Cross-posted at Bitch Flicks. This is a review of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 1.
When I watched the premiere of Game of Thrones, I almost choked on all the rampant misogyny. I kept watching, lured by the premise and intrigued by the complex plots, curious if things for women would improve.
Throughout the first season, which just aired its finale last night, women are raped, beaten, burned and trafficked. I suppose you could chalk it up to the barbarism of medieval times. And I’m sure many will claim that as the show’s defense…or that the men face just as brutal and severe a life. I also recognize that there’s a difference between displaying sexism because it’s the time period and condoning said sexism.
But this IS a fantasy, not history, meaning the writers can imagine any world they wish to create. So why imagine a misogynistic one?
Based on the best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series penned by fantasy author George R.R. Martin (who interjected a hefty amount of research into the books, including warfare, swordsmanship and medieval life),Game of Thrones takes place in a medieval land, where kings, queens, lords, ladies, warriors, knights, servants, priests, priestesses and prostitutes all play a role in a political battle of wills.
Becoming an overnight sensation, the show dubbed “The Sopranos in Middle Earth,” (or fantasy for people who aren’t really into fantasy) packs every episode with political intrigue, compelling characters, subtle acting, rich dialogue and suspenseful plot twists. These are the reasons I love this complex show. But it’s hard for me to ignore all the sexism. Luckily, a multitude of strong, ferocious women DO inhabit this bleak fantasy world.
One of the most complicated characters, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the meek, docile sister of her creepy pervo pimping brother, accused of having a “gentle heart,” becomes queen, the Khaleesi of the Dothraki. Watching her transformation into a caring yet steely powerful queen (from standing up for herself against her douchebag brother to defending women healers in a battle and rallying her people), has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the show for me.
While she’s one of my fave characters, massive misogynistic problems still exist with Daenerys’ role. She falls in love with her husband, who her brother sold her off to, the warrior king Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). Newsflash, no woman would fall in love with the man her bought and raped her. Doreah, one of Daenerys’ handmaidens, teaches her how to seduce Khal Drogo and gain his respect with sensuality. Oh, that’s how women earn respect?? Silly me, I forgot about good old stiletto feminism.
Played spectacularly (if a bit underutilized) by Lena Headey (whom I loved, loved, LOVED in The Sarah Connor Chronicles and was the only redeeming thing about 300), Queen Cersei Lannister is the shrewd, manipulative queen of the 7 Kingdoms, obsessed with power. A cunning and scheming survivor, she orchestrates political machinations. In the book (which I haven’t read), she’s annoyed by the constraints of her gender which don’t allow her greater political power. She also utters the line to Lord Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) that becomes the title of the show (and first book in the series):
“In the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), is the wise and graceful wife to Lord Eddard Stark mother of the Stark brood. Yet she’s not afraid to speak her mind and help her son strategize and negotiate in battle. Wherever she goes, particularly in the region of the North, she’s revered and respected. She is the one, almost single-handedly who’s brokered and negotiated every deal which brings all of the clans of the North together, unifying them in war.
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), daughter of Catelyn and Eddard, differs from many of the depicted women for she only cares about dancing and getting married (at 13?!) as she simpers and worships douchebag Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). But we eventually begin to see a different side of Sansa after she witnesses a horrific tragedy, brought upon by her poor judgment.
My fave gender-bending character, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Sansa’s little sister, is a sword-wielding badass…at the age of 11. A feisty tomboy, Arya is spunky, resourceful and outspoken. One of my fave scenes consists of Arya and her father Eddard Stark when she asks him about becoming a leader. He tells her about the man she’ll marry some day and how she’ll give birth to sons who’ll become lords. Refusing to be defined by gender roles, she retorts, “That’s not me.”
My only problem is that Arya is still a child, not yet a woman. Too often, films and TV shows are uncomfortable with authoritative women, depicting female empowerment through teens and young girls instead.
One of the few times the show passes the Bechdel test (and of course it’s debatable if it actually does pass it in this scene as it’s spurred by the illness of Daenerys’ husband Khal Drogo) is in the season finale when Mirri Maz Duur (Mia Soteriou), the enslaved sorceress/healer and Daenerys speak. Daenerys, furious at Mirri Maz, proclaims that she saved her. But Mirri Maz replies that by the time she was “saved,” she’d already been raped by three Dothraki men, her temple burned down, and townspeople she befriended slain. So she questions what exactly Daenerys saved her from?
I thought this was an interesting scene depicting the power of perspective. It disappoints me though that when two women talk with one another on-screen, which happens so rarely, the plot usually pits them against one another, a common trope in films and TV shows.
In addition to Mirri Maz, there are other secondary female characters who we don’t know much about (yet): Ros, Armeca and Shae (sex workers); Jhiqui, Irri and Doreah (Daenerys’ handmaidens); Osha (a wilding – person living north of the Wall – and slave of Winterfell); and Septa Mordane (a priestess who sacrifices her life to protect Sansa).
Many of the women navigate the sexist landscape by playing their parts yet asserting themselves when they can by speaking their minds. Although they are quickly put in their place, with a fist or harsh words, if they speak too boldly, reminding them of where they exist on the social ladder.
SPOILERS!!! –> When Cersei’s son Joffrey becomes king, it seems that she’s finally going to be able to rule, with her son a mere figurehead. But after he flagrantly disobeys her command, calling her (and Sansa) “soft-hearted,” it’s clear who’s in charge here. Despite all of Catelyn’s strategies and bartering, when it comes down to who will lead the army against King’s Landing, all of the clan leaders proclaim her son Robb Stark the “King of the North,” rather than Catelyn the “Queen of the North.” Arya has to go into hiding, as a boy, to evade the wrath of the king.
UBER SPOILER!!! -> In the penultimate scene in the finale, we see Daenerys burning a funeral pyre. She frees the Dothraki slaves, proclaiming to them and the Dothraki who’ve remained by her side that they will be her new khalasar (band of people) if they swear allegiance to her. A pivotal scene as she becomes the first female ruler of the Dothraki, marking the first time a woman asserts her power and leadership in such an overt manner. In the final scene, after entering the fiery flames, we see Daenerys survive, only to emerge with the three dragon eggs hatched, the three dragons skittering over her body, resting on her hip, ankle and shoulder.
While I was thrilled Daenerys survived, my elation quickly soured as I realized the actual implication here: that a woman could not be a powerful ruler on her own merit, she had to have supernatural blood course through her veins with monster minions bolstering her power. <-END SPOILERS
Despite its gender problem (and race problem — very few people of color seen on the show, except for the Dothraki who are depicted as “primitive”) Game of Thrones is an absolutely fantastic and amazing series. By the 4th episode I was hooked, eager to see what would happen next. But it pisses me off when misogyny taints a great show. A series so meticulously made of such stellar caliber shouldn’t suffer from so much sexism.
The show seems to remain incredibly faithful to its source material. Interestingly, George R.R. Martin wrote the first book, entitled Game of Thrones, from the perspective of 9 different characters (Will of the Night’s Watch, Lord Eddard Stark, Lady Catelyn Stark, Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Bran Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen), half from the vantage of the female characters. As delighted as I am with myriad strong heroines, a show devoid of female writers (save for Jane Espenson who co-wrote one episode), directors or producers, can’t help but feel like a testosterone extravaganza.
It would be one thing if the show made a commentary on the sexism that pervades society, a la Mad Men. But that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening here. The women are subjected to misogyny and patriarchy (hmmm…sounds like modern times!). But none of them challenges it, even subversively. When the one female character acts authoritatively, asserting her will and seizing power, she’s diminished by her supernatural powers. Even the women who are bold and strong on the show, except perhaps Daenerys, are tethered to a short leash, ultimately deferential to the more powerful men surrounding them.
For a TV show borne of fantasy, it’s time we imagined better.
Oh, Megmo, you have GOT to be kidding me! If you can call such an exquisitely-balanced show as “Game of Thrones” a great big chunk of misogyny, I don’t see how you could be satisfied with any show not set entirely on Wonder Woman’s Paradise Island. Just LOOK at the list of strong, complex female characters you list here – characters more varied in social standing than the women of either “Deadwood” or “The Sopranos,” characters who cannily maneuver in their world, often far more intelligently and even successfully than the male characters all around them. Did that list get so long by accident? Your central gripe here seems to be that in Martin’s imagined world, as in our real one, women are physically weaker than men – they can be struck, tossed around, and bullied with impunity. But virtually every piece of fantasy literature – hell, every piece of literature, East or West, since literature started – has reflected that basic fact; the key to female characters (unless they’re Red Sonja, or Xena, or Buffy) has always been how they overcome the fact that they can’t out-punch the men around them … and on that level, the women of “Game of Thrones” do a lot better than the women of virtually any other current drama. Surely, considering the adolescent mind-frame underpinning most sci-fi and fantasy, that counts as a big win, not a misogynistic disappointment?
And I gotta point out, though you’re not going to like hearing it: history (again, both East and West) is absolutely FULL of women who actually did come to love the brutish husbands they got in arranged marriages. Far from an ideal arrangement, I grant you, but certainly not inaccurate on Martin’s part.
Also, you missed out on robb’s bannerWOMAN, who shows up in numerous scenes, IN ARMOR, ready to go to war just like the men.
And what in the 7 hells would a TULLY be Queen of the North? Lyanna could have claimed that title, Even SANSA. but not Catelyn TULLY. She is not of the north. She worships the 7 Southron gods.
Catelyn treats with Frey, because her Father (and her LINE) is/was his ruler. She has NOTHING to do with the honor that causes the North to follow their King.
I was just reading an article today about men who act offended when someone talks about misogyny and how laughably they deflate their own arguments during their reactionary rants.
Wow, kind of sounds like you said ‘Game of Thrones isn’t sexist! Besides, the sexism is justified!’
Themyscira hasn’t been Paradise Island since 1986. Shine the Purple Ray on that aging brain of yours some time, hmm?
I agree with a lot of the general thrust of this review, but in some of the particulars…
“Throughout the first season, which just aired its finale last night, women are raped, beaten, burned and trafficked.”
True, but so are men. It actually seems fairly equal opportunity about the physical brutality.
“But this IS a fantasy, not history, meaning the writers can imagine any world they wish to create. So why imagine a misogynistic one?”
Because the purpose of fantasy at its best is to get people to think about the real world in a different way by taking real situations and putting them in a fictional reality so people can view them with a bit of distance, if that makes sense. Through much of history and in some parts of the world today women have been basically viewed as property. Very few shows have actually grappled with that.
“Newsflash, no woman would fall in love with the man her bought and raped her”
This is probably not going to come out souding right, but given the type of world she lives in, she hasn’t been raised to view forced marriage and marital rape the same way we do. In medieval type societies, women of powerful families are usually raised to expect that they will not have any choice in who they are married to (and in this world, if they hadn’t lost the throne, she would have been expected to marry her own brother) and to view sex as something a woman has a duty to provide to a man even if she doesn’t really want to. That said, they probably could have written it better if they really wanted to.
“daughter of Catelyn and Eddard, differs from many of the depicted women for she only cares about dancing and getting married (at 13?!) ”
That was very common in the Middle Ages. I haven’t read the books but apparently in the books Daenerys was also 13. Fortunately they realized they needed to age her up for the show.
For me, the show seems to be a critique of a number of things about traditional medieval societies, including the place of women. It seems pretty clear the show is telling us that the way this society is set up really doesn’t work very well for anyone.
And I reallllly we’ve seen enough of the whole exposition-scene-set-in-a-brothel thing.
I agree. Your arguments to the Opinioness, are well-worded. Just to state about commenting on falling in love with the person who raped you: It actually does still happen. The brain can trick someone into believing they like (or love) something or someone. The person may think that they must still be in this situation because they like it. There have been some psychological studies on this. Albeit unfortunate, it does happen. In this case, Daenerys was actually in love with Khal Drogo.
The “rape aspect” was only in the tv show. Daenerys albeit young in the books consented and it wasn’t disrespectful and brutal like in the show. Alot of book fans didn’t like it but it made for good tv drama I suppose. And in the Middle Ages a 13 year old wouldn’t have been considered a child the way we consider them to be.
You’re 13. You’ve been abused by your brother, and you’re marrying a person you just met. Of course, in your mind, it’s rape. And even if “thinks with his lwoer brain” really loves and cares about you… you’ve been victimized all your life. You don’t know you’re a queen.
This is the true story — how rape, that fundamental lack of agency — the inability to say NO, can be pulled entirely from a person’s background. It’s not Drogo who rapes her, fundamentally. It’s Viserys.
Besides, how consensual can you (25yrold man) get, with a 13 year old you’ve just met? That’s gotta hurt, folks!
my elation quickly soured as I realized the actual implication here: that a woman could not be a powerful ruler on her own merit, she had to have supernatural blood course through her veins with monster minions bolstering her power
Imagine the counter-factual world where “Davyd” Targaryen attempts to become a powerful ruler on his own merits. He’s small and frail relative to other men, not a great warrior, and utterly lacking in money. Without dragons and/or supernatural blood, he would be just another casualty in the wake of the Khalasar.
You are setting a ridiculous bar: she should get to be a powerful ruler “just because”. I would find any fantasy book written that way to be insipid and trite. There has to be a reason that people would follow her, and ‘just because’ is a horrible, horrible reason.
The true measure of growth is to take what you are given,and use it to the best of your ability to achieve your goals. Arya does that, Brienne of Tarth does that (book 2+). Asha Greyjoy does that (Book 3). UnCat does that (Book 4) . Melisandre does that (book 2). Arrianne and Sallera both do that (Book 4). Shae does that. And Dany does that. Just having baby dragons is hardly enough. Baby dragons will not conquer, will not acquire obeisance. At best, they will allow her to talk with powerful men as an equal. But she has a huge objective – conquering a country the size of South America. Anyone would struggle with that goal, and most everyone would be terrified. And no one could do that with a dozen followers and 3 baby dragons. But that does not worry Dany at all. She has plans, and goals, and uses every tool at her disposal to pursue them.
Arguably, Cersei and Sansa both struggle with goals and desires, for different reasons. But that’s because not everyone is a natural self-starter, or if they are, goes about it intelligently.
“As delighted as I am with the myriad of strong heroines, a show devoid of female writers (save for Jane Espenson who co-wrote one episode), directors or producers, can’t help but feel like a testosterone extravaganza.”
– I believe that the result would be very much the same even if there were female writers in abundance on the show, simply because the show stays very close to the source material. So without creating a whole new world the writers on the show don’t have that much freedom to change this fantasy world into a less partiarchical world.
