Before anything else is written, let me clarify: I don't think that everyone should agree with me. As a person who loves things like Doctor Who, non-sparkly vampire fiction, the Star Trek franchise, the original Star Wars films, time travel stories, and superhero comics, I'm used to having lots of discussion/debate on "Who was cooler?" "What take/interpretation was better?" "Which story was better?" "Which writer really got it down?" "Could Starbuck beat Buffy?"
And I like that not everyone agrees with me during these discussions. It makes for more interesting conversations and helps me cement some of my own views when I have to think how to defend them. But sometimes, someone says something where I have to say, "You're just flat out wrong." Usually, this happens at the bar or when I'm watching political debates on CNN. This time it happened when I read a review at the New York Times website.
Yesterday, Ginia Bellafonte posted a review of the upcoming Game of Thrones series on HBO. This live-action show is based on the acclaimed A Song of Fire and Ice book series by George R. R. Martin. The story features a harsh world where land is warred over with sword and shield, a strange land where seasons can last for years rather than months. Those in charge often play against each other for power while soldiers and civilians deal with the results.
It seems that such a story is not Ginia Bellafonte's brand of whiskey. That's no problem. Not everyone will like such a story and it is her job as a reviewer to share and explain that opinion. But we didn't get an informed opinion on the show. In fact, in her whole review, the story premise is barely touched on and not one character, plot point or scene is mentioned. Nothing is said about the relationships between the players and whether or not the cast is well-suited to the roles. Nothing is said about the pacing or how the plot evolves. You don't even get the names of the main characters in her piece. Instead, we get a long piece that opens up with a remark that Sex and the City fans won't have the brainpower to follow or understand this series (always good to open with an insulting assumption) and then have several remarks that women in particular would have no interest in such a series at all because it is "boy fiction."
"... 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.
"If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary."
Never mind that the books already had illicit sexual content and that HBO didn't really have to add anything. You don't like the fantasy genre? Fine. You're not a fan of The Hobbit or anything that you mentally associate with an unrelated role-playing game involving dragons? Fine. But don't imply that we should all agree with you because you speak for all women. No one can, because you do not know every woman in the world. That's not even a belief, that's just science!
Your experience tells you that no women will demand Tolkien? Okay. Let's talk about my experience. I saw many women in movie audiences thrilled to see Orlando Bloom kick butt as an elf, not just because he has a pretty face but because he was a great character in an epic tale. I saw a lot of women in line to have their photo taken with the Game of Thrones display at WonderCon in San Francisco recently. I regularly read online pieces by geek girls such as Amy Ratcliffe, Teresa Jusino, Janna O'Shea and Jill Pantozzi. I listen to the "Geek Girls Network Podcast" and the women of "The Escape" on GetThePointRadio.com. I visit GeekGirlCon.com and The League of Extraordinary Ladies. I follow the work of Blair Butler, Amber Benson, Grace Randolph, Jessica Mills and Felicia Day. I read books by Richelle Mead that involve a woman enacting quite a bit of violence on vampires. One of my favorite superhero writers? Gail Simone. An artist I love who is great at depicting action scenes in superhero comics? Amanda Conner. And hey, here's something shocking. Do you know who recommended the book Game of Thrones to me? My girlfriend and four other women. Amazingly, they read it despite the fact that it was in the Boy Fiction section of the bookstore. I don't know how they were even allowed to enter that section and were able to convince the store to let them purchase books from it, but they're quite crafty and skilled so I imagine a pulley system and a sonic screwdriver must have been involved.
And speaking of the aforementioned Jill Pantozzi, she made an excellent point to me about this review: "The writer mentioned they added sex to get women to watch. It's amazing how she stereotypes the ladies by telling us we don't read 'boy fiction' yet breaks another huge stereotype by stating that, in fact, it's WOMEN who watch TV for sex and not MEN. Huh. Who'da thunk?"
So true. Either way you slice it, generalizations based on gender? Never good. It's bad enough when I find women who are afraid to admit to their geekiness because other have put it into their brain that they're not supposed to enjoy dark elves, Time Lords, Jedi knights or Starfleet. I always want to tell them, "This isn't 1951, you're allowed to like what you like." But seeing such an attitude in a major publication like The New York Times? Seriously, I expect more from such a publication in this day and age. Has no one there looked at recent pieces about the strength of the female fanbase? Check out this TODAY article on just that subject. And remember Star Wars Katie? She was the first grader who got the attention of many when she broke into tears as she explained to her mother, "The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars water bottle. They say it's only for boys. Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it. I want them to stop, so I'll just bring a pink water bottle."
That was awful. Imagine, some mean boys telling this girl that what she liked was for boys. Thank God we know that adults wouldn't be so hurtful and... oh, wait. Right.
When I saw this so-called review that mentioned no characters or story plot points, I had to discuss it with my friend Amy Ratcliffe, without a doubt the biggest A Song of Fire and Ice fan I know and who has her own reaction on her blog. To me, she said simply this, "The NY Times review left me speechless... This Game of Thrones-loving fan who has sat in the Iron Throne, watched the trailers and "making of" specials on repeat, and chased the Game of Thrones food truck, was insulted and angry... It is a layered, epic story full of rich characters in a treacherous world. No character is safe and that unpredictability makes for an interesting reading experience. And it doesn't hurt that many girls and women in this series survive a lot of hardship to utterly kick-ass."
Poor, deluded girl. I haven't had the heart to tell her that she's accidentally been reading boy fiction. After I break it to her, maybe I can cheer her up with a Sex and the City marathon. All girls like that, right?
Just my thoughts.