This is a good read. I’ve really enjoyed watching Game of Thrones, and I expect I’ll continue to do so, but it’s super problematic and this helped me unpack some of that. This is mostly about the books. There are spoilers for the show and the world of the books, but if you’re caught up on the show you can read the summaries of the first two books without anything being spoiled.
Okay, so. I want to talk about this. Just talk. Because I agree with some of it too. But a very small some of it. And at what point does agreeing with just a little bit becoming simply disagreeing with it? At this point I think. I’ll try to be brief. I can’t say I’ll succeed in that venture.
Now. I know the article, (or, what do you call it?) pre-addressed the potential for people to disagree with it, which doesn’t really side step the validity of those potential disagreements like this writer probably intended. (I don’t know who the writer is, I can’t find a name. I apologize. I don’t really even know what Tiger Beatdown is, or why their title sounds like an animal rights violation, or why they want you to pay for what looks like a blog, but these are all off point, so let’s return, remembering the only bit of useful information in this digression, which is that I can only refer to the writer as “the writer”[Also, if this point of mine is obvious, skip ahead to the “important things”]) Anyway, so the prediction that fans will disagree with this point is a particularly unmiraculous piece of foresight. I like Game of Thrones. I never read the books, but the show has kept me entertained. I’m not commenting on this blog post because I am a fan, or because this person doesn’t like my “toys.” A healthy and solid most of the people who have seen the show have liked it, and supposedly the only people able to know what this person is talking about at all, are people who have seen it. The only informed responses you can get, therefore, positive or negative, are responses from people who have seen the show or read the books. The only people who can disagree are likely to be fans. Predicting that those will indeed be the people who disagree is really, well, nothing at all. Disagreement with the article in question isn’t merely a baseless reaction to the fact that something I like is being criticized, but instead it’s a criticism of the baselessness of the article itself.
So, on to the important things: What do I disagree with. Well, I’ll just talk about the first book, and maybe some of the second. What gets me is the “Female scorecard” sections. So let’s start where the writer did, with Catelyn stark. The article criticizes Catelyn for being mad that her husband fathered a child with another woman. The writer gets on her for being apparently unsympathetically cold to this child. She isn’t allowed to have an opinion on that matter without getting called hysterical by this writer. Or maybe the writer is making false assumptions about where the imagined sympathies of other viewers lie. I certainly didn’t blame Catelyn for being bitter about it. And why is she criticized for doing a good job as a mother? Is it more admirable to be a terrible one? Or should George “Rape Rape” Martin have single-handedly killed the patriarchy by having absolutely no mothers in his books? Let alone good ones…
Then there’s Sansa. And while I can’t speak to the issue of where most viewers’ sympathies lie concerning Catelyn, I can do it with uttmost confidence concerning Sansa’s and Geoffrey’s relationship. NO ONE sides with Geoffrey. No one thinks that Sansa deserves anything she gets. It doesn’t matter that she enjoys more typically feminine things than her sister. No one looks at that and says “Omg she lieks 2 sew, I hope she gets raped.” The audience’s sympathy is with her. Not with the boy. With the girl. And why isn’t she allowed to like typically feminine things? “Rape Rape” should have written books that don’t have those activities either?
Apparently not, because Arya enjoys typically masculine things and gets called out just as much by the writer as Sansa did. It seems like the writer wants “Rape Rape” to avoid writing female characters at all. Because each one makes a statement in a vacuum devoid of the others. A sexist statement. Or something.
Cerci is not a sympathetic character. She isn’t beaten more than that slap that I’m aware of. In fact I vaguely remember her, or Robert, talking about how that was the first time something like that had happened. If not, then I was guided to believe that by the way the moment was paced, or shot, or some other factors. But she is literally a murderer.
Then there’s Daenerys who, in spite of freeing all of her slaves, outlawing rape, standing up to her abusive brother, and standing up to other and more proven warriors, she is also a sexist character, and “Rape Rape” has made another big mistake here, because she is 13. That’s like, the point. She is young, and sold by her unsympathetic brother into a marriage that she doesn’t want. In the show, I belive she’s portrayed as being much older, I mean Emilia Clarke is 26. Not that that matters. This however-young girl asserts sexual dominance over a man twice or three-times her size, piercing a significant language barrier, and a dangerous cultural barrier. She uses her sexuality to take back power, and god forbid, enjoys it. Then there’s the racism apparently inherent in showing a different way of life. But let me offer you the fact that the person who routinely refers to these people as savages is the unsympathetic aforementioned brother of Daenerys who no one likes. Daenerys doesn’t go as colonial on these people as the article and the writer would have you believe. She learns the language, she participates in all of the customs, and exceeds expectations therein. And now the writer would have you believe that the fact that this girl outlawed rape is a bad thing. She is white, yeah. But that’s simply the point where cultural relativism stops. Limited relativism takes place when any two cultures meet. Daenerys eats the horse heart, but doesn’t want people to get raped. If I go to some other country where the people are different, and I tell them that murder is wrong, or that rape is wrong, I’m not being a white savior. Or maybe the bigger issue is that this group of people needs telling? There’s another tip “Rape Rape” no more characters who complicate our idea of the world. No unsympathetic characters. Really, when it comes right down to it, George, just don’t write characters. At least that’s the impression I’m getting.
