Sexism in Fantasy

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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134 Responses

  1. Patrick Cahalan says:

    > You see, Sady Doyle wants fantasy to be actually
    > sexist, to present a world in which women are
    > magically free from all the social constraints
    > and domestic violence that women, even in our
    > oh-so-enlightened times, really do face.

    I wonder what sort of a response a book like that would get. “My God, did you read his female characters? They’re totally unbelievable!”Report

    • Kim in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      And there you have it folks, Robert Jordan in ONE SENTENCE.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kim says:

        I dunno, Kim.

        I know a Sansa and a Catelyn. I mean, seriously, Martin could have just changed names and plopped those two people straight into the book. No Cersei, though.Report

      • North in reply to Kim says:

        Lol that was exactly what I was thinking. I liked his writing generally but oh my god Robert Jordan can’t write women worth a damn.Report

        • Kim in reply to North says:

          … fwiw, I think Rand sucks as well.Report

          • North in reply to Kim says:

            I actually threw the book across the room once when he started off on his ravings about how he would not permit the woman Aiel to fight or be killed.Report

            • Kim in reply to North says:

              rofl. I don’t mind that. It was when rand does basically nothing for books on end, and actively runs away from people who ought to be helpful (like Cadsuane).Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kim says:

                I always have to remind myself to cut the guy some slack. He’s a reincarnated crazy guy who massacred everything when he went crazy, trying to hold off an ongoing, pervasive, stink of crazy crazy every time he tries to do anything.

                It’s kind of like being told you have to fight Cthulhu, alone, but while preparing to fight Cthulhu, you need to touch the crazy madness that is Azathoth that continually urges you to blow up like your crazy crazy pre-reincarnated self did.

                This might lead to some poor decision making. Irrational, even.

                (Admittedly, from a reader’s standpoint, this is the weakest part of Jordan’s weak characterization. Jordan does a terrible job of communicating how nutty this would make you. It helps if you read a lot of Lovecraft before you touch Jordan).Report

              • North in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Maybe so, and certainly Jordan does consciously attempt to to some empowerment as well. Matrims endless falling from the clutches of one woman to the next that uses him as a toy for example. But it just doesn’t work for me probably because Rand, Matrim and Perrin all seem to cling to their provincial opinion of the abilities and merits of women long after they should have had the reality beaten into them by an endless succession of capable women.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

                That’s eminently fair criticism of the sexism bit.

                My defense of Rand is more a defense of him doing dumb crap, generally.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Well… there *IS* the “Women in Refrigerators” problem.

    Maybe Song of Ice and Fire isn’t doing this, but many writers have… specifically, the creation of female characters for the sole purpose of having the male character be outraged when the female character is killed or somehow violated. Or, in nicer stories, to have the male character protect from being killed or somehow violated.

    The women don’t have appreciable internal lives, they don’t have appreciable motivations, and they never, ever, pass the Bechdel Test*.

    Additionally, there is usually a surprising amount of sexual menace in confrontations. A male character would get beaten up and the bad guy would boldly say “you should never have challenged me!” when a female character would get beaten up and the bad guy would whisper the same in her ear with his lips gently brushing her earlobe. There are dynamics to the violence against women that just ain’t there for the violence against men. (And if they are there against men, you know that the bad guy is a REEEEEEEALLLY bad guy.)


    * To pass the Bechdel Test, a movie or book must do all of three things

    1) It must have two named female characters
    2) These two female characters must have a scene together where they have a conversation
    3) The conversation is about anything but another of the male charactersReport

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well, that actually doesn’t really happen. I think a lot more men are killed. I think it’s pretty equal opportunity. And the women are actually very fleshed out, complicated characters.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Sure, sure. I’m not saying that it does in this particular series.

        I am saying that there is enough reason to for folks to come to this stuff with baggage so that when they see something in particular happen, they’ll remember the 999 times they saw the woman in the fridge rather than focus on how this is a story in which a lot of bad things happen to a lot of people for a lot of subtle reasons.

        There have been a lot of women in fridges.Report

        • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

          > There have been a lot of women in fridges

          Yeah, that’s the truth.