That being said, I think, although the world Martin has created is partiarchical and misogynistic, neither he nor the show emphasize that this is positive in any way. This world is flawed in almost every aspect, not only in regard to the position of females. And this is exactly what it’s supposed to be: a deeply flawed world with flawed characters. And isn’t that just what makes it so exciting to read/watch?
“She falls in love with her husband, who her brother sold her off to, the warrior king Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). Newsflash, no woman would fall in love with the man her bought and raped her. Doreah, one of Daenerys’ handmaidens, teaches her how to seduce Khal Drogo and gain his respect with sensuality. Oh, that’s how women earn respect??”
– In fact there are lots of examples for this. Also since we are in this setting and not in the real world, you can hardly apply the same standards on the perceptions of rape. From the viewers point of view she clearly was raped, but from Drogo’s point of view he took what was his to claim. And not only because he’s a “barbarian” but also because in this setting it was his marital right. Dany knows that as well, and that is why she perceives is as right as well. Yes, from todays standards that is clearly wrong and awful, but as I said, you can hardly apply the same standards.
Also Dany’s empowerment via seduction was clearly just a first step. And it was very clever – because on the one hand she stood up to him and made him do what she wanted (or made him stop doing what she didn’t want) but on the other hand she did it without offending him, which I think at this point in there relationship was the only smart thing to do, because Khal Drogo is not a man to be defied.
“Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), daughter of Catelyn and Eddard, differs from many of the depicted women for she only cares about dancing and getting married (at 13?!) as she simpers and worships douchebag Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). But we eventually begin to see a different side of Sansa after she witnesses a horrific tragedy, brought upon by her poor judgment.”
– Girls were married off at a much younger age in Westeros, so it would be natural for her to want all this things. Especially since she is betrothed to the future king, a prospect that would have most teenage girls as excited as she was. Also this was exactly what she was brought up to do, to care for the pretty things, for court and for marriage to a high lord.
Why would you say that she brought this tragedy upon herself??? She had hardly any choice in the matters and she did everything in her power to save her family.
“My only problem is that Arya is still a child, not yet a woman. Too often, films and TV shows are uncomfortable with authoritative women, depicting female empowerment through teens and young girls instead.”
– Well, you can’t judge a show that is based on a book by what is done often in other tv shows, to begin with. Also we are just at the beginning of Arya’s journey…
“It disappoints me though that when two women talk with one another on-screen, which doesn’t happen very often, the plot usually pits them against one another, a common trope in films and TV shows.”
– Again, you can’t judge this with other tv shows or movies. And more importantly – you need adversaries. If a man is the adversary it is misogyny, if another woman is, it is misogyny as well? I don’t think that this is a good measure. Also it would be highly unrealistic if all women were on the same side just because they are women. In this case we saw two strong characters with very different perceptions in my opinion, which made the conflict between them all the more intriguing.
I agree with what others have said about Dany and her supernatural powers, every man who wants to conquer Westeros would need a strong army – that was the whole point of Dany’s marriage, wasn’t it. I also agree about why Catelyn Tully could never be Queen in the North.
As for the sex workers, handmaidens, etc. – even the minor characters as you yourself reflected speak their minds whenever they can. And in that patriarchical world that we are presented that shows that even they are strong females. Again, I think that this world is created like that on purpose – not because it is ideal, but because it is anything but. And all these women handle themselves pretty well in that setting.
“It would be one thing if the show made a commentary on the sexism that pervades society, a la Mad Men.”
For one thing I don’t think you can compare these two shows, because Mad Men, although, fictional is a historical show. However I think that this is exactly what’s being done on Game of Thrones, it shows us this highly imperfect world, the difference is that the critique does not only concern the position of females, but basically every aspect of life.
Phew, my response got a little out of hand. 😀 One more thing I’d like to add, I love this show very much, but I think that it has it’s flaws – it’s as close to perfect as any show can come for me I guess, but it isn’t perfect. But one thing I don’t believe it is guilty of is promotion of misogyny.
no women on set! therefore there must be no female input! therefore the characters suck!
… say what? 14 year old boys don’t write good women. Men are quite capable of writing good women.
The real hole in this post is a failure to recognize that a series can depict a sexist world without being sexist itself. A series can even depict a sexist world, make no specific commentary on that sexism, and still not be sexist. Martin and the showrunners were not interested in depicting a world in which men and women are equal, they were interested in depicting a primitive world and in primitive worlds FORCE is a fact of social interaction. I think that it’s fair to say that more primitive a society is the more it values force over reason, cooperation, and ethics. In such a society it is natural that the physically less powerful sex would also end up being the effectively less powerful sex. Yes, this is fantasy and they could’ve come up with some strained reason why men who’d gladly enslave their neighbours would hesitate to rape their wives. But why should they? Such a conceit would’ve needed to be pitch perfect not to undermine the reality of the show, and why devote time and energy to it when it doesn’t contribute to the story they want to tell? It’s unfair to condemn a show not promoting an ideal you believe in.
What’s more, it’s say that a specific feminist subtext would’ve been at odds with the primary moral message of the series. One of GoT’s central focuses is challenging the value we place on morality. In a show that directly challenges the value of honour you’re going to get upset over its failure to put forth a feminist agenda?
So the Iroquois Confederacy is not a primitive culture, because they gave a lot of rights and power to the women?
How about societies where women have a lot of power, but girls little (to the point of father-in-laws raping on the wedding night?)?
Your idea seems odd, at best.
The point is not that a society can be defined as “primitive” based on how it treats women, but based on how it understands force. I don’t think it’s odd to see “might make right” as a primitive idea. We can come up with any number of examples of cultures that value force while still treating women well but, historically, they’re the clear exception and evidence of “advanced” thinking. Such cultures clearly have values beyond force-at-arms and are able to recognize those values in women. The Dothraki aren’t such a culture and (given that they’re fictional and not actually hurting anyone) I don’t have a problem with that.
Sadly, what you’re saying seems to say “the Scotch Irish are inferior to everyone else”… including the societies where fathers, and fathers-in-law, were known to rape their daughters. because even the societies that practiced familial rape were not about “might makes right” — the women were generally of fairly high status, and able to refuse sex to their husbands.
Nevertheless, I can see where you’re coming from. But I don’t think it has widespread applicability.
Thank you all for your articulate and passionate comments! I wanted to clarify some of my points and respond to some of the comments.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with women depicted as physically weaker than men. Nor do I think that empowerment equates physical strength; not all women must be sword-wielding badasses. Empowerment entails asserting oneself, whether via outer or inner strength, intelligence or compassion.
My problem lies in the fact that none of the female characters, save for Arya who’s a child, questions or challenges (either physically or verbally) their position. All of the women, again save for Arya, accept their assigned gender role. Cersei, who appears to have thought the most about her circumstances, laments and blames her gender as an obstacle, rather than blaming the patriarchal society.
Medieval fantasy, even while incorporating accurate historical elements, is not synonymous with history. As I stated, writers can create any world they choose. Yet many create a misogynistic realm. The Blood Fiend astutely writes at The Book Lantern:
I might not be so hard on the show Game of Thrones if misogyny didn’t surface in almost every movie and TV show. In most films and shows, women’s lives revolve around men; women talk to men and if they happen to talk to another woman, it’s about men. Too many films and shows sexualize women and show women subjugated by men via violence. Even when strong, intelligent, capable women exist (as in Game of Thrones), they are continually depicted as not possessing dominion over their bodies, families and lives. If writers and directors utilize sexism to provide social commentary, that’s one thing. And not every movie or TV show must convey a profound message. But the media continually relies on and perpetuates sexism.
I’m not asserting that Game of Thrones is a multilaterally sexist show. I’m saying that it suffers from sexist tropes and it would be even stronger without them. Perhaps I would feel differently if I had read the books as I would have a broader scope of the journeys the characters take as well as insight to their internal monologues and feelings. It’s been a pleasure to watch the complex, nuanced characters George R.R. Martin created. I love this show in part for showcasing multiple strong, unique and intelligent women, which is why my expectations are so high. Maybe next season, as the characters grow and develop my opinion will change.
thanks for responding. And I hear you about “it’s one in a long series of sexist trope-using pieces, and one I wanted better out of.” Thanks for keeping watching, and I hope we can suggest to you some good fantasy for when you need brain-bleach. 😉
Personally, I wouldn’t like that kind of “fantasy” that you crave so much. I do like fantasy, really, and I like it even more when it depicts human nature so accurately. To distort a world so much like that, erasing misogyny altogether, would not be a fun read. Yes writers can come up with a fantasy world set in the medieval ages that isn’t misogynistic but then it would be laughably unrealistic. No one would buy it. I wouldn’t buy it and I’m a woman. I for one would be enraged. A world where there isn’t gender discrimination? Bullsh*t. Willing suspension of disbelief can only go so far. In those days, only those born in the aristocracy had “rights”. The rest – men and women – are enslaved and viewed as property. The series wouldn’t be any good if it didn’t feature all those human flaws – the misogyny, the discrimination, the slavery
Maybe I’m just too much of a cynic but, to be honest, a purely woman-friendly world? Highly unlikely. Also, that world would just be sexist too, wouldn’t it? Only, the roles are reversed. If I’m not mistaken, feminisim is gender equality and not women > men.
Daniela, why do you feel that you can suspend disbelief insofar as believing that dragons exist, that white walkers exist and can only be killed by fire, that wolves can be tamed by loyalty to men, that a woman can walk into a fire and not be burned to give birth to dragons in eggs that are centuries old, that shadow men can kill tangible beings–but you cannot suspend disbelief long enough to consider a reality where women have and secure power through means that do not please men (sexual acts for men, working slyly within the perscribed roles). It seems such a small stretch, that does not even require magic, to say that women are capable of power and force on their own terms. I think that it seems a stretch to so many is what makes gender discrimination in our culture so intricate.
You’ve said twice now that as a fantasy it can portray any world it wants with any rules. That is of course true, but in the case of a game of thrones it is based at least in part on the war of the roses. Beyond that if you have a story you want to tell you can’t simply have any world you want.
That the female characters are challenged by society in this book can certainly appear sexist, but if you want to see strong women in fantasy you have to show them overcoming society because truly strong characters in books or TV are strong because of the things they have to overcome, so the worse you are to a character the more strength they can show.
Ruhr??? (That’s a scooby doo question/surprise sound). Daeneyrs Targaryen does not challenge her position? By the end of the show, she has carved a position for herself unlike anyone else on Earth.
And Cersei Lannister has defied the patriarchy, even flaunted some of societies most fundamental rules to get what she wants (to be in control of Westeros). At her design, Barristan Selmy was dismissed from a life-long position. At her design, her brother is raised to that position. She sleeps with whomever she wishes. At her design, her husband is dead, his staunchest ally is neutralized. That it doesn’t end the way she expected is, IMO, evidence of the fair-minded strength of the writing. How is it possible that you can claim she isn’t strong, isn’t self-actualizing, isn’t carving out her own destiny?
I want to say more about Arya, but unfortunately I can’t without spoilers.
@johnbr – I hear what you’re saying and perhaps we’re debating semantics here. You’re right, Daenerys certainly carves out a position for herself as a leader and Cersei is incredibly strong. I also agree that the writing is fantastic; the fact that we can debate the plot and character subtleties is a testament to that. What I’m saying is that all of the characters (except for Arya) seem to internalize their prescribed gender roles. Working within the constraints of society (as Cersei and Daenerys do) is a very different tactic than challenging and refuting societal norms. It’s great to see how different characters handle problems and situations. I just wish one woman would take that stand.
And thank you for forgoing spoilers about Arya! Like I said, I’ll have to wait and see…
i think i would agree with a lot of the stuff commenters have said so far concerning the things yet to come and some of their issues with the arguments in this post. my girlfriend and i have come to really celebrate this series of books as actually being one of the most feminist fantasy series in existence. there’s no shortage of strong female characters who defy (each in their own personal way) the expectations and limitations put upon them by a sexist, patriarchal society.
however, the first season of the series falls short in a lot of ways on that front, and i think if i had only seen the tv show, my opinion might fall in line with yours a lot more. a lot of the inner workings are the characters have been discarded out of necessity. i won’t go into all of it here, but i’ve got a end of season wrap-up on my blog (nerdbutts.tumblr.com) that covers a lot of it. martin’s writing captures the essence of the characters so well that it’s been kind of annoying to see whole swaths of character discarded. well, maybe that’s overstating things, but i think the edges have been smoothed out a bit. i would recommend reading the books. really, really and truly, that’s where it’s at.
also, in terms of dany’s supernatural powers being her only means of ascension, despite the powers themselves being real, i always read that whole scene as a metaphor for her simply becoming herself, that is to say, a powerful woman. the end of the book certainly gives us more imagery to work with than the finale of the season (the dragons are suckling from her breasts). she begins the book as a scared child (she’s 13 in the book, though older in the series) and by the end has become a woman.
anyway, that’s all i’ve got to say about that…
Everyone on this show, with the notable exceptions of Arya, and arguably Daenerys by the end of the season, is presented as a prisoner of their upbringing. Tirion prides himself on being a hardheaded realist, but even he never questions whether his family, who obviously despise him and are engaged in what are clearly Very Bad Things, really deserve his loyalty. Society says your family/house is everything and he simply does not question it, even when his dad basically, quite openly, sets out to get him killed. Viserys Targaryen clings to being “The Dragon” long past the point where we would think even an absolute moron would have realized that the circumstances have changed, to the point that, well those of us who have seen the show know what happened. Ned continues to insist on doing the “noble” thing even though it should have been spectacularly obvious that he was amongst people who would take advantage of that, because that’s just what he was raised to do.
And in pretty much every case where a character goes along with what their society says they ought to do simply because it’s what their society says they ought to do, it works out badly (except possibly Snow at The Wall).
That said, the most amazing thing about the finale for me was the realization at the end that, as incredible as this season was, all of it was simply a prologue. So hopefully we’ll see some challenging of the norms from the men and women down the road.
I think the point this blogger is making is that if it’s fantasy why is it still full of the usual “earth” issues? It would be nice if fantasy authors could “dream bigger” and stop putting all of today’s issues in old clothes with swords. As a women I’d like to be taken to a world of fantasy that I can relax in and not feel like a rape is around every corner and that it’s a natural fate for any woman. It seems to have become the default for every female character. Really, why should it be accepted as so commonplace?
Also I would like to point out there wasn’t any rape in Lord of the Rings and that still beats Thrones any day of the week (although more female characters would have been great too).
Can anyone recommend some good fantasy books where the character isn’t threatend with sexual assualt or rape? I’m getting really tired of women always being a walking vagina in the eyes of every man.
J, I recommend you read Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (sp?). Both my wife and I loved it.
robert jordan inverts the “women must struggle to be equal with men” in his wheel of time series.
