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.

 

I read about it somewhere, maybe it was the Times…

So I’m going to hold off on my previously planned blog post to address something that is a little more timely and quite frankly, pisses me off has me quite confuddled. (I just made up that word, it’s a mix between confused and befuddled. You’re welcome, and you may use it.)

If you haven’t checked your Facebook or other social media site yet, TIME magazine released a poll with a list of words to ban for 2015. On it, there are several obvious choices stemming from internet slang and memes, such as “YAAASS” or “Om Nom Nom Nom.” Most of these my friends would say, “Wait, what do these mean?” (Yes, I’m only friends with 80-year-old grandparents.) But to many people’s shock and dismay, they also have another hot-ticket word on the poll, nestled ever so delicately between “disrupt” and “I can’t even,”…

Feminism.

Yes, TIME magazine, ever so relevant and witty, is equating a civil rights movement that is just about 6 years shy of celebrating its centennial birthday, that happens to address gender and the social, political, and economic rights of half of America’s population.

Stay classy, TIME magazine.

I could go into a big, sarcastic, angry tirade, but I want to actually address something bigger – why they felt the need to add that word to their poll. It’s true, as a liberal, intelligent artist who lives in New York, the bulk of my Facebook feed nowadays tends to be posts addressing sociological or political injustices. My queer friends post about trans* phobia. My feminist friends post about slut-shaming. My friends of color post about racism, or exploitation of minorities in the media. A lot of my friends fall into multiple categories, as do I, and they are passionate, well-read, and well-intentioned. I’m very lucky to have such smart, relevant friends. But it can also be overwhelmingly depressing, as I scroll through my daily news source (yes, I’m still talking about Facebook), and see nothing but articles about the offensive, discriminatory, oppressive evil Man keeping us down.

Please be clear, I’m not saying that I disagree with all of these articles or points, but I think we’re all starting to “Devil’s Advocate” ourselves into the ground. In specifically addressing feminism, we are in danger of becoming like those ghosts on Portlandia, and we are going to confuse our movement to death, if we haven’t already. (Yes, the new season is on Netflix, and yes, it’s fine for you to finish reading this later after you go binge watch all of them now.)

Let’s just look at one example:

Recently, Hollaback released a video of a woman walking through the streets of NYC for 10 hours, and recorded secretly the various instances of “catcalling” she experienced. Yeah, you’ve seen it. If you do click on the video link above, don’t read the comments, I don’t want you to have a rage stroke. (Comment boards are where humanity goes to die, but that’s another topic.)

This video has over 35 million views, and countless follow-up parodies and articles dissecting the impact of this video. At its heart, Hollaback’s video had a simple message: women experience catcalling just walking down the street (while wearing plain black clothing) and here is proof. That is a valid point in and of itself. When it first hit the web, I even posted it on my own Facebook, I thought it was great (and I totally liked it before it was cool.)

Here's a stock photo of defiant fists in the air and for all you know, they are all different races, genders, sexualities, religions, and sizes, so you can't get offended you're not included.
Here’s a stock photo of defiant fists in the air and for all you know, they are all different races, genders, sexualities, religions, and sizes, so you can’t get offended you’re not included.

But now, the masses have spoken, and the video is racist and exclusionary and unfair and rigged. Slate writer Hanna Rosin released an article shortly after the video was released, stating, “the video also unintentionally makes another point: that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break.” While this is a valid point, it seems like the majority of people have latched on to this sentiment while ignoring a very important statement she makes just a paragraph later, “Activism is never perfectly executed. We can just conclude that they caught a small slice of catcallers, and lots of other men do it, too.” While she has a problem that this video does not address its target audience correctly (by excluding white upper/middle class men, they can feel exempt from any wrongdoing seen in this video), she is absolutely right.

Activism is never perfectly executed. Feminism has long been criticized as only for white women and exclusionary to women of color. And for the most part, in America, it is. Absolutely race should always be addressed. And class. And sizeism. And religion. And sexuality. And gender. Wait… wasn’t that what we were talking about?

The thing is, ALL of these issues are connected. You can’t talk about one without the other coming up. Because no one is Just a Girl. (Sorry, Gwen Stefani) And anytime you talk about major social topics, you run into a problematic er… problem. How do you address something so personal, but on a public level? My experience is unique only to myself. Something that offends me might not offend another of my “group” – but – and here’s my issue – something does offend someone, everywhere, all the time, always.

