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Monday, June 1, 2015

Rape on "Game of Thrones" - Essential To The Plot & the Characters


Rape is omnipresent on "Game of Thrones."

Many have opposed these scenes, such as Senator Claire McCaskill; various women's groups, like the National Organization for Women and the anti-domestic violence organization Safe Horizon; the feminist website Jezebel (last year) and this year; women's pop culture site Mary Sue; and Vanity Fair

Basically, they argue that the GOT rape scenes:
  • Are unnecessary; don't enhance the plot
  • Turn rape into entertainment
  • Promote rape
  • Normalize rape as somehow consensual
  • Upset rape survivors
The website AngryGotFan.com published an anonymous response to the show's most recent rape, that of Sansa Stark, titled: "A Rape Victim Speaks Out On The Sansa Scene." An excerpt:
"The way this show uses women, makes them one dimensional, either masculine and strong, or feminine and victims, it is the opposite of the books I read and love."
It's well known that Hollywood is indeed a sexist place, whether you're working behind the cameras or in front of them (just ask Maggie Gyllenhaal). It seems to me that nearly every mainstream movie or television show I watch exploits women in some way. Even the "good" ones.

For example, tonight my husband and I watched Elysium. It's a very moral movie, reminding us of the unfairness of that breach between the super-rich and the rest of us. But of course, there's a punch to a woman's nose, a constant threat of rape, and lots of semi-dressed girls lounging all around the "good guys" while they're waiting to fight.

And who can forget the rape scene in Death Wish? It's about as exploitative as can be -- purporting to be on the side of the victimized women, but somehow, creepily, perpetuating their (our) powerlessness. The attacked females after all are scarred for life, but Bronson's revenge gives him power.

But "Game of Thrones" is different. Women and men both suffer on the show -- nobody gets a free pass -- because it is a show about the brutal exercise of power, and its plotline remains utterly faithful to that; nobody escapes the turn of the sword.

Literature is not supposed to make us feel good. It is not supposed to alleviate prior trauma. It is not supposed to be politically correct. It is supposed to be authentic to the experience of the characters.

And so, as both Slate and The New York Post noted, the critics of rape on GOT are "missing the point." The former points out that the scenes are done "with appropriate gravity: as an act of war," and that they are easily situations that the female characters could anticipate. And frankly, as the Post notes, the GOT "world...based, partly, upon actual history — is a dark place in which women are used and abused by men on a nauseatingly regular basis."

I would even go so far as to argue that GOT's insistence on historical authenticity is in itself a feminist act. The show refuses to play nice; it shows us the hypocrisy and the corruption of life under patriarchy in the Middle Ages.

Frankly it shows that patriarchy is as bad for men as it is for women.

So the underlying question is this. Which is the more feminist act? To "rewrite" history such that it makes us feel good?

Or to show it, as ugly as it was?

If we want to be empowered, it's better to face facts. So I would rather start with the latter.

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All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Promotional HBO photo via "Sansa Stark" page on Wikipedia.