Asaro writes good stuff, and I love some of the science fiction romances out there.
Lord of the Rings is a great piece of literature but as far as depiction of women goes, I’d pick Game of Thrones over it any day of the week. I’d rather read about an ugly brutal world with several interesting female characters in both major and minor roles, who either make me love or hate them, cheer for them or make me wish for their death, make me want to tear my hair out or make me want to join them in their cause/s, etc…than the beautiful world of middle earth where you have 1 or 2 female characters who get a few pages each in the entire trilogy.
Also, some people said that brutality and violence was pretty equal for both men and women in the series. Exactly, how many men were raped in this series?
Three, at least, if you’er going to count permanent genital mutilation, and you’d better!
“Exactly, how many men were raped in this series?”
In Westeros, horrible things happen to people of both genders. I’m currrently reading the fifth book and have to put it down after certain chapters, as one of the -male- characters is broken physically and mentally beyond recognition, and it’s pretty intense to read through that.
I think it’s fine if some people don’t want to read that sort of thing, but the implication that any story not set in an egalitarian utopia is automatically sexist annoys me. I identify as a feminist and have come to love the series for the complex, strong female characters – something I found lacking in most well-written fantasy books.
I haven’t seen the TV series yet, and I don’t think I’m going to. I think George R.R. Martin writes well and I’m interested in the story he’s telling, but I’m halfway through the second book and it’s the most misogynistic series in mainstream fiction that I’ve ever read.
It’s a shame too, because I really want to read about the battles and intrigues for the Throne, but the rape is getting to be too much. It’s all over the book, in the background through off-hand comments by the characters and in the foreground with threats and actual rape. SPOILER In book two a woman was gang raped by 50 men and it got no more than a passing reference from the characters. That’s an example of how the rape is accepted and glossed over in this book. A gang rape of 50 gets no more than a 1 line mention. /SPOILER
To those that making the argument that that’s how warfare was back in the dark and medieval ages. That may be true, but I’m reading a fantasy story with dragons and magic in it – why is it okay to have those fiction elements but not okay to write in the fiction of medieval warfare without the rape? Tolkien wrote an epic fantasy tale without rape in every other chapter. Jim Butcher wrote a fantasy series that didn’t have the characters raping everything left and right – why does Martin need to have his male characters do this?
I don’t want to get into backseat psychology, but the misogyny in the series is writ large and plain to see. I like reading well written fantasy and science fiction stories – I don’t need them to be hateful towards women
The memory of the rape that you mention defines one of the male characters. Martin’s characterization is very subtle at times, particularly when it comes to Tyrion – whose upbringing has forced him, like many others, to laugh off and hide all weakness. As you read more about him, you find a burning rage at the rape that defines one of the most powerful actions he takes (in book 3 or 4, I believe?) Although its first mention is certainly brief, this, to me, reflected how painful it still was to him.
As for Dany’s wedding night, I was struck by the show’s depiction. In the book, I remember Khal Drogo being gentler. Although he did take the sex as his percieved right, he was far less violent about it than Viserys, and later treated her with far greater respect. It was perfectly believable to me that she would fall in love with the lesser of two evils.
Yes, rape is a feature of Game of Thrones society, but as others have mentioned, the entire society is deeply and deliberately flawed in many ways. Although some have said there is no racism, there is a stunning class divide which so far, the comments have not mentioned. Why is it not okay for sexism to be an issue raised in fantasy when classism is barely noted?
Martin develops his stories slowly and in great detail. There are no quick solutions to any of the problems set up so far – in fact the world spirals further and further down the path of its own destruction. It is impossible to know what he plans to do with female empowerment by the end. I would suggest, from what I know of Dany having read the latest book, that it will come in time.
Also, for those comparing it with modern fantasy, the first book was written in 1996, over ten years ago. The show is new but the book on which the first season is based is not. It’s still relatively modern, but a lot has been written since.
If you simply read the surface values, then yes, I can see how you would find it misogynistic. But A Song of Ice and Fire is one of the most complex, layered series I have ever read – skim the surface and you miss the most interesting implications.
Oh, and to the commenter below, just you wait for religious conflict…
The OP is right. The world of a Game of Thrones is a sexist mess riddled with misogyny. Very little if any actual racism, no conflict between religions, no hatred against gays. Heck, it could be a modern, tolerant, liberal society!
Oh, except for the fact that women are treated as little better than farm animals, beaten, raped, and humiliated to keep their place.
If you want harsh, brutal “realism”, take it all. Not just one single woman-hating part of it. American History X had ****s. This series just reeks of passive-aggressive geek revenge against the gender they got nothing from in school.
This show really makes me angry as a female because they have to show women naked ALL THE TIME. I can barely get through any of it. Every time I turn up thinking maybe I missed a nude scene, there is another one!!! FFS, was this written for 14 year old boys and perverts?
Enough with all the nudity already, unless you put in equal amounts of equivalent male nudity. Totally unfair. I will NOT be watching this, I don’t care HOW intricate the storyline. I find it highly offensive, the degree to which they depict female nudity. It is tasteless and disgusting.
just read teh books. they’re better, i promise.
It’s only lame PG nudity! All they show is a ton of breasts and penises. I have yet to see a vagina. They should show the vagina just as much as the penis. Fair is fair! I wonder what you would say then?
When was has penises been shown so readily as breasts? All I see is chests and asses -__-
Shortly and succinctly, everyone is miserable in a Game of Thrones, except, perhaps, for the truly nihilistic who couldn’t be bothered to give a damn about the world they’re living in. Yes, women are treated horribly. So are men.
Wow – – the comments here read like one continuous mansplain. Even the ones written by women.
OP, you are so totally right. Mansplaini non carborundum.
I haven’t seen the show, but I felt the same way about the books. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one, thought I was living on a different planet after reading the heaps of slavering praise. I’m of much the same opinion – it’s fantasy, and it’s supremely lazy to write a run of the mill, SUPER OVER THE TOP sexist world. What’s so new about that?
What’s new, my dear, is focusing on it from the woman’s perspective. martin loves these “out of power” perspectives… nobody but nobody bitches about Tyrion’s dwarfedness, and how that’s so much like real life.
the sexism hits more close to home, I suspect.
Let’s not forget the little lesson about black women and white women in the FIRST FREAKING EPISODE at the wedding scene: black women are wild and sexual and naughty and white women are docile and meek, right?
ASOIAF has many flaws and the depiction of women still can improve vastly. However, I think there are a couple of things that should be mentioned:
– Daenerys falling in love with her rapists in the context of the series seems scary and pathological (I am thinking Stockholm syndrome here). In the book, thou, they really do make love on their first night together as a married couple. He really cared for her pleasure on that first night. Of course, she was sold to him and that cannot be invalidated but the show made it harsher somehow.
– While I really love Arya chapters in the book and any Arya-related scene in the series I do not consider her really gender-bending at all. We have seen tomboys before. Because she dresses up as a boy, is not interested in sexuality (think her age again, she’s not a preteen yet) and casts aside emotions traditionally linked to women (like politeness or even compassion) that does NOT make her a better character from a feminist point of view.
All I have to say is…wait until you read the books. Women question their positions. Men question their positions. Your favorite characters become your least favorite and vice versa. A Song of Ice and Fire is anything but sexist. As soon as my boyfriend and I finished the books our first discussion about them was George RR Martin’s particular affinity for powerful women. I do not want to give any spoilers so I cannot offer specifics but the female relationships, behaviors, and actions will pleasantly surprise even a feminist.
Yes, there is sexism and this makes me one angry Lesbian! They always avoid or cover the female genital area (with a pubic wig called a merkin). On Game of Thrones, Spartacus and other HBO/SHOWTIME shows we get to see the males genitals, but never the females. How is that equal? I don’t mind the male nudity at all, but why the female nudity censorship? Showtime and HBO Showtime claim to be willing to break new ground. They show the most graphic violence and male nudity imaginable. But, if a woman gets nude they cry foul and censor the vagina. A genital wig! Really? Showtime/HBO have a double standard when it comes to full frontal nudity. Always willing to show a penis, but NEVER a vagina! They vagina is not dirty. Nudity is nothing to be ashamed of! They just keep showing the same old tired female breast shots or very rarely a lame censored with fake hair bush shot. And for all those females who want to say that Hollywood has been showing breasts forever, well breasts are in no way equal to showing genitals. Thank god for internet porn, or young people would never know what a vagina looks like!
Geez, people really have the most stupid concepts about Game of Thrones I had ever seen.
First, there is powerful women climbing to social power AND there’s other places in the world where woman are BORN with social power (Dorne, Bear Island, Beyond the Wall… I’ll not give more examples to not give spoilers). But as they appear in other books, it will still appear in next seasons.
Second, men are just fucked up as women… I mean, you don’t like that a woman may be raped but you’re OK that a man may have a spear thru his leg, be thrown in a cell, starve and then have his head cutted off? You don’t like how Cersei wish she could be born a man but you don’t care that Varys was castrated and is despised by basically everyone, man, woman, high or lowborn, and is mocked every day of his life?
That’s sexism, my lady. If you wish that women had better treatment in the series, you should wish it to men too. But GRRM built a harsh world, brute and unfair, and everyone is fighting for survive. No one is safe. If you don’t like it, that’s alright. But don’t make opinions without REALLY knowing your stuff…
Wishing for a world without sexism isn’t the same as wishing that women were treated better so much as not wanting to have to read the same old misogynist drivel. The whole concept of a few token women triumphing over sexism (and this is debatable) in a world where men rule is tiiiiired. It’s lazy and it lacks creativity. In addition, Varys is a prime example of the misogyny of the world – because what is a man if he’s castrated? No better than a woman. Yup, it’s a harsh, brutal and unfair world. But it would be a lot more interesting to read if there was a more equal power balance between men and women. The dynamics of that would be fascinating, I’m sure.
Wow, no need to be rude and call people’s ideas “stupid.” Yes, male characters face abuse and cruelty too. Never said it didn’t bother me. But sexism is all about power. In a patriarchal society, which we live in, men hold systemic control due to male privilege, masculinity is valued, and rape culture normalizes and glorifies violence against women. The media perpetually shows images objectifying and degrading women. Game of Thrones has been imbued with these same societal rules. While male characters exist along a spectrum between privileged and cruel treatment and everything in between, all of the female characters are treated poorly or at best less well than the men simply because of their gender.
Have you read the books? The gender roles become much more stretched and interesting throughout. The fourth book is almost entirely told from the female characters’ perspectives and there is a Southern kingdom where gender equality is the order of the day (The Dorne?)
I think the main difference of opinion is in the way you do not see this show as a critique of gender roles in the same way as Mad Men and how most do. Only the main thing about this show that it attacks the very concept of chivalry and some beatific Middle Ages that has been the main point of most epic fantasy since Lord of the Rings).
It would be a much less powerful show if it had only proto-feminist characters as women.
Fighting against the patriarchy? Brienne of Tarth.
As Tim says, not only is gender equality a fact of life in Dorne, women are heirs and can rule as first born unlike the rest of Weseteros. They are also, since I have seen a ton of whining about this- but Dornish are dark-skinned. They are dark-skinned and they are smart. REALLY smart and civilized and powerful and calculated and get into major play later on.
Even the summer lands, the Tyrells think highly of their women. I’m kind of bummed that they merged the Queen of Thorns with Margaery (who is an awesomely major character, btw, who is strong and female and makes things happen), I thought their relationship was really interesting and would have played out well on screen.
Not to mention across the sea- where Dothraki are patriarchal and harsh, the rest of the East is just as bad. Slavery- of men and women… You want to talk about sexual mutilation as rape and how only women are in danger of rape? Just wait- more men are castrated than you can count.
Beyond the wall- women are equal. Women marry who they want- and if they don’t want, they’ll kill or mutilate any man who tries to bed them. AND that’s not only the norm, it is expected. The more of a fight/independent streak a woman has, the more she is respected and holds higher power there.
The rapes and mutilations that the men go through are many. I would say easily on par with what women go through. This reality is a horrific prospect for *anyone* not born in the aristocracy, and for many who are. As someone else above mentioned, there will be Reek. It made one of my most hated characters a sympathetic character (sort of). Martin makes you feel so good or so bad about characters- and then they go through changes that make you change your mind.
Saying that Tyrion gets a pass even though he’s a dwarf up there by Kim who says that he is treated ok but sexism is still heavy- um, he doesn’t get a pass even though he’s a dwarf. He gets a pass because he’s born of the most powerful family in Westeros and carries their name. He is treated barely above something they’d scrape off their shoes by them and with the minimum of FAMILY respect by everyone else until he proves that it’s not just pity nepotism that commands respect. Look how often his own father tries to have him killed in ways that would make the FAMILY still look good (sending a dwarf with no battle or strategic experience to lead the vanguard? WTH?). Any other dwarf in Westeros would be sold as entertainment, to be used as fight fodder or jokers/jesters in halls. Or used as bait against animals in arenas. Tyrion’s father didn’t want a Lannister in that role- even a dwarf.
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I nearly vomited from all the rampant misogyny, rape and torture of women in the book Game of Thrones when I first read it.
The worst part was reading about Daenyrys “falling in love” with her barely verbal rapist of a brute husband, then somehow being brainwashed into liking him. Puking now.
To those who say it’s just history, in 15th century Paris they used to burn cats alive for fun. That’s right, burn cats for fun. Would you enjoy a story about burning cats alive now? Why enjoy a story about rampant rape of women?
Seriously, I think the people who praise this show must have been brainwashed by the hype, or are just as delighted in all the ‘thrusting’ (aka raping) of random “survivors” and heroines. The book’s target audience is frat boys, perverts, and boy teenagers imagining themselves as kings and warriors.
Definitely a Do Not Recommend for all women and sane men.
So are you a frat boy, pervert, or boy teenager? You seem to have gotten through enough of the book(s) to have a very thorough opinion. From my experience, when something makes you want to vomit, you PUT IT DOWN. Or do you rubberneck in traffic and than lament about how society sucks because they like to see a car accident?
I can only comment on seeing a few episodes of the first season, I have not read the book, but I had maybe a slightly different feeling about what I saw. The thing that I reacted to was that when one watches the show without much prior knowledge it feels extremly targeted.
With that I mean is that it is an extremely violent series, with lots of graphic violence, set in a fantasy setting, with an abundance of naked breasts and women in general (unnecessarily so for the stroy to be told or to set the tone) where men rule and fight.
To me this just seems like the most stereotypical way at reaching a target demographic of 15-30 year old males. It would be very interesting to see what kind of ads they show it with on tv ( i have only watched online without ads). But I am pretty sure you wont find Gilette advertising for the new venus range.
