Don’t worry – no plot spoilers!
According to an article on Gender Focus, the Game of Thrones panel at Geek Girl Con failed to fully acknowledge the depth of misogyny in the series, settling for run-of-the-mill cop-outs instead.
The usual suspects turned up. One of them was: since A Song of Ice and Fire is part of the fantasy genre, which is based on history, the social hierarchies of the time have to be portrayed faithfully and it isn’t sexist to do so. Another was: George R. R. Martin is a decent guy, so he can’t have been sexist. He was probably just a little insensitive.
As Hodge rightly points out, the first point does not hold water. There were no skinny, icy killers called ‘The Others’ in Medieval England. Summer has never lasted eight years. No king of ours ever won his crown by riding a fire-breathing dragon into battle. So why glorify the brutalization of women? Martin was not forced to do so. Everything in the book was a choice, and he chose to mimic the extreme inequality of that era.
Of course, that’s not to say that rape or the debasement of women can never be depicted in fiction. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy was rife with scenes of rape and sexual torture of women, yet his books project a very strong feminist message.
First of all, Larsson is very clear as to his reasons for such scenes. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, he begins each section with a statistic, drawing our attention to the problem of violence against women in Sweden. “18% of the women in Sweden have at one time been threatened by a man,” Part 1 informs us. “46% of the women in Sweden have been subjected to violence by a man,” says Part 2, and so on. The assaults and murders that happen in his books do not pepper the text like bits of fancy decoration; rather, they are central to the plot and development of his characters, and the reader is forced to appreciate the horror and depravity of such acts.
Sadly, in A Song of Ice and Fire, rape or abuse of women happen on almost every page. They are depicted in an offhand manner, completely gratuitous, and pass without comment. Worse, the perpetrators are frequently portrayed as sympathetic characters instead of villains. I came across a rape/assault reference almost every five minutes, and to give you an idea of just how much random rape that adds up to, each book is about 800 to over 1000 pages long. There are five books so far, with two more in the making.
Another significant difference is that Larsson’s fictional rapes occur in modern-day Sweden, and form part of a commentary on the unequal gender relations in the society to which he belonged. One of the panellists at Geek Girl Con said, “I think he [George R. R. Martin] is making a profound allegorical statement about the US in the last century.” Now I don’t buy this for a second. If Martin’s intentions were indeed to make a statement about the power relations in contemporary US culture, why on earth would he choose to set his tale in a world that obviously reflects the values of the medieval period? Far from encouraging his readers to think critically about today’s society, it smacks of a kind of moral complacency. The reader can look back at these knights and kings and think, “Wow, things were certainly grim back then. What a long way civilization has come.” Far from encouraging critical analysis of contemporary society, it actually pulls it up short, luring the reader into self-congratulation – “We’re so much better than these barbarians!”
And that is why I cannot believe that Martin’s choices were geared towards societal reform. But that’s ok; not every work of fiction has to have a social or political agenda. There’s a place for all kinds of books, from the highly political Animal Farm to the mysteries of Agatha Christie, from the humour of Diary of a Wimpy Kid to the magical world of Harry Potter. But here’s the rub: we’ve established that A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t political. It isn’t humorous, and it doesn’t invite readers to exercise their wits. Martin’s series is in the same genre as Harry Potter is. It’s written purely for escapism and entertainment, where readers can leave the real world behind for a moment and revel in the author’s creation. But while there’s nothing too disturbing about a child (or grown-up) imagining that they can pick up a wand and do magic, there’s something very creepy about millions of people choosing to escape into a world where women are nothing more than objects to be bought and sold, where young girls are raped by the side of the road, and where the brutal killing of defenceless women is normalised.
