Feminist fantasies

20120604-210031.jpgI’ve got a lot of time for good people. If I can choose who I spend my days with, I’ll always pick the good people over the evil, murderous, power-hungry ones. Life’s just nicer with good people. But good people are also – and no offence intended towards good people; like I said, some of my best friends are good people – not always very interesting. That’s why fictional worlds quite often feature not-entirely-good people: they’re just better at drama.

Bad people do bad and stupid things that move the plot forward. They’ve got a cruel side that works for comedy, too. In Margaret Atwood’s Oryx And Crake, the narrator (Jimmy) goes to meet his friend Crake, who has genetically engineered a breed of perfect, conflict-free humans. “Do they make jokes?” Jimmy asks Crake. “Not as such,” answers Crake. “For jokes you need a certain edge, a little malice. It took a lot of trial and error, and we’re still working on it, but I think we’ve managed to do away with jokes.”

The Crakers, in other words, are pretty boring. That’s why the novel is about the flawed, dangerous Crake and not his pure and beautiful creations. Atwood’s responsibility as an author isn’t to devise a glossily aspirational version of what people could be; it’s to entertain the reader enough to earn their attention.

In the process of doing that, she can be provocative and intellectually testing. She can explore and map human cruelty and unpleasantness too, in a morally useful way. But if she can’t snag your attention first of all, she’s failed. It wouldn’t matter how many intelligent things she had to say about human nature. If Oryx And Crake was nothing but a portrait of placid, pretty humanoids eating grass and stroking each other (that’s what the Crakers mostly do) nobody would get through ten pages.

And that’s why Laurie Penny’s complaint that Game Of Thrones is “racist rape-culture Disneyland with dragons” isn’t just daft and unfair: it’s anti-art. Penny writes:

If the creator of a fantasy series can dream up an army of self-resurrecting zombie immortals he can damn well dream up equal marriage rights, and if he chooses not to do so then that choice is meaningful, as is our assumption that the default setting for any generically legendary epic must involve really rather a lot of rape.

It’s quite the challenge to George RR Martin. If you can make any world you like, how come you haven’t made a socialist, feminist utopia, huh? Did Penny watch the TV shows under the impression it was going to be Sweden with wizards? (Wizards who’d never get to unleash any wizardy powers, of course, because in magic Sweden there’d be no conflict to necessitate the big fiery smackdown.)

It takes a particular sort of not-really-watching to come away with the idea that Game Of Thrones is setting up Westeros as a social ideal. Westeros is clearly a horrible place to be a woman, but Martin’s female characters are a surprisingly smart guidebook to negotiating patriarchy – if you bother to look at what they do, rather than just what’s done to them.

From Cersei’s machinations behind the throne and in the bedroom, to Brienne and Arya’s outright defiance of female roles to become warriors, the women of the Seven Kingdoms are doing an awful lot more than getting raped, even though they live in a gruesomely repressive culture. Penny’s spent plenty of her career noting the way sexism works in our society. Why can’t she credit Martin with making a similar analysis? (Only his is better, because it’s got dragons.)

Despite Penny suggesting that there’s a simplistic goodies-vs-baddies moral schema, one of the reasons the books and the TV show work so well is that they’re both deeply cynical about power and legitimacy. It doesn’t throw its lot in with any of the pretenders – something that’s reinforced in the books by the use of free indirect narrative, so that each chunk of story comes from a different character and forces sympathy with them.

The Lannisters are ruthless deposers, but preferable to the madmen and sots they’ve nudged off the throne. And the Starks are good and noble, but their failure to play politics means that their most admirable quality – dedication to the people they rule – is compromised by the fact that they end up dragging the people they rule off to be hacked to pieces in far away fields.

While the plot is driven by the power-plays of the rich and highborn, the voice of the peasantry constantly murmurs underneath the clang of swords and drip of poison. Far from being a fantasy about the good ruler, as Penny claims, Game Of Thrones is pretty clear that most people in Westeros think the question of who exactly rules them can go to the Others. All they want is to get the crops in.