The impression I’m getting is that the writer of this article doesn’t want there to be female characters who are mothers. Or female characters who are feminine. Or female characters who are masculine. Or female characters who get hurt. Or female characters who overcome great tragedies to end up on top. Really it seems that the writer of the article wants female characters to conform to a singular idea which isn’t spelled out specifically. Females should conform to a single unattainable ideal? That sounds a little bit like sexism. Actually that sounds exactly like sexism. Actually, and I may not be the authority here, sitting on my throne of 1,000 penises welded together with dragon fire… or one penis, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that this article is sexist. Unintentionally, yes, but unintentional sexism is the more dangerous sexism, I’d argue.
I think the reason for the sexism comes from missing out on a very important thing. More important than anything I’ve talked about so far, because it isn’t about anything specific, but a very broad yet important idea about literature in general. And that is: what characters do or say is not a reflection of what the author would do or say. George R. R. Martin, the R’s (two of them, by the way) don’t stand for Rape. F. Scott Fitzgerald doesn’t actually believe that Scandinavian races are superior because they build things. His character Tom Buchanan said that, but that was also a character who didn’t create anything, let alone make his own dinner. J.K. Rowling doesn’t believe, like Voldemort, that there should be one pure race. And that’s because all stories have their Voldemorts, and they have their Nick Carraways, and they have their Hermiones. There are the good, and there are the bad, and there are the neutral. And while none of the characters necessarily represent the viewpoints of the author precisely, the bad characters represent the viewpoints of the author much much less, or not at all. It’s a very basic concept of literature, but one that seems to be totally misunderstood by the writer of this article. We can’t divine George R.R. Martin’s intents or creepiness, sexism, from anything his characters say, because he may have written those words, but they aren’t his. Not in the only important sense. We can, however, judge his intents on other elements, like, say, which characters end up being sympathetic. Which brings us all the way back to Geoffrey and Sansa. No one sided with Geoffrey. It doesn’t seem remotely possible that George R.R. Martin intended anyone to. And if the writer did, or the writer is capable of assuming any sort of majority of viewers did, then there is something wrong with the writer’s perception of the world, on the grounds that it varies intensely from reality.
So obviously Sady Doyle, the person who wrote the original post, would be better equipped to discuss this, since she’s actually read the books and I’m only a fan of Game of Thrones. However, since you haven’t read the books either, it seems like we’re on the same page as far as our fandom being limited to the show. That simplifies this discussion!
Just to address some of the pre-“important things,” Tiger Beatdown is a feminist (anti-racist, anti-ableist, animal welfare-promoting, etc.) website. The name is a joke based on Tiger Beat, the name of a popular teen magazine that was founded in the 60’s and still exists. As far as the intro, I read it as just a humorous way for Sady to preempt responses (like those she presumably gets all the time as a professional journalist) that are based solely on unquestioning, passionate fandom rather than a sincere examination of the possibly problematic elements of that fandom. The fantasy and scifi fandom communities have a pretty consistently bad reputation for responding disproportionately to criticism of and/or perceived interference with the objects of their geekness. (I’m having trouble inserting a link, but this is a good summary of some examples from last year from gamer and comic culture specifically: http://www.dailydot.com/society/rape-misogyny-female-geek-gamers-culture/ ). Anyway, beyond that it’s mostly vaunting (“I’m about to piss you off, maybe!”), which may bother you in this case more than it does me.
On to the “important things” section. I’m not sure how to address a lot of what follows because it seems like you’ve misread Sady’s argument and/or mistaken what I saw as blatant facetiousness for sincerity. I think the best way to proceed is for me to go through what you got from the post and counter with what I think Sady was actually saying.
