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"a critical mass of people suddenly noticed just how rapey this show is"
June 27, 2014 3:52 AM   Subscribe

To put it simply, this is why we can't have nice things. If the only thing that gets a serious segment of fandom up in arms about Game of Thrones's use of rape and violence against women is the fear of having tarnished the gleam of a favorite male woobie, then the showrunners have absolutely no reason to change their behavior. If they know that favorite characters can get away, literally, with murder so long as the person they murder is a woman who hurt them and slept with other men, they will simply keep showing us that. I'm not saying that I have the solution here, and god knows that simply by continuing to watch the show I'm part of the problem. But it is enormously frustrating to watch a critical conversation build around this show and its handling of violence against women, only to devour itself when it becomes clear that the real problem is a man.
Abigail Nussbaum takes a long hard look at Game of Thrones, its fandom and the way both handle rape.
posted by MartinWisse (233 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Good article, thanks.

I just saw this related article on Tits and Sass about how GoT presents sex workers this morning (spoilers for season 4 throughout):
Game of Thrones is capable of lighter, even happier moments. As the show goes on these have become rarer as the narrative is crushed beneath the weight of a cynical world view. Game of Thrones forgets more and more with each passing season that life is full of both ups and downs. It feels like in the pursuit of realism, the writers think they need to depict a consistently harsh world and a near constant parade of pain for all their characters—particularly for sex workers, who rarely see popular stories where we are able to triumph. Every sex worker on the show who has been given more than a handful of lines has been violently killed or assaulted. If Game of Thrones truly wishes to go against the tropes it claims to subvert, perhaps it should include sex workers who are given more than one scene and not killed almost immediately after being granted agency.
posted by fight or flight at 4:03 AM on June 27 [8 favorites]


As an aside, maybe this post could use both a spoiler and trigger warning for descriptions of rape and sexual violence?
posted by fight or flight at 4:04 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


When I was working at the bookstore and the show was just getting started and everyone was reading the books it was amazing how many people tried to convince me that I should read them. Yeah, I get it, I'm a fantasy fan who works in a bookstore. But holy shit, maybe you should stop repeatedly telling a woman that she "has to read" a series with that much fucking sexual violence in it. Maybe there's reasons she's not interested.

I think the discussion of how we're supposed to sympathize with Tyrion's murdering choices did a really good job of articulating a problem I occasionally have watching television and, more often, reading books-- when there's an obvious point of view that you're supposed to sympathize with and you just can't because you fundamentally have a moral disagreement with one of the stands that seems to be taken by the writers/directors/creators/etc. I tried watching the US version of Being Human for a while and the way the show made its moral compass character react to another character killing her abuser just got under my skin because it was so obvious that the killing was supposed to be a bad thing, that we were supposed to disapprove, that it was proof a character was "going feral", and not something that could ever be justified. There was no nuance or attempt to sympathize with the killer, no thought about context, they just used that-- and her history with her abuser-- as a way to drive her in a different direction on the show.

I'm glad she wrote about it that way, because there's not a good name for that kind of disconnect and I'm having a hard time describing it, because it's not quite the same as the weird cognitive dissonance that I get when I'm watching something with a weird and nonsensical moral system for worldbuilding reasons (like in Star Wars), but it's this feeling of watching a show written by someone with the standard blinders society gives to men in a patriarchy that keeps them from noticing stuff like rape culture or systemic misogyny.
posted by NoraReed at 4:32 AM on June 27 [42 favorites]


in the season finale, she even rekindles their romantic relationship and initiates consensual sex with him.

I don't think this is actually that uncommon after being raped by someone you've previously had a relationship with.

I think part of the problem here is that Game of Thrones has characters that can be shallow stereotypes, that are then put into awful domestic situations that are very real.

Not very many women have been murderous Queen Regents of a fantasy realm, but all too many have been raped by relatives.
posted by empath at 4:37 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


As an aside, maybe this post could use both a spoiler and trigger warning for descriptions of rape and sexual violence?

They're both in the tags.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:39 AM on June 27


Having neither seen nor read it, are there any male sex workers?
posted by XMLicious at 4:50 AM on June 27


Having neither seen nor read it, are there any male sex workers?

In the show, at least one.
posted by empath at 4:51 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


I think Abigail Nussbaum is fabulous. I don't always agree with her, and I only watch about 10% of what she writes about (and read less of what she writes about), but she is smart and a good writer and interested in important questions. Hers is one of the only personal blogs (paperpools is probably the only other) that I have bookmarked and actually click through to every couple of weeks.
posted by OmieWise at 4:54 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, it's fascinating (and like the author of the main link I both have massive problems with the show but will keep watching it).

Also thanks very much to fight or flight for the link to Tits and Sass in the top comment.

During season 4 I met my current partner, who is a sex worker, and my sensitivity to appalling language about and treatment of sex workers (in this show and elsewhere) is now significantly heightened.

It is particularly sad to have had two excellent characters (Ros and Shae) both brutally killed, as that post says, by men to make points between men, and for both of them to have been written later on in a way that lost the subtlety and strength they had initially.

Anyway, Tits and Sass is generally excellent and well worth a read on other issues too.
posted by imperium at 5:07 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


The only issue I have with this article is the fact that, despite what she says, I (and others) did not like the way Shae's death was written in the show. It's been a while since I've read the books, but I remember reading that scene and thinking "FINALLY, Tyrion does something ignoble." It was the first thing I remember reading where he did something that didn't put him in an underdog hero state. I appreciated that because every other character was an anti-hero at best, and I was tired of Tyrion being the one kind of sort of moral person in the series.

When I saw the scene on HBO, I was sorely disappointed because they made it look like he killed her half out of grief and half out of self-defense. I much preferred it when Tyrion actually gets tarnished. I don't mind changes from the book, but that one seemed like a HUGE cop-out, like the writers didn't want people to start disliking Tyrion in any way, lest they might stop watching the show. Rape and murder are horrible things, and when you start to whitewash them to ensure some characters can kind of sort of do it without being labeled as Bad People, you're doing it wrong.

I'll tune in at the beginning of next season, but if they keep up with this sort of thing, I probably won't make it to the end.
posted by nushustu at 5:18 AM on June 27 [16 favorites]


This an excellent article and a powerful reading. I've read the books but only seen the first episode of the show.

I think the books work as two things

1)A demonstration that not only is the world they live in brutal and unforgiving for all in particular but women especially, but war is essentially futile. The idea of a "fitting" king is just clearly nonsense, and most people would prefer there just to be no war rather than the endless torment that the civil war brings
2)An exciting fantasy story following interesting characters.

As the series continues, 1 gets more and more highlighted, and 2 gets less important. After all, all the remotely sympathetic characters are systematically murdered or become unsympathetic. And when you get down to it, once you've spent 1,000 pages highlighting that the world everyone lives in is terrible, do you really need another book doing so? The series is, I suspect, hitting the same problem the book does, that it now lacks many sympathetic characters which makes one wonder why we should keep watching?

So when the article wonders why people are angry that Jaime is becoming unsympathetic, this is probably why: ultimately people are probably watching this fantasy show to follow a stroy about characters they care about, so making said characters unsympathetic is probably not a bad idea. The authors point is well taken, and it is completely realistic that Jaime might act in the way he behaves, but is it really worth watching a show to only get that message? Especially when the show itself, as the author mentions, doesn't seem to think it even was rape.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:21 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


But holy shit, maybe you should stop repeatedly telling a woman that she "has to read" a series with that much fucking sexual violence in it.

But they're so realistic*!

with the exception of the zombie ice elves, the magic, the dragons, the weird climate and just about every other thing except the relentless assault on women and thirteen-year-old girls

*says every fan of the series ever
posted by winna at 5:22 AM on June 27 [27 favorites]


Personally I'd be happy to read a fantasy that doesn't completely ignore the patriarchal violence inherent in a medieval monarchy and for a long time I gave Game of Thrones a pass because of that. But it's just not that story and the more I read the more I realize Martin doesn't actually give a shit about the nameless barmaids whose violation he describes in loving detail every other chapter in the name of ~realism~. At this point it's wholly Stockholm Syndrome (and Sansa and Arya, and I'm sure he'll fuck that up too) keeping me around. The show in particular just doesn't Get It-- at least Martin seemed to know that killing Shae was a despicable thing. The show gave us swelling emotional music and a weepy hero. Fuuuck that.
posted by sonmi at 5:25 AM on June 27 [9 favorites]


From the article:
... what the fuck is wrong with this fandom, and with the people writing about this show, that it can get up in arms over a pretty shady dude committing a rape that is actually very effectively depicted, but isn't bothered by a previously decent guy committing a murder that is manipulatively set up to make him look as guiltless as possible?
I think the book and show intentionally try to get the audience to sympathize with murderers, and this will come back to haunt the audience later when they harm other characters the audience likes. (I say this, though, without knowing where the story arcs are going, because the books aren't finished yet.) I think the rape scene with Jaime and Cercei was supposed to work the same way, but the version in show didn't accomplish this as well because it didn't provide the fans with any way to excuse his actions.
posted by nangar at 5:26 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Well, the realism it goes for (and sometimes achieves) is "What would a world realistically look like with all these fantasy tropes in place?" Lots of sexual violence would be one thing. Sure, but it goes off the rails because GRRM goes into unnecessary levels of gross detail constantly and the show uses women's bodies as props or scenery.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:28 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


I find it astonishing that people can excuse the fact that Martin chose to put that level of violence against women and thirteen-year-old girls in his books with the threadbare appeal to realism as if it were not a deliberate authorial choice.

He chose to hang his paper-thin claim to 'realism' on that violence; it does nothing to make it any less gross or any more true.
posted by winna at 5:35 AM on June 27 [13 favorites]


Brienne did kill soldiers (Stark bannermen, supposedly good guys) who raped and murdered women in S2. Stabbed one dude right in the groin if I remember correctly.
posted by PenDevil at 5:40 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


I haven't seen the show or read the books. Is there a lot of triggery stuff in it. Sorry if this is in the FPP, don't want spoilers!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:45 AM on June 27


There is graphic rape and violence in both.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:47 AM on June 27


In the books and/or show, is there (a lot of) sexual violence committed against men and boys? That's a real thing that really happens.
posted by rtha at 5:54 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


That's a real thing that really happens.

There is at least one incident that I can think of and lots of implication. But I don't see why it matters particularly -- one form of sexual violence isn't any better or worse (or more "real") than the other. It's all horrific. It's not a competition.
posted by fight or flight at 5:56 AM on June 27


I love Abigail Nussbaum but I feel like if she's talking about what fans will "let them get away with," her two go-to examples shouldn't be the things that fans have been most uproariously pissed about.

That said, she's still right, for the most part. I feel like most of the show's problems would be solved by simply never hiring Alex Graves again.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:56 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]



I find it astonishing that people can excuse the fact that Martin chose to put that level of violence against women and thirteen-year-old girls in his books with the threadbare appeal to realism as if it were not a deliberate authorial choice.


I don't really get what you're getting at. Awful things happen in books because stories about awful things happening to people and how they react to them are interesting.
posted by empath at 5:57 AM on June 27 [15 favorites]


In the books and/or show, is there (a lot of) sexual violence committed against men and boys? That's a real thing that really happens.

There is some. Some of it is not particularly realistic though, for instance a character tortured and castrated in a manner closer to a horror movie rather than a more realistic depiction of abuse. There is some that is more realistic too, but it isn't a focus the way rape of women is.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:00 AM on June 27


In the books and/or show, is there (a lot of) sexual violence committed against men and boys? That's a real thing that really happens.


Not really, and its a point I've seen made somewhere before. Books which aim for realism by depicting the inherent sexual violence in their systems tend to focus almost exclusively on male on female activity. You would expect male on male sexual violence to occur, especially in, for instance, the all male Nights Watch.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:04 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


I've really enjoyed the tv show, but this season has been a slog and made me realize there's a point where I might stop watching due to the show's relentless bleakness. The scene with Cersei and Jamie was new low and the new words that been created to describe what was going on Crastor's Keep was just nauseating. Finally, the almost gleeful killing of Oberyn Martell, who was trying to avenge his sister, was just a cold slap.

As to the article, it was pretty good, particularly the point about people's reaction to Jamie's sex with Cersei, i.e. he wasn't monstrous and thus didn't fit most people's idea of rape. The bits about Shae felt a bit off, but then again I didn't have much problem with her story line in the show. She was a sex worker who fell in love and was willing to put up with a lot to be in that relationship. When her lover spurned her, she got really pissed and essentially said "Fuck you".

Loved that she touched on the problem of Tyrion being the audience's surrogate. He's a popular character, but an asshole who keeps getting himself into trouble.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:11 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


(book spoiler in this comment)

Realistic depictions should focus a lot more on sexual violence against women because it is so much more common, but you are right that it's revealing it was never made a point regarding the Nights Watch, especially since so many men are there because they are rapists.

Something similar to what happened to (Book Spoiler) Kerwin could have been worked in there, but I think Martin didn't want the Nights Watch to look any more unheroic than he already made them.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:12 AM on June 27


I don't really get what you're getting at. Awful things happen in books because stories about awful things happening to people and how they react to them are interesting.

In this case the awful things happen to women because stories about awful things happening to women are titillating.
posted by winna at 6:13 AM on June 27 [18 favorites]


But I don't see why it matters particularly -- one form of sexual violence isn't any better or worse (or more "real") than the other. It's all horrific. It's not a competition.

I get that. I'm just wondering which parts of reality are treated as must-show and it's interesting to see what gets emphasized, even as "but reality!" is used as a reason or excuse or defense. I think that if sexual violence against men and boys were shown as frequently and graphically as it apparently is against women and girls, the reactions would be different. Depictions of sexual violence against women and girls is "normal" and not as remarkable - I mean, that there even has to be a discussion about whether a character just giving up and letting her rapist rape her means she consented and therefore the act was not rape is indicative of this.
posted by rtha at 6:15 AM on June 27 [21 favorites]


The knee jerk defensive reaction is to say that while the show is pretty rapey, it's also pretty castrate-y, pretty throat slitty, pretty beheady, etc. Certainly, I think that's how Martin and the producers would want you to look at it. But even from my comfortable perch of dude privilege, the violence against women on this show gets under my skin, creeps me out. It's really not the same.

Because I know I'm going to keep watching anyway, I find myself looking to moments like Cersei's "Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls" or Brienne's avenging the murdered women, and trying to cling to those. But it's not like a ledger though, not like we can just add some to column B to balance column A. Even if there were more than a few token things in Column B. And there aren't, anyway.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:19 AM on June 27 [11 favorites]


Great article, but I think she's off about the reaction to Jamie's rape of Cersei. In most of the criticism I read, which admittedly has been in smart places like here and Feminist Fiction, the problem is not that it changes his redemptive arc. In fact, most of the complaining I have seen is that it doesn't change anything. They made a deviation from the book that is pretty significant for a character but didn't change the consequences; the showrunners made rape meaningless.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:19 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


Is the presence of forced castration as A Culturally Accepted Thing not considered a form of sexual violence against men? It isn't penetration nor does it involve anybody having sexual release, but it is still a coercive act that is about power and dominance. Maybe it isn't as notable in this series because there isn't an actual in-progress depiction of castration, but the show does have a literal army of male characters who are heavily defined by the sexual trauma that was inflicted upon them.

As far as the questions of why the fandom can't have nice things ... I think part of what makes the show fascinating is that it's about how none of the things are ever nice. Ned's execution was the signature telegraph that this show will not satisfy you if you wish to cheer for good things. All that you will get are multiple choices of grey and not so black. So, yes, Tyrion kills his lover in a scene of high tragedy and the depiction of how that relationship slipped into such tragedy is still unsatisfying; but the fandom will still cheer for him because he's still more virtuous than Jamie or Arya.

Or perhaps the more interesting choice is that the show seems to demand that it's characters are either nice and inconsequential, or flawed and powerful. Evil and amorality gets results -- and a large part of what this season was about was taking previously precious, nice characters like Sansa, Tyrion, and Arya, and showing them casting off some of their honor and purity in favor of more agency. So, yeah, I was personally sad when Tyrion/Shae ended as it had, but I was more intrigued by the narrative potential than saddened by the death and decline of two make believe people.
posted by bl1nk at 6:19 AM on June 27 [9 favorites]


So, If I find the violence against women in the show often as appaling as the violence against say, Theon Greyjoy, am I watching it wrong?
posted by svenni at 6:24 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


In the books and/or show, is there (a lot of) sexual violence committed against men and boys?