Martin could have written a fantasy novel about a peaceable agrarian society, it’s true. But I’m pretty sure that Game Of Ploughs wouldn’t have won quite the same audience. And it definitely wouldn’t have had a lick of anything to say about the brutal and unequal real world in which Martin creates his hyper-brutal, ultra-unequal fictional world. A perfectly egalitarian Westeros would be even more of a fantasy than the dragons. And more than that: it would be dull.

Update: the comments are now full of spoilers, so if you’re avoiding them, stay above the line.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2012

35 thoughts on “Feminist fantasies

  1. Can I “like” this post 400 billion times? Pure idiocy from Penny. Getting increasingly tired with appraisal of narratives becoming the ticking of a checklist of liberal concerns, removed from context, so that those miserable experiences contained within are misrepresented as laziness or endorsement & not critique or explanation.

    Look at the furore over Lena Dunham’s wonderful Girls. To many people, it’s a racist, sexist, homophobic offence to all progressive ideals. To the rest of us, it’s a very very funny show. Obviously, never lose sight of important messages in stories, and the symbolism that can illuminate or educate or help pave the way for a better world, but never let the quest for that replace the joy of negotiating a morally complex and challenging narrative.

  2. Laurie doesn’t suggest for a second that GRRM *should* write some sort of peaceful PC utopia. Her point, which seems to be missed by just about everyone who’s seen fit to comment on the piece, is that GRRM’s worldbuilding choices were exactly that – choices. He didn’t HAVE to depict the world that he did; the treatment and position of women wasn’t somehow baked in, it wasn’t an obligatory fantasy trope.

    Laurie’s a massive GoT fan whose perspective is that of someone unwilling to ignore the problems with the series, and the article is really more of an examination of why the excuses used to dismiss concerns are unworkable. Chief among such excuses is ‘the real world was like that’.

  3. I didn’t get the “massive fan” vibe off of her piece, to be honest. My point, anyway, isn’t that “this is how it was” – Martin’s obviously not writing in or for War of the Roses era England – but “this is a very exaggerated version of how it is”. He devised a world where interesting women characters play out different forms of resistance to their repression. Hardly a cause for the feminist smackdown.

  4. Aside from this blog post not being at all about what the other blog post was about, there are several dragon sized problems.

    “pretty sure that Game Of Ploughs wouldn’t have won quite the same audience. And it definitely wouldn’t have had a lick of anything to say about the brutal and unequal real world in which Martin creates his hyper-brutal, ultra-unequal fictional world.”

    High among them is the idea that we have to have so much gratuitous tits and ass – and most of that female, when the boys get their junk out as much as the girls do, or GRRM decides to throw in what an all male landing party of Greyjoys gets up to when women and sheep aren’t available, I suspect the gratuitous angle will slink away. You know it’s rampant when even the SNL parody of the show sounds like a reasonable explanation.

    And this is what in no small part is winning our high audience, alongside all the braining of knights and rather bad costuming. Is it worth it? I’m not sure it is. And what it says about us the viewers and genre reviewers is even less flattering.

    No one is questioning its popularity or the heft of the series in book form. It not only has a great number of fans, its signature “style” has transformed – or perhaps deformed would be a more appropriate description – the genre. Grimdark fantasy with prostitutes stacked to the ceiling and rape, rape, some brutal murder, rape, rape, sprinkled with knowing – and thus not *really* subversive or threatening cynicism – has become de rigueur among a huge segment of epic fantasy poo that really wants to follow in GRRM’s ponderous footsteps.

    Which is too bad, because when you strip away the dead prozzies and mop up the knights’ brains, there isn’t a whole lot going on in GoT or the books from which the series has sprung for that matter. Lots of plot, lots of POVs, lots of grim grimness and not much of it saying anything that would be terribly profound except to perhaps sheltered fifteen year olds about the caustic nature of violence and power. This is epic fantasy, even if it is wearing a hat dipped in shit to show it’s not *that* sort of fantasy, the kind with elves and unicorns and talking wolves in it. It’s not Faulkner or Kafka or even Margaret Atwood for Crom’s sake.

