It has been a long running theory of mine that since our great-grandmothers fought for our right to vote and wear jeans and our grandmothers fought for our right to earn a living outside the home and go to college and our mothers fought for our right to earn equal pay for equal work, that our generation is working for our right to have an equal voice. I also think that our biggest opponents in this fight are ourselves. Women seem to have a natural self-effacing quality that shirks praise or the limelight. We also have an innate, evolutionary need to camouflage ourselves in public; most women hate to be dissenters in appearance or opinion, at least when others can see. Doing otherwise is very much a learned behavior.
So it makes me particularly happy to read the recent backlash against a New York Times' review of HBO's newest series, The Game of Thrones. The series is based on a set of books by fantasy writer George R. R. Martin which have received rave reviews for their creativity, gritty realism, and intricate, genre-defying plots. The NYT review of the show, however, seems to think this:
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.
As one of those women (apparently statistical anomalies) who "read books like Mr. Martin's", this rubs me the wrong way. (I'm not even going to pretend to know who Lorrie Moore is.) But what's really horrid about this review? It was written by a woman. Thus, I was going to write a little blog entry about why it's particularly awful that a woman was unable or unwilling to seek out diversity in her own gender. But happily, I find that it's already been done and done well! Any number of blogs that I follow, with both male and female writers, are up in arms about such a sexist, uninformed viewpoint. Here are some of the best:
- Geekfemme: about how "woman" and "geek" are not mutually exclusive terms.
- Almost Diamonds: A quick personal story about why some people read fantasy. Amazingly, for the strong female characters who get themselves out of tough spots.
- Bleeding Cool: A longer but very thorough piece on why it's particularly heinous that a woman wrote this review. She says it in a more controlled and precise way than how I would have rambled from point to point.
- MSNBC: A regular article from the day before the NYT piece about how women are increasingly driving geek trends. Guess we're not so anomalous after all. (Plus, the point that the article makes about women's shirts at the end is a pet peeve of mine. I am not a small man. If you want me to buy your merchandise (and why wouldn't you?), make it in my size!)
- io9: My favorite of all the responses; this piece asks why men would want to watch a show so obviously geared toward women? The snark is great because she makes a relevant, valid point: it's all about perspective and individual taste... and it should be.
This comes off sounding like a rant about empowering geek women and maybe it is a bit. But whatever your favorite literary flavor, here's why you should care: Anti-Bullying Starts in First Grade. It's a very personal article about a little girl who was teased at school for having a Star Wars lunch box & thermos. That sounds like a typical scenario (and kids will do this kind of thing in spite of what they're told), but what is important is the response. The little girl wanted to change her thermos; essentially hiding her individuality, although at 6 years old she's just trying to avoid teasing. I think her mom's response is spot on and it's why I'm pleased that so many writers responded to the NYT review's defaming and wrong characterization of women who read and watch fantasy.
As I think more and more about what I want my child to know, it comes down to this: the point isn't that teasing and bullying and narrow-minded people are facts of life. Knowing that it's important to stand up for yourself every day is the lesson. You can't appreciate the wonderful diversity of life if you don't promote it in yourself. I hope my children grow up knowing that individuality should be approached with interest and wonder, both in themselves and others.