A human rights group posts a video or a blogger writes an article or a TV personality has a hit series – they address the lives and issues of a marginalized group and educate the masses in a way that hasn’t been done before. We all know their intentions are well-placed, and for the most part, they’re effective.

But then comes the concerned, hipster trolls. Well, this video is great, but it stars a White woman, what about Black women? What about Latino women? What about women from the South Pacific? What about Sikh women? What about trans* women? What about lesbians? What about bisexuals? What about Mormons? What about Amish women? What about fat women? You can’t say fat, that’s fat-shaming. No, you should say “fat”, it’s empowering!  Stop saying “fat”, you’re just skinny-shaming! This video is slut-shaming! It promotes rape culture! I’M ANGRY!

How the hell can we move forward and make progress as a human race if we keep holding ourselves back to make sure that we don’t step on anyone’s psychological toes? NO ACTIVIST ACT, VIDEO, ARTICLE, etc. is EVER GOING TO BE COMPLETELY INCLUSIVE and COVER ALL GROUND. I don’t mean to yell, but geez louise, we can’t ever win! Humanity and human rights is a complicated, sticky, giant area to discuss and no one thing is ever going to cover all of it. Don’t you see? We’re not helping ourselves by constantly picking each other apart – we’re supposed to be all on the same team! Remember who the real enemy is. (Yes, it’s President Snow.)

Of course, we should always be discussing these issues, it’s amazing that we do and can in the first place. But let’s stop dragging each other down through the politically incorrect muck when we are all trying to achieve the same thing. If you don’t see yourself represented, then YOU release a video, write another article, or whatever. I believe that life usually is better when you just follow the rule of Improv: “Yes, and…” As in, “YES, this addresses an important issue well, AND here’s another take on this issue that should also be discussed.”

And for the love of your god, can we please stop throwing around the “shaming” words? Calvin Klein released photos of their new model, who is gorgeous and a size 10, and now they’re being criticized because Elle (not CK) called the model plus-size  and she’s getting flack because she’s not big enough! Why not just celebrate the fact that CK hired a beautiful woman who isn’t a size 0-2? One step at a time, people. They may be fat-shaming, but keep in mind, they are fat-shaming considerably less than they used to with their size 0 models, right? It’s a small victory, right?

And people can criticize Kim Kardashian’s cover on Paper magazine without it being slut-shaming too, people. Yes, using the fact that she is now a mother as a point to why the photos are bad is unfair and frankly, completely beside the point. It’s just really um, gross. It’s distasteful on purely an artistic level (and of course, that’s just my opinion.) But I’m not a bad feminist for thinking so. I hesitate to say this, but not everything is sexist. EDIT: Further research into this Kim Kardashian photo spread (ugh, I know) actually brings up some really important information that I think is actually relevant and quite illuminating. It kind of makes me feel bad for her, poor girl most likely had no idea what she was doing…

As my good friend and writer Taylor Tobin said to me yesterday, “The egregious use of “slut-shaming” irritates me to no end. There is a DIFFERENCE between slut-shaming and saying that someone took a photograph that’s in poor taste. It’s like those high school girls who insist that their school dress codes are SLUT-SHAMING them. if the administration uses gendered terms to explain the dress code, that’s a problem. But if you’re not allowed to wear booty shorts and crop tops to school, SRY BITCHES, THAT’S LIFE.”

But Kate, you might say, how do I know what’s truly sexist and what’s not? Well, that’s complicated, but the magnificent and kickass Caitlin Moran breaks it down pretty well. Like Caitlin, I just ask myself, “Well, are boys doing it? Are men also being affected by this?” And if so, it’s probably just a human issue, not a sexist issue. I’m sure if Kanye West did a photo shoot like Kim did, we’d all be just as disgusted. And I’m sure the school administrations who ban crop tops and booty shorts are also banning boys from wearing them, as well as baggy jeans and wallet chains (we’re still in 1996, right?).