If the show is as it is because they stay true to the source material, and the writer of the books was not trying to laser target a specific target audience but trying to create a great literary work. Then I think the show is good.
But if the tv execs saw this material as a way to get a specific audience of viewers and explicitly made the show like it is (nudity, violence, etc) to reach this audience, then I think the show is crap.
Intentions does matter!
Hi everyone, i haven;t seen the show but only the 2 first episodes of the season 1. As a woman im sensitive also to see on my tv women to be 2nd class citizens, being sold, raped, tortured, (same goes for men too, in general it is not my favorite to see rapes in the tv!!!!)etc etc.
I totally get the point if this review, maybe? i don;t know, and sorry for my English.
But as I was reading, what I understand, is that in the show women show an immaculate spirit to be equal if not better in a man’s fantasy world, earn respect, etc etc.
Unfortunately that’s the reality also in our world. Women getting raped, beat up, they are single moms raising their children etc. Women have fought for their rights to be equal so much that they have surpass themselves and many times become better and superior.
After this review i will watch the show, to see where it will go to.
My question is does all this detailed violent scenes to be aired, so necessary?
I was feeling the same way about True Blood. I like the plot, I actually loved it, but way too much sex scenes, way to much blood. It got little better the last season, but in general, since there is a great plot, a great story in a series or a movie, do I have to see all that violence in such details?
Will the show loose some of the realism?
Thats my main question. I m watching The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, im only 25, and I love it.
It is great, it is a classic and even though it was made in the 70s you can enjoy watching it.
Would those shows that they spend millions of making be watchable after 30 years?
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Thank you very much for this post. I watched the first season (very haltingly) and was so utterly disgusted by the sexism and misogyny. Almost all of the women are depicted as weaker than men, and half of the women suffered rape or were sex slaves.
The fact that the writers actually had the nerve to make Khalessi fall in love with her rapist, cruel husband had me raging at mankind. And i mean “man” literally when i use that word.
Another interesting point is that Joffrey’s mother, strong though she might be, is depicted as evil.
Arya is the only female character who is strong and thoughtful and yet like you said, she is only a kid. I worry for what they will do to her next season since she is surrounded by men. Will they show a kid being raped too?? There seems to be no boundaries in this show. Anything for a ‘sex’ scene, to keep the males watching of course.
Lady Stark only got her position from her marriage and even then, her husband still held much more authority, respect was only given from being his wife. She had no say over him leaving to join the king even though it affected her and her family as well.
Sansa was portrayed as a silly girly girl who cared more for love than her own sister.
Women do not naturally hate each other. We can bond and love other women as sisters just as men can bond and care for each other as brothers. This show emphasises the “bro-bond” but shows nothing of women caring for each other with that same kind of bond.
It seems these male writers have no idea about women at all. In which case, they should cease to write about them. I would rather the show be 100% males rather than them just putting women in for sport.
You’re quite welcome! And thank YOU for your comment! It’s disheartening that such a well-made TV show suffers from so much sexism and misogyny. I agree with you, especially that the women (despite being intelligent, strong and complicated) are continually depicted as weaker than the men and the problematic lack of female friendship and camaraderie. It indeed seems the writers don’t fully understand women. Maybe if the show had more women writers, these problems would be alleviated.
“half of the women suffered rape or were sex slaves.”
More than half of the men were maimed murdered or forced into servitude.
Khalessi fell in love with power, safety and wealth. Her rapist, cruel husband effectively saved her from her insane brother…the lesser of two evils.
Joffrey’s mother Cersei is not depicted as evil. Good or bad is a perspective. You depicted Cersei as evil, not the writers.
Arya does not get raped and becomes stronger as the show progresses.
In relation to your comment “anything for a ‘sex’ scene, to keep the males watching”. Do you not see the irony in that? complaining about sexism whilst making sexist comments. Also, people have sex…in fact, the night you were created was a ‘sex’ scene. To expect to have men and women together not having sex is obscene.
Before she was Lady Stark she was Lady Tully. A powerful house in the south, her father was the lord of Riverrun. Lord Stark gained more from the marriage than she did. She had noy say over him leaving to join the king? Watch again, she recieved a letter from her sister and practically commanded him to go. Later on she kidnaps Tyrion and charges him!
Sansa is a silly girly girl, she is young and in love with an idea. Later on she comes to realize how things really are. It is then you will see how clever, cunning and strong she becomes.
The “bro-bond”, most of the men in this show betray and kill eachother. Yet every single Lady has handmaidens she bonds with deeply. Dany, Cersei and Sansa are just a few examples, again watch more closely.
It seems you did not watch this show closely at all, instead you were blinded by your own self righteousness and prejudice.
I have read the books and watched the show, I think it is exactly what we need! It challenges are misconcepts by depicting a world similar to our own. It makes us think about important issues such as rape and gender equality. Would you rather these issues were seen and talked about OR would you prefer they be swept under the rug, so we can all live in pretend happy fantasy land.
Danerys did NOT fall in love with power, safety and wealth. The tv series had to change Danerys because in the book Danerys is 13 and has consensual sex with Drogo. They come to love each other. She has little power and no real wealth till Drogo dies,
Cersei in the books isnt evil so much as crazy.
I agree. This show has reached an unacceptable level! I cannot believe our society considers this entertainment. I can no longer watch or support this show. HBO needs more women involved in programming and really needs to rethink the direction this program has taken. Shameful!
It seems that a lot of people can’t get beyond the surface issues. The books are full of very powerful women who exercise their power in very different ways. As far as the “rape” goes, arranged marriages were the norm up until the late 19th century. The books show you how different women react and deal with this situation, some women, like Daenarys and Cat make it work, they fall in love with their husbands. I think history would strongly support this view as accurate. Cersei is evil, but so what? There are real women out there who don’t trust other women and who use their sexuality as a weapon, just as she does. Arya is a strong, very strong, female character, we see Sansa Stark over time grow out of her foolish naive beliefs and come to understand the world as it is, Brienne of Tarth is another strong female character who is shown dealing with and triumphing over the sexism of her society.
I don’t think rape, sexism, objectification and misogyny are merely “surface issues.” And rape should never be put in quotes. It diminishes the severity of rape. When there’s no consent — whether people are married (via arranged marriages or chosen marriages), dating or not — that is rape.
While GoT is inspired by medieval history, it’s a fantasy. Dragons, White Walkers and magic are not a part of history. Therefore, the show doesn’t need to be historically accurate…so the writers could write a non-sexist world. They choose not to.
I agree with you, there are lots of strong, smart women on the show. In fact, I make that point many times. But as I’ve said before, just because strong women exist, doesn’t inoculate GoT from sexism and misogyny.
I think this was a really well-written essay on all counts. I want so badly for this narrative to be less misogynist, but we need to face it: It is.
Case in point: the latest episode where Joffrey forces one of the prostitutes to (to put it mildly) do harm to the other. Not since the poker up the butt scene in the Tudors was I so shocked by violence on the small screen. Is there any way we could have reinforced the brutality of Joffrey’s character by NOT having him do this to the women? How much more interesting would it have been if Tyrion’s plan had worked, and arranged sex had made Joffrey less aggressive? (sigh)
Ros could be (and in some ways has been) such an interesting character, but more and more she has been simply a victim. Maybe her character (along with Sansa and Shae) will find themselves with opportunities to rebel and gain power of their own? I hope so.
An aside: Google Sibel Kekilli’s bio (she plays Shae). Fascinating at the parallel between what she used to do for work and what she faces as a character now. Her story is very interesting.
That said, the new character of Brienne of Tarth (played by the amazing Gwendoline Christie) is an imposing figure indeed! The first feminist character in GoT?
THANK YOU!! You took the words right out of my mouth. This show is so good that I desperately want it to be less sexist and misogynistic too. Some people don’t seem to understand that you can genuinely like something but still analyze it and be critical of it. Just because strong and smart female characters (Daenerys, Catelyn, Cersei, Arya, etc.) exist doesn’t mean GoT is immune to sexism and misogyny. I agree with you about Ros…she’s interesting but continually victimized and “put in her place.” I’m super excited about Brienne though. This past Sunday’s episode horrified and infuriated me. You’re absolutely right, why the hell DID they have to show “the brutality of Joffrey’s character” by violently abusing women?! I’ll be writing a post on this too…
Unrelated: did you hear this report today? Incredibly important and timely:
I liked your post (about season 1). I just wanted to add in that I was able to put aside/ squint past the sexism/racism in the show for season 1, but season 2 caught me way off guard. The repeated rapes and brutality were just too much– I had to stop after episode 1 for this season.
I’ve read all the books and I really don’t remember the violence against women being at this level in the books. I am really sick of seeing the show’s writers try to prove how awful the male characters are on the backs of women. They can find some other way to prove that Joffrey is a jerk (I heard about that episode even though I couldn’t watch it), that Littlefinger is greedy, etc than by showing these characters being violent.
These depictions are especially troubling because sexism/ racism exist in our present society. The GoT show doesn’t try to prove the similarity between real world problems and the “fantasy” ones, but instead focuses on the differences. Highlighting the differences, rather than critiquing the similarities, allows us to maintain the dominant discourse that sexism/ racism don’t exist today (that we are in a post-feminist, post-racial world).
Anyway, did anyone else notice a significant increase in the level of awfulness between season 1 and season 2?
Joffreys abuse of the two women is a curious change from the novels. As far as i can tell this scene was put to establish Joffreys sadistic nature. The scene in the books it seems to replace is Joffrey killing cats with a crossbow. It seems like they weighed up the reaction to animal cruelty against same to misogynistic sadism
There is a lot of sexism and misogyny in Westeros, but I never had the impression that any of it was portrayed in a positive light or that the author condoned how women were treated in the text. I understand readers and viewers wanting to see a world with equal opportunities and all, but not all stories deal with societies of that nature. In the same way that we can’t always read about happy endings- we can’t always expect every story to depict an egalitarian society (even in a fantasy series) as much as we want them to. I’ve read about three of the books and I’ve got to say that the author really does a no holds barred portrayal of the ‘ugliness of life’ – sexism included. Yes, women are raped and tortured and beaten. The men (though not raped as often) get tortured and beaten and broken in other ways just as horrific. It can be very painful to read about but I never got the impression that he applauded any of the heinous crimes in any way.
The thing is that although it’s a fantasy, a lot of it is based on medieval history- the War of the Roses, etc. Despite all the magic involved it’s still pretty much a medieval to the core. That’s why despite the appearance of strong female characters, the author can’t really skirt around those issues that plague women. It would be out of context for him to suddenly transform the entire Westerosi society (which is medieval at heart) to a gender equal place. That’s like saying we want to see a modern society with people in costume. At the end of the day, it’s just a story that really takes people out of their comfort zones, but it’s a good one at that.
Actually, see the Crown of Stars series by Kate Elliott. Medieval, matriarchal and at the very least an equal society for women. This is what I find so fascinating about the defense that it’s ‘medieval’. It’s FANTASY. A person can do whatever they want, including a medieval society that is equal. Isn’t that a greater, more interesting feat of imagination than the tired, real life tropes of patriarchy? And no, not all books need to display equal societies, but what I find so troubling about fantasy is that the vast majority display sexist and misogynist cultures seemingly without question (I don’t think they do a good job at critique if they are meant to.) and that so many will jump to defend it. It’s odd that despite this being the fantasy genre, people still can’t think outside that box of sexism and misogyny – authors or readers.
Well yes, Martin could have done what Kate Elliott did in depicting a medieval, matriarchal, or at the very least- equal society, but my point is that he CHOSE NOT TO. Given that he clearly has a different sort of story in mind, can it still be a good read? Can people still enjoy it? Can it still be feminist and empowering, despite the fact that the world situation there isn’t? Answers to all that are subjective and depend very much on the reader. I know a lot of feminists who love ASOIAF. I’m sure a lot of others hate it.
If I were an author, who chose to write about a futuristic society based on Samurai era Japan, but decided to retain all the sexist behavior men had towards women in my story, the hardships women went through, etc…would it make my story ‘wrong’? I suppose I could have written about a historical era within the fantasy genre minus the gender dynamics (and made it work!)…but what if I personally chose to retain those ‘earth-grounded’ dynamics specifically because I found them (among other things) interesting to write about? Yes, interesting…even within a fantasy context. I guess I could make it work too, right? Certainly, people aren’t obligated to like my type of story and can go for something else. But neither am I obligated to write my story in a specific way simply because others felt it was the more open minded (according to their standards) thing to do.
People have different ideas on what makes something creative, out of the box and unique. I honestly felt that ASOIAF was ‘out of the box’ in that it went against a lot of fantasy tropes, deconstructed a lot of my illusions about fantasy, etc. Maybe not in the way the Crown of Stars series is…but they’re two different stories and I’m sure each have a specific brand of individuality all their own.
The impression I had when I read the ASOIAF novels was that he seemed to be wanting us NOT to like fantasy. Like he was saying ‘see how ugly this all is? Do you still want to live in a world like this?’ That he chose to retain the way men and women were, made it more interesting to me…in fact, his misogynistic portrayal was partially responsible for shaping some of the female characters I found most strong. I don’t understand what you mean when you say that people are ‘making it an issue’ for gender to be represented as creative. Like I said- what a person finds creative is subjective and depends on personal interpretation. Another thing…no one is stopping other authors from writing these worlds you describe (I’m sure Ms Elliot’s novels are great and I WILL check them out)…it just seems to me that people are angry that Mr. Martin’s aren’t what they (again they personally*) find creative, empowering, etc.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion here, but it just seems unfair to say that we are using the ‘medieval setting’ as an excuse for Martin’s books. We’re not justifying the books because they need NO JUSTIFICATION…it just seems pointless to me to want something (Story A) to be something else (Story B); if both stories are good then they BOTH have their place in fantasy, right?
Actually, half your previous comment seems to state that given he chose a medieval society, he couldn’t have made it egalitarian even if he had wanted to:
“The thing is that although it’s a fantasy, a lot of it is based on medieval history- the War of the Roses, etc. Despite all the magic involved it’s still pretty much a medieval to the core. That’s why despite the appearance of strong female characters, the author can’t really skirt around those issues that plague women. It would be out of context for him to suddenly transform the entire Westerosi society (which is medieval at heart) to a gender equal place. That’s like saying we want to see a modern society with people in costume.”
