’s fair to call what Martin does in the books “anti-woman brutality,” since it so clearly relies on the idea that the audience is going to find it abhorrent. He’s not advocating misogyny, he’s just describing misogyny.

    And, yeah, the argument for medieval realism is a problematic one, but it’s not fair to say that, because there are dragons and wights, then nothing needs to be realistic. While there are certain very specific deviations from reality, he was still working to create an identifiably-medieval social culture, and if he’s going to present it honestly, he doesn’t have a lot of options except to point out that it was grotesquely misogynistic. Frankly, I kind of like this better; I think it’s superior to the idealized medieval-esque cultures in certain other novels, where the oppression and abuse of women is glossed over or ignored.

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      Whenever I set out to re-read Martin, I begin thinking like you – “C’mon, obviously all these people are horrible for thinking this way – let’s focus on what the women /do/ get to do.”

      And then I get to a passage, like the one in the opening chapter, where one Wall guard says to another “never believe anything you hear at a tit – women will lie about everything” (I’m paraphrasing the end)…. Martin’s books are made up of people who casually, incessantly, dismiss women as nonhuman. Even if everyone who’s doing it is a bad person, it’s still this world where women are nonentities, only mentioned as whores or wives, and constantly threatened with physical harm and sexual assault. Martin goes beyond setting the mood and into a place where I don’t even feel safe reading it, sometimes! Because there is NOBODY who offers a counter view. This is where I hit the “Medieval Realism” wall – if you’re going to have dragons, you could have at least one lord or lady who either doesn’t use misogynistic language or who speaks up against it when they hear it.

      Since I know the actual dark ages were full of misogyny, I don’t mind a fantasy world where it is different. Or, where the inhabitants take Mercedes Lackey’s tack – act like a sexist chauvinist monster in front of a warrior woman, get your head cut off.

  2. braak says:

    But I think the problem with that is that it’s disingenuous; the fact of the widespread oppression of women was a consequence of its lack of technological development. It’s built into that society at a basic level. And so while there’s value in the Mercedes Lackey tack, the fact is that it didn’t actually happen that way. Now, again, escapism, fantasy. But escapism and fantasy are measured in degrees; I’m not saying that it would be wrong to paint a completely disingenuous picture of an illeterate, uneducated medieval society, but at the very least you have to acknowledge it as disingenuous.

    Honestly, I feel there’s a lot of merit to it as a feminist work, just be virtue of the fact that it offers an unflinching perspective on how shitty Olde Timey days were for women. I guess we could argue that having every generally using misogynist language just sort of normalizes the really bad, sister-raping stuff; but contrarywise, is it possible that the sister-raping puts the use of language in a context that forces you to accept, “If you’re from a society that talks about women this way, then you’re also from a society that treats women like chattel.”

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      I don’t know if I agree about the direct line between technological development and oppression of women. I feel like it comes down to biology, so it goes way further back.

      It also annoys me that George R. R. Martin never comments on the social dynamics in his work overtly, in interviews or in his blog. Maybe it’s implied that wherever sexism happens, sexism is bad, but when I read a hateful comment/line of dialogue and I never see any repudiation by anyone a work or an author is holding up as moral/good/protagonisty, it feels like an endorsement not just a recounting of a historical fact. And then I have to ask myself if it’s worth reading something so hateful. I am not someone who looks for my fantasy/escapism to be accountable to historical realities. If we’re embracing magic then we are no longer trying to recreate a historical time. I don’t think it’s disingenuous to write your ideal gender dynamics into a work of fantasy, I think it’s actually braver to set out creating something that has never been than to allow something horrible to persist in your writing just because you want a recognizable foundation to build on.

  3. braak says:

    Ugh, blegh, grammar and syntax are not my friends today.

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