1. Catelyn Stark. Sady Doyle is not “criticizing Catelyn” or “calling her hysterical” or “blaming her” for anything. She is not dealing with this character as if she were a real person. On the contrary, she is criticizing the way George R. R. Martin has written this character, which is obviously different than questioning the personality or motives of the character herself as an entity (as she is fictional, she has no agency). Sady is making fun of Martin’s portrayal of motherhood as something that makes women incompetent and irrational. She points out that Catelyn is characterized as intelligent and competent, but that this characterization is inexplicably broken when it comes to Catelyn’s role as a mother. As I have noticed on the show, Catelyn’s “motherly” actions seem to be fraught with foolishness, pettiness, and incompetence. Freeing Jaime Lannister comes to mind; this even got her son to be like “You useless idiot. I better throw you in a cell so your silly mom-brain doesn’t lose us the war.” At any rate, Sady seems to be frustrated with Martin’s inconsistent characterization of Catelyn. She would probably agree with you that Catelyn has a right to be upset about her husband’s affair. It’s just that Competent Catelyn would not be so childishly viscous toward Jon Snow (as we see when she acknowledges to Jaime that her actions have been unfair), while Mom Catelyn shits all over him. So, Catelyn is not “being criticized for doing a good job as a mother.” Rather, George R. R. Martin is being called out for writing a female character who is incapable of being a kind and competent human being and a mother at the same time. Also, I think it’s obvious that no one is suggesting Martin should not have included characters who are mothers. Saying “you wrote an unrealistic and poorly-developed female character whose motherhood renders her irrational and dangerous” is not the same as saying “don’t write mothers.”
2. Sansa Stark. I am not as confident as you are that people are sympathetic to this character’s suffering. People don’t generally side with Joffrey, but that doesn’t mean they’re not victim-blaming Sansa as hard as they can. For instance, here is Sansa on a list of “Six GoT Characters Everyone Hates” (http://whatculture.com/tv/6-game-of-thrones-characters-everyone-hates.php). The rest of the six are characters who are clear villains at some point in the series, so I think it’s obvious what that says about how a significant number of fans feel about Sansa. A really good example of people’s disdain for her character is the online reaction to her scenes after marrying Tyrion Lannister in the most recent episode. It’s pretty easy to find lines like the following in the GoT or Sansa tags on Tumblr:
“Can you explain to me exactly why Sansa ISN’T being a shallow brat right now?… That little girl is exceedingly lucky in being married off to Tyrion (as opposed to Joffrey), and I want to smack her upside the head for not seeing it. And it was just plain RUDE to say ‘What if I never want you?’ Poor Tyrion.”
I hope I don’t have to explain why it’s problematic for someone to see Sansa’s storyline and think she’s a “shallow brat” for not wanting to have sex with (be raped by) an adult man after being forced to marry him by the people who are holding her captive and daily threatening her with rape, beatings, and death. The same fans are breathlessly praising Tyrion for not doing said raping. These types of opinions are currently rampant in the fandom, so I think it’s a mistake to say “the audience’s sympathy is with her.”
Back to Sady’s post. Again, it seems you’ve misread. You ask, “Why isn’t she allowed to like typically feminine things?” That’s exactly what Sady and I are wondering. Sady writes, “She’s 13. She likes gossip and parties and pretty dresses and handsome boys. We are meant to believe that, for these reasons, Sansa completely sucks and deserves everything that’s coming to her.” Notice that she says “we are meant to believe” rather than “I believe.” This entire piece is making fun of the way the audience is meant to perceive female characters based on their characterization in the books (or, for our purposes, the show). Martin has created a problematic female character by linking Sansa’s typical femininity (dresses, etc.) to her petulance and her betrayal of her family. We are shown that Sansa’s typical femininity (her initial infatuation with that qt Joffrey) leads her to tell a lie that sets off a chain reaction of abuse and death for her entire family. While fans like you and I may not blame her or wish this character ill, it only takes a google search to find fans who think she deserves whatever is coming to her. Sady is suggesting that this reaction is a direct result of Sansa’s initial characterization as a girl preoccupied with the traditionally feminine, which Martin has linked to carelessness, cattiness, and dangerously balanced priorities. So she is actually saying the opposite of what you interpreted her as saying. She would like to see a female character that is “allowed to like typically feminine things” without those interests being tied to airheadedness and frivolous disloyalty.
3. Arya Stark. Once again, Sady is not “calling out” this character. She is noting that we are meant to like Arya because of her characterization as loyal and brave, which is directly linked (by Martin) to her “masculine” interests of hunting and sword fighting. By presenting Arya, with her typically masculine interests, as a much more likable foil to Sansa, with her typically feminine interests, Martin is presenting a pretty blatantly sexist dichotomy that links the feminine with the foolish and the masculine with the capable. You keep using Sady’s criticism of Martin’s characterizations to shrug and say, welp, “it seems like the writer wants [Martin] to avoid writing female characters at all.” I will say it again, because this is important: criticizing the way an author writes female characters is not the same as calling for the absence of female characters.
4. Cersei Lannister. According to Sady, Cersei “discloses a long history of beatings” in the book. Also, it’s not that big of a stretch— from TV Robert’s (and presumably book Robert’s) characterization as a violent, lecherous asshole— to assume that this was not the first beating. Regardless, we are shown that slap at a point that follows a long buildup of scenes of Cersei being an adulterous, incestuous, lying, scheming, murdering villain. That scene made me really uncomfortable, because it seemed obvious to me that the slap was supposed to be cathartic for an audience that, by this point, hates her guts. Presenting this instance domestic violence as justified is pretty despicable.
