This old Sady Doyle post at The Awl helps me understand better where I think she’s coming from in regards to Martin’s work. After pointing out the many flaws with female-oriented fantasy, she writes:
The fantasy of Girl World often feels like the feminist imagination taken to its most self-indulgent, hypocritical extremes. We stand for tolerance and egalitarianism, whereas the people who disagree with us are IGNORANT WIFE-BEATING MONSTERS. Women, if left on their own, would eliminate war, poverty, heartbreak and pets that are not cats. But, here’s a question for you: Why shouldn’t it look like this? What’s wrong with a wish-fulfillment fantasy that tells women they could do well with power and without oppression? What’s wrong with girls geeking out over the idea that they’re special?
The women who read these books want a break from reality like everybody else, and it’s no surprise that their fantasies look just as unfair and silly as men’s. Unfair, silly fantasies are one of the ways we’re all equal, it turns out. Speculative fiction is sociology’s dream journal; nerds want a place to belong; on the Enterprise, nobody cares if you’re into space travel. All women want from these stories is a place where nobody cares if they’re girls.
There are many types of fantasy. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to want fantasy that actually fulfills fantasies. Some fantasy, however, is not meant to be fantasizing or wish-fulfillment; it’s meant to be social commentary or a house of mirrors or a horror story.
There’s nothing wrong with girls geeking out over the idea that they’re special. Nothing at all. Fantasy is a broad genre, with room for all types. But I think there’s also nothing wrong with violent dystopias written as critiques of power and patriarchy. I think what we’re really boiling this down to is an issue of taste and comfort zones. For some, Martin’s work simply won’t sit well…and that’s fine. I wouldn’t recommend these books to people who don’t like to read about violence even when it’s not glorified violence, even when it’s there as a critique of war and power and sexism.
I read all sorts of fantasies, including the escapist variety that Sady is asking for in this post. There is a time and place for both kinds, for all kinds. Why not just read the stuff you like? Life is too short.
In any case, I think this is a pretty interesting post. I enjoyed reading it, and I wish that Sady had treated Martin’s work with as much care and thoughtfulness. More like this please. Less like this:
Damn. That’s low.
P.S. I knew I said I’d walk away. I’m a junkie for this shit.