    Whatever sting in the tail or innovation GRRM’s flabby masterwork might have once had, it’s been lost having been dragged out over seven (possibly) phone directory sized books. And this is not Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, so once you’ve gotten through the deaths and the backstabbing and the mountains of dead whores and knights, there is not a lot there to pick over or return to in terms of narrative development.

    It’s a common misunderstanding to say that putting lots of grimness into epic fantasy is the same as saying something intelligent about it or with it.

    Just as saying it’s got to use sex and gore to keep us entertained on the telly is rather silly. We’re entertained by a lot of other things such as humour, wit, complexity, and deeper dramatic meaning all the time. It doesn’t have to be all teats and staved in brains. You can have proper nasties and excitement without it being a bad collision of pantos and porn.

    The point as I took it is that the series has some very problematic elements but they seem to be cast aside or white washed over because we either acknowledge it’s “just epic fantasy” which we all know is a bit pants and nerdish wanking, or else because those who are fans of these things don’t really see anything much wrong in it all. I’d argue that’s because it’s not reflecting some pseudo-medieval past (unless you’re talking the 1990’s) but because it’s not all that removed from our less than fantastic present.

    That we like it this way, that we don’t think even fictional worlds could be done a bit better, says all sorts of things, and few of them pleasant. If anything, that’s about the best thing I can think that Game of Thrones has to say. It’s a shame that most of the fans can’t be bothered to notice. They’re too busy looking at the cavalcade of naked flesh and waiting for the dragons to get big enough to burn the shit out of everybody.

  5. You can tell this blogpost is about Laurie’s piece from the way I quote her directly and answer her points. And while I agree that there are lots of bits of Thrones that could use the attentions of a good and brutal editor, the idea that there’s nothing going on in it besides tits and violence is spectacularly narrow. What about Brienne of Tarth? What about the Free Folk? What about Theon’s (horribly sad) arc? Ideas about power, duty and social position run deep in the book and series, and it takes a certain snottiness to miss them. But most absurd is the idea that fantasy should be divorced from the real world. The relationship is more often that between the two parts of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, where the fantasy sections are an exaggeration of and reflection on the realist sections. Fantasy authors aren’t obliged to invent a utopia.

  6. ” Did Penny watch the TV shows under the impression it was going to be Sweden with wizards?”

    Argh, this is hilarious, I nearly spat coffee on my computer.

    I didn’t read Laurie’s post. However, there are fantasy writers that have managed to make interesting and engaging, bloody and disturbing worlds, that don’t fall into Game of Thrones’ particular pitfalls. (Octavia Butler!?)

    I think it’s possible to acknowledge this particular series could do better, without saying ‘art should give us a feminist utopia’.

  7. “You can tell this blogpost is about Laurie’s piece from the way I quote her directly and answer her points.”

    Her points about what exactly? That GoT is not taken to task like Girls is? That there is an interesting dynamic to explore between GoT’s quest for a “good king” and the problems of the British monarchy? I missed all that, I suppose.

    It *appeared* that you were accusing Ms. Penny of wanting “a sweden with wizards” which I certainly never saw her arguing for, hence my confusion why you were leveling your lance at this straw-stuffed target. I don’t think she was suggesting she wanted The Killing with dire-wolves and ice-zombies. Perhaps you could quote that bit, if I actually missed it.

    “And while I agree that there are lots of bits of Thrones that could use the attentions of a good and brutal editor, the idea that there’s nothing going on in it besides tits and violence is spectacularly narrow.”

    Is it? That’s of course not what I argued. I said that its acres of tits and violence was one of the factors that pulls in its main audience, but that the hefty plotting and multiple POVs and the “grim realism” that GRRM’s work is so often lauded for/attacked on, is ultimately rather hollow. There isn’t much that it’s saying. Lots of literature even fantasy, have bits of this, and still manage to do more with it. So saying this is just the outward form of something more meaningful, seems to fail upon a closer reading of either the show or the books.

