The Women and the Thrones
October 18, 2013 3:01 PM   Subscribe

When we were little, Jaime and I were so much alike that even our lord father could not tell us apart. Sometimes as a lark we would dress in each other’s clothes and spend a whole day each as the other. Yet even so, when Jaime was given his first sword, there was none for me. “What do I get?” I remember asking. We were so much alike, I could never understand why they treated us so differently. Jaime learned to fight with sword and lance and mace, while I was taught to smile and sing and please. He was heir to Casterly Rock, while I was to be sold to some stranger like a horse, to be ridden whenever my new owner liked, beaten whenever he liked, and cast aside in time for a younger filly. Jaime’s lot was to be glory and power, while mine was birth and moonblood.
Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books on the Song of Ice and Fire as feminist epic. Previously.
posted by grobstein (150 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
The one-note, smirky performance of Lena Headey in this crucial role is a major weakness of the TV show; far worse is the tinny portrayal of Daenerys by Emilia Clarke, an untalented lightweight who accidentally succeeds in conveying the early Dany—the cowering virgin—but can’t come close to bringing across the character’s touching complexity, the girlishness and the ferocity combined.

Man really? I feel like he's watching a different TV show than I've watched....
posted by ish__ at 3:04 PM on October 18, 2013 [29 favorites]


Yeah, I don't even know what to say to that. Especially given Blackwater where she knocks it out of the park.
posted by Artw at 3:09 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've read all the books and watched (most of) the TV show, but, I'm sorry, any value ASoIAF has as a feminist epic was greatly diminished for me after seeing George R.R. Martin posting pictures of the GoT actresses in their underwear on his LJ.

Also, not one mention of Brienne of Tarth? Weaksauce.
posted by fight or flight at 3:15 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, not one mention of Brienne of Tarth? Weaksauce.

You should probably read the article before making this sort of comment.
posted by grobstein at 3:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


She's not a focus of the article but she's in there:
“They were the glory of their House,” the knight mournfully observes. “And now they are a sign above an inn.” Martin’s willingness to question the traditional allure of his own genre gives his epic an unusually complex and satisfying texture.

As it happens, the knight at the inn is a woman—a most unusual character.
posted by grobstein at 3:19 PM on October 18, 2013


Hm, I would have thought that an essay about characters throwing off traditional gender roles as a feminist act would have included a bit more about the one character who most strongly embodies that idea.
posted by fight or flight at 3:24 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


A lot of this is good, but yeah, come on...

1.) Emilia Clarke is portraying a young woman who can command respect from the lowest rungs of society as a populist (whose power is almost entirely vested in her dragons) but she is seen by the established order of Westeros as a pawn. Clarke's straining-to-reach-beyond-her-grasp interpretation is, to me, dead-on. She is as yet still learning how to be the conqueror she must surely become, and that wasn't going to happen overnight.

2.) Lena Headey is an excellent Cersei, bringing astounding amounts of depth and humanity to a character who is, in the books, almost entirely villainous.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:24 PM on October 18, 2013 [21 favorites]



Game of Thrones ... feels more authentic, more “literary” than anything even the best series in this new golden age of television can provide.

cough cough ahem thewire cough
posted by bumpkin at 3:25 PM on October 18, 2013 [16 favorites]


I liked this, though parts one and two read like Here's Why The New York Review Of Books Is Covering A Fantasy Series. And wow, is he wrong on Headey.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:27 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cersei is only entirely villainous until she got her own perspective chapters, after that I think she's much more nuanced. The show had sped up that timeline, though, which is a change for the better.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Martin renders the Eastern cultures in particular with Herodotean gusto

Or, you know, as cardboard thin Orientalist stereotypes, but whatev's
posted by bumpkin at 3:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [27 favorites]


Game of Thrones ... feels more authentic, more “literary” than anything even the best series in this new golden age of television can provide.

cough cough ahem thewire cough


Yeah, The Wire is what I thought of too. And The Wire is another story with the rare trick of surprising you by killing your favorite characters.
posted by grobstein at 3:31 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bulgaroktonos: I'd agree with you entirely with that assessment if it were about Jaime, but I feel like Cersei's perspective-chapters only serve to show how drunk, crazy and morally relativistic she is. They're a lot of fun, but they never made me sympathize or even empathize with her.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:32 PM on October 18, 2013


any value ASoIAF has as a feminist epic was greatly diminished for me after seeing George R.R. Martin posting pictures of the GoT actresses in their underwear on his LJ.

Uh, that's Sibel Kekilli. I think he probably chose some of the least revealing pictures of Sibel given that much of her work prior to GoT was in German porn.
posted by Justinian at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


I like GoT but if anything it feels extremely game-like, almost a live action RPG. Tyrion is the character with high {CHARISMA}, which is fun to play and therefore fun to watch. Tywin and others have high {INT}, which is consistently compelling to listen to. The high {FAITH} characters are a fucking drag like they are everywhere.

And so far Dany has loaded dice, which isn't very fun at all.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:33 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dany is fun because she's fucking nuts.
posted by Artw at 3:35 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


2bucksplus: I think that's a serious misreading. Tyrion is one of the most intelligent and cunning men in the series and actually isn't charismatic in the least. That's not true in the show, obviously, since Peter Dinklage is so awesome. That's a necessary though unfortunate reality in translating for the screen.

There's very little at all RPG-like about it except insofar as it is taking tropes that do appear in fantasy literature and games rather frequently and either deconstructing them or turning them on their head.
posted by Justinian at 3:37 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man really? I feel like he's watching a different TV show than I've watched....

He wouldn't be the first and won't be the last to conflate a character who's irritating with an actor who's irritating. Having a real person portraying Cersei in the early parts makes hersignificantly more sympathetic than in the books, where you never get a sense of what's going on in her head or her internal development until much later. At the absolute least, you actually get to see her reacting to Joffrey instead of only getting her through the lens of people who hate her deeply.

Also, I feel bad for Emilia Clarke, who has to play an 18 year old who was originally written as a 14 year old and so who comes across sometimes as extremely childish because the show (for good reason) bumped her age up 4 or 5 years.

Martin renders the Eastern cultures in particular with Herodotean gusto

Or, you know, as cardboard thin Orientalist stereotypes, but whatev's


I'm not sure these two statements are as in as much disagreement as you seem to think. At least GRRM doesn't have mysterious eastern cultures that steal gold from the nests of giant ants or have faces on their stomachs.
posted by Copronymus at 3:38 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


Uh, that's Sibel Kekilli. I think he probably chose some of the least revealing pictures of Sibel given that much of her work prior to GoT was in German porn.

I thought this might be a joke, so I Googled her?

Nope. Porn.
posted by Zerowensboring at 3:40 PM on October 18, 2013


1.) Emilia Clarke is portraying a young woman who can command respect from the lowest rungs of society as a populist (whose power is almost entirely vested in her dragons) but she is seen by the established order of Westeros as a pawn. Clarke's straining-to-reach-beyond-her-grasp interpretation is, to me, dead-on. She is as yet still learning how to be the conqueror she must surely become, and that wasn't going to happen overnight.

Capturing the early uncertainty of her character is one thing the show has done well; the books can show us what is going on in her head as she is outwardly composed, but her character is part of the larger theme in the books of people becoming leaders when they aren't ready or when they are unsuitable. I think the TV show is doing an excellent job of demonstrating her development as leader.

2.) Lena Headey is an excellent Cersei, bringing astounding amounts of depth and humanity to a character who is, in the books, almost entirely villainous.

It took me a while to appreciate show Cersei; I hate book Cersei with a fiery passion and it was hard to see her being done in a more complex and at time sympathetic way on the show. But I appreciate how they've done it.

And as much as I loathe Cersei in the books, I still understand and have some respect for her motivations and drive...she's just not nearly as clever as she thinks, which is what I find hard. This scene was actually note perfect I think in capturing Cersei's limitations. She is a complex character, though it takes longer to emerge in the books. And Catelyn was capable of inducing a similar level of frustration/anger/loathing due to her own limitations and short-sightedness.

I think there are some things the series could be doing better with women, but I still think it's doing pretty good at giving us interesting, enjoyable and complex female characters - some who I root for, some who I don't.
posted by nubs at 3:45 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Game of Bones
posted by Artw at 3:49 PM on October 18, 2013


Martin's unfathomable decision to get rid of the planned 5 year interregnum between books... uh... 4 and 5 (I think?) made it necessary to make Cersei in the novels an idiot. How else do you get her to virtually destroy the kingdom in 6 months instead of 5 years?

