What the Fuck is Wrong With You, HBO’s Game of Thrones?

*Game of Thrones spoilers. Also spoilers about if Donald Trump is sexist. Spoiler: yes*

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A few days ago, Donald Trump responded to a comment Secretary Clinton made  by emphasizing that she was shouting and shouting wasn’t womanly. This is sexist, obv. I’m sure Trump knew it was sexist because this thing about Clinton shouting had already come up and the media/Clinton supporters/Clinton had already explained why it’s a sexist thing to say. I think Trump said it precisely because it had already been vetted as sexist. That is, he said it to get a rise out of people and maybe appeal to sexist members of his constituency. Today I’m wondering this: are the producers of HBO’s Game of Thrones willfully ignorant of their continued sexism, or are they pulling a Donald Trump on me?

Let’s not beat around the bush: I enjoy Game of Thrones but it’s been pretty heavily criticized for it’s fucked up treatment of women. For every kick-ass Brienne or Arya scene, we get unnecessary shots of women’s naked bodies, often during scenes of sexual violence (I’ve argued here how dangerous this particular representation is). They’ve also transformed consensual sex acts from the books into rapes, denied they filmed a rape scene based on the very old and very tired “rape to consent” argument (see Steve Attewell eviscerate this here). And last season I wrote about how they manufactured a repeated rape and sexual torture of Sansa Stark plotline—just for funsies.

Game of Thrones has been blasted for these representations by the mainstream media, by bloggers, by fans that refuse to continue watching. So there’s a pretty palatable message out there: your treatment of women can really suck. Now, after watching the season six premiere, “The Red Woman,” I’m truly wondering if producers are willfully clueless or if they’re actively trying to push a misogyny angle.

What’s my Saucy beef with an episode unusually free of rapes and gratuitous nudity? In answer, let me tell you a little story about George R.R. Martin’s vision of Dorne. Like everywhere in the GRRM A Song of Ice and Fire world, bad shit goes down in Dorne. But unlike every other place in the books, the Dornish don’t ascribe to the ol’ gender hierarchy lineage bullshit. Women can be in charge and, if the oldest child is a woman, she’s the ruler. There’s more gender equality in Dorne, which is probably why there are so many hard-core female political players in Dorne. Arianne Martell and the Sand Snakes actually want to help Princess Myrcella claim her birthright to the Iron Throne, which they believe has been stolen from her by sexist Westerosi gender laws.

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Yea it’s a political snake pit, but at least we don’t have that 79 cents to a man’s dollar bullshit.

HBO’s translation of this world: Arianne is rolled into Ellaria Sand. Ellaria wants to kill Myrcella as a fuck you to Cersei, even though it’s a terrible political move. The motivation for this is, of course, a man (sorry Bechdel test, not today). After Ellaria succeeds in revenge-killing Myrcella, she then kills the ruler of Dorne, a very sweet, gentle, disabled, protector of children. She stabs him in the heart. Why? Apparently he is a WEAK MAN (because he won’t revenge-kill a child) and WEAK MEN WILL NEVER RULE DORNE AGAIN HAHAHAHA. The Sand Snakes then butcher their sweet and innocent cousin Trystane JUST TO GET RID OF THAT WHOLE MARTELL MAN LINE HAHAHAHA.

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Take that Dr Bashir!

Game of Thrones took strong political players who do rational things based on feminist-eque principles and made them into straw feminist caricatures. The straw feminist is a fallacy of a media representation, it’s a figure who calls herself a feminist but she’s not a feminist; she’s an irrational, man-hating shrew who wishes to suppress male power and men at all costs, give herself power over others, and hates all women who don’t follow her lead. She’s mean, loud, and generally out of control. The point of the straw feminist trope is to show how grotesque powerful women are, and how dangerous and destructive their irrational desires for equality and self-governance can be.

Game of Thrones has made Dorne into a place where powerful women  1) get into petty and ultimately really harmful cat fights and 2) do totally irrational things like murder their family/royalty for the sake of hating on and castrating “weak men.” It’s a sexist representation, and it’s a harmful one.

So thanks Game of Thrones, for an episode without gratuitous and sexualized rapes. Here’s your cookie. But also, fuck you for your construction of a very recognizable but also very empty and pejorative representation of Dornish women, and a twisted depiction of what women would do to a society that recognizes their equality and sovereignty. This representation is so blatantly twisted from its original intent, from George R.R. Martin’s own characterization, I just have to wonder… it is because not one writer or producer on this show has taken even an introductory level Women’s and Gender Studies course, or are they Donald Trumping me?

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Brienne of Tarth is still my motherfucking jam

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About Meredith Heller

The Saucy Scholar is Faculty Lecturer of Queer Studies in Women's and Gender Studies at Northern Arizona University. She holds a Ph.D. in Theater Studies and a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and specializes in performance and entertainment, gender studies, and queer theory.
This entry was posted in #MediaGettingItWrong, feminism, Game of Thrones, gender, television, Uncategorized, violence. Bookmark the permalink.

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