          It’s a common enough story mechanism that even lots of stories with decent female characters also have women in fridges.Report

    • Jeff in reply to Jaybird says:

      Riffing on this, do any of the women have “agency”? Are they characters that stuff happens to, or are they characters who do things that moves the plot forward to some extent?

      Buffy has agency, Snow White does not.Report

    • Ryan B in reply to Jaybird says:

      What I think is really interesting is how the Lyanna Stark storyline kind of upends this notion. For Robert, she *is* a woman in a refrigerator. It’s somewhat less clear that that is how she ought to be remembered.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Ryan B says:

        SPOILER for Dance:

        It’s very clear that she was nothing of the sort.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          For *Robert* though she was something idolized. He loved her, she did not love him back. I think.Report

          • Ryan B in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            And she was his excuse to start a war.Report

          • Daniel in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            I was going to bring this up about Lyanna! Damn you Ryan B!

            Yeah, I’ve always been skeptical about Robert’s blustering about how Lyanna was his true love. I mean come on, does anybody think he wouldn’t have been whoring and drinking if he married Lyanna (okay, well the amount of whoring and drinking would probably be much smaller but hell, you make Cersei your wife for a few years and tell me how much you drank.).Report

            • Brett in reply to Daniel says:

              He would never be faithful. This is the man who stopped in KL to have an orgy in a brothel at least once on the campaign trail (or was it King’s Landing?) before heading south.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            I don’t know if she loved Robert, but she certainly saw through him. I have no doubt that she and Rhaegar were very much in love.Report

  3. Kim says:

    1) Escapism is not a Bad Thing. One is allowed to say “This is too close to Real Life — I don’t want it.” Having fun reading a shlocky pulp thing isn’t a Bad Thing.

    Correllary: Women who don’t want to read about rape shouldn’t be forced to. It is not a BAD THING that someone who has been raped might not want to read about it (and nobody should be forced to read Webb’s book on Vietnam, if they’ve been through similar).

    2) Spec Fic is all about exploring “What Might Have Been” — here we’ve got a place with dragons. Why Not have a place with sexual equality? (note: it’s only bad if the worldbuilding is underdone).

    3) Everybody hates Sansa. And Catelyn.

    4) Ned doesn’t remonstrate against Robert’s whoredom — the sexual trading of favors is considered “part of society.” I think we’re supposed to be bothered by it, actually…

    5) Sady goes off the deep end with her comments on Tyrion. Him of all people, twisted and small though he may be, tries to be the good knight.

    6) “You see, Sady Doyle wants fantasy to be actually sexist, to present a world in which women are magically free from all the social constraints and domestic violence that women, even in our oh-so-enlightened times, really do face. ”
    –this paragraph harms the rest of your piece, and does you no good. I could spend a while longer harping on it, but I’d rather urge you to take it out.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Kim says:

      Kim – plenty of fantasy works explore sexual equality. Others do not. This doesn’t make Martin’s work sexist.

      On your last point, sorry if you think it weakens the piece. I’m trying to make a point – that particular point – so I can’t really take it out (nor would I). People who want to remove the dark side of a story aren’t doing women a favor.

      I take Jaybird’s point about women in fridges, but I think Martin goes well beyond that stereotype.

      And no, not all people want to read this stuff. Nobody’s forcing them to. That still does not make Martin’s work sexist.Report

      • Kim in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Do you really find Star Trek sexist? If so, how is it unfairly advantaging one sex over another? [n.b. idealized star trek. not short skirt star trek.]Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Kim says:

          Uhm, Star Trek is a futuristic society where we are supposed to have progressed wildly beyond where we are now…not a Medieval feudalistic society.Report

          • Kim in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            … So you wouldn’t mind if Stasheff’s world had knights and equality of the sexes? I make no difference between the two types of specfic, other than to note that it’s substantially more difficult to worldbuild sexual equality into a feudalistic society (are you trying to make the specific point that it would be impossible to do?)Report

            • E.D. Kain in reply to Kim says:

              I don’t think you *can* build a sexually equal feudalistic society. I don’t think it makes any sense. But if you did it, without creating shallow characters, I’d be interested to read it.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                November Novel Writing Month is approaching.Report