The biggest mistake made by the panellists at Geek Girl Con was, in my opinion, an over-emphasis on George R. R. Martin himself. It appears that one of them personally knew him, and was thus keen to defend his character, assuring people that he was not a nasty piece of work. The implication is that Martin is not a bad man, ergo, his books can’t be that bad. I can’t stress enough just how flawed this line of reasoning is. I’m happy to believe that Martin is not a bad person. If he were to tell me that he’s never raped or hit a woman in his life, that he loves the women in his family and cares deeply about them, I will believe him. I do not think that he consciously intended to be sexist when writing the books. Indeed, there are a few scenes where he makes an effort to go against stereotypes, and some of his characters actually speak out about the condition of women.
What we need to understand, though, is that patriarchy is embedded into society, and has been so for a long, long time – as far back in history as you can possibly go. Individuals do not need to be villains to be sexist. Just as rapists are seldom men who pop out from behind a bush or accost you in a dark alleyway, perpetrators of everyday misogyny are not always violent men who blatantly hate women. They could be – and often are – people that you know and like. They could be your friends, boyfriends, husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, or colleagues. But that doesn’t mean they are all evil people. They are merely products of a patriarchal society who haven’t yet seen the possibility of a different way of being. They are me, before I embraced feminism. They are what I could be like, were I a man and had no reason to look too closely at society.
But until we learn to separate the individual from the misogyny that they perpetuate, and recognise that to vilify the misogyny is not to vilify the perpetrator, we will always be in danger of pussyfooting around the subject, instead of calling someone out on their sexism.
(Note: there are spoilers up to the third book in the comments)
Thought I’d leave a couple more comments here. Great to hear your thoughts on the books and the way I interpreted the GGC panel. I really liked your comparison to Larsson – I don’t think the Dragon Tattoo books are entirely without issue but in that case the sexual violence is central to the plot and it’s clear it’s not there to sell books.
On the “Is Martin making a bigger statement?” piece, I feel like I need to read more than the first book to fully decide. I think I can safely say though that if he is, it’s not immediately apparent and would take time and analysis to discover. And as I think I mentioned, his intent isn’t as important as how the book’s coming across to people, so when it comes down to it I agree with you that it’s being used as escapist entertainment, not educating towards social reform.
As for Larsson, I agree, there are problems with the characterisation of Salander. However, any work that at least acknowledges the patriarchy and offers a resistance, no matter how flawed, adds value to the cause of feminism and is a-ok in my book!
I see martin doing the same thing. Women struggle in his books, sure — so do men. But women excel — at diplomacy, back-stabbery, war and peace.
Yes, but Martin acknowledges the patriarchy in a society that reflects the values of the medieval period. If this book had been written in the 1300s it would probably have been revolutionary in its insights into gender inequality. But as it is, it seems to suggest that these problems were problems of the past, nothing to do with modern day Western civilisation.
If your problem is rape, 33% of American soldiers who are female are raped during their time of service. by comrades.
I don’t see war as having changed terribly much.
I think the 1300’s viewpoint is tricky, indeed. sometimes things are going to resonate, sometimes not. the whole “war is brutal” meme resonates to me.
The thing is, I doubt it would resonate with 90% of Martin’s readership. Not many people are even aware of the treatment of women in the military (or anywhere, come to that) or any other aspects of the realities of modern-day warfare, and Martin’s books certainly don’t encourage us to draw parallels with today’s society. If that honestly was his intention, then I must say he did a pretty poor job of it.
I wonder… You wanna log in and ask a few questions? I’m certain there are fangroups out there you could ask this of. So long as you make it clear that you aren’t trolling, i think it might be an interesting survey.
1) How many servicewomen are raped in the military?
2) How much of the civilian populace is raped?
3) How credible do people find claims of 1st world rape (aka Americans in Japan)?
… I think the list goes on.
War is a very ugly thing. it is perhaps a bit less ugly now than then, but that’s not saying much at all.
Fantastic post. I like the way you are able to separate the misogyny from the person. \you’re absolutely right, the ability to do this allows for a more constructive dialogue.
Definitely! I must admit it can be a difficult task for me to accomplish sometimes though…
I know what you mean.
