How ‘Game of Thrones’ taught me about Feminism *SPOILERS!*

Are you sick of hearing about this past Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones yet? The shelf-life of this episode in the blog-o-sphere has been remarkable. It has been 3 days since it has aired and it’s still being discussed. People are outraged. People are over it. People don’t see what the big deal is.

And all because our imaginary little daughter/sister got raped on her wedding night by a terrible awful demented excuse for a human being who flays and hunts people for fun. (Looking at you, Ramsey.)

ramsey

I’ve read several articles and blog posts about this, I’ve gotten into civil discussions on Facebook with kind strangers, and yeah, I saw the episode (and I have read all of the released books). I hear you. All of you.

Here’s my take – because I know you’ve been dying to know what I think:

We’re talking about this the wrong way.

I don’t mean to let the cat out of the bag, but I feel like I have to set the record straight. All of this “rape” that you are all so upset about – it’s all part of a secret master plan that D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have in place to actually teach society all about Rape Culture and the Male Gaze through the guise of a multi-million dollar fantastical HBO melodrama. DUH.

But in all seriousness – for me, rape itself in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” isn’t the issue, it’s the way the ‘Game of Thrones’ show has been handling the depiction of women, violence against women, and rape overall.

I mean, at this point, I’ve given up on the show ever doing the books, these stories, or the characters justice, but the last scene from this week’s episode was problematic in many, many ways. Not just because it was a lead character that was raped – that wasn’t raped in the books (Um hello Daenerys and Cersei?!) but for larger reasons that I think tie into portrayal of women in the media today.

The fabulous GoT G&M blog has a great take on exactly WHY the show has been missing the mark for so long, especially in the last point:

“The ASOIAF universe is not one that’s very friendly to women, and there are many women who, for that reason, take a large issue with consuming the series… Martin is a 21st century man with rather progressive sensibilities, and instead, we would argue that the violence against, and mistreatment/relegation of women, is a major theme explored in his novels.
[The show writers]…don’t seem to get this. Or see these themes. They see the violence alright, and they’ll throw in some casual rapes… to remind us what a terrible place Westeros can be… But it’s beyond rape. It’s their treatment of every. single. woman. character.”

Not only do the rapes of Sansa, Cersei, and Dany create so many problems for these main characters’ arcs and development, but I think we should also maybe start thinking bigger picture. Some people have been asking WHY does a hit premium cable show feel the need to write in a rape scene for a main character when there isn’t any? (Which is a great question I think any viewer should ask of any artwork that portrays brutal sexual violence.) But I would actually take that a step further and ask why they choose to show it as they do. Yes, the rape scene in the books with Ramsey is much worse, and yes, rape is a real problem and yes, it’s historical fiction (no it’s not), and blah blah why are we so upset about a mild rape when nobody cares when guys get their skulls crushed in or members cut off? That’s not fair! Waaah!

I mean, hey. Some people are fine with it. We know Ramsey is terrible. Some claim this is truthful to the material, this world, and the characters. Some are even saying it wasn’t a rape. To which Genevieve Burgess of Pajiba.com says,

“If someone tries to tell you that it wasn’t rape because she walked into the room and didn’t “fight back” do me a favor; squint at them funny and say “oh, you have an eyelash there, mind if I…?” and when they agree, punch them straight in the face.”

But even as a rape, some felt it was justified, or at least treated better than other rapes and scenes of violence in the series. Even the ladies over at Jezebel said,

“But while last night’s sexual assault was absolutely disturbing, it relied more on sound than on visuals, was shot with a lot of care and respect given to a very young actress.”

And a lot of people have been pointing out that this very well could be the plot point that snaps Reek back into action as Theon.

But that’s exactly my problem with it. In the scene, the camera pans away from the actual rape to Reek’s face as he watched, as if we’re supposed to only feel bad that this is happening by viewing it through his eyes. Not to get all feminist theory, but that is actually a perfect personification of the Male Gaze. Why not pan the camera the other way and stay on Sansa’s face like they did for Dany’s rape? Why not experience the horror through her eyes if you’re going to go there? And if this is really a plot device to awaken ol’ Theon, then WTF – or as Criticwire puts it,

“…This is trending awfully close to what genre writers call “fridging,” where a woman’s agony is cast primarily as a motivating agent for more important male characters.”

Bam. Male Gaze lesson. Clever, clever Benioff and Weiss, you sneaky bastards. You almost fooled me. Look at how much we’re learning!

Sophie-Turner

By the way, can we please shut up about whatever the hell the director of that Cersei/Jaime atrocity meant it to be? Of course it is a rape! If 99% of your viewers watch your show and freak out and scream rape, then maybe you should think that whatever your intent was, Alex Graves, you terrible director*, doesn’t fucking matter?

Oh but wait, maybe this is just another lesson by the genius Benioff and Weiss. They’re showing us a metaphorical artistic example of the excuses that ACTUAL rapists and defense lawyers use: “Oh, no it was totally consensual, I really didn’t mean to rape her. She did want it, I know she kept saying stop, but her body language showed that she obviously wanted it.”

