Is “Historical Accuracy” a Good Defense of Patriarchal Societies in Fantasy Fiction?


Did you know that human history is full of examples of sexist, patriarchal societies where women were discriminated against? I’m sure you are, as a reader of The Mary Sue. I’m pretty sure you are as a person alive in the 21st Century, too. Yet so many of the historically inspired fantasy worlds we love are remarkably intent on reminding us of this.

When I raise this issue with someone, I often get some variation of this in reply. Sexism in (to pick the most obvious example) medieval fantasy is okay or even desirable, the thinking goes, because in the real European Middle Ages sexism was the status quo. There’s no denying that, but fantasy is called fantasy because it’s a fantasy. There were no dragons in the real Middle Ages either, but we don’t have a problem including them.

For me, a prime case study for this is Game of Thrones, being the medieval fantasy work that’s attained the most mainstream popularity in quite some time. So much popularity that you’ll find a cookbook inspired by it and its novel antecedents on endcaps at your local Barnes & Noble. Stumbling across it, I flipped open the front flap and was asked:

“Ever wonder what it’s like to attend a feast at Winterfell? Wish you could split a lemon cake with Sansa Stark, scarf down a pork pie with the Night’s Watch, or indulge in honeyfingers with Daenerys Targaryen?"Collapse )
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