As some of my readers know, I’m doing a winterlong deep dive into Game of Thrones on Ordinary Times, mainly because I am so sick of even thinking about anything having to do with American politics that I needed a completely fictional palate cleanser.
My latest piece was about the lack of romance in Game of Thrones, and how it was representative of a larger issue where male creators eschew the female aesthete, forgoing traditionally female fictional interests like romance and love and marriage in favor of sex and boobs and rape scenes.
The reaction to it was somewhat interesting. Despite me writing what I thought was a piece about me explaining that I enjoy romantic tropes, and mourning their absence in Game of Thrones, chalking it up to (and I think quite accurately) a male-centric worldview held by the show’s creators, several people said something along the lines of “It’s silly to complain about women getting mistreated in Game of Thrones, because bad things happen to men in Game of Thrones too!”
Now, I’ve gone back and read my piece a couple more times and I’m really not seeing the “Kristin ignores men’s pain” angle (as I’ve said 123,456,789 times because I talk too much, Dear Readers, I’m already on the wordy side, I simply can’t fit every angle into every piece I write and you would hate it if I tried; I know this because when I do try, you tell me how much you hate it). I was writing about a particular thing, and NOT writing about a particular other thing, that’s all. And I’ve heard from several people who clearly did get the point of what I was saying, so this misreading was in no way universal.
But in the interest of being as fair-minded as I could be, I considered that possibly I had some underlying attitude that was coming through subconsciously. Yet after giving the notion some careful thought, I honestly don’t see it.
I have read – and enjoyed – into the thousands of books where women are treated badly. Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director and I think The Hateful Eight in which a woman is brutally abused is his greatest masterpiece. I literally just watched a horror movie in which a woman is gang raped and then sewed inside the belly of a cow to be eaten alive by stomach acid, and my primary complaint with it was not the violence, but that she was a “nature photographer” – a job very few young good-looking women have. And I certainly don’t shy away from violence done against women in my personal writing at all whatsoever, please read my story Women In Fridges lest you doubt it.
Fictional violence against women is a narrative tool I respect and use in my own art, WHEN IT MAKES SENSE TO THE PLOT AND TO THE GREATER THEME. Violence against women is a thing that exists, it’s the overarching theme of far too many women’s lives, and so of course it should be included in fiction. Truth, it would be unbelievably patronizing if it wasn’t, if that part of life so very critical to the female experience was glossed over entirely because our delicate pink brains couldn’t handle it. I really, really do not think it makes any sense whatsoever based on my personal aesthete and my history as both an artist and a cultural critic that I am secretly squeamish about violence done against women. It is only when it is done poorly, cheaply, and in a misogynistic way, feeding the worst instincts humanity possesses, as it was in the tv version of Game of Thrones, that I take issue with it.
But since “but men suffer too tho” is a criticism oft levied against feminist Game of Thrones pieces, it seems worthy of a closer look.
(Since this is more of a feminism issue and not as much a pop culture issue, I decided to write this as another exciting installment of the “but men tho” series here on my blog rather than at OT, even though way fewer people will read it. Them’s the breaks.)
Before we get started, a brief statement about why my job being a conservative feminist is so hard:
The Culture War.
By virtue of the Culture War, everything has been politicized so greatly that even innocuous and apolitical viewpoints that are genuinely arrived at and sincerely held tend to get wrapped up into it. Like, for instance, if I were to say that I “stand” with JK Rowling, for instance, you might make some assumptions about me, even if I was actually saying that she and I were riding in an elevator together.
I suspect that some of the people who said “but men suffer too tho” after reading my recent piece were coming into it with a similar set of assumptions. They saw me “standing with JK Rowling” as she pushed the button to go to the 4th floor, and I pushed the button to go to the 9th, and drew a conclusion that they shouldn’tve drawn. They saw a chick with a feminist blog writing about Game of Thrones, disliking certain elements of it and attributing that dislike to a lack of female viewpoint in the show, and then levied the same criticism against me that fit many other GoT thinkpieces a whole lot better.
But I’m just on the elevator, friends. JK Rowling may be in here with me, and I may be standing right alongside her, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she and I are in lockstep about any particular issue. Even if we are talking about the very same subject, she will have her take, and I will have mine. Even our takes did happen to be pretty close to identical, we may come at our viewpoints from two different directions only to arrive at the same spot.
I can have a set of beliefs that for some may appear to hover perilously at the fringes of what some deride and discount as “feminism” and yet have come to that place through an entirely different path, with a completely different set of beliefs and observations underlying my viewpoint, observations that I believe are in keeping with my moderately conservative values both in terms of human dignity and art. But if one were to come into reading one of my pieces and immediately assume that what I’m writing falls under some umbrella of radical feminism, and view things through that lens, I suspect such a reader would likely bring a set of assumptions that might color their interpretation of said piece.