And while I enjoyed the story to some extent, that’s not going to stop me from critiquing it – the endless sexism, especially in the first book, often prevented me from enjoying the series fully. And whatever you think about the series as a whole, sexism and misogyny is not an ‘out of the box’ concept in fantasy – it’s run of the mill, unless you’re going to be smart about it. Despite Daenerys being my favorite character, there was some serious pseudo feminism going on there. I don’t think it is meant to be a commentary by Martin on the lengths women need to go to in order to succeed in patriarchy – I just think it’s his own silly idea of what feminism is – but if it is mean to be a commentary he did a bad job of it. Again, what most defenders seem to miss is that this is just the same old thing over and over – it’s not that every story needs to be egalitarian – it’s just tiresome to pick up yet another book and wade through more of the same crap.
And my point is is that people seem to be greatly bothered by the critiques focused on sexism and gender. Why? Why is it such a problem to critique the lack of creativity and point out that misogynist societies seem to be the default? It’s very troublesome to me that this kind of world is replicated over and over.
And isn’t the point of fantasy to step outside the box? The medieval defense mystifies me – see Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series. It’s a medieval, matriarchal society where women are regarded as equal. It was so medieval that I was bored by it. And of course not all books are going to portray egalitarian societies, but sexist and misogynist societies in fantasy are the norm, as is the ‘it’s realism’ or ‘medieval’ defense (Fantasy – a favorite genre of mine because I like to see authors take things I am liable to think unbelievable and prove me wrong with the skill of their writing.). Why is it such an issue to expect authors to be creative about gender rather than replicate such tired tropes?
Just to clear up what I said earlier – I didn’t mean that Martin couldn’t technically* do what people have been suggesting, and I agree that any author can write any type of society regardless of its genre/background. But my point is that for this particular saga, Martin chose not just a medieval society but a medieval society with all the medieval attitudes- so a lot of the dealings there have to be within that context to make sense. The impression I got from some of the critique is that they wanted a completely different world and what I’m saying is that while people can have an opinion on what would make a better story, it seems a little counterproductive to want something to be what it isn’t. When an author makes a choice to create a certain type of world- again fantasy or not, it’s a whole package deal. Not just a matter of choosing background but also laying out what particular conflicts you want to have, what the culture is, and yes, how people deal with one another there. Martin made several choices when it came to his world building and yes, the negative stuff is a part of it.
It’s also a little difficult for me to wish Westeros was something else because as uncomfortable as it makes me- it’s also partially responsible for shaping characters I like, hate or simply find interesting. For instance, why exactly do I like Brienne of Tarth? It’s not just because she is a knight, but because she’s a hated knight who doesn’t fit the norm. Yet she still continues doing what she wants to do with her life. It would be a different matter and dare I say even a different sort story for her altogether if she lived in a gender equal place with plenty of female knights and knighthood came relatively easy for her. Same with Cersei- a lot of her psychological problems have to do with wanting to be male in a land where women cannot inherit property/title. It’s also part of the reason she loves her twin, Jaime. He’s the male version of her. Love or hate Cersei, she is an interesting character who polarizes readers and makes them debate among themselves. And yes, she is what she is because of her background and culture.
I never said that sexism and misogyny is ‘out of the box’ btw,..what I meant was that a story can still be considered ‘out of the box’ despite having dynamics that are considered commonplace- depending on how one views it. The way ASOIAF was put together and the experience I had reading it was certainly unique for me. This was one of the few fantasies that not only got me interested and excited but also depressed and even angry at times with what was happening.
Lastly, I don’t have a problem with feminists critiquing ASOIAF at all. I just take exception when people imply that a sexist world cannot be feminist because I honestly feel that that is not the case here. Also, creativity is subjective. You can have something there that’s been done time and again (the cultural norms) but present it a way that is ‘new’ for others. Ironically, ASOIAF was originally recommended to me by a feminist friend of mine but I guess its a to each her own thing.
Oh, I don’t think a sexist world automatically indicates that the author is sexist, or that there may not be underlying messages that aim to subvert it. It’s something that Game of Thrones had me thinking about a lot – the difference between portrayal for a purpose, unthinking replication or even the promotion of such ideas. I put Martin in the unthinking replication category. In addition, I thought Cersei was one of the most fascinating characters when I first began reading her perspective and I remember being frustrated that she wasn’t more of a main character.
Hi! I agree: I doubt (from the books) that Martin is sexist or racist. But the HBO producers who decided how to portray people are different. There is way, way too much emphasis on watching women be raped, and watching it in a pornographic, sexy way- with soft lighting and lots of emphasis on women’s sexualized bodies/ sounds: i.e. their breasts, butt, legs, moans. If you for some reason want to show a rape, there is a much different way of going about doing it- for example consider the scene in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: the lighting was harsh, there was no music or sound in the background except for screams- you were supposed to come away thinking that rape is violence. With GOFT, I think you are supposed to come away turned on and thinking that rape is ok. If we think back through history, I doubt that women were ever in the position where literally every man they encountered was involved in rape. And then for the racist part, before I stopped watching the show, I did not see a single person of color until the one dude had one line speaking to the guy on the water island (I don’t know his name because he literally had one line). Don’t tell me that every single person in history was white. So yes, I think GOFT the show, and particularly, GOFT’s writers/ producers/ directors have both a woman problem and a race problem. I can’t watch the show any more, even though I have read all of the books (and have the boardgame).
I’m sure you’re right, and you won’t find me arguing. My main critique is that the books are ridiculously sexist and misogynist and it’s a tired, stupid trope that I’d like to see less in fantasy. I’m not surprised that the show is like that though I haven’t seen it.
I watched the first episode and was chocked. There are only naked women and no naked men. Do men have problems, are frustrated? I’m also really sorry for those actresses that need money. I hope they are well paid. There exist better sex movies than this one, for women to watch.
But does looking for an equal amount of nudity from men really address the issue? I mean, look at the context of the nude scene. A child bride is being sold into marriage, and prior to that she’s being ‘prepared for it.’ Then later on, you get a scene with Tyrion and the prostitutes. Again, all naked women but it wouldn’t really make sense to have naked men in there, given what was happening in the scene. Why have Tyrion and prostitutes? Because it establishes the fact that with this particular character- the only place he can find comfort in is with prostitutes. He’s someone most nobles, lords and ladies look down on with revulsion and it’s only with sex workers he can find comfort with because he pays them to look upon him as if he were desirable.
I agree that there is a lot of rape against women and violence against both sexes in the series..but I never got the impression that the author was trying to put women in their place and writing any of it in a titillating way. When I read the books I was almost dreading explicit detail in those scenes but it didn’t turn out like that. Usually the rape scenes are mentioned within a context…like, when Arya was in Harenhall she witnessed a woman being gang raped. In that scene, the author doesn’t describe what happens- he goes more into what Arya is thinking and feeling as she witnesses those things.
Also, most of the series takes place amidst war and conflict- and it’s certainly an ugly reality that most rape victims are women especially during those times. I don’t say that men don’t get raped but not as often as depicted in warfare; evil men usually target women not other men.
Thank you for writing this. I was really disturbed by the scenes AFTER Daenerys was raped too. Obviously, the rape scene seemed voyeuristic and unnecessary (didn’t we already understand her being brutalized after their wedding when the camera cuts away as he begins to bend her over without having to see another scene?), but I could see that the producers were trying to depict her trauma. No, what really troubled me was a few scenes after her being raped, when the show had Daenerys eagerly learning the art of seduction from a giggling prostitute. Suddenly, she is able to take her power back by jumping on top of Khal Drogo and poof… it goes from rape to lusty sex, and later love. I can not stand the “raped into consciousness” narrative, where a character’s arc begins after she grows from the experience of being brutalized.
I see a lot of your points, but I feel all animosity should be aimed at HBO and not George R. R. Martin. I am currently up-to-date on both the book series and the HBO series, and I there were minor changes made by HBO that were not very good.
As far as the women of the book in general, people you all seriously need to read the books. All of the characters go through hell, and I mean ALL of them. You have just met Brienne in the series and she is a physically strong woman, and have yet to learn how the wildling women (the whole wildling society in general actually) works.
Now for my main grievance against HBO. You mentioned that Daenerys falls in love with her husband who rapes her. Well, yes, she comes to love him. But their first night together happens very differently in the book. I was very angry at the scene in the TV series because it was so sweet and gentle in the book. In the book Khal Drogo sits her down and has her undo his braid because he sees she is nervous. Then he gently touches her and asks her “no?” in Common Tongue until she takes his hand and says “yes”. I have no idea why they made it so brutal in the show because it was definitely NOT like that in the book. Daenerys came to love her husband because he treated her so well.
the main problem in the show ,( that does’nt exsit in the books witch can be described as feminist), is naked women in submissive positions, at least one per episodes… just count: how many naked men have you seen? how many naked men have you seen getting there hair pulled and doggy styled…. how many women? this is NOT in the book, most sex scene don’t exist in the books, it’s the choice of the production…. it’s very violent: scenes of violence and torture mixed with sexual arrousaln, this is not only sexist, but also manipulative toward both men and women
and fully chosen by HBO.
You absoloute idiots the lot of you!! Whether you like it or not, men have, can and will always be able to dominate women. Game of Thrones is the word up until 50 years ago that we lived in, a world of strong men who liked the opposite sex. Makes a change in today’s messed up world. All you internet freaks with no friends need to grow a pair and go outside you make me sick. PS It can’t be sexist if females voluntarily chose to act in it…
I agree with Ori – the HBO show constantly shows naked women sexually serving powerful men in submissive positions. There are powerful women in the books who have sexual liasions with men they choose, yet these are rarely shown by HBO…for example in season 1, Cersei and Jaime are briefly shown having sex in the tower…you can bet Cersei wanted to have sex with him, and he adores her, and throws the boy out the window to protect *her* power and claim. He gave up ever being able to marry or have sex by taking the Kingsguard oath just so he could be close to her and they could sneak around together. In season 2, there is a sex scene with Robb Stark and a Lady Westerling whom he *admires*, and this is done very well- two people are fascinated by each other and despite their duties, they risk it all to make love together on screen. I want more of this and less of powerful men raping or coercing women as sex slaves. Tyrion sees prostitutes because other women are prejudiced against him for dwarfism. Yet in the book he actually loves the women he makes mutual arrangements with, they are not his slaves, but choose to be with him because he pays well and is respectful, funny, smart and gentle. The books were definitely upfront about Westoros being a “man’s world”, and that rape is common there during war, and you can definitely tell it was written by a man who does not understand how women really think, but it was much less offensive. And yes, in the book, Khal Drogo was very gentle to Dany and gave her a back rub, they undid each others hair and it was romantic. He did not have sex with her until she agreed she was ready and he did all he could to please her sexually first. That is why she loved him. I watch the show because it is good for other reasons, but I do groan at the focus on naked women serving men. And as the books go on the women are more challenging. Yet even Brienne must face constant comments from Jaime about how she can be raped because she has a vagina…I realize this is part of Jaime’s characterization and shows his insecurity, but really, I would like one strong female character to be sacred, to not have to constantly be threatened with rape. IRL, women *are* constantly threatened with rape. It’s in poor taste to throw it in our faces. Cersei seems to be lauded as she would kill herself before submit to rape, but really, is this to be admired? The notion is as barbaric as those societies that insist women must die if they bring dishonor by being raped. Tyrion eventually winds up in an arranged marriage, and he will not touch the girl until she is older and agrees to bed with him. I think part of the point is to show who the truly good men are….the misfit “freak” Tyrion and the “savage” Khal Drogo. Although Robb and some other men are good as well.
Some Spoilers within.
Okay I am only halfway through SOS, but I looked around, & apparently Tyrion does turn out to be a killer/rapist too as someone says, which makes me really mad, because he seemed like a redeemable character. His father forced him to partake in a gang-rape of the first woman he fell in love with and married when he was very young – she was a prostitute secretly hired by his brother Jaime who wanted Tyrion to have the experience of a love, but their father found out and forced them to gang-rape her. Tyrion was afraid to disobey- his r’ship with father is deeply emotionally abusive and he always wanted to please the man when he was young. His obedience in the rape haunts him the rest of his life as he cannot forgive himself. However, this does privilege the angst of a reluctant rapist over that of his victim/survivor. Also people have said that later in the books he turns on the girl Shae he plays “sugar daddy” to whom he appears to totally love up to SOS, so that will be really disappointing.
You might enjoy Sady’s feminist critique of the books at tigerbeatdown, she comes down really hard on them it’s funny, because really, someone needed to! It’s called enter-ye-myne-mystic-world-of-gayng-raype-what-the-r-stands-for-in-george-r-r-martin.
I am a gay man and survivor of SA, and I did enjoy the books so far but everything she says is literally true. Also the good people always die, so the story has this horror film flavor of the honorable people you may identify with are being stalked/killed. I like to watch the show/books because I love Cersei and because of King Renly/Ser Loras affair, and the butch Brienne. Being able to discuss how misogynist they are is what makes it bearable for me, since I was already sucked in I am going to finish books and shows, but I don’t pretend they aren’t sexist. I was bothered by the constant rapes in the book as Martin’s lazy shorthand for “something terrible happens to a female character”. I *love* Cersei Lannister, as she is the only female character that speaks a criticism about systemic, institutionalized misogyny in Westeros, sleeps with who she wants, is strategic to gain power, but of course we are supposed to think she is evil (maybe thats why?). I also love Brienne and it bothers me that even she is threatened with rape, although it seems the “butch” women (Brienne and Arya) though threatened are exempt from actual rape. He really should have made Brienne more dykealicious with a crush on Catelyn Stark whose husband is dead, that would have been an awesome love affair, instead of making the only butch female a sucker for unattainable prettyboy lords. Quite a dearth of lesbians, unless you count the sex-workers having fake lez sex for het dudes. Too bad the gay king with the “rainbow guard” died.
So I am glad Martin had the sense to make the female characters themselves as strong, complex people, even though he afflicts rape on most of them, and to include a gay king, and at least one rich powerful black man, but ultimately he’s a middle aged het white guy who can’t really pull it off, so his attempts to be inclusive are deeply flawed. However I found the story to be interesting enough that I can notice and comment on the problems but still enjoy the world-building and political intrigue and characters….although ppl promise almost everyone dies in SOS so I dunno how pissed that will make me.
Ok, that’s all. Just wanted to share as a man who also sees and acknowleges the sexism, which I think HBO makes even more explicit.
We need more women like Aileen Wournos in the world. If it were common for female rape victims to kill or castrate the males who assaulted them then there would be less rape in the world. I would love to hear about one story where a gang of women rape a man. Just because. Fuck compassion, kill them all. No prisoners.
I wrote a similar post to this early on in the first season, and since the second season started its been getting hits every week. I can tell how misogynist each episode will be from how many hits my post gets.