Excellent article – thanks
Thank you =)
Great writing, topical and important
In what world is it escapism to walk in a society that semi-condones rape?
That’s reality, in the here and now.
I’d rather see your take on the marriage scene between Dany and Drogo. Do you find it problematic? It is quite clearly consensual, and yet, our society might define it as rape. Is our society right? Is Dany consenting because of societal expectations, or because of lust, or something else entirely?
I think Dany and Drogo’s marriage is one of the most problematic relationships in the book. I don’t think the marriage scene is consensual at all. Not only is she a thirteen year old girl, Dany never wanted to be sold to Drogo in the first place. Neither Drogo nor Viserys took her desires into consideration, and she had no choice in the matter. She knows full well that to resist Drogo on her wedding night would be a mistake, and make it much worse for her. Sure, she seems to be consenting and allowing Drogo to take possession of her body, and she even feels lust. But is this full, healthy consent? Surely not. The fact that she falls in love with Drogo and sees him as her sun-and-stars makes it even more problematic and seems to be almost a glorification of Stockholm syndrome.
this deserves a longer post (bit busy at the moment), but I think anyone who sees this as Stockholm syndrome is drastically misreading the text.
The text is clearly about culture shock — it’s not just Drogo, nor being removed (kidnapped doesn’t seem to be the word…) from her home, it’s the entire barbarian “new world” that she finds strange and quite scary/offputting.
That being said, the TV show does a remarkably poor job of distinguishing the whole thing (and does Momoa look like a rabbit to you?? it’s no wonder they couldn’t pull off the scene as written!)
I understand completely when you say that Dany, although she said the word ‘yes’, probably felt forced into sex due to the fact that she is 13 and Drogo is a 30-ish man who is capable of ripping tongues out with his bare hands. I don’t think that her verbal ‘consent’ is meant to serve the purpose of reassuring readers, though. I think the fact that she consented is more to show readers that she is determined to survive and show (or at least give the illusion) that she is not afraid. In other words, it’s more about Dany herself than about how people in general should feel about rape.
When it comes to the overall gratuity of rape in the series, I don’t really think GRRM is trying to glorify violence towards women. What he seems to be trying to say is more about the effect that violence (and a violent culture) has on everyone. When otherwise sympathetic male characters display violence towards women, I think it’s more a reflection of how harsh the world was in medieval times (and still is today). The amount of rape in the series might also be interpreted as, rather than a call for sympathy for ‘good men’ who hurt women, an observation that there is really no such thing as an all-around ‘good guy’. This fits in with the recurring theme in ASOIAF: if you are a good guy, you either die quickly or stick around long enough to see yourself become the bad guy… and then you die screaming.
It’s not simply a question of culture shock. It’s a story of a girl who was literally sold by her brother to this strange man who frightens her. She explicitly told Viserys that she didn’t want to marry Drogo, and we all know what Viserys said about letting the entire army and their horses fuck her, and how she should be thankful that it’s just Drogo. There’s never any doubt that Dany was forced into this, and Drogo should be held accountable just as much as Viserys is.
I agree about the TV series, it comes across even worse than in the book. Lol I was thinking more tasmanian devil than rabbit. =P
Rabbit’s the Japanese astrological symbol… it does represent someone whose sexual proclivities run towards the younger set (they also tend to be good teachers and mentors in general.)
Do you think Dany is being truly honest when she says she doesn’t want to marry Drogo? I think that’s more of a cultural thing (and a put-on, for her abusive brother, whom she has been told repeatedly she will marry). As a woman of the noble class, she has to know that she will marry (and her reasoning is not “I’m too young” — nobody seems to think Sansa’s too young to get married, after all…)…
Would you call it rape if Robb actually did marry one of the Freys and sleep with her to consummate it? It’s not like he wants to, nor really has much choice.
Drogo is responsible for Drogo’s actions. It’s Viserys who has “guardianship” of his sister until the marriage. I’ll lay much blame at Drogo’s feet for his illtreatment of his wife AFTER their marriage day.
