So there is this book series called “A Song of Ice and Fire”, many people know of it from the HBO series “Game Of Thrones”. The setting is a fictitious Medieval land of several Kingdoms, and a number of houses either plotting to take over the throne, or other houses trying to stop them. Thing is, the behavior of the times are portrayed quite broadly and as realistically as you can imagine. This includes sex… lots and lots of sex! Much of it is men of various positions of power either purchasing it or, worse, raping for the thrill. And, unlike todays world, women had little recourse to punish the perpetrator.
Still, the portrayal of sex / rape has some feminists upset. In one interview, when asked about the sexual violence that appears liberally throughout the story, he says this:
Well, I’m not writing about contemporary sex—it’s medieval.
There’s a more general question here that doesn’t just affect sex or rape, and that’s this whole issue of what is gratuitous? What should be depicted? I have gotten letters over the years from readers who don’t like the sex, they say it’s “gratuitous.” I think that word gets thrown around and what it seems to mean is “I didn’t like it.” This person didn’t want to read it, so it’s gratuitous to that person. And if I’m guilty of having gratuitous sex, then I’m also guilty of having gratuitous violence, and gratuitous feasting, and gratuitous description of clothes, and gratuitous heraldry, because very little of this is necessary to advance the plot. But my philosophy is that plot advancement is not what the experience of reading fiction is about. If all we care about is advancing the plot, why read novels? We can just read Cliffs Notes.
One feminist writer ponders:
Regardless of the role of rape in Martin’s depiction, with this response, Martin is reflecting a really bothersome point of view I’ve perceived a lot lately.
There seems to be a disconnect in how modern people think about feminism—and by extension issues like sexism, rape, and women’s roles in society. The myth seems to be that attention to these issues just didn’t exist before 20th century feminists made us pay attention to them. Unfortunately, I just don’t buy it. From what I’ve read about feminism, ideas about gender equality are as old as the idea of gender itself.
Does this writer want the characters to go out and hold equal rights signs and burn bras?
Yes, I’m being sarcastic there. The thing about the comment “From what I’ve read about feminism, ideas about gender equality are as old as the idea of gender itself.”, is that that would have been a perfect opportunity to provide links and enlighten us to example of this during Medieval times. in the late 18th Century, we can certainly she flashes of feminism in, say Abigale Adams or Mary Wollstonecraft. This could have been a teachable moment, as they say, and I wish the author would have done that.
But, back to feminism in the story. If the HBO series is anything like the book, then there is feminism in the story. Arya Stark may be just a young girl, but she is not pushed around easily by anyone… Even a nasty little punk prince! And her father even helps her develop her determination and strong will. Her sister, Sansa, is nothing if not the model of the submissive female and is definitely the anti-feminist. She wants to be the Princess. She gets her wish, but the cost is her happiness, and the life of her beloved pet and a very close family member. Though things don’t go well for either sister, between the two, Sansa definitely gets the raw end here. There are lots of other strong women in this story, a few of whom rise from near servitude of males to become quite dominant.
By Martin saying he’s writing about “medieval sex,” he seems to be saying that medieval people weren’t aware that rape was wrong. (It’s also a bit frustrating to hear him refer to rape as “sex,” since many feminists, I think convincingly, argue that rape isn’t about sex at all but rather about power.) Here’s the thing, though, the idea of rape wasn’t invented by 20th century feminists. And while it’s probably the case that there was less social pushback against the consequences for rape were probably less—though given how modern rape victims are treated in the press, I’m starting to think things aren’t all that awesome now—I’m fairly certain that rape wasn’t universally accepted.
Another feminist writer responds:
Does he write sex scenes the way he does because he’s telling stories about women coming into their power after they’ve been mistreated in gendered ways? Or does he write medieval fantasy because he’s engaged by images of women being brutalized? I tend towards a charitable reading of A Song of Ice and Fire, but this is one case where I’d really like to have that reading confirmed by the author.
Oh Come On!!! Do you really think he’s going to say something like “Yeah, I LOVE the visualization of women being abused!”. Jeez!!!
If you haven’t seen the HBO series Game Of Thrones yet, find it, and watch it!
Hat Tip: Daily Dish