Hey Mr. Graves, maybe you should take a good hard look at yourself if you create a scene, that in your head, is a passionate sex scene, and then practically everyone who sees it calls it rape. That might be a red flag for ya, buddy. (*I don’t know if you are really a terrible director, I got heated. I’m sure you’re a nice guy.)

But again, it’s just all part of the Master Plan to Teach the World About Modern Feminism by Benioff and Weiss.

And that’s just two examples. Over the course of 4.5 season, Benioff and Weiss have showed us scenes that address many different and varied issues when it comes the complex world of Rape Culture, Misogyny, and Feminism. For example:

  • Married people can be raped too, or You don’t owe your husband sex.
  • Whores can be raped too. Lots of them. Repeatedly. And then killed.
  • You can be really poor and your father’s daughter-wife, and it’s still rape.
  • You can be white and raped.
  • You can be black and raped.
  • You can be ethnically ambiguous and raped. (Not really sure what Dorne people are yet in Earth terms.)
  • Rape can happen doggy style.
  • Rape can be with someone you know or as an act of war or with total strangers.
  • If you are a woman, you will be raped.
  • You can be raped as a man too. And gay men can and will also be used as possessions.
  • Basically, sex is bad, humankind is bad, and you’re better off just getting killed off early. (Looking at you, Ned Stark.)

So what do we do with all of this knowledge? Angrily write about it on the internet? Shun it and stop watching? I’m not really sure. I’ll keep watching for now – I have to say, I am interested to see how things turn out. Besides, it’s not like a new book is coming out anytime soon. And there’s always drinking.

 

Inspired during an early evening commute home…

Every single writer, poet, filmmaker, musician, and artist who has ever lived in New York has tried to express how much they love New York. Or how much they hate New York. It can be the most magical place on earth or it can make you want to jump into the tracks of an oncoming train. The skyscrapers and glittering lights can inspire and enlighten or it can feel as though you carry the weight of many tons of steel and iron upon your shoulders. However, one thing can always be said about New York: there is so much life here. It’s every where, at every block, every building, stoop, subway platform, alleyway, and corner- there is so much life. At any one time, there are over 5 million stories happening.

Most of those stories are right out in the open for all to see. The woman crying on the phone as she walks east on 52nd st. The homeless boy in the blue coat with a bent cardboard sign on 8th avenue. The 30-something woman whose pink jogging jacket match her purebred chihuahua’s little boots on 6th avenue. The smiling man with large boils on his face sitting on the Canal st train platform. Life is every where you look here. No matter the time or day, life is happening here. Stories are being written here. For any artist, it’s absolutely thrilling. But in a place with so much life, there is so much death – so much decay. Sometimes the amount of life and death is too much for one human to withstand. It can overwhelm, like a cacophony of disheartening news reports that grows so loud one cannot hear anything but the din of sadness and suffering. For life is suffering, as the Buddhists believe, and for a city full of so much life, it is also filled with so much suffering.

Imagine being acutely aware of ever single moment of emotional and physical pain in the world as it is happening. To be so sensitive would surely break one’s heart so completely so many times. It would drive any normal mortal to end the pain as soon as possible. But why is it a bad thing to feel sadness? Is a typically “happy person” more in tune with the universe and more generous? Is a mostly “sad person” selfish and a pessimist? Or is the happy one merely in denial and the sad one more intuitive? Maybe it’s more complicated than that. No one likes to feel sad. Many try to avoid feeling sad as much as possible, whether that means diverting and distracting feelings, emotional strong-holding, or resorting to substances to dull the senses and pain. Is this healthy though? Is there a way to stay with the pain, accept the sadness, and not want to kill oneself every waking moment? Can you feel sadness but not become sadness?

There are many institutions that have formed over the centuries to help alleviate everyday sadness. Religion, spirituality, sports and exercise methods, the arts – they all serve to give us a greater sense of purpose. Without purpose, our egos start to flail and our sense of self begins to spiral. Religion gives us an explanation of the sadness and suffering. The old books of old prophets tell us why and what’s next. It seems we humans have a very hard time functioning with the knowledge that life could just be random chaos, that our suffering was senseless and never-ending, with no reason or goal to look forward to. But what if there was no sense to it at all? Perhaps that’s what the Buddhists meant when they said that Life is Suffering. It is not a means to an end or even something to be explained, but rather it just is.

I myself cannot begin to even pretend to know the truth behind what we feel and what we are. The only supposed “truths” I can begin to understand are as follows:

1) I am here.
2) I feel pain. I feel happiness.
3) Things that seem and feel awful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
4) Things that seem and feel wonderful happen – to me, to “good people,” to “bad people.”
5) But no matter what happens, it is my judgement that deems it “bad” or “good.”
6) And regardless of all of the points above, everything is impermanent. Nothing is forever and everything changes.

It can seem hopeless to think that one could spend years and years building an empire or creating a work of art or nurturing a family – and in one instant, it all could be destroyed and cease to exist. But that thought can also be incredibly freeing. It doesn’t necessarily mean one shouldn’t strive for anything or the human race shouldn’t progress and evolve, but like the rhythms of the city – the way the garbage and snow will pile up and then seemingly disappear within a day, the way real estate here can seem to change ownership every month – it might just be worth it for us to continually try to be conscious. Conscious that we are all part of this life, this suffering, and even more so, this impermanence.