“Game Of Sex”… Err… I Mean “Thrones”!

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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

4 Comments to ““Game Of Sex”… Err… I Mean “Thrones”!”

  1. By The Last Bass Player, July 13, 2011 @ 5:35 pm

    Oddly enough, I spent last year studying the British Enlightenment of the 16th Century. You could count the women writers on the fingers of one hand. They didn’t exist. Women didn’t do writing. It wasn’t the done thing. Women were more or less owned, except for the very very lucky few like Queen Liz. It irks me, but it would be incredibly unhistorical to portray it any other way.

    Rape’s a touchy issue for obvious reasons, but until the nineteenth century there wasn’t a great deal of attention paid to the rights of women at all. Even Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women steps back and doesn’t really demand full rights, it’s groundbreaking for its time, but very tame and pussy-footy by today’s standards. Women’s rights were a long time coming, and only very slowly trickled into the lives of ordinary women.

    I haven’t seen the programme so I can’t say whether it’s got gratuitous anything in it. But sugar-coating the past is just bloody retrograde conservative won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children rubbish.

    And yes, sadly, rape was pretty much a socially acceptable thing for a long time, and certainly widely ignored in medieval England. As were a lot of evil practices. We live in a much more enlightened age, but that should mean that we can portray the past and reflect on it, and, yes, writers should be able to write about it – gratuitously or otherwise, because free speech and freedom of the press and all that is a luxury that we should be holding on to, not repressing.

    “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Evelyn Beatrice Hall

    And now I am going to defend my own women’s rights and have a cold beer on a hot night. And possibly try to find some gratuitous stuff on the TV. Not sex of course, I’m British, and we don’t do that sort of thing. But gratuitous nonetheless…

  2. By The Last Bass Player, July 13, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

    Not the Enlightenment, the other one, the Renaissance. Jesus H Christ, I’ve just done a flipping exam in it a month ago, you’d think I’d remember. Anyway. It was the Renaissance, in the 16th Century. The Enlightenment was somewhen else.

    See? This is what half a small bottle of beer does to me.

  3. By Sonicfrog, July 13, 2011 @ 6:34 pm

    You know the old joke about how English people are so proper, when having wild passionate sex, at least what they consider “wild passionate sex”, at the moment of no return, instead of screaming wildly in great pleasure “Oh Fuck… I’m gonna come… I’m gonna come” or some sort, they simply say “Dear, I’m Arriving…”.

    Carry On!!! 🙂

  4. By The Last Bass Player, July 14, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

    Joke? You mean that’s not the way everyone else does it? Dear God, does MI6 know about this? Scandalous. Asolutely scandalous.

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