    “What about Brienne of Tarth? What about the Free Folk? What about Theon’s (horribly sad) arc?”

    Indeed what about them? Take Theon, in the context of GoT he starts off a weak, unpleasant character who’s keen to get his wick into anything with a space for it, willing or otherwise and ends up a weak, unpleasant character who even other Iron Born rapists don’t care for. Now obviously, there are differences between the books and the HBO show. You can argue that for example Dinklage’s turn as Tyrion adds complexity and charisma while lesser actors and the limits of time, flatten others. But they are what they are, and neither “run deep” with much meaning. Not even by fantasy standards which are rather shallow.

    See series like M. John Harrison’s Viriconium novels, Peake’s Gormengast trilogy, or even the grand-daddy of modern fantasy, Jack Vance’s wonderful Lyonesse. These have far more complexity and deftness to them, not to mention dazzling innovation. Mary Gentle’s Ash: A Secret History while not a book I greatly get on with, is much more daring than anything in GoT. Both Ursula K. Le Guin and Patricia A. McKillip are fine examples of earlier good work in the field.

    If you want some creative rethinking of the genre, China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station is a better book for turning our fantasy expectations on their head, as is The Scar for the collision of politics and fantasy. There are modern genre writers who do grim and dark better too, if you like that sort of thing. Try Jesse Bullington’s output or a handful of young writers who are pushing the boundaries of genre fiction.

    In fairness, this wasn’t what GRRM was setting out to do back in 1991, I suspect. No one least of all the author could have seen what a monster his series would become with its popular adaptation and its own dedicated discussion forums.

    “Ideas about power, duty and social position run deep in the book and series, and it takes a certain snottiness to miss them.”

    Really? I disagree. They run pretty much in predictable, uncomplicated lines for the most part. They don’t, as I’ve already said, tell us anything new or terribly shocking. Voltaire did a finer job satirizing human ambition in Micromégas 260 years ago and in a fraction of the page count. If you want a dissection of human folly and war, try Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.

    So, either GoT is primarily aiming for entertainment or if it really is reaching for “deep” ideas, it’s falling down in the mud. And that’s not idle snootiness but I’d say, key to its problem: it’s pretty standard fantasy fare warts and all, with violence and brutality turned up to ten, but nothing behind it to make this worthwhile once the shock value starts to thin. Worse – it is often held up as some nod towards “realism” in fantasy when what it is validating is an aspect of popular gamer culture – mostly male gamer culture where such faux-nilhilsm and faux-realism is embraced. It has real world consequences even though its take on “historical realism” isn’t even close to the real thing.

    Because medieval history is much more varied. Its ruling houses, social dynamics, and colourful individuals make the Starks and Lannisters look not just boring, but utter one-note psychopaths. GoT and ASoFaI are hardly historical fiction with added dragons. Which is good, because if they were, books like Umberto Eco’s Baudolino would run rings around them without so much as a wyvern in sight.

    “But most absurd is the idea that fantasy should be divorced from the real world.”

    What is absurd is any argument suggesting that GRRM’s work is firmly rooted in realism. It’s been clearly disqualified from this, and I don’t think that this has ever been the author’s primary, or even secondary purpose in writing them. If it were more rooted in the real world, I’d for one have less issue with it. Violence + nudity does not = the real world, not even the medieval world. Nor does killing off your POVs on a regular basis in muddy battles mean that your fantasy is shifting the focus away from ice zombies, magic, and dragons.

    “The relationship is more often that between the two parts of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, where the fantasy sections are an exaggeration of and reflection on the realist sections. Fantasy authors aren’t obliged to invent a utopia.”

    Nor are they obliged to pick out the bits most likely to get fifteen years olds sniggering, and forget all the rest. ASoFaI is hardly Lanark. No one is asking GRRM for a utopia, feminist or otherwise, but considering the huge gaps between it and any “realist” reading, one has every right to question why certain elements repeatedly seem to be the focus, and not others. And why fans tend to ignore this and react so fiercely to any perceived criticism.