5. Daenerys Targaryen. Sady makes it clear that there are things to love about this character and Martin’s characterizations of her. Personally, she’s my favorite character and I’m rooting for her in every episode. That hasn’t stopped me from recognizing the sexism in the way she’s written as falling in love with her adult rapist or the racism in the way the show presents her interactions with the series’ central characters of color. I would hesitate to call Dany “sexually dominant” over Khal Drogo. Where are you seeing this dominance? When he lets her be on top during sex (with his 13-year-old prisoner-wife during the first sexual encounter of theirs that involves even the slightest hint of consent)?? Having this character fall so deeply in love with her rapist trivializes rape and pedophilia and turns those crimes into foreplay. Moving on to the racism. Dany’s brother may be the only person to call the Dothraki “savages” out loud, but I think it’s willfully oblivious to claim that the costuming and directing of the actors playing the Dothraki isn’t meant to highlight their stereotypically “native” savagery. Crude, generic body paint, hide and fur clothing that looks like it was ripped right off the animal and tied on with rope (despite their assortment of sharp weapons that could presumably serve as effective leather-cutting implements), permanently-scowling or leering faces, etc. We are meant to get a message from these costuming and acting choices, and the message is: PRIMITIVE. I don’t find your argument about this group of characters “complicating our idea of the world” very compelling, partly because Martin’s characterization of the only main group of characters of color as primitive, bloodthirsty gang rapists doesn’t complicate our idea of the world in the slightest. It is a time-honored tradition in literature and television to present people of color in precisely this fashion. Sady is not saying that Dany outlawing rape is a bad thing in itself (in fact she lists it right in the first part where she says what she likes about the character). However, in a fictional world where rape is rampant (as it is in reality), why are the Dothraki the only group that seems to promote it as a whole? When we see rape in other contexts in the show, it is often an individual white bad man raping an individual woman. We are not meant to extrapolate from these scenes that all of the white people on the show are part of a culture that promotes rape as an acceptable part of everyday life. And, when white male-perpetrated rape is called out, it is by people within Martin’s white culture, white kingdom, or sometimes even the same white House. Only the Dothraki, it seems, are barbaric enough to need someone outside their community to point out that rape is wrong (please note: here I am suggesting that this is the way we are meant to see them). Once again, no one is saying “No unsympathetic characters.” We are asking why the only major characters of color in the show are part of a group that is presented as unsympathetic as a whole (until Dany, the most Aryan-looking character on the show, comes along).
Obviously there is much more to say about the world of Game of Thrones. However, since your commentary was specific to Sady’s piece, I hope I was able to clarify her arguments, which I’m confident I’ve interpreted accurately. Penis throne (cute) aside, this article is not sexist. It is a sarcasm-laden lament about the sexist and racist characterization of women and girls in George R. R. Martin’s books. I totally agree that unintentional sexism is dangerous. The world Martin has created is bulging with the kind of internalized sexism that can lead fans to wish rape and death upon a child (Sansa) and relish an incident of domestic violence as a deserved punishment (Cersei). It can also reinforce a commonly held notion that people of color (especially those who speak other languages and live in arid regions) are violent, misogynistic brutes who want to rape and kill and grunt while they do it (with an inherently violent religion backing them up). Finally, it’s a pretty weak smoke screen to say that Sady’s criticisms (or anyone’s criticisms of problematic art) are more telling about her “perception of the world” than they are about Martin’s work. The problems we’ve discussed aren’t about Martin’s characters’ “viewpoints” or what they “say.” They are not analogous to Voldemort’s racist goals in HP. These problems are with the entire construction of Martin’s female characters, his inconsistent characterization that links motherhood with incompetence, his deliberate conflation of typical femininity with pettiness and cowardice, etc. Characters in literature have no agency. Martin is in charge, and he writes their actions and traits deliberately to send us a variety of messages (harmful ones, in this case). And I think you’re correct in saying that “we can judge his intent on… which characters end up being sympathetic.” So who is a sympathetic character? It’s obviously not Sansa, who has failed to gain the sympathy of a significant part of the fandom (again, people hating Sansa does not mean they love Joffrey). It obviously is Arya, who is everyone’s favorite little warrior (myself included, by the way) and whose typically masculine interests are conflated with bravery, loyalty, spunk, righteousness, and all things loveable. In these examples (though there are many more), and based on my experience watching the show and reading other people’s analyses of the books, I won’t claim to have gleaned the various writers’ (of books and show) intentions. I have, however, observed the effects of these problematic characterizations, and they are rotten.