I see no reason to doubt Dany when she says that she doesn’t want to marry Drogo. She’s terrified of him! That’s a good enough reason to not want to marry someone.
As for Robb, if he chose one of the Frey girls and knew that she didn’t want to marry him or have sex with him, but carried on anyway, then yes, that would be rape. He does have a choice; after all, Tyrion chooses not to rape Sansa. I guess one thing you could say for Drogo is that there’s a language barrier between him and Dany, so he can’t know exactly how she feels. But one gets the sense that he’d want his own way regardless.
How many here are discussing the Dany/Drogo scene based on the television show, and how many on the book? Because in my opinion, the scene is portrayed vastly differently in each. In the book, I got the sense that she was a willing participant – Drogo offered her a choice and she said yes. The HBO series made it much less consensual.
Regardless, there are many female roles and nasty things that happen to women that I can see issue with. I really despise Cersei’s character, just because it’s so unidimensional and centred around sex as a weapon.
these are my feelings too.
Cersei is kinda a bad character. I know she’s supposed to be a villain. And she’s selfish and all, but… really?
The whole “using sex as a weapon” would be a LOT more fun if it came from a courtesan. Even an evil courtesan.
Cersei just gets everything she’s “ever wished for” (or is that her pap ever wished for?) without doing a damn thing for it.
We’re mainly discussing the book, although comparing it to the show is interesting. I agree that it’s worse on the show, but I don’t think the book really presented her as a willing participant on the whole. I know she said yes during the scene itself, but do you think it was a real possibility for her to say “No Drogo, I never want to have sex with you”?
I have problems with Cersei’s character too. I sometimes think that her anger against the sexism that she faces helps to humanise her and let us see why she does what she does. But sometimes she comes across as a straw feminist, the stereotypical man-hating, evil, sexuality-wielding myth that people make up about feminists. I’m still undecided.
I got the impression Drogo was being gentle, and was waiting until she said yes. That she might have been able to say no (and did!), and that he would continue until she was actually ready.
Love your blog:)!!
I just wanted to offer my opinion on the handling of the Dany/Drogo ‘no, no, no, yes’ scene in the book vs. TV version. I think that the TV version is actually a notch better BECAUSE she is shown as being raped. The reason I say this is that the book version is essentially a wank fantasy for people who like the idea that a woman can be ‘broken’ by a powerful man or raped until she likes it. This is literally the most offensive idea I can personally think of and the TV version thankfully thought better of showing that. That stockholm-ish ‘sometimes rape is okay’ fantasy should NEVER be portrayed as a being real thing that women enjoy and it should never turn out to be a positive thing that she is having sex with him in the story. Although, she *sort of* turns the tables on the power dynamic re: sex but it’s not quite enough, is it?
ALSO! The in the TV show, Drogo’s ultimately fatal wound is inflicted while defending Dany’s feminism. While he defends her in the book, he doesn’t eventually die for her on this point as he does in the show!
So yeah, a lot of problems and a lot of wank-fantasy-disguised-as-almost-poignant-statements-but-really-not…is my opinion. Still reading:-|
Thanks John, those are some good points!
Robb is forcibly married to the Freys, by his mother’s contract — not his own word. Granted, she does intervene to talk with her father’s liegeman… (and Robb with an army might have prevented it…).
Finding it troubling that you aren’t seeing the similarities between Dany being promised by her brother into a carnal relationship (legal), and Robb being promised by his mum.
Neither situation is ideal. But I find it troubling that you see them as the same, when they are in fact worlds apart.
1. Catelyn does not have power over Robb. She may be his mother, but from the moment Robb becomes King in the North, he becomes her king and she acts according to his orders. She gives him advice, but ultimately she still serves him. Viserys, on the other hand, has complete tyranny over Dany.
2. Catelyn goes to make the contract with the Freys at Robb’s command. Promising the marriage to the Freys was the only option. She did it to help Robb maintain his position as king. She didn’t care about him being king in the north, she just wanted to keep her son safe. Viserys did not make his sister’s marriage for her benefit. He used her because he wanted to make -himself- king.
