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Enter Ye Myne Mystic World of Gayng-Raype: What the “R” Stands for in “George R.R. Martin”

George R.R. Martin is creepy.

There! I said it! In days of yore, before the Striding Elves sailed West to Sygmagfhdflkglll, and giants did waylay travelers throwing stones carved from the mighty Tghfarghfr Mountains, and yon Good Queen Sady had not yet been assailed in that great war known as the Rage of Nerds, led by those black-hearted, dishonorable brigands known as the Knights of Rowling, joined later by those who would overthrow the land of Tiger Beatdown itself in the name of the Nameless King called Who — I will NEVER! READ! TIGER BEATDOWN! AGAINNN!!!! rang their rallying cry, feared of all who stood at the Gate of Twitter @ Replies — I maybe would have tried to downplay this conclusion a little.

But, nope! Today is a different day, my friends. Because here’s how it goes, when you criticize beloved nerd entertainments: You can try to be nuanced. You can try to be thoughtful. You can lay out your arguments in careful, extravagant, obsessive detail. And at the end of the day, here is what the people in the “fandom” are going to take away: You don’t like my toys? I hate you!

So, get it out of your system now, because, guess what, George R.R. Martin fans? I don’t like your toys. Deal with that. Meditate for a while. Envision a blazing bonfire in a temple, and breathe in its warmth and serenity. Then, imagine me dumping all your comic books and action figures and first-edition hardback Song of Ice and Fire novels INTO the bonfire, and cackling wildly. Because the fact of the matter is, in my ever-masochistic quest to be hip with what is happening in pop culture these days, I read the first four novels in the series. And my conclusions were: Dear God, George R.R. Martin is creepy. Quite possibly the creepiest author I’ve read in QUITE SOME TIME.

I could get into the reasons why, here. I could try to construct some kind of nuanced argument for you. I could talk about how the impulse to revisit an airbrushed, dragon-infested Medieval Europe strikes me as fundamentally conservative — a yearning for a time when (white) men brandished swords for their King, (white) women stayed in the castle and made babies, marriage was a beautiful sacrament between a consenting adult and whichever fourteen-year-old girl he could manage to buy off her Dad, and poor people and people of color were mostly invisible — or how racism and sexism have been built into the genre ever since Tolkien. I could acknowledge the plotty, cliffhangery aspects of Martin’s writing as a selling point: So-and-so was dead! But now he’s alive! But now he’s dying! But now he’s a zombie! But now he’s the Prince of Sblarghlhaar, because he was IN DISGUISE! I could try to look at the positives, before I get to the criticism. But you know what? I’m still going to criticize the books. And if these are your toys, you’re going to be mad no matter what, because criticism of your favorite things exists. On the INTERNET, no less! SCANDAL!

So why don’t we just cut to the chase, here? George R. R. Martin is creepy. He is creepy because he writes racist shit. He is creepy because he writes sexist shit. He is creepy, primarily, because of his TWENTY THOUSAND MILLION GRATUITOUS RAPE AND/OR MOLESTATION AND/OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SCENES. And I could write a post about those, to be sure. But you know what would be easier? I could just count them. One by one by one.

And, if you’ve gotten this far? Spoilers.

1. A Game of Thrones, or, The One That Got Turned Into A TV Show

Major Female Characters: CATELYN STARK, The Hero’s Wife; SANSA STARK, The Hero’s Prissy Daughter; ARYA STARK, The Hero’s Tomboy Daughter; CERSEI LANNISTER, The Evil Queen Who’s Fucking Her Brother; DAENERYS TARGARYEN, The Blondest Girl In The World

PLOT SUMMARY: Everything was going fine for Ned Stark, until he got promoted to be Vice President of Westeros, and his son Bran got pushed out a window. Turns out, Bran was peeping on the Queen’s royal fuck times. They were with her brother, gross! Bran is now in a Soap Opera Coma. Regardless, Ned and his daughters have to move to the capital of Westeros, where there is a dark fuck-times-related mystery which he must investigate. Intrigue ensues. Meanwhile, Bran awakes from his Soap Opera Coma. He has Soap Opera Amnesia! And is paralyzed! How will he ever tell anyone about the queen’s fuck times now? Ned is still with the intrigue. After approximately 700 pages of intriguing, Ned solves the mystery. Turns out, the queen was having royal fuck-times with her brother. Which we found out 700 pages ago. But still! Ned is shocked at this illicit use of royal fuck times! He is going to expose this corruption! Ned promptly gets his head chopped off. Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated plotline, The Blondest Girl In The World hatches some dragons.

FEMALE CHARACTER SCORE CARD:

Meet Catelyn! She’s a dutiful, obedient wife and mother. Also, her husband is the hero. She will, therefore, be a sympathetic figure. Catelyn’s an all-around swell gal, and seems pretty sharp and competent, too, except when she is (a) getting all hysterical and non-functional because HER CHILDREN, (b) stupidly kidnapping members of the royal family on a whim because HER CHILDREN, and (c) being a total bitchface to Ned’s illegitimate son because he is not HER CHILDREN. Remember, kids: Women are meant to be wives and mothers. Also, they are meant to be kept away from sharp objects and heavy machinery at all times. Because they are always thinking with their baby-makers! Oy!

Meet Sansa! She’s 13. She likes gossip and parties and pretty dresses and handsome boys. We are meant to believe that, for these reasons, Sansa completely sucks and deserves everything that’s coming to her. Which is unfortunate, because what’s coming to her is inadvertently betraying her entire family for her crush Prince Joffrey and/or learning in the final pages of the book that Joffrey enjoys beating girls up and threatening them with rape. Sansa’s entire plot, from this point forward, will consist of an ongoing competition to molest Sansa, in which every male character in her immediate vicinity will participate. Ha ha, serves you right for being such a girl, Sansa!

Meet Arya! She’s 9. Arya is not girly. She likes her Dad and swords and wolves and rough-housing. For these reasons, she does not suck as much as Sansa, because girly things suck and we hate them, right? Nothing sexist there, for sure! Arya trains to be a sword-fighting ninja. She’s going to be fine.

Meet Cersei! Cersei is fucking her brother. She also hates her husband, King Robert, and won’t ever give him the good sex. Sooner or later, she schemes to kill him and/or Ned. Oh, coincidentally? King Robert beats Cersei up. One slap that we see, a long history of beatings disclosed by Cersei. Never mind, though. She won’t give him the good sex. Also, she talks sometimes. Totally worth a slapping.

Meet Daenerys! Oh, brother. Here is my problem: I really want to like Daenerys. She’s molested by her brother; she’s sold, at 13, into “marriage” with a grown man; she emerges from all this as a hardcore warlord, and one of her first actions is to ban rape, and I really want to like that particular story. And yet, there are these two leeeetle problems. Problem One: CREEPY PEDO SHIT. Despite being effing terrified of her grown-assed adult husband, we’re led to believe that Daenerys really gets off on being fucked by the guy. At least, at first. Subsequently, he maybe rapes her a little. But then they fall in love, so that’s fine. Again: DAENERYS IS 13 YEARS OLD. We are treated to several graphic, eroticized scenes of a 13-year-old child “having sex” with and “falling in love” with a grown man. In other words: Creepy pedo shit. But even if you got rid of that, you would still have to deal with Problem Two: BLATANT MOTHERFUCKING RACISM. Daenerys, you see, has been exiled to “the East,” where everyone has “bronze skin” and “almond eyes” and is “savage.” Her husband, Drogo, is pretty much modeled on Genghis Khan. The Easterners’ religion is mystical and magical and barbaric, the way religions from “the East” tend to be when white people make them up, and at their weddings, they engage in “savage dances” and public gang rapes. When they win a battle? ALSO public gang rapes, surprisingly. The savage mystical barbarous brown Eastern people: Always gang-raping! And Dany, as The White Lady In These Scenes, has to educate them that rape is wrong. So when your Daenerys scenes are NOT composed of Creepy Pedo Shit, they are comprised of Enlightened White Savior Shit and/or How Will I Ever Communicate With These Superstitious Natives Shit and/or After Our White Women Shit. What I’m saying is, I want to like Daenerys. But her scenes? They are shit. They are shit. They are shit some more. And then there are dragons.

2. A Clash of Kings, or, The One That Was Really Boring

MAJOR FEMALE CHARACTERS: CATELYN STARK, The Hero’s Mother; SANSA STARK, The About-To-Be-Molested; ARYA STARK, Sword-Fighting Ninja Runaway; CERSEI LANNISTER, The Evil Queen Who Fucked Her Brother; BRIENNE, Ser Restrictive-Beauty-Standards; DAENERYS TARGARYEN, The Chosen Blonde.

PLOT SUMMARY: What’s more interesting than medieval battle tactics? If you answered “LITERALLY EVERYTHING,” you’re going to hate A Clash of Kings. So, anyway, it turns out that Recently Headless Ned had a variety of sons who did not get pushed out of windows. One of them is Robb, and he wants to be King of Mystical Dragon Land! But Cersei has a son, Joffrey. He is the current King of Mystical Dragon Land! So Robb has to overthrow Joffrey, but also, Dead King Robert had brothers, who have figured out that Cersei’s babies were caused by illicit, brother-in-law fuck-times. And you’re not going to believe this, but Brother One (Renly) and Brother Two (Stannis) BOTH want to be King of Mystical Dragon Land! Then there’s Daenerys. She, too, wants to be Queen of Mystical Dragon Land, but is currently side-tracked, what with her being worshiped by various non-white populations. And yet! Robb had a foster-brother, Theon, who comes from a disgraced house of Viking equivalents. Theon is convinced that Viking equivalents should be the Kings of Mystical Dragon Land! Who will emerge victorious as the One True King of Mystical Dragon Land? I sure hope you didn’t want an answer to that, because it turns out there are like five more books in this series. Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated plotline, Headless Ned’s other son Jon is fighting zombies.

FEMALE CHARACTER SCORE CARD:

Catelyn is a dutiful mother to Robb. Since she mostly focuses on attaining a man’s goals for him, rather than assuming leadership or decision-making power for herself, she remains competent and non-hysterical.

Arya is being taken away to safety by the Night’s Watch. It doesn’t work out. She gets kidnapped! She escapes! She runs away! She gets kidnapped! She escapes! She runs away! There’s an interlude of particularly gratuitous rape-threatening. Then she gets kidnapped! WILL SHE ESCAPE? Yes! Other likely events include: Running away! You guys, Arya will be fine.

Cersei: Still evil, not currently being beaten by her husband.

Daenerys is still in “the East.” Refreshingly, we learn that there is more than one skin tone in “the East,” and in Mystical Dragon Land; somewhat less refreshingly, we learn that everyone in the East is still very mystical and decadent and barbaric and Orientalist-stereotypey, and they are still cultural Others, and they all have racialized/Other-ized names like “Pyat,” “Xaro Xhoan,” and “Jhogo,” as opposed to Dragon Land names like “Ned,” “Catelyn,” and “Jon.” Also, the Other-ized Easterners seem kind of unsettlingly eager to worship the little blonde foreigner. So, there’s that.

Meet Brienne! She’s ugly. So, so ugly. If you saw her, what you would think would be: “She’s ugly.” Catelyn feels super-sorry for her, because of how ugly she is. Very, is how ugly she is. Also? She’s the only female knight that we’ve met thus far. Because female competence can only evolve in the absence of sexiness, or if you are a nine-year-old girl. Did you know that most of the women in the Fortune 500 are in fifth grade? Well, that is because I just made that up! Go with it. Anyway, Brienne is a knight because she has a crush on Renly, and this was the only way to get close to him, because he’s hot, and she is, as previously stated, an uggo. Also, Renly’s gay. And recently dead. Really, this relationship is doomed on any number of fronts. Meanwhile,

Who’s Molesting Sansa Stark? Thus far, the leading contender would appear to be Prince Joffrey, who has his men beat her up, strip her naked in front of him, and then beat her up some more for his amusement. Strong showing from bodyguard Sandor Clegane, however, who climbs into her room and plans to rape her! He changes his mind, however, thus yielding the field to Joffrey once more.

3. A Storm of Swords, or, The One Where Everyone Is Dead

Major Female Characters: CATELYN STARK, The Hero’s Mother; SANSA STARK, The Perpetually-About-To-Be-Molested; ARYA STARK, The Frequently Kidnapped; CERSEI LANNISTER, The Queen Who Used To Fuck Her Brother; BRIENNE, Ser Self-Destructive-Dating-Patterns; DAENERYS TARGARYEN, Hail The Conquering Whitey.

PLOT SUMMARY: Oh, man. This thing is 1,500 pages long, so take a deep breath. When last we visited Mystical Dragon Land, there were approximately 900 candidates for King. You know what that means? Yup. Time to die, everyone! Renly? Dead. Theon? Apparently dead. Robb? He’s doing fine, except for the fact that he pissed off that old dude whose daughter he was  supposed to marry, but that’s a fairly minor slip-up and I’m sure it won’t… oh, shit, that old dude killed him! Robb is dead!!! Catelyn is dead! SO MANY PEOPLE ARE DEAD! Anyway, that leaves Daenerys, Stannis and Joffrey, and since Stannis’s forces are decimated and Daenerys is currently busy conquering every single Eastern civilization she can get her hands on, I guess Joffrey is the undisputed King of Mystical Dragon La… oh, shit! Joffrey’s been poisoned! Joffrey is dead! But we all know that the power behind the throne is Cersei’s dad Tywin, so this shouldn’t disrupt… OH MY GOD CERSEI’S DAD IS DEAD??? I guess that means… whoa, that means Cersei is in charge of everything! Woo-hoo! I’m sure we won’t be given any unfortunate, sexist lessons on the evils of irrational/slutty/catty/bitchy female leadership. Especially now that Catelyn has emerged… as a vengeful zombie!!! Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated plotline: The 9,000 other characters in this book.

FEMALE CHARACTER SCORE CARD:

Catelyn, unfortunately, attempts to do something in this book: Setting the Queen’s captive brother/boyfriend Jaime free, under Brienne’s guard, in exchange for HER CHILDREN (subset: Sansa and Arya). Like all independent Catelyn operations, it immediately backfires. Later, she gets hysterical and rips her own face off because of HER CHILDREN (subset: Robb), tries to avenge HER CHILDREN (subset: Robb), and dies. Sorry, Catelyn! You know bad things happen when you try to do stuff! Try to be more careful next time. Because there will be a next time. Because you are now a zombie.

Arya is still getting kidnapped. And escaping. And running away. And getting kidnapped. And escaping. And… you know what? Arya’s going to be fine. Let’s not check in with her again unless something changes.

Brienne gets her own plot line. Or, rather, JAIME, the queen’s brother-boyfriend, gets a plot line with Brienne in it. In this plot line, we learn that Jaime — recently seen pushing a seven-year-old child out of a window — is really a good guy, at heart! He’s just in really, really into having consensual royal fuck-times with his sister! That’s not so creepy, right? Yeah, no, it’s creepy. Anyway, we learn that Brienne is valorous, honorable, and pure of heart. We also learn that George R. R. Martin’s favorite thing to do with Brienne is to surround her with guys who attempt to gang rape her, at which point, she requires rescue. By Jaime. The guy who pushes kids out windows. On whom she now has a crush. Yeah, I KNOW.

Cersei is evil, eeeeeevil. How do we know she’s evil? She’s consensually fucking more than one dude, OBVS. Also, she’s saying things like “that time you betrothed me to a guy when I was a kid, and then I had to sleep with him even though I didn’t want to? That was basically rape” and “there’s no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to exercise power just because I’m a woman” and “nobody has any problems if a DUDE sleeps around, but when I do it it’s somehow the most damning evidence against my character” and “given the patriarchal slant of our society, sometimes I wish I was a guy!” So, just to be clear: The only female character who consistently levies an institutional critique of sexism in these books? Evil. Eeeeeevilllllllll! You surprised?

Daenerys: Oh, here we fucking go. Daenerys, you see, has discovered that the mystical, barbaric cities of the Orient have one particularly barbaric custom of which she disapproves heartily. That custom? Is slavery. And so, Daenerys must save these other cultures from themselves, by going city to city and systematically destroying them, imposing her own standards upon them all. Here’s a problem, though: We, the European and/or American readers, also know slavery to be a bad thing. And here is how we know this: White people enslaved people of color. For generations. We brutalized people of color, we institutionalized the rape of people of color, we committed genocide against people of color, we devastated the cultures of people of color. And here is how we white people rationalized that: We told ourselves that these people of color were barbaric, that they were savages, that European standards should be universal, and that we were saving these people from themselves. So, for those keeping track: The rationale behind Daenerys’s campaign to abolish slavery? IS THE RATIONALE THAT CREATED SLAVERY. Daenerys: Mystic Dragon Land’s leading producer of UGH.

Who’s Molesting Sansa Stark? A very competitive round, here! Joffrey, the returning champion, is still in the lead here, until a stunning second-quarter turnaround, in which Sansa is force-married to Tyrion “Raging Dinklage” Lannister himself! Tyrion gets total boners thinking of Sansa, who is STILL 13 YEARS OLD, but refuses to actually rape her (what a guy), and Joffrey is cleared from the field with poison! My god! It’s anyone’s game now! Sansa escapes the castle, and… could it be that NO-ONE is going to molest Sansa this season? What an upset! Wait, no, who’s that I see… why, it’s Littlefinger, that wormy guy from the first book! After a brief fumble in which one of Littlefinger’s servants attempts to rape Sansa and nearly takes the goal, Littlefinger emerges as a clear winner, as he instructs Sansa that he intends to care for her as a father, and then totally Frenches her! Wow! A thrilling conclusion to a great game of Who’s Molesting Sansa Stark! Be sure to tune in next installment, for more long-running plots constructed entirely around child molestation.

4. A Feast for Crows, or, I’m Sorry I Forgot To Write The Next Installment Of My Book

MAJOR FEMALE CHARACTERS: BRIENNE, Ser Author’s-Excuse-For-Feminism; ARYA STARK, She’s Going To Be Fine; CERSEI LANNISTER, The Evil Queen Who Broke Up With Her Brother; SANSA STARK, The Still-Being-Molested-After-Four-Solid-Books; ARIANNE MARTELL, The Filler Content. Special Guest Appearance by ZOMBIE CATELYN.

PLOT SUMMARY: This is the book that got them mad. The one that dropped all the central plot threads, resolved none of the cliffhangers, and cut out all of the “important” characters and “fan favorites,” instead focusing on some side characters no-one really cares about. And here’s a startling revelation: The side characters no-one cares about? Were the women. Daenerys is gone, but otherwise, it’s the girls who got left over. And yes, they are boring as hell. Brienne is trying to find Sansa, which consists of wandering around asking people if they’ve seen Sansa. Arya has finally found refuge, and is training to be an assassin, which consists of wandering around in spooky caves. Sansa’s with Littlefinger. You know what’s going on with Littlefinger. The only real semblance of a plot consists of what’s going on with Cersei, who has claimed the throne for herself. Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated plotline: The plotline. But no worries! The afterword says that the sequel will be out in a year! Wait! What’s that you say? This afterword was published… in 2004?

FEMALE CHARACTER SCORE CARD:

Brienne is wandering around all “have you seen Sansa?” No-one has. You know what they HAVE seen, though: An exciting opportunity to threaten Brienne with gang rape some more! So, that happens. As usual. Brienne fights them off and/or is rescued by the nearest male, until she is eventually captured and possibly killed by Zombie Catelyn. Catelyn is mad at Brienne for setting Jaime free and going off to look for Sansa and Arya. Which is… what Catelyn told her to do? Turns out, Zombie Catelyn is an even less effective strategist than Regular Catelyn. And you thought it couldn’t happen!

Arya is training to be an assassin. She’s going to be fine. She’s always fine. She’s…. oh, shit, they blinded her? Darn.

Who’s Molesting Sansa Stark? Littlefinger. Still. It’s gross, and Stockholm-Syndrome-y, and he keeps calling himself her father, and… oh, my God, can we please move on?

Arianne Martell is a princess of Dorne, where they believe in equal inheritance. Girls inheriting shit! Boys inheriting shit! Everybody’s inheriting, in the wacky land of Dorne! Arianne is sassy and strategic and sexy and other s-words, and she has a plan to place Cersei’s daughter on the throne and thereby run shit, which seems alarmingly non-sexist. Fortunately, this is A Song Of Ice and Fire, so she promptly fucks up, gets everybody on her side killed, and is imprisoned, at which point her father shows up to tell her he has a much smarter plan which she must now go along with. Women: Don’t come up with your own plans! Ever! Remember the sad example of Zombie Catelyn! Or, for that matter,

Cersei Lannister. Cersei is Queen. Cersei, as Queen, wants to run shit. But, guess what? It turns out that she’s just too slutty and irrational and bitchy and catty to do it right. Surprise! Cersei’s always fucking dudes, and being mean to dudes, and making decisions out of personal preference and emotion rather than logic, and refusing to bone her brother (which is now… bad? Look, it’s a complicated story), and it turns out she’s just really insecure because her seven-year-old son’s thirteen-year-old wife might be prettier than she is, and basically, what you need to know is, the woman who’s spent the past three books scheming her way into dominating an entire continent becomes an incompetent, screeching harpy the moment she actually exercises power. Women bosses. Am I right?

FINAL SCORES:

NOVELS READ: Four.

FEMALE CHARACTERS: As of Book 4, eight women have had chapters written from their point of view. Six of those women have had long-running, major plotlines. Those six female characters are Cersei Lannister, Catelyn Stark, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Brienne, and Daenerys Targaryen.

PERCENTAGE OF MAJOR FEMALE CHARACTERS ABUSED, RAPED, or THREATENED WITH SAME: “Abuse,” in this scenario, means “physical partner violence,” because if we had to count everyone with a dysfunctional family, the list would never end. So, as of Book 4, the major female characters who have been abused, raped, molested, or threatened with same are: Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Brienne, Arya Stark, and Sansa Stark. That is five out of six, or about 83%. The only major female character to go without a single rape, attempted rape, sexual assault or incident of partner violence? Catelyn Stark. Who, as you may recall, is dead. And a zombie.

BONUS POINTS — SYMPATHETIC RAPISTS AND WIFE-BEATERS: Sure, fine, this is a little startling. But those rapists and abusers are all villains, right? Joffrey, Littlefinger, Daenerys’s child-molester brother, etc; these are bad guys. Ah, but not so fast! King Robert, lovable but ineffectual ruler whose death kicks off the series, beats his wife. The Night’s Watch, an honorable band of brothers devoted to defending the world against zombies, is largely comprised of convicted rapists. The Dothraki are portrayed as an entire civilization of dedicated, enthusiastic rapists, because racism; Khal Drogo, Daenerys’ beloved husband, gives a speech about it. The Ironmen, Viking equivalents, are another entire civilization of gang-rapists. Victarion Greyjoy, a heroic old Ironman, beat his ex-wife to death for cheating. Sandor Clegane, who planned to rape Sansa, gets a late-stage character redemption. And then, we have Tyrion Lannister. Hero Tyrion Lannister. Fan favorite Tyrion Lannister. Author favorite Tyrion Lannister. Who has, to date, participated in the gang-rape of his first wife, gotten boners for his 13-year-old second wife, and strangled his favorite prostitute for bad behavior.

PERCENTAGE OF MAJOR FEMALE CHARACTERS WHO ARE LITERALLY CHILDREN: Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen; 50%.

PERCENTAGE OF FEMALE CHILDREN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED or THREATENED WITH SAME: Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen; 100%. Arya is threatened with rape only once; Daenerys and Sansa are successfully molested by multiple characters. Daenerys falls in love with one of her molesters (Drogo) and Sansa gets a crush on one of hers (Sandor Clegane).

A NOTE ON ARRANGED MARRIAGE and CHILDREN: Yes, it’s true; in Ye Olde Medieval Europe, female tweens were oft wed to the grown-ups. A Song of Ice and Fire is known for being “gritty” and “authentic,” so really, aren’t I just objecting to the realism? Reader, here are the things that George R. R. Martin changed about Ye Olde Medieval Europe, when he set out to write A Song of Ice and Fire: Religion. Geography. History. Politics. Zombies. Werewolves. Dragons. At one point, when asked why his characters were taller, healthier, and longer-lived than actual Medieval people, George R. R. Martin explained that human genetics and biology do not work the same way in Westeros as they do in the real world. So George R. R. Martin considered that he could change all of that while maintaining “authenticity.” Here’s what he left in, however: Institutionalized pedophilia. So:

WHERE WILL YOU END UP IN MYSTICAL DRAGON LAND? If you are an unmarried woman, it is 100% certain that you will be raped or experience attempted rape (4/6: Arya, Sansa, Daenerys, Brienne). If you are married or engaged, there is a 75% chance that your husband or fiancee will beat or sexually assault you (3/4: Sansa, Cersei, Daenerys). If you are an adult woman who exercises authority, you will be killed (Catelyn) or imprisoned (Cersei), because your attempts to exercise said power will backfire (Catelyn, Cersei). If you are a child who exercises authority, you will not be killed or imprisoned, and will be seen as competent (Daenerys). It helps if your subjects are cultural Others, in which case your superiority is assumed (Daenerys). As with all female children, however, you will be sexually assaulted (Arya, Sansa, Daenerys). If you have a traditionally male role, with traditionally male skills, you will merely be threatened with rape (Brienne, Arya); if you are traditionally feminine, or occupy a traditionally feminine role, attempts to sexually assault or beat you will be successful (Sansa, Cersei, Daenerys). If you are the rare character who is an adult, occupies a position of authority, exercises power, and has not been sexually assaulted or beaten by her partner (Catelyn), don’t worry: You’re not getting out of this story alive.

VERDICT: George R.R. Martin is creepy.

YOU: Can be as mad about that as you want. It will still be true.

189 Comments

  1. ShortWoman wrote:

    Gee, um, thanks for reading that so I didn’t have to. Some of us put down Lord Foul’s Bane after chapter 4.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  2. Sarah wrote:

    But I LIKE my toys! Jk jk. I think you have a ton of very valid points that you should DEFINITELY blog about because no one else is really doing so. I also want to point out that in a world like ours where sexism and racism and every other ism are every freaking where that we take our enjoyment and escapism where we can – and that it is ok for feminists to like things like GRRM’s books or football, or action movies, or other problematic whatever so long as we don’t pretend that it is uncomplicated and that there are no problems. I can enjoy something (GRRMs books) WHILE criticizing them! Crazy, right? Thanks for your work and for this post.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  3. Hobbes wrote:

    I don’t know, I enjoyed these books (though I’m enjoying the miniseries a lot more, among other reasons because they’re not making Sansa a bad person for liking girly things). But I also grew up reading Very Sexist Fantasy, so I’m kind of numbed to that and don’t actually notice unless someone points it out – or unless I really relate to a character and she starts “shrieking” all the time or saying things “shrilly” when the main character doesn’t want to listen (see Hermione).

    That being said, I have nothing to contest with this review. It’s pretty much 100% accurate.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink
  4. Kathleen wrote:

    Sady Doyle, you are awesome. And hilarious. And correct. I am a full on fan of this series and found all of the books (except for book 4) really awesome to read. However, recently when a bunch of us were attempting to explain the series to the an uninitiated person, I found us discussing child molestation, incest, and gang rape as if it were everyday…which, in this series, as you so astutely and scathingly pointed out, it is. I can’t help continuing to be addicted to the series, but you’ve convinced me that if I ever see GRRM on the street, I’ll shudder and walk the other way.

    Also, re: the women — you forgot Asha Greyjoy! Theon’s sister who’s captain of her boar. What is your review on her?

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  5. Meg wrote:

    There is also the creepy lessons about masculinity and How To Do It. Which seems mostly about “don’t talk to women, trust anyone or have emotions, for emotions cause you to fail at Medieval Battle Tactics. Also, be ready for sex at any point, lest you die! For being a pussy! So don’t do that!”

    Basically, I am convinced the reason these books are so popular is because male nerds identify with the characters who get killed off, thus affirming their martyrdom complex. And female nerds identify with the one character who is going to be fine, while getting to watch women who are all the things they’ve been criticized for not being get punished.

    It’s an appealing emotional experience, even if it is an appalling series.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink
  6. Alex Cranz wrote:

    Man you boiled these books down to their most unappealing parts.

    Quick question. Where to Jon and Robb (both underage boys and the same age as Daenerys) stand? They both have active sex lives. Some of it is even featured in creepy sex scenes! And they’re 13-15 over the course of the books!

    And Catelyn is amazing. Her death isn’t her fault, but directly related to her son thinking with his penis. She’s also the last Stark down at the Red Wedding, takes a guy with her, and then becomes ZOMBIE ROBIN HOOD.

    I’m also of the opinion that Martin’s books are a fascinating criticism of assigning women to strict gender roles. Women in traditional roles are punished for it. Women who think outside the box are rewarded for it.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  7. joffe wrote:

    I’ve only seen the first episode of the HBO series so I’m not really invested in this franchise. That said, I love watching you rip into nerd stuff and this was quite entertaining. As a nerd, I’m looking forward to the day you tell me you hate MY toys because I know it’ll be well-written and interesting and because damn if nerd toys don’t need more people calling them on their bullshit.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  8. FashionablyEvil wrote:

    This is amazing.

    Two other thoughts:
    If GRRM never uses the word “nipple” again, I will be happy.

    No mention of the gratuitous lesbian sex scenes with women (Dany and Cersei) and their servants?

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  9. ordinarygoddess wrote:

    I work in a public library. I am known for being an outspoken, enthusiastic SFF fan and advocate. At least once a week, I have a patron come up to me and gush, “You have to read these books!!!” (Usually as they’re returning them.) And because I have read one unrelated GRRM book (Fevre Dream, which was reasonably enjoyable except for the fundamental dudebro underpinning and the whole metaphorical women-as-property for men to get alternately swap around and engage in bitter feuds over that is inherent in the gendered river culture language – again, “authenticity!”) I occasionally sigh and think, “Well, maybe I should.”

    And then I remember that I loathe most* Traditional Epic Fantasy for exactly these reasons. And also? Fevre Dream: 350 pages and about 5 hours of my life. SOIAF: 4300 pages. FORTY THREE HUNNNNDRED pages.

    Thank you for this post. I rarely say this about any book, but: I am never, ever, ever reading these books.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  10. nin wrote:

    You forget Robert had an habit of raping Cersei when drunk. I think it was discussed in either book 3 or 4.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  11. Caitiecat wrote:

    Oh, thank fuck for Sady, as usual. I thought, or was beginning to think, I was the only feminist in the world who could see the emperor’s goolies hanging out.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  12. FashionablyEvil wrote:

    And I totally forgot about how Victarion BEAT HIS WIFE TO DEATH because HIS BROTHER RAPED HER and she got pregnant.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  13. Emily Manuel wrote:

    @Alex

    I think there’s a difference between *staging* an oppressive logic (that is, restating it) and critique.

    How do we define a text as a critique? Do we need a moral? Must there be a distance between authorial perspective and action?

    Or is the distance between action and us (Darko Suvin’s “estranged cognition?”) that allows us to critically reflect on the oppressive logics? Or is it not a critique in itself, but that the value in the clarity of the oppression, in blatantly unapologetic nastiness – which we can then use as a pedagogic tool to educate about sexist/racist/etc logics?

    I’ve only read the first book, so I’m curious about how you’d (or others taking the same position, which I’ve seen before) see the critique occurring in GRRM…

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  14. BMICHAEL wrote:

    @SHORTWOMAN

    “First” was too laconic for you?

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  15. Kybard wrote:

    besides my general unlove for all things high fantasy, what sold me on never reading these books (or watching the show) was when I heard that HBO, which does so love heaping piles of gratuitous sex in its shows, demanded changes to the ages of the children so that their network would not be repeatedly, constantly, portraying violent child-related sexual activities. also the insistence from fans on its “grittiness” where grittiness appeared to just mean “rape.” ugh.

    in any case, this piece is hilarious and amazing, which was obvious from the moment you wrote “Sygmagfhdflkglll.” good times.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  16. Torpedo wrote:

    After having a load of people recommend them to me, I mentioned the series to my parents and ended up with all of the ones that had been published so far. So I’ve sort of felt like I have to read them (despite the fact they are really triggering) so I stopped reading the post after the summary of the second book, but I’ll probably come back and read the rest of the post in 30min because really even aside from the horrible misogyny and everything else they are just too long and too (otherwise) unremarkable to be worth reading.

    Sady you are awesome though. I’ve been so unhappy about a lot of commentary on this. A lot of it seems to fall into the trap of thinking that the fact that there are ‘Strong Women’ makes it totes feminist and cool.

    Also, on one blog (don’t remember where, on a post about how gross the tv show was, where a lot of people were saying that the books aren’t so bad,) I saw a comment that the ‘wedding’ night scene in the book is the thing that finally showed someone that consent is sexy. Which is so so wrong on so many levels.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink
  17. Spoiler alerts for the half of the next book I’ve already read:
    The guy in the prologue likes raping women.
    The men from the Night Watch want to rape the wildling women.
    Stannis thinks Ginny is an abomination they need to get rid of, because she was raped by her father and gave birth to a child.
    Tyrion threatens to rape and murder a servant, just for the fun of seeing fear in her face, and then rapes a sobbing prostitute, then vows to join Daenerys war against Westeros if she allows him to rape and kill Cersei.
    Asha Greyjoy, supposedly great warrior, says no, fights off a guy with a knife, loses the fight cos she’s drunk, gets raped anyway, but turns out it’s not rape cos he’s her boyfriend and makes her orgasm.
    Daenerys has not-really-slaves-anymore perform public sex-dance to entertain the not-white guests who came to beg her to allow them to enslave people again.
    Sansa’s friend Jeyne Poole gets raped by Ramsay Bolton, and Theon is forced to participate.
    An impossible to count number of peasant women is raped and killed by torture-happy Ramsay.
    I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  18. alula_auburn wrote:

    Oh Lord, I watched the first two HBO episodes and I was just done.

    But the thing that drove me CRAZY was fanboys insisting that it just wasn’t FAIR not to commit another 6? 8? hours of my life and read 500 hundred pages of crap I found both trite and offensive. I’ve taken a ton of writing courses, through an MFA, and I was always reminded that it’s MY job as the author to engage and entice the reader to keep going–no one owes me their attention, and if I bore them or offend them off the bat, they have every right not to keep reading, and it’s certainly not my job, or my reader’s job, to go outside the text to beat them about the head with it. And no, it wouldn’t matter if I was being (hipster) “ironic” or I introduced a different, less stereotypical character in the next book,* or I was dealing with a triggering issue in good faith, or whatever. Authorial entitlement grosses me out. I hope if I ever get fans, I have enough sense not to do this shit, or at least good enough friends to drag me away from the internet.

    *not that I aim for ANY stereotyped characters, obviously, but I find this is a common defense, especially in genre series–you have one “Other” character (female, POC, etc) who is awesome (often in a way which is problematic on its own terms, e.g. Action Girl (she’s not like other women!) or Wise Native Spirit Guide or whatever), so that excuses having no other POC or having every other female character be nothing more than a sex object. I can’t tell if people who make these arguments really think literary criticism is like a math proof, where one counter-example discounts a trend. But it’s fucking annoying.

    OTOH, the recent Jim Butcher brouhaha was even more remarkable for author fail and fannish ugliness. IIRC, GRRM is a little scared of the internets, so he doesn’t get into that quite as much.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  19. shallowwater wrote:

    @Alex Cranz

    I’m also of the opinion that Martin’s books are a fascinating criticism of assigning women to strict gender roles. Women in traditional roles are punished for it. Women who think outside the box are rewarded for it.

    The problem with these strict gender roles is that it isn’t something the women came up with on their own. It is something imposed on them by the men, so punishing those women who comply as commentary makes these books doubly gross if that is what it is supposed to be.

    “I will beat/kill/rape you if you don’t act this way”
    “I will beat/kill/rape you for acting in the way I want you to”

    W.T.F. GROSS

    There is no escaping the beatings, killings, and rapes, no matter what role you play.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  20. Protagoras wrote:

    I suppose it automatically looks bad for me to try to defend GRRM at all, what with my being a white guy, and most of your points are well made (though I still like the series). Not sure about your emphasis on the characters’ ages, though; I’m not sure about our society’s tendency to treat teenagers as children, and particularly the tendency to treat teenage girls as children and deny them sexual agency seems to be to have mutually reinforcing connections with th tendency to treat women generally as children and deny them sexual agency in general. So I liked Dany’s story better than you, though your points about racism are well taken.

    Also, I don’t think King Robert was supposed to be ultimately sympathetic (nor any Greyjoys). But certainly Tyrion is supposed to be, and he really lost me when he killed Shae (and from the comments, apparently he’s getting worse in the new book).

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  21. H wrote:

    So, yes, I read all of these and I did enjoy them…when I wasn’t screeching furiously about how rape-y they were and getting into arguments with Dudes who love the series and try to say that there are “one or two” rapes per book and that’s just “realism.” No, really, I spent three hours on the terrace of the main dyke bar in the city, ironically RIGHT AFTER SLUTWALK, arguing with a Dude about these books.

    So when I got the fifth book, I decided to actually keep a rape count, counting only “new” and “actual” rapes, i.e. not threats and not references to previous rapes. The count was 23, in case anyone wants that stat for their own bashing-head-against-brick-wall arguments with Dudes.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  22. Heather wrote:

    Everything you say is true! I think there are two levels of ick-factor in these books (which I devoured one after another this summer, like giant bags of salt & vinegar potato chips). There’s the ick that I can account for politically, racism/sexism/misogyny/orientalism, and then the deeper and more personal ick level of body grotesquerie and sadism. Martin has a Marquis de Sade-level of fascination with really up-close-and-personal violence, maiming, humiliation. There’s at least one Horrifying Ogre sadist per book, and author seems to really get off on non-sterile amputation of feet, hands, fingers, toes, etc. It makes me queasy.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink
  23. alula_auburn wrote:

    Not sure about your emphasis on the characters’ ages, though; I’m not sure about our society’s tendency to treat teenagers as children, and particularly the tendency to treat teenage girls as children and deny them sexual agency seems to be to have mutually reinforcing connections with th tendency to treat women generally as children and deny them sexual agency in general.

    It seems very disingenous to me to bring up “sexual agency” in this kind of setting, where the vast majority of the time, sexual acts by women is not motivated by their own interests. I’m not sure what that arguments is based on, except a very problematic conflation, IMO, with the contemporary meaning of sexual agency (and adolescence, for that matter), not to mention the significant average difference between a thirteen-year-old girl and say, a seventeen-year-old young woman in virtually every developmental aspect. If the suggestion is that the character attains some degree agency by actually coming to love her abuser/molester/rape-y husband, that’s a (unfortunately all too common real world) issue that has a lot more to do with manipulation and coping mechanisms than agency. Perhaps if the world wasn’t filled with real live men (and far too many police officers, judges, etc) making claims about girls as young as twelve dressing “provacatively” and “asking for it” and so on that idea would be more–well, it wouldn’t personally be less troubling to ME, but it would perhaps slot better into “gritty” fantasy landscapes.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  24. Alex Cranz wrote:

    I’d argue that the critique isn’t finished yet. We’re five books into a 7 book series. And while Sady isn’t fond of Daenerys because she’s white and governs an army of brown people and slaves (who are for the most part white)I think she’s the crux of Martin’s criticism. The incidents of rape and injury to women throughout the book don’t strike me as a byproduct of Martin’s perversions but as a purposeful and over the top representation of gender inequality in Westeros.

    This is all for the purpose of Daenerys’s eventual arrival. Despite some problems with early portions of Daenerys’s story (that whole incestuous molestation thing and the forced marriage) she is very much an intelligent and powerful woman. Yes she has been made a victim, SO HAS EVERY HEROINE AND HERO IN THE BOOK.

    She finds rape reprehensible and unlike EVERY OTHER CHARACTER in the series she actually stops rapes. Repeatedly. She also puts and end to slavery, turns down offers for sex from older guys, discovers she’s barren and goes ahead anyways and repeatedly plays on peoples’ negative assumptions regarding her gender to success.

    The books are littered with women who seek power and ultimately fail. Only two characters in ALL of the books, have had repeated successes. The creepy Littlefinger who is molesting and training Sansa, and Daenerys.

    I don’t think that’s an accident.

    There’s a scene late in the second book where Cersei talks about the first moment she realized she was “inferior” due to her sex. That scene, like the scene in the third book where Jon argues with Ygritte about feudalism versus anarchy, hints that Martin’s books are more than just a nasty romp through a dragon infused Middle Ages.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  25. Sady wrote:

    NOTE: We don’t typically publish read-my-blog spam here in the comment section. That includes “read my response to your blog, on my blog!” spam. Yes, I hear you like George R.R. Martin and think I am THE REAL SEXIST for having opinions about these novels. Good for you! If your blog post about that is good, people will read it. You don’t need to hijack the comment section here to promote it.

    ADDITIONAL NOTE: This is particularly obnoxious when you monitor the comment section, post the linkspam, then post a comment about how it should be fine for “your readers” to post the linkspam when we tell you we don’t publish linkspam. Generic Person: If your blog is good, people will read your blog! Trust me! You do not need to besiege myne humble bloghold with thine catapult o’links! Dragons! Or whatever.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  26. Paul Crider wrote:

    Whoops, I tried to post a link in a comment but I think that was disallowed. The link was to a response to this post on the League of Ordinary Gentlemen blog, by E.D. Kain.

    The gist of it is that Sady seems to expect fantasy to remove the struggles and prejudices that women actually face, and that such a vision of fantasy is itself troubling.

    And the characterization of Tyrion is rather unfair. Yes, he participated in the gang rape of his first wife … because his father forced him. And he is haunted by that and by what his life with her could have been throughout the series.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  27. Kiri wrote:

    I must second CaitieCat’s “thank fuck, I thought it was just me” sentiment. At first I thought I was being unfair because I’d only seen part of the TV series, and hence thought maybe there was context I was missing. From what you’ve said, I wasn’t missing anything. Thanks for the warning.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
  28. John D wrote:

    How is it sexist to portray a world where sympathetic women have to be constantly on guard against the possibility that scummy men will rape them?

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  29. shinobi42 wrote:

    These books are just not that good. There, I said it. They are just another Robert Jordan Endless Wankfest.

    I like my stories to have a beginning and a middle and an end, and it is clear to me from reading the first of these books that this story is never going to end in any way that I find even remotely satisfactory. Sure “Winter is Coming” sounds cool and Direwolves, and yeah there are a lot of cool ideas in these books. I WANT to like them, but they are boring, and the women in them are treated horribly.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  30. alula_auburn wrote:

    The gist of it is that Sady seems to expect fantasy to remove the struggles and prejudices that women actually face, and that such a vision of fantasy is itself troubling.

    Firstly, a great many readers will defend any kind of criticism on feminist (or anti-racist, or anti-homophobic) grounds as “taking things too seriously” and defend their right to enjoy “escapist” texts. Which is indeed their right, but it baffles me that they might fail to understand that women who live in real world rape cultures might also occasionally enjoy some “escapism” from that as well. It is also possible to depict the “struggles and prejudices” women face in ways that do not constantly rely on lengthy and graphic depictions of rape, molestation, sexual harrassment, and domestic violence. Relying on those to the extent GRRM does shows a poor grasp of women’s experiences, a lack of imagination as a writer, or something more creepy (or a combination thereof.)

    How is it sexist to portray a world where sympathetic women have to be constantly on guard against the possibility that scummy men will rape them?

    Being constantly portrayed in a victim mode is a form of sexism. It also makes it that much harder to engage with female characters as real people with faults and virtues, when the text constantly punishes or promotes those qualities via rapes or beatings. “Resolving” a rape storyline by allowing the (child) character to fall in love with her abuser is not only offensive, it’s painfully bad writing demonstrating real ignorance about the psychological dynamics of sexual abuse. When, as the previous poster suggests, we should be more concerned about the feelings of someone forced into gang-raping someone and read him as a broken Woobie from the experience, it is deeply offensive, and sexist, to privilege the angst of the rapist–and demand that female readers, who may well have experienced rape, do the same, and that they are reading incorrectly if they do not. Whilst implying GRRM has a better grasp of the struggles women face than Sady Doyle does, to boot!

    And again, women who feel they have to be on guard all the time against “scummy” men (who often do not appear dangerous until it is too late) may not enjoy seeing that experience rehashed in clumsy, eroticized tones, and also may not enjoy having their opinions dismissed as being uniformed about issues that almost certainly affect us far mor directly than they do GRRM or his male readers, who are so eager to explain how we are interrogating the text from the wrong perspective.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink
  31. Sady wrote:

    @alula_auburn: +100

    @Trolls, people explaining why George R.R. Martin isn’t sexist. Your names, thus far, have been:

    John G. [deleted for rudeness]
    John D.
    Paul
    E.D., who runs a blog on “Gentlemen” [deleted for blog spam]
    Jake [deleted for starting off with "Sady=cunt"]
    Alex

    I’m noticing a theme here, but what can I say? I am but a young girl who knows little of blog war. And tends to think women are in a better position to explain What Is Sexist than men are. [ED: Whoooops, Alex, you run a site called "FemPop." Sorry for the apparent mis-gendering! Also, you have not yet overtaken the comment section with link spam or been deleted for calling me a "cunt," so there is that difference, as well."]

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  32. Roving Thundercloud wrote:

    Sady, thanks for doing the shitwork of reading and reporting. Your synopsis made me smile, the opposite effect those stinky books would have had on me.

    P.S. Alula_Auburn, I love you!

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink
  33. fannie wrote:

    I’m currently reading the second book and am debating whether it’s worth finishing.

    Direwolves are neat, I guess, but I find it boring and uninspired when purportedly-imaginative “high fantasy” authors replicate problematic gender relations in their works. Like, if I want to read about rape, watch men have leadership pissing contests, watch men bluster about their alleged supremacy over women, and listen to men denigrating women, I can just, you know, take a look around the real world.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink
  34. John D wrote:

    @ Sady — I posted no earlier rude comment before my one sentence comment above, that must have been someone else.

    Your objections mainly relate to the existence of these two recurring plot elements: (1) Risk of rape while held hostage or traveling through a warzone (Arya, Brienne, Sansa), (2) Arranged marriages where the woman has no choice in the matter (Dany, Sansa). You object to the mere existence of these situations and you ignore how these characters generally demonstrate intelligence, tenacity, and courage when placed in them.

    Your last paragraph lists the many terrible things that happen to the female POV characters, and it certainly does sound bad. But I’ll point out that of the 6 male narrators with the most substantial arcs, 5.5 have been maimed or killed by the end of book 5. The female characters placed in the terrible situations described above have actually come out far better than the men.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink
  35. Siobhan wrote:

    I read the first two books before finding feminism, and like someone else said above, grew up on sexism-saturated F&SF. That being said:

    “Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated plotline: The 9,000 other characters in this book.”

    THIS is why I stopped reading. Because they are bad. The same reason I stopped reading Jordan. I love long books. I can read a 300-page novel in a day EASILY, and a long book — if well done — just means I don’t have to find a new book as quickly.

    These are BADLY WRITTEN. Incoherent plot, shallow characters, but it’s all ok because reading a book SHOULD feel like a weekend of playing Axis and Allies, AMIRITE? No.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  36. Sady wrote:

    @John: You could say I focus “primarily” on that. Or you could acknowledge that I also addressed the following:

    1) The female characters’ lack of agency

    2) The essentially gratuitous and over-the-top nature of the persistent rape and abuse, and the fact that some of it is eroticized and used to titillate the reader

    3) The normalization and eroticization of adult male sexual desire for (female) children

    4) Women shown as being in love with, or sexually attracted to, men who have raped or attempted to rape them

    5) The fact that adult women who attempt to exercise power are, to a one, shown as incompetent and punished with imprisonment or death after their plans backfire — as seen in the cases of Arianne, Cersei, and Catelyn — and the fact that women’s plans only succeed when they are done in support of a man (Catelyn to Robb) or at the behest of a man (Cersei to Tywin; her “incompetence” develops overnight, as soon as she is not shown to be primarily under his thumb).

    6) Women only being allowed to be competent in traditionally male pursuits if they are completely desexualized through ugliness and unfulfilled crushes (Brienne) or androgyny and childhood (Arya)

    7) Cersei’s being shown as evil for wanting and having frequent, casual sex. (Compare the lack of judgment for Robert, Ned, and Tyrion; Robert is a serial cheater, Ned “fell in love” with another woman as a newlywed, Tyrion has sex with prostitutes frequently and with gusto; at no point are these shown as definitive black marks upon their characters.) (Compare also to Jaime, who is allowed a character redemption; what does it tell you that the male character in an incest-pairing can be “redeemed,” seen as essentially “good” and motivated by “love,” whereas the female character is unredeemed, shown as essentially “bad,” “slutty,” and motivated by “lust?”)

    8) Cersei’s being shown as evil for wanting to exercise traditionally male prerogatives, generally

    9) The fact that 100% of the major female characters have been either sexually brutalized or threatened with sexualized violence, subjected to intimate partner violence, or killed by the end of Book 4.

    10) The fact that the author characterizes intimate partner violence and sexualized violence as understandable and acceptable in some circumstances, toward some people, and from some men — Tyrion, Robert, Drogo, etc.

    11) The fact that a woman is only seen as a powerful, independent, competent ruler in her own right when her subjects are Other-ized, stereotyped people of color — because racism trumps sexism, apparently

    12) The fact that this post (by a woman, read I would say mostly by women) is currently being subject to a fairly obvious amount of trolling and hostility from people who want to tell her that she doesn’t UNDERSTAND sexism, she doesn’t GET it, she shouldn’t SAY things are sexist, and that praise a male writer’s understanding of sexism over a female writer’s understanding of same — and the fact that, like yourself, the vast majority of these commenters are men themselves, who thereby assume authority over a matter of which a woman would have first-hand experience that they simply do not possess.

    Or, we could just accept that you like these books, don’t want to see what’s painfully obvious within them, and refer back to the first point. The part about how I don’t like your toys. Breathe.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Permalink
  37. tenya wrote:

    I only finished the first two books, deeply disappointing the nerdling who loaned them to me, who pitifully asked what I didn’t like about them. “Because there is a description of rape, or an attempted rape, or molestation, or something horrible every damn chapter, and I don’t think I want to read the rest.”
    “But,” he protested, “you’ll miss this great scene -goes on to describe horrendous rape and murder scene-.”
    The attitude has lived on in infamy, a great example of gents of nerdly persuasions not getting why sexual violence is not, in fact, a lure for audiences. It can actually turn them off from a work! Imagine!

    But mostly, I can happily now reference this page when people tell me “oh no, there’s not THAT much sexual violence” or “What? Sexual violence? I didn’t really notice?” in SOIAF. Other people noticed! Other people kept counts! If you like them anyway, fine, I’ll even give George R. R. Martin world-building and engaging enough plot to get me through the first two books (1800-some pages?) – but to me it hits as a particularly virulent obnoxiousness to say “oh, it wasn’t THAT much” and “it is just being a realistic medieval Europe equivalent!” and “but you CAN’T not read them because of that.”

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  38. April wrote:

    I went over an read the post at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. And one point I keep seeing is that we’re supposed to think that the rapists are bad guys and so it’s ok to show graphic rape scenes. How many times can rape be shown before we need to accept that either the author is lazy or he’s doing it for appeal? Very seldom do we get inside how rape and threats of rape actually affect the women at whom they are directed. It just feels cheap and shows a very serious lack of ability by the author to get into women’s actual thoughts and experiences.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Permalink
  39. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Gilly and the way she cries throughout the entire book because HER BABY! Then she has sex with Sam because . . .he had a penis, and all that crying of the past weeks (months?) has left her outrageously horny, and Sam has been there for her protecting her by staying away from her. Then Sam drinks her breast milk and Martin says the stuff is great. There’s also Osha who just lets some guy (the cook maybe?) rape her because whatever? I guess when there’s so many rapes it’s hard to keep track of them.
    I just want to say that as a dude, a great majority of the content of these books offend me. I read the fifth book and the scene with Asha Greyjoy almost made me put it down. I kept going because I thought I read it wrong, and when I thought about it I was afraid to go back to read that section again.
    My girlfriend and I make jokes about Martin’s dialogue during consensual sex and the way he describes what the female characters are thinking, which includes great lines like “I didn’t know whether he was in me or I was in him.” Also, women just walk around sopping wet. Sopping.
    I love how Martin attempts to make Dorne this super awesome place where people just bone whenever they feel like and women can sort of be in charge, but then not really. All the powerful women in the Kingdom are immediately locked up because powerful women are dangerous. Also Arianne totally uses sex to get what she wants, just like women do. Y’know? Cause men are helpless when faced with sex with a lady. In the fifth book Doran’s plan comprises of releasing all of his nieces into Mythical Dragon Land and wreaking havoc.
    In Martin’s favor, I don’t think Myrcella was ever threatened with rape?? But the character is only ever used as a pawn and has absolutely no development as a person so I have forgotten just about everything she’s done except have half her face sliced off. Or maybe just an ear. it’s hard to tell with these books because he makes the slightest physical “imperfection” seem like you were put through a meat grater. Everyone walks around being like “Sooooo Ugly!”

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink
  40. Alla wrote:

    As a rape survivor, I actually appreciate that sexual violence is acknowledged as a constant threat, because it’s true for women still in real life.

    I don’t know, as a women and as a feminist, I think you are right to find the books sexist, but your reasons are shallow and don’t make that much sense.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink
  41. Taylor wrote:

    As a dude who likes bands like The Sword, I got into the Song of Fire & Ice series because of the HBO show and the series elements like wolves and barbarians and mother/maiden/crone mystical stuff and its overall epicness.

    But as I started to watch the show, and as I’m now almost done with Storm of Swords, I’m both surprised and floored at how clearly anti-feminist it is and how *unimaginatively* anti-feminist it is.

    If proponents want to call the tropes in SoFI “adhering to the genre”, so be it, it’s still quite unoriginal and in a lot of ways a worse work for being cliche when it comes to women’s roles and relations. It’s like taking vilified women of the 50s or Disney princesses and villains and just adding a little bit of grit to them.

    Also, Martin’s sexism/racism is amplified because he’s just not a very good writer. Everyone’s dialogue except Tyrion’s (and I guess Hodor’s) is interchangeable, personality is limited to physical appearance, and the narrator’s voice is the majority of the books because Martin spends thousands of pages on telling and very little on showing.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  42. John D wrote:

    @ Sady — I am breathing perfectly fine, thank you, and you certainly have no obligation to like the books! But I wish you wouldn’t lump me in with the idiots who personally insulted you.

    Your strongest points are about Dany in Book 1 and about Sansa. If your post was only about those plotlines, I would applaud it. But you paint the whole series with this broad brush.

    The biggest hole in your argument is that you insist on ignoring all of Dany’s material after Book 1 because you think it’s racist. I think this is quite a dodge considering she’s the heart of the series, and considering it directly refutes so many of your claims. If Martin had written the same series with the one change that Dany conquers a continent filled with boring un-exotic white people, would you still consider the series so sexist?

    The next biggest hole is how you interpret Arya and Brienne. You lump them in as victims — yet when I think of the most prominent things that they’ve done in the series, I think of their amazing accomplishments and courage, not their victimhood. To avoid confronting that, you resort to saying that Martin will let only “desexualized” women do such things — but that again ignores Dany, and Ygritte, Asha, and Margaery as well.

    Your criticism of Catelyn’s arc doesn’t work either, because her husband made similarly bad decisions and lost his head after making a desperate deal to save his child’s life.

    Cersei is certainly not shown as evil because of casual sex or because a woman shouldn’t rule. She’s evil for the same reasons Tywin is — because she has a lot of people killed, particularly innocent people, and never shows any remorse for it. The appropriate comparison in personality is to Viserys, not Jaime.

    Finally, when you focus on the point that horrible things happen to female characters, you ignore that comparably horrible things happen to the male characters — as I said, 5.5 of the 6 most prominent male POV characters are maimed or dead by the end of Book 5. If a series portrays equally horrible things happening to men and women, is it sexist?

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  43. Pat Cahalan wrote:

    @ April

    > And one point I keep
    > seeing is that we’re
    > supposed to think
    > that the rapists are
    > bad guys and so it’s
    > ok to show graphic
    > rape scenes. How
    > many times can rape
    > be shown before we
    > need to accept that
    > either the author
    > is lazy or he’s
    > doing it for appeal?

    The author is lazy on this point, I’ll agree. Rape is a shorthand for certain type of brutality, and when you use it too much it is cheap.

    Can you answer your own rhetorical question, though?

    How many times *can* rape be shown before you (in particular) come to the conclusion that the author is lazy?

    > Very seldom do we get
    > inside how rape and
    > threats of rape
    > actually affect the
    > women at whom they
    > are directed.

    That’s another fair point, although you can look at that from different angles and come to a different conclusion.

    Sansa, for example, is a character traveling a particular growth path. For the purposes of her character, exploration of her exploitation is kind of important – but that happens, for her.

    Cersei’s relationship with her husband and his brutalization of her sets the table for her as-yet-future character development (yes, Martin hasn’t done a great job with her to this point).

    Most of the rest of them, “rape” is shorthand for “something terrible happens to this character”.

    But, to be somewhat charitable to Martin’s laziness, “something terrible happens to this character” is something that happens to *every* character. The men are maimed, or killed, or tortured… almost without exclusion. This is a period of war in a fairly primitive society.

    And Martin doesn’t exactly spend chapters exploring Bran/Jon/Jamie’s PTSD, does he?

    The context of “violence happens to these people, and they are shaped because of it” is subsumed; Martin’s not writing a great character study.

    But not all novels (or series) need to be character studies, either.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink
  44. Alex Cranz wrote:

    Sady,

    I’ll admit that I kind of despised the books when I read the first three more than ten years ago. I thought they were misogynistic drivel and I stayed far away for quite some time.

    I revisited the series only this year and only after watching the series, which for me radically changed my perception of some of the books’ most troublesome characters. Specifically Cersei and Daenerys.

    In light of my rereading (I’m nearly done with the fourth book) I’m working on the assumption that Martin is crafting a criticism of feudalism and patriarchal society and that the excessive use of sexual violence in the books is a means to an end. I’ll gladly eat my hat if by the seventh book that doesn’t happen. I’ll also be majorly pissed.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink
  45. John D wrote:

    PS- There’s a heck of a lot, though, to be said about sexism in the FANDOM of these books. I’d love to read your thoughts on these two polls of ASOIAF fans that reveal their 30 favorite characters and 15 most hated characters. http://bit.ly/j7RXdR http://bit.ly/pjkyOj

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink
  46. KerouacZac wrote:

    I hate myself a little for saying this, but…Thank you for saving me from reading those books.

    Speaking as someone who doesn’t mind his toys getting beat-up a bit, I’d love to hear your take on Dune.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink
  47. Alex Cranz wrote:

    @John D

    Of man the sexism of the fandom. I checked out the main ASOIAF forum recently and was sceeved all kinds of way by the passionate group of people who desperately want Sansa to end up with Sandor Clegane. And then they patiently and patronizingly explain why it should be that way.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Permalink
  48. Taylor wrote:

    @John D

    Daenerys is actually a perfect example of how sexist Martin’s writing is: after she’s no longer a wife, she becomes the people’s champion/mother and is almost entirely desexualized like Melisandre and could be swapped out with any of the dudes vying to rule the realm.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Permalink
  49. April wrote:

    Pat-

    I don’t think the criticism of “well, bad things happen to men, too!” plays very well. All the men you list there are given some kind of injury that takes something from them or requires them to grow in a different way. The loss of ability for both Jaime and Bran and the way in which that affects them, I think are well-covered in their POV chapters. Not so for the sexual violence or threats of sexual violence to women.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink
  50. John D wrote:

    @Taylor — I guess you haven’t read the most recent book. Many “nerdling” ASOIAF fans are very unhappy with Dany’s sexual choices about in that book.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  51. tree wrote:

    Thank you, Sady, for another instance of Saving Me From Horrors In Books I Had Almost Giving In To Reading.

    Also, I’m a little appalled at those who are suggesting Martin has some sort of Grand Plan re: the use of sexism and rapeytiems. Maybe it’s just my tiny ladybrain, but I tend to think that if you’ve already written over 4,000 pages of sexism and rapeytiems without having gotten to the part where you make it totes obvs that the aforementioned sexism and rapeytimes are bad, then perhaps you might just be DOIN IT WRONG.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  52. Sophie wrote:

    That is magnificent. Thank you for the brilliant review.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  53. MMR wrote:

    I’m a feminist lady and I agree with John D, though I’m a huge fan of you, Sady, and think a lot of what you point out in the series is important to note, and important to debate and discuss…I just come to very different conclusions. I really powerfully feel these books as a heartfelt critique of patriarchy that works precisely because it IS so disturbing in its depictions of rape and punishment of women. GRRM makes his position (patriarchy is bad) so clear so many times that I personally am starting to find it tedious, even.

    As a woman who has experienced violence and terror due to my sex, I would be pretty bummed if “feminism” came to mean we can never show violence against women in any way. Violence against women is real and happens every day–writing fantasy novels in which it doesn’t exist doesn’t help us get to the bottom of any of it, necessarily. How can a critique of feudalism and patriarchy be made in fictionalized form without showing the horrible effects of both of those systems?? The way he shows both male and female characters being utterly brutalized and destroyed by feudalism and patriarchy has been super haunting to me, and as a cautionary tale, a political statement, like fucking pictures of displaced Rwandan refugees or Holocaust victims. Should we just not look at the things that bum us out about the world? Maybe he FAILS, but I really think GRRM is very explicitly ATTEMPTING a critique. not just, like, oh, GRRM doesn’t realize this shit he’s depicting is problematic and gross.

    I also strongly disagree with @Taylor. Daenerys has been doing it like crazy with Daario since becoming a widow/barren/Mother figure. Those are some of the most explicit non-rape sex scenes in the whole book, and they happen entirely at her behest, and she doesn’t feel bad about any of it. I think Dany is an awesome character, and I also think the point made above about how she is the central figure of this whole series is REALLY IMPORTANT. The Returning Hero, the Savior-King familiar to us from, like, every story we’ve ever heard, is going to be this young girl. I think that’s so cool, and really diminishes a critique of GRRM as just some dumb old pervert.

    Any fiction is open to interpretation, and I think feminist voices like this blog are powerful and real and I ALWAYS rethink something if I read an opposing view here on TBD, so I really thank you for all that you do, Sady. I just wanted to throw in my thoughts as a lady since John D is getting kind of harshed on.

    I agree GRRM uses “nipple” way too much

    I’m sorry for writing so much. I appreciate this blog so much and I hope you do not hate my guts now.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink
  54. Sady wrote:

    @MMR: I don’t hate you! There is no reason on Earth why I would hate you for the terrible crime of Not Liking The Entertainments I Like, or Liking The Entertainments I Don’t Like.

    Actually, since this post is getting a lot of linkage and responses — some of them fairly hostile and pissy — here’s a good opportunity to lay out our Guidelines For Getting Your Comment Published, and/or Guidelines For Productive Comment Discussion. I’ll include positive and negative examples, in some cases, so that you know what I’m talking about:

    1) You are free to disagree with the post. However, I ask that you read the post first and respond to points that are actually within the post when you disagree. Saying things like, “I just skimmed this post, but” or “I didn’t finish the whole post, but” will get you deleted. If you can’t pay attention to anyone else, why should we pay attention to you?

    GOOFUS writes, “why are you saying that George R.R. Martin shouldn’t ever depict rape? And why are you saying that the society of Westeros should be totally gender-egalitarian?” Since the original post said neither of these things, GOOFUS gets deleted.

    GALLANT writes, “I see what you’re saying about certain female characters like Brienne and Arya being desexualized, but I think that Asha Greyjoy is allowed to exercise the sort of martial competence you’re talking about while retaining sexual agency, for the following reasons.” Then GALLANT lists some reasons. GALLANT has added something new to the discussion, and gets published. This follows from

    2) Good commenters add substance to the discussion. Because good commenters are interested in having a discussion. Bad commenters take substance away from the discussion. Bad commenters shut down the discussion, because they only want to hear their own voices.

    GOOFUS writes, “this is so stupid. You’re wrong.” GOOFUS has only acted to shut down someone else’s voice, and no real conversation can be built upon the basis of his comment. GOOFUS gets deleted.

    GALLANT writes, “Commenter #3, I’m interested in what you said about the male characters also being wounded in some ways. In my opinion, the male characters’ wounds tend to be less generic than the rape/beating motif with the women, and those wounds are allowed to play a crucial role in shaping their character. How do you see the rapes and attempted rapes as shaping the womens’ characters?” GALLANT has both addressed another person conversationally, and opened up a road for specific, productive discussion. GALLANT gets published. From which follows Rule #3,

    3) Don’t be a dick.

    GOOFUS writes, “you suck, you stupid cunt.” GOOFUS gets banned.

    GALLANT writes something that does not amount to, “you suck, you stupid cunt.” GALLANT has now achieved the bare minimum that is required to be a functional, non-douchey human being in a conversation. GALLANT may or may not get published, depending on the substance of GALLANT’s comment, but at least he’s not auto-banned.

    4) Try not to dominate the discussion. This may be particularly hard for men or other privileged readers; men are enculturated to believe that they can assume a position of authority over nearly any subject, including other people’s personal experiences (thus leading to the “that woman doesn’t know what’s sexist/feminist; I, a man, will tell her what sexism/feminism REALLY is” phenomenon), and that they always deserve to be heard, which can lead to their seeking to dominate conversations, de-legitimize other people’s first-hand experiences, and drown out or talk over other people. But lots of people inadvertently dominate discussions, for all kinds of reasons, and it’s always obnoxious and bad. If you notice that you are commenting a lot more than other people, try not commenting for a while, so other people can have some room to speak. If your comment is as long as some blog posts, recognize that you’re leaving a big wall o’text that discourages other commenters from reading/commenting further, and post that wall of text on your personal blog instead. Read the definition of mansplaining, and refrain from doing that. Also refrain from whitesplaining, cissplaining, straightsplaining, or anything else along those lines.

    5) Don’t post sexist/racist/homophobic shit. Don’t post rape-apologist shit. Don’t post anti-feminist shit. This blog is a place for feminists and pro-woman readers to talk and read, without having to be assailed by any of the previously mentioned varieties of shit. If you don’t have some experience with feminist theory, feminist practice, or basic etiquette within feminist discussion, you may inadvertently post some sexist or offensive shit that we have to delete. That’s fine. You’re not a bad person. We hope you come back. It’s just that now is the time for you to listen, not to talk.

    6) Above all: Don’t take it personally.

    GOOFUS writes, “Why are you telling me I’m a bad person for liking these books??!!!? Why did you tell me — ME, PERSONALLY — that I was going to overreact and over-personalize this, and only hear that you didn’t like my toys, and complain about that, in a really petulant manner, instead of addressing your actual points?” GOOFUS is proving me correct, about how GOOFUS would react, and about the Nerd Rage generally. Much as I appreciate his demonstration of exactly what I was talking about in the intro to this post, he still gets deleted, because his comments are irrelevant.

    GALLANT writes, “well, I do like the books a lot, and here’s why.” GALLANT is not throwing a temper tantrum, and is meeting all of our previously-stated rules for discussion. He gets published.

    Okay! That seems to cover most of the bases. Whether or not you get deleted, enjoy your visit to the ever-tumultuous Comment Section of Tiger Beatdown.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm | Permalink
  55. Anna wrote:

    Right, because violence, rape, sexism and brutality are totally not a normal part of medieval feudalistic society on which these series are based on.

    [AND THEN THE REST OF THE COMMENT, WHICH GOT DELETED.]

    Anna here is demonstrating yet another way to get deleted, which is: Re-stating arguments that are addressed and refuted within the OP, another variant of not reading the actual post.

    Yes, rape was very common in Medieval Europe! Just like polytheism, tall stature, werewolves, and zombies. Oh, snap, turns out those are all humongous deviations from fact! In fact, you could argue that failing to include the presence of the Catholic Church, or some fantasy equivalent thereof, is a WAY bigger deviation from reality than, say, not including rape scenes; the Catholic Church was a central force — if not the central force — in determining the culture and values of Medieval Europe, far more powerful than any king. Without the Church’s views on women and sex, the Church’s cosmology and moral authority, the Church’s monopoly on art, literature, literacy and most forms of higher education, and the Church’s vision of God as a single, male, omnipotent deity at the head of a cosmic hierarchy (with Earthly authority envisioned as an imitation or reflection of that order: God as King/Father of the world, King as God/Father to his people, Father as God/King to his family), Medieval European culture as we know it simply would not exist. And yet, in Westeros? They’re polytheists who worship some female gods, Septons and Maesters both have access to institutional education, and the Septons have less power than Kings.

    Which is a long, roundabout way of saying this: We know that George R. R. Martin is perfectly fine with changing some major elements of Medieval reality to suit his specific purposes. Therefore, the elements of it that he has chosen to include are also chosen to suit his specific purposes. What are those purposes, when it comes to including normalized/eroticized pedophilia, rape, and domestic abuse? I’ve argued for one answer. You’re free to argue for the other. But “because it happened in Medieval Europe” is not the answer. Westeros is not Medieval Europe. And it never was.

    — Sady.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
  56. Maia wrote:

    Why do you think Robert is (or is supposed to be) a sympathetic character? I understand where you’re coming from for most of your critique (but often disagree), but I actually can’t see that at all (nor the Greyjoys, nights watch or Dothraki as sympathic en masse. Particularly the Greyjoys – who I hated all except the daughter. Obviously Tyrion is sympathetic and the hound gets more sympathetic).

    Ned likes him, and obviously Ned is a sympathetic character. But he is also a tragic character in that his fatal flaw of being a fucking idiot brings death to him and horror for almost everyone else, so I’m not convinced that we’re supposed to trust his judgement. Particularly when Robert has no redeeming features, and then dies.

    Friday, August 26, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink
  57. Brennan wrote:

    Thanks for this. I laughed really hard. It was cathartic because these books are very much a guilty pleasure of mine. Every time I read a chapter and put it down going “Wow, those were some seriously Unfortunate Implications” I eventually pick it back up ’cause I wanna know what happens with the iiicceee zommmbbbiiies.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:24 am | Permalink
  58. alula_auburn wrote:

    We know that George R. R. Martin is perfectly fine with changing some major elements of Medieval reality to suit his specific purposes. Therefore, the elements of it that he has chosen to include are also chosen to suit his specific purposes. What are those purposes, when it comes to including normalized/eroticized pedophilia, rape, and domestic abuse? I’ve argued for one answer. You’re free to argue for the other. But “because it happened in Medieval Europe” is not the answer. Westeros is not Medieval Europe. And it never was.

    ILU Sady. Writers make choices about EVERYTHING. And of course, there are other books in medieval European-esque settings (either overtly fantastic or not) that deal with the lives of women in those eras without using repeated, graphic descriptions of rape. It’s not inevitable. It’s a choice.

    Just for the record, if it’s my comment leading people to this strawman censorship argument, that OMG critiquing the use of rape in one work means no one should write about rape ever, that’s such a stock derailing argument I can’t even. I like some escapist texts (some of which have definite Issues of their own); I’ve also appreciated many texts that dealt with rape and domestic violence, etc, in ways I found insightful and compelling, in realist, historical, and fantasy/SF settings. (As an aside, in Barbara Kingsolver’s essay “Jabberwocky,” she describes two letters she received from readers of Animal Dreams relating to a character death and it is one of the finest examples I can think of in which an author genuinely engages with what it means to create violent images for art and entertainment, even in the name of a valid worthy cause or argument. IOW, she does not throw a passive-aggressive tantrum about how she HAD to kill a (young, beautiful, “feisty”) female character to make a statement about fucked-up American policy in Guatemala, and she did not harangue a reader who said that as a survivor of a violent assault, she could not continue reading when she realized it would happen. She also does not go off in a huff claiming that people only want her to write fluffy bunny stories. The essay is in the collection High Tide in Tucson; I don’t believe it’s available online.)

    I do not think GRRM’s writing demonstrates such thoughtful usage (I think much of it IS lazy characterization and plotting, attempts at shock value and yes, too often eroticized), nor has anything else to offer to offset the use of such tropes in a way I find to be offputting. And again, as a writer, I get concerned if I think my workshop isn’t getting the point or theme I’m working toward in a ten page excerpt; the idea that I “owe” him his whole septalogy to show me I’ve misjudged him is laughable.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink
  59. sealz wrote:

    I have to say that the parts that enraged me the most were the parts about Brienne. She’s the most bad ass knight ever, and there Catelyn goes feeling sorry for her every minute of every day. And its ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS the first thing someone mentions upon meeting Brienne. WE GET IT, MARTIN: LADY IS SUPER UGGS.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  60. I’m inclined to think that the men don’t come off much better than the women. I say not much better because there’s a matter of emotional tone which you may be right about.

    Robert screws up disasterously in a stereotypically male fashion. He can’t be bothered to rule because he’d rather drink and hunt. I don’t think this comes off as anti-male in the same way that Catelyn’s impulsiveness comes off as anti-female, but I’m not sure if that’s a defect in the story, or in background assumptions I’m bringing to it.

    For that matter, Ned’s getting himself gratuitously killed because the rules are the rules and the truth is the truth without caring about the emotional situation could be read as a different sort of stereotypical maleness.

    Tyrion was the nearest thing to a good guy in the series, until his father and Catelyn broke him.

    It seems to me that Catelyn has a reflexive hatred of men which led to some (all?) of her bad decisions, but in that world, I can’t say I really blame her.

    If I reread, I’ll track Cersei’s judgment to see if I think she suddenly became stupid when she became queen.

    More about the men– they’re the ones who decided to have a war when they should be filling their warehouses because Winter Is Coming.

    All this being said, I’m creeped out by there being two women who ruin their sons by being too indulgent. Surely one would have been enough if there weren’t background psychological issues and/or a failure of imagination.

    I’m hoping that Sansa will develop sufficient cynicism and nerve to take charge, and probably become an evil queen. Speaking as a somewhat spacey person, I have more sympathy for her than most.

    To my mind, ASoIaF is a world where there are no good decisions. Aside from any other issues about Danerys and slavery, I noticed that trying to force a society to make a drastic change with no local support and no detailed understanding has serious bad side effects. I count this as anti-authoritarian as much as anything.

    In general, I’ve wondered if GRRM has slotted cluefulness into the same place that most genre authors put virtue.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  61. Kat R.Y.W. wrote:

    I want to have consentual wild monkey sex with your brain. Forever. There are no words for how much I love you right now, and I didn’t even know you exist until a friend linked me to this.

    I have actually accepted that I’m going to have to read all these books (or at least the parts that interest me – thank you GRRM for giving me a tidy filing system!) because finishing the series is the only way I’ll ever discover if there’s a punchline here.

    MAN, I hope there’s a punchline.

    I’m going to post this everywhere and see if I can’t alienate the rest of my friends.

    Also?

    I wasn’t kidding about the wild monkey sex with your brain. My brain is very interested, but you know, it’s up to you. Just throwing out there. ;)

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink
  62. emjaybee wrote:

    I am so glad to live in a world of hilarious review summaries and/or Wikipedia, because now I can know about books/movies that would squick me/fill me with murderous rage without wasting thousands of hours of my life. So thanks for taking one for the team Sady. You and the girl who wrote the Sparkledammerung http://stoney321.livejournal.com/317176.html?page=3
    have made my life so much better.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  63. FashionablyEvil wrote:

    Why do you think Robert is (or is supposed to be) a sympathetic character?

    -He conquered Westeros, saving them from Aerys
    -He loved Lyanna and she died
    -He got stuck marrying Cersei
    -He ended up a cuckold
    -He was a good warrior, but not really a good king
    -He seemed to know what the right thing to do was (hence making Ned his Hand), but was more interested in tourneys, hunting, and sleeping with prostitutes

    Basically, he’s the guy who was the life of the party, but didn’t know when to stop drinking and go home.

    Oh, and he’s fat. Which makes a dude into a sympathetic/tragic-comic character.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink
  64. Abigail wrote:

    I was underwhelmed by the first book, but enjoyed the series well enough to feel that I might as well watch future seasons unspoiled. But grade A Sady Doyle snark is way more enticing…

    By the way, I’m pretty sure that fan opinion is rather firmly on the side that Ned didn’t cheat on Catelyn, and that Jon isn’t his son but his nephew – Lyanna Stark’s son by the Targareyn brother who kidnapped her in one of the opening volleys of the war in which Robert claimed the throne. Which would mean, of course, that there’s yet another raped female character to add to the count, and that, depending on whether Lyanna died after Jon’s birth or was sent away to hide her shame, Martin can check “rape is a lifelong shame for its victims” off his list of rape-related tropes.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  65. Cahokia wrote:

    Thank you for your article.
    I read it and immediately thought that it would be some lovely lemon juice in the eye of a certain type of creature…. end of summer, friday night, /tv section of 4chan. That’s right I linked to the article. Sorry if you got a shit storm or it ruined your friday; seems you were sort of preparing for the storm so I chose to do it.
    The page is gone, but I know there is some kind of archive for certain boards on that chan.
    Thanks again for your article. Your writing style cuts beautifully through.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  66. LSG wrote:

    The same people who are telling me that I will LOVE GRRM are the same people who told me that I would LOVE Pillars of the Earth, which was so very rapey and sexist. (Because authenticity!)

    So I am 100% not reading GMMR. Thank you for confirming my suspicions!

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  67. John D wrote:

    @Abigail — Actually, the prevailing opinion is that Martin is setting up the revelation that Lyanna eloped willingly with Rhaegar because she was in love with him.

    @Sady, re: changes between medieval Europe and Westeros — The changes you describe re: magic, religion, culture, and height are aesthetic changes. They are not fundamental changes to *human nature.*

    The most omnipresent theme in the series, to me, is Martin’s cynical/”realistic” view of how humans handle power. The powerful exploit the weak. The ruthless defeat the honorable. Rulers care only about maintaining their own power, not helping the people they rule. In a male-dominated world where human nature is such — and I would argue that this accurately describes not only medieval Europe, but the vast majority of human history — isn’t this exactly how women and girls would be treated? How they have been treated throughout most of human history? And isn’t it horrifying?

    PS- After your comments toward me earlier in this thread, I hope @MMR has convinced you that this is at the very least a defensible interpretation of the series. I certainly don’t think you have to like my toys, but I hope you no longer think everyone with this viewpoint is a deluded fool who’s missing what’s “painfully obvious.”

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  68. Sady wrote:

    @John D: No, I still think the series that has (a) children enjoying being molested by adults, (b) rape/molestation survivors falling in love with their rapists/molesters, (c) gratuitous girl-on-girl porn (there are no visible lesbians in this universe, and no visible sex between men, but if a woman is in charge, she’s going to suddenly start “experimenting” with girls in the most Penthouse-Forumy manner imaginable), (d) an entire subplot devoted to White Orientalist/colonialist wish-fulfillment, (e) an unsettling amount of Good Mommy/Bad Mommy shit going on (with Lysa and Cersei v. Catelyn), (f) the Evil Slutty Queen archetype, who, we now learn, is substantially motivated to evil by the idea that another woman might be prettier than her, (e) every damn thing else I’ve mentioned, and every gratuitous/eroticized rape scene in the book, including a scene in the most recent book, in which Strong Female Character Asha Greyjoy is raped at knifepoint and has an orgasm because SURPRISE, HE WAS SECRETLY HER BOYFRIEND ALL ALONG, is very screwed up on the gender and race fronts, and that denying this or pointing to the existence of a few token Strong Female Characters to defend it is missing what is, yes, painfully obvious.

    The problem is not that these books are “grim.” If anything, the “grim,” anyone-can-die plotty aspect is the one thing that kept me reading. (I do think that hailing these books as masterful looks at human nature or realpolitik, just because there are lots of rapes and murders and mutilations, is fundamentally adolescent; “no, it’s not just a fantasy book about dragons, like little kids read! Look, there’s violence! That’s for grown-ups! Also, did you know my Mom lets me watch R-rated movies sometimes?”) And the quality of writing in the books just isn’t very good in any other regard. I mean, dear God, the WRITING: The fakey, pseudo-British, Ren Faire approximation of “olden tymes” speech. The paper-thin, stereotypical characterizations. The presence of painfully obvious Nerd Identification Characters. (Tyrion and his endless, self-aggrandizing self-pity — he’s so much smarter than everyone else! But hot girls won’t fuck him! And nobody likes him enough! But he’s smarter than everyone else! Everybody SUCKS for not liking/wanting to fuck Tyrion! — is clearly designed to appeal to that specific variety of misogynist nerd who’s convinced that he’s always the smartest guy in the room, and is endlessly bitter that people aren’t sufficiently impressed by him and that women specifically don’t reward his brilliance with constant blow-jobs and praise. Or, there’s Sam and his “I’m unattractive, and not good at sports uh, combat, and I like to read about dragons, and I get picked on in school uh, the night’s watch; GEE, I WONDER IF I’LL TURN OUT TO BE SOME KIND OF UNLIKELY HERO IN THIS HERE FANTASY NOVEL WRITTEN FOR GUYS JUST LIKE ME” schtick, which just never stops being grating.) The redundant, redundant redundancy — how many times does Sam have to use the word “craven” per scene? — and the often laughably bad, cliched or awkward dialogue…. This is not great literature. It’s a series of potboilers and page-turners. And that’s fine, but it’s also fine to acknowledge that they are only appealing on the level of “what happens next,” and Martin can only keep up the “anything can happen next” schtick if he’s willing to let horrible things happen to the protagonists. So I don’t object to that, at all.

    It’s not the grimness. It’s the stereotypical grimness of what happens to all of the female characters. Along with the stereotypical characterizations of the female characters. This is specifically gendered, and sexist, and it’s off-putting. Sure, fine: Show me Vargo Hoat eating his own chopped-off feet. Show me seven-year-olds being pushed out of windows. Show me all the grim shit you want. But if you can’t think of anything more interesting to threaten a female character with than “and then somebody tried to rape her,” over and over, to EVERY female character, AND you show rape as hot or romantic in some instances, I have every right to roll my eyes and call you creepy until the cows come home.

    But you were polite, so you got published. See how that works?

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  69. Chai Latte wrote:

    *applause* That’s all I can say. You are brilliant, Sady.I giggled and lolsobbed throughout the entire post. I bow before your greatness.

    Frankly I will die of shock if I read one chapter, JUST ONE, that doesn’t mention breasts. I mean DAMN, like we forgot they existed?

    Also, people who argue that ‘but rape was common back then!’ I have two points for you to consider:

    1) Back when there were dragons?

    2) Rape is common now, too. Sadly, women do not *have* to imagine such a world. For us, it never went away.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  70. Hope wrote:

    Thank you, Sady, as always, for reading terrible things so I don’t have to. Frankly, there’s something disturbing about the whole Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre for me–beginning with the reliance on showing violence for entertainment purposes–and with the way that impacts female characters in a sexualized way. It’s a sad thing that some fans have blinders on about the subtext of their Favorite Things. I’m reminded of an educated, accomplished, and otherwise intelligent guy I know who described his favorite “romantic” Korean film to me this way:
    HIM: “The main character is a pimp, who falls in love with a girl from a higher class, so he has her kidnapped and sold into prostitution…so they can be close! He watches her from afar! And she decides to stay with him in the end!”
    ME: “Prostitution?! Kidnapping?! WTF?”
    HIM: “But it turns out to be a good thing for her! Because she isn’t a prostitute, but she gets to have a sexual awakening she wouldn’t have otherwise had in the culture!”***

    ME: *mimes banging my own skull on restaurant table in horror*

    (***Very, Very Near to Actual Quotes Because They Burned My Brain)

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  71. John D wrote:

    @Sady: On Tyrion — that’s certainly what Tyrion thinks about himself, and how many fans think about him as well. But might Tyrion/Shae really be about how all Tyrion wanted was a vapid good-looking fuckpuppet who would pour his wine and tell him how great he is? Pretty interesting how Tyrion falls so hard for such an underwritten character — what does that tell us about him, and how he sees women, and how the “misogynist nerds” you describe see women? What about the several curious instances where Shae displays hints of intelligence and independence — and how those instances uniformly make Tyrion unhappy and uncomfortable? In Book 5 Tyrion spends a lot of time with a female dwarf who he never even considers as a romantic partner simply because she’s ugly (the book is very clear on this) — isn’t this exactly how those misogynist nerds behave?

    Re: Sam, I think he’s headed for the graveyard.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  72. ambivalent wrote:

    This is pretty much why I stopped reading the series after the third book, and have exactly zero interest in seeing the series, and yeah. I met the guy at a con, he was pretty amiable, but these books are so skeevy. so, so skeevy.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink
  73. Will S wrote:

    I’m with John D on this.

    Westeros is intended to be a subversion of fantasy tropes that says that when you give people too much power and privilege, ugly things happen. It’s a depiction of rape culture in a medieval society — there’s just no way to make it pretty. I don’t see how you can have a culture that incorporates rape as a viable, legitimate tactic, put women alongside men who think rape is acceptable and not have it be a) ubiquitous and b) commonplace.

    What would you do if you were Martin and worried about being called creepy?

    Would you have it happen off screen and have some vague references to it later?
    Would you have it happen to one character, and then be reviled by everyone following?
    Would you have it not happen at all and be an unthinkable act?

    I think the unanswered question here is, what in your mind is an acceptable way to handle plot situations in a rape culture that avoid including rape or the threat of rape as a plot point?

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  74. Heather wrote:

    Such a good point about the correlation between women’s political power and their indulgence in Penthouse-y girl-on-girl sex…and only with servants and/or subordinates, so it’s pseudo-consensual, and of course the servants/subordinates are dusky and exotic and hypersexual so they don’t mind getting down with the queen on command.

    It was especially creepy when he had Cersei get drunk and maul her ladyfriend who cannot protest (and doesn’t want to, because exotic and hypersexual etc). Reproducing her husband’s sexual abuse; more of the “power for woman = becoming a man”.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  75. Pete wrote:

    “Cersei is evil, eeeeeevil. How do we know she’s evil? She’s consensually fucking more than one dude, OBVS. Also, she’s saying things like [ ... ]”

    Well… there’s also the minor details of her:

    (a) handing over her servant girl (Senelle), a minor noblewoman (Falyse) and at least two unnamed female puppeteers to Qyburn for what is strongly implied to be sexual torture ending in death,

    (b) ordering the murder of one of Robert’s bastard children, a baby, along with that baby’s fifteen-year-old mother, as well as arranging for the murder of two Robert-bastard twin babies born to a servant at Casterly Rock and selling their mother into slavery, as well as ordering Gendry (another Robert-bastard) to be hunted down and killed (though that attempt failed),

    (c) murdering her friend Melara (when they were both children at the age of ten) by pushing her into a well (and then hanging around for a while to listen to her scream),

    (d) organising and then directly participating in the torture of the Blue Bard (with the intent of brainwashing him into falsely testifying against Margaery Tyrell),

    (e) persuading/bribing Osney Kettleblack to assassinate the High Septon,

    (f) having the woman Alayaya imprisoned and beaten by the Kettleblacks, then later tied to a post and whipped, then publicly thrown out of the castle gates naked and bleeding.

    My point is that it’s extremely misleading to characterise Cersei as being considered “evil” merely because she fucks people other than her husband (both before and after she arranged for said husband to die in a hunting “accident”).

    The mildly disturbing thing (at least for me) was that I could still find her a sympathetic character *despite* all the assorted horrific things she does. I feel the same way about Theon.

    Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  76. B. wrote:

    I’ve had so many friends telling me to read the books and watch the TV series, but I’m glad I read this article first. I won’t be wasting my time on them.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 1:11 am | Permalink
  77. Maggie (yet another) wrote:

    That was hilarious as usual xD

    I agree that there are many problematic things in this series, but I think you’re missing an element of it, and the reason I think this is because you said of Sansa “We are meant to believe that, for these reasons, Sansa completely sucks and deserves everything that’s coming to her.”

    That came totally out of left field for me – I actually thought she was one of the most sympathetic characters starting from the second book. I didn’t think anything that happened to her was meant to be any sort of punishment – in fact, I don’t think this is the sort of book that HANDS OUT punishments – what happens to characters has absolutely no relation to their moral value. Obviously it has “good guys” and “bad guys”, but nowhere near as strongly defined ones as most other fantasy of this subgenre. I think the whole point of the shifting points of view is that we get different portraits of characters depending on who is observing them, that characters *have personal bias* – EVERYONE is an unreliable narrator. So we can come to like a character like King Robert through Ned’s eyes, and then later find out that he’s a wife-raping asshole of the socially-normalised variety and Ned’s been convincing himself otherwise for his own peace of mind, and we can see Jaime as a bad person but then BAM, character growth.

    So we’re obviously not meant to think of any character as irredeemably good or uncorruptably evil, they’re supposed to be human – and the bad ends they all come to are not indications that we’re supposed to think they deserve those ends. Aside from Danaerys being untouchable on account of how I guess she has to bring the dragons to Westeros to fuck up some zombies or something, main characters die all the time. Well, okay, some of them come back. But maiming and assault are handed out willy nilly.

    Coming back to Sansa – I know a lot of READERS hate her for misogynist reasons, but I’m absolutely opposed to the idea that the text positions her as a bad person for being a stereotypical naive young girl. There are a lot of parallels between her situation and Robert’s – from backstory we know he used to believe in songs about brave knights rescuing fair maidens, just like Sansa from the other side. I think Sansa’s story is ultimately About disillusionment (which is why all the molesting – her illusions are mostly about romance, after all). And she could go the way Robert did, and become bitter and have really awful coping mechanisms. But judging by how quickly she picked up the necessary subterfuge for working with Littlefinger, and ability to manipulate Little Robert, I think instead she’s going to take the Queen of Thorns for a role model. (and I wish you’d mentioned her at all, because she was wonderful – a female character weilding power without having to usurp roles socially assigned to men? and being COMPETENT? I wish she’d been in more of the book, but I suppose having established her as that competent it would be unrealistic to put her in the main action and still stretch this out to eight books, you need a lot of fuck-ups to create the kind of chaos Martin seems to be going for. I think that’s mostly behind Cersei’s role in book four.)

    Also I just want to mention that Brienne DID NOT BECOME A KNIGHT TO BE CLOSE TO RENLY, WERE YOU EVEN READING THE SAME BOOKS AS ME? She had fencing lessons before she got betrothed the first time! She refused to marry any man who couldn’t match her in battle! She joined TOURNAMENTS to be close to Renly, that’s slightly different.

    Also, the Mormonts are totally background battle ladies with none of those problems – admittedly it’s “because the men were always away at war when raiders came” but in that social context that makes sense.

    Now, I agree with you that Martin could easily have made the world less rapey – Tamora Pierce did it without sacrificing any drama! But given the world he established, I don’t think giving young people like Jon and Danaerys (remember that Jon didn’t want to have sex despite his attraction to Ygritte but had to as part of his cover and then fell in love with her) sexual agency is a bad thing. I think the fact that there’s no out-of-character moralising muddies the issue for a lot of people. Same with the Ladies Manipulating Men Through Sex thing – I got pretty tired of it by the time we got to Arianne, but she was quite explicit about taking what power she could get because unlike her cousins nobody taught her to fight. I don’t think it’s meant to imply that Women Manipulate Men With Sex as a rule, I think it’s pretty clearly meant to be an example of ambitious women coping with limited avenues of power.

    Anyway this comment is already too long so I’ma stop there. I liked a lot of things about this series, but I do think a lot of your criticisms are valid too, especially the race stuff. The TV show has ameliorated some of the other stuff by aging up characters and through certain actors being amazing, but they’ve somehow made Westeros EVEN WHITER by leaving out Jalabhar Xho, and Khal Drogo EVEN RAPIER because fuck you it’s HBO (or… something?) and yeah there’s definitely plenty to criticise.

    Still an improvement on Tolkien and the rest of his thousand bastard children though!

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink
  78. Maggie (yet another) wrote:

    err I meant to say irredeemably evil or uncorruptably good, not irredeemably good or uncorruptably evil. lol oops xD

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 8:40 am | Permalink
  79. anarres wrote:

    I really liked these books (I’ll admit) but I did find myself continually wincing at the sexual violence. I found myself wondering why GRRM included so much rape in these stories, and I’m kind of worried that it’s because the author and some of the readers really LIKE it, that rape is some kind of fantasy wish-fulfillment for some people. Which, ugh.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  80. dillene wrote:

    As for the argument that rape was prevalent in the Middle Ages: well it happened, but it wasn’t looked upon as some everyday, inevitable occurrence. Case in point- Thomas Malory, an actual medieval person who wrote ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’, an actual medieval poem. It turns out that Malory had plenty of free time to write his masterwork because he was in prison. He was in prison for raping a woman. So, while rape happened in the Middle Ages, people did not just shrug their shoulders and ignore it.

    Now, intimate partner violence- of course that happened too, and was more socially acceptable. However, it wasn’t looked upon as something necessarily desirable or good. Remember that the Wife of Bath (created by actual medieval person Geoffrey Chaucer) talks about her bad experiences with her husbands and it makes her a more sympathetic character. She also tells a tale (perhaps the most famous tale in ‘The Canterbury Tales’) about letting women get their own way.

    To sum up- if you have written a work of literature that allegedly integrates the grimness and suffering of the ‘real world’, and the actual society upon which your fictional culture is based was not that grim in reality, then you may have taken it a step too far. Real medieval people would be surprised to learn that some future author thought their lives were quite that horrible. There were some very bad things, yes- but it wasn’t all grim all the time and no one would accept that as the normal state of things.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  81. Sady wrote:

    @John: I think at this point, we’re heading toward the “dominating the discussion” thing, in that you and I keep going back and forth to the extent of other commenters getting ignored or not responded to. However, I still remain firmly unconvinced of this “showing bad things is a critique of bad things” thing, especially when those bad things are deployed to punish characters, or when sexist stereotypes or acts are seemingly not recognized as such within the narrative. Again: My emphasis here is on how those acts are used by the narrative. And the “showing bad things is a critique of bad things” argument is particularly flimsy when it comes to your points about Tyrion. He’s continually rewarded by the narrative, handed all the “clever” plots and “one-liners,” and is the favorite character of both fans and the author of the series. If we were really meant to be distanced by his misogyny, it wouldn’t be continually presented to us as “funny,” and if we were really meant to be appalled by his behavior, we wouldn’t have a situation in which he (a) has sex with slaves who can’t say no to him, and are meant to feel sorry for him, (b) hear about his participation in the gang-rape of his first wife, as a reason to feel sorry for him (while Tysha herself — like 99% of the disposable and/or nameless rape victims in this story — disappears, never to be seen or heard from again). Fans are livid that I don’t feel sorry for Tyrion for raping his wife. And the narrative has worked to cause this fan reaction. His misogyny is clear and present throughout the series, but I don’t think it’s “critique” to just show something. Especially not when it’s built into your lovable-disabled-genius-curmudgeon archetype (seriously, can we just accept that Tyrion is a medieval House, M.D.?) and we’re continually informed that to dislike this character is to be a BAD AND IGNORANT PERSON.

    You could argue that it’s progressive to have a disabled character as the fan favorite. But I think Martin’s “progressive” attitude toward disabled characters can be summed up in one word. That word? Is “Hodor.” (Or “Disability Superpowers,” specifically with Bran, but that’s a phrase. And another story for another time.)

    Anyway, I think the other commenters deserve a hearing, so let’s have less of this back-and-forth and give other people room to talk with each other.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  82. Becky wrote:

    I agree with most of Maggie’s comments and would also add – I don’t see Cersei as bad for sleeping around. To me, it’s pretty obvious that she uses sex as a weapon because nobody gave her a sword. And I think, like Jaime, she is a character we’re supposed to see as evil at first, but then we learn a little bit more about the way she is and she becomes more sympathetic. Like, the reason she’s so obsessed with power is because Robert made her so powerless. She kills and seduces to keep herself powerful enough that she can never again be put in a situation where somebody can rape and beat her and there’s nothing she can do about it. I don’t blame her for that (although I know a lot of fans do, but there is so much misogyny in SFF fandom).

    But Sady, I do agree with your criticism regarding racism – I think there is some criticism of the white saviour thing but Martin indulges in it more than he criticizes. And Tyrion is so problematic to me – he just gets more and more misogynist, but he’s clearly the author’s favourite which makes me feel like his behaviour is condoned in a way that a lot of the other character’s behaviours aren’t. I could hardly stand to read his chapters in the last book because of that. So I agree with you on Tyrion, too.

    I’m sorry you have to deal with commenters who think you’re trying to take their toys away. It’s important to listen to criticisms of things we like and understand that they have problematic elements.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  83. John D wrote:

    @Sady — MMR, Will S, Pete, and Maggie (Yet Another) have all made very good points about whether Martin rewards/punishes characters, whether we are meant to fully buy into POV characters’ views of themselves, and whether showing = critiquing unless there’s explicit “out-of-character moralising” condemning what unfolds on the page. So I’ll step back and let them defend the toys.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  84. Sady wrote:

    @anarres: Right. I don’t think we can separate the aggressive sexism of much of the fan community from the aggressive sexism within the narrative, and within the characters. As other people — who are more involved with the fan culture than I — have noted, there are a lot of boys who read these books, enjoy referring to characters as “wenches,” and frequently wish rape upon specific characters as a punishment. (Emily, who posted a critical review of the “Game of Thrones” TV show on this very blog earlier, tells me that they’re also not above telling women who criticize the series that they “should be raped by Drogo.”) And I don’t think that’s separable from the fact that rape is continually happening within this narrative — usually in very brutal ways, to characters who are never seen or heard from again after the sexual assault; what do you think the odds are that we’ll get a Lollys POV chapter? None? Okay, then — and that it is, indeed, sometimes used as a punishment within the narrative.

    Cersei, the female character who exercises the most sexual agency within the books, and the female character who aspires to exercise the most power within white/European/Western society, is also constructed as the most “evil” of the female characters, with all of the acts mentioned above. You could say that she’s not evil “because she’s sexual,” or you could note that (a) she’s the evilest evil that ever eviled, and (b) she has the most sexual agency and aspires to exercise more power within Westeros than any other woman, acknowledge that evil/sexual agency/female power are definitively tied here, and note the clear Unfortunate Implications within that choice. And then you can note that, in the most recent book, she’s subjected to the longest, most graphically described and dwelled-upon sexual assault of any character, as punishment for her sins.

    Sansa’s never-ending molestation works much the same way; even fans who say they like her say that they started to like her “in the second book,” basically after she started to be beaten and sexually assaulted on a regular basis. Once the “stuck-up,” “stupid,” “shallow,” or “girly” female character is PUNISHED, THEN she can be redeemed and we can like her. But we’re clearly not meant to like her before the sexual-assault-as-redemptive-punishment takes place. And we don’t.

    Are we surprised that a narrative with these connotations attracts virulently misogynist fans who think of rape as punishment? Because I’m not. Not at all.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink
  85. Tom Van Dyke wrote:

    Sady, I’ve enjoyed your OP and followup remarks tremendously. You’ve made your case with wit and substance.

    However, I must demur on one thing. The proper “conservative” reaction is to wish for Charlie Bronson to come in at the end of the series, invent the .457 Magnum and blow away every one of these raping pricks.

    Cheers. ;-)

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  86. Aaron wrote:

    I’LL TEACH YOU TO SAY THINGS THAT ARE TRUE ABOUT STUFF THAT I LIKE.

    I was moaning “noooooooo” and “IT’S TRUUUUUE” while reading this article because it’s SO TRUE but it makes me SO SAD. Because they’re so enjoyable! So disgustingly, horribly enjoyable. And yet if you read GRRM’s blog he is a creepy motherfucker who totally gets off on everything he writes and it makes me feel dirty and want to shudder in disgust. Just let me have my guilty pleasure, Sady Doyle! