Why Talking About ‘Game Of Thrones’ Rape Is Important For Feminism

23 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Game of Thrones excels at staging shocking moments, but keeps screwing up their aftermaths.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————- I’ve been following the controversy about the Game of Thrones rape scene, which troubled a lot of women when it was aired this past Sunday.Many viewers were justifiably horrified by the vicious sexual assault on Sansa on the last “Game of Thrones,” but it’s unfair to say the show is glorifying rape. This week, we’ll be hearing from deputy culture editor Jen Trolio, executive editor Matthew Yglesias, foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp, and culture editor Todd VanDerWerff.

Television and film director Joss Whedon recently left Twitter after a furious backlash against the portrayal of action heroine Natasha “The Black Widow” Romanoff in the latest Avengers movie (while Whedon denied that his departure was related to the attacks, its timing seemed more than coincidence). So-called geniuses find themselves battling the clock in this tense new ABC game show (tonight, Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. on WCVB, Ch. 5) from “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett. Gender issues in popular culture are a valid topic of discussion, and feminist discourse can be a corrective to sexist cultural clichés; but when such discourse becomes one-sided and driven by knee-jerk outrage, it can turn into an ideological diktat that is bad for art and bad for gender fairness. Find out what the critical fuss was all about when Showtime airs “Boyhood” (Saturday at 8 p.m.), a drama shot over 12 years and chronicling the life of one adolescent. “CSI: Cyber” star Patricia Arquette won an Oscar for her role as the mom. “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” (Saturday at 10 p.m. on OWN) catches up with singer Lisa Loeb, “Real Housewife” Taylor Armstrong and a man who bravely talked about his father molesting him when he was a child. Animal Planet’s scripted “The Cannibal in the Jungle” (Sunday at 9 p.m.) investigates whether a diminutive race of humans exists in the wilds of Indonesia.

Martin that has acquired a “cool” cachet in progressive circles—and the “bad” HBO show, said to have perverted the books into a misogyny-fest. Martin, excited by how much the death of Ned Stark had juiced his narrative and made readers gasp, kept endlessly trying to chase that high — but never quite got it back. In fact, the books have received their share of feminist criticism for their extremely high sexual violence quotient, despite having a large array of important, interesting, active female characters. See, I think the TV show has reached that point now as well, with everybody involved trying like hell to top the Red Wedding (arguably the show’s single biggest moment) and falling short.

An American Congresswoman, Claire McCaskill, said that she would no longer watch the show because this scene’s violence was too much for her to take. True, Sansa’s wedding-night rape by ultravillain Ramsay Bolton does not happen in the novels, where Sansa’s storyline unfolds quite differently and Ramsay’s wretched wife is Sansa’s ex-friend Jeyne, a steward’s daughter passed off to the Boltons as Sansa’s sister Arya.

The problem with these twists is that they all center on misery, and the problem with overloading a story like this with misery is that all of its characters exist under miserable circumstances already. But the sadism visited on Jeyne in the fifth book of Martin’s series, A Dance with Dragons, was far more graphic than Sansa’s rape in the episode. What’s more, while Sansa’s ordeal is the focus of drama on the show, the book’s Jeyne was a minor figure whose sexual torture was important solely for its impact on a male character—Ramsay’s debased captive Theon Greyjoy. Viewed in isolation, the scene’s plot developments make sense, and you could even make an argument for its aesthetics telling a story about women being brutally subjugated in this society. (I would argue that focusing on Theon at the end was a complete mistake, but otherwise I could see it.) The problem is that it’s impossible to watch the scene in isolation.

The rape of Sansa was, as a friend put it on my Facebook page, Not only this, but in many parts of the world I live in, the underdeveloped, poverty-stricken, religious-strife-torn, countries of the Middle East, the subcontinent, and Africa, women who are raped must marry their rapist so that he can avoid jail time. In another made-for-TV addition in Season 3, a young male character, Gendry, was sexually assaulted by creepy priestess Melisandre—and no one complained. The contrast between the outrage on behalf of female victims and the blasé attitude toward violence (even sexual violence) toward males ironically replicates a quintessentially patriarchal trope: the assumption that women are fragile creatures who deserve special protection and greater sympathy if they are mistreated. I don’t know how long I spent during season three feeling frustrated that the show portrayed Theon’s torture as a long string of painful incidents, with little focus on what he was actually experiencing.