3. When Catelyn tells Robb what she had to promise old Frey, he is stunned, but then says yes. When Viserys tells Dany about Drogo, Dany tells him no.
4. Robb did have a choice. In fact, he obviously did have a choice, because he DIDN’T marry one of the Freys. He married Jeyne. Dany had no choice.
5. When Catelyn finds out that Robb had broken the contract and had married Jeyne, she is disappointed at what this will mean for his position in the war, but ultimately there is nothing she can do. Now imagine what Viserys would have done to Dany if she’d totally refused to marry Drogo.
I think what sets them apart is the personalities, moreso than anything else.
And I’ll grant you that Robb has more power than Dany does — I rather lacked another example in the timeline of a father promising his son… unless we’re talking Joffrey (does Joff actually want Sansa?)…
Viserys is abusing a cultural perogative — that of matchmaking. It’s far more likely that Tywin is within his bounds by trying to marry Cersei off to first one king and then another.
I dunno, I really didn’t find Dany saying “no” to be indicative of much agency on her part. I found it more like a “but that means that I won’t marry you!” (which, when dealing with an abusive brother, might be a good role to play).
Robb’s breaking cultural codes, but I don’t think Dany realistically thinks she can… poor abused little bird that she is.
Yes, it sounds like Game of Thones gets you inside the sadistic mind of the rapists while Dragon Tatoo gets you into the mind of the victim.
… what do rape and sadism have to do with each other?
What, inside King Robert’s head? Yeah, um… maybe. But he’s not a sadistic bastard.
You’re actually pretty well shielded from the REAL sadists, like the Boltons. Their minds are probably pretty creepy.
Amazing post! There is definitely a lot of rampant misogyny in the Song of Ice and Fire series.
Full disclosure: I self-identify as a feminist, I am nearly done the fourth book in this series, and I can honestly say I am enjoying them so far. Which kind of makes me feel like a bad feminist, but what can you do? There is for sure a lot problematic and vile treatment of women in the books. But I have to admit that I do appreciate the fact that Martin seems to have made a (somewhat misguided) effort to write strong female characters. So I have to give an old white dude props for that, I guess.
I agree, you can definitely see him trying. Although it is kinda sad that the strong women are either so othered that they don’t even seem to count as women, or fall into stereotypes: so we have a tomboy child (Arya), an ugly woman (Brienne), an evil seductress (Cersei), a green person who is almost a different species (Meera), a woman whose strength derives from her being a mother (Catelyn) and a woman who seems independent but thinks she can only fall in love with a man if he takes her by force (Ygritte)
I’ll confess too: I read the first three books and enjoyed them despite their flaws. Although I suspect the fact that the books never really had a proper beginning and ending (I don’t think we could tell where one book ends and another begins if we only had the full text of the whole series to go by) was a big factor in my inability to stop reading…I can’t just stop if the story hasn’t ended, can I? Lol
you’re missing Asha, the Queen of thorns, and a bunch of other decent people. I agree that Martin writes initially from tropes — but he does give background, depth to people … even Cersei.
Still not certain how much Brienne is actually ugly, versus people are predisposed to treat her as ugly, because she’s somewhat plain, and is acting male.
yes. Yes. Oh my goodness yes. People look at me funny when I tell them that I barely got through the first book, and have no desire to read any of the others. And also have little to no desire to see the acclaimed HBO series based on it. The first book might as well be Rape of Rapes: The Rapening, and all the other ugliness that happens in it only adds to my distaste of the series. Hell, my own issues with rape have shied me away from even reading Larsson, even though I’ve heard he dead with the subject with far greater compassion and with the eyes of someone carrying around gender guilt for not acting. Maybe I’ll give it a shot now, but… ugh. Thank you for your words.