In the books there is more than in the show, but most of it happens off screen.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:26 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Fear of forced castration doesn't really impact the modern male the way fear of rape does for women. It's something that happened in history but is rare today. Rape of women is not rare today. This is why I consider what happened to Theon as more of a horror movie type of fear than a "this is a realistic story full of the shitty things people do to each other!" type of thing.

Now, as a symbolic gesture relating to male anxiety about manhood it definitely has some power (men fear being a victim of rape or violence would make them less of a man) but that can be viewed as a fear of being a woman so we circle back to what can be a form of misogyny.

But anyway, nothing GRRM does to men in the story makes the treatment of women any better or worse. It exists as full of issues as it does independent of everything else that goes on. So I'm done on that topic.
posted by Drinky Die at 6:29 AM on June 27 [9 favorites]


but you are right that it's revealing it was never made a point regarding the Nights Watch, especially since so many men are there because they are rapists.


Sort of minor spoiler.

There is a small town (Molestown, with a brothel, naturally in GoT) just a short ride away from the wall so it isn't exactly like a prison where there is an almost total lack of women for years and years so I'm not sure the lack of male on male rape necessarily reveals that much.
posted by Reggie Knoble at 6:35 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


In this case the awful things happen to women because stories about awful things happening to women are titillating.

I don't really think that's the case. It's definitely not played that way in the show. Awful things happening to women are awful, not sexy.
posted by empath at 6:36 AM on June 27 [10 favorites]


A lot of the comments here seem stuck on the idea that GoT isn't realistic in its portrayal of sexual violence as it exists in our society today, particularly with regards to male on male rape, etc. I've always taken it as (in part) GRRM's commentary on standard fantasy tropes and how, even though so many of them are set in a quasi-medieval setting, they have no real connection with the way that that medieval society actually was, particularly with regards to sexual violence and exploitation of all types. Yes, it's got dragons and stuff (and isn't always realistic in some fairly mundane matters like the melting point of gold), but part of the function of fantasy is to address some real issues while putting in things like dragons and wizards to keep it at a safe remove.

That having been said, I can understand why some people find it too rapey; that's my problem with John Barnes' books (which I used to read until I noticed that that he was going there in every damn book), and the problem that some people have with Alan Moore.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:46 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


I think the book and show intentionally try to get the audience to sympathize with murderers

In the ASOIAF universe, there aren't good and bad characters in any traditional sense. I'm not sure we're meant to sympathize with them at all when they do bad things, although in some cases, we do. That's going to come back to bite us: Arya is surely going to kill people we like, for example.
posted by killdevil at 6:47 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


I haven't read or watched Game of Thrones but the series reminds me of the Norman conquest of England in terms of alliances, betrayals, and sheer sadistic violence. History is pretty interesting.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:51 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


I disagree with the idea that sexual violence on the show is done for titillation. Women are definitely used for titillation on the show, but the sexual violence is not really played that way. This is not for a nanosecond to say that content isn't problematic.

No, the sexual violence is played as Just One More Horrible Thing That Happens. This is disingenuous in that it pretends there isn't a whole lot more psychological weight to portraying rape (thing that happens every damn day) to, say, melting a pot of gold over a guy's head (which, uh, does not). Worse, the show seems to be insisting we pretend not to notice that, of this world of many and varying horrible things, it clearly has a favorite, and that favorite is sexual violence.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:51 AM on June 27 [6 favorites]


I don't really think that's the case. It's definitely not played that way in the show. Awful things happening to women are awful, not sexy.

Gotta disagree with you there. The rapes are explicit and shot almost in a pornographic way. The show deals little with the aftermath of the rape and how a woman might be changed emotionally and mentally along with how they survive the situation.

There's also a weird message where seemingly very few of the on screen female characters have been raped, particularly Arya and Sansa, two young girls with little protection who have basically been prisoners of various parties for most of their arcs. It's almost as if rape is something that only happens to "bad" women like Cersei.

The books and show definitely have some weird dynamics going on, especially to our modern eyes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:54 AM on June 27 [22 favorites]


Near as I can tell, all the books are about the effects that come about because of a blinkered quest for three things: 1) Justice; 2) Revenge; 3) Love.

When bad things happen to the characters, it's because they have been pursuing one or more of these things without understanding context, or the other people involved.

In the context of the fictional time that the series and books present, there is nothing done for the sake of just doing it, to shock or excite. If we are horrified, it is because we are forcing modern mores on a context that does not even know they exist. The work comes to us with its own universe, its own morals -- neither of which are ours. Obviously.

It's like ya'll never read a book before, or something. Yeesh.
posted by gsh at 6:55 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


I can understand why some people find it too rapey

Yes, too rapey in the source material, add HBO's boob quota and contractually obligated gratuitous lesbian lovemaking and it adds up to something I don't feel quite right in watching, though I still do. Puts it in the same camp as football.
posted by shothotbot at 6:55 AM on June 27


It's like ya'll never read a book before, or something.

I would say its more like: is a book like this one which we should read or, like one which goes into great detail about the smell and texture of each of a characters hundreds of shits, is best avoided. Or somewhere in between.
posted by shothotbot at 6:58 AM on June 27


In the context of the fictional time that the series and books present, there is nothing done for the sake of just doing it, to shock or excite. If we are horrified, it is because we are forcing modern mores on a context that does not even know they exist. The work comes to us with its own universe, its own morals -- neither of which are ours. Obviously.

It's like ya'll never read a book before, or something. Yeesh.


...you know George R. R. Martin didn't, like, find these stories in a meteor or anything, right
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:00 AM on June 27 [37 favorites]


I almost stopped watching the first season when they killed Khal Drogo. I said to a friend, "They killed my favorite character." His reply was, "If having your favorite character killed is going to be a problem for you then Game of Thrones isn't for you."

I would say that in every case I can think of on the show the violence isn't shown in a sympathetic manner. It's fairly creepy that Robert makes his brother-in-law stand outside his bedroom while he fucks whores. It's uber creepy that one incest kid rapes the other one, but on the moral compass I think we've already fairly well established that Jamie isn't a good guy. He threw a child out a window to make a point and to cover up his incest. "Look at what I will do for you!"

The treatment of males without power is no better. One man had his privates shipped in a box to his father.

The Tryion thing still bothers me because it lacks context. Sure she ripped his heart out and betrayed him to the point of testifying against him in a murder trial, but there wasn't any explanation as to why. I am sure she got threatened and a better offer, much like Bron, but with Bron you get an explanation as to why he's not going to stand up for Tyion. I wanted that with Shae. I wanted her to explain how Tywin threatened her, paid her, or just was a more appealing man. I needed some reason as to why she did what she did.

I figure it'll come out later. My guess is she was trying to save Tyrion's life. That she made some dumb deal with Tywin much like Jamie did. But even here I don't think this was portrayed as some kind of noble act.

Anyway, I think it's impossible to tell complex stories without stepping into something. If you are going to have evil characters they are going to do evil things. If you are going to have gray characters they also are going to do evil things. If you are going to have no truly good characters there will be few truly good things. I can only think of one character that seems like he's what I would call "good," (maybe two) and he does horrendous things (Tully and Jon). Everyone else on the show just takes too much delight in killing others or in using that as a means to an end.

The focus could be changed. Rather than dwelling on the acts of raper and abuse and the repercussions that stuff could happen off screen. I don't know. I don't see that changing much.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:04 AM on June 27


In this case the awful things happen to women because stories about awful things happening to women are titillating.

They're really not the least bit titillating in the books. In many respects, Martin has written the longest anti-war novel ever known, and the effect of the cumulative suffering of the characters is to drive home how pointless these struggles are. Which head will wear the crown is obviously (from the authorial point of view) not worth the price these people are willing, or are made, to pay.

What people find "titillating" in the books is the number of major characters who lack the usual plot armor and therefore meet unexpected ends.

And to me the violence doesn't seem out of place considering where most of the action is taking place. The books spend a lot of time in war zones, or in the royal palaces, where the struggles are taking place. In that time of my life when I was briefly obsessed with the Hundred Years War, reading contemporary accounts in translation, such as Froissart's Chronicles, when the author would depict the lands affected by the Black Prince, there were similar scenes of devastation and horror and a complete sense of hopelessness. If the majority of the books were set in places far behind the front lines, in a place such as Dorne, there would just be people going about their daily lives without much fear, and the same joke would get repeated often: "Didja hear? The king got murdered! In cold blood!" "Yeah! But which one?" [exeunt to the left, giggling]
posted by honestcoyote at 7:04 AM on June 27 [8 favorites]


In many respects, Martin has written the longest anti-war novel ever known,

What.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:06 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


The work comes to us with its own universe, its own morals -- neither of which are ours.

The books and show definitely have some weird dynamics going on, especially to our modern eyes.

This would be a fantastic excuse if the books hadn't been written within the last 20 years. "Our modern eyes" are precisely the reason these books and this show exist. The casual depiction of sexualised violence against women is so commonplace that I think you'd be hard pressed to find a narrative that doesn't contain it.
posted by fight or flight at 7:06 AM on June 27 [12 favorites]


> It's like ya'll never read a book before, or something. Yeesh.

I was just complaining the other day that I could barely finish Pride and Prejudice because of all the castration anxiety and sexual violence in it. Jane Austen was one hard motherfucker.
posted by ardgedee at 7:11 AM on June 27 [24 favorites]


"When I saw the scene on HBO, I was sorely disappointed because they made it look like he killed her half out of grief and half out of self-defense. I much preferred it when Tyrion actually gets tarnished."
Seriously, Shae got Greedo'ed
posted by Blasdelb at 7:22 AM on June 27 [8 favorites]


The Tryion thing still bothers me because it lacks context. Sure she ripped his heart out and betrayed him to the point of testifying against him in a murder trial, but there wasn't any explanation as to why. I am sure she got threatened and a better offer, much like Bron, but with Bron you get an explanation as to why he's not going to stand up for Tyion. I wanted that with Shae. I wanted her to explain how Tywin threatened her, paid her, or just was a more appealing man. I needed some reason as to why she did what she did.

I read the books a few years ago so my memory might be a little fuzzy but I think they changed the Shae character a bit to make her more sympathetic in the show. In the books she doesn't seem to have much real affection for Tyrion, so it's more believable that she'd turn on him like that.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:22 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


"Awful things happening to women are awful, not sexy." There are plenty of people who feel differently and think violence and rape against women is in fact very sexy.

Also it's interesting because a lot of times people feel like it's more ok to share sexual details if it's rape because it's just part of telling the story of the assault. When you would not otherwise dare to share explicit details of something that happened with someone else's genitals. The details of rape are really none of the public's business and the fact that people often think otherwise is another violation of assault survivors. They not only lose control of their body through what they endure but then the public feels it has some sort of right to dissect the pornographic details of rape- and as shown in this show, without spending much of any time on the actual feelings of the survivor or the trauma that can impair their life and even their physical health for years later.

I have never and will never watch the show so I can't say how badly their doing this, but if they're depicting all the sexy body parts and violation of rape but none of the horrific sobbing and years of trauma many survivors go through, they are using the idea of rape because it's "interesting".... for entertainment... and nothing more.

The nice thing about bdsm porn that depicts fictional rape scenes is that at least it's stated that it's about rape for erotic purposes. Putting graphic rape as entertainment in mainstream television for masses to celebrate is a whole other ethical mine field (beyond the already complex ethical issues I think exist in using the concept of rape for erotic entertainment to begin with). This allows people who don't want to admit what their doing and grapple with the ethical issues of doing so the ability to enjoy rape as entertainment without even being asked to admit to themselves that's what their doing. And while I'm sure plenty of people don't find the rape scenes erotic or interesting or captivating simply for shock value, plenty of people do, that's why they're there in graphic form, not to give a realistic showing of what actually is experienced by people who get raped or it would be a very different focus in how it's portrayed.
posted by xarnop at 7:23 AM on June 27 [10 favorites]


When bad things happen to the characters, it's because they have been pursuing one or more of these things without understanding context, or the other people involved.

[Clash of Kings spoilers]

Just to address this point, I'm currently re-reading the books and I just got to a bit in the second book where Theon kills a miller's family in order to dress their children up like Bran and Rickon. There is a description of the miller's wife and her "pillowy breasts" and "stretch marks on her belly" and the way she scratched him as he raped her. That's literally all she gets. A nameless, faceless background woman, who has done nothing but stand in this male character's way, and all she gets is a line about her tits and her soft stomach and the fact that she was raped and killed.

Tell me, please, what she did wrong, other than be a woman in George R. R. Martin's narrative.
posted by fight or flight at 7:24 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


If anything they're doing a huge disservice to actual survivors by pretending this is about realism and that those who watch it now understand rape better.
posted by xarnop at 7:25 AM on June 27 [7 favorites]


The author says this in the comments, which I think is important. Depicting rape scenes is not a neutral act, because there are writing and directorial choices about whose side of the story gets told:
...If I look at the current TV landscape, the show that probably comes closest to Game of Thrones's sequence-of-sharp-shocks storytelling style is Scandal. Another contender would be Orphan Black. Both use the same technique of throwing huge plot twists at the audience - kidnappings, murders, betrayals, secret parentage revelations, last-minute rescues, and yes, rapes - as a way of keeping it engaged. But the difference is that both Orphan Black and Scandal are deeply interested in women's issues, and manage to handle them intelligently despite their sensationalism. Orphan Black is fundamentally about the way that women's bodies are treated like the property of men, and if it expresses that theme by having a psychotic Ukranian serial killer kidnapped by a religious cult and forcibly impregnated with a device used to inseminate cows, that doesn't change the seriousness with which the show depicts this violation (or its comeuppance) and its focus on the victim, not the perpetrator. Scandal actually featured the rape of a major female character this season, and while the show did come under fire for that choice, it still ranks above Game of Thrones simply by virtue of being aware of what it was depicting, and of having the rape continue to reverberate throughout the season.

The reason this feels important to me is that, rightly or wrongly (I think wrongly, and I guess you'd agree) Game of Thrones is perceived by a lot of people as a prestige series. You do get otherwise reputable TV reviewers seriously arguing that it should be mentioned in the same breath as Mad Men and The Sopranos. Meanwhile, shows like Scandal and Orphan Black are treated as guilty pleasures or cult hits. That's not entirely unjustified - Scandal had a dismal third season, and Orphan Black coasts off a stunning central performance(s) which distracts from its scattershot plotting - and it's also true that Game of Thrones looks at lot more like people's idea of a prestige show - it has the money for lavish sets, gorgeous locations, top-notch actors, and pervasive marketing, and of course it's on HBO. But I do wonder how much of that prestige gap is rooted in the fact that Game of Thrones is ultimately such a laddish show, while Scandal and Orphan Black tell women's stories. The fact that the latter two shows are capable of treating sexual violence seriously, even in the midst of their inherent trashiness, while Game of Thrones isn't, makes that prestige gap toxic.
posted by jaguar at 7:28 AM on June 27 [20 favorites]


Tell me, please, what she did wrong, other than be a woman in George R. R. Martin's narrative.

What does any woman do wrong in any war zone other than be a woman (see e.g. the Marrochinate) ? I agree that it's hugely disturbing, but it's supposed to be. If people are actually titillated by things like that the problem's with them. I wholeheartedly agree with honestcoyote that the book series is one long plea to get people to look at what war actually is, although the "fun" parts like the costuming and the dragons may make that hard for many (probably most of the show's viewership) to see.

I think one of the most interesting scenes regarding women and other non-powerful people during wartime was when Arya and the Hound killed the Tickler at an inn, incidentally saving the innkeeper's daughter from being raped-- and then the Hound turns around and robs the innkeeper. When a society treats physical might as the most valuable thing, innocent people are always going to get hurt.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:36 AM on June 27 [15 favorites]


...you know George R. R. Martin didn't, like, find these stories in a meteor or anything, right

True. But a story that went "Jaime realized that his relationship with his sister was damaging to both of them. He resolved to make it a more distant one, while trying to preserve as much cordiality as possible, given their upbringing. He thought through the sort of traits that he was attracted to in Circe, and tried to respectfully seek out a more appropriate partner who similarly embodied them," wouldn't sell many copies, much less be on HBO.

Tell me, please, what she did wrong, other than be a woman in George R. R. Martin's narrative.

