A Pox on the Patriarchy
- Louis Skye - this author has asked to use a pseudonym
Scrolling through Facebook the other day, I saw that an acquaintance had posted an article on Game of Thrones Season 3, commenting “Not soon enough”. Another friend regularly posts statuses with GoT references. This shouldn’t irk me very much, but it does, because I despise the show. As far as I am concerned it is a shoddy, misogynistic excuse for good television. Not one female character is empowered during the course of the first two seasons. Not one. And that, for me, is enough reason not to air such a series, let alone write one.
One may ask, if I disliked it so much, why didn’t I just stop watching it? Well, I wanted to, but I’m one of those people who always thinks she’s wrong about things. After all, everybody loves Game of Thrones so surely, it must be good, right? Nina Shen Rastogi of salon.com writes “Fantasy stories, like all genre narratives, are built on archetypes, and “Game of Thrones” seems to leave no trope of feminine power unexplored.” I’m the one who’s wrong about the misogyny in the show, surely. I’m not seeing the sprawling landscape, the political intrigue, the spectacularly weaved character arcs. Well, I could see all those a bit better if the screen wasn’t so obscured by female breasts.
I choose Game Of Thrones to illustrate my point mainly because its portrayal of femininity is so abysmal that I find myself unable to root for any of the male characters. There is a constant dialogue of rape in this series, even when the word is not used. It’s not just the victors of war that rape conquered women in the series, the male characters in general see nothing wrong in it, and there is little stating that it is an abhorrent crime to ever touch a woman without her consent.
The sex scenes almost always have women in subjugated positions. Even the women in charge of their sexuality, such as the prostitutes, are treated as disposable objects. Hollywood has an issue with showing women enjoying sex, let alone having an orgasm, but the newly bold television shows are doing little to dispel that myth.
In the first season, the character Daenerys Targaryen’s nudity is explicitly tied with subjugation till the last episode. Her character arc is much the same. She starts off extremely weak, completely in her brother’s control. She is practically sold off to Khal Drogo, and with great difficulty wins his respect and his position. In the second season, Targaryen is the only female leader in the whole series. The rest of the female characters are either subordinates or second in command to a man. Targaryen gets to lead the Dothraki, and her leadership is defined by the fact that she doesn’t take her clothes off even once in the second season. However, she is still not allowed to be as powerful as the male characters. The majority of the Dothraki leave, preferring a male leader, and she is abandoned with a handful of faithfuls in a desert. She is not given an army, a throne, nor a semblance of respect by the characters in the show or the writers. And she’s the strongest female character. However, by the end of the second season, she is in a better situation than most, having saved herself with the help of her baby dragons.
Then there’s Targaryen’s relationship with Drogo. She starts off an unwilling bride subjected to marital rape. We know it is rape because there is a clear lack of consent, she is crying throughout and she needs help moving about because of the resultant injuries. However, she eventually turns Drogo into a good guy by asserting herself sexually; they fall in love and he dies.
Similar character arcs have been presented in films such as Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution and Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey. These are excellent films, otherwise, but too often do films and television shows include female characters falling in love with their abusers/ rapists. Abuse does not equate love; in fact, these women are most likely suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Targaryen’s relationship with Drogo is based on fear, not love. That is not love, and never should be described as such.
Katharine Kourbeti of witandfancy.com writes, “Daenerys is a perfect example of inner strength; she loses everything, time and again, and picks up the pieces by aiming higher.” Actually, Daenerys seems to be making the most of a really bad situation. The suffering-as-strength trope has been overused in film and television with regards to women; it is extremely rare for a woman to be depicted as a strong person the same way that a man is. The only two female warriors on the show, Yara Greyjoy and Brienne, are subordinates to Kings, their power derived directly from their masters. Brienne loses even that little power when her sovereign is killed.
Despite all the women championing Daenerys Targaryen, how many men like the character for the character’s sake as opposed to the fact that she was so often naked in the first season, is anyone’s guess. But, considering how many people on IMDB forums describe Targaryen as ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’ instead of ‘interesting’, ‘brave’ or ‘strong’ is some indication.
Of course, there are other female characters. Lena Headey has been praised for capturing just how despicable Cersei Lannister is. The problem is that Cersei has little to no power, as is evident in the second season, where her evil son, King Joffrey, pretty much does whatever he wants. She is not strong, she is vindictive. She fails to stand by the girl promised to her son; she fails to protect her daughter from being given away by her brother to a foreign King; she fails to protect the women of her realm when, during battle, she arranges for herself and her future daughter-in-law to be killed, leaving the rest of the women to the mercy of the victors. The fact that she says something to the effect of, “These women are in for a bit of a rape” chills my heart. Kudos to Headey for saying it without flinching, because I can’t get the words out of my head though months have passed since I watched the episode. Every woman in every country fears being raped. It is a part of our very being because from the time we attain adolescence, or even before, we realise we are sexual objects in the eyes of men.
Entertainment’s purpose, above all else, is to provide an escape to the audience. But Game of Thrones provides no escape from women’s daily fear of rape and violence. And worst of all, there are no male characters in the show who understand the true worth of a woman, none who see women as their equals or even as people. The Tudors was similar to GoT with regards to misogyny but it was still watchable because the audience knew that the greatest monarch ever was the misogynistic protagonist’s daughter.
I am quite sure that at the end of GoT all the women will emerge triumphant and the evil men will be punished deservedly. Or at least, I hope so. But it is still too much to watch two entire seasons of violence against women being passed off as entertainment.
I can’t help but wonder, if the world is fictional, why not infuse it with the knowledge we have now? After all, Narnia had a queen, evil though she may have been, and those books were written during the Second World War. GoT seems to me to be a product of rampant rape culture, reinforcing those values, lacking the necessary commentary opposing it by the author of the books, the writers, directors and actors of the show.
What is happening to the female characters is horrible and everyone watching it should know that. Without a specific commentary against rape, film and television are in danger of advocating rape culture. Perhaps a disclaimer could be included at the beginning of these shows explaining why the scenarios in the show are abhorrent. It may not have a huge impact, but could lessen the effect of the brutality witnessed on screen.
Or, we could go the whole hog and just write female characters that women would actually enjoying watching – those who are strong, physically, mentally and sexually, are in charge of their bodies and their destinies, and, more than anything else, portrayed as human beings.