Apr 15, 2011

New York Times insults female readers, they write back.

I know this is hard to imagine, especially for readers of my blog, but there are some people still out there who don't think females are allowed to like "boy stuff." You know, stories with swords, spaceships or aliens. But one thing I did not expect was the New York Times to perpetuate gender stereotypes. Guess what? I was wrong.

A "review" was posted by NY Times writer Ginia Bellafante of the upcoming HBO series Game of Thrones. For those not familiar, it's an adaptation of the A Song of Fire and Ice book series by George R. R. Martin. Now, I have not read the books but I'm excited about the series since I've been a long-time fantasy lover and anything with armor and swords gets me excited. But according to Bellafante, seeing as how I'm a female, I would never want to read those books or watch the television series.
The show has been elaborately made to the point that producers turned to a professional at something called the Language Creation Society to design a vocabulary for the savage Dothraki nomads who provide some of the more Playboy-TV-style plot points and who are forced to speak in subtitles. Like “The Tudors” and “The Borgias” on Showtime and the “Spartacus” series on Starz, “Game of Thrones,” is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch, even if it is more sophisticated than its predecessors. It says something about current American attitudes toward sex that with the exception of the lurid and awful “Californication,” nearly all eroticism on television is past tense. The imagined historical universe of “Game of Thrones” gives license for unhindered bed-jumping — here sibling intimacy is hardly confined to emotional exchange.

The true perversion, though, is the sense 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.
"Boy fiction?" What the hell is "boy fiction?" And since when do television producers put sex into a show in order to draw in more women? I thought that was what they did to get MEN to watch. But there I go, generalizing, just like Ms. Belafante.

I could go on for a long time about how close-minded Belafante sounds or how limited her social circle seems to be since she doesn't know one woman who's read and *gasp* enjoyed The Hobbit but I won't because that basically says it all right there. But what I really wanted to do was highlight some of the amazing pieces that have gone up since this ridiculous article went live. Most are by talented female writers I know, one is from a male friend and co-worker at Newsarama who had a great deal to say and a few are from strangers. Either way, take a gander at the shockwave this NY Times "review" has caused.
  • Is Game of Thrones 'boy fiction?' via NYMAG.com
  • New York Times Sets Feminist Movement Back With Game Of Thrones Review via Geek Girl on the Street/Bleeding Cool
  • Why Is the Fact of Women Liking Sci-Fi and Fantasy So Hard To Believe? via Teresa Jusino
  • Response to the NY Times Game of Thrones Review via Geek Girl with Curves, Amy Ratcliffe (the beautiful woman pictured above who happens to be sitting on the THRONE from the series)
  • Today in New York Times navel-gazing via Reason.com
  • 'Game of Thrones' Is Not 'Boy Fiction' via ThinkHero.com
  • NYT says fiction is gendered, Geek Girls unite to tell them, "NO." via Carnival of the Random
  • Game of Thrones & the New York Times: Game Over. via Pop Culture Academic
  • To Ginia Bellafante Regarding Your "Review" Of Game Of Thrones. [Rant] via Geek Girl Diva
  • A Live Woman Who’d Gladly Watch A Game of Thrones (Even Without the Sex Scenes) via GeekMom.com
  • Really, why would men ever want to watch "Game Of Thrones"? via io9.com
  • Hey NY Times - Geek Girls Really Do Exist! via Newsarama (quotes from myself and Ratcliffe)
The really funny thing about all of this is it comes on the heels of an interview I did with MSNBC.com earlier this week titled "Geek girls power viewership for sci-fi/fantasy TV," specifically discussing how these types of shows appeal to women and that networks need to start opening their eyes to that. And yes, Game of Thrones was the main talking point.

NY Times, perhaps it's time to hire some female writers with a bit more range and knowledge of the world.

Feel like telling them how you feel? Write a letter to the editor.


25 comments:

Kristen said...

