A couple of interesting debates have been doing the rounds recently. N.K. Jemisin wrote an excellent post on Feminization of Epic Fantasy:
I’ll start by positing an hypothesis (H0), and its logical alternative (H1):
H0: Epic fantasy is dominated, if not by male authors, then by a “masculine” aestheticism, ethos, and structural focus (it’s “the hero’s journey”, not the heroine’s). And, as with other male-dominated bastions “threatened” by egalitarianism (a.k.a. feminism and femininity), it systematically defends this masculinity with great vigor.
H1: Epic fantasy is already egalitarian in its aesthetics, ethos, and structure, and its domination by male authors is just a reflection of greater society. There is no reaction, positive or negative, against feminine encroachment. The more the merrier, we can all just get along, Kumbaya, etc.
There has also been a fairly neutral and causal assessment of the fabric of recent SF awards submissions, which is interesting and worth taking a look at, but generally suggests to us that the the SF genre is dominated by white straight males writing books about white straight males. (I know it’s about SF rather than Fantasy, but it prompted the thought.)
These things have, in other forms, been discussed across the genre scene for years, and this is kind of my point: we’ve been talking about minorities and equality in fantasy fiction for a long time yet, when I look at the top-selling epic fantasy titles or read some reviews of what’s currently being released, I realise that our genre still seems to be rather conservative.
What can we conclude from this? Either the blogosphere has less of an effect than we’d like to think, and/or the commercial bottom-line still has a preference for conservative stories over those which are more experimental.
Does is matter that more books don’t address minorities or gender equality? I’d suggest that there are an awful lot of people who read genre books; for many of them to be exposed to such a narrow range of society will not bring about an enlightenment any time soon.
Should editors play a greater role in this? Should they be the ones to intervene in a story and point out a lack of variety? Should authors contemplate, well why is Character X the way he/she should be in a genre where we can do anything? Is it a crime to represent dark-skinned people as being evil and white people saving the day? I read an interesting review of Nights a few weeks ago which mentioned, in passing, that they didn’t understand why the gay character was chosen to be gay – which I found interesting, because my response to that is, Well why do we choose characters to be straight?
I’m not criticising individuals for not choosing to engage with issues in the text – because this is a question of numbers and volume rather than anything else, and I can enjoy conservative stories very much. Perhaps it goes back to what N.K. Jemisin said about such things being ‘a reflection of greater society’. I think this rather meandering post has just brought about more questions. It started off with me thinking that, despite all these online discussions, the notion that fantasy fiction had developed remained a fantasy. I’m not sure we’ll ever do much to address that.