The ongoing politicization of everything has left people not only in perpetual states of misunderstandings regarding the actual meaning of thinkpieces, but defending some pretty heinous shit. I think this is a mistake, and I urge all thoughtful people out there (all seventeen of you) to maybe take a step back to realize that some of the things people on “your side” do are not great, and some of the things people on “their side” do are not inherently eeeevvuuulll. Like maybe, just maybe, we all need to take a step back before gloating about Rush Limbaugh roasting in Hell, and maybe we really don’t need to be defending Ted Cruz going to Cancun this week either.
Or maybe we should make the effort to not go into a thinkpiece that was Actually About Something and assume it is Actually About Something Else because we have such a hefty set of political blinders on that we can no longer see the word forest for the philosophical trees.
So my question is this, for those people who hate feminism and feminist-adjacent thinking – both conservatives who should know better because cons are supposed to be civilized folk and celebrate female modesty and sexual restraint and all that, and liberals who claim to support women’s rights but (rightfully) despise the depths to which the feminist movement has sunk – do you hate feminism so much that you’re actually defending women being depicted as graphically raped on television for the delight of the modern male porn-addicted libido-gluttons JUST BECAUSE feminists also dislike it?
Is being team anti-feminist so important to you that you’re really going to play the “but men suffer too tho” card here?
That’s a big question, so before we tackle that, let’s see if the complaint holds water. DO men suffer on Game of Thrones just as much as women do, and even if they DO, does that make all the rapeyness therefore ok?
(WITH A REMINDER THAT I WAS NEVER SAYING THE SHOW SHOULD NOT HAVE DEPICTED VIOLENCE, AND EVEN SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN! I never ever said that. I was merely pointing out that Game of Thrones featured exclusively female-violence-themed scenarios explicitly catering to the sexual tastes of men, while giving the audience little or nothing that catered to the specific sexual tastes of women. I felt the lack, and personally I find that interesting and worthy of rumination.)
Some pretty heinous things happen to men at the hands of other men on GoT, and also at the hands of some women too. It is known, as the Khaleesi’s handmaidens would say. The world we are being shown in GoT is brutal, nasty, terrible, and populated with some utterly sadistic fucks of both genders. Yes, men are the recipients of great violence in the fictional Land of Ice and Fire.
But you know what? No men are raped.
In the vast majority of cases, the violence done to men is in battle or in some other form of physical confrontation that was entirely voluntary on the part of the male character.
To give an example, it’s shocking and stomach-turning when the Mountain gouges out Oberyn Martell’s eyes, but Oberyn VOLUNTEERED and was in fact super into the idea of fighting the Mountain. In most cases of male-on-male violence in GoT, it involves men waging war against men. If said men had chosen a different path, they would not have ended up in the situation where violence is done to them. Even in the case of Ramsay torturing Theon, if Theon hadn’t been so eager to be a warmonger and then a betrayer of the Starks, he would not even have been in that situation to start with. And no, I’m not blaming the victim (going to war is not the equivalent of wearing a short skirt!). I am simply pointing out that violence one encounters fighting in a war voluntarily against other men has a different vibe than whatever the fuck this is, which is NOT in the book (in the book, the Hound simply rescues Sansa from a crowd, without the gory details).
Reminder, this brave child was 15 years of age when she filmed this scene (with the aid of some clever camera trickery, but even still). And upon watching this scene, just having reread A Clash of Kings, I realized that unlike in the book where the riot of King’s Landing is intended as character development for both the Hound and Sansa, this scene was shot with the primary purpose of making sure the audience knows the Hound is not that bad, really. Sansa’s suffering is used as a prop to make the Hound look like an ok guy. It’s a scene shot for the benefit of the type of men who get off on watching stuff like that, for the purpose of making a male character look more admirable, and it was done on the back of a 15 year old girl. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have happened; at 15 I was definitely capable of making that decision for myself and if Sophie Turner and her family were ok with her doing that scene, so be it. I’m not saying this to remove her agency, not at all.
I am saying LOOK AT THE MOTIVATION underlying a) changing this from the books in such a salacious way b) the gratuitous nature of what did not have to be THAT outrageously gratuitous and c) the way it is all centered around making a male character cooler. And then add to that d) David Benioff and DB Weiss largely dispensing with the interpersonal relationship between these two characters, a relationship that Book Sansa is still dwelling on books later, wrapping it up by having the Hound basically insult Sansa for actually being raped, blaming it on her because she didn’t let him save her, and Sansa saying “no seriously, please don’t feel bad, Person-Who-Just-Insulted-Me, it’s ok that I was raped because it made me a better person, and stuff” which is fucking appalling.