I also do not like what it meant for Jon, Dany, Arya, Sam, or anyone else, really. Their storylines are obviously truncated and do not flow like they would with that obviously necessary gap.
posted by Justinian at 3:50 PM on October 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really don't think he makes a coherent argument to be honest. Many points picked out by others above -I'll add he's a bit wrong on the religions - the worshippers of The Seven can be just as vicious and hard as the followers of R'hllor and no mention of The Drowned God?! What is dead may never die!

the perfumed language—the horses called destriers and palfreys, the gowns of vair and samite—that give you a strong sense of the concrete reality of this imagined world.

Well I find all the repetitive flowery descriptive stuff ('boiled leather' klaxon! Oh here's another description of a shield, better get by heraldry book out!) one of Martin's faults to be honest.... then again I'd think using both 'Tacitean' and 'Thucydidean' in the same essay on a pop cultural phenomena a bit 'trying too hard'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:53 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justinian, the gap was supposed to be between books 3 and 4, is my understanding. I feel like he only went back on it because he was too interested in the fallout from Tyrion's actions at the end of Book 3 and thus hurt a lot of possibilities for everyone else, including shoving Dany into the notorious "Meereenese knot."
posted by Navelgazer at 3:53 PM on October 18, 2013


the reason i can't take grrm seriously on a feminist level is his constant obsession with how hot young women are and how sexy they are because they're young and isn't it great that all these sexy young women characters he wrote are being portrayed by such sexy young actresses who can act even younger than they are while still being so sexy

Katheryn was the youngest of Henry's queens, only fifteen by some accounts (others say slightly older), and while far from innocent, she was naive, unsophisticated, frivilous, giggly.. a kitten frolicking in a tiger cage, oblivious to the claws around her. Tamzin caught all that wonderfully, I thought... both in the character's introduction last season, and in the first few episodes of this seasons... sexy as hell in the bedroom scenes, a playful child with her friends and ladies, awkward and ill at ease at court.
---
It's no secret that HBO's Dany will start out older than Dany does in the book; that was a change that had to be made, if we wanted to keep the sex scenes, and David and Dan and I were all agreed that the sex scenes were essential. Tamzin can play much younger than her actual age (as she does when playing Katheryn) and her sex scenes on THE TUDORS were as hot as anything I've ever seen on TV.
---
I've just reviewed the tapes of twelve young women reading for the part of Shae.

Excuse me. I need to go take a cold shower now."


---

the books can have feminist interpretations and he's definitely written female characters who actually are human beings with complex motivations but i can't take HIM seriously as a feminist because also, by the way, sexy young underage rapesex sexy young women so sexy hot hot hot.
posted by titus n. owl at 3:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [27 favorites]


I also think show Cersei is much more interesting and sympathetic than book Cersei, especially at this point in the narrative. Though Book 3 (which is where the show is), we'd only seen Cersei through the eyes of people who hated her, often for good reasons.

SPOILERS for people who haven't read books 3 and 4:



I do really, really, really wish GRRM had started the Cersei POV chapters earlier in the series. Because as it is, we don't get inside her head until she's started to become paranoid and unhinged. In the early books, she's a very capable player of the game, outsmarting even Tyrion a few times, calling Ned's bluff, etc. But by the time we get to hear her internal monologue about how her gender is the reason she isn't as powerful, it's clear that her missteps and paranoia are also to blame. So it winds up undermining that message. It really irritates me.

GRRM does make this point much more effectively with Brienne. She really is an amazing knight, but the fact that she's female means she has to fight tooth and nail for even a tiny shred of respect.
posted by lunasol at 3:55 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


titus n. owl: Wow, those quotes are pretty bad.

I've just reviewed the tapes of twelve young women reading for the part of Shae.

Excuse me. I need to go take a cold shower now."

Yuck.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:00 PM on October 18, 2013


Martin's unfathomable decision to get rid of the planned 5 year interregnum between books... uh... 4 and 5 (I think?) made it necessary to make Cersei in the novels an idiot. How else do you get her to virtually destroy the kingdom in 6 months instead of 5 years?

I totally agree with you about the time jump, but my understanding from the books was that most of the damage to the kingdom had been done in books 2 and 3 through the War of the Five Kings, and the financial problems go back earlier, to Robert's reign. Cersei certainly didn't make things better, of course (and she does obviously play a role in the war), but I think the realm was pretty much already destroyed at the beginning of Book 4.
posted by lunasol at 4:01 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a good point, lunasol, but (SPOILERS) I think one of the beautiful things about Cersei's Book-4 gender protests is that, at that point, she is the most powerful person in Westeros. For her, at least, gender has nothing to do with it at that time. She is squarely running up against her own limitations and blaming everything else in sight because she cannot comprehend that simple reality.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:01 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


(This, of course, contrary to Dany finally running up against trouble - including a lot of sexist bullshit underestimation of her - but learning from it, which I feel like is going to kind of be key to the rest of the series.)
posted by Navelgazer at 4:03 PM on October 18, 2013


I've just reviewed the tapes of twelve young women reading for the part of Shae.

Excuse me. I need to go take a cold shower now.


Aww, you left out the best part--at the end of that blog post he adds:

Current Mood: horny [+ an emoticon]
posted by Zerowensboring at 4:04 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's fairly obvious that Marting intended a time gap at the end of the book 3 as so many of the characters are put into holding patterns... getting them going again immediately in books 4 and 5 is pretty jarring for a lot of them, and several end up just doing a lot of wandering about without really advancing the plot. I'm sure I read somewhere that Martin totally intended to have the time gap but when he came to write it could not handle it without a ton of back filling exposition and flashbacks
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:10 PM on October 18, 2013


It has complicated, in-depth female characters. They happen to live in a crapsack world that is not safe for anyone or anything, and Martin makes a point of making rape a part of that. Which is unfortunate at best and not a "feminist epic" in any way. Some of the rape scenes and threats are really squicky material.

But it's a good thing that, even if it's not feminist, a work of popular fiction has complicated, in-depth female characters.
posted by graymouser at 4:11 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


The television show is enjoyable on a certain level, but some parts of it are so awful that it beggars imagination and makes one wonder how they got away with such an utter betrayal of the books when the author is purportedly right there to stop them.

The best example, in my mind, is the fact that the show turns Khal Drogo into a rapist.

This is remarkable because the wedding night of Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen is so spectacularly and touchingly not a rape in the books. He is a big, strong, somewhat brutal man; he comes from a people among whom rape is apparently an accepted practice among warriors; he seems to scare her a bit; and he doesn't even speak the same language as her. And yet, even though apparently the only word he knows in her language is "no," he manages to carefully make sure she is consenting to sex. He kisses her, they start touching each other – but then he stops, looks at her, and says "no?" as a question. And only when she responds with a firm "yes," and physically puts his hands back on her, do they proceed.

When I read this, I rather liked it, and while it is of course romance-novel stuff and dripping with sexy schlock (like much of the Song of Ice and Fire) it's downright refreshing: an illustration of the fact that consent is important, is essential, and above all is not that difficult if you're intent on making it important.

When Khal Drogo demonstrates this respect for her and for who she is, it makes sense that she falls in love with him, with his roughness and all that stuff that might have scared her at first. He's demonstrated his responsibility and respect. He's a direct person, and it makes sense that she adores him and honors him after he dies as her first and greatest love. She's strong; her strength is driven by her self-respect and her demand for respect; and by respecting her, he did honor to that strength. She recognizes that.

In the television show, she's apparently terribly frightened all throughout the sex. She says "no" over and over again, but he doesn't listen. It's played as sort of a sexy ravishing, I guess, but there must be something wrong with me, since I somehow can't enjoy a "sexy ravishing" when the woman is clearly and vehemently denying consent throughout. She falls in love with him in the television show as well, of course – but changing her wedding night to a rape scene changes this completely. In the book; she was falling in love with a man who won her over by showing her respect and gentleness in intimacy, gradually opening up to him as he opens up to her and learning to love his ways; in the show, she was falling in love with her rapist and deciding she kind of liked it "rough like that."

As I said, this is a betrayal of her character, and frankly it's hard to imagine a more egregious one.

(And, on preview, one wonders if what I liked about the character in the book was ever there at all. Perhaps Martin had no idea what he was doing. Perhaps he should go join the George Lucas Club for Clueless Creators.)
posted by koeselitz at 4:11 PM on October 18, 2013 [33 favorites]


While it squicked me out as well, and I think there are probably infinte better ways to go about this arc, my reading of the Dany/Drogo stuff in the show was that the Dothraki really didn't have a mental concept of rape or consent, Dany had basically been sold to Drogo, and once she was in this situation, afraid of him and without an understanding of what to do, the handmaiden helped her change the power dynamic in bed, which opened Drogo's horizons, which led to the mutual respect and love (and eventually him dying fighting one of his men because Dany had stopped that man from raping during a conquest.)