              • Shinobi in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                There are some existing books like this which are quite good, Anne Bishop’s Tir Alainn trilogy explores the idea of a nearly feudalistic non-sexist society and what happens when sexism is introduced. Ursula LeGuin’s later work. (The Left Hand of Darkness explores a society without gender, really interesting read.) There is another series with a matriarchal society that I can’t recall the name of right now.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to E.D. Kain says:

                Read Steven Brust’s Dragaera books (for lots of reasons, not just that one.) it’s a fantasy world, very feudalistic in concept, and the women are every bit as bloodthirsty and dangerous as the men, without in any way becoming men in drag.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I’m curious as to what would actually happen to someone who accused Sethra Lavode of being a guy in drag.Report

              • NoPublic in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’d love to have a nice goblet of wine and a ring-side seat to that one.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Kim says:

      I don’t hate Catelyn.Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I don’t hate Catelyn or Sansa. At all.Report

      • Plinko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I always thought the Catelyn hate was excessive.
        I’m not far enough in the series to have Sansa show much beyond having her romanticism beaten down regularly, but I do root for her to come into her own at some point.Report

        • Kim in reply to Plinko says:

          people see “you did things that have bad consequences” and start hating you for being the cause of the bad consequences. Even if you were trying to do good.
          I kinda have to remind myself that Sansa is rather deliberately “othered” in the first book (we’re meant to id with Arya). That, and she didn’t know she was going to get everyone killed.
          Likewise, Catelyn’s bad mistake (being seen by Tyrion and then grabbing him) turns out much worse for her than it really had any right to.
          But these thoughts take “stepping away” from the novel.Report

    • wardsmith in reply to Kim says:

      @Kim, The Wheel of Time series not only had female equality, it posited female superiority! Women who could “channel” could kill you with a thought. Raping sort of becomes out of the question in that arena. I agree that RJ’s characters were wooden when they weren’t cardboard and that included the male characters as well.Report

    • North in reply to Kim says:

      Actually I love Sansa, she’s one of my favorite characters. I’ll cop to shaking my head over Catelyn a ~lot~.Report

    • Daniel in reply to Kim says:

      I’m not crazy about Catelyn but hate is a rather strong word. Sansa I like.Report

  4. Patrick Cahalan says:

    Two quick:

    > 2) Spec Fic is all about exploring “What Might
    > Have Been” — here we’ve got a place with
    > dragons. Why Not have a place with sexual
    > equality? (note: it’s only bad if the world-
    > building is underdone).

    Fair enough. But that doesn’t always come off well (to be unfair: it’s too easy to just do gender inversion and then come off stupid). I personally like, say, The Deed of Paksennarion for exploring not gender equality, per se, but a more egalitarian gender disparity. But if that’s not the focus of your writing, it’s probably not where you want to go.Report

  5. db says:

    If I recall correctly Sandor Glegane later reveals to Arya(?) that he had planed to rape Sansa in the scene where he kissed her and forced her to sing him a song, but he changed his mind even though he could have done so.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to db says:

      I don’t remember that. If so, I suspect it was him trying to intimidate Arya more than any truth.Report

    • North in reply to db says:

      It’s somewhat fuzzy. His sentiment was more like “I should have raped her, I should have raped her and strangled to death rather than doing what I actually did which was leaving her alive in the clutches of Cercei to be mistreated and handed over to that dwarf as a toy (Sandor had a low opinion of the Lannisters).” In his crude way Sandor was actually remonstrating himself and if you peel back the crudity and the damaged person involved Sandor Clegain was specifically remonstrating himself for not helping Sansa. A man who was not as broken as Sandor Clegain would have said almost the same thing but he simply would have said “I should have helped her. I should have helped her but I left her and look at what (I percieve) they did to her. For that I deserve to die.”Report

  6. Kim says:

    I knew someone who had a baby at age 14. She stayed with her 20yrold boyfriend, and I think they eventually got married. This might explain why I find the “creepy pedo shit” merely realistic, and not “fetishyporny.”