    It’s puzzling, when those elements contain within them, much that is problematic – especially if we *don’t* simply take it all as a bit of daft entertainment. A lot of people seem to want to have it both ways: it’s “just a fantasy book” and it is full of “deep ideas” (sic). I can agree with the former but in the case of the latter, I’ve yet to see any convincing support for this claim.

  8. You know the bit where Penny said it was about the quest for the good king? The bit that I explained was wrong by cleverly referring to the books? That’s the bit of her article I mean I quoted. Obviously. Because it’s the part I quote.

  9. I desperately want to Like Sarah’s most recent comment. I know how to do that! I’m a WordPress wizard! Yet I experience almost no rape or wizards.

    My profession suddenly seems so hollow.

  10. Oh lord, save me from people wittering on about deep ideas. Particularly, save me from people going on at length about how a certain piece of fiction doesn’t contain any deep ideas because they, the ultimate arbiters of depth, haven’t found any.

  11. Another annoying aspect to this argument –the idea that Game of Thrones is indulging a taste for rape fantasies among its male viewership. The reason rape comes up so much in GOT is because it is the first threat that occours to weak men when confronted with strong women (or just ‘women’), and there are a lot of weak men and strong women in GOT.

    Look at the male characters who DON’T behave like this in the show. All of them are decent, they seem to like the company of women, to prefer it, in fact. They present to anyone whose minds might be supple enough to be influenced by this stuff a model of masculinity that might make them think carefully about how they next comport themselves on XBox Live.

    But by all means, let’s cut such unpleasant talk altogether because then it can provide a classic example of unthinking Right On bollocks shooting itself in the foot. Thanks for the sanity, Sarah.

  12. Pointing out that the Game of Thrones universe is misogynist doesn’t mean you can’t find it entertaining. I really recommend you re-read the original article: the actual words, not what you expect to see. It seems to have been misunderstood by just about everyone.
    Oh and the quest for the good ruler stuff? It’s not about personality, it’s about what you mention: the compromise of wielding power and allowing it to be wielded on your behalf. The murmuring of the peasantry who don’t want to be involved in the game is exactly the driving force behind the machinations of the nobles, rather than a refutation of it.
    Anyway, it just seems strange that you’ve basically written a refutation that almost entirely agrees with the original article!

  13. I read the article twice. I quoted the germane bits above. If the words she’s written aren’t supposed to mean what they transparently appear to mean, that points to a bit of a failing on the writer’s part.

  14. ” Did Penny watch the TV shows under the impression it was going to be Sweden with wizards? (Wizards who’d never get to unleash any wizardy powers, of course, because in magic Sweden there’d be no conflict to necessitate the big fiery smackdown.)”

    A bit sad that in an article about ridiculous stereotypes and idealism you throw in a bit of poorly informed racism? Have you ever read any Stieg Larsson? Swedes don’t live in a utopia, nor do they imagine they do (it just doesn’t suck in the same ways as Britain). Also since much of this mythology used in Game Of Thrones is rooted in Norse myth (also packed full of sex and violence, with very little about cattle theft) it does seem poor that you’d choose that poorly informed analogy.

    Otherwise a great piece and agree with much of it. Just a little disappointed with the nonsense stereotype. It’s just as tiresome and as wrong as Laurie Penny’s utopian nonsense, all assuming that Irish people are stupid, Jews are good with money etc.

    Just because the person you’re critiquing has gone to one ridiculous extreme doesn’t mean you have to veer in the opposite direction?


  15. Good lord. So many people trying to prove their sensitive depths and well-read-ness. (No, it’s not a word – I don’t care). Graham’s point is an excellent one, about characterisation.

    None of our erudite and broadly read critics have realised that HBO’s programming uses sex and violence to engage a chunk of it’s viewership. This may well be morally questionable, but as has been pointed out, in GoT, nearly every awful act is a catalyst for character development of the hero figures.

    Perhaps you disagree. As would be your right. If so, I’d recommend not watching it. I’d also recommend perhaps not writing lengthy diatribes about how the fact that you have read a lot of fiction allows you to tell people what is and isn’t entertainment.