I think what's really disconcerting, isn't just the sloppy work within the purported, "review," or even just the blatantly dismissive tone towards women who don't meet her world-view, but that this seems to be what she does - slam women she doesn't agree with. It's not just that she derides genre storytelling, it's that she derides the kind of women who enjoy it. Marginalizing genre and women at the same time is truly an accomplishment. I am so thrilled that so many women have spoken up, and it's interesting that most of us are very much on the same page about the content of the NYT review. Obviously, if we're all seeing the same things, we can't all be wrong. I hope they listen, because we're not going away, and I'm not sure the NYT can afford to alienate us.

Melissa said...

I have to say, when I got to that "Hobbit" comment, I had about had it, because Belafante obviously does not know me. I'm glad this has stirred the response it has: geek girls, it seems, have surfaced more - and more proudly - in the past decade than ever before and we are clearly not going to stay silent in this new one.

Robert said...

"A costume-drama sexual hopscotch" was all I needed to read. Holy mackerel, I steadfastly refuse to believe she has an editor that reads what she writes. What the hell does that even mean? How about "an epic fantasy with naughty bits"?

hollandscottthomas.net said...

The hell? Not to sound biased in the other direction or anything, but ALL the fantasy readers I know are female. And intelligent. And mature. And cultured. WHERE is this theory of hers springing from? Observable evidence? The ether?

Shelly said...

Y'know, back in the mid-'60s, when I started reading SF at the tender age of 10 or so, this kind of thing was the norm. I read Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Asimov and Clarke back then. I read mysteries, too, and literature, then put SF aside for spy books (devoured Ludlum, etc) in the '70s, read books about (gasp) baseball, then took up SF again in the '80s. It was a bit better by then. My friends were no longer embarrassed to be seen with me when I pulled out an SF book or wanted to go into a comics shop. Things are better now, but there's clearly still a long way to go.

I haven't read the Martin books, mostly because they're so freakin' long. I figured I'll read 'em after I retire, and now I want to see the series. I read fantasy sporatically, mostly urban fantasy. I'm a big fan of SF and fantasy in movies and TV, and I've never had much use for "women's books."

But I'm really not surprised this "review" was in the NY Times. They've been living in the past for decades now. It's a disgrace.

Charles C. said...

I don't get all the hoopla over this review. It's one review. I think some people feel a lot of works of fantasy or the land of 300 are silly. When people only read or watch something because it's "cool" I do think thats inherently a problem with the genre itself and leaves it open to criticism. There's just too much zeroing in on key words on the Internet and not enough people asking "why" anymore. Then again, asking why doesn't get hits on a web page, but blasting someone does. I was pleased that the poster compiled a number of links. I just wish we all asked why more and not just the "because they don't get us" sort of thing. I'm a proud nerd but I'm very cautious about these sort of reactions and the rationale behind them.

borky said...

Given the tone of his spoutings, I'm glad you felt you had to...HARRY Belafante! (If you've never heard of Harry Belafonte that 'joke' died a million years ago).

Up to the Seventies, when I became a teenager, everything this guy said would've been perfectly true of my sister - and ALL her friends.

For some reason, though, (possibly because it took the form of a hi-tech fairy tale), Star Wars seemed to create breaches in the mental barrier which'd for so long convinced her and them: Sci Fi - NOT FOR US!

Ditto with soccer - until, seemingly, the advent of David Beckham.

But even guys of your generation've insisted to me girls're fundamentally incapable of TRULY appreciating Sci Fi, or soccer - what they're really doing is ogling the guys - and even the girls - and looking for fashion tips.

My retort based on my 15 year old daughter's surely they're doing both!

Dom said...

I guess the main problem with the review is that a person who reviews a TV show, which is a part of pop-culture, is apparently unaware of huge pop-culture events such as ComicCon which are attended by thousands of women. Does the reviewer think all the women are there to scream for a glimpse of actors such as Ryan Reynolds? Though to fair, who wouldn't go just for that reason. Why does "cool" have to be gender specific?