    Also, it’s pretty clear that Drogo seduces Dany (aww…what a cute widdle wabbit ::snicker:: you thought those zodiac signs weren’t about sex?)Report

    • Daniel in reply to Kim says:

      Interesting. I think my perception of the progression of the Dany-Drogo relationship was similar.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Daniel says:

        Drogo was one of the few things I felt the TV series got seriously wrong. In the book he did his best to be good to Dany from the first.Report

        • Daniel in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          I thought those early scenes were because of the “constraints” of telling the story on t.v. but I still think establishing that Drogo wanted to do right by Dany from the start could have made the trip from book to screen.Report

          • Kim in reply to Daniel says:

            interviews say that they TRIED to do it as the book, but the actors couldn’t pull it off. (IMNSHO, Momoa doesn’t look much like a rabbit, and a seduction of a 13 yr old might have taken a while to show on tv)Report

  7. Ryan B says:

    I do think there are smart things to say about Martin’s handling of women. Dany is a Mary Sue, Cersei is not really humanized by her own POV, Lysa is a lot of terrible things that don’t always make sense in context, etc. But refusing to even interact with the text is inexcusable.Report

  8. Rufus F. says:

    Off-topic question, but since the gang’s all here: Anybody object if I do the jukebox again this week? I’ve got a song ready to go, but just did it a few weeks ago.Report

  9. Plinko says:

    I only needed to see Sady Doyle’s name to have a pretty darn good idea how the rest would play out, even down to the snide response when you tried to let her know you wrote a takedown of her piece here.

    I think it’s rather foolishly assumed that the Dothraki are a different race, like they need to fill in for the problematic Southrons from LoTR, or maybe because of more nomadic culture that they were an allegory for the Mongols (Khal does sound and awful lot like Khan, right?)

    I never saw textual evidence of that, it always seemed to me fit more like the Picts, Gauls, Celts, Germans, or Scylds in relation to the Normans.
    The only reason mass rape seems limited to the outer tribes is that the Seven Kingdoms haven’t been out on wars of conquest of other lands for a few thousand years. I’m sure a history of Aegeon’s era would involve plenty of that.Report

    • Kim in reply to Plinko says:

      figure GRRM is quite aware of the Crusader’s tendency to massacre Orthodox Christians because they “looked funny.”
      I see the Birth of a Nation problematic-scene with Dany and Drogo (worse in the tv show), and I can understand why people get upset.
      But… lady’s trollin.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Plinko says:

      A nomadic horselord called a “Khal”, who roams a vast sea of grass, at the other end of which is what appears to be the Orient? I assumed they were more or less Mongols (or at least steppe nomads) without giving it a second though. Likewise, I think of the Iron Islanders as Vikings.Report

  10. Daniel says:

    Good post.

    My two cents to throw in here: The thing about A Song of Ice and Fire is that, at its core, it’s about power struggles and inequality. The series would be extremely —not just a little— different if women were on an equal social level to men in Westeros. Struggling to become equal or superior in the various social hierarchies of these books is…well…kinda the point. If you equalize men to women, why not dwarfs as well? And why not get rid of lordships entirely, that’s pretty unequal too right? Look, I’m not for gender inequality by itself but I am for it being there to enhance —and really make possible— the story Martin is trying to tell here.

    As for Sady Doyle’s critique of the rapes…I just can’t think of any time in these books where rapes were portrayed positively. They’re all revolting (even Khal Drogo’s rape of Dany). Again, that too is the point. Rape is ugly and a terrible action. It’s not like any of the victims “start liking it” halfway through or something. It’s a scaring affair every time. It’s also most often portrayed well. These books depict rape as an instrument for oppression. Unlike with gender equality, I do think you could tell a very similar tale without rape but it would take away from the ugliness of some of the characters. We’re not supposed to like these people and this is partially why.Report

  11. Mike Schilling says:

    eally, the entire Stark family just screws one thing up after another, with Ned being the all-time front runner in the screw-up department.

    Ned doesn’t do anything as out-of-the-blue stupid as kidnapping Tyrion or letting Jaime loose.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I think trusting that Littlefinger and Janos Slynt would actually back him, and ignoring Renley’s advice, both qualify as much more stupid than Catelyn reacting and seizing Tyrion.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Ned was thrust into an impossible situation and chose to trust the wrong people. Catelyn goes out of her way to create catastrophes.Report

        • E.D. Kain in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          Admittedly, Catelyn can be frustrating. But she trusted Littlefinger too. She was in an understandably vengeful, grieving state of mind over Bran. She acted quickly, without thinking. That’s a mistake, but it’s not that hard to sympathize with it. She doesn’t consider the precarious position Ned might be placed in because of this – but yes, she should have. Ned should have high-tailed it out of King’s Landing, however. He should have thought of his daughters’ safety first.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            Nor did she consider what releasing Jaime would to to Robb’s alliance. Agreed, neither she nor Ned gets a prize for brains.