I’ve seen quite a few of the common arguments in defense of GoT presented here, but two that particularly annoy me are “men suffer too” and “it’s a realistic depiction of a medieval world.”
Men suffer too, but they suffer as part of a struggle to be on top – they benefit from a world where they risk death and mutilation, because they can become leaders of men through their bravery and suffering. This is never extended to women. So yes, men have to go to war, but they go to war so that they – or men they support – can take power. It’s a contract. Danerys was not offered any role in that struggle – she was sold so a man could take some power. The way in which men and women suffer is not equal (and let’s not forget that women suffer much cruelty in war too).
It’s also not a realistic depiction of a medieval world. It’s a neckbeard fantasy of how neckbeards imagine they could act if women had no rights, but it’s not how medieval worlds work. The scene in season 2 where Greyjoy tries to screw his own sister – having just finished using a woman like a toy in his cabin – is a classic example: men who behaved like this in the real medieval world were not treated well. There were strong religious and social constraints on the behavior of men in these settings, and the idea that Westeros represents anything factual is just farcical.
I still think this show is awesome, but it’s misogynist as hell.
As I read this I was shocked. This show has done more for the way people look at Little people, women, the poor and more. I was happy to see the replies of the many who have an understanding of reality, so I can keep this short. We have to act fast! The poor people of Westeros are in trouble, all these poor women (Who cares about the peasants children, and animals) are being raped and sold, and it’s just awful. Misogynist must be stopped here and now! Load up in the ship, I’m coming too. Wait there for me, I promise I will come and help. Just wait for me… On a ship… That we are taking to the shores of Westeros…. In a book.
I agree. I just watched the first episode, and it will be my last. Love Sean Bean, but I can just as easily watch him somewhere else.
Would love to see Anne McCaffrey’s world of Pern in a series. She definitely affirms women in her writings.
You said “Based on the best-selling A Song of Fire and Ice series penned by fantasy author George R.R. Martin (who interjected a hefty amount of research into the books, including warfare, swordsmanship and medieval life)”
So are you naive or stupid? The world was sexist and misogynistic during medieval times. Had you done the research you would have known that.
I suppose you’d be upset if a fictional 1950’s American town was depicted as being racist too…
I haven’t read all the comments, so I hope I’m not repeating points, but many women change in the future story. Most of the GOT world is quite misogynistic. Life is also dark, brutal and short for both high and low born…and for both genders – just as our world’s middle ages were in Europe. What is interesting to me is how the girls and women handle their changing situations. MAJOR SPOILERS …………. Arya becoming an assasin, Dany freeing millions of slaves in her eastern wars but then being unable to rule the different factions (or her own dragons), and Sansa moving from a romantic, starry-eyed teen to a young woman working her way through byzantine plots. The female wildlings north of the wall are equal to men – they can choose to be warriors and are just as willing to take lovers or die for their cause as men. In the GOT world, at least there are places and ways for some women to live a life more to their chosing – which is more than our world can say to alot of women.
@lemurlvr – I agree with you that the women change. I’m already witnessing that from Season 1 to Season 2 in the TV show.
it is a FICTIONAL show you want something better write it yourself instead of whinning OMFG— and FYI artists DO NOT create what others want to see or enjoy- they create what they want for themselves to create— if you’re really gonna wait around for the world to cater to yours or anyones beliefs I promise you’ll go to your grave VERY dissapointed Miss Jessie effin Spano
This is just ridicules!, who cares!!! it’s a great a show and that’s what matters!
I hate these feminist bullshits!
I have an idea, stop watching the show and go watch Desperate Housewives!
@Whatever! – You hate “feminist bullshits,” I loathe rude asshats who tell me what I should and shouldn’t watch. P.S. It is a great show. But a show can be great and still problematic.
This is really losing sight on an important fact. It’s a MEDIEVAL setting. What do you expect ? It’s not like it’s aimed at children and could change the way they see the roles of women in society? Duh.
No, it’s a FANTASY setting which is largely based on Medieval Europe, but is not strictly true to its history in many other ways. Why do the other anachronisms and the fantastical elements not bother people, but the idea of women being more than chattel get them so wound up?
You said it yourself: “But this IS a fantasy, not history, meaning the writers can imagine any world they wish to create. So why imagine a misogynistic one?” Simply put, because he fucking feels like it. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. I’m sure there’s something on lifetime that has all of the men being portrayed as rapists and baby-snatchers.
Maybe you’ve heard of a little thing called story arc? Viserys IS a douchebag, that’s why it’s so gratifying when he gets what’s coming to him. Daenerys is forced into a marriage, but comes to love her husband. I think you’ll find that that DID occasionally happen in times when arranged marriages happened. It’s about a time when people did what they had to do, because they didn’t have the kind of choices that we have today.
Bottom line, if you don’t like it, don’t watch. It wasn’t written for YOU. The books that it’s based on are all best-sellers, so somebody must like them. Not everything in life is fair and balanced with people of multiple creeds and colors holding hands beneath a rainbow. If it was, what would you have to blog about?
I have to say I agree the series is pretty sexist – although I disagree the word mysogyny is the correct word to characterize it.
I think that is what a lot of people are getting at. It’s not just hatred of women by men, thats to simple an explanation for a series so thought out and extensive, and you have to remember you are making this opinion based on only a small fraction of what is available to you. You could make a more educated opinion by reviewing the material or simply waiting for the series ender. (For example, I garauntee people were already harping you and unjustly disregarding your opinion when you wroted “A Song of Fire and Ice” LOL.) I do like the series overall and dont feel it makes light of any of the negative situations for both men and women. Everyone is simply trying to survive in a world that offers harsh realities to all genders, races, and creeds.
+5 million sex scenes. (yah we know thats a target for after hours HBO, gotta fill in where soft core was removed ya know?!)
I found your essay though very thought provoking and well written. (Except you should probably just go ahead and write out the word “favorite” you seem better than “fave” it dilutes your argument)
@IvoryDoom – Thank you for your kind words! I hear what you’re saying but I still think the show suffers from both sexism and misogyny. Of course I could more accurately judge the series once it ends. But that doesn’t mean people can’t or shouldn’t discuss or analyze each TV series’ season or even each episode. And I write “fave” because I write the way I talk. For realsies. Yes, I actually say that too 🙂
You’re applying modern-day real-world views on sexism to a FICTIONAL story set in s fictional land, that is, technologically around the dark ages period of our culture, and for the most part it follows that theme, periodwise.
….Honestly, i could go on at length explaining why you are a fool, not nly for the content of this article, but for a reason or two otherwise…. but honestly you simply aren’t important enough to bother with.
in the end, you, like so many other outspoken but inconsequential people have an opinion you want to share. And that’s certainly your right… doesn’t mean you are correct, or even meaningful…. but like all those others, you will be forgotten, not even a footnote in history, and likely an embarrassment to yourself in your later years.
Words are wind. Your words are rife with the stink of your own self-serving self-righteousness and ignorance.
@Kal Galath – Wow, I’m a fool, inconsequential, self-righteous, ignorant, and will most likely end up an embarrassment to myself. That’s quite a list of insults! Oh I must be an idiot too since based on your comment below, I like Cersei. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with my opinions or assertions. I do have a problem with people behaving like rude jerks.
Why do I analyze a fictional TV show? One because I enjoy it. And two, because the media affects how we perceive the world around us.
And for those of you praising Cersi… you’re idiots. She was a lying, cheating incestuous cunt who tried to kill an innocent child to keep her secrets, lied before her gods, and kingdom, and conspired to have her own husband murdered.
All the humiliation and suffering she recieves.. she earned in full by her own actions.
There are men, there are women, and there are the scum that make you long for an extermination level catastrophe to occur.
If you want a worthy target for your feminist ire (which honestly, I do understand, and to some degree sympathize with, believe it or don’t)
try looking at the kind of crap we show to children all during thier formative years, and on up into adulthood. Almost everything portrays the female as weaker, more hesitant, or secondary to the male role, which is bullshit.
childrens shows, where the girl goes skipping through the woods… on a clear path… and boys shows, where the protagonist goes tearing through the jungle…in a jeep. (Dora and Diego anyone?)
Or how about every romantic comedy i have ever seen (which is far from all of them.) these are shown as being set in todays society, and only act to reinforce the idea that the men are somehow better, and should be accomodated in every way.
or the media pressures that program women to be submissive little housewives, and men to expect to be able to marry a model?
ANY of these things would be a better focus than this series, which does have significant real-world underpinnings to feudal Europe…. at which time society was indeed like that…. and people like brienne of tarth, arya and daenarys would have been beaten, killed, accused of witchcraft or, if they were lucky, locked up in a madhouse.
It’s not pretty.. but it’s real enough to make you and me care enough to be having this sort of situation here arise in the first place.
@Kal Galath – Wait, didn’t you just insult me?? Anyway, glad you agree with feminist ire. I do write about all kinds of media, including sexist, body-shaming media aimed at children and gender stereotypes in rom-coms. The media’s objectification of women and perpetuation of rape culture normalizes violence against women, elevates the importance of the male gaze and reinforces stereotypical gender roles that harm all genders.
People will always see what they WANT to see when they view something with preconceived ideas. I’ve read all of the books and watched both seasons out so far. The books are complex and are designed to make you think more about the grey areas because not everything is black and white. It blurs the lines between good and evil and makes you love characters you at first hated and vice versa. The tv series is only just starting to peel back the layers and it is not about men vs women it is about basic humanity.
If you watch the show or read the books with an open mind then you will be able to apreciate the amazing complexity of each of the characters whether male or female and the overall story as a whole.
In a story that depicts brutality and depravity at its worst of course there will be rape and incest and beatings. Those who are not as physically strong will have to use their cunning and smarts to protect them and that doesn’t just apply to women.
Wait and watch or read the books and find out for yourself. The “opening scene” doesn’t define the whole story. They can only fit so much into each episode.
blah blah blah. you’re right, suffice it to say. the show is heavily misogynistic, but at the same time do you not see how it serves to reinforce what rights of equality women have fought for and received to this very day; that it creates in us a sense of respect by conceiving that women were commonly treated as such during one point in our history and the we, modernites, may strive to act and be otherwise? And the way your article reads is as if the average modern male is going to be so influenced by this that just watching it will hurl us back through time into feminine oppression or that the average modern female will be subliminally swayed into thinking she is inferior to men. please. second, it’s a book. come on, son -er daughter. third it’s been adapted by HBO! nuff said. to me, you’re reading a tad too much into the misogony present in the series by thinking it a catalyst of adverse effects on modern society. highly unlikely.
“And the way your article reads is as if the average modern male is going to be so influenced by this that just watching it will hurl us back through time into feminine oppression or that the average modern female will be subliminally swayed into thinking she is inferior to men.”
No, it doesn’t remotely read that way. Sounds like your own defensiveness, to me. Quote the part that mentions the show’s effect on society, please, because I can’t find it.
She’s just saying that this is becoming a tired cliche in fantasy fiction. Rape, rape, rape, rape, rape. Fantasy, in theory, should be the most diverse genre there is. Anything’s possible. But so many otherwise good works are bogged down in this same old crap.
The show is popular precisely because everyone in it is a really cruel person with the possible exception of the two Stark girls. It is one big fantasy adventure/reality show …Even the heroes of the show kind of suck..I do watch the show and sometimes find myself hoping the dragons will grow up and eat all of the primary characters.
I think you’re missing something huge here. The most interesting characters are the ones who triumph over the worst situations. The best stories are the ones that evoke the most extreme emotional response. Rape is supposed to outrage you. You’re supposed to empathize with the victims. I don’t want to watch a show where nothing bad happens. Men are castrated, murdered, tortured, and raped. Women are tortured, murdered, and raped. It disgusts me and I cheer when the victims triumph and the perpetrators get theirs. What I like is that the indignities these people face don’t define them. They are strong and continue on despite it all. Is being raped worse than seeing your father beheaded? Having your penis removed? Having your infant stabbed in front of you? These things get barely any comments and an arranged marriage is outrageous? I want to see something epic, and that means incredible lows and incredible highs. What would you have rather seen that would have had the same kind of emotional impact?
@Crystal – I agree that the most interesting characters are often the survivors who triumph over adversity. I don’t want to see men castrated or beheaded any more than I want to see women raped or abused. My problem is that the media continuously depicts objectification of women’s bodies, sexism and rape (as well as racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc.). When GoT the TV show depicts these, as brilliant as it is, it feels like it’s feeding the misogyny machine in our society. Patriarchy hurts all genders. But when women comprise 33% of speaking roles in film (and many of those merely for the male gaze) and 43% in TV, there’s an inherent gender bias. I’m just tired of seeing sexism against women in the media…over and over.
I take it you haven’t met Brienne yet? Read the books, then lets talk. Sure there are example of what could be called “sexism,” or it could be that there are a myriad of types of characters in this world and some of them or simple, stupid, petty, seductive or whatever else. There are also stupid, low, callow, easy men. Some people, a large portion of people, just as in the real world, are a combo of the both. That is why this series is so different from anything else, Martin refuses to give you a real, true hero, ever, whether male or female.
@Sarah – I finished Season 2 and yes, I love Brienne. She’s absolutely amazing. I actually love all the women on the show. ‘Game of Thrones’ (the TV show, not the books as I haven’t read them yet) is one of the most brilliant and enthralling series on TV. And I’m a sucker for an anti-hero or a tortured soul. My problem is that the media is inundated with female objectification, sexism, and rape (as well as racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc.). When GoT the TV series showcases these, it feels like it’s feeding the misogyny machine. However, with Season 2, I definitely witnessed more female empowerment and resistance of gender constraints from all the female characters, including the continuation of Daenerys as a powerful leader, Yara (Asha in the books) commanding her ship, Cersei’s pivotal scene with Sansa discussing gender, and Brienne’s subversion of traditional gender roles.
So you love all of the female characters, and yet you still charge the show with being different than Mad Men, and not merely taking place in a misogynist world. Why??? And the reason why you set your show in a misogynistic world when you don’t have to is in order to start conversations about misogyny, as you yourself are doing with this very article. The value of awareness is obvious. If the show were misogynistic, the female characters wouldn’t be well-rounded and sympathetic enough for you to like them and connect with them. The mere fact that you do proves they’re not written by and for misogyny, or they wouldn’t have redeeming qualities and wouldn’t be of any use for anything but the male gaze.
oh! another emo blind feminist virgin writer who doesn’t know anything about women. Fun.