Oh yeah and did I mention no men are raped? Why is that? Well, I believe it’s because men don’t find other men getting raped to be a turn on, and so that definite actual thing that really happens (remember, it’s the REALISM, or so we keep being told, the realism of Game of Thrones is why, in a world chock full of rapists, women are walking around with their tits out constantly and yet no one save Gilly ever has a single living baby over the span of ten year’s time, because of REALISM) is excluded from this glorious pageant of REALISM because men find it makes their peepees sad.
Because that’s what this boils down to, and that’s what I was driving at in my last piece. Game of Thrones is full of imagery and events designed to turn men on, whether it’s watching that sexy sexy violence against women or seeing cool dudes act even cooler thus fulfilling men’s power fantasies, and not so much stuff that turns women on. That, that right there, was the point of my piece. Not that men don’t deserve to enjoy stuff that they enjoy (even when it’s a bit naughty and makes the extremo-feministas screech), and not that there should not have been violence against women in GoT, and BEYOND NOT that I thought in any way shape or form that bad stuff in tv shows should only happen to men while women IDK swoon on cushions or something. Not even a little.
I just wanted something in GoT that I liked, too. Was that so much to ask? Why am I some sort of unhinged zealot freakazoid for asking for something slightly romantic to be included in a show that is replete with things that are meant to turn men on? In a world stuffed full of every goddamn kink the people at Vice Magazine can invent, all of them waving their multicolored flags proudly, is there really, truly NO ROOM in the world for people like me who just want to see a boy meet a girl and then maybe they kiss sometime?
So let’s go back to our original question. Is being team anti-feminist so important to you that you’re really going to play the “but men suffer too tho” card here?
Or as Casey Bloys, programming director at HBO said, trying to justify the abundance of sexual violence against women in GoT, “No, you haven’t seen men raped, but the point I would make is that in Game of Thrones, men are castrated, a guy is fed a cake made from his sons, the violence is pretty extreme on all fronts. I take your point there that so far we haven’t seen a man raped, but my point is, the violence is spread equally.”
Spread equally? Not exactly. Because one of these things is not like the others. Can we be fucking real here and stop pretending that a dude getting stabbed with a sword in a battle and a sobbing 15-year-old being held down and raped by several men (almost) is just exactly the same? The fictionalized glorification of women getting abused and raped is problematic because a whole lot of men are into it, while NO ONE except maybe the ghost of Jeffrey Dahmer is getting off on watching Walder Frey eat a cake made from his dead sons. In Game of Thrones, we have highly eroticized portrayals of female pain for the sexual enjoyment of men, alongside the complete removal of traditional romantic elements that women enjoy (some of which are present in the books) also for the enjoyment of men.
On both fronts, Game of Thrones is a show for men, by men, focused on men, for the benefit of all peniskind, except for maybe Theon. And if you don’t see a huge double standard with that, I don’t even know, man.
Let me reiterate once again, I am not coming for your titties, me boys. Keep em. I’m not even worried about the rapeishness of it all. I merely, humbly, respectfully wanted to point out how sad it is that women are so desperate for anything featuring female protagonists, that we’re willing to call Game of Thrones empowering when it isn’t, and sexy when it isn’t (at least for a real whole lot of us. YMMV).
Look, I am writing these stupid GoT pieces not because I have a feminist axe to grind. I’m writing them because how Game of Thrones went so terribly wrong is this delicious puzzle for me to solve, and I definitely think that a lack of things that women find appealing to make room for more of what men find appealing was a part of the problem. Not all of it, but part of it.
We all on the same page now?
Even though I’m riding in an elevator with the feminists, I promise, I’m getting off on a totally different floor. But for some people, apparently I’m tainted by my proximity. For these people, either I go all in and support every goddamn bullshit misogynistic chunk o tripe regurgitated by the men’s movement without ever questioning it, or else I’m a traitor to the cause and will be joining Team Lena Dunham at any second.
Lest we forget, ladies, we are supposed to be satisfied with the scraps we are thrown from the men’s table, and never question the status quo or we will be labeled as difficult or whiny, or worse still, FEMINISTS!!! GASP!
But there’s a whole lot of wiggle room between the MRA and the radfems, and to view the world solely as a “yer either wit’ us, or yer agin’ us” dichotomy is going to end up with otherwise reasonable people missing out on a whole lot of nuanced positions, and it may even mean ya end up standing with some pretty gross people and defending positions you don’t even hold.