That arc - Dany revolutionizing someone's concept of the social order - seems absolutely in line with her character to me. Her doing so by being all, "hey, let me be on top and look into your eyes" was highly questionable, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:23 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cersei certainly didn't make things better, of course (and she does obviously play a role in the war), but I think the realm was pretty much already destroyed at the beginning of Book 4.

No, it was badly damaged and parts of it were destroyed but, for example, The Reach is all but untouched and is the agricultural heart of Westeros. Forging a strong alliance (which was already more or less ready to go!) with the Tyrells and Highgarden would provide a rock-solid base to rebuild the kingdom and maintain an iron grip on the throne.

So what does Cersei do? Decides to go out of her way to insult and alienate Highgarden. Because she's stupid and paranoid. Well, sort of paranoid. Since the Tyrell's did, uh, do the thing which hasn't happened in the show yet so I will not mention it.

koeselitz: I dunno, the idea that Dany had any sort of agency and ability to meaningfully consent in that situation is kind of suspect. I prefer the show's more realistic approach which doesn't pretend what happened to her was anything but awful.
posted by Justinian at 4:23 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, at this point I think reading the book I was trying too hard to see something that wasn't there.
posted by koeselitz at 4:35 PM on October 18, 2013


So, honest question here: Is it GRRM's vocal appreciation for the sexiness that makes him not feminist, or is it the rapeyness, power dynamics (re: powerlessness) and the underage implications within the story?

I don't watch the show. I read the first book, didn't like where it was going, and decided I should look at some spoilers online. That confirmed that it's just not the book for me. All the suffering and character-smashing really turned me off (and, yeah, the rapeyness and underage issues & such). Most of my friends, conversely, love GoT, women and men alike.

But here I am, as a writer myself, and I like sexy funtime stuff, and if I were ever so lucky to have my books made into movies or TV I'd definitely want some sexy women playing some of my characters... there'd have to be more to them than just the sexy angle, but for a couple it would be just as critical for them to be sexy as it would be for them to project intelligence or power.

So powerful women characters are generally a good thing, but when the sexy angle is still critical (yes, because story reasons), is that bad feminism?

Or is it that the sexyness is fine, but not when there's the rapeyness, the powerlessness, and the age issues? Or is the attitude that the author demonstrates in interviews & commentary what really makes the difference?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:36 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, if we're able to put the troublesome barbaric Orientalism of the Dothraki aside, there is something kind of noteworthy about the fact that once Drogo has his eyes opened to the concept of rape/consent, it is a thing that matters to him. Whereas that concept is well understood over in Westeros but the men in power simply don't care. Interesting contrast.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:38 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Well, sort of paranoid. Since the Tyrell's did, uh, do the thing which hasn't happened in the show yet so I will not mention it.

If you are referring to what I think you are referring to, it's important to note that it's only the readers who have drawn the conclusion that the Tyrell's did that thing. No POV character has confirmed that conclusion yet, nor has there been a hint of suspicion, particularly on Cersei's part about that thing.

Cersei's paranoia towards the Tyrells appears to me to stem from the fact that they are a powerful family intent on cementing their position at court and as a result, not giving her a free hand to do whatever she wants as regent. Not to mention the battle between Cersei and Margery for the affections of Joff and Cersei's other children. And Cersei can't see past not getting what she wants or thinks she deserves to the larger strategic implications of her actions for the realm. Her interactions with other parts of Westeros society are the same.
posted by nubs at 4:41 PM on October 18, 2013


nubs: one knowledgable (albeit not entirely reliable) character has straight-up said that the Tyrells did that thing, so it's not just reader conjecture.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


there is something kind of noteworthy about the fact that once Drogo has his eyes opened to the concept of rape/consent, it is a thing that matters to him

It matters to him specifically with respect to Dany. He's perfectly happy to have his men rape everything on two legs when they win a battle.
posted by Justinian at 4:45 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Until that comes to a head, and he sides with Dany on the issue, and dies defending her authority on the matter. (In the show's version)
posted by Navelgazer at 4:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is it GRRM's vocal appreciation for the sexiness that makes him not feminist, or is it the rapeyness, power dynamics (re: powerlessness) and the underage implications within the story?

It's part the rapeyness/underage stuff and part the tone in which it is told. This essay has some bits that come off as somewhat misogynistic (although positively tame compared to some of Piers Anthony as is being discussed on another thread).

I am a fan of the series and I don't think it's irredeemable. But it's not feminist and there are places where it gets uncomfortably close to misogyny, which is a troubling thing overall in fantasy literature.
posted by graymouser at 4:55 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


It can be difficult to differentiate between portrayal of a misogynistic world and the author being misogynistic. I think it's worth doing in GRRM's case here. My impression is that he is attempting to portray a misogynistic world but doing so imperfectly which results in a mishmash of both misogynistic world and misogynistic depictions. It's not impossible to separate the two but it can be difficult and contentious.
posted by Justinian at 4:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


When I began reading ASOIAF I thought the author was making a point of assigning the characters such ridiculously young ages to imply that the world of Westeros was astronomically distinct from our Earth, and that this would play into the climate threat theme somehow at some later point. That Westeros took, say, 500 days to rotate around its sun, so a 14-year old there would be the maturational equivalent of a 19-year-old here. This turned out to be a groundless (and perhaps weird) assumption, but I have clung onto that reading to tamp down the horror a little.
posted by metaman livingblog at 5:04 PM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Justinian: It's a difficult act, which is why I don't write Martin off as a misogynist for having written some of the things he's written. But leading off with the Daenerys/Drogo marriage and having it turn to love is not, IMO, the way a feminist epic begins.
posted by graymouser at 5:08 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the writer places too much stock in the feminist virtues of the original work. Because, yikes... the plot points of the book read like the book of Genesis. "if only it wasn't for all these women" keeps kind of creeping in as a theme. No matter how "strong" they may be.
posted by French Fry at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


My view is the thrones are only pawns in the real game, a game played by the gods.

I'll be interested if feminism manifests in the war between the gods.
posted by surplus at 5:22 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well if I were to defend GRRM (which I guess I am about to) as being, if not feminist, at least attempting to promote some feminist principles within the books/show, I would say to look at the arcs of the "heroic" male characters with regards to their views about women.

And almost all of them will have at least some arc in that regard.

Drogo begins as a barbarian, but due to Dany's influence changes, comes to respect her as an equal, and dies fighting for her honor, not as his property, but as someone who needs to be respected as a ruler of the clan.

Jaime begins as an incestuous (attempted) child-murderer, but we like him more and more as we see him with Brienne, slowly coming to respect her.

Jon becomes a "man" (in all senses of the phrase as we understand it) via the influence of Ygritte.

Sam, similarly, learns to deal with his cowardice as he understands what Gilly has gone through.

Tyrion has, of course, massive and myriad issues with women, but he doesn't hate them, and his issues are plainly visible and understood as not being the fault of women, but rather his shit of a father.

Even seemingly perfect Ned, in his small way, has an arc as he understands that Arya has no desire for the social structures that Sansa so loves, and finds her a "dancing instructor."

Seriously, just about every admirable male character in the series has a woman (or girl) in his life who is a major crucible for positive change in him, not in the Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl way, but (and this is important) because he comes to understand her as an individual. Which in a series about deconstructing medieval fantasy has got to be intentional.

And as for the non-heroic males?

Robert fucks around with dozens of whores and hates his wife and never learns a thing.

Ser Jorah is paternalistically possessive over Dany and can't accept her understanding of their relationship, and is banished.

Tywin... well, I won't give out spoilers.

To me, gender roles and sexism are a hugely defining feature of this series, not just an accidental aspect of it. And I don't think GRRM of all people is going to be an authority on feminism, but I think he's trying, at least, so I love these discussions but... well now I don't know where that was going. I just love these discussions.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:28 PM on October 18, 2013 [37 favorites]


It seems reasonable to me to describe GoT as feminist. That's admittedly a personal thing with a personal bar. I get a no-true-scotsman vibe from the reservations with it. Nothing is perfect.
posted by anonymisc at 5:37 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


ftr the fact that grrm finds people attractive does not make me think of him as unfeminist, the manner in which he talks about them does (including but not limited to his focus on how young they are/are capable of acting/how hot it is that they can be so sexy and so young simultaneously). i mean those quotes read as super super creepy to me and it's not because "oh no a man said a woman was attractive and that's inherently bad, being attracted to women is automatically antifeminist" or something.

i don't think the series is irredeemable by any means and i appreciate, strongly, the fact that the female characters are characters rather than props. i just also think the author is super creepy about underage girls both in his fiction and, more importantly to my opinion of the author as a person, in his personal journals and interviews
posted by titus n. owl at 5:43 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


also - i kind of automatically aged all the kids up a few years in my head while i was reading the books, and the ages in the TV show reinforced that, and then i went back and re-read game of thrones recently and was smacked in the face that sansa was eleven years old at the start of all this, about two years pass in-universe over the course of the first three books, there's no way an eleven- and then twelve-year-old girl should be sexualized and lusted after as much as sansa stark is. it really freaked me out, eleven's just so YOUNG.

i continue to like it better when i just add a few years to everybody's age and carry on. that's how i cope.
posted by titus n. owl at 5:53 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fat Pink Cast talks about this kind of thing often, as well as ASoIaF/GoT & race.
posted by dumbland at 5:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, while both of them are written in shades of gray, there are two understood chessmasters in King's Landing, one generally evil, one generally good. The evil one is a pimp. The good one a eunuch.