The good that will come from this laughable review is awareness. Not of female on female sexism (that's hot), rather awareness of the show. The show is actually a winner due to the extra publicity. Because let's face it, this review in the NY Times wasn't going to change one's mind (one way or the other) on if they were going to watch the show or not. If anything, it will peak more interest...and possibly more HBO subscriptions.

Oh, and why is her review labeled "Television Review"? It's not TV...it's HBO.

knomadd said...

What was meant to be a small comment
about this ended up being a full-blown blog. I hope it is alright that I leave a
link to it
here
. Thank you

Totz the Plaid said...

I know you're angry (and rightfully so, I'm a guy and it pisses me off to see such gender stereotyping from the New York Times), but you should've taken a couple extra seconds to edit before posting. It's "hot on the heels" (as in feet), not "hot on the heals" (as in what someone would do to recover from an injury).

The Nerdy Bird said...

@hollandscottthomas.net that's one of my biggest problems with her article, she has nothing to support what she's saying.

@Charles C. you're right, but it's hard to not jump directly to "they don't get us" because they don't get us so often.

@borky, when my mom read this she asked if the writer was related to the famous singer, haha. Oh and, "everything this guy said," if you mean the reviewer, he's a she.

@Dom, exactly, if she's going to write about pop-culture for the NY Times, she needs to know a bit more about it. And yes, this is giving the show a lot of added exposure. Lol for the HBO joke.

@knomadd well said.

@Totz, thanks. I know the definitions of the two words. Things like that slip past spellcheck because they aren't spelled wrong and slip past my eyes because I'm writing fast and don't have a second pair. What are your thoughts on the subject?

A Hero said...

As bad as the New York Times review is, I found this one even more insulting. On the one hand it doesn't disparage a specific gender, on the other it displays contempt for anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre.

Like the New York Times review it spends more time talking about the reviewer than actually attempting to review the series. It also suffers from the writer's conceit of trying to speak (poorly) in "Ye Olde English" throughout the review.

Eleni said...

Good points! I definitely am picturing Ms. Bellafante in Jimmy Choos sipping a cosmopolitan...but that's an unfair stereotype.

Not only did she show her ignorance and insult a huge group of people, she didn't even write a useful review. For instance, she spent about a whole paragraph talking about the weather. Really?!

She is clearly biased against the entire genre, which is not an admirable quality in a TV reviewer. And she seems incapable of a good Google search. That statement at the beginning about the show costing enough to bring Mad Men into the Malia presidency was obviously #Notintendedtobeafactualstatement.

It's nice to see so much support against her ridiculous review. Proof that geek girls do exist.

My more detailed thoughts on the issue are here:
http://rpgcalledlife.blogspot.com/2011/04/response-to-ny-times-review-of-game-of.html

Gerry said...

While the article is troublesome, I think it's important to note that when it comes to the network executives, she's not wrong. They are usually so out of touch they would do exactly what she says they did. I don't doubt for a second that someone at the top of a network sees something like this and says "we need women to watch. Women LOVE Sex and The City. Add some sex to it. For the laydeez!" So, let's not give the networks a free pass, is what I'm saying.

Mandy said...

Thank you for this roundup, Jill. I read the original "review" to Colt over dinner last night and his jaw continued to drop as I read through. Similar to my reaction when I read it the first time. Although I'm not surprised about the reaction geek girls the world over are having, it's great to see.

Joshua Corning said...

""Boy fiction?" What the hell is "boy fiction?""

For fantasy fiction i would put the Conan stories, the Elric books and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever at the top for "boy" fiction.

But i could be wrong. Women might love this stuff but I have my doubts.

I also think all the works of Gene Wolfe might fit well with that list....but i am more unsure about that then the other three.

Perhaps only because Wolfe is the better writer.

Shelly said...

Joshua, I haven't read the books you've mentioned as I read very limited fantasy. I'm more a science fiction reader. However, I know plenty of women who have read those, especially the Thomas Covenant books. "Boy fiction" is about as appalling a term to me as "chicklit." It implies it's for kids, not even grownups. feh

DC Women Kicking Ass said...