I often think: reading about rape scenes makes me feel really uncomfortable, so what kind of a person could actually invent and write them so casually on every other page of a 1000 page book? And then repeat it all in 6 more books? They must be either a) sadistic and evil, or b) so entrenched in rape culture that they become completely numb to the realities and horror of rape.
Sadistic is not the same as evil. He could just be trolling, ya know?
You should play School Days (http://schooldays.us/). That’s a great deconstruction of the “idealized Japanese woman” (well, as seen by the type of shut-ins that play p0rn games).
Sadism often falls into the spectrum of evil though.
weeeeellll. I haven’t read the book in several years. but here are my thoughts. For starters, there is a specific legal name for rape that a woman accedes to due to fear of death/ reprisal. (i can’t think of it just now) She may say yes, but it’s still rape. This is highlighted in Danys case by how rapetastic ALL the horse lords are. Or do we think they rape everything that moves, and drogo just happens to be the sole decent guy? no, he’s the KING of the rapists. the guy so badass all the other rapists bow down to him.I always felt like that was what happened to Dany. it seemed clear to me. “Well, I can get raped and get something out of it, or get raped and possibly get murdered or get my brother murdered.” I was initially drawn to SoIaF due to the rape and horror. (hear me out) i had become very sick of the pie in the sky, evil is evil good is good, magic is dreamy fanatsy I grew up on so I quit reading fanatasy all together. A more nuanced and realistic veiw of mideval type society was fascinating. Even a decade or so ago when I first read game of thrones, it was outstanding because no one else was writing complicated fanatsy. Now it’s more common, and a lot of people do it without the over the top constant woman abuse. But because it was fresh, a lot of readers overlooked the more complicated implications. And I think there is a certain legitimacey to the “it reflects a misogynist time” defense. Is it not also misogynistic to glorify a time period that was in fact chock full o rape by pretending it was full of nights in shining armor? I think that was Martins intention. BUT. I think that only protects him so much, and at soome point we still have to look at what is happening on a deeper level. at which point is easy to become troubled. I myself stopped reading the books after 3 or 4. I was tired of the rampant murder, sadness, rape and dread. I didn’t feel like I was escaping. In the end, the judgement I pass on the series basically comes down to “Dear george, you tried to do something awesome. you also tried to write great women, strong women. But the specific way that many of these relationships play out shows that they are fucked up and wrong in a way that you didn’t INTEND as a writer, and therefore they reflect your own complicated feelings about women.” The way we should respond to it as fans is perfectly illustrated in this blog. She shouldn’t be mean to a writer who is trying, but we should still call him out for his shortcomings. Great post man. Oh, one last thing, all marriages that people are forced into are wrong. i think that is why we stopped doing it that way.
Yup- spot on about Dany and Drogo. She may have said ‘yes’, but was it a free choice? Of course not.
Thanks for the comment! I’m glad you liked my post.
I guess I should be used to it by now, with the Internet and all, but I still get so excited when people are talking about the books I’ve read, and talking about them in a serious. So keep it up, and I’ll keep reading.
This one line here shows a total lack of understanding of the whole series: “Martin’s series is in the same genre as Harry Potter is. It’s written purely for escapism and entertainment, where readers can leave the real world behind for a moment and revel in the author’s creation”. This fantasy = escapism and can’t possibly be serious pretty idea pretty much disqualifies anyone from writing about serious fantasy. And this is some pretty serious stuff- I don’t think in any way that this world is depicted as one that you’d want to live in as a reader. There’s a heck of a lot of murder in the books as well, as you might have noticed. Like I appreciate the attempt to look at gender in books, but given that this series has a woman who can pretty much be described as trans, several prominent women warrior characters and such its actually above and beyond the rest of the fantasy genre. If you get the fact that the books are supposed to be realistic and not some kind of dream ideal world then it makes a lot more sense.
The point of Martin’s world is that there is a colossal amount of brutality, injustice, betrayal, suffering and evil in it. In brutal lawless societies rape is commonplace. Do you think he should not have portrayed it? Martin hardly condones rape or celebrates it.