            On another subject entirely, does it make any sense that Littlefinger was fostered at Riverrun? Ned fosters Theon (that is holds him hostage), because he’s the son of the ruler of the Iron Isles. Jon Arryn fostered Robert and Ned. Why would the Tullys, also great lords, foster a child from the smallest, most barren, least important fief in all seven kingdoms?Report

          • Daniel in reply to E.D. Kain says:

            The thing that bothers me about the Catelyn point of view is…the voice. I feel like Martin struggled with Catelyn’s monologue. She’s a worrier and a parent and a grieving wife. We get it. These are all cookie cutter characteristics. I just never got that Catelyn was anything beyond that (and kinda a dolt for not putting two and two together with Littlefinger).Report

            • James K in reply to Daniel says:

              Catelyn’s blind spot toward Littlefinger is driven by the fact she sees him as a combination of “loser with a crush on me” and “annoying kid brother”. She doesn’t take him seriously enough to suspect him.Report

    • North in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Not telling Robert about his false children has to rank up there with kidnapping Tyrion. Certainly ~telling~ Cercei that he knew was definitly that stupid (and in a way sexist since it implies that Ned honestly didn’t think the Queen could harm him in any way).Report

      • Plinko in reply to North says:

        I think Ned was blinded by his inability to perceive that Cersei would react in any way other than what he expected – which was that she would choose to flee and protect her children rather that take the risk that Robert finds out. It’s right in line with his other mistakes, he had no perception of a moral calculus other than his own and so misreads others intentions and possible reactions over and over again.Report

        • North in reply to Plinko says:

          Mmm yes probably so, but that remains in my lights one of the dumbest things he’s ever done and one of the dumbest things ever done in the entire series. I mean he was literally leaning on a cane because of the agonizing ache caused by one of the Lannisters going off the reservation and somehow he thinks Cercei is just going to run off at his threat. *headshakes* Oh Ned.Report

      • Peltast in reply to North says:

        I think it’s rather more that Ned has a great aversion to killing children – a lot of his antipathy of the Lannisters stem from Tywin’s murder of the Targaryen toddlers, and he was even willing to forsake his lifelong friend rather than acquiesce to killing Dany (though admittedly there are other reasons). It’s also why he balks at Renly’s offer of joining forces in the pivotal few hours after Robert’s accident, iirc.Report

  12. E.D. Kain says:

    Another thing: I find it really hilarious and sad that so many people can cheer along with Sady’s, ahem, review when they themselves have not read the books. “Yay! You just tore that book we’ve never read to pieces! Thanks for doing that so we don’t have to read it!”

    What a bizarre notion.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to E.D. Kain says:

      Second point – I think this speaks to good faith. You either operate in good faith with people and ideas, or you don’t. When you write a post like this – or when you write stuff like this in general – I suppose you attract a readership and commentariat that similarly refuses to operate in good faith, and so can judge a book not by its contents but by the wild ravings of a blogger.Report

      • E.D. Kain in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Third point – if you censor your comments from any dissent, links, etc. and call anyone who disagrees with you a “spammer” then you are a coward and a fraud. That goes beyond simple bad faith into sheer dishonesty.Report

        • April in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          That’s really just not true. A few people in the comments haven’t read the books, generally because they were turned off by the gratuitous sex in the TV series. Most commenters aren’t coming from a zero frame of reference. And if you look at the people who have been banned, a couple are for bad behavior, others are for self-promotion. You can post links, but not to your own blog (i.e., not hijacking the comments to promote your own site). There are plenty of people disagreeing with her on one point or another.Report

          • Daniel in reply to April says:

            But don’t you think there’s a difference between self-promotion and fostering dialogue between two blogs? Especially two trafficked blogs? E.D. wanted to let Sady know that he had an opinion on her post and go back and forth (constructively) about it. That’s very different from going onto a blog and saying ‘look at me, I have a blogpost you read that’s totally off topic.’