Nothing, of course. But she exists to make Theon despicable, not to make the audience turned on. Martin wants us to hate him, before he makes us feel sorry for him later. Is the issue here that it's sexualized, rather than evil in some other way? If Theon had taken them from grandparents and we'd had descriptions of their brittle bones snapping beneath his horse's hooves, it'd be OK? Mind you, I'm not sure it wouldn't be -- I can't think Martin's world is kind to the elderly either.
posted by tyllwin at 7:38 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


In many respects, Martin has written the longest anti-war novel ever known,

What.


It's not a stretch.

If Game of Thrones has a 'point,' it's that war doesn't achieve any particular end, it's just gruesome machinery that perpetuates itself, makes everybody and everything miserable, and anybody with half a heart pines for "the better days" - slim though they were.
posted by entropone at 7:40 AM on June 27 [9 favorites]


The fact that the latter two shows are capable of treating sexual violence seriously, even in the midst of their inherent trashiness, while Game of Thrones isn't, makes that prestige gap toxic.

The central relationship in Scandal is probably one of the unhealthiest sexual relationships in TV history so I don't think that's a great example, even if they were right about that particular plot line.
posted by girlmightlive at 7:41 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


Just to address this point, I'm currently re-reading the books and I just got to a bit in the second book where Theon kills a miller's family in order to dress their children up like Bran and Rickon. There is a description of the miller's wife and her "pillowy breasts" and "stretch marks on her belly" and the way she scratched him as he raped her. That's literally all she gets.

And then what happens to theon?
posted by empath at 7:57 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


I can honestly say that the rape and sexual violence of the early episodes (which I only skimmed to see what it was) turned me right off the show; I'm sure there are narrative reasons for it; but I don't need to expose myself to it. Other people seem to enjoy the show; I just can't fathom why.
posted by NiteMayr at 7:58 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


I agree with the spirit of this article, but strongly disagree with the point about Shae. She betrayed him by testifying against him, thus sending him off to his death. And when he encounters her upon being freed, she grabs a knife and attempts to kill him. Wanting to kill someone who betrayed you is a common enough theme in books and movies. And when he actually does kill her, you could easily make the case that he did so in self-defense. Less-deserving deaths than this happen all the time on this show (and others) and go unexamined.

I should mention, though, that I haven't read the books, so for all I know, maybe his actions come across less sympathetic there. But just from watching the show, I didn't see any huge glaring problems with his actions. (other than the fact that he killed a person, something we're far more tolerant of on TV than we are in real life)
posted by evil otto at 8:03 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


So despite all the sexualized violence against men (the castrations, the, um, dick-flayings, and so forth), no man gets raped in ASOIAF. So for example we get extended portrayals/descriptions of Baby Bolton doing all sorts of insane exotic horror-movie things to Theon, but he doesn't rape him.1 The depiction of men as rape victims is, as far as I can tell, the one line that GRRM won't cross — and that's at the very least somewhat suspect.

1: Or if he does, Martin doesn't tell us about it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:05 AM on June 27 [13 favorites]


Ugh, I was bracing myself for Americans not being able to handle the ambiguity and moral gray areas that George R.R. Martin navigates so deftly. All the salient points about this being a war zone, about GRRM opening up the gritty ugliness of feudal systems and traditional escapist fantasy fiction to the light of day, and the inherent guilt of every powerful party in play in this have already been made, so I'll just say that if you want to see something where there are more or less clear "good guys" and "bad guys" with some false ambiguity thrown in to make you feel smart then may I recommend you watch all of J.J. Abrams' body of work?

Also, the fact that she insists we're supposed to like Jamie at all? Or that it's okay to fuck your sister so long as she says it's okay (by the way, most incestuous relationships are NOT consensual initially and I think it's really good actually that GRRM highlights that fact more than once)? That's just asinine.

And if you don't believe that reading about or watching violence isn't in some way cathartic for society (albeit with a mindful consciousness of its wrongness) then have fun watching Sesame Street and the Golden Girls, gei gezunterheyt. I actually think GoT does the best possible job of satisfying those secret violence-loving kishkes in many of us while making sure we get that twinge of nausea at the end that tells us we shouldn't *really* have enjoyed that just then...
posted by Mooseli at 8:15 AM on June 27 [14 favorites]


I find it astonishing that people can excuse the fact that Martin chose to put that level of violence against women and thirteen-year-old girls in his books with the threadbare appeal to realism as if it were not a deliberate authorial choice.

He chose to hang his paper-thin claim to 'realism' on that violence; it does nothing to make it any less gross or any more true.


I think an important aspect here is the fictive social context, or how characters talk and think about the world they live in. In Martin's books, there's no such thing as feminism per se, for instance, and sexual assault against women and girls never rises to the level of a systemic issue except in the most oblique way, and indeed the idea of systemic issues of social injustice itself would be mostly incomprehensible, with one or two notable exceptions.

We don't live in that world, thankfully, but ours is full of horrors anyway. I haven't read the books so I'm not sure how or whether characters talk about sexual violence, but I suspect the books and know the series would be very different if characters expressed moral outrage against sexual assault, if they didn't accept it as basically normal. To me, that's an important part of what's problematic about these representations, because rape culture depends on the reification or normalization of sexual violence and so that frightening silence hits close to home for us in the real world. I wonder whether people who feel upset or indignant about the "rapey-ness" of the show would feel differently if there were also depictions of ideological and normative resistance to that regime of violence?
posted by clockzero at 8:17 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


All the salient points about this being a war zone, about GRRM opening up the gritty ugliness of feudal systems and traditional escapist fantasy fiction to the light of day

Part of the problem with writing the books so slowly: that seemed really insightful five years ago and is now long since cliche.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:24 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


So despite all the sexualized violence against men (the castrations, the, um, dick-flayings, and so forth), no man gets raped in ASOIAF. So for example we get extended portrayals/descriptions of Baby Bolton doing all sorts of insane exotic horror-movie things to Theon, but he doesn't rape him.1 The depiction of men as rape victims is, as far as I can tell, the one line that GRRM won't cross — and that's at the very least somewhat suspect.

False.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:32 AM on June 27 [10 favorites]


I think an important aspect here is the fictive social context, or how characters talk and think about the world they live in. In Martin's books, there's no such thing as feminism per se, for instance, and sexual assault against women and girls never rises to the level of a systemic issue except in the most oblique way, and indeed the idea of systemic issues of social injustice itself would be mostly incomprehensible, with one or two notable exceptions.

A fictive social context which is wholly created by G R R Martin. The books do not in any way support the idea that Martin is critiquing the lack of an understanding of systemic violence against women or is indeed aware of the issue, other than as a fictional device signifying 'grit' and 'realism' at the most charitable and titillation of author and reader at the least charitable.
posted by winna at 8:33 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


Ugh, I was bracing myself for Americans not being able to handle the ambiguity and moral gray areas that George R.R. Martin navigates so deftly.

Martin is an American, does that mean he can't handle ambiguity and gray ares?

There is at least one incident that I can think of and lots of implication. But I don't see why it matters particularly -- one form of sexual violence isn't any better or worse (or more "real") than the other. It's all horrific. It's not a competition.

I would say it matters totally. Sexual violence against men was common historically and remains so today. The decision to focus repeatedly and at length (and in the show in rather porny ways) on rapes of women only says a lot and is worth noting and considering. It's not unique to Martin, and to his credit he's a lot more sophisticated on this than many writers where trauma against women is much pornier and used in more simplistic ways.

What does any woman do wrong in any war zone other than be a woman (see e.g. the Marrochinate) ?

There was just a link here to this essay by Kameron Hurley that noted how women have always fought, and in large numbers. Locating women primarily as victims and objects of violence is an ahistorical choice and an odd one for a series that excuses the rapiness on grounds of "realism." (Yes, the series has women who fight, but they are presented as anomalies and as contrasts to the norm, and in the case of Brienne as basically a freak.)
posted by Dip Flash at 8:34 AM on June 27 [23 favorites]


Ugh, I was bracing myself for Americans not being able to handle the ambiguity and moral gray areas that George R.R. Martin navigates so deftly.

oh lol lol lol

Proust he ain't.
posted by winna at 8:35 AM on June 27 [19 favorites]


The nice thing about bdsm porn that depicts fictional rape scenes is that at least it's stated that it's about rape for erotic purposes. Putting graphic rape as entertainment in mainstream television for masses to celebrate is a whole other ethical mine field ... This allows people who don't want to admit what they're doing and grapple with the ethical issues of doing so the ability to enjoy rape as entertainment without even being asked to admit to themselves that's what they're doing.

This is such an incredibly excellent point I just wanted to repeat it.
posted by crayz at 8:37 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


There was just a link here to this essay by Kameron Hurley that noted how women have always fought, and in large numbers. Locating women primarily as victims and objects of violence is an ahistorical choice and an odd one for a series that excuses the rapiness on grounds of "realism."

I don't really get your point here? Are you saying that it's ahistorical to point out that war always involves mass rape? How does that cancel out the women we do see picking up arms and fighting (Brienne of course, but also Ygritte, Osha, Asha/Yara, Dany, Arya)?
posted by oinopaponton at 8:41 AM on June 27


I won't be reading the books or watching the show, partly because of what's being talked about here (the older I get, the more bored I am by over-the-top immersions in sex and violence for the sake of Art and Truth), but I want to say that if anyone is interested in a novel that deals with many of the same themes (trying to survive and have some sort of decent human relations in a depressing, violent quasi-medieval society) but cannot be accused of the kinds of things Martin and the show are accused of, you should read Hard to Be a God (warning: plot description has spoilers). The Strugatskys were adults writing for adults, and the book will leave you filled with many thoughts. (I haven't seen last year's movie based on it and probably won't, because it sounds like it falls into the trap of reveling in the sex-'n'-violence aspect.)
posted by languagehat at 8:45 AM on June 27 [10 favorites]


Oh, right, Kerwin. How could I forget Maester Kerwin?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:45 AM on June 27


Ugh, I was bracing myself for Americans not being able to handle the ambiguity and moral gray areas that George R.R. Martin navigates so deftly. All the salient points about this being a war zone, about GRRM opening up the gritty ugliness of feudal systems and traditional escapist fantasy fiction to the light of day, and the inherent guilt of every powerful party in play in this have already been made, so I'll just say that if you want to see something where there are more or less clear "good guys" and "bad guys" with some false ambiguity thrown in to make you feel smart then may I recommend you watch all of J.J. Abrams' body of work?
Pillowy
posted by fullerine at 8:47 AM on June 27 [6 favorites]


Realistic depictions should focus a lot more on sexual violence against women because it is so much more common

Not in a war zone.

The rape of men: the darkest secret of war
"One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California's Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.

[...]

Because there has been so little research into the rape of men during war, it's not possible to say with any certainty why it happens or even how common it is – although a rare 2010 survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 22% of men and 30% of women in Eastern Congo reported conflict-related sexual violence. "


Realism, (Male) Rape and Epic Fantasy:
"In conflict situations, Stemple says:
“Although these circumstances often include the rape of those detained in prisons or prison-like conditions, a discussion separate from prisoner rape is merited. In armed conflict, perpetrators are more likely to be captors from opposition forces, whereas in the domestic prisoner rape context, the perpetrators are most often, though not exclusively, other inmates.

The heightened political tensions during armed conflict and the frequently lengthy sentences carried out in domestic prisons are other important contextual distinctions.” [611]

“An astonishing 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in El Salvador in the 1980s reported at least one instance of sexual torture.” [612-13]

“The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia also instituted a Sexual Assault Investigation Team, which included investigations into the rape of men during the civil war. The team reported that men were castrated and otherwise sexually mutilated, forced to rape other men, and forced to perform fellatio and other sex acts on guards and one another.

“One study of 6ooo concentration camp inmates in Sarajevo Canton found that 8o% of males reported that they had been raped in detention. Accounts of abuse throughout the conflict were often quite graphic, including severe genital mutilation and forced incest.” [613]

An observer may therefore venture to suggest that sexual victimisation of men in conflict situations approaches that of sexual victimisation of women in the very same situations. In reality. But not, for some reason, in male-authored epic fantasy. What statistics we have on the (severely underfunded and under-reported) prevalence of male rape in conflict zones today, suggest that in epic fantasy every in-conflict-zone deployment of sexual threat against women should be almost matched by sexual threat against men."
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:48 AM on June 27 [38 favorites]


A fictive social context which is wholly created by G R R Martin. The books do not in any way support the idea that Martin is critiquing the lack of an understanding of systemic violence against women or is indeed aware of the issue, other than as a fictional device signifying 'grit' and 'realism' at the most charitable and titillation of author and reader at the least charitable.

Just to be completely clear, I didn't mean to be disagreeing or taking issue with anything you said, winna. I think we probably feel the same way about a lot of the underlying ethical issues here.

I'm not defending Martin, the books or the series. I'm commenting on the nature of the representation that's being discussed, and I hadn't seen anyone mention yet that there could be significant parallels between how people in the real world talk about issues or acts like sexual assault and the way in which fictional characters talk about their own worlds in terms of how we create meaning from fiction. To put it more concisely, I meant to suggest the possibility that if sexual assault is frequently depicted, a narrative in which the characters treat that as mostly unremarkable could perhaps feel different than one in which at least some of the characters explicitly problematize that regime of violence. This isn't to excuse that depiction or counter charges of gratuity.
posted by clockzero at 8:51 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Tell me, please, what she did wrong, other than be a woman in George R. R. Martin's narrative.

The chapter you mentioned was a Theon POV, the person who committed the crime. It's not first person but only barely not. The only things described and the only opinions voiced are what the character possesses. Theon was never a very thoughtful sort of person and for him to suddenly dwell upon what he did, or have any remorse, would be out of character. I think you're conflating the character with the author. The author is not telling you Theon did a good thing or that we should like him. Theon has been one of the most consistently disliked characters with little in the way of redeeming values, so if you're looking for authorial intent, you can look at this result.

And considering what Theon went through later, not as a result of the rape but as a direct result of his ill-advised attack on Winterhold and all the events that followed, you could say he suffered greatly for what he did.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:57 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


So, the question is whether GoT is an artwork reflecting and commenting on the zeitgeist of cultural mores in the Western world. Or, is GoT mass media entertainment, further entrenching existing cultural mores of the Western world into the zeitgeist.

Forgive me if I think these are both stupid questions.
posted by j03 at 8:57 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


Sure she ripped his heart out and betrayed him to the point of testifying against him in a murder trial, but there wasn't any explanation as to why.

and then he kills her anyway, without knowing or wanting to find out why. Because he's as bad as the rest of them.

I think we as readers get confused by spending so much time trying to process what we ourselves think about it. We want to make a decision ourselves about how guilty she is and if murder/rape/all the other bad things are forgivable. If we can tease out the thinnest thread of reason, we can sympathize... and that's what the posted article is arguing against. Whatever kind of reasoning we can tease out of these pages is pointless; Tyrion murdered a woman in cold blood.

I don't think it means we 'cant' have nice things'. Readers are trained to try and find meaning that's not expressed literally on the page. We should be forgiven for trying to do so even when the stakes of misunderstanding are high. In this case, the author is trying to teach us the opposite lesson; it's the long monologue from the show about the guy killing the bugs.
posted by tofu_crouton at 8:58 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


"I think that if sexual violence against men and boys were shown as frequently and graphically as it apparently is against women and girls, the reactions would be different. Depictions of sexual violence against women and girls is "normal" and not as remarkable - I mean, that there even has to be a discussion about whether a character just giving up and letting her rapist rape her means she consented and therefore the act was not rape is indicative of this."
...But sexualized violence against men in the show is depicted as just as banally normal, and arguably yet another order of magnitude more brutally. I think its invisibility in these kinds of conversations is interesting. There is an entire army of men, the Unsullied, who are characterized by their boyhood genital mutilation, which is depicted as normal and something that a whole range of sympathetic characters are happy to take advantage of. Similarly, in the two instances of sexualized torture in the show that I can think of, the camera pans away from Rose's torture at the hands of Joffrey while it lingers for gory minutes at the castration of Theon as well as the rest of his graphically extended torment.
"Less-deserving deaths than this happen all the time on this show (and others) and go unexamined."
I think the salient difference here is really how those less deserving deaths do not fit neatly into extant and terrible tropes for excusing violence against women. The problem isn't so much that Tyrion murders Shae, but that he does it in a way that mirrors thousands of murders annually of women at the hands of their intimate partners and he is shown doing it in a sympathetic way. Similarly, the problem with the scene in the Sept isn't so much that Jaime rapes Cersi, but that he does it in a way calculated to generate the appearance of 'ambiguity' where there is none in a way that mirrors and attempts to excuse the 'ambiguity' of countless thousands of rapes.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:00 AM on June 27 [9 favorites]


There are all kinds of fair criticisms about the sexual violence on GoT. Tons of angles. It's problematic about ten ways from Sunday. But idea--not even the idea, the repeated insistence--that this sexual violence is played for titillation is somewhere between uncharitable and disturbingly paranoid.