Consider for a second your statement “Worse, the perpetrators are frequently portrayed as sympathetic characters instead of villains.”. Yes, a lot of the good/sympathetic characters commit mass homicide too. People are complex and flawed. They can be good in some ways, at some times, and bad in others. But it sounds like you want to make an exception for rape. If a character is depicted as committing rape he must be a monstrous pantomime villain. Lets imagine the rapes in the book were re written as simple murders. Still sexist?
” So why glorify the brutalization of women? Martin was not forced to do so. Everything in the book was a choice, and he chose to mimic the extreme inequality of that era.” Let’s hazard a guess as to why; it is because if he were depicting a world of selfishness, unpredictability, injustice and betrayal, the alternative would not ring remotely true. If anything, Martin errs the other way. He has a vast number of strong women characters and even the female villain is “cool”.
I notice that you don’t seem bothered by the harm that comes to the male characters, which mostly takes the form of horrific mutilation or simply being slaughtered by the tens or hundreds of thousands. Your claim of Martin’s sexism simply betrays your own.
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“What we need to understand, though, is that patriarchy is embedded into society, and has been so for a long, long time – as far back in history as you can possibly go.” Exactly; if Martin is going to write about “the human condition” (perhaps inelegantly, and especially in a vaguely medieval, feudalistic setting) how could he not portray a brutalizing patriarchy? Is he also classist because he portrays the brutalization of “the small folk”? By the logic of this article, any portrayal of violence and brutality must be a glorification of it.
Reblogged this on Happy City and commented:
This sums up my thoughts on Game of Thrones so well that I don’t feel a need to write my own post on the subject.
I don’t even know what to say, this made things so much earesi!
“So why glorify the brutalization of women?”
George Martin did what now?
So. I read what that girl has to say and I completely disagree. The HBO series completely turns the sex scenes into a gratuitous form of entertainment (as they often do with all of their series). This is not to say that the book does not have sex scenes, or intense scenes where women are raped but never once did I feel uncomfortable and I’m quite the feminist. To be fair, my mother is such a prude she wouldn’t even watch the show until we finally forced her and she read the entire series thus far and absolutely loved it. She and my sister are both extremely feminist (my mom didn’t even take my dad’s last name). Yes, everything in the book is by choice– he could have created powerful characters and let the women walk around freely without any threat of sexual assault. However, what we all know about books set deep in medieval times is that there was quite a sexism and Martin’s book has enough similarity to those times to draw a line of correlation. What this blogger, who read every book even though she is so disgusted by it, fails to mention are the powerful women in the series like Catlyn, Arya, Daenarys, Cersei, and the Red Witch (who you haven’t seen yet). You are reading from a woman’s perspective nearly as much as you are from a man but what remains true about these female characters is that they step out of line. They do not follow the norm that gender role that our heads automatically assume they should for the time. (Do you really think a High lord would let his daughter play with swords and even encourage her by getting her a teacher? Probably not–not following gender rules.) They are notable women, whether we grow to love or despise them. What would make these women so strong and courageous in a realm (because it is fantasy) where they were treated equally by the strong, powerful, intense men around them battling for power? It is not to say there aren’t brothels or whore houses but he does build these behaviors into certain characters and one of them even becomes a secondary character. Lastly, comparing Harry Potter to Game of Thrones because they’re in the same genre is like comparing Steve Job’s autobiography to Maya Angelou’s and complaining they weren’t similar enough just because they were autobiographies. Get real.
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So you “forced” your mom to watch this crap? Sounds like you’re a true Martin fan! And I don’t mean that in a nice way, kiddo. Way to perpetuate that ol’ rape culture, sport!
