The Fantasy Genre and Gender: Who's 'Game of Thrones' For?

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In her review of HBO's new fantasy epic television show "Game of Thrones," adapted from the novel by George R. R. Martin, Ginia Bellafante at the New York Times argues that the show, predominantly due to the core elements of its fantasy genre, is intended for boys only:

The imagined historical universe of “Game of Thrones” gives license for unhindered bed-jumping... [but] 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.

Before you can say gender-stereotyping, Annalee Newitz counters the Times' perspective at io9. But if you were hoping she would take on Bellafante's generalizations about what women want, well, not so much. Though herself a fan of the book, she actually takes the stereotypes even further.

How bizarre is that? The show is obviously targeted exclusively at women... it's Jane Austen set in a semi-medieval world, with weather systems that seem to mirror human emotion ... Two of the main characters, Sansa and Arya Stark, are suffering through dilemmas that are basically "Gossip Girl" plotlines, only with dire wolves instead of purse dogs.

This notion that women are predominantly interested in "Gossip Girl" story lines is nothing new, nor is it necessarily inaccurate: clearly, television networks have what they purport to be "women's programming" and "men's programming." Maybe such obvious stereotypes serve purposes for advertising agencies. But they seem oddly placed in two reviews written by women, particularly for a fantasy show, which is a genre that boasts many females fans. And not just for the bed-jumping. Ilana Teitelbaum addresses Bellafate's review in a letter to the Times posted at The Huffington Post:

The characterization of fantasy as "boy fiction" is offensive to the genre and offensive to women. That we for the most part will only read what Oprah has picked, and especially if a woman wrote it, is a stereotype that is not only demeaning to women -- it is also untrue. Like Bellafante, I can offer personal anecdotes to back up my assertion, some of which involve stunning young women dressing up as Martin's characters at Worldcon. Sometimes in very tight spandex. But that would be beside the point.

When we categorize books as "boy fiction" and "girl fiction" it's just another way to promote gender stereotyping. It is predicated on the assumption that people will only read books that reflect their personal experiences, so therefore women will only deign to read about dating, shopping, and kitchen intrigues.

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