  16. Sure but you cut off the “As well as being mightily entertaining,” part of the sentence, as well as misrepresenting the thesis of the argument. Your article makes a great point, you’ve just chosen the wrong subject to react to.

  17. This isn’t about whether she enjoyed it, it’s about whether her analysis correctly represented the context, plot and characterisations. It would take a very generous reader to think she’d got it right. Consider yourself special.

  18. I’m not sure why the only options given seem to be “all rape all the time” and “feminist utopia”. There is quite evidently somewhere in between – it’s where, for example, 99% of other fantasy books take place. There are plenty of “realistic”, hard-core, violent, medieval-style fantasy books out there that don’t have to rape or threaten with rape every female character (like Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon series), and there are even epic fantasies where rape is a major component, which treat the issue seriously and not just as the equivalent of beating up a man (like Mary Gentle’s Ash series).

    If you need a false dichotomy to make your point, it might not be as good a point as you think…which, for what it’s worth, was my main complaint with Laurie’s piece yesterday. too.

  19. Well since I’m not saying we should have “all the rape all the time”, I feel like I’ve happily dodged to charge of false dichotomy. Phew.

  20. @Graham – “Another annoying aspect to this argument –the idea that Game of Thrones is indulging a taste for rape fantasies among its male viewership. The reason rape comes up so much in GOT is because it is the first threat that occours to weak men when confronted with strong women”

    Do you not think these two sentences contradict each other? If rape is the first threat that occurs to “weak” men, surely showing it so much will indulge that close-to-the-surface thinking of a lot of men. And some of the “best”, strongest men in the story are rapists – just in the TV show, off the top of my head, we’ve had Drogo and Tyrion, and everyone seems entirely sure that Stannis’s forces would have been raping most of King’s Landing with his support.

  21. She asked “why not equal marriage”. I explained why portraying an unequal fantastical society is justified creatively and morally. There you go.

  22. Blimey, there sure are a lot of people who think this is a stupid, boring argument arguing on here.

    Anyway, my 2c: why *not* gay marriage? It doesn’t have to be in a feminist utopia context; ancient Athens was hardly a paradise for women despite being steeped in homo-eroticism. In fact the homo-eroticism was a rejection & repudiation of women as being carnal creatures incapable of the higher feelings. If dragons work, why not a bit of the old Achilles and Patroclus?

    As for “all rape all the time”, how boring is that already? Is that really the only method, as Graham seems to claim above, that a writer has at their disposal to telegraph atmospheric menace? Fair enough, the books were written in 1991; but the series wasn’t made then – we’ve all seen Watchmen and had the arguments about how plastering T&A over the screen isn’t edgy or innovative *even if* you violently rape it to show what a mean bad world you’ve created. Just, work harder already, writers!

    Garth Ennis kicks off “The Boys” with a semi-dressed man hate-fucking a completely naked woman over her desk, grunting “wait till you see where I wipe my dick, love”. Warren Ellis kicks off “Ignition City” with an ageing astronaut straining to shit into a pot over 5 panels and then tipping the resulting droppings over the head of an ageing cosmonaut passed out drunk under his window. I don’t think we can accuse Ellis of being some milksop utopian, can we?

  23. Carolyn B – Though I mostly disagree with Penny’s article, you have an excellent point re: Drogo, especially because that was a gratuitous change from the books (where he was actually a gentle and considerate lover from the start) to heighten the drama. This change also adds fire to Penny’s weightiest accusation, that of racism/exoticism, and would have been a good taking-off-point for a more considered critique of GoT.

    I have ashamedly forgotten the part where Tyrion rapes someone – please remind me?

  24. My biggest problem with GoT’s (the T.V show) is one of race: the inhabitants of Westeros are all white and homogenised – fair enough – but watching the Dothraki army scenes from season 1, you can spot Black, Indian, Middle-Eastern, Hispanic actors all thrown into the mix, supposedly representing the same race. It’s an unfortunate disregard by the producers/casters/whoever, who explicitly chose all white actors for Westeros, and then just a generically foreign/darker skinned/other grab bag of actors to represent the Dothraki. As long as they were of a darker skin tone, no other considerations matter, it seems.

