Gina Bellafante’s review of HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation has stirred the ire of women fantasy readers given she termed it “boy fiction.” Worse, Bellafante asserts that perversions such as the incestuous plot-line seem to have been thrown in as an afterthought of the show to attract women.
Having picked up the first three volumes last summer, I enjoyed them to some extent. I would consider myself to be an avid fantasy reader and Martin is certainly a talented writer. At the same time, I couldn’t get past the rampant sexism and misogyny of his world. He threw us ladies some bones with a few strong women. Even then, he wrote about a heavily male dominated world in which belittling women is as commonplace as the long stretches of winter. Every other page registered a new slur or slight in the characters’ every day scorn and hatred of women.
Of course, fantasy literature set in a sexist world is nothing new. Sometimes authors are even smart about it. What boggles my mind is that a genre labeled “fantasy”, something that by its very nature aims to step outside of the bounds of “reality” so often hews to extreme gender roles. While the conception of a world with dragons or fantastic magic is no stretch of one’s imagination, authors often unthinkingly replicate and even grossly exaggerate patriarchal norms.
Martin failed to show me that the extreme sexism of his world had any sort of point in the first three volumes. While I bridle at the idea of labeling things “for boys” or “for girls”, I don’t think Martin’s intended audience ever included women readers. In the great majority of fantasy writing, male characters ascend and stand out in the face of all kinds of adversity. Isn’t it time we retired this one-dimensional trope of the token few women who manage to succeed despite (and according to how well they take on the mantle of) patriarchy?