It seems that one of feminists favorite pastimes is complaining about sexism in popular media. When no one watches a TV show, feminists remain silent. Yet once the shows hits, feminists suddenly find offense with something. This happened to HBO’s Game of Thrones.
When the show debuted in 2011, it received praise and high ratings. Many people, however, knew little about the show and less about the novels. Five years later, the phrases “winter is coming” and “you know nothing, Jon Snow” are pop culture lexicon.
In came the feminists.
Last season began their uproar, primarily over the Jamie and Cersi Lannister sex, or as feminists called it “rape,” scene. The outrage continued as feminists apparently went back through the previous seasons and took note of every instance of violence against women (they conveniently missed the show’s violence against men). This reached its zenith several weeks ago with the off-screen rape of feminist favorite Sansa Stark.
Of all the violence depicted on the show, this scene was the tamest as the only thing the audience saw was Rasmay Bolton rip open the back of Sansa’s dress. The camera cuts to Reek (Theon Greyjoy) weeping as he is forced to watch his torturer rape Sansa. We see nothing of the act. Yet the reaction from feminists was as if the show depicted a snuff scene.
Dozens of articles, blog posts, and tweets about misognyny erupted from feminists. They were infuriated that there is so much violence against women on the show, particularly so much rape (again, they never noticed the more frequent violence against men).
Martin, the writer and creator of the novels that spawned the show, addressed these “complaints” in an Entertainment Weekly interview. When asked why there is violence against women in the books and on the show (but again, no question about the violence against men), Martin gave the perfect response. I will quote it in full:
The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women. One of the charges against Joan of Arc that got her burned at the stake was that she wore men’s clothing—that was not a small thing. There were, of course, some strong and competent women. It still doesn’t change the nature of the society. And if you look at the books, my heroes and viewpoint characters are all misfits. They’re outliers. They don’t fit the roles society has for them. They’re ‘cripples, bastards, and broken things‘—a dwarf, a fat guy who can’t fight, a bastard, and women who don’t fit comfortably into the roles society has for them (though there are also those who do—like Sansa and Catelyn).
Now there are people who will say to that, ‘Well, he’s not writing history, he’s writing fantasy—he put in dragons, he should have made an egalitarian society.’ Just because you put in dragons doesn’t mean you can put in anything you want. If pigs could fly, then that’s your book. But that doesn’t mean you also want people walking on their hands instead of their feet. If you’re going to do [a fantasy element], it’s best to only do one of them, or a few. I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages’—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned.
I have millions of women readers who love the books, who come up to me and tell me they love the female characters. Some love Arya, some love Dany, some love Sansa, some love Brienne, some love Cersei—there’s thousands of women who love Cersei despite her obvious flaws. It’s a complicated argument. To be non-sexist, does that mean you need to portray an egalitarian society? That’s not in our history; it’s something for science fiction. And 21st century America isn’t egalitarian, either. There are still barriers against women. It’s better than what it was. It’s not Mad Men any more, which was in my lifetime.
And then there’s the whole issue of sexual violence, which I’ve been criticized for as well. I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist.
I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.
How sad that Martin had to explain to feminists how storytelling works.