All I’m saying is, we need to keep our eyes on the prize, ladies, and gents, and others. We are letting ourselves get distracted from the real issues. We need to stop crying, “Discrimination!” every 5 seconds and really think – THINK before reacting to something. By saying every little thing is an oppressive injustice, we lessen the actual meaning of those words. They become cheap, overused, and subsequently ignored. Let’s get “feminism” off that stupid poll by using it intelligently. Let’s keep building each other up instead of knocking each other down. Let’s keep saying, “YES, AND!”

Lay off the Millennials

So this was going to be an extremely rant-y post about how grossly inaccurate the popular sweeping negative generalizations about Americans born between 1980 and 2000 are – a HUGE span of years, by the way – but then I stumbled across this political cartoonist’s take on it all and it’s pretty fantastic.

Instead, I’m going to continue the rant discussion in regards to film and television, as that is my area of work (and hopefully someday, expertise). The other day I came across this article on Indiewire.com, a trade online publication for independent films, about the SXSW grand jury prize-winning film, Fort Tilden. Read here. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen this film yet, but reading this review brought up feelings of frustration in regards to my fellow “millennial” filmmakers.

Okay, so here goes:

Dear fellow filmmakers and TV producers,

Please stop making us all look bad. I know that your goal is probably to be bitingly accurate, but I, for one, am really getting sick of watching whining, spoiled, self-involved, vapid white 20-somethings (specifically girls) who live in Brooklyn and have their daddies pay for everything. We get it. Women like that exist. They may even represent the ugliness inside all of us or something metaphorical like that. They have sex with emotionally unavailable, spoiled, self-involved, vapid, vain white 20-something men and wonder why they’re unhappy. They make mistakes, they take drugs, they have no direction. The problem is, that is only one small, very specific, and exclusive section of the so-called “millennial generation.” And Lena Dunham already did it, and she’s doing it well. So please, show me something new.

In every generation, the old folks like to berate us young folks. The future of America is doomed, we’re all lazy, in their day they worked really hard, etc. I understand that and in 20 years, I’ll probably say the same about the next generation. (I actually already worry about 12-18 year olds.) I may have been born in 1987, but the world of Fort Tilden, Girls, and Tiny Furniture is not my world. In fact, much like anytime I visit Williamsburg, I usually feel very purposefully left out. (I still really like beards though)

Let me give you a bit of background on myself and my friends. Yes, the majority of us graduated from NYU Tisch, SVA, or another similar NYC arts school. The majority of us are struggling artists or work in the entertainment industry. All of us continually contemplate (usually over watered-down well drinks in a dive bar) our purpose, our life choices, and our chosen career paths or lack thereof. But all of us work really, really, really hard at what we do. Some may still get financial assistance from their parents, but only out of necessity. We all temp or waitress or bartend or sit at a desk assisting a demanding boss/network/production company for hours and hours and hours every day. We understand the sacrifices we have to make to do what we love, and we’re constantly trying to find the best compromise that lets us eat while still keeping our souls alive. We’re trying to get in touch with our own sense of spirituality and the universe, we’re making amends and healing our childhood traumas, and we’re trying to eat better, live cleaner, and be responsible. We are on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Tumblr (don’t lie, you are too!), but most of the time, it’s to promote our own passion projects that we’re self-funding through Kickstarter or Indie Go-Go. We go see each other in the theatre and attend our own film screenings. We may go out and drink and dance and maybe even do drugs, but we’re always keeping our eyes and ears and minds and hearts open to new experiences, new people, new ideas, new cultures.

artwork in the 191st 1 train tunnel
artwork in the 191st 1 train tunnel

Best of all? We’re every single color, race, and creed. We’re straight and gay and lesbian and bi and queer. We’re not walking stereotypes, we’re complex human beings. We’re supportive of human and animal rights. We keep up on the news on a global scale, whether it’s through CNN or Facebook. We march in the Gay Pride parade and sign protests against companies that publicly declare against our rights. Conservatives and Republicans may call us liberal and foolish, but we are members of disenfranchised groups. We experience oppression, discrimination, and the glass ceiling every day. And we dream of a world where it does get better. We understand that we don’t understand the gray area. We want to find love and success and happiness and sometimes it’s really hard not knowing where or when or even if we’ll ever find that.

So have faith in us. We’re young, but don’t hold that against us. Not all millennials are self-centered, socially-inept whipper snappers. Some of us are just trying to get through our 20s alive. My friends and I are magnificent people. We have a lot to learn. And I can’t wait to see what we come up with.