Ok, I will be absolutely honest and say that I have never read this particular series of fantasy novels, largely because they just never happened to cross my path. Yet, as someone who considers herself a feminist (and I am not an angry kind of feminist, thank you, although I went to college with some), I find the entire idea of the books appalling.
I learned about them, this morning, by reading Tamora Pierce's blog post about them. I was clueless about the series before, but I'm not quite as clueless now. I fully intend to avoid reading them because they honestly sound like something I'd abhor on general principle. Yet, I think there were some interesting comments raised about how these are perceived as horrible to women (and they seem to be), but similar books that treat men this way, don't actually receive the same share of outrage.
The author of the comments seemed to think that many of the romance novels published nowadays are horrible to men; that they take delight in enslaving men and making them perform subservient acts to their women masters. Personally, I don't know of many romance novels that do this, as I primarily read historical romances (are there any actual romances out there like this?), but I can think of two fantasy series' that could fall under the author's claim that they're horrible to men. So let's address them, shall we.
The first is the Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop. I personally love these books because of their lush attention to detail and world-building and their compelling characters. At the same time, a large perecentage of the female characters in the books are terrible to men. They enslave them, they force them to wear controlling penile rings (yes, magically-controlled, if you wanted to know), and they use them, against their will, to satisfy all of their sexual desires. The key difference here, as compared to what knowledge of the Gor books that I have, is that the men in the Black Jewels series DON'T LIKE WHAT'S HAPPENING TO THEM. They are very clearly unhappy with their situations, they don't feel that it's fun being male sex slaves, and a nice amount of the plot resolution in the series deals with how some of the main characters stop this from happening.
That doesn't make it right, of course, but if we only wrote books about what was right, then we'd live in an uninteresting world. What redeems that series for me is that the men do end up turning out alright, most of the sexual slavery does end up stopping, and we are always aware that the characters aren't necessarily pleased about their lives. Plus, it's an engrossing fantasy series. And, if you're looking for a litmus test, Chris has read all of the Anne Bishop books that I own, and has not only managed to not be turned off by the mistreatment of the male race, but actually likes the books themselves.
The second fantasy series that comes to mind is Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series. I've only read the first two books, so far, but I'll comment on it based on my knowledge of them. By its very nature and definition of the characters, there's a good deal of kinky sex in them. The main female character, Phedre, is trained as a courtesan who likes pain. Obviously, she's going to be put into a lot of BDSM situations; this is what she does as a living, people.
Yet, the books are equal opportunity ones, when it comes to sexual slavery. Both men and women desire Phedre's services; both men and women abuse her (at least, to me, but then, this isn't my preferred sexual style--no hatred towards anyone whose preference it is); and both men and women are trained and used as courtesans. In addition, Phedre's courtesan aspect is only one facet of her role as a a character. She's also very suitably trained as a spy, and manages to get embroiled in large-ranging political plots, which are really the impetus for the forward motion of the books.
Does this mean all the kinky stuff in the Kushiel books, towards both men and women, is bad? Not necessarily. It just means its an acquired taste, and that at times, it obscures the main story and at other times, it doesn't. Personally, I like the books; they make for good reading.
What are your thoughts on all of this? Discuss, my wonderful blog readers. =)