Take that symbolism as you will.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:07 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


OK, so this is only slightly related to the discussion, but one of the reasons I have only not been able to read the books is the ridiculously young ages of the characters. It doesn't just squick me out, in the case of them leading armies and fighting battles it's ludicrous. No matter what his technique, there is no barely pubescent 12-year-old who's going to be able to best a full-grown man in mortal combat. And there certainly aren't going to be hosts of them. Or consider that a 14-year-old is engaging in advanced military strategy and holding the charisma to command respect and lead an army. Has GRRM ever met any teenagers?

Not to mention it's just flat-out historically inaccurate. Medieval Europe was not, in fact, full of barely-tweens being married off to older men. Studies of marriage and family in that culture and time period indicate by and large people tried to find matches that were close in age, and marriage and babies happened after full adulthood. I think in the non-nobility the average age of marriage for women was 22. 22! Given that most women of the time period weren't even having their periods until they were 14-15 it's pretty ridiculous to consider argue that they were fully actualized sexual adults by that age.

Noblewomen were married younger, but even in the nobility if one had to marry off an underage daughter, it was strongly preferred that both the married couple be underage. If there was an age gap, sex before the woman matured was strongly frowned upon. There was even a rule that the Church made--the "divorce is adultery" Church--that allowed child brides to leave a marriage once they hit puberty (like 12-14). So you are looking at a culture that may be ridiculously patriarchial, but certainly doesn't endorse banging tweens left and right.

Sure, it was quite different in other areas of the world, but GRRM pretty explictly based his world in "Medieval Europe" and when people try to defend the age they hand-wave with "Medieval Europe". So he can't even make the historical accuracy argument. To me when reading his books I get the icky feeling I'm reading a gross old dude's pedophilic/ephebophilic fantasies.
posted by schroedinger at 6:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [42 favorites]


my only regret is that i have but one favorite to give for that comment, schroedinger. i've gone around on the hamster wheel of "no, this is not historically accurate, you can't use that to justify it, THIS is what medieval society in europe was ACTUALLY like if you want REAL ACCURACY" with fans trying to claim the pop-culture "fact" that "people matured younger then i mean the average life expectancy was only 40 so when you were 20 you were a middle aged person and of course everyone got married at 11" and that entire related package of bullshit every single time i get even marginally involved with the fandom
posted by titus n. owl at 6:22 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, while both of them are written in shades of gray, there are two understood chessmasters in King's Landing, one generally evil, one generally good. The evil one is a pimp. The good one a eunuch.

Wow. Hadn't caught that.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:23 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


schroedinger, agreed that the characters are too young--a large part of this is related to Justinian's comment--GRRM originally planned for each book to cover a longer time period, and for there to be a 5-year gap between two of the books, then ended up eliminating both of these plans. As a result, Dany and the Stark kids all end up way too young for the plots they're in. GRRM talks about it here. This is also part of the reason why the characters were aged up for the TV show.
posted by phoenixy at 6:36 PM on October 18, 2013


you'd think that after he wrote the first book and got to the end of it and realized that not that much time had passed and he still had an eleven-year-old child being lusted after by half of king's landing he would have like realized "wait this is not working out like i thought, i should adjust the kid's ages", unless he thought it was normal for half of king's landing to lust after an eleven-year-old child in the first place
posted by titus n. owl at 6:43 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like metaman livingblog's explanation, and will continue to go with that.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:45 PM on October 18, 2013


Not to mention it's just flat-out historically inaccurate...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 6:52 PM on October 18, 2013


Uh, that's Sibel Kekilli. I think he probably chose some of the least revealing pictures of Sibel given that much of her work prior to GoT was in German porn.

She did some porn work before her 'legitimate' career began, and there was a scandal when that was uncovered. But since 2004 she's been winning awards for pretty serious high-minded stuff.
posted by naju at 7:03 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think Martin himself said it best:

"Obviously I don’t think I’m misogynistic or racist as some of those critics say, I think they’re reading it too simplistic. Certainly, I’m a 62 year old white male and none of us entirely escape the values that we’re inoculated with at an early age, even if we reject them — like me leaving Catholicism. I don’t hold myself up as a paragon of feminism. But I’m very gratified — that idiot critic at the New York Times notwithstanding — on the fact I have so many female fans who love my women characters and I tried to provide a variety of female characters. With all my characters, I try to show that we’re all human."
posted by Ndwright at 7:06 PM on October 18, 2013 [11 favorites]


Navelgazer: Good point - I had forgotten that. But that disclosure about the event happened a long ways away from Cersei so her paranoia about the Tyrells derives from other things.
posted by nubs at 7:07 PM on October 18, 2013


Noblewomen were married younger, but even in the nobility if one had to marry off an underage daughter, it was strongly preferred that both the married couple be underage.

OK, so he got strongly preferred wrong ..ish?

You want to dig into Martin's faults, look into his cavalier use of weights and measures. The inner walls of Winterfell are supposedly ten stories high. Makes you wonder where they put those greenhouses.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:43 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


So does he ever describe the sexual assault of men in such painstaking detail as he invariably does with women?

Or is sexual assault only 'historically accurate' and mandatory in relation to a bunch of books about zombie ice elves and dragons when it happens to women? I stopped reading before the book about crows or whatnot.

Not that I would be interested in reading books that dealt with the subject in such bleach-requiring detail if the genders were reversed, but it seems extremely convenient to me that the only sexual assault included is that perpetrated on women when, as we all know, it is not exclusively the province of women.

But I'm sure that's just creative license. It is worth thinking about why that is considered a valid justification.
posted by winna at 9:10 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't want to do it in the Piers Anthony thread, so I'll say it here: Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan and City on Fire feature an interesting fantasy world, a (female) protagonist that is both awesome and human, and are grievously lacking in sequels. I don't know if we deserve them, but I want them.
posted by wobh at 9:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


winna: that is a good point, and though I feel like I remember mentions of sexual assault against men and boys in the books, I cannot recall any specifics.

But I would say that the story of Tyrion and Tysha certainly counts, though Tyrion is definitely not the primary victim of the assault in question. He is, nonetheless, assaulted there, and in a way so traumatically crippling as to basically be his origin story, and his primary motivation going forward.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


So does he ever describe the sexual assault of men in such painstaking detail as he invariably does with women?

He describes it in far more painstaking detail. Far more.
posted by Justinian at 9:34 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


(Navelgazer: Reek, reek, it rhymes with weak)
posted by Justinian at 9:34 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh god I forgot about Reek. Intentionally, I think.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:34 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm mixing the show's depiction and the book's depictions in my head, though. It may be that Reek's brutal sexual torture is most present in the books by way of the results rather than the act itself; the show shows more of it.

But, still, the man is broken beyond all recognition by rather awful acts of sexual degradation and torture. So this isn't just a woman thing for Martin.
posted by Justinian at 9:37 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


does he ever describe the sexual assault of men in such painstaking detail as he invariably does with women?

I can't speak to the books, but on the show, there is a male character whose arc and screen time over the series run to date can be characterized as 50% victim of torture, including the filleting and dismemberment of a finger, sex, and apparent castration. I have assumed that this reflects an ongoing series of lovingly described incidents of torture recounted in the first person.

To be honest, the arc to date is an ineffective tout for the books, because I do not wish to read about it any more than I wish to see it.
posted by mwhybark at 9:39 PM on October 18, 2013


yes, reek's stuff is shown on screen but in the books it's mentioned after the fact and mostly through implication.
posted by titus n. owl at 9:40 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have assumed that this reflects an ongoing series of lovingly described incidents of torture recounted in the first person.