I find this so strange Xsvqxx – I am a feminist and I didn’t take my husband’s name so my credentials are in order! I couldn’t stand the books. I got up to book 4 before I said I can’t take this anymore, but I was choking on the vileness of them. The man is a misogynist. He plainly dislikes women. There are two roles for the women in the saga and both involve obedience in bed. It does not matter how “strong” Martin tried to write these women, the world he wrote to put them in, did them in. Not that he mentioned partriarchy at all, it was just normalised that men had the power and he just continued with the rapes and barbarism. When I heard the books were going to made into a series I was confused because in the books full of violence to women and rape, a lot of the characters abused weren’t women at all. They were children and I could not see how they could possibly translate that horror to a series. Well of course they did by not staying true to the vileness of the book. They aged the children up to legal age to raped and split open vagina upwards with a sword. So much better. Maybe you need to go back and reread these books with statistics clear in your head of the violence women face in every day living to understand the irresponsibility of creating a world where violence to women is so normalised. Remembering that Martin created this world, it never existed except in his own head. And while you read these books remember that Martin started to write them in 1992. Just about when the huge backlash against the second wave of feminism was starting. Feminists were hated and it comes through strongly in this series of books. It is only been very recently that it has been acceptable for the young generation to say that they are a feminist again after nearly two decades of the feminist stereotype being thoroughly trashed. Martin has created a world where the value of a woman is on her looks and her breeding only and he does not question that once in the books. It is how he sees the world should be.
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Bottom line for me is that the girls are usually under 15 and treated like cattle as a matter of institution. I had to stop reading because in the UK this is illegal and I believe for good reason. So, if you read these books you apparently enjoy the idea of girls being raped and/or threatened with rape. Women are also gang raped in public ceremonies. Add to that the racism and I am genuinely appalled that these books and films are so popular.
I have been reading fantasy for probably 25 years … no … 35 years now and love the genre but fail to see why the author thinks that such actions against children is so thrilling. It leads me to one conclusion and my books are going in the bin.
I don’t understand feminists who claim they hate misogyny yet still applaud Martin’s works. Rather two-faced.
It isnt when they dont see it as being misogynistic, and its a valid viewpoint.
Ok, I am not a huge Martin fan, and I’m not enthusiastically endorsing everything he wrote. Much of it is hugely problematic, and I agree with much of what you’ve written here.
However, the writing of these books did not happen in isolation. They were written over an incredibly long time frame, and I think the progression and growth of the author is especially apparent in his handling of his female characters. I believe that he listened the criticisms of feminist readers and took their concerns seriously over time. I’ve read up through Feast of Crows, and I think the way Arya, Sansa, Cersei, Catelyn, Brienne, and Dany are written has substantial difference from the way they are presented in Game of Thrones.
Also, as a feminist who grew up in a religious environment known as “biblical patriarchy” (and yes, this exists, and yes, they are proud of calling it this) I am more than familiar with the type of circumstances that Martin describes. Arranged marriages, women not being educated, women literally being silenced with absolutely no bodily autonomy, women being restricted from voting . . . I could go on. As a woman with that as my background, the world that Martin describes is familiar to me. I know what it’s like to be Sansa, to be sexually assaulted and abused in a culture where I have no voice. I know what it’s like to be Cersei, to be limited to the only thing that gives me any form of power whatsoever– my vagina. I’ve witnessed what it’s like to be Catelyn, to have to obey the commands of a ten-year-old son, simply because he is a “man.”
Given that background, I believe that Martin accurately portrays women in these circumstances. They are characters working within severe limitations, but these limitations existed and still exist. I also disagree that Martin is inherently arguing that these limitations are a thing of the past. I think he routinely draws parallels between the situation of women in his books and women today. He literally puts a face on violence against women.
That doesn’t mean that his books shouldn’t be critiqued– they have, and Martin should continue to listen to criticisms.
Also, as a writer, I would note, that writing a deeply misogynistic work no more makes one a misogynist than writing Lolita made Nabokov a pedophile, a charge he suffered at the time and “Nabokoved” was coined as a term denoting when authors as personally held to hold the views of their fiction. As a writer, I, myself, have been Nabokoved and it is something that is never just, never that simple, and almost never warranted.
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