  25. Wait, I’ve remembered about Tyrion. (And looked up a few details.) When he’s a teenager, he secretly marries a commoner & lives happily with her for two weeks, until his father Tywin finds out.

    Tywin forces Tyrion’s older brother Jamie to lie & falsely claim the whole thing was a setup/prank and the woman a whore. (We find out that this story was a lie later in the books, so technically that’s a spoiler). Then Tywin forces Tyrion to watch as all his guard rape the poor woman, and he forces Tyrion to go last.

    So Tyrion is a victim of horrific abuse by his tyrannical father as a teenager, including being shamed over his budding sexuality, compelled to watch as someone he loved is brutalized, and then forced into assaulting her himself.

    Yes it’s damn dark. Over-the-top maybe. Distilling from that that Tyrion is a “rapist” is…not what I would do.

  26. The part where Tyrion rapes someone is in his youth, and has not yet been represented in the show. It was a lower class girl he came across in trouble on the road, helped, fell in love with instantly, and married as a very young man. Shortly afterward his father tells him she was a prostitute Jamie had secretly hired on Tyrion’s behalf and the whole thing had been a ruse and that Tyion was a fool for marrying the girl. Then Tywin, in an effort to further drive home this “lesson” for Tyrion, has a bunch of his knights rape her, throws some coins at her in “payment”, and gives Tyrion a more valuable coin to pay with and goads him into also raping her as well. Which he does. He is haunted with guilt and anger and confusion surrounding this scenario for the rest of his life, which is not to excuse it, but I think it’s actually a very interesting nuance that contributes depth to Tyrion’s character and reveals the basis of his uncomfortable relationship with prostitutes and his pathalogical inability to trust that any woman could honestly love him. And without giving away any spoilers, some very interesting revelations around this come to light later on, which precipitates a whole bunch of big stuff and makes Tyrion an even more sympathetic if deeply flawed character.

    The thing about it is you aren’t supposed to think it was in any way justified for Tyrion to go along with Tywin’s goading and rape the girl. Similarly I don’t think there are any rapes in the series at all that are supposed to come off as justified, sexy, or even just insignificant. Every one of them is horrifying. The commonplaceness of rape itself is supposed to be horrifying. This is a war torn hell hole where people suffer egregiously, and for what? So some privilieged shits can sort out who gets to sit on the pretty chair made of swords? With Tyrion it becomes clearer and clearer that the time he raped that girl was perhaps the most horrifying and damaging experience of his life. It is hardly a flippant or pointless addition to the story.

    I understand why so many commenters are pissed off about the amount of rape portrayed in the series, but I don’t agree that it in any way serves to normalize or justify it. It is possible that a weak minded male reader might take that out of it, but how do you prevent misreadings? You can’t.

    And let’s be clear – Drogo isn’t supposed to have ever raped Denaerys. She’s nervous and they don’t immediately get each other, but it wasn’t supposed to be rape. I am furious that HBO portrayed it that way, when the scene in the book was so much more tender and gentle and compelling.

  27. Tom – GoT definitely has some problems with race, but the mixed race cast at the Dothraki wedding are not supposed to represent one race. They are actually supposed to represent the fact that this is a very cosmopolitan region with lots of different ethnic groups mingling, and also the fact that the Dothraki raid for slaves which they mainly don’t keep, but eventually sell in the slaving cities for goods. There are lots of racial issues to point out, but no, they are not throwing a mish-mash of brown people together and calling them one ethnic group.

    and Steve- hah! My longwinded explanation was apparently not needed. You figured it out :)

  28. Terrible piece, for all the reasons given in the comments above which you replied to and comprehensively failed to engage with. Perhaps you need to read up on why rape culture is a thing and why that is bad?

  29. Ah, I didn’t realise that making a rape culture critique meant “saying what you like about a book regardless of textual evidence”. My mistake.

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