Do we not pretty much all think that rape is a crime of violence and power more than a strictly sexual act? So why would we assume this show's writers are portraying these crimes because they think we'll find it hot?

I'm not making an "intent" argument, at least not in the sense of saying that the intent of the writers could make their portrayals of sexual violence less problematic or even just less plain gross.

But if it's a commonly asserted truism that rape is about power, not sex, and we're watching a show positively obsessed with power, why would we think the rapes it shows were meant to sexy?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:02 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


I absolutely understand discomfort with these scenes. I found them horrifying. But I didn't find them gratuitous within the overall context of their settings. The implication seems to be that Martin is casually, if not intentionally, romanticizing sexual violence against women, and I disagree with that reading.
posted by echocollate at 9:05 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


"Do we not pretty much all think that rape is a crime of violence and power more than a strictly sexual act?"

I wish this was my experience of commonly held opinion about rape, but sadly it is not.
posted by chapps at 9:06 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


Titillation is not an experience confined to sex.
posted by winna at 9:15 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


But if it's a commonly asserted truism that rape is about power, not sex, and we're watching a show positively obsessed with power, why would we think the rapes it shows were meant to sexy?
I don't watch it, but from previous "sexy" rape scenes I think the way you tell is how much they looks like other "sexy" scenes.

Does the victim cry during the act? Do they vomit? Do you see them traumatised?
Or do you see a bit of thigh, maybe some breast, a nipple?
Could you immediately tell the victim does not consent?
Does it make you uncomfortable, similar to if you saw a real act of sexual violence?

Because if it doesn't, really what does that say about the merits of the depiction of such an extreme act?
That it is serious, or that it is frivolous, titillating even.
posted by fullerine at 9:15 AM on June 27 [10 favorites]


It's effectively useless in internet debate to attempt to differentiate between one person not buying a point because they're naive and another person insisting on the point because they're paranoid. Anything said will only reinforce both sides.

But I will say this: do the writers of Game of Thrones strike you as particularly aimless, thuggish, mouth breathers or do they seem--for all of their many flaws and failings--like exceptionally bright people trying to execute a particular thematic vision, however imperfectly at times? Do you think it's more likely that this show about power and violence intends its rape scenes to be about power and violence or do you think they're just wandering off point for titillation?

I point this out because it isn't necessary to have a sunny view on humanity to think the titillation angle is unlikely. It's more probable in terms of the writers' overall MO that they're not intending it that way.

Again, I'm not arguing for the wanton use of sexual violence on this show. But I think if we want to understand why the writers keep going down this rotten path, it behooves us to try and see what they think they're getting out of it. There's a grim satisfaction in assuming the worst possible motives, but I don't think it really helps the discussion.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:19 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


But I will say this: do the writers of Game of Thrones strike you as particularly aimless, thuggish, mouth breathers or do they seem--for all of their many flaws and failings--like exceptionally bright people trying to execute a particular thematic vision, however imperfectly at times?

More the latter than the former, but they also strike me as people who work for a network with bills to pay, people who want to keep a paying job, and people who've noticed that Dragon Sex Show generally gets higher ratings and more attention than just Dragon Show would.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:23 AM on June 27 [8 favorites]


"But if it's a commonly asserted truism that rape is about power, not sex..." This was asserted for a while but it's been examined and criticized over the years because it's too simplistic and it doesn't reflect the reality that power struggles are often part of consensual sex, that arousal often involves power struggles and resistance (i.e. seduction and over powering a person who wants to resist but falls victim to their own desires and surrenders control..)

Also as a survivor I personally would say that sexual assault did in fact involve my sexuality and the abuse of it and saying it's universally "not about sex" denies the reality of my experience. However I believe that some people have been raped and it did not feel like a sexual act to them. But no it's not a universal truth that rape and sexuality are cleanly separated like that.

Not to mention there are many people for whom rape fantasies are part of their kink and the concept of rape and sexuality are intertwined. In fact it's a large portion of the human species that even admits to rape fantasies, not a small portion at all, not to mention those who have them but don't admit it.
posted by xarnop at 9:25 AM on June 27 [11 favorites]


Also I would say that if you're watching a show that involves rape and you finish watching it and think "I can't wait til the next episode" rather than curling up in a ball and sobbing for three days you have not been given any sort of realism about rape whatsoever.
posted by xarnop at 9:32 AM on June 27 [9 favorites]


I'm certainly not trying to deny anyone's experience.

I'm just saying that if we want to figure out why writers of otherwise good shows keep focusing on sexual violence, we should try to figure out what they think it's giving them in terms of story.

It's cool if we disagree why that would be and I won't harp on my end anymore. I'll just say once more before I go that I think there's an important conversation to be had about writers who think sexual violence is just one more thing they can do to characters for dramatic effect, same as any other. (Mark Millar, who wrote the Kick Ass films, for instance, has literally said exactly this on multiple occasions.) And I worry that the grim, pessimistic satisfaction we take out of declaring that the writers either get off on this stuff or assume that we do, is maybe not as long term useful as having that conversation.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:34 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


What's a "woobie"?

I've only read the first book...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:42 AM on June 27


Oh god. Mark Millar might be even worse at depicting women than Frank Miller, and that's saying a lot.
posted by kmz at 9:43 AM on June 27 [4 favorites]


Agreed.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:44 AM on June 27


xarnop why is rape any different from other despicable violent acts that we see on tv?

why would you not also say the following?

Also I would say that if you're watching a show that involves murder and you finish watching it and think "I can't wait til the next episode" rather than curling up in a ball and sobbing for three days you have not been given any sort of realism about murder whatsoever.

I think these acts can be part of a narrative and we can be viewers of that narrative without us thinking that the writers of the narrative or us the viewers are condoning the act

Personally I find the titulating murders of the serial killers on shows like Criminal Minds to be more disturbing than anything that appears on GOT
posted by foleypt at 9:46 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


xarnop why is rape any different from other despicable violent acts that we see on tv?

I don't know many survivors of murder.

Perhaps I merely have a limited circle of acquaintances.
posted by winna at 9:53 AM on June 27 [7 favorites]


xarnop why is rape any different from other despicable violent acts that we see on tv?

Sort of a specious argument, isn't it? No murder victims are watching GoT and being traumatized not only by scenes of fictionally depicted murder, but also by other people's enjoyment of those scenes and denials that they're even that bad. This is because they are dead.
posted by elizardbits at 9:55 AM on June 27 [19 favorites]


are not the friends and relatives of murder victims not in some sense the survivors of murder?

Are you saying there are not people who turn off the TV because Criminal Minds or even Castle are giving them an unwanted reminder of some past terrible act in their lives

Murder is a staple of TV entertainment

I don't see why we have to place rape on some sort of pedestal of special treatment

I think we should be aware that such narratives can have that effect on people but I think to remove such narratives entirely would reduce our ability to express the human existence.. even if it is the case that mostly they are present for titillation
posted by foleypt at 10:00 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Also I think it's pretty fucking unpleasant to criticize the personal emotions of a rape survivor by demanding that they care equally about all violent crimes instead of concentrating on dealing with the one which affected them the most.
posted by elizardbits at 10:02 AM on June 27 [28 favorites]


> I'm just saying that if we want to figure out why writers of otherwise good shows keep focusing on sexual violence, we should try to figure out what they think it's giving them in terms of story.

I would think it's pretty evident that the problem is that they don't think about it nearly as much as they should. This is the result of patriarchy and a sexist culture. Although the show is about video games, Tropes vs. Women shows us that misogynistic elements are easy shortcuts which, as a result of their repeated use and acceptance in our culture, are not critically examined even by otherwise good creators.

The question we're asking is, shouldn't we should stop that cycle of repeated use and acceptance? Even if it means limiting creative options a bit, or at the least thinking a lot harder about creative options which repeat these sexist tropes before using them. After all, if they really are good writers, they can probably achieve their goals without using misogynistic tropes.
posted by gilrain at 10:03 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


I think we should be aware that such narratives can have that effect on people but I think to remove such narratives entirely would reduce our ability to express the human existence

was anyone saying they should be removed entirely?

you know it's possible to talk about aspects of entertainment one doesn't like without wanting those aspects to be excised from the culture, right?
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:04 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


The 21st century cries for moral justice in culture and art no longer come from the religious, but the non-religious progressive types. It's strange how the superficial aspects of human behavior can change so much, but in the end the same fundamental type of people dislike certain things and simply change their rationale and argument for why it's wrong.
posted by jjmoney at 10:07 AM on June 27 [6 favorites]


The 21st century cries for moral justice in culture and art no longer come from the religious, but the non-religious progressive types. It's strange how the superficial aspects of human behavior can change so much, but in the end the same fundamental type of people dislike certain things and simply change their rationale and argument for why it's wrong.

Man I missed when I turned into winna Savonarola and started burning copies of ASoIaF in the street. I knew I stopped drinking for a reason.
posted by winna at 10:10 AM on June 27 [12 favorites]


I think it's fine to criticize in both the show and the book. I sometimes have problems with it myself.

But I would like to point out that when people talk about 'realism' in the writing, it's in the context of other fantasy series. Basically what Martin did was to tone down the fantasy elements, and graft the history of the hundred years war onto the series. There were a lot of awful things that happened in the history of medieval europe and that's where that comes from.

Now, every author is responsible for what ends up on the page, so it's totally fair to critique based on that. But I would point out that when people are a bit dismissive of this, it's because fantasy fans live in a universe that has Gor in it.

R.R. Martin may not be the best when it comes to the treatment of women, but compared to some extremely popular fantasy franchises, he's a goddamn saint. I'm not sure who that's more damning for, him or the fans.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:12 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem is that outside of their adaptation of GRRM's original text, the lead GoT screenwriters are at best mediocre and way out of their depth and even hackish ( e.g. The Waiting for Godot and Monty Python scene gimmicks ). As the show increasingly charts its own path away from the book narratives, this problem will get worse, I fear. Don't overthink it, they're just not good writers.
posted by Bwithh at 10:12 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


The 21st century cries for moral justice in culture and art no longer come from the religious, but the non-religious progressive types.

Please, this isn't a slippery slope, this is people saying "Man I sure love that $POPULAR_CONTENT but I think it could be improved if it had smarter characters/more diversity/gave me more reasons to love it instead of occasionally cringing and/or preventing me from recommending it to others."

People criticise the things they love all the time and demand future releases get better.
posted by mathowie at 10:14 AM on June 27 [20 favorites]


Also I think it's pretty fucking unpleasant to criticize the personal emotions of a rape survivor by demanding that they care equally about all violent crimes instead of concentrating on dealing with the one which affected them the most.

It depends on what level you're speaking on. If all anyone was saying was "I do not like Game of Thrones," then fine. But people are stating that Game of Thrones is socially problematic on a broad scale because there is too much rape in the show. If our discussion is at that scale, then we do need to consider the effects of all types of violent crime, including the feelings of those lives that have been touched by both murder and rape.

At that scale, I hope we can agree that both rape and murder are heinous. As is the castration of 20,000 boys (rough, low-end calculation), or ripping out someone's tongue, or any number of other horrors in the show. Treating rape is singularly bad among this litany of horrors is a difficult position to take.

Does the breezy depiction of murder in the show promote murder or violent assaults? Does the torture of enemies promote wartime torture? Should we limit the depiction of these things in the show as a result?

People here seem to be at peace with the murder, but not with the rape. This is strange to others.
posted by the thing about it at 10:17 AM on June 27 [10 favorites]


In Martin's books, there's no such thing as feminism per se, for instance, and sexual assault against women and girls never rises to the level of a systemic issue

And you know, that's actually a fantasy for a lot of men. Martin has created a world almost custom made for the MRA crowd: no feminism; any women with power our agency is either a manipulative bitchy stereotype, a freak, or stupid; might makes right; kill a betraying lover and still be a hero, etc. etc..

I got tired of Book 5 because every other sentence from Tyrion's mouth was a rape threat, and yet we were supposed to sympathize with him. And the TV series will probably emphasize his wounded Nobility, mournfully looming off into the distance, etc..

xarnop why is rape any different from other despicable violent acts that we see on tv?

Because other violent acts don't have a bunch of trilby-wearing assholes with their ducks in hand, saying "It's just a gritty depiction of war. Oh yeah, show me how realistic it is. Yeah. More depiction of grimness. Look at the size of that character development."
posted by happyroach at 10:17 AM on June 27 [25 favorites]


What's a "woobie"?

It seems to be a coinage from somewhere in the deep recesses of fandom for a sympathetically pitiable character. And also kind of a revealingly, self-defeatingly infantile word to use while attempting to write cultural criticism for grownups.

Dragon Sex Show generally gets higher ratings and more attention than just Dragon Show would

Speaking of strange things about the cultural discourse around this show — why does no one ever just concede it's an exploitation show and admit that we enjoy that about it? Is it just that exploitation has a bad rap these days, or that it needs to be wrapped in self-deception about "quality" for the HBO middlebrow audience?
posted by RogerB at 10:18 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


It depends on what level you're speaking on.

The level I am speaking on is that a person right here in this thread said that they personally were upset by the rape scenes in this show because they themselves were a rape survivor, and was criticized for thus caring more about being upset by rape scenes than they were about murder scenes.



People here seem to be at peace with the murder, but not with the rape. This is strange to others.


People here reacting more negatively to rape scenes than murder scenes are doing so because they themselves have been raped. Not because they think murder is okay.
posted by elizardbits at 10:23 AM on June 27 [14 favorites]


The fact that you interpret someone saying "rape scenes upset me" to mean "murder is a-ok!" is also strange to others.
posted by elizardbits at 10:25 AM on June 27 [14 favorites]


Rape and murder are separate issues, and the power dynamics are different. Women are raped because they are women. It is a tool for subjugating women. It is frequently presented as something sexy and enjoyable, and not in a way that naturally makes people recoil from the perpetrator as a psychopath. Rape is a regular trope in actual porn, people (mostly men) get off on it. When it shows up in other cultural products, it is opens up criticism for all those reasons.

People are murdered for all sorts of reasons, but much less rarely for being a particular class of person, especially in this show.

Not recognizing the difference between sexual violence, and violence writ large, in this show makes it seem like people aren't trying very hard.
posted by OmieWise at 10:36 AM on June 27 [18 favorites]


I think there are arguably situations where violence could ethically be called for, in self defense, for hunting in times of food scarcity.... keeping a certain portion of the human population with a certain amount of tolerance for witnessing violence actually makes sense to me on a functional level. EMT workers, military and police all can be forced to clean up graphic horrific scenes. I don't see any situations where rape might be called for, so feeding the lust for watching rape doesn't seem to have a functional purpose for humanity that I can see.

I have sympathy for people for whom rape fantasy is embedded in their sexuality and that do want to use erotic art/porn that depicts such things, I just think one should embark on that with introspection and awareness, not being spoon fed it by mass media that claims it's simply portraying "realism".

I think it's fair to be concerned about how both murder and rape are used for entertainment purposes and it's worthwhile to at least ask why every once and a while, if there's such a useful purpose for it, what is that purpose? We might get more of whatever value we think these things are giving us if we know what it is we're seeking from it. Is there going to be a conclusion to what we're seeking from it or is it simply a permanent human need to enjoy watching violence and rape for entertainment purposes?

I would also be more sympathetic to the idea GoT thrones was portraying rape for the sake of realism if there were reports of the long term damage of rape being well depicted in the characters future experience and in the depiction of rape itself and in the way the characters and story line are written.
posted by xarnop at 10:38 AM on June 27 [8 favorites]


I don't know many survivors of murder.

Glib comment aside, I've found murder to leave a wide path of survivors, some of whom are irreparably damaged for the rest of their lives.

The idea that someone has personally experienced and been traumatized by rape is tremendously regrettable to say the least, but it makes for interpretation that's perhaps colored in a way that another person might feel mistaken precisely because the experience was so personal and regrettable.

Perhaps even more curious is the criticism by several folks who haven't read/seen GoT, are not going to, but must weigh in anyhow. Your prerogative of course, but it helps to be more familiar with the source material, I think.

FWIW, I've described GoT as I, Claudius, with dragons. Depictions of the Julio-Claudian Era... yeah, trigger warnings abound.