@Gerry Actually TV networks are smarter. Last year the Wall Street Journal ran a story about women and action shows which I posted on.
http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/1064041734/womenwantactionheroes

They are doing research and they are putting away their old pre-conceptions. It's a shame that Ginia Bellafante can't put away hers.

Christian Hoffer said...

While Ms. Bellafante might have never met a woman who enjoys fantasy, I'd counter that I've never met anyone with an active New York Times subscription. I'm sure there's some that are out there but I just can't be bothered to meet them.

I wrote a feature about Geeky Girls and Fantasy Novels in my weekly column. Feel free to read it. And much thanks to Jill for alerting the masses to this review!

http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/features/idiots-guide/13480-idiots-guide-weekly-a-salute-to-geeky-girls-and-nerdy-females.html/

BDS said...

I read Paranormal Romance Novels, oh and I am Male, is that "girl fiction?" Seriously, most of these reviewers in mainstream have no clue. I rarely take them seriously on any SciFi or Fantasy stuff they review.

As to "geek girls," it is my one hope that I might meet one to finally fall in love and be happy. So her world view stinks for my hope of not dying alone.

diana green said...

This is just a variation on a very old fallacy. If a work based on a genre source, SF, fantasy, (to a lesser extent)detective , comics or gaming is successful, it's despite its source material. If a similarly sourced work fails, it's because of its source material.
People who harbor this smug bias (usually those who don't know or care to know the source material in question) often harbor related preconceptions about the audiences assocaited with said genres. Reviews written by such people are often dedicated to reinforcing those preconceptions.
In direct terms, the review is an excuse to show off disdain for the genre and all assocaited with it.
No excuse for it. NYT has had some very insightful writers in this arena. It's just lazy, biased or possibly cronyism to use someone who smugly derides what is outside their experience.

Siân in England. said...

Oh dear. Where does this leave me? I very rarely read anything but fantasy, these days, (unless I pick up a John Connolly.) and have been thoroughly immersed in Tolkien's Middle-earth since age sixteen.
I recently read the first three A Song of Ice And Fire novels due to the publicity surrounding A Game of Thrones.

I primarily read excellent Tolkien fanfiction, which, for me was the best thing to come out of the movies ( The best is far superior in quality to published works, and more importantly gives me more of what I want to read.)

Save for one person, my online friends are like me, fanfiction writers and enthusiastic readers of the fantasy genre – and women. I was not aware loving fantasy was anything to ashamed of. I must have missed that; sorry, but I think I will continue to be oblivious to the idea.

Oddly enough, I am not known as a dimwit, and my online friends are intelligent, professional and exceptionally literate women.
I am a bookworm, and have been since childhood. I've read anything and everything, and settled on good-quality fantasy because it satisfies my imagination where other genres fail.

Something else that failed dreadfully was that article. I would feel insulted if I could take such egregious spoutings seriously.

Beth Bartlett said...

The review may have been tacky, but Martin's response as an author was first-class. It's the reason authors should have blogs. :)

alder-knight said...

I love sci-fi and fantasy. I read voraciously. I agree that this is terrible "journalism" and that the sexist girl-books/boy-books nonsense has got to go. But I will say that I did try to get into ASOIAF and finally threw one of the books against the wall in frustration at the lack of female characters. Fuck that noise. Give me "The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" over this too-many-dicks-on-the-dancefloor business any day.

Alexander Lorenzen said...

I don't think a day in my adult life has gone by that I do not fret about how close-minded mainstream society seems to be toward women and what they are allowed to enjoy.

It sickens me.

Calling anything in the fantasy genre "boy fiction" is nothing but a sexist stereotype label for what is essentially part of my culture. Fantasy novels are what taught me to read outside of school. I've spent hours just letting my imagination run wild in these worlds with close male and female friends alike. It's so much more that some money-making summer blockbuster that is supposed to appeal to a demographic.

How can the NY Times have published this garbage? Why does Belafante get to receive pay for her narrow-minded failure or a review?