            And still, it just doesn’t make too much sense to me to argue that you can support an argument about gratuitous sex and sexism without having read all the books. That’s like saying you refuse to read the Bible because there’s too much goreporn because Jesus was hanged to a cross. Some points have to be made in more than one scene with more than one character.Report

            • April in reply to Daniel says:

              No, I think that’s irritating. I clicked over here out of morbid curiosity, and it’s pretty irritating to now be checking two sites. I don’t think I”ll keep it up long.

              And it doesn’t make too much sense to me to say that if you were turned off by the TV series, you should read the books, just in case.Report

              • Daniel in reply to April says:

                Okay fair enough on the TV series point. I misread and thought you said some of the commenters were turned off after reading too much sex in the books.

                But the way Sady set up her post put it in the context of Martin’s entire narrative, not just the t.v. show’s narrative. If you’re going to slam just the t.v. show do that and if you’re going to slam just the books do that and if you’re going to slam both the t.v. show and the books, make clear that you’re doing it based off of the context of both the books and t.v. show and responses that you’re saying what another person was thinking are only good if that other person has an equal or near-equal amount of information as you.

                I just see more benefit from bloggers sometimes going back and forth with eachother rather than just their commenters who can easily be very much likeminded in a way that doesn’t stimulate good dialogue. But hey! if we wanted to sample other perspectives that might not be available in our own respective spheres then we wouldn’t read much on the internet right?

                And you might as well just stop clicking over here now if it’s annoying right?Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Daniel says:

                Well, at least Mr. Likko now has more data for his ongoing study of the LOOG gender gap.

                (and who knows what will happen when the discovery of multiple comment threads on identical posts at the same website is made)Report

          • Patrick Cahalan in reply to April says:

            > You can post links, but not to your
            > own blog (i.e., not hijacking the
            > comments to promote your own site).

            That seems like odd blogging default.

            Obviously, there are gratuitous infractions of this that warrant response… but blogging is supposed to be social media, after all.

            When you prevent a fellow blogger from linking to their responses to what you’re writing, you’re forcing all of the conversation to occur on your turf. When you’re moderating comments, as well, that comes off badly.

            I mean, I disagree on E.D. about some things, but I certainly haven’t ever seen him bandied about as a self-promotion troll (and the League certainly doesn’t need to resort to such tactics to draw traffic in any event). That’s a pretty loaded accusation to lay at a fellow blogger.Report

  13. Louis B. says:

    You felt the need to write a multiparagraph reply to a Sady Doyle post? Wow.Report

  14. Daniel says:

    I agree with you that the idea that Martin glorifies is rapists is silly, and a shallow reading of the text. But Doyle’s post has some worthwhile points that are being overlooked and oversimplified here.

    Yes, everyone in the series experiences graphic violence. But the violence experienced by the women is uniformly VERY sexualized – in a way that the men’s never is. I don’t recall Martin ever castrating or raping any male characters, yet we’re constantly being treated to women being raped to death while having their nipples cut off or their breasts eaten. It’s creepy! It’s often unnecessary! And after five books, it starts to get a little old. Ways to imperil women don’t always have to involve their sexual identity – you can threaten to cut their heads off, just like all the men.

    Doyle also has a point about how the mothers behave. Do the men make mistakes? Sure, and big ones (sorry about the head, Ned). But Martin imbues all his mothers with a terminal case of Mommy Brain. I’ve complained frequently that Catelyn, an otherwise clever and level-headed wheeler and dealer, routinely throws all her good sense out the window any time something threatens HER BABIES. It makes no sense based on her other actions, yet she does it consistently. Cersei exhibits the same pattern: most of her biggest screw-ups (and most irrational moments) can be traced back to over-protectiveness toward Joffrey or her two younger kids. I much prefer Martin’s younger female characters for exactly this reason.

    It’s disingenuous of you to say Doyle doesn’t want the female characters to experience realistic life challenges. She’s just sick of the only one they ever face being a rape sundae topped with “A DINGO ATE MAH BABEH”.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Daniel says:

      First off, we are not “constantly” being fed scenes of rape or rape with women’s breasts being eaten or anything like that. There are several scenes of rape or threatened rape, or implied rape, but it is not nearly so graphic or constant as you make it out to be – not even close.

