Undead Sexist Cliches: Chicks hate Sci-Fi!

Some of you may have heard of this NYT review, in which one Ginia Bellafante bemoans the fact HBO is adapting Game of Thrones instead of something gritty and real like The Wire or Sopranos. This blog post vivisects Bellafante superbly, particularly the problem of Bellafante assuming her distaste for fantasy (“The Dungeons and Dragons aesthetic.”) as a genre has anything to do with the quality of the series.
The part which caught most people’s attention wasn’t that as much as Bellafante’s assertion that the sex scenes are only there to attract female viewers, since George R.R. Martin’s epic “is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half … 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.” (Is she suggesting that sex scenes aren’t of interest to men?—which would certainly be a novel take on gendered viewing). And while she concedes some women probably like fantasy, she personally has never met one.
While this bit of sexism is hardly comparable to “women shouldn’t have the vote!” in terms of seriousness, it does appear to be a deep-rooted cliché. It’s the same reason the SciFi Channel gave for switching to SyFy—women think of science fiction as crappy geek stuff that fat nerds watch in their mother’s basement, so they had to get away from the name to lure female viewers.
It is, of course, complete bullshit. I know plenty of women who love SF/fantasy (one of my friends has 90+ Andre Norton books, to name just one example); I know many more who don’t particularly care for the genre but like particular authors (Rowling, Tolkien, Charlaine Harris). I doubt it’s a majority taste, but it’s common enough women who like this genre are hardly the aberration in the structure of reality Bellafante assumes.
What’s really surprising is that this kind of gendered thinking even crops up within the genre, aired by writers, editors and critics. Back in the 1970s, I read more than one dismissal of fantasy fiction that explained it’s all boy stuff that no woman would read: Testosterone-fueled Conan knockoffs who feed adolescent boys’ pathetic fantasies.
Admittedly there were quite a lot of bad Conan clones back then, but there was also Andre Norton’s Witch World, Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea and the countless classic works republished by Ballantine Books. All anyone had to do to know this argument was bullshit was look around.
In the 1990s, this argument got reversed: Fantasy, in contrast to the rugged manliness of SF, was girly stuff. The reason it had so many women writers and fans was that their fluffy female minds couldn’t fathom serious fiction about technology and ideas, so instead they turned to sappy fiction about unicorns and princesses and fairies with no icky science to interfere with their pretty daydreams (admittedly this wasn’t the way anyone phrased it at the time, but it’s how I’ve always taken it).
In reality of course, some women love hard science and hard SF. Some women love Conan. I know women who love the Game of Thrones series (I don’t myself, but that’s another matter). Does Bellafante assume all women read serious fiction? Harlequin romances? Chick lit? Georgette Heyer? (No criticism intended of those who do read those things).
Like I said, it’s a trivial thing. But it still annoys me.


Filed under Movies, Politics, Reading, Undead sexist cliches

3 responses to “Undead Sexist Cliches: Chicks hate Sci-Fi!

  1. Pingback: Interiors « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: When to Ignore Your Reviews « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: JK Rowling, the obstacle to greatness | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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