This is one of the biggest points of divergence in the show to date. Theon isn't present for several books; the show is portraying things that mostly happen off-page in the books because they can't very well keep paying Alfie Allen for not appearing on the show for 3 years or something.
posted by Justinian at 9:46 PM on October 18, 2013


Oh, there's another reason; in the books you can introduce a character under a different name and it can only become apparent later who a character really is, but on a TV show it would be immediately obvious because of the actor portraying the character.
posted by Justinian at 9:48 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Personally, I was mostly bored with the main characters after the first three books, and kind of wish he'd stuck with new ones after that.
posted by koeselitz at 10:28 PM on October 18, 2013


To me when reading his books I get the icky feeling I'm reading a gross old dude's pedophilic/ephebophilic fantasies.

Where I think this is mistaken is in calling it fantasies. Martin is certainly doing grimdark at its grimmest and darkest, but I never got the sense that he was reveling in it. This isn't a fetish series for him, it's a dark series made to illustrate a lot about human failings with regard to lusting after power and imagined nobility. The pervasive sense of the series is about how much ruin is caused by what would, in other fantasy books, be regarded as high virtue.

You want to read torture porn? Pick up Stephen R. Donaldson's Gap series. There's a dude stopping to jerk off after every chapter.
posted by fatbird at 11:14 PM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


Guys, Cersei knows the Tyrells did the thing. She doesn't know it rationally and she doesn't even know it consciously but when she sees Tommen hanging out alone with them she collapses into an alcove having a full on physical panic attack. She isn't just being petty and paranoid. She doesn't quite know that she knows yet, but SHE KNOWS.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:24 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love these books, and one of the reasons I love them is because they're so feminist; that is to say, women inhabit this world, and they inhabit it fully, as full people, with hopes and dreams and schemes and successes and failures and weaknesses and quirks, just like all the other people. Women menstruate, they contracept, they miscarry and die in childbirth. They plot and plan to get their hands on power however they possibly can, whether it's by marrying it or parenting it or assassinating it or seizing it with both hands.

The most swooning romantic in the whole series is Brienne, the 6'7" lady knight who is one of the few people who can defeat Jaime Lannister in fair combat, and who never disguises her gender or pretends to be a man, because gender identity and gender presentation are orthogonal. Sansa is frequently seen as weak and ineffectual, but she is alive and not in exile, which is more than you can say for her kingly older brother or her increasingly psychotic little sister. Cersei Lannister is a villain who is gloriously hateable, until we get inside her head and learn just how badly the mighty Tywin Lannister has screwed up the children he claims to love so much. And the straight-up scariest character in the books so far is Melisandre, the red woman with the mysterious past who holds the favor of what is apparently the only potent god in Westeros.

The rapiness is a thing, and it's a thing I don't particularly like and will not go very far to excuse. But in the books, while it's a constant threat, I don't feel like it was shoved at us all the time the way it was in the show; Daenerys was raped by virtue of being both too young and having no consent to either give or withhold, since her consent belonged first to her brother and then to Drogo, but that's the only rape that directly happens "on camera" to a POV character. Brienne is threatened with it, and it's then that Jaime begins to see her as a person; first he gives her strategies to cope with what he sees as inevitable, and then he decides that it doesn't have to be inevitable after all and does what he can to (successfully!) stop it from happening. Tyrion specifically and explicitly refuses to rape Sansa, to his father's bewilderment and everyone else's great hilarity. The only other POV character who is raped is Theon.

In fact, the way I see it, the patriarchy/kyriarchy/rape culture of Westeros is the one great unifying antagonist in the books. That's the thing that everyone, EVERYONE fights, everyone wrestles with, whether they fight it from within the system or without it. Daenerys makes most of her great decisions out of revulsion at having been sold as a slave to Drogo, even as she loved him; she sells herself back into slavery in marriage, because it is the expected thing, but realizes her error before long. Tywin wants so badly to ensure his family stays revered and powerful that he ruins them, Arya refuses to accept the role assigned to her by her gender and slips out of Westeros across the sea to train as a deadly criminal, Sansa manages to keep the whole thing afloat by juggling all her terrifying and conflicting responsibilities while standing on one foot and never looking anyone in the eye and curtseying exactly as deeply as is required, all the time. Jon was so angry at being left out of the line of succession and out of his father's (?) love that he hies off North to the one semi-meritocracy the world offers.

I've said this before on mefi, but the world of Westeros is not as different from the world I live in as I would like it to be, frankly. And one of the reasons I love these books is because I see people, many of them women, fighting in that world, and sometimes succeeding. I don't know if GRRM is a feminist, but I definitely experience ASoIaF as a feminist work, certainly more than any other epic fantasy series out there.
posted by KathrynT at 11:47 PM on October 18, 2013 [66 favorites]


Thanks for that, KathrynT. I am way with you and am often dismayed it doesn't seem to be a very popular/common read of Martin. I won't defend the show, but I was quite in awe of how feminist the books are in some ways, especially for the genre.
posted by ifjuly at 2:12 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


KathrynT, I love that reading and share it, and it helps to solidify the feeling that the series is increasingly moving towards Dany and Jon as the central characters, given that they are the two "nobles" who are personally most against the current patriarchal system, rather than just wanting to seize control of it for themselves.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:18 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Where I think this is mistaken is in calling it fantasies. Martin is certainly doing grimdark at its grimmest and darkest, but I never got the sense that he was reveling in it. This isn't a fetish series for him, it's a dark series made to illustrate a lot about human failings with regard to lusting after power and imagined nobility. The pervasive sense of the series is about how much ruin is caused by what would, in other fantasy books, be regarded as high virtue.

Yeah, it's baffling to me how people can look at GoT and say "The asshole GRRM thinks all this rape and child-bride stuff is totally hot and awesome." The story is pretty explicitly about a horrible place full of awful people. But a lot of contemporary readers seem to think depicting a thing is the same as endorsing it, as though the words in a novel were a magic spell that conjured up whatever was described.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:13 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


*vague spoilers*



I kind of dread the depiction of the Walk when that time comes. Not to mention what she has to do before that.
posted by ersatz at 9:35 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


But a lot of contemporary readers seem to think depicting a thing is the same as endorsing it,

Well, here's the critique of that: GRRM didn't have the world of Westeros foisted upon him. He made it up. Every single detail was under his control. He could have, if he chose, written a grimdark pseudomedievalist world with, say, ungendered primogeniture (as some of the nations already have, even, so clearly he's aware of the concept!) or where the triple-axis trap of sexual attractiveness / availablilty / vulnerability is less asymmetrically vicious towards the female characters. And he's a good enough writer to have made it stick, too. Whether you think he should have or not, that's a choice that he was perfectly capable of making, and the responsibility for that choice falls squarely on his shoulders. I know a lot of people who would probably enjoy the books if it wasn't for those choices of his.
posted by KathrynT at 9:46 AM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


What really trips up a potentially feminist reading of the series for me is that actions of these awesome female characters are constantly interrupted to remind readers about their small high breasts, or to be dandled with a man's hand up their skirts.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:50 AM on October 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am dense, what is the THING that the Tyrells did?
posted by that's how you get ants at 10:00 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was honestly another point I hated about the tv show. In the books, there really seemed to be women of every shape and size. In the tv show, there are men of every shape and size, but every single woman from Daenerys to Brienne is tall, thin, and between 20 and 25. I expected some aging-up for the super-young characters, but this was just a dramatic normalization across the board, as if a woman could not possibly be a compelling character unless she is exactly the same thin proportion and between the ages of 20 and 25. I guess that's a common problem in Hollywood, but I would think HBO had the power to avoid the trope. Oh, and every woman on the show is instantly sexualized; there seems to be a contractual obligation that they get naked within two episodes, even if the sexualization of their character in the book is minimal or not shown. Ugh.
posted by koeselitz at 10:00 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


that's how you get ants: "I am dense, what is the THING that the Tyrells did?"

They did the "thing" that happened at Joffrey's wedding - which "thing" Cercei immediately blamed Tyrion for and had him imprisoned.
posted by koeselitz at 10:02 AM on October 19, 2013




Oh, of course. I thought everyone was talking about something that happened later. Thanks.
posted by that's how you get ants at 10:19 AM on October 19, 2013


But a lot of contemporary readers seem to think depicting a thing is the same as endorsing it,

Well, here's the critique of that: GRRM didn't have the world of Westeros foisted upon him. He made it up. Every single detail was under his control.

Sure. And he could've not killed Ned Stark or not written the Red Wedding, too, and while those things are legendarily upsetting for readers of the books, nobody ever seems to take away from those events that GRRM personally fantasizes about public beheadings or mass-murder at parties.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:19 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The death of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding furthered the plot, having women muse about how their breasts feel every few pages does not.
posted by peppermind at 10:52 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the TV show, there are men of every shape and size, but every single woman from Daenerys to Brienne is tall, thin, and between 20 and 25.

