History has a pretty common theme of humanoids flaunting an I-Am-Better-Than-Thou attitude.
Seriously, we freckled fiends* have always had problem with racism, sexism, and discrimination. Adults think they’re better than kids. Skin colour is an issue. Girls rule, boys drool…or something.
Apparently, there must be something to squabble about.
I totally get why this enters books. Of course it does! Books are a reflection of society, right?! We relate to problems that hit close to home.
Who doesn’t relate to Harry when he’s bullied by Draco?! Don’t we all see a little bit of ourselves in Lucy’s curiosity as she opens the Wardrobe or Ramona Quimby’s tendency to wreak accidental havoc? Books are powerful when we feel like they understand us. So it’s absolutely natural that society’s issues get packaged into books. Of course it is. I’m nodding emphatically.
But I still have a question.**
Is it really necessary for 99% of fantasy novels to be sexist?
* I do not, here, suggest that everyone is freckled. I just like alliteration. Duh.
** What can I say? It’s who I am. There is always a question to be asked.
I recently fell back-in-love with fantasy novels.
I admit! They do kind of scare me. They’re huge and daunting and complex and…did I mention huge?! My small mind baulks at tackling 500+ pages (which is mildly ridiculous considering the sheer amount of books I read…but whatever). But every time I stifle my inner whingeing and pick up an epic fantasy — I fall in love again. Throne of Glass? Finnikin of the Rock? Snow Like Ashes? GIVE ME MORE.
If you follow me on Goodreads, you’ve probably noticed my morbid status updates about my reading of A Game of Thrones. IT’S SLOW GOING. But I am enjoying it for the sheer depth and size of the world. Also promise of dragons. Also loads of delicious food.
But one thing that’s really bugging me is: the sexism.
Most epic fantasy books do this. The women have to fight for their chance to hold a sword. It’s a WAR in every story to have them seen as equals to men. HUZZAH! GO THE WOMEN. They are depicted as strong and brave, even though they’re knocked down at every opportunity. (I admire them immensely.) But sometimes I pause and say…well, why? Why do (almost) all fantasy worlds have the same problems as our world?
Why can’t, occasionally, I read a fantasy story where it’s assumed and expected that women are fabulous ALREADY?
- In A Game of Thrones, Arya has to battle tooth and nail to be allowed to wear pants and learn swordplay.
- In Rangers Apprentice, Princess Cassandra is the bane of her father’s existence because she wants to practise with a catapult instead of sew.
- In Finnikin of the Rock the woman are barely even seen by society. They’re background noise.
- In Eon, the main character masquerade as a boy to prove she has any worth. And even she believes woman are worthless.
I definitely think these fantasy books empower women! They do! I think The Shamer’s Daughter and The Winner’s Curse and Stormdancer are all fantastically feministic books.
But what I want, I suppose, is to read a book where it starts with the girl NOT having to prove anything. I want to start with the girl believing that she is a worthwhile member of the world.
We can relate to the oppression, sure, but when do we get to move on? Is continually writing it into fantasy books just underlining the fact that the world is sexist and isn’t changing fast? Would it help change the world if books didn’t rehash sexism over and over and moved onto other issues?
Or (like everything basically) should there just be a balance?!
We don’t want to forget history and we do want relatable books. But books also serve as an escape occasionally, as well as lessons and adventures. I’m tired of losing myself in a fantasy world where women are (almost) always viewed as inferior and have to prove otherwise. If a fantasy book is narrated by a guy, sexism ISN’T a big deal. If it’s narrated by a girl, it is.
I question the fairness.
Oh, and let me whisper something before I run off. I don’t think these books are being sexist. I think they’re set in sexist worlds. Just to be super uber clear on that.
\\ mild disclaimer: i don’t presume EVERY fantasy book fits into this theory, okay?! i haven’t read thousands of fantasies. //
WELL. end of feminist rant! (phewf) i, obviously, need your opinions on this…particularly if you’re a big epic fantasy reader. do you find fantasy worlds are usually sexist? do you find it relatable/uplifting or does it frustrate you? do you think fantasy worlds should ALWAYS relate to our-world problems, or should they explore different issues?
Cait @ Paper Fury
…actually wrote this feminist rant very late at night and had to edit it profusely to get it making ANY sort of sense. But since she’s on such a fantasy kick at the moment (she’s read like 4 of them in the last few days!) it’s a topic that’s been burning in her brain. Currently she’s stroking the gorgeous pile of books she brought 2nd hand yesterday. She went shopping for clothes and returned with books. Not even sorry.