      Second, there is sexual violence toward men. Tywin essentially rapes Tyrion by forcing him to participate in the gang-rape of Tysha. That’s sexual violence right there toward a male character. There are other examples though I can’t recall them off the top of my head.

      The fact is, in war – even in war now – sexual violence toward women is a major force of intimidation and terrorism. That’s what Martin is trying to present. It’s not glorified. At all. Full stop. Sady could make a strong critique of how sex is handled – it’s not particularly mature, for one thing. It’s a bit pornographic at times. But the sexual violence is very real, and very disturbing.

      If anything Martin is offering a very disturbing critique of feudalism and patriarchy. The problem is that Sady and other critics are not saying “He takes it too far” they’re saying he’s glorifying rape and violence against women. That is simply not true. It’s a failed reading of the stories, and it seems more motivated by a distaste for fantasy than by anything present in the books themselves.Report

      • Daniel in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        My critique is not that sexualized violence towards women happens in the books. It’s flat out realistic in war, and Martin does portray it in a negative light. My problem is that ALL of the violence the women experience seems to have a sexual element to it, whether or not they’re anywhere near a battlefield. This is something that comes up extremely rarely with the male characters. I can’t recall a single passage from “A Song of Ice and Fire” regarding the sexual brutalization or mutilation of a man, nor one being threatened with being (passively) raped as punishment, even though male rape in wartime is ALSO extremely common.* You can disagree with my characterization of how frequent each type is in the books – but you sure as hell can’t argue they’re anything approaching equal. I think Martin takes it too far.


        • E.D. Kain in reply to Daniel says:

          I don’t think it is as likely that men will be raped in war time. I have no idea why it should be presented that way in a book just for equal time. There are many instances of women being just plain hurt without sexual violence. Catelyn is killed at the Red Wedding (sort of?) Arya is beat up. Asha gets in some serious fights.

          SPOILER for Dance
          Dany is almost poisoned.
          Theon is tortured and sexually assaulted.
          Jon saves one female character and punishes her pursuers.Report

          • Sock Puppet of the Great Satan in reply to E.D. Kain says:


            IIRC, the maester traveling with Victarion gets raped by Victarion’s crew.

            Worse things happen to the poor guy later.

            And, yes, Theon and the Unsullied as well.Report

        • Kim in reply to Daniel says:

          … not even Theon? many are wondering whether he still has his manhood. Also, Varys.Report

        • Marissa in reply to Daniel says:

          Maybe 10,000 Unsullied having their genitals forcibly removed doesn’t count as sexual brutalization or mutilation to you. The Unsullied really horrify me.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Daniel says:

      There are only a couple of mothers in the book, though the theme does recur with Dany as a mother of sorts with her “children” the freed slaves and the dragons. So motherhood does loom large in the book.

      I disagree that the mothers are all presented as somehow stupid or worse than the fathers, however. Catelyn is trying to protect her children and she fails, but so does Ned. There is nothing about him as a father that makes her as a mother seem deficient. They are simply human.

      Cersei is a far more loving mother to her children than either Robert or Jaime. Ultimately she is also too ambitious and probably a tiny bit insane, but we see her become more fully human as the series goes on. I think Martin played her off as too much the villain early on, and he’s working to fix that however slowly.

      And Dany is not perfect, but she is far, far more morally grounded than any of the patriarchs she unseats in her doomed march east.Report

      • Daniel in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I didn’t say the mothers are presented as being stupid or worse than the fathers. The fathers are, demonstrably, pretty damn ineffectual when it comes to protecting their families in general and children in specific. (HOW many powerful men have heirs get offed in this series?) The fathers make bad decisions. But the mothers make IRRATIONAL ones. It’s a pretty important difference when you’re critiquing gender.Report

        • James K in reply to Daniel says:

          Ned Stark is pretty damn irrational, and Robert is worse (I know he has no legitimate children, but he doesn’t know that).Report

        • Murali in reply to Daniel says:

          Daniel has a point here. Granted certain high epistemic standards, sure most of them men and women alike were carrying the idiot ball at one point or another. But given just a bit of empathy and lowering the epistemic standards to a certain extent, we can classify some of the actions reasonable, but mistaken on hindsight, somewhat badly misjudged and outright “by the seven, what were you thinking!” stupid. Cersei’s and Catelyn’s and for the first three books, even Sansa’s actions fall into the last category more often than any of the male protagonists’s. Sansa we get because she is young and innocent and targetted for manipulation in a way that Arya,Dany and many male characters were not. Catelyn and Cersei are however portrayed as doing things really awful or stupid out of love for their children. This is where Martin seems to have a double standard especially if you frame it in terms of feminine ethics of care vs masculine ethics of impartiality. In the series, ethics of impartiality are given lip service. The crappiness of the world can be almost directly attributed to everyone failing to live up to their code of honour etc etc. There are some exceptions, but all the evil people who seem to be getting away with it, I can bet that when the series is over, will not. By contrast, Cersei and Catelyn do take the ethics of care seriously. They seriously show more concern for those near and dear to them than to strangers. Everything else is to be sacrificed for the well being of those near and dear. Not only does this turn out badly (They are somewhat unsuccessful at protecting their loved ones) Following their code of ethics causes them to do things which are not just stupid, but horrible as well. (Catelyn’s treattment of Jon. Cersei’s vis a vis Joffrey). Contrast with men doing horrible things because of a lapse in their ethical judgements. (Granted that doing the right thing for Ned turned out badly, we have to be pretty blatant act consequentialists to say that Ned was therefore morally wrong to do so)

          Now of course I do think that ethics of care (except as justified in some limited pragmatic sense) is bull**** but that could arguably make my ethical vision offensive (and anti-feminist and filled with male privelege and patriarchy etc etc) to a certain kind of feminist.Report

          • Marissa in reply to Murali says:

            I think the main difference is that the majority of women’s mistakes are due to stupidity and the majority of men’s mistakes are due to evil. Pretty in line with my n=1 experience.Report

    • Brett in reply to Daniel says:

      I don’t recall Martin ever castrating or raping any male characters, yet we’re constantly being treated to women being raped to death while having their nipples cut off or their breasts eaten.

      You need to re-read the Theon chapters in A Dance of Dragons. It is very strongly hinted that Ramsay Bolton had Theon castrated (along with his other mutilations and torture), although Theon never comes straight out and thinks “Ramsay Bolton castrated me”.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Brett says:

        The Unsullied are more than castrated — their genitals are removed completely. (Actually, I had the impression that was true of Theon as well, though as you point out it’s never stated in so many words.)Report

    • Elizabeth in reply to Daniel says:

      This whole conversation is brilliant and fascinating and I have only one completely OT response right now. In the interests of verisimilitude, it should be MOY babeh. That’s how we downunder types say it. *g*Report

  15. Matt says:

    Thankyou for this informed response to Sady’s, sadly ill-informed, post. Unfortunately it seems Sady will never see it, as she seems incapable of looking out from behind her wall of fictional sexism.
    When faced with similar arguments in her own comments , she has chosen to ignore/insult their posters and it seems to me she lives in a fantasy world of her own, where mothers don’t act irrationally to protect their kids, and teenage girls don’t have stupid crushes, or look for father figures.Report

  16. sonmi451 says:

    “Tywin essentially rapes Tyrion by forcing him to participate in the gang-rape of Tysha.”

    You keep repeating this point over and over again. Care to elaborate? Because I think there is a significant difference between being raped and being “forced” to rape someone. Maybe you can enlighten me how those two things are similarly rape.

    I think there is some hurt feeling from you on this as well, that Sady Doyle doesn’t really know who you are and assume you are spamming for link. (Comparing the stats for this blog and hers, that’s protesting too much, don’t you think?) I mean, if it was Yglesias or Klein responding to her, I’m sure she’d know exactly who they are and won’t assume they are trying to increase traffic to their blog.Report

    • Kim in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Forcing unwanted sex on someone is Rape. Doing it at knifepoint is Forced Rape.
      What tywin did is no different than the woman who puts a knife to a man’s throat, in order to get an erection, and then rapes him.
      Maybe a different form of rape, but still rape.Report

  17. HAHAHAHAH! I guessed you were Professor Feminism, and I was RIGHT!!!!!!!!Report