Well... excepting Catelyn Stark, Olenna Tyrell, and Lysa Tully.
posted by mwhybark at 10:56 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Noblewomen were married younger, but even in the nobility if one had to marry off an underage daughter, it was strongly preferred that both the married couple be underage.

I dunno, there are certainly counter-examples. The Empress Mathilda (mother of Henry II of England) was betrothed to The Holy Roman Emperor Henry V at something like age 8, married when she was 12 and he was 28, widowed at 23, married again at 26 to 15yo Geoffrey of Anjou. I haven't made a huge study of this (and it's on my mind only because I was listening to a podcast on English History), but it does not seem to have been particularly remarkable.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, was first married at 13 (maybe 15) to Louis VII of France (who was only a couple of years older, though). Closer to the Wars of the Roses that inspired Martin, Henry the V married a 19yo when he was 34, and Henry VI a 15yo when he was 24. So, if Martin wants a lot of child-marriage in Westeros, I guess he can have it.

On the other hand, my impression is that these young marriages were consummated much later -- we can't know for sure, but Mathilda and Henry had no children (maybe one who died very young) despite both being otherwise fertile, and Eleanor's first child was born 8 years after the marriage (and she certainly had many children, as did Louis). So lurid wedding nights are less "hey it's the Middle Ages!" and more "why does this author like this trope so much?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:58 AM on October 19, 2013


Yeah, it's baffling to me how people can look at GoT and say "The asshole GRRM thinks all this rape and child-bride stuff is totally hot and awesome."

i look at all the things grrm has said irl as well as in the books, like the things i quoted upthread from his personal livejournal, and come to that conclusion
posted by titus n. owl at 11:16 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


clarification: i can understand and accept people not seeing it that way, but man do i resent having my position put forth as basically "this person doesn't understand that fiction isn't real life." i don't think he's turned on by torture or murder or medieval warfare, despite the existence of all of those things in his books, as well -- because he doesn't write on his livejournal about how sexy those are, the way he does with girls portraying "childish" 15 year olds. and i'm not really ready to call him an outright pedophile or anything, i just think There's A Pattern Here And I'm Going To Call Out This Pattern, that pattern being GRRM Likes To Talk About Really Young Teenagers As Sexual
posted by titus n. owl at 11:35 AM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the TV show, there are men of every shape and size, but every single woman from Daenerys to Brienne is tall, thin, and between 20 and 25.

Well... excepting Catelyn Stark, Olenna Tyrell, and Lysa Tully.


And Cersai, Old Nan, Septa Mordane, Melisandre...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:36 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The most swooning romantic in the whole series is Brienne, the 6'7" lady knight who is one of the few people who can defeat Jaime Lannister in fair combat

I love me some Brienne but Jaime was in shackles and had been imprisoned for months by that point. Not exactly at his fighting best...

In the TV show, there are men of every shape and size, but every single woman from Daenerys to Brienne is tall, thin, and between 20 and 25.

Dany is 5'2". Arya is like 12 and 5'0". Cersei is 5'5" and pushing 40. Cat is 5'5" and pushing 50. Olenna is 75. Lysa is over 40. Melisandre is 5'7" and late 30s. Margaery is 5'6" and over 30. Brienne is indeed tall, but I'm not sure 6'3" is generally considered a desirable height for a woman in our culture? And she's in her 30s.

Exactly who are these tall, thin, between 20-25 year old primary characters?
posted by Justinian at 11:40 AM on October 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Well, here's the critique of that: GRRM didn't have the world of Westeros foisted upon him. He made it up. Every single detail was under his control.

One way to critique fantasy is to show it works when key elements are different, but Martin chose to critique by showing how keeping key elements the same results in a world that's very different in a moral sense. "He could have chosen differently" tends to miss that his purpose was just to start from basically the same place as others and then to say "here's what it's really like." China Mieville works similarly.
posted by fatbird at 11:40 AM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not trying to be difficult but I honestly can't think of a single important (or even semi-important) character in the TV show who fits the criteria of "woman, tall, thin, 20-25". I mean, I'm sure like "hooker #3 from the left" or whatever probably occurs, but named characters?

Anyone have any candidates?
posted by Justinian at 11:44 AM on October 19, 2013


Anyone have any candidates?

Shae?
posted by fatbird at 11:45 AM on October 19, 2013


Neither tall nor 20-25. She's 5'4" and 33.
posted by Justinian at 11:47 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno, there are certainly counter-examples. The Empress Mathilda (mother of Henry II of England) was betrothed to The Holy Roman Emperor Henry V at something like age 8, married when she was 12 and he was 28, widowed at 23, married again at 26 to 15yo Geoffrey of Anjou. I haven't made a huge study of this (and it's on my mind only because I was listening to a podcast on English History), but it does not seem to have been particularly remarkable.

I'm talking about averages though. You can definitely come up with counter-examples, but anecdotes are not the plural of data.

I talk about GRRM's fetishization of youth because it's not simply the women that are fetishized, the men are too. The women are sexually fetishized, but I've never met an author who had quite so many prominent characters who were master swordsmen before they were capable of growing a full beard. And, you know, Joffrey being totally bangable at 11 is really weird. Perhaps he does that to emphasize the characters' badassery, but to anyone remotely familiar with the physical capabilities of people that age it's just ridiculous.
posted by schroedinger at 11:47 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just aged everyone up 5-6 years in my head the way GRRM should have done.
posted by Justinian at 11:48 AM on October 19, 2013


Neither tall nor 20-25. She's 5'4" and 33.

"Tall" is a bit of misdirection here. The point, which has some merit, is that many of the POV females are young and sexy with a low BMI, and obviously cast on the standard starlet model that Hollywood defaults to. Age isn't about actress, it's about presentation, and again, they're all in the nebulous "old enough to consent, young enough not to have consented too much" range that's generally considered 20-25.

On that score, Dany, Margery and Shae are all pretty much straight out of central casting. That they are so in the books as well tends to mitigate the point as it's reasonably germane to their characters. Cersei is a great counterexample, though, because she's the fully sexually activated woman who's not young or even close to virginal. Brienne is another because she's not a sexually available nymphette. Catelyn, Sansa and Arya are simply of a different mold, and since they're all major characters they're effective counterexamples too.
posted by fatbird at 11:54 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The point, which has some merit, is that many of the POV females are young and sexy with a low BMI

But one would have to contend with the fact that many of the POV males are the same, wouldn't one? In fact, there's quite a bit of symmetry in the appearance and ages of most of the primary characters. You've got Dany and Margaery but you've also got Jon and Robb. Joffrey and Sansa. There's Jaime and Cersei. Ned and Cat. Tyrion and Brienne work on this level; Neither are accepted despite having the potential (both realized and unrealized) to be among the best in Westeros. Tyrion for being an unmanly dwarf and Brienne for being an unwomanly giant. And so on.
posted by Justinian at 12:08 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


But one would have to contend with the fact that many of the POV males are the same, wouldn't one?

Yes, absolutely. I don't agree with the charge that all or most of Martin's characters are cutouts, and he does pretty well with the gender symmetry. I think that early on, Martin was more vulnerable to the accusation, but he pretty quickly grew the series out of it. Martin started as a TV writer. He came from the world of tropes that have stock appeal, and did a pretty good job of evolving out of them. A few examples of particular tropes makes for a "work on this" critique, not a general condemnation.

That said, I think Dany is still, after five books, one of the flattest characters who is most obviously a readymade. Part of that is the trope of sexually available nymphette, but part of it is that her premise was "the innocent forced to rule", and she's still working through variations on that theme (like "good intentions go awry", and "trusting advisors too much"). I feel like she's at the point where Cersei was, in terms of development, before Cersei's POV chapters came along.
posted by fatbird at 12:17 PM on October 19, 2013


I'm actually fascinated by the fact that the show aged up several female characters fairly dramatically. Not just the teenagers, but Catelyn in the books is supposed to be about 32 - she's closer to 50 in the show. Cersei should be in her late 20s - she's about 10 years older on screen. Margaery is 16 or 17 in the books - the actress is in her 30s and the character appears to be in her 20s. Incidentally, they did the same with many of the male characters - Robert and Ned were only about 35 in the books.

Anyway, I fully agree with KathrynT's analysis. I read the first few books without paying much attention to the cultural conversation around them, and I was pretty shocked to find people calling it misogynistic, when I too found it to be a very feminist series. No, it's not unproblematic, but the way GRRM writes both his female characters and the dynamics of patriarchy feel very rich, complex and real to me.

One thing that always bugs me: with all the talk about Dany and her lack of consent in her relationship with Drogo, what about Jon Snow and Ygritte? He did not want to sleep with her and pretty much only did so because otherwise he would have raised suspicions about his loyalties, which would have endangered his life. He was explicitly told this. Also, he was a good 4 years younger than Ygritte (15 to her 19, I think).