The backlash against Whedon was sparked by a scene in The Avengers in which Natasha told Bruce Banner (the Hulk) about her anguish over being involuntarily sterilized during her training as an super-assassin by a Russian spy agency. First of all, in general, I’m not opposed to rape represented in any kind of art, as long as it has artistic merit, doesn’t glorify the act, and presents a realistic view of the trauma it unleashes on the victim and family.

Since the dialogue had Natasha telling the Hulk, “You’re not the only monster on the team,” this was interpreted as implying that infertile women are monsters. It often seems as if the show starts from the premise of, What’s the worst thing that could happen to this person? and then presses that button over and over again. A rape survivor observed that this scene was actually sensitively done with no focus on Sansa, no nudity, and the focus on Theon’s face, which effectively captures the pain and trauma that the friends and family of rape victims go through when this happens to a loved one. Whedon was also skewered for supposedly suggesting that motherhood is a woman’s only true calling, and a woman incapable of childbearing, no matter how heroic, will never feel complete. (Never mind that, as some viewers pointed out, Bruce seemed to be more devastated than Natasha by his own inability to have kids.) The Twitter response included death threats and charges of misogyny. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this storytelling technique, but when it seems like your only storytelling technique, it eventually becomes wearying and stale.

The Mad Men finale was assailed as a “betrayal” of one of the show’s main female characters, Peggy Olson—who rises from humble secretary to successful copywriter and advertising industry rising star—because, after a series of romantic failures, she unexpectedly finds love with co-worker Stan Rizzo. “She shouldn’t need a man to make her feel whole,” carped one critic. Arya’s storyline feels like it’s just gaining momentum, and I’m definitely ready for some of the characters who’ve been battered and beaten to seize back some of their agency. Take for example, “The Accused” which was based on a true story; it built solidarity and empathy for rape victims, it showed that what a woman wore or how she behaved didn’t mean she deserved to be raped, and even affected the men who watched the movie (and men also get raped, as the shower scene in American History X shows – another very hard-hitting scene which portrayed the reality of male on male sexual violence in prisons).

But the show has now made me a little jumpy, a little sure that just when things seem to be going one way, it might brutally pull the rug out from underneath us. On a related note, we should be able to criticize the trend toward over-the-top sexploitation and grisly violence on cable TV—and the unfortunate tendency to equate such fare with “adult” storytelling—without turning it into an issue of men versus women. In season one, they also rewrote the wedding night scene between Daenerys and Khal Drogo into a marital rape which was gratuitous, as in the book the scene was consensual and sensual (I’ve read all the arguments about canon vs non canon in GoT but I don’t know if I care much about that, I’m not such a purist). Each of us can choose to stop watching if we find the violence too exploitative, sadistic, or dehumanizing. (For what it’s worth, I know people who stopped reading A Song of Ice and Fire for that very reason—a choice I respect, even if I haven’t made it for myself.) But let’s go easy on outrage campaigns and blanket condemnations. Speaking up about the soft-porn quality of these scenes and objecting to them on the grounds that they fetishize or glamourize rape is an argument I can certainly agree with.

In these particular scenes, it’s not the male gaze or chauvinism that’s the issue; it’s the issue of morality in male characters who were previously seen as amoral or uncaring. And the difference between the two types of rape is uncomfortable for us, because it reflects how we feel about rape when it happens to people near us or like us (a white, rich lady like Sansa) or people unlike us and far away from us (unnamed prostitutes, village women, women from far away countries and lands that we already think are barbaric). I just find it odd that Sansa’s rape is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and some of it strikes me as very privileged complaining by people who don’t live in patriarchal, underdeveloped nations where rape is used not as a plot device but as a very real way of subjugating women.

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