I've come to distrust Metafilter's baggage most on these issues, where GoT gets beanplated to death, and a piece of crap like Pacific Rim gets warm fuzzies.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:45 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


Oh, I've read it. I just didn't think it was a marvel of great literature which I suppose to some makes my opinion invalid.

And my comment about survivors of murder was precisely as disingenuous as the comments about why the assault of women seems to be more important than people being flayed alive, so I guess I'll have to take the hit on seeming callous.
posted by winna at 10:52 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


I stopped watching the show this season; I heard about the Jamie/Cersei rape scene before I watched the episode and just decided, nope, I've hit my limit. I watched the end of season 3 and the beginning of season 4 in quick succession, and two scenes in particular had made me deeply uncomfortable. The first was a scene where Daario and two of his compatriots talk about whether or not they should help Daenerys, and as they talk they pass around a partially clothed woman for them to obscenely grope. The second was when Arya and the Hound encounter that inn full of bad guys, and we see the innkeeper's daughter weeping in the background as one of them manhandles her. It made me feel kind of queasy that so often when female characters were on screen, they were literally there as inert flesh to be groped.
posted by brookedel at 10:59 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


I don't know many survivors of murder.

I knew a survivor of attempted murder. He was shot in the gut on a drug corner in Philly when he was 14. That's still pretty bad.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:00 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Does anyone sincerely think a murder vs. rape sidebar is going to end well?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:04 AM on June 27 [8 favorites]


You're right.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:05 AM on June 27


At the heart of Game of Thrones is the premise that horrible things happen to nearly everyone. A child was pushed out of a window and rendered paraplegic. Another child murdered by poison. Other children saw their father beheaded. One of those children was also forced into an arranged marriage with a man the audience saw as a protagonist but she probably saw as a potential rapist. Another woman was raped by her brother. Possibly repeatedly. A family full of daughters were raped repeatedly by their father. A man was castrated against his will as a child. A man was castrated against his will as an adult. An army of men were castrated against their will. A man had his skull popped like a grape. A man was killed by having molten gold poured over his head. A child was incinerated by a dragon. This is amidst countless senseless murders and cruelty levied constantly through the show.

Damned near every scene needs a trigger warning of some sort.
posted by chasing at 11:09 AM on June 27 [6 favorites]


In my eyes, if the show has done anything, it has unintentionally laid bare the ugly sexism of its source material through too-accurate depiction of the general and casual violence that GRRM loves visiting on his female characters, major and minor.

Frankly the "realism" argument doesn't work for me when you are dealing with a guy who sexualizes violence against women with great gusto. From describing the "wetness" of a 13-year-old before her 30+-year-old "husband" rapes her after a forced marriage to the aforementioned "pillowy breasts" of a raped miller's wife, GRRM does not have a leg to stand on in claiming this shit is just about realism. You can say "she was raped" and you can even throw in a few details of the rape without sexualizing it. GRRM chooses to not do that. Who knows if this is intentional or not--it is quite possible he's so inured to this kind of violence being "normal" that he's never thought of describing it any other way.
posted by schroedinger at 11:13 AM on June 27 [22 favorites]


It seems to be a coinage from somewhere in the deep recesses of fandom for a sympathetically pitiable character. And also kind of a revealingly, self-defeatingly infantile word to use while attempting to write cultural criticism for grownups.


Seriously? You're challenging Nussbaum on her use of "woobie"?

She's talking about, among other things, the fan reaction to Jaime's rape of Cersei. Jaime is a fan-favorite, the kind of character who is charismatic/sexy, dangerous and emotionally-tortured, a font of manly angst, like Dean Winchester (from Supernatural), Spike (from Buffy) and Loki (from the Marvel Cinematic Universe). The term of art for that type of character, whom many fans want to simultaneously cuddle and fuck, is woobie.

That's not infantile: she's using the appropriate terms of the fannish community to talk about an issue she has with the fannish community.

She's also a fantastic cultural critic, among the best I know of who comments on genre television, movies, and books--we should be so lucky to find other similarly "infantile" critics among us.
posted by suelac at 11:15 AM on June 27 [11 favorites]


[yes, let's drop the murder vs. rape derail, shall we?]
posted by mathowie at 11:16 AM on June 27


Does anyone sincerely think a murder vs. rape sidebar is going to end well?

What is the definition of "end well" here? As is usual in a thread about specific types of violence perpetrated on women as part of their oppression, and the general acceptance of those types of violence by many of the viewers of GoT, a bunch of folks want to argue, essentially, that women are wrong to have a problem with this because [murder.] I think it makes a lot of sense to engage with that inanity. It's certainly not a good ending, except for the status quo of those suggesting that talking about things that affect women is a bad idea and that women are essentially idiots for thinking of those things as affecting them specially, to have the comparison stand.
posted by OmieWise at 11:16 AM on June 27 [6 favorites]


The idea that someone has personally experienced and been traumatized by rape is tremendously regrettable to say the least, but it makes for interpretation that's perhaps colored in a way that another person might feel mistaken precisely because the experience was so personal and regrettable.

I find it bewildering to claim a book's presentation of sexual assault is useful in what it can teach us, but when an actual sexual assault survivor gives their opinion of said presentation, it is not similarly respected as an opportunity for learning.
posted by brookedel at 11:21 AM on June 27 [23 favorites]


There's also a weird message where seemingly very few of the on screen female characters have been raped, particularly Arya and Sansa, two young girls with little protection who have basically been prisoners of various parties for most of their arcs. It's almost as if rape is something that only happens to "bad" women like Cersei.

That's an excellent point, Brandon, and one of the reasons I am disturbed by the show in ways I was not by the books. There is a tendency to view the characters on screen as protagonists, which is natural, rather than as pawns on a chessboard who are forced into position as the greater conflict goes on around them, which is, I think, closer to GRRM's concept of them, which ties into the anti-war motif.

To be fair, though, Sansa is very much brutalized by Joffrey. The only reason that doesn't take a sexual turn is because she is more important than the other pawns due to her place on the chessboard. She is very close to becoming a queen. It is to no one's advantage to rape Sansa, as she could become pregnant as a result, and only legitimate offspring can inherit Winterfell from the Queen of the North.
posted by misha at 11:30 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


That's not infantile: she's using the appropriate terms of the fannish community to talk about an issue she has with the fannish community.

By using that subculture's idiosyncratic vocabulary, without context or explanation, she is also sending a signal that her writing is intended solely for members of that subculture, which needlessly weakens her article by alienating those of us who are not part of "fandom" but are interested in the show and might like to hear what she has to say about it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:38 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


xarnop why is rape any different from other despicable violent acts that we see on tv?

This is a monumentally stupid and inflammatory question. It should be obvious to even the most incurious, misogynistic, and callous idiots that two acts can both be extremely bad and still be different in important ways.
posted by clockzero at 11:38 AM on June 27 [6 favorites]


[yes, let's drop the murder vs. rape derail, shall we?]

I don't understand why this line of conversation would be a derail.
posted by chasing at 11:44 AM on June 27 [3 favorites]


metafilter: the most incurious, misogynistic, and callous idiots
posted by el io at 11:44 AM on June 27


By using that subculture's idiosyncratic vocabulary, without context or explanation, she is also sending a signal that her writing is intended solely for members of that subculture, which needlessly weakens her article by alienating those of us who are not part of "fandom" but are interested in the show and might like to hear what she has to say about it.

FWIW, this wasn't my experience with the piece, although I have only read a little of the first book and not watched the show. The piece was still interesting to me and I got most of it, though likely some nuance went by me. I did not feel alienated.
posted by rtha at 11:45 AM on June 27 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why this line of conversation would be a derail.

Because a "which is worse, surviving murder or rape?" seems like a pointless exercise when we're talking specifically about actual content in Game of Thrones books/shows.
posted by mathowie at 11:49 AM on June 27


Because a "which is worse, surviving murder or rape?" seems like a pointless exercise when we're talking specifically about actual content in Game of Thrones books/shows.

I don't think we can isolate the topic of rape in a show like Game of Thrones without discussing the wide range of violence and horror the show bestows upon its characters. And I don't think "which is worse" is what people are arguing about here, for the most part.
posted by chasing at 11:53 AM on June 27 [2 favorites]


That's not infantile: she's using the appropriate terms of the fannish community to talk about an issue she has with the fannish community.

She's using a word deliberately coined to sound like baby talk, a word which describes a juvenile, pre-critical emotional investment in a fictional character, to try to argue people out of that investment rationally, on cultural-critical grounds. But this is a category mistake — the adoption of a "woobie" is not subject to universalizing aesthetic arguments. This kind of fanspeak is basically arbitrary and irrational by design, because it's a language of arbitrary self-expression; and that's fine on its own terms, but shouldn't be confused with criticism. True enough, though, that the "fannish community" often lacks perspective about this difference, and sometimes even seems foundationally invested in denying it.
posted by RogerB at 11:57 AM on June 27 [5 favorites]


Rape is a regular trope in actual porn, people (mostly men) get off on it.

In fairness, over and above outright porn, rapey situations are a mainstay of consumption by women as well -- e.g. romance novels, the less great parts of Fifty Shades, and of course women are a large percentage of the audience of GOT, both books and shows. It's a huge part of our general culture, not just something driven by male consumers, and that's what makes it so inescapable and sometimes invisible.

That said, I think that a set of conversations over the last couple of years have begun to throw light on this, including the Title IX lawsuits, conversations like this about Game of Thrones, and those awful comments by Republican candidates last year. I doubt we will see rapey depictions disappear or even lessen in movies, books, and TV, because so many people obviously enjoy it, but I'd hope we can at least move towards smarter and more interesting depictions, rather than lazy, thoughtless scenes.

(Personally I find the serial killer shows that begin each episode with a titillatingly posed naked dead woman worse than Game of Thrones, since it elides the actual sexual violence and uses the woman literally as a prop, not a human at all.)
posted by Dip Flash at 12:12 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


> It's a huge part of our general culture, not just something driven by male consumers, and that's what makes it so inescapable and sometimes invisible.

That describes sexism, not specifically rape. In a sexist culture, of course both women and men are influenced by sexism.
posted by gilrain at 12:22 PM on June 27


Rape is a regular trope in actual porn, people (mostly men) get off on it.

Rape scenarios are actually pretty niche (ie, it's not a regular trope) outside of BDSM-themed porn, which, when done well, has its own conventions.

The thing that people who do not watch porn or disapprove of porn (and they often have very valid reasons for their point of view) may not get is that Rule 34 is definitely not a joke.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:24 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


The brutality is not confined to women at all, not even the sexual brutality. In the books, the medieval world George RR Martin depicts is FULL of violence and brutality, just as ours arguably was. The nobility naturally start in a more privileged position which insulates them somewhat from that brutality. That privilege allows them some flexibility, but even they are bound by political marriages, constrained by the legitimacy of bloodlines and the rules of inheritance, and promises of fealty combined with codified behavior, like Guest Right. Their vassals and servants are similarly constrained, right down to the vows of celibacy and unquestioning loyalty required from the Men of the Wall and the King's Guard. That is why Jaime's slaying of the king he guarded is viewed with such contempt even by the very people who were openly rebelling against that king.

But once the world is shaken up by war, even the privileged few are no longer safe. The codes start to fall apart. The major theme of the book is that even existing in such a brutal world is a challenge. Without powerful allies, extraordinary strength, vast riches or devilish cunning (or a combination of all of the above), your life is destined to be short and hellish. If you cannot realize that reality and adapt, you won't make it. Stark's code of honor and his trusting nature do not serve him well, and his death is the first major casualty in the books precisely to drive that home. Being nicer or more honorable may make you more likeable, but it doesn't win wars, and it doesn't keep you safe. "In the Game of thrones, you win or you die."

That's why general complaints about "rapeyness" in the books bother me, because every action in the books has to be examined within that context. That the show sometimes moves away from the appropriate context is, for me, when the issue of sexual violence and sexual exploitation of women actually becomes problematic. Stripped of context, those acts become exploitative, akin to torture porn.

That said, I also find it problematic when those who choose NOT to read the books or watch the show feel compelled to weigh in on this issues, lacking as they do the necessary context for any informed discussion of these issues. It grates on me, in much the same way a zealous religious group calling for a book to be banned because of "offensive language" would.

No one ought to try to convince NoraReed she should read the books, of course, and she certainly should not feel compelled by that peer pressure to make a choice she personally finds morally repugnant.

However, having said that, why should the criticisms of a literary work made by someone who has already told me she has never read it, and whose impressions of its content are second-hand at best, bear any weight with me, or with anyone in this thread? Why come into this thread to say, basically, I have no experience with this content whatsoever, but let me tell you why I have made up my mind it must be bad? Lacking all context, that's just thread-shitting.
posted by misha at 12:24 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


Speaking of strange things about the cultural discourse around this show — why does no one ever just concede it's an exploitation show and admit that we enjoy that about it?

Because you're speaking for yourself? You might watch it as an exploitation show but a lot of people clearly do not. GoT is the biggest prestige show on TV right now, Nussbaum's objections onwithstanding.
posted by Justinian at 12:26 PM on June 27


misha, it's weird that your otherwise interesting post wrapped up with a call-out of a specific poster. The majority of the criticism in this thread has been from people who actually have read or watched the series, so it would be more productive to engage with them.
posted by gilrain at 12:36 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


The brutality is not confined to women at all, not even the sexual brutality. In the books, the medieval world George RR Martin depicts is FULL of violence and brutality, just as ours arguably was.

Take Edward II, for example. While I would imagine there is pressure to make the HBO series as lurid as Caligua, what people have described doesn't seem far removed from "real life" until, oh... hmmm... people still behave this way all over the world.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:39 PM on June 27


So presumably all other people in this thread who have not read the books but have found fault with the show are also threadshitters then? Or is only NoraReed the target of this snide personal attack.
posted by elizardbits at 12:39 PM on June 27 [6 favorites]


Calling out people by name is confrontational obviously but I'm not sure it's over the line to say that in general its best to have read the books in question to provide a reasonable critique of the books or to have watched the show in question to provide a critique of the show. One does not, of course, have to have read the books to critique the show or vice versa.
posted by Justinian at 12:43 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


I don't know that it is threadshitting. I don't agree with it, but the position seems to me to be basically that there can be no valid context in popular entertainment. If you come in thinking that a valid context is by definition impossible, I think it's a good-faith argument. It can't address the question of what might be done instead, but it's not just a threadshit.

I dunno. I don't find the books at least, all that problematic, (the show a bit moreso) but I'm also pretty open to the idea that Martin might have done well to rely on rape less often and to deal in more varied strains of cruelty a bit more. It doesn't make a villain less evil to see him kicking an old woman to death or setting dogs on fire instead of perpetrating yet another rape.
posted by tyllwin at 12:48 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


However, having said that, why should the criticisms of a literary work made by someone who has already told me she has never read it, and whose impressions of its content are second-hand at best, bear any weight with me, or with anyone in this thread? Why come into this thread to say, basically, I have no experience with this content whatsoever, but let me tell you why I have made up my mind it must be bad? Lacking all context, that's just thread-shitting.

She was actually engaging with a wider point the critique of the work was making, not the work itself, and finding that critique applicable to other cultural stuff she has engaged with. So I don't know what comment you read, but it wasn't the one I read.

Here, I will quote:

I think the discussion of how we're supposed to sympathize with Tyrion's murdering choices did a really good job of articulating a problem I occasionally have watching television and, more often, reading books-- when there's an obvious point of view that you're supposed to sympathize with and you just can't because you fundamentally have a moral disagreement with one of the stands that seems to be taken by the writers/directors/creators/etc.

Nowhere there is "I have an opinion about a thing I don't know anything about, like a show I don't watch."
posted by rtha at 12:48 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


And yet no one else who specifically said they neither watched the show nor read the books was mentioned as a threadshitter. How curious.
posted by elizardbits at 12:49 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


There are plenty of movies or shows (as the discussion of Pacific Rim is currently reminding me) that from reviews and descriptions I can know with total certainty I won't enjoy it and don't need to see it to be sure. I like GOT, but it isn't hard to imagine someone reading a few reviews, seeing some previews, and being able to tell that it is not for them.

What is jarring and I'd argue inappropriate is when someone who hasn't read or watched it starts chiming in with wildly uninformed criticisms. That's happened in previous GOT threads, and in Orange is the New Black discussions as well.