Not like two wrongs make a right, but I just find it odd that the people who have a problem with Dany's story line don't have the same problem with Jon's.
posted by lunasol at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm talking about averages though. You can definitely come up with counter-examples, but anecdotes are not the plural of data.

No, they are not. My point is that, if Martin really wants a bunch of child brides in his books, it's not totally out of left field for the highest levels of the European Medieval social order. Just like the way that, while there were really bloody battles in the Middle Ages, a lot of battles had relatively low death rates (at least among the nobility), since a live captive could be ransomed, whereas a dead captive had no cash value. So all the crazy bloodletting is also somewhat ahistorical, but I'm not going to castigate Martin for that.

The prurience of the depictions are more damning, to my mind. (Although, as far as prurient violence goes, Steven Erikson has Martin beat. His world has loads of healing magic, so characters can be maimed over and over in great detail.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:22 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and on the subject of rape culture in Westeros, I think it's really interesting how GRRM chooses to portray the two POV characters who actually do rape women in the series. They're Theon (I think, though I may be wrong about this) and Victarion. GRRM is very clear to show how both men are the products of an extremely violent, macho culture, and both of them feel inadequate or powerless, not to mention robbed of something they feel entitled to. For both of them, sexual violence (and non-sexual violence) is a way that they make themselves feel more powerful - it's not really about sex at all. It's portrayed as being extremely dysfunctional and it's a fairly decent take on rape culture.
posted by lunasol at 12:27 PM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


they're all in the nebulous "old enough to consent, young enough not to have consented too much" range

Not a POV character, but as far as agency goes, Ygritte is another counterexample. She is sexually experienced but without the hints of "sluttiness" that often adhere to that; she knows what she wants and goes for it aggressively. In her culture, it seems it's respectable for a man to raid a home and make off with a woman he wants, but Ygritte herself seems to operate mostly outside those expectations.
posted by torticat at 12:29 PM on October 19, 2013


Martin started as a TV writer. He came from the world of tropes that have stock appeal, and did a pretty good job of evolving out of them.

Martin had roughly a dozen books (about half and half short story collections and novels) under his belt before he started with television. His early work was praised (as I recall) for his careful characterization and subtle plots. If anything, his writing became broader as a television writer.

I also remember the intense anger many women who were fans of Beauty & the Beast expressed at the ending of that show. Martin defended it as "dramatic," but I think he really misjudged what his audience wanted to see. His early novels, as I recall, did not have much in the way of positive female characters (although it's been decades since I read them, so I could be wrong), and the Wild Card series, which he edited, well, let's just say it's not unproblematic (although that is certainly not all his responsibility). Anyway, it's not like Martin doesn't have something of a mixed history as far as women are concerned.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:30 PM on October 19, 2013


Yes, Martin was a very well respected author in the genre before he started writing for television. My personal recommendations for early Martin would be Dying of the Light, Fevre Dream, and Sandkings.
posted by Justinian at 12:36 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read the first few books without paying much attention to the cultural conversation around them, and I was pretty shocked to find people calling it misogynistic, when I too found it to be a very feminist series. No, it's not unproblematic, but the way GRRM writes both his female characters and the dynamics of patriarchy feel very rich, complex and real to me.

I had the same experience (and oops, shoulda previewed to see your comments on Ygritte).

But I do think GRRM's comments about women IRL are offensive. Like his thoughts on the casting of Shae, which fight or flight's linked up above:

And all of our Shaes were sexy as hell. Watching them one after another would fog up anyone's glasses. ...All of our Shaes were hot as hell. ...Watching those auditions, any red-blooded male would want to take every one of our Shae candidates to bed.

Yeah, I cut out the stuff in between in which he talked about the the other excellent stuff Kekilli brought to the role. But still... EW. Creepy, creepy.
posted by torticat at 12:41 PM on October 19, 2013


I'm sure part of the criteria for Shae's casting was "is she sexy as hell?". So he's probably being honest to the casting process. But the thing is you don't always have to say everything that you're thinking. It's good to keep your interior monologue interior...
posted by Justinian at 12:48 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Justinian: "I'm not trying to be difficult but... exactly who are these tall, thin, between 20-25 year old primary characters?"

So you're saying you don't see any homogeneity in the show at all on this point? Or that, at the least, the homogeneity is matched by the male characters? I guess we just have a difference of perception here.

Did it at least seem exploitative to you that they ramped up the female nudity whilst cutting out almost all male nudity? Theon and Jon are the only two males we see fully naked in the show, as far as I recall. And a bunch of female characters who did not get naked in the book were stuck up there strutting around.
posted by koeselitz at 1:24 PM on October 19, 2013


> "His early novels, as I recall, did not have much in the way of positive female characters ..."

Windhaven, which everyone seems to forget is one of his, is a major exception to this, with strong female characters throughout. However, it is probably significant that Windhaven was co-written by him and Lisa Tuttle, author of (among many other things) the Encyclopedia of Feminism.
posted by kyrademon at 1:26 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did it at least seem exploitative to you that they ramped up the female nudity whilst cutting out almost all male nudity?

I agree that there is more woman T&A than man T&A. But that's a different criticism than the primary women on the show being more uniform than the primary men. Like I said in my response, I think there is quite a lot of parallelism between the primary male and female characters.

Theon and Jon are the only two males we see fully naked in the show, as far as I recall.

HODOR. HODOR HODOR HODOR. And Robb, or at least Robb Butt.

And a bunch of female characters who did not get naked in the book were stuck up there strutting around.

Who's that? All of the female characters I can recall getting naked on the show also got naked in the books. Some, like Ros, don't appear in the books though.
posted by Justinian at 1:47 PM on October 19, 2013


If you're looking for a basis for some strong criticism, there are the persistent rumors as to why Esme Bianco (Ros) was killed off; she didn't want to get naked anymore. That's the scuttlebutt anyway. Some people thought it was Emilia Clarke who refused but given the events in season 3 that seems to have been disproven.
posted by Justinian at 1:50 PM on October 19, 2013


I've said this before on mefi, but the world of Westeros is not as different from the world I live in as I would like it to be, frankly.

You know, when I think about the rapiness and awfulness going on in these books and the criticism that it's too much, that GRRM is exaggerating and that he didn't need to make his fantasy world that bad, I remember that GRRM and Andrea Dworkin were born two years apart, in the same state. She wrote a book called "Ice and Fire" too; my assumption is that NJ in the 50's was not a pleasant place to be.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:05 PM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


So you're saying you don't see any homogeneity in the show at all on this point? Or that, at the least, the homogeneity is matched by the male characters? I guess we just have a difference of perception here.

Well, he pointed out that all the major female characters are of different ages and heights (though similar body types), not the narrow range you previously stated. So at this point, if you're seeing homogeneity, it would be interesting to know what is giving you that impression.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:29 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did it at least seem exploitative to you that they ramped up the female nudity whilst cutting out almost all male nudity?

That's an HBO problem, not a George R.R. Martin problem.
posted by Ndwright at 3:20 PM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


That's true, too. GRRM has no control over the sexposition in the show.
posted by Justinian at 5:39 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a good thing we're finally discussing this issue.
posted by eggtooth at 5:53 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love me some Brienne but Jaime was in shackles and had been imprisoned for months by that point. Not exactly at his fighting best...

Ah, but we also have an indirect analysis! Jaime says that the only person who ever beat him in tourney combat was Loras Tyrell. Brienne beat Loras in the tourney combat where she asked to be in Renly's Kingsguard. Therefore, by the transitive property of swashbuckling, do I declare that Brienne could beat Jaime even in a fair fight.
posted by KathrynT at 5:58 PM on October 19, 2013 [16 favorites]


Also, in terms of show women all being between the ages of 20 and 25 -- Lena Headley was 39 at the start of the show. (And Nickolaj Coster-Waldau was 40. That actually surprised me, that their ages were so close; many TV shows would cast a pair of male-female twins with a 42 year old man and a 27 year old woman.)
posted by KathrynT at 5:59 PM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I talk about GRRM's fetishization of youth because it's not simply the women that are fetishized, the men are too. The women are sexually fetishized, but I've never met an author who had quite so many prominent characters who were master swordsmen before they were capable of growing a full beard.

I get the opposite impression, at least from the show - I was surprised at how much it bucks the Hollywood cult of youth. Even in something like physical combat where you might expect the fit physique of youth to dominate, the characters in their 40s, 50s and 60s seem scarier and more dangerous than the young. (The Hound, Jorah Mormont, Tywin Lannister, etc etc.)
posted by anonymisc at 6:48 PM on October 19, 2013


Bronn is one of the most effective swordsman around, as is Gregor Clegane, "the Mountain".
posted by fatbird at 6:56 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Catelyn in the books is supposed to be about 32 - she's closer to 50 in the show.