I hate to be blunt but you are completely full of it. Loose the over-sensitive garbage that is all to rampant these days. Stories are a fantasy world but have to have a basis, and Game of Thrones uses the dark ages and all there prejudices and superstitions to make a credible background… I don’t see you noting the treatment of Tyrian Lannister as a dwarf, or Bran Stark once he becomes disabled, or even John Sno’s depiction as a “bastard”… Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister and Arya Stark constantly defy gender roles and generally overpower men who try to tell them otherwise… only someone actively looking sexism would see sexism in Daenerys having dragons. Its a fantasy epic, dragons are a symbol, they weren’t there because she being a she meant she was powerless otherwise, they were there to insinuate that she is in fact a powerful being… Following your logic we are also being told that Rob Stark is weak and powerless because he needs a wolf the size of a horse to use in battle… I’m pretty sure Daenerys brother insisted he had magical blood also and intended on taking back the throne as ‘the dragon’ (although he was obviously wrong), people do fall in love with abusive partners and it in fact is more difficult to convince someone who knows they are in abusive relationship to break it off, especially if they grew up in such circumstances (as Daenerys obviously did with her brother)… Lady Stark was not proclaimed Queen of the North because she is not a Stark by blood, everybody knows how that works, trying such silliness as nitpicking that is proof of nothing
@Righttt – I don’t think Daenerys’ dragons convey sexism. I was worried her ability to birth dragons and withstand fire would detract from her capabilities, as if explaining her power away via magic. As in a woman can’t be a powerful queen on her own but needs dragons to bolster her strength. But as I wrote in another comment below: “The more I thought about it, and after watching Season 2, I’m convinced it’s instead a metaphor for her strength, power, resourcefulness and resilience. Daenerys’ magic doesn’t control her, rather she controls it. And that makes a world of difference.”
think I may have been watching a different show to you! I perceived the show as the complete opposite. The women are the heroes (or heroines, if you prefer) of the series. I see the women as the strong survivors that are taking charge of their own ventures, goals, revenge, safety (in regards to Sansa), desires and destinies. They grow in strength every episode. There are a few of the women characters (brothel workers, maidens etc) that have not shown this strength but we maybe yet to see their rise against the conflictions and torment they endure (I’ve only read the first book so this statement could just be my wishful thinking!). When you say that Deanery’s power as a woman is diluted by her mythical powers, I was quite stunned that you came to that conclusion. I thought the message being portrayed was that this woman is undefeatable, indestructible, a goddess, a powerful force that will concur and that her dragons and powers were a symbolic extension of her capabilities. She will be the one who defeats them all.
I saw the men as arrogant, power hungry, sex fiends, controlling, manipulative, brooding, selfish, blood thirsty, barbarian pigs (with the exception of Eddard and maybe Robb) who think they are of higher authority and in control when in fact it’s actually the women who are running the show in their own ways. You talked a lot about how the women disappoint you in their abilities to defend themselves when you should be criticizing the men’s behaviour because I’ve see nothing but defensive responses from the girls. I may not be the smartest person but I can see that George R. R. Martin is actually empowering women or even worshiping their strength that come in many forms and their resilience to demeaning, unfortunate, horrible and discriminating circumstances.
You sound like a very strong and empowered woman and that makes me proud of you to be sharing your thoughts about this series and it reflection of medieval period hierarchy but I hope you can see it from the other side now.
Go back and watch the series again and see if you still feel the same.
@shellyshorty – Thank you for your articulate and thoughtful comments! I wrote this after just watching Season 1. I definitely see the women as strong survivors. And they’re taking more control of their lives in Season 2.
Daenerys was my favorite character last season…and she still is. While I stand by what I wrote, I actually completely agree with you about Dany’s magical powers conveying her inner strength. I was worried her ability to birth dragons and withstand fire would detract from her capabilities, as if explaining her awesomeness away via magic. But the more I thought about it, and after watching Season 2, I’m convinced it’s instead a metaphor for her strength, power, resourcefulness and resilience. Her magic doesn’t control her, rather she controls it. And that makes a world of difference.
I’m currently working on my review of Season 2. While sexist problems still exist, I definitely see more empowerment emerging.
Thank you for taking my statement as I intended it. I was a bit worried you might see it as another attack on your blog when I just wanted to explain the perspective of the messages I was getting from the series instead of condemning your views. No one else seemed to share my point of view so I thought you would like something fresh and from the other side of the tracks! I definitely agree with you on the brutal amount of sexism shown and I am completely against chauvinism too. Seeing it should make us all realize how far we come as human beings but also that we still have a long way to go yet. Keep writing what you feel and see, look at the response you got…. your message is being received (whether they agree or not!) 🙂
I don’t know about the rest of you…but I, for one, wind up hating the MEN for their treatment of women. I think there is some confusion between having mysogynistic characters in a novel and having a mysogynistic theme and message. By these standards, if you read any sort of memoir about a woman who suffered at the hands of men…it is bad and terrible and should make you vomit because it depicts rape and puts men in a position of power? It just doesn’t make any sense.
This article makes me feel like the author accomplished the exact opposite of what the author claims. If you read this book and you were disgusted by the actions of the men who raped and mistreated the women… didn’t the author essentially bring to light how DISGUSTING those actions are? Aren’t most of the hateable characters in the book men? Aren’t most of the atrocious actions committed by men? And remind me again which is the gender that suffers and is the cause of all this pity and frustration? If these are the emotions that are being illicited..perhaps they were the emotions that were intended? That the men’s behavior is maddening?
At the very least they aren’t some anti-women propoganda. If anything they are “medeival men were a**holes” propaganda.
People need to get off of their high horses.
I agree with the points you brought up. And like a lot of people I love the show. I tried discussing this with some of friends but they didn’t pick up on anything you’ve said. People either don’t see the sexism or don’t deem it to be important in the scheme of things, but it absolutely is.
RE: Anne Rice’s post (which i got the link to this blog)
“Why do people seek to politicize art — fantasy, films, novels? Why do they seek to make artists reflect the politically correct concerns of a time? Cain Borgia has brought this long blog post on Game of Thrones to the page to discuss whether this blogger is right, that the series is misogynist. I think the blogger is completely wrong, and that the questions asked are completely inappropriate. — Art has to be true to the deep psyche of those who make it; otherwise it will hold no truth for those who read it or see it. What do you think? (Beware: multiple spoilers; this discussion is only for those who have seen or read Game of Thrones and know the story.)”
“Art has to be true to the deep psyche of those who make it; otherwise it will hold no truth for those who read it or see it.” Sounds to me like an excuse to not be responsible for the ideals and opinions we receive from books. If you’re writing a book for mass readership (Each author hopes) you should contribute positively especially if in return you’re reaching the readers “deep psyche”.
And sexism should be an issue in anything that crosses the media wether it be novels or television.
@Mike – Thank you, just thank you. You have no idea how much I appreciate that.
About 60 people have commented here to say “it’s a mediaeval world so it really must be like this.”
This really shits me. There is no evidence mediaeval worlds were really like this, it’s a neckbeard fantasy of how neckbeards think they would behave if they lived in such a world. It has no relationship to history.
Also, how is someone meant to know that a show offends them without watching it? The “if it doesn’t offend you don’t watch it” brush off is shallow and pointless.
There’s no evidence medieval worlds were like this? Have you ever read the history behind the wives of Henry the 8th? What about Witch Hunts, in which women who flaunted societal expectations were burned and tortured? Women who were too outspoken had contraptions placed on their heads that held their tongues down for a couple of days.
Women in the Middle Ages had to know how to work the system. They had to use every wile, every charm, every ounce of their intelligence to get anywhere. There are only a handful of women from the Middle Ages who made a difference in history, and that’s because they had good husbands, knew how to gain loyal households and followers through political finesse, or in some cases they manipulated the crap out of people.
With all the war that took place during the Middle Ages do you really think women weren’t raped, beaten, tortured and otherwise enslaved and sold? The middle ages were a rough time for everyone, and you had to be one tough mother to survive.
I hate to be a pedant, but neither Henry VIII’s reign nor the witch craze took place in the middle ages.
Hmm… Boadicea, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, that crazy queen in Madagascar, Cleopatra, and Joan of Arc would disagree with you.
“My only problem is that Arya is still a child, not yet a woman.” Welcome to the outside of the United States of America, Century XXI! In the times depicted by the series, USA and its fallible, ridiculous and unrealistic moral sense were not yet into existence, and women were already women at 11, married at 13, and died of old age or some illness at 40.
If you have a problem with true real life history that happened outside your freaking back yard of USA you should not review and spit your bigotry on public forum. That only shows how shamefully american minded you are.
I believe this fantasy novel/show is based off of the historical medieval times. As most fictional novels are based off of some kind of realistic circumstance. Yes they could have imagined a world where woman were equals or dominated but it took a more realistic to the time period approach. I think the women in the show although they are many time oppressed have lot more leeway than women really would have had back in them days. For example Brienne of Tarth would have never even been allowed to be a warrior in those times to even be mocked for doing so. It wouldn’t even be allowed for Catelyn Stark to speak so freely amongst men during negotiations and war planning. In fact she would probably had been sent back home to tend to her children by her own son once her husband had died. Women’s opinions were not valued at all and yet this story does show her son and other men valuing Catelyn’s opinion even though in a real medieval scenario they would not. Ayra does have to dress a boy, yes for on to hide in plain sight to hide from people who know who she is. I believe that goes to show that there is a support of a strong female role. She fights other boy more than 5 to 6 years older than her, she’s keenly smart and has survived on her own “merit”. If this were a supposed mysogynistic piece would they have conveyed such strong female characters. They show how deplorable King Joffery’s actions are not glorify them because they make you feel for Sansa. They show you that even though you are a woman that doesn’t mean you always listen to what a mean says as in season two you see them Catelyn release Jamie Lannister without her sons consent with no hesitation or fear of being seen a a traitor. You see Brienne of Tarth show Jamie Lannister that just because she is a woman it doesn’t mean she can’t kill three men faster than any knight is his watch. You see all these women fight and most often accomplish their goals. A mysogynisitc book/show would never allow for that. Yes there is beating, rape, and men thinking that women are just playthings to be toyed with. But these women are fighting it, these women although sometimes for their lives do not push to far all at once. fight it and are showing their strength and that they are more intelligent then the men around them know. As to the Dothraki being the only people of color on the show and are depicted as savages,They would have been in the medieval time. Many of them would be slaves and no matter what would never be allowed to be free to roam about freely. They would not be educated properly. All they would know is honor to their kind and war. There would be no free cities. Kings did not just stop at the land that they were born to, they always were looking for more. The Dothraki on this show are feared and are fierce warriors that make even the people of Kings landing fear for their lives if they should ever cross the water. Even if there were people of other ethnic backgrounds they all would be part of seperate villages and portrayed much like the Dothraki in the show. But they do not portray them to be weaker or less capable of ruling kingdoms, in fact with the numbers of the Dothraki and their fierce and brutal battle techinques, if they were to come to King’s landing to claim the land , would probably succeed because they depict the arrogance of the “white” people of the 7 kingdoms, a King who use to be a great warrior but through drunkeness and sloth on his part had become a fat and spoiled waste of a man, not capable of defending himself against a pig, where they then show Khal Drogo sucessfully ruling his people never being defeated and never letting what is his be taken. Though Viserys felt he was better than these “savages” of a different color, Khal Drogo shows him that he is not by pouring molting hot metal over his head showing him, though he thinks himself better because he is of high birth and not a colored savage that he can still die like anyone else. That all being said I think it’s a ridiculous reach to say that they made the show to hate on women and to shun people of color because in so many aspects of the show you see both making great strides despite the fact that in our reality in the medieval times never would have happened.
@Kimberly – Brienne is in Season 2 and my post is only on Season 1. I never said nor do I think the show was made to “hate on women” or “to shun people of color.” I said the show suffers from sexism and from its omittance of people of color aside from the stereotypical depiction of poc as savage/barbaric. My problem is that women’s bodies are objectified to the point of glorification. My problem was not that bad or sexist things happen to the female characters but that in Season 1, the women didn’t question or challenge patriarchal constraints. In Season 2, that changes.
I think they did a wonderful job bringing George R.R. Martin’s book to the big screen, however, even though they did stay fairly true to the source material (in the first season, anyway, things are getting quite a bit out of line in the second season), you have to read the books to really understand the complexity of the world Martin created. Although I doubt this will sway you on your bogus opinions, I recommend you read the books before posting such a blog.
Also, you may be interested to read that the TV writers aged all the children in the series by 2 years, so Sansa is actually fawning over Joffrey and having sons at 11, not 13, and Arya is going around killing people (and she does kill quite a handful of people in the books) at age 9, not 11. This also includes Robb, who is attempting to rule the North around age 14.
Furthermore, I had to laugh when I read your little description of Catelyn, because in the books, she is one of the most annoying, emotionally hindered characters, and it’s almost a relief when she SPOILER ALERT is killed.
@RDNinja – I shouldn’t have to read the books in order to enjoy/critique/analyze a TV series. While books are usually better than their adaptations, any adaptation should be able to stand on its own separate from its source material.
I agree with you, adaptations should stand on their own, but you cannot confuse the ideas of the adaptation’s writers with those of the original author’s. For instance, when you say, “writers can imagine any world they wish to create”, that is true, but the adaptation writers did not create this world at all – Martin did. I also feel this is an exceptional situation because Martin created a very complex world with many characters and lots of intricately connected plot lines. Then, when the adaptation was created, the writers tried to include everything instead of trying to simplify Martin’s ideas. While this made for a very true-to-the-source TV series, much of Martin’s complexity was lost and so was a lot of the background for why events happened the way they did.
I don’t think this feeble excuse washes. George RR Martin wrote one episode for season 1 and one for season 2, and they were both steeped in woman-hate. His episode in season 1 had a crazy woman breast-feeding her adult son, and “rape” was the most commonly used word in his episode in season 2. Martin clearly is deeply involved in the development of this tv show and approves of it, as do most of his neckbeard Westerosian fan base. So “read the books” is a particularly weak excuse here. And, as the opinioness notes, we can review the tv show on its own merits – not everything is about you and your precious favourite author.
There are alot of things about this post that bother me. Primarily, the Opinionness doesn’t take into consideration the strength of mind it takes to manipulate the system to your advantage. Cersei, Dany, Catelyn, the Prostitutes (including Shae…0_o), Margery Tyrell, Malisandre, and to a certain extent Sansa all have very strong powers of persuasion, manipulation, political understanding, and alot of sex appeal that they use to their advantage. Please tell me how their use of the system, their finagling better situations for themselves through the use of their beauty and sex appeal misogynistic? If a woman wrote these female characters to be politically savvy and sexy we would be praising her for characters that are intelligent, that make the best out of a bad situation. Can I also point out that women throughout history have used their feminine attributes to their advantage? Does that fact make their ability to survive less important or worthy than if they won their survival by fighting physically?
The fighting women of GOT don’t have wiles to use against their assailants. They get by on grit and pure luck (with the exception of Dany, the books resident munchkin). They say what they mean and they mean what they say. I appreciate that fact about the warrior women of GOT, and I would like to point out that in the world of fantasy, if it’s a truly sexist book, the fighting women would be exceptional to look at as well.
What I’m saying is the book imitates real life. The women who know how to manipulate the system don’t dirty their hands with mens work. They use their words, subtle hints, gossip, their bodies, and their very strong minds to make situations work to their advantage. Anybody who’s ever worked with women can attest that we know how to use our words to build up or destroy another person. The women who fight to make their situation better do so without wiles or manipulation, and that’s ok too. Both types of women exist in our world as well, and neither is better than the other, they simply have different talents that get them where they need to be with the proper amount of determination and intelligence.
May I also point out that there are multiple groups of people within the Game of Thrones who give women an equal standing with men. Even in Westros religious orders allow women to be leaders of a congregation. I don’t think the series is mysoginistic. I think it imitates real life.
For those of you who came here from Anne Rice’s Facebook post, I am reviewing and critiquing HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ the TV series, NOT the books. When I write “series,” I’m referring to the TV series. Also, I wrote this post last year so this is an analysis of only Season 1 as Brienne (who is awesome), Yara (Asha in the books) and Melisandre don’t appear until Season 2.
Thank you! I just watched a few episodes of the first run.”Stiletto feminism” is just what the blond warrior queen is up to. Prostitution is NOT a creative empowering career choice for women – it’s entering into a consensus to be raped for money on a regular basis. And isn’t there a lot of female full frontal & not so much of the menfolk’s junk on display?
I am deciding whether it’s worth enduring the uncritiqued sexism and general gratuitous violence. I do love the starkness of the scenery, the windy castles where people sleep under furs, the costumes, the look at what we (such as we are) have emerged from….
The equivalent of man’s penis is the vulva, as in labia and clitoris. What you call full frontal nudity on female’s is NOT real full frontal nudity. A woman’s pelvis with shadows or hair hiding “the important stuff” is in no way the same thing as a man’s penis appearing on screen. We’ve seen Theon, that slave Drogo was taking and Hodor in all their glory. This seems very common in America (possibly Europe, I haven’t researched that yet). They are able to show a man’s penis but they can’t show a woman truly naked. I wonder why, it’s not like a vulva is offensive and man’s junk is not! They are both just parts of the body, and yet only one of them can’t be shown, not even on HBO shows.
Just to comment on a couple of the comments…
… a frequent tactic that the defenders of the series have is to fall back on the books. On the one hand, it’s a perfectly reasonable defense if one is considering “Game of Thrones” from a multi-dimensional, “transmedia” perspective, where the cultural impact of the show, the books, and whatever other tie-ins, spin-offs, fan-fic, etc. would be considered. However, the point of the original review is to focus on the tv series. And I have to agree with the Opinioness about this – despite the many good qualities of the show, I think it comes off as misogynistic.
In a tv show, you have limited access to the inner perspectives of the characters (male or female), and also a temporal restriction (the one hour length). A novel can afford a more detailed view into the culture. Remember the back “half” of Tolkien’s “Return of The King” – I think there were ten appendices (same with “Dune” if I remember correctly). Hell, “Moby Dick” set the plot aside for entire chapters, focusing on the daily life of Ishmael, Quiqeeg and mad Ahab.
The show, on the other hand, has to give us a lot of information very quickly, through the actions of the characters (there’s no voice-over). On the one hand, the brutal treatment of both men and women (beheadings, disembowelments, cut-out tongues… hell, even horses, dogs and dire-wolves suffer pretty badly) is shown for what it is, and not “prettied” up. The marital rape of Dany is at least shown for what it is. In fact, much of the sex in the show is pretty awful-looking (there’s not a lot of tenderness). I even buy Deny’s trying to better her situation by working with a prostitute. And the fact that she’s found more belonging among the Dothraki than she had at the hands of her brother is at least somewhat believable. That she falls in love with him is a LOT more problematic. [Why is it that the commenters remark that “this happens in the real world all the time,” when clearly we are dealing with a fantasy?]
There are many “points minus” here though for the way in which the prostitutes are treated. This is where the show becomes more problematic for me. The way in which they’re photographed IS rather sexy, which is a problem. They also don’t get much screen time. The world setting is one where sex is a medium of exchange or the “right” of every man – so why not depict THAT in all its ugliness? The male/female nudity ratio is also rather lopsided (a couple of penises, sure, but one of them shows up out of nowhere).
The show does a much better job discussing class differences (poor people are being recruited from dungeons to protect rich people from other poor people on the Wall), sexual preference issues (the fact that the fourth son has to stay in the closet), and the whole problem of masculinity and masculine performance (Renly, the fourth son of the king, Varys, Tyrion and Samwell on the Watch are four of the smarter and possible better men on the show, but their masculinity is called into question because they’re not the best fighters). And the show is even complicating (in a good way) the VERY problematic depiction of the Dothraki, a mishmash of all sorts of “others/non-Westerners.” At first, they weren’t even subtitled (a great way to make a subject an Object); but as we got to see more of their culture, they seemed less like stereotypical savages and more like a polyglot nomadic clan, with more organization. Unfortunately, of course, we never really see the Dothraki without the two Token White people present, one of whom utters lots of banal generalities about them (“the Dothraki really love their horses”). But I felt that the show was trying to confront this issue head-on, by subtitling them more and showing a little more of the individuals.
Octavia Butler (rest in peace) did a great job in discussing the intricacies of the master/slave, man/woman relationship, without denigrating either men or women in the process. Why not use her critical gaze as a focal point for “GoT?” There’s no reason to stay absolutely true to source material anyway – otherwise we’d have had Tom Bombadil in “LoTR” (as much as I loved his character in the books, I’m really happy I didn’t see him dancing around in the movie).
Are you kidding?! You want Cercei to rule, despite the fact that she totally sucks and is completely evil, simply because she is a woman? I can’t stand this kind of stuff!!!!! This is a TV show, and does not matter at all. You still waste your time writing about it but that’s a different story. The real point here is that you would probably choose a woman over a man to be president, for example, simply because she is a woman. You do not care at all about the quality of the leader, just the gender. I put to you that you are sexist for that reason.
Back to the show. How realistic would an un-sexist medieval show be? One can only suspend disbelief so far. The fact is, in earlier, harder times, men, who are generally stronger than women (this is not always true, but the general trend is that men are stronger than women. I find it ridiculous that I have to qualify a scientific fact, but I fear being called sexist) held the power because they defended their land. Generally, the people who can take and keep land have the power in that land. In earlier times, when strength counted for more than mental prowess, men would be in control. That does not mean that there were not some exceptions. Sure, many women held power over their husbands or brothers, and were the effective rulers of their land. This comes through in the TV show. But few women could rule in their own right. This began to change historically as governmental institutions became more formal and power could not be so easily taken at the point of a sward. Obviously, in 13th century England, a woman could not rule in her own right. She would not have commanded armies, or the respect of her people. Most kings and lords of the day were kings or lords because they themselves were quite strong and good at fighting. Take Richard I, for example, vs Edward II. Richard I was a great warrior in his own right, and commanded the respect of his underlings. Edward II was flamboyant (most likely homosexual. Richard I was definitely homosexual, but he was also very masculine.) Richard I died in battle against the French, to the dismay of his subjects and is still remembered as a great king. Edward II abdicated his throne, and was killed when some guy stuck a red hot poker up his ass. While the story of his death might have been fabricated later on by people who wanted to discredit Mortimer, the guy who took power from the king, the fact of the matter is that he was killed in the end.
Jump forward to the 16th and 17th centuries and women rule in England all the time. In fact, three women ruled consecutively (though the first one was never crowned, and was killed by the second one). England’s political institutions had evolved to the point that the ruler did not have to physically fight for his or her position. The ruler could simply rule by virtue of the fact that he or she (though still, mostly he) was the son or daughter of the previous ruler, or some other relation.
Which do you think the show more closely resembles? 13th century, or 16th century England?
I think the point the original reviewer was trying to make was to take the series as a fantasy. I can’t be sure – since I wasn’t around then – but I’m almost positive there were no dire-wolves or dragons in 13th or 16th century England.
The show, in other words, is a fantasy, but it keeps falling back on the sword-and-sandals model of fantasy, where women’s and men’s gender roles ARE trapped somewhere in the middle ages. This is problematic on a number of levels, not least of which is that this seems to be the ONLY mode of depicting medieval-type fantasy worlds.
Also, frankly Cercei wouldn’t be such a bad choice for queen. She’s no more or less amoral than anyone else in the show (except maybe Ned, who paid for his morals at the end of a pike). And she shows a lot more wisdom than her son, who started a war on his first day on the job.
After watching game of thrones for a friend who is mad on it I found it sickening every perversion against female form is toyed round with for entertainment, I like you sneered at the idea of a woman falling for her rapist….yeah sure… also women in this are portrayed like mot other things on damned television as weak and secondary, I am so sick of this crap!
The show certainly *depicts* misogyny in rampant, flagrant form, that often goes unchallenged by the characters. But that is not the same thing as the show itself being misogynistic. Many of you are forgetting that this is, ultimately, a fantasy show. Unlike a period piece like Mad Men, it doesn’t have to be sending a message or offering commentary. It’s just a fantasy story. A very dark, twisted, scary fantasy world.
This is an authorial device used (and a bit abused, if we’re honest) to create drama. Just like the violence, the torture, the slavery, the monsters, the death. All of these elements in the show basically just serve to heighten the drama, they are obstacles for the characters to overcome, or be overcome by. This is what is meant by “gritty” in descriptions of fiction.
No doubt, the world created by Martin is misogynistic one. It would seem that, in order to recreate this world on screen, the patriarchal culture must be very much present. Having said that, I would love to hear more of a discussion about the objectification of women on screen in this particular series. I feel it goes above and beyond the books. I’m nearly through the first season, and I’ve seen only two completely naked men, one of which was a prisoner being drug behind a horse, the other briefly flitted across the screen. Yet in every episode I’ve watched there have been numerous scenes in which women were shown nude. The lesbian scene with Ros was particularly over the top, unnecessary, and only there, let’s be honest, for male, heterosexual viewers.There is a *huge* difference between recreating the brutality that women experienced in the GoT series, and trying to entertain and “hook” the male audience by giving them a hard-on.
A female viewer who believes that, all things being equal in 2013, I should get to see at least a few more ripply muscles if every time I turn around there are breasts being bounced in my face.
Typical idiot feminist; focus on poor treatment of women and consider it proof of misogyny, but ignore the horrible violence that happens to men every episode.
Typical sexist pig; utterly missing the point.
Wow, I don’t even remember approving this douchebaggery. Way to mansplain to us and derail the conversation about sexism. Fuck off for being rude and slinging insults. And thank you, “Fuck Off 2U.”
The problem with a work like A Song of Ice and Fire is that Martin attempts to represent his fantasy world as realistically as possible and in the real world the relations between the sexes, classes, races and religions, and even among people of different ages are based on generally very cruel structures of power and domination.
And do not go back as far as the European Middle Ages or bestial regimes of the Great Monarchies of China, Japan or India to perceive this savage reality.
In our allegedly civilized era massacres are on the agenda: The First World War killed at least 15 to 25 million people. The Spanish Civil War represented the savage killing of a million people and the rape wave that broke is among the most famous in the world. World War I represent the Gas Chambers, Fields of mass destruction, 75 million dead. According to some outraged Nazi hordes least five million Soviet women. And machinery Anglo-Soviet-American, as criminal as the Nazis, was dedicated to violate at least four to five million German women.
A novel, short story or poem in which it is intended to build a world where the killings, rape, slavery and mass torture do not exist or to a very small can be credible only a very futuristic society where Classism pests, the Racism, Sexism and the Religious Fanaticism have managed to be eradicated in one way or another, either by a natural evolution of the species or a huge victorious revolution of the exploited and oppressed against prevailing social structures.
Even in the modern world we find laws and decrees in both the U.S. and Europe (presumably the highest expressions of human civilization) that directly threaten the interests of the working class, racial minorities, women, gays, alternative religions or atheists groups. What could be expected of a society as “primitive” as that in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Do not forget that in the actual Middle Ages came the Crusades, The Inquisition, the Burning of the Witches (the vast majority of women). And in the passage between feudalism and capitalism carnage was unleashed against the Native Americans and mass slavery of Africans.
Of course, seeing a wild bleeding constantly is a bit tiring, and sometimes annoying in the extreme that women are always being abused, rape, forced marriages and many more. But if that is the case in most of the allegedly civilized XXI Century Earth (even in the “First World”) having rare in a society as “primitive” and “backward” as Poniente.
Are you kidding me?
Your perspective is so incredible to me. Game Of Thrones is a world where men are tortured, killed, maimed, castrated, do most of the warring (as they were and still are socialized to perform- so sad), and so very often in this series swear to be “protectors” of women. Talk about slaves! So pathetic it gags me how blinded you are by your own cognitive distortions, and victimhood. Women have some things tough. So do men. Wake up and be just.
In contemporary society men are raised to be emotionally crippled worker bees who die younger than women (read Warren Farrels “the myth of male power”, I beg you). In the categories in life that both genders report as “mattering”, women rate higher in having those things. Lesbians have the highest recorded incidence of domestic violence…..the list goes on. Look at the data!
And btw, Khaleesi, and the ending of season 3!!?? A white perfect women in a sea of natives, freeing slaves, while soldiers look on. White in a sea of blackish folk calling her mother. What a disgusting exaltation of the bizarre nature of female ego-mother, and racist as fuck. Pathetic. Pathetic. And yes, I’m pissed off. What a disgrace to goodness.
Never said men aren’t tortured, killed or don’t have it shitty in ‘Game of Thrones.’ They are and they do. But sexism and misogyny are embedded within hierarchical institutions. There are power differentials including male privilege, that men overall benefit merely from their gender.
It’s awesome that criticizing inequality somehow equates being a victim. Nope. Just tired of seeing women raped, beaten, subjugated and objectified in film, television and advertising over and over and over again.
I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about regarding this –> “In the categories in life that both genders report as “mattering”, women rate higher in having those things.” Um, which categories? Who did these people report to? And there are more than just two genders.
Sexism and stereotypical gender roles hurt men too.
I didn’t write about season 3. If you look at the date of this post and the title, you’ll see this is a critique of season 1. I love Dany, but I completely agree with you that the final scene of season 3 finale “Mhysa” is incredibly racist and glorifies colonialism.
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