In this case NoraReeds comments are informed, on point, and topical, and while it's not my choice I can appreciate and learn from the reasons she isn't reading and watching the series.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:51 PM on June 27


You can call me out for not reading the books or watching the show (just have a lot of books to read first)... whips and chains excite me!
posted by KokuRyu at 12:52 PM on June 27


So presumably all other people in this thread who have not read the books but have found fault with the show are also threadshitters then? Or is only NoraReed the target of this snide personal attack.

NoraReed was the first example of this, having written the third comment in the thread, and the mods have set a precedent of deleting early thread-shitting comments in the past, as they can serve to set the tone in the thread.
posted by misha at 12:53 PM on June 27


Orange is the New Black discussions as well.

That was me! I had read the actual article though, which no one in the thread had bothered to do.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:53 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


In my eyes, if the show has done anything, it has unintentionally laid bare the ugly sexism of its source material through too-accurate depiction of the general and casual violence that GRRM loves visiting on his female characters, major and minor.

The charge that the violence inflicted is somehow exclusive to women and therefore indicative of "ugly sexism" is not at all supported by the text. The horrors perpetrated on men, women, and children through the course of war by the powerful against the powerless have been well cataloged elsewhere in the thread. Bad shit happens to everybody.

Frankly the "realism" argument doesn't work for me when you are dealing with a guy who sexualizes violence against women with great gusto. From describing the "wetness" of a 13-year-old before her 30+-year-old "husband" rapes her after a forced marriage to the aforementioned "pillowy breasts" of a raped miller's wife, GRRM does not have a leg to stand on in claiming this shit is just about realism. You can say "she was raped" and you can even throw in a few details of the rape without sexualizing it. GRRM chooses to not do that. Who knows if this is intentional or not--it is quite possible he's so inured to this kind of violence being "normal" that he's never thought of describing it any other way.

GRRM's propensity to overdescribe All The Things is legendary and the subject of much riffing. It's a deficit of prose style that infects every aspect of the books, which is a fair criticism.

Hell, with a little better word economy who knows, the series might have been completed by now.
posted by echocollate at 12:53 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Rape scenarios are actually pretty niche (ie, it's not a regular trope) outside of BDSM-themed porn, which, when done well, has its own conventions.

No it isn't, it isn't at all. I'm purposefully excluding BDSM-themed porn, but the prevalence of choking and gagging and slapping in, what I would characterize as, mainstream porn, are all pretty much predicated on rape fantasies. There is certainly porn that does not use rape as trope, but that doesn't make rape anywhere near a niche element in porn.
posted by OmieWise at 12:54 PM on June 27 [4 favorites]


The idea that I have to have read all the rape-saturated shit in those books in order to be concerned about the direction my favorite genre of fiction is going is disgusting, misha. Do you tell everyone in the kink community that they have to read all of 50 Shades before they can criticize its failures to handle safe words? Do YA readers have to finish Twilight before they can criticize the abusive and coercive nature of its relationships?
posted by NoraReed at 12:58 PM on June 27 [12 favorites]


I'm not sure it's a new direction. I mean... what happens less than 100 pages in to Lord Foul's Bane which is one of the two cornerstones of the modern fantasy genre?
posted by Justinian at 1:02 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


If we are criticizing how a particular work handles an issue, then yes, of course we should have read it. How is that concept disgusting?
posted by misha at 1:02 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Or, in the case of a show, watched it. Familiarity with a work is kinda the bare minimum for criticizing that work.
posted by misha at 1:03 PM on June 27


The idea that survivors of rape need to read material that revels in rape in order to be concerned about the rapey direction of a genre is disgusting. So is accusing me of threadshitting while you apparently have an explosive case of thread dysentery and no pants.
posted by NoraReed at 1:08 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


We could just go back to talking about the books/show or the fantasy genre in general. That would be fun.
posted by Justinian at 1:09 PM on June 27


NoraReed was the first example of this, having written the third comment in the thread, and the mods have set a precedent of deleting early thread-shitting comments in the past, as they can serve to set the tone in the thread.

I disagree that it was a threadshit. Did you flag it? Use the comment form? Have you got a meTa in the queue?

If we are criticizing how a particular work handles an issue, then yes, of course we should have read it. How is that concept disgusting?

That is not what her comment did. Again, it discussed directly the linked critique, and how it applies to other shows, and mentions why she chose to not engage with GoT. That is not criticising the work itself, and it's not a fucking threadshit.
posted by rtha at 1:14 PM on June 27 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure it's a new direction. I mean... what happens less than 100 pages in to Lord Foul's Bane which is one of the two cornerstones of the modern fantasy genre?

Not really a fair comparison; the consequences of what happens less than 100 pages in to Lord Foul's Bane ramify through the rest of the trilogy, and somewhat into the next. It has an effect on the characters, and how the story develops as a result. Basically the opposite of the criticism leveled against GoT.
posted by logicpunk at 1:18 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Nora, you should absolutely be able to weigh in on the discussion. And I totally sympathize with not wanting to read the books. I think what bothers those of us who have read the books is that you accuse the author of "reveling in rape culture," which is, I suppose, subjective, but by my reading inaccurate, and a rather incredible charge to make considering you haven't, in fact, read the books.
posted by echocollate at 1:19 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


There is absolutely no way of engaging in this discussion without seeming exceptionally callous to real life victims of rape or war, on the one hand, or being disingenuously oblivious to popular (historical) entertainment on the other. And there is zero chance of commenting on either of those facts without being accused of tone policing by one faction or the other.

I found the article to be engaging, but I'd be an idiot to consider discussing it in a white-hot thread like this.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:20 PM on June 27 [6 favorites]


No it isn't, it isn't at all. I'm purposefully excluding BDSM-themed porn, but the prevalence of choking and gagging and slapping in, what I would characterize as, mainstream porn, are all pretty much predicated on rape fantasies.

Once again invoking Rule 34 (and possibly painting myself as a pretentious and creepy hipster in the process) I will admit I have no idea about mainstream porn.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:22 PM on June 27


I'm not sure it's a new direction. I mean... what happens less than 100 pages in to Lord Foul's Bane which is one of the two cornerstones of the modern fantasy genre?

I will admit to not having read Game of Thrones, but I have read Lord Foul's Bane, and while it was great when I was 12, coming back to it recently... it was pure dreck. Is there even any comparison?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:23 PM on June 27


I think what bothers those of us who have read the books is that you accuse the author of "reveling in rape culture,"

Wow, that's not even close to what NoraReed said.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:23 PM on June 27


Not really a fair comparison; the consequences of what happens less than 100 pages in to Lord Foul's Bane ramify through the rest of the trilogy

True enough. I've made that argument myself.

I found the article to be engaging

My biggest problem, and I've had the same problem since the episode Nussbaum spends so much time talking about, is that I think Nussbaum and others are flat-out wrong with their reading of the scene in the books. Which makes all the extrapolation and comparisons based on that scene baseless.

Feeling that both Martin and the show handle sexual violence badly is defensible even if I'd quibble with various aspects of it. But I get very tired of the idea that Martin handles it in a better way than the show. Both handle it either well or poorly depending on the scene being discussed.

Hell, just Lena Headey's world-weary delivery of the "everywhere in the world they hurt little girls..." line was better than almost anything Martin has written on the subject.
posted by Justinian at 1:25 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


zombieflanders you're right. She said "revels in rape" not "revels in rape culture." I apologize for the error, Nora.
posted by echocollate at 1:27 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


The idea that survivors of rape need to read material that revels in rape in order to be concerned about the rapey direction of a genre is disgusting. So is accusing me of threadshitting while you apparently have an explosive case of thread dysentery and no pants.

That's a fucking offensive strawman. I'm a rape survivor myself and your ugly tactic of bringing rape victims up to try to score points against me is what is truly disgusting. And the dysentery remark is just crazy. You should be ashamed of yourself. Jesus.

You KNOW my comment did not say you HAVE to read GofT. I support your right to choose not to. But you also do not have to comment in this thread. I flagged your earlier comment. The mods may decide not to delete it, but my point stands.

THIS THREAD is about Game of Thrones and its fandom specifically. All your opinions of the work are based on second-hand accounts. And cherry-picked ones, at that, as by your own account you dismissed the positive endorsements of those many sf/fantasy fans who enthusiastically endorsed the books to you.
posted by misha at 1:28 PM on June 27 [5 favorites]


brookedel: "The first was a scene where Daario and two of his compatriots talk about whether or not they should help Daenerys, and as they talk they pass around a partially clothed woman for them to obscenely grope."

And also, let's be clear, this is a deliberate choice by HBO; they turn exposition-heavy scenes into sex scenes in order to keep viewer interest during the "boring" parts. On the HBO show the sex is absolutely meant to titillate, not appall. It occurs so often on the show that critics had to coin the word "sexposition" for HBO's decision to juxtapose backstory and explanation with sex every. single. time.

echocollate: "GRRM's propensity to overdescribe All The Things is legendary and the subject of much riffing. It's a deficit of prose style that infects every aspect of the books, which is a fair criticism."

I'm reading GoT right now and one thing I have noticed, so far, is that the overdescribing of (non-consensual) sex tends to be like "and oooooooh it felt so good, sexy characteristics, etc." while the overdescribing of stabbings is like "and his overdescribed ropey guts fell on the muddy ground" and not like "Lord Stabbington felt SOOOOOOO GOOD as his dagger pierced the other guy's guts and gently probed around his insides."

The books have actually so far struck me as somewhat less sexist than I thought they might be, but they are definitely interested in the titillating nature of sexual assaults, while deaths are treated with more horror. The non-consensual sex scenes are frequently described in lushly sensual ways (that is, appealing to the senses), while the murder scenes are frequently described in stark terms that lay bare its horror.

Also, when Catelyn Stark first describes her sister she remembers her as a "slim, high-breasted girl" and no grown woman thinks about her sister in those terms. I mean srsly. I laughed out loud. Everybody in this book spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about boobs.

Also, all these men are deeply embedded in profoundly intertwined networks of relationships, but the women are just adjunct to the web of men and their relationships are defined through the men. Which is all fine and fair in terms of medieval public life, but where the hell is the women's web that runs through private life? Where are Catelyn's serving women? Where are the loyal laundresses? Where is the web of interconnecting women's palace gossip and betrayal and support? It's seriously like he left half the story out. I keep wondering, why does Westeros have such a monstrously unbalanced birth rate that there are like six men for every woman? I have generally found when he writes an individual woman she is interesting and relatively 3-dimensional (with occasional clunkers and howlers, but that's fine, characters are hard), but women as a group are largely ignored by the text, and absent from the world in a way that feel strange to me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:29 PM on June 27 [40 favorites]


The charge that the violence inflicted is somehow exclusive to women and therefore indicative of "ugly sexism" is not at all supported by the text.

You miss the point. I am not talking about the fact rape and horrible things happen. I am talking about how they are described. It is one thing to be detailed. It is the particular details shared and the nature of the details. He is specific that Daenarys is "wet" (i.e. aroused) when Khal Drogo first rapes her. I am pretty sure GRRM is not making a statement on the involuntary arousal sometimes caused by rape, given that she guides his hands down*.

He focuses on the appearance of breasts and other erogenous zones of his victims. Not on, say, the ways their body froze up with fear and they went limp, or a victim involuntary vomiting, or the difficulty of penetration in a non-aroused vagina, or the thousands of other bodily details that one could conceive of to describe a rape that aren't erotic and would be observable by rapist or victim, whomever is narrating. He could talk about one of the victims punching or scratching or taking out the eye of her attacker before being choked to subdue them. He leaves all of this out, in favor of whether someone's breasts are pillowy or not.

GRRM has women raped. OK, fine. He's detailed. OK, fine. But why did he choose the details he did? Why not other details that are also clearly observable during a rape, but emphasize the horror of the act?


*not even getting into whether she's "consenting" or "enjoying herself". She's 13. And there are a hell of a lot more examples than just this one.
posted by schroedinger at 1:31 PM on June 27 [36 favorites]


Getting back to the original article, I'm confused as to what Nussbaum means by "the fact that the fourth season was the one in which a critical mass of people suddenly noticed just how rapey this show is."

Critical mass of people? To do what, drive the show repeatedly to record ratings? Make the show the biggest thing on TV? Make it the most watched HBO show ever? Because she seems to be implying this critical mass of people are doing... something... which I don't know what that is? Because it sure isn't "not watching the show".
posted by Justinian at 1:33 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Basically, what Eyebrows McGee said in less words. The details he uses to describe sexual violence are meant to titillate and that's hella disturbing. Not to mention, as EMG said, the random exposition on boobs and stuff about women's bodies without, say, the shape of men's asses. The details GRRM chooses betray what he thinks about women, their place in society, and any violence against them.
posted by schroedinger at 1:35 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Also, all these men are deeply embedded in profoundly intertwined networks of relationships, but the women are just adjunct to the web of men and their relationships are defined through the men. Which is all fine and fair in terms of medieval public life, but where the hell is the women's web that runs through private life? Where are Catelyn's serving women? Where are the loyal laundresses? Where is the web of interconnecting women's palace gossip and betrayal and support? It's seriously like he left half the story out. I keep wondering, why does Westeros have such a monstrously unbalanced birth rate that there are like six men for every woman? I have generally found when he writes an individual woman she is interesting and relatively 3-dimensional (with occasional clunkers and howlers, but that's fine, characters are hard), but women as a group are largely ignored by the text, and absent from the world in a way that feel strange to me.

What profoundly intertwined networks of relationships are you referring to? There are a quite a lot of relationships among women in the books, but I don't want to spoil anything for you if you've just begun.

I think your suggestion about seeing a web of women, especially among the women smallfolk of the war-ravaged countryside, is fantastic though. A lot of the depictions of that are very episodic in the later books. We never really get a smallfolk POV, which I think is a shame.
posted by echocollate at 1:35 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


I think she's talking about the fandom, Justinian. I'm only on the edges of it, but my dash seems to be at least 10% GoT at all times, and there was a LOT of backlash against the Jaime rapist scene that she's talking about in the linked piece, and it was mixed between people who'd read the books who were mad that the show turned a consensual sex scene into a rape (and given the excerpts provided by the author and the context I've seen elsewhere this seems dubious, and I think the fact that it's not totally clear whether the scene in the book was consensual is really important) and people who were mad that someone they liked did a bad thing and now they have to not like him (this is what she was talking about with the 'woobie' thing).
posted by NoraReed at 1:41 PM on June 27


The details GRRM chooses betray what he thinks about women, their place in society, and any violence against them.

Occam's Razor suggests he's just really awkward at describing those things, maybe because they're difficult to describe? The need to assign a purely speculative moral failure to the author as reason is all you. It's one thing to describe language as problematic (totally, totally valid); it's quite another to jump from that to assumptions about the author's motives/beliefs/worldview.

It's the literary equivalent of people watching in a park and deciding you know all about someone based on the way they dress.
posted by echocollate at 1:43 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


To assume an author who is writing in a way which conforms to rape culture is influenced by the rape culture inherent in the sexist society around him is a small step, not a huge leap.
posted by gilrain at 1:46 PM on June 27 [13 favorites]


I agree that I would like to see more of the networks of women! We get a hint of that in Olenna and Margeary, as well as with Dany and her Dothraki handmaidens, but rarely more than a glimpse.

Schroedinger, Tyrion is only 13 when he has sex with Tysha, as well. Much as it goes against the grain for us to ever consider a thirteen year-old able to consent to sex, in GRRM's world--which is loosely based on the medieval world and so there is precedent historically--thirteen year-olds are considered old enough to consent to sex, marry and have children, just as they are old enough to lead armies into war and die for their families or their king.

But I do think you have a point, it's just that the point is better illustrated by the scene in the show, where Khal Drogo neither knows nor cares about the concept of consent at all. That rape scene, with Danaerys crying, was incredibly difficult for me to watch, and an even more disturbing as a totally unnecessary departure from the books.
posted by misha at 1:47 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


He's a fucking writer. If he cared about other aspects of womens' appearances he would read books that describe it well, ask for advice, find relevant historical texts, and improve his writing. I mean, doesn't that basically boil down to "maybe he's a shitty writer"?

And dear god please don't try to bring the "WELL MAYBE HE'S JUST AWKWARD" thing into ANOTHER area of feminist criticism. It's annoying enough when it's being used to minimize sexual harassment.
posted by NoraReed at 1:48 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


which is loosely based on the medieval world and so there is precedent historically

"In Italy the average age for marriage was 17; in France it is 16yo; and in England and Germany 18yo was the average age - all for first marriages." Medieval Households, David Herlihy, Harvard University Press, 1985.
posted by winna at 1:54 PM on June 27 [12 favorites]


Occam's Razor suggests he's just really awkward at describing those things, maybe because they're difficult to describe? The need to assign a purely speculative moral failure to the author as reason is all you. It's one thing to describe language as problematic (totally, totally valid); it's quite another to jump from that to assumptions about the author's motives/beliefs/worldview.

It is indeed challenging to write convincingly from the perspective of the opposite sex. I admire those who do it well; having written porn from both the female and the male perspectives, I can tell you that I personally found it an eye-opening experience and a beneficial one*.

I do think that writers should try their hand at writing for the opposite gender at least once. It's much easier, of course, not to challenge your own worldview, but it also leads to complacency and two-dimensional characters.

As a purely educational exercise, I think it would be worthwhile for anyone here in this thread to take a pivotal scene from GofT (or a similar work of your choosing) particularly a sex scene, and rewrite it from the perspective of the opposite sex than the one with which you personally identify. You might be surprised at your own biases and misconceptions and what comes out when you do.

This is not to say that any of the criticism of GRRM's depictions of women is invalid. but only to recognize that what he is doing is not easy, and I appreciate that he is at least trying. I do think, for what it's worth, that he is getting better as he goes.

*I have yet to try to write from a transsexual perspective, as I do not consider myself nearly conversant enough of their lived experience nor skillful enough to recount it realistically.
posted by misha at 2:11 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Winna, I didn't say that 13 year-olds getting married was prevalent or even the average?
An age of consent statute first appeared in secular law in 1275 in England as part of the rape law. The statute, Westminster 1, made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age," whether with or without her consent. The phrase "within age" was interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years of age.

A 1576 law making it a felony to "unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any woman child under the age of 10 years" was generally interpreted as creating more severe punishments when girls were under 10 years old while retaining the lesser punishment for acts with 10- and 11-year-old girls. Jurist Sir Matthew Hale argued that the age of consent applied to 10- and 11-year-old girls, but most of England's North American colonies adopted the younger age. A small group of Italian and German states that introduced an age of consent in the 16th century also employed 12 years.
Stephen Robertson, "Age of Consent Laws," in Children and Youth in History.
posted by misha at 2:22 PM on June 27


Occam's Razor suggests he's just really awkward at describing those things, maybe because they're difficult to describe?

He has been a published writer for more than forty years. At what point can we say that he is making some choices quite deliberately, including what details to focus on and what characters to develop in what ways? Or does he deserve a pass no matter how many more books he writes, because hey - awkward!
posted by rtha at 3:16 PM on June 27 [10 favorites]


I haven't read or watched Game of Thrones but the series reminds me of the Norman conquest of England in terms of alliances, betrayals, and sheer sadistic violence.

The John Norman conquest of England, maybe.

And that's exactly what aSoIaF is: better written Gor with dirt, excrement and delicious cruelty to go along with all the rapes.
posted by jamjam at 3:20 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


He has been a published writer for more than forty years. At what point can we say that he is making some choices quite deliberately, including what details to focus on and what characters to develop in what ways? Or does he deserve a pass no matter how many more books he writes, because hey - awkward!

Which passages do you find particularly problematic? Feel free to MeMail me if you need some time to find them.
posted by echocollate at 3:42 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


It depends on what level you're speaking on. If all anyone was saying was "I do not like Game of Thrones," then fine. But people are stating that Game of Thrones is socially problematic on a broad scale because there is too much rape in the show. If our discussion is at that scale, then we do need to consider the effects of all types of violent crime, including the feelings of those lives that have been touched by both murder and rape.

I think it's interesting that whenever people try and have a conversation about rape and abuse of women in any context, people show up and try and raise it to a meta discussion about all violence, or turn it into a "men get raped too!" thing or whatever.

...And basically every variety of that, and every hobbyhorse that shows up to derail those discussions has been rolled in here. This is a concerted assault, and a consistent thing that happens in essentially all large discussions of this sort of thing and it's fucking tiresome.

So yea, maybe just let people speak on the level they were already trying to speak on? Why does this have to go to the level you want it to? This isn't a meaningless shitty discussion without considering that stuff, or anything.

Note: i don't think the male rape discussion here was really a derail, just that it was worth reflecting on the context in which it's come up. It's definitely relevant that it's something Martin has basically left out of his stories here.
posted by emptythought at 3:42 PM on June 27 [7 favorites]


And that's exactly what aSoIaF is: better written Gor with dirt, excrement and delicious cruelty to go along with all the rapes.

I think either you've not read aSoIaF or you've not read Gor. They're not comparable in any way even beyond the writing quality or lack thereof.
posted by Justinian at 3:47 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


> In the context of the fictional time that the series and books present, there is nothing done for the sake of just doing it, to shock or excite. If we are horrified, it is because we are forcing modern mores on a context that does not even know they exist. The work comes to us with its own universe, its own morals -- neither of which are ours.

Nope. Sorry. The medieval French court poets who reworked Welsh and Breton myths and legends into what we now know as the Arthurian romance tradition were very much writing for contemporary French audiences – not audiences in the time period immediately following the Roman withdrawal from Britain where these narratives were set – and they used their retellings of these stories to talk about issues they and their audiences in their own time, place and culture cared about. Sci-Fi does the same thing; Sci-Fi from the 1930s isn't the same as Sci-Fi from the '70s or Sci-Fi from the '90s, because we had different concerns about the future and different ideas about what the future could be like and ways technology was likely to develop. The modern fantasy genre is not like the medieval sources it draws on.

We're talking a lot about gender and sexual violence in Westerosi society and how it's depicted in the books and the HBO adaptation because this is something George Martin chose to focus on in a very modern way. The the books are set in a Medieval-ish imaginary world, but his perspective on that world is very much modern, Western and ours. They're the creation of a modern author who wanted to use the conventions of the fantasy genre to talk about these issues.
posted by nangar at 3:48 PM on June 27 [4 favorites]


Which passages do you find particularly problematic?

You suggested that maybe he's just awkward at it - I assume you have particular passages in mind, since you at least seem to concede that they exist? I do not any in mind. I am directly challenging your suggestion that "awkwardness" is a reason for an award-winning authors with many, many books under his belt for making some of the choices he makes.
posted by rtha at 3:55 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


You suggested that maybe he's just awkward at it - I assume you have particular passages in mind, since you at least seem to concede that they exist? I do not any in mind. I am directly challenging your suggestion that "awkwardness" is a reason for an award-winning authors with many, many books under his belt for making some of the choices he makes.

Ah, see, I was replying to this:

The details GRRM chooses betray what he thinks about women, their place in society, and any violence against them.

This seems to me to be a rather heavy charge. It's not clear to me how one can do more than speculate this, given Martin's stated thoughts on the subject. Maybe he's lying. Maybe he writes those scenes less artfully than some would prefer because they're difficult to write and he doesn't know how. Maybe that makes him a shitty writer. I honestly have no idea. I found every instance of sexual assault in the books, along with the other violence, pretty devastating.

If you feel there are problematic passages, please post them. I'd like to hear your or others' analysis and prescriptions for improving them.
posted by echocollate at 4:15 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


This conversation reminds me of people talking about Lolita or American Psycho who take offense... to me, the show is clearly a depiction of power dynamics. It's realistic in that it addresses the limitations and responses people face when vying for power.

Men, as a general rule, have greater physical strength than women, so in a world without constitutional rights and equality for all, women are forced to find other ways to seek power, if they want to play a part. Early feminists considered law important to the cause for that reason, whereas modern feminists often fantasize that women are just as strong as men, and with enough willpower a tough chick can beat up any guy she wants to - but the whole problem is the natural disparity we start with, and that patriarchy takes advantage of. That's why women, small men, and other less obviously powerful people will turn to secondary forces of power in times of war and uncertainty - things like manipulation, seduction, bribery, plotting, etc. Women who use these forces are going to be targets of men with power - victims of violence and especially sexual violence because that's an effective force against powerful women.

Thinking Game of Thrones is a fantasy of an ideal rather than a commentary on power dynamics seems to me like thinking The Wire depicts a fantasy. There may be some people who see that kind of violence as desirable, but it seems pretty clearly tragic to me.
posted by mdn at 4:28 PM on June 27 [9 favorites]


It took a while, but I had to look up the passages regarding Theon and the miller's wife; the suggestion in this thread that he assaulted her wasn't sitting well with me as on my reads I have never gotten the impression that there was anything non consensual. These are the passages in question (that I found, maybe there are more - if so I'd appreciate a cite):

Theon had forgotten her name, but he remembered her body, soft pillowy breasts and stretch marks on her belly, the way she clawed his back when he fucked her. (COK)

Theon did not want to think about their mother. He had known the miller’s wife for years, had even bedded her. Big heavy breasts with wide dark nipples, a sweet mouth, a merry laugh. Joys that I will never taste again. (ADWD)

Those don't read as rape scenes to me. Nor do they seem excessively or gratuitously detailed, one of the primary criticisms leveled at the books. I could see how someone who already feels that the books are "rapey" might see that as yet another rape, but I don't think it's implicit or implied. It's always kind of bothered me that people feel that the books glorify rape, but I wonder if it's more an artifact of people seeing what they want to be there/think is already there.

I'm not at all suggesting that the books are rape-free (and these comments are only about the books, not the show which IS overly gratuitous on every level). Its always just seemed - to me - that the rape criticism seems to be a particularly juicy target, especially for people who haven't read the books. I also don't want to suggest that people can't or shouldn't be offended; I find lots of things offensive. But there's also this thin suggestion that people who are offended by depictions of rape in the book are offended on behalf of all rape survivors and... I guess this rape survivor is more discomfited by the shrill tone of the discussion then the depictions being discussed.
posted by lilnublet at 4:37 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


I thought Theon slept with her consensually and that was the awfulness of it - a woman he'd had an affectionate affair with as a young man, then when war came, he had brutally killed her two sons to save his own hide. Is this being confused with the story of Ramsey Bolton's conception via rape?
posted by viggorlijah at 4:43 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


> I think it's interesting that whenever people try and have a conversation about rape and abuse of women in any context, people show up and try and raise it to a meta discussion about all violence, or turn it into a "men get raped too!" thing or whatever.

The comment you're referring to is this one by rtha:
In the books and/or show, is there (a lot of) sexual violence committed against men and boys? That's a real thing that really happens.
It was a question from someone who hadn't read the books or read the show. The responses were mostly, no, not very much, except for castration. rtha's a woman, a feminist and a long-time member of the site. Neither rtha's question or any of the responses to it implied that raping women was OK because "men get raped too".

emptythought, I think you should apologize for your allegation about rtha and her comment because that's not remotely what she said.
posted by nangar at 4:55 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


I guess my confusion stems from him being lauded for his amazing world-building, intricate plotting, memorable characters, and so on...but gosh, some kinds of scenes are hard to write and/or he's not as good at them because he's awkward?

It's clear from the interviews I've read with him that he puts a great deal of thought and deliberation into his work. He is a serious writer - he takes his work seriously, as he should. At least give him the courtesy of Occam's Razoring him to making deliberate choices, and not just fumbling awkwardly through scenes he writes a lot of.
posted by rtha at 5:02 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


Also, iirc from my attempt from reading the first book, doesn't Tyrion lose his virginity in a way that is somewhat dubious and coercive?
posted by NoraReed at 5:11 PM on June 27


I guess my confusion stems from him being lauded for his amazing world-building, intricate plotting, memorable characters, and so on...but gosh, some kinds of scenes are hard to write and/or he's not as good at them because he's awkward?

It's clear from the interviews I've read with him that he puts a great deal of thought and deliberation into his work. He is a serious writer - he takes his work seriously, as he should. At least give him the courtesy of Occam's Razoring him to making deliberate choices, and not just fumbling awkwardly through scenes he writes a lot of.


There's a lot to criticize about his writing style, and I say this as someone who really enjoys his books (the first "adult" book I ever read was a battered copy of Fevre Dream my stepmom gave me). The same can be said for a lot of "serious" writers. Stephen King is great at writing characters, but when it comes to the actual horror he has all the subtlety of a box of hammers.

The benefit of the doubt that I gave Martin is that he's not callous to rape or rape victims and that, if some find the language in which those scenes are written problematic, it's not because he's clueless, thoughtless, or worse, but because those scenes are difficult to write. I base that on the interviews I've read with him.
posted by echocollate at 5:12 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


There is the possibility that he has never had sex before.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:12 PM on June 27


Also, iirc from my attempt from reading the first book, doesn't Tyrion lose his virginity in a way that is somewhat dubious and coercive?

Not precisely, Nora. Tyrion didn't coerce her. There was, however, pretty terrible rape associated with that narrative. Probably the hardest for me to read of the series. The story of Tyrion's first wife/love is one of the big tragedies of the series I think.
posted by echocollate at 5:14 PM on June 27


No, I mean on the part of the adults who hired the prostitute and sort of forced Tyrion into it. Or was that someone else?
posted by NoraReed at 5:16 PM on June 27


Nora, to avoid putting spoilers up, I'll send you a message explaining in safe language.
posted by echocollate at 5:21 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


emptythought, I think you should apologize for your allegation about rtha and her comment because that's not remotely what she said.

My comment was not directed at her. It was directed at what portions of this discussion in aggregate slot right in to the bingo board for discussions about this topic in general. I also think you pretty much threw the baby out with the bathwater, in as far as i can tell not even considering the smalltext at the end of my post.

Neither rtha's question or any of the responses to it implied that raping women was OK because "men get raped too".

I have no beef with what rtha said, especially since it's not even saying what i was talking about. The general derail into violence and violence/sexual violence against men in the books/show had several vague attempts at going down that road, but her comment was not part of that at all.

I will credit a lot of people with sort of pissing on that campfire too, and turning it into a discussion about how weird it was that the show doesn't cover that at all, and the books have what, one instance?

But anyways, i'm not trying to threadshit here, carry on.
posted by emptythought at 5:29 PM on June 27


The show is definitely more rapey, sexist and exploitative of women in general than the books-- and who the hell would read the books and think they needed *more* sexualised violence?
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:57 PM on June 27 [2 favorites]


First, let me say I like a lot of ASOIF and GRRM has many strengths as a writer.

This seems to me to be a rather heavy charge. It's not clear to me how one can do more than speculate this, given Martin's stated thoughts on the subject.

It's a heavy charge to say an author who grew up in a society soaked in rape culture is reflecting that in his writing? I'm not saying GRRM is CONSCIOUSLY thinking "hur hur, rape is so sexy hur and women stupid", I'm saying his writing, even when in a female's POV, is very clearly written from the perspective of a male who has absolutely no idea how rape culture and general sexism in our society has influenced him. The details he focuses on are ones that appeal to him as a man. He is probably not thinking at all about how they eroticize rape, or are laughably written when supposedly from a female POV. It's not a conscious moral failing, but it is something he's pretty shitty at, and the end result is the books are problematic from a rape culture standpoint.

in GRRM's world--which is loosely based on the medieval world and so there is precedent historically--thirteen year-olds are considered old enough to consent to sex, marry and have children, just as they are old enough to lead armies into war and die for their families or their king.

I am pretty sick of this "but in the medieval times & etc" argument.

First, age of consent and age of social acceptability are two totally different things. Age of consent in some states is 16, that doesn't mean nobody's going to give the side-eye if a 16-year-old marries someone twice their age. Goes no different for the medieval era. An age of consent of 10 does not mean people were totally "yeah, let's all bang 10 year olds, that's totally cool". Non-nobility rarely married until their late teens or early 20s. In the nobility every effort was made to delay marriage until the bride or groom was clearly past puberty, and if you were marrying a pre-pubescent you tried to marry them to someone of their own age.

Second, 13-year-olds weren't leading shit into battle. It's not just GRRM's interpretation of age of consent that pisses me off, it's the laughable idea that boys barely entering puberty are somehow capable of holding their own physically and psychologically against fully-grown men with decades of maturity and battle experience on them. In the actual, real medieval world maybe you'd find a 13-year-old boy was the head of the army in a purely nominal sense, in that they were ostensible heads of the army, but you can bet they weren't making war plans or inspiring their men or heading a charge. This is a fit 13-year-old boy. This is a fit 25-year-old man. If you consider a medieval 25-year-old knight had an extra 12 years of wearing heavy armor and fighting the differences will be even more extreme. There is no 13-year-old boy who was commanding respect from older, well-trained soldiers.

As for ruling, no 13-year-old king was ruling. He was a figurehead and his advisers were doing the bulk of the work.

Could you find exceptions? Of course you can. You can totally pick out a girl here or there married off at 9 or whatever. But if we want to talk generalities, GRRM's world is not realistic, it's just a stereotype of how the real-life medieval world worked.


And this is GRRM's greatest failing: laziness in doing research. If he was seriously interested in depicting a "realistic" medieval world he'd have done a little reading and figured out the ages of half his characters were stupid for what he wanted them to do. If he was seriously interested in depicting a realistic female POV, he would, like, ask any woman whether she would describe her sister as "high-breasted" (that's not "awkward", that's just dumb). If he were seriously interested in depicting rape as a really bad thing, he would maybe not make his 13-year-olds "wet" when they were raped (and they probably wouldn't fall in love with their incredibly older husband either). But GRRM's medieval world is entirely based on the popular and inaccurate idea of what the medieval world is like, his female POV chapters are peppered with obviously male perspectives, and he inappropriately eroticizes aspects of rape scenes because those are the parts he's thinking about.
posted by schroedinger at 6:12 PM on June 27 [20 favorites]


The show is definitely more rapey, sexist and exploitative of women in general than the books

Well, see, I disagree with your premise. The show strikes me as more or less equivalently rapey, sexist, and exploitative as the books. Why do you think the show is "definitely" moreso?
posted by Justinian at 6:13 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Second, 13-year-olds weren't leading shit into battle. It's not just GRRM's interpretation of age of consent that pisses me off, it's the laughable idea

Yeah, that's a result of GRRM changing his mind about the 5 year gap that was supposed to occur in the books. The 13 year old characters should have been 18. This is one aspect of the TV show that came out way better than the books.

GRRM messed up. I think he even admits it openly.

How old was the Black Prince at Crecy and so on? 15-16?
posted by Justinian at 6:17 PM on June 27


(I would note that Robb was 16 when leading men into battle, not 13, fwiw.)
posted by Justinian at 6:23 PM on June 27


And this is GRRM's greatest failing: laziness in doing research.

I'm also still upset that he thinks (or perhaps thought and has ideally been corrected at some point) that a medieval buttery was the room in the castle where the butter was kept.
posted by elizardbits at 6:26 PM on June 27 [5 favorites]


emptythought, I think the violence inherent in the world of GofT is central to the discussion rather than a derail of it.

If we are to look criticially at the way violence against women is handled in Game of Thrones, and whether it is a problem, we have to look at whether violence against women in GRRM's world is treated differently from violence against men. I think rtha was also, if I am not mistaken, making that correlation. The original critique upon which this thread is based maintains that it is handled differently, and that the fans are somehow responsible for allowing this to happen: "If they know that favorite characters can get away, literally, with murder so long as the person they murder is a woman who hurt them and slept with other men, they will simply keep showing us that."

I could see arguing the point that the show does treat violence against women differently, given the reframing of the sex scenes between Dany and Drogo, Jaime and Cersei, which make consensual sex scenes into disturbing, unnecessary rape scenes. I am with the critic on that.

However, the idea that the fans should speak up about the death of Shae does not follow. Shae is killed because she hurts and betrays Tyrion.

Bran, a small child, is pushed from a building and paralyzed for no other reason than that he could potentially hurt someone because of what he has seen.

Theon, an arrogant womanizer, is abused and degraded to a point where arguably he would be better off dead, simply because it pleases Bolson Ramsey to torture his pets.

Arya Stark becomes so consumed with the desire to exact revenge on anyone she feels has hurt her family that not only does she lull herself to sleep with a litany of their names, she personally takes it upon herself to kill them off without the slightest mercy. Which, by the way, includes slowly skewering a man with a sword through his throat while taunting him AND leaving the man who has saved her life more than once to potentially die in excruciating agony rather than allowing him a quick death. Even after he begged her for that slight mercy. AND she steals his wallet. Yet Arya is also a popular character, a "woobie" to the fans.

How is having the same reaction to Shae's death as those of the Hound, Theon or Bran suggestive that violence against women is more acceptable to the fans than violence against men?

Rather, this critique suggests that violence against a particular woman, Shae, is more egregious to this particular critic than the deaths of any of the other characters, male or female. Which is an acceptable stance for anyone to take, but framing it as the fans being sexist for not seeing it that way seems dishonest.
posted by misha at 6:45 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


It's been a couple of years since I read the books, but isn't at least at one point it strongly implied, if not explicitly shown, that the guards are given sexual access (read: rape) to Shae, as a punishment or leverage?
posted by Dip Flash at 7:16 PM on June 27


If we are to look criticially at the way violence against women is handled in Game of Thrones, and whether it is a problem, we have to look at whether violence against women in GRRM's world is treated differently from violence against men. I think rtha was also, if I am not mistaken, making that correlation.

I was wondering very specifically about sexual violence. Not how do fans react when [male character] kills someone vs how they react when [female character] does. But: yes, women getting raped and sexually abused is a common thing in war; the same is true for men and boys. So, is there a similar level of depiction of sexual violence against them, is it treated in similar ways, is similar language used to describe it.

That is what I was wondering.
posted by rtha at 7:57 PM on June 27 [3 favorites]


I'm also still upset that he thinks (or perhaps thought and has ideally been corrected at some point) that a medieval buttery was the room in the castle where the butter was kept.

I could have forgiven him this had he made a similar error regarding the scullery. Alas, he does seem to know that one.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:02 PM on June 27 [1 favorite]


Dip Flash: It's been a couple of years since I read the books, but isn't at least at one point it strongly implied, if not explicitly shown, that the guards are given sexual access (read: rape) to Shae, as a punishment or leverage?

Dip Flash, No?

In the books, Tyrion kept Shae away from the Red Keep specifically so that she would be safe from his family (and everyone else), first in a manse in the city and then as maid to Lollys Stokeworth (the woman Bronn is set to marry) until he married Ssnsa, when he set her up as Sansa's maid.

Shae is promised a fine marriage and a manse of her own by Cersei, which is all the incentive she needs to turn on Tyrion.
posted by misha at 6:38 AM on June 28


If authors can reason dragons into a story, why can't they reason rape out of it?
posted by ElaineMc at 6:29 PM on June 28


A story about dragons needs realism, right?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:33 PM on June 28


But only for women.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:34 PM on June 28


I'm also still upset that he thinks (or perhaps thought and has ideally been corrected at some point) that a medieval buttery was the room in the castle where the butter was kept.

So then the pillowy was just the room where they kept the pillows?
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:16 PM on June 28 [1 favorite]


One of the things I love about Seanan McGuire is she's said she isn't going to have rape in her stories. Her characters still get murdered in front of their lovers, disemboweled, visited by magical carrion wearing the faces of their dead loved ones, ensnared by fairy tales, stolen by the Wild Hunt, painfully transformed into animals, driven to madness through years of darkness and isolation and disrmboweled some more, but I don't have to be cringing while wondering when one of her strong female characters is going to be punished with a sexual assault. It's a relief to read knowing that, because rape is something I just sort of dread happening to heroines in novels, especially genre novels trying to be "gritty". It's a little like how I always worry the dog is gonna die, except with bonus misogyny.
posted by NoraReed at 7:20 PM on June 28 [5 favorites]


A story about dragons needs realism, right?

I realize this is sarcastic but the answer is "yes". For certain very important values of "realism". It needs realism in close to the same ways a story about faster than light travel or warp drives or wormholes needs realism.
posted by Justinian at 7:26 PM on June 28 [3 favorites]


"If authors can reason dragons into a story, why can't they reason rape out of it?"
This is a sentiment that keeps getting repeated in this thread, but it can't help but read to me as both dismissive of what fiction is for and profoundly anti-intellectual in a way that I think is beneath us. The stories we tell are important, and it is important to have stories that include sexual assault as well as ones that don't.

It is unfortunately an aspect of the human experience that is worth contextualizing, understanding, reasoning through, and empathizing with through the power of narrative. Of course dragons aren't fucking real, but the kinds of transformative yet uncontrollable agents of power they represent very much are, the ways in which individuals and entire societies must adjust to new realities like dragons very much are, the ways in which the deft gift of something meaningless yet full of potential like a dragon egg can change the world to the benefit of a few very much are, and the way in which power itself is very much like a hungry dragon sure as fuck is. Mark Twain was profoundly right when he said that "It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction, fiction has to make sense," and the dragons in GRR Martin's stories make just as much awful visceral sense as the presence of rape in his stories.

It is the reason why I never recommend Game of Thrones to anyone without a hell of a lot of caveats and explicit warning, but GRR Martin didn't reason rape out of the story because he chose not to and that is ok. That GRR Martin repeatedly lacked the talent to describe sexual assault outside of the perspective of a fetishy old man even when writing for female POV characters is a problem and the fact that the showrunners are conspicuously incapable of understanding basic concepts of consent much less directing to them is a problem, but that rape exists in a story that also has dragons is not a problem - both are important.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:52 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]


both are important.

Both can be important. If sexual assault is treated poorly, though, its importance to the story diminishes.
posted by jaguar at 7:39 AM on June 30


The show strikes me as more or less equivalently rapey, sexist, and exploitative as the books. Why do you think the show is "definitely" moreso?

1. Dany and Khal Drogo's wedding night: in the books, yes she's 13, but he shows consideration, takes time to make the experience pleasant for her, and explicitly asks for and gets her consent. In the show he just stoically rips her clothes off and rapes her while she's weeping. "Consensual" sex with a 13-year-old might not be a great improvement over the rape of an 18-year-old, but onwards:

2. Sexposition. Like for example, that ridiculous scene where Littlefinger is philosophising about politics, fully clothed, while casually directing a sex act between two naked female prostitutes. Not in the books in any way whatsoever. It's worth noting that sexposition is not equal-opportunity: it's more to do with the female body as commonplace set dressing. In "Game Of Thrones" sex scenes, women almost always take all their clothes off, and men almost always leave their trousers on. Female nudity is almost always full-body, while men tend to be shot from the waist up (male butts are vanishingly rare. In fact, for all the female crotches we've seen on the show, have we seen even a single dick?) Count the naked women in any given episode or season of "Game of Thrones", then count the naked guys: the ratio will always be at least 3:1, and usually higher.

3. Joffrey being a sadist with the two prostitutes. Yet more sexualised violence against women that isn't in the books and didn't need to be in the show; we already had ample onscreen proof that Joffrey was a sadist who enjoyed tormenting women.

4. Meera Reed: in the books she is a confident, capable huntress with a sense of fun, and is never subjected to sexual violence. In the show, she spends something like two episodes being tied up and drooled on by Burn Gorman in the totally non-canonical rape camp at

5. Craster's Keep: In the books, we never see Craster's Keep after the death of Lord Mormont (when Sam flees) though we do later come across the dead bodies of the mutineers being eaten by wolves. Karl McRapeyPants is pretty much entirely a TV show character.

6. Cersei's rape by Jaime, as covered above.

7. And to everyone going "Oh but Unsullied" in an attempt to establish an equivalence: in terms of the show, it isn't equivalent at all. First of all, castration is given narrative weight and is shown to have lasting consequences, while rape tends to be shrugged off. In the case of the Unsullied, the act of castration is only mentioned verbally, not lingered over and not given screen time. How many on-screen rapes have we seen? We have seen exactly ONE on-screen male castration, shot from above the waist, in a scene for which they also brought in 2 full-frontal naked women for no reason. Not in the books.

8. And then had one of the women hunted and killed by dogs in the next episode. Again, not in the books.

I could easily go on. The show has a lot of good acting, costume design, effects, and art direction. There's even some above-average-for-TV writing in there (though also some terrible writing). But the whole thing is really marred by what seems like deliberate heavyhanded sexism throughout.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:50 PM on June 30 [10 favorites]


Well, see, I disagree with your premise on (for example) #1 and #6. The show is a lot more honest about the situation(s) than Martin. You see those as examples of the show being more exploitative, I see it as an example of the opposite.
posted by Justinian at 8:13 PM on June 30


have we seen even a single dick

Yes, Hodor! How soon we forget.

But to be fair, HBO is not allowed to show an erect penis. They can show full female nudity though. Which is a double standard but not HBO's fault.
posted by Justinian at 8:18 PM on June 30 [2 favorites]


Also, Theon back in the first season. Which is the only one I remember being shown in proximity to a sex scene. There was at least one random naked peasant man being mocked at a gate somewhere, too.
posted by asperity at 8:44 PM on June 30


8. And then had one of the women hunted and killed by dogs in the next episode.

You list these things as if the show depicted them as something laudatory. All of those things were clearly intended to be villainous acts and you're supposed to hate the people doing it.
posted by empath at 2:34 AM on July 1


There's been at least 3 flaccid penii in the show. There was one early on(season 1 or 2, i remember hootling like a chimp at the screen when it happened), the honor point mentioned above, and the challenge scene between Dany's army and Meereens champion.

it's 3 dicks, only one shown not silhouetted or somewhat out of focus/obscured/quickly cut away from in some way(i think the only full on cock shot was theon, maybe?) for like 1000 instances of full female nudity, and so many breasts that it would take a dedicated effort to actually count them all.

I'm 100% with you though, that there is no equivalence of male sexual exposition or sexual violence in the show. It's barely even implied, and 99% of that would relate to theon. Anyone trying to sell that this show is just like, generally sexually violent or fucked up in a non gender specific way is trying to sell an agenda.
posted by emptythought at 3:59 AM on July 1


But to be fair, HBO is not allowed to show an erect penis. They can show full female nudity though. Which is a double standard but not HBO's fault.

Says who, the FCC? What an odd rule. When will erectile oppression end?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:07 AM on July 1


That is in fact HBOs fault. There's no rules at all on cable, and cinemax and such obviously have less restrictive rules. It's at most company policy, and a strange double standard that shouldn't be played off as "not their fault". It's a conscious decision on their part.

It's really not hard to google around and find out that there's essentially no restrictions of what can be shown on subscription channels like that, and even normal cable. The FCC only regulates over the air tv.
posted by emptythought at 2:08 PM on July 1


Cinemax does not show erections either.

As far as I am aware no-one on American TV (on a non-porn) channel has ever shown an erect penis in a non-documentary context. You're right it isn't the law. But unless you know of such an instance that's a line in the sand that I believe has never been crossed. Don't get me wrong, I think that's a bullshit line. But it's still the case.
posted by Justinian at 6:09 PM on July 1


Also, I think we saw Maester Pycelle's penis once, though I could have done without that, thanks.

I definitely the show is much more sexploitative all around*, and especially so with women.

However, having thought about this many times, I do feel rape is given weight both on-air and in the books.

1. In Dany's story, she is moved to intervene when the Dothraki rape women in a village they have conquered because of what she went through herself with Drogo. Seen in that light, the TV rape of Dany, though I am still not a fan of the story change, makes more sense motivationally.
2. Brienne will fight to the death to prevent being raped if she has to, a stance which makes Jaime rethink his own laissez-faire attitude (which he only developed in the first place after years in the King's Guard required him to refrain from acting when he most felt his honor demanded it), and find a way to use his influence to keep it from happening.
3. Cersei is so terrified of being raped she has men guarding all the noblewomen in the Red Keep, ready to execute them in case the town falls, which she sees as the more merciful course.
4. Even the women in Craster's Keep--and I hated that whole gratuitous show storyline with the mutineers!--decide to burn Craster's shack to the ground and stick together without help from the Wall rather than trust any men again after the abuse they have endured, which seems to show they take rape seriously.

Also, and not only because it is strategically sound, Tyrion is very mindful of Sansa's particular vulnerability as a young woman with a sheltered upbringing. He sends the Hound after her during the uprising, covers her with his own cloak when Joffrey has her stripped in the throne room, and even once they are married refuses to have sex with her, although she is prepared to be 'dutiful'. Very few TV shows deal with the idea of marital rape and I appreciate that both the books and the show kept this storyline.

--
*There are some sexual scenes with men predominant, like Loras and Remly shaving, Oberyn's brothel scenes, etc., but not nearly so many.
posted by misha at 9:35 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Tyrion is very mindful of Sansa's particular vulnerability as a young woman with a sheltered upbringing. He sends the Hound after her during the uprising

Just a quibble, but I think the Hound did that on his own initiative (Tyrion tried to get Meryn Trant to do it, but he refused.) Here's the scene where he saves her from the gang rape (trigger warning): The Hound Rescues Sansa.
posted by homunculus at 5:36 PM on July 9


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