That kinda drove me nuts. Michelle Fairley is great, but I would have loved to see Jennifer Ehle in that role instead as originally planned.

Also, I seem to be way in the minority on this one, but I'm with Mendelsohn on Lena Headey's "one-note, smirky performance." I honestly find the portrayal of Cersei on the show to be flatter than my understanding of her in the books, even though the show supposedly adds nuance to the character.

The casting of Brienne, on the other hand, was inspired, and Ygritte is wonderful too. Both of them are I think better-looking than in the books, but they inhabit the characters perfectly.
posted by torticat at 7:33 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, but we also have an indirect analysis! Jaime says that the only person who ever beat him in tourney combat was Loras Tyrell.

My geek power is stronger than yours! It's true that Loras defeated Jaime in a tourney... but it was in the joust not a melee! Jaime was the superior swordsman, Loras the superior horseman.
posted by Justinian at 7:50 PM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


(This was the tournament for Joffrey's 12th Name Day, in which Robert won Littlefinger's dragonbone hilted Valyrian steel dagger. The dagger later used in an attempt on Bran's life for which Tyrion was blamed.)
posted by Justinian at 7:52 PM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did it at least seem exploitative to you that they ramped up the female nudity whilst cutting out almost all male nudity? Theon and Jon are the only two males we see fully naked in the show, as far as I recall. And a bunch of female characters who did not get naked in the book were stuck up there strutting around.

Exploitative, yes. That is not GRRM's doing, though, and the nudity is of both men and women (Loras and Renly are two more men you've forgotten, and even old Maester Pycell as I recall had a nude scene). This is not at even an HBO thing, either, but par for the course for premium cable series--Spartacus, the Tudors, The Borgias rarely go 15 minutes without a nude scene popping up.
posted by misha at 9:37 PM on October 19, 2013


Loras and Renly are never fully frontally naked. Neither are the other "forgotten" ones in this thread.
posted by koeselitz at 9:47 PM on October 19, 2013


(Also, while this wasn't really my point - I do suppose the writers of the TV show don't have much control over who gets naked. But it seems a moot point, since apparently Martin would have happily made all the women naked, by his own accounts.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:56 PM on October 19, 2013


I should add that in addition to Theon "Reek" Greyjoy, at least one other male point-of-view character in the books, also Ironborn, was (probably) the victim of sexual abuse, albeit long before the events of the books (spoilers, especially for non-book readers):

Aeron Greyjoy (Theon's uncle) associates his sadistic older brother Euron -- whom he wants at all costs to prevent taking over after Balon dies -- with "The sound of a door opening, the scream of a rusted iron hinge" on several occasions, along with feelings of being "as weak and frightened as a girl" when he was a child.
posted by dhens at 11:28 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Loras and Renly are never fully frontally naked. Neither are the other "forgotten" ones in this thread.

HODOR.
posted by Justinian at 11:35 PM on October 19, 2013


I forgive you if you've forgotten it, though, I tried to block the image out of my mind too.
posted by Justinian at 11:36 PM on October 19, 2013


And so far Dany has loaded dice, which isn't very fun at all.

Read book five. Actually, the writer of the posted piece should probably do that too before reviewing the series. I wasn't particularly impressed by the analysis, especially since the point of the piece ("GRR Martin's work is totes feminist") didn't seem to actually try to discuss much of the criticism as it actually appears in articles and blogs. Just threw out a few examples, with some short analysis of a handful of female characters. Not a very strong piece.

I should add that in addition to Theon "Reek" Greyjoy, at least one other male point-of-view character in the books, also Ironborn, was (probably) the victim of sexual abuse, albeit long before the events of the books

For a third - Varys. It's implied he had to sell himself as a prostitute in order to survive after being discarded by the sorcerer who castrated him. I've always found this an interesting element in the contrast between Varys and Littlefinger - the latter is driven psychologically by a childhood slight, essentially: his being beaten by Catelyn's paramour, Ned Stark's dead older brother, and by the twisted, resentful shadow of "romantic" love for Cat that engendered in him. Varys, on the other hand, has basically had the most horrific past history imaginable, even for Martin's world: orphaned, enslaved, castrated, abandoned to die, survived by child prostitution, theft and treachery in a world that holds him in even greater loathing and contempt than it does even Tyrion. And yet, for all his many failings, he is consistently less of a monster than most of the well-born, spoiled nobility around him. As well as vastly more clever than they.

(Although, as far as prurient violence goes, Steven Erikson has Martin beat. His world has loads of healing magic, so characters can be maimed over and over in great detail.)

I keep hoping for a thread discussing Steven Erikson, since his world is many times as complex and violent as ASoIaF (albeit perhaps not as skillfully written - he tends to bloat as the series goes on in a very Jordan-esque way). More to the point of this thread, he writes a great many female characters (human, non-human, divine and in at least one case demonic) who are compelling and sometimes unnerving, many of whom are both abusers and abused. There are a range of societies in which gender roles seem nonexistent or orthogonal, existing side-by-side with horrifically partriarchal (or sometimes matriarchal) ones.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:12 AM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Regarding the baseline attractiveness of the characters, it's not just the women. Ser Jorah Mormont, for example, is described as a "large middle-aged man, swarthy and very hairy. He is balding, but still strong and fit." And also, ugly (and, you get the impression, kinda greasy). And who do they cast? Hottie Iain Glen. I'm sure I could find a lot more but this is the one that has most stood out to me.
posted by rednikki at 12:36 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I could find a lot more but this is the one that has most stood out to me.

Yeah, I read the books after watching all 3 seasons, and when I am imagining it in my head, I can pretty much picture everyone the same as the actors except Jorah Mormont.

The aging-up process, which I think was in many ways necessary for the show, will have some unfortunately side-effects. (Here be spoilers.)

I'm having trouble, for example, imagining the show's version of Podrick Payne as the innocent young lad who acts as Brienne's squire and talks about his old dog, Hero, and takes Hyle Hunt at his word when he jokes about the gods walking among them. In fact, the entire Pod-as-sex god thing really seemed like a case of "sexy-sex-sex for the hell of it" on HBO's part; when I watched it (before having read the books) I thought it had something to do with the plot (were the prostitutes reporting on Pod back to Littlefinger or something?).

Likewise, Tommen has apparently been recast with an older (!) actor for season 4. WTF. Now who will threaten to outlaw beets and knight his kittens?
posted by dhens at 1:45 AM on October 20, 2013


Peter Dinklage is far more handsome than Tyrion should be. But I suppose we have to give them a pass on that one. Can anyone imagine someone other than Dinklage playing this role?
posted by Justinian at 1:47 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, Struan Rodger, one of the recently released casting choices, looks absolutely dead-on perfect for his role (book + TV spoilers).
posted by dhens at 1:53 AM on October 20, 2013


Can anyone imagine someone other than Dinklage playing this role?

Well there's Jordan Prentice who was spectacular in In Bruges though I suspect that Dinklage is the better actor all round
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:37 AM on October 20, 2013


Justinian: "Peter Dinklage is far more handsome than Tyrion should be. But I suppose we have to give them a pass on that one. Can anyone imagine someone other than Dinklage playing this role?"

Well, and I guess we have to give them a pass on not actually cutting off his nose.
posted by koeselitz at 7:40 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it's difficult to discuss whether ASOIAF is a feminist text until we see the end of the story. I could see it going both ways, even though a lot the subtext is problematic.

As for GRRM, himself - he seems a product of the age in which he was raised. But I can't possibly see him as a feminist, after writing a review of The Avengers where he wrote that Black Widow "seemed to be there only as eye candy." Which, wow, is a really weird reading of that film. For me, I think Black Widow is the lead character for much of the film: bringing the Avengers back together, etc.
posted by crossoverman at 7:59 PM on October 20, 2013


That just means he may have misread the film (if we accept your interpretation of it), I don't see how it says anything about his feelings on feminism one way or another. For what it is worth I've seen lots of people criticize the Black Widow role, or at least how the male-gazey aspects of the cinematography.
posted by Justinian at 8:54 PM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's difficult to discuss whether ASOIAF is a feminist text until we see the end of the story.

I live in fear that the whole saga will be resolved by Daenerys swooping in on a dragon to burn the army of white walkers, saving Westeros. GRRM has consistenly subverted the stock reading of a lot of situations, and I really, really hope that holds true because if that actually is the ending, telegraphed in the name of the whole saga, I'm just going to... I don't know.
posted by fatbird at 10:51 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't worry, Martin isn't going to finish the series so you're probably safe.

Unless you plan to take the ending of the TV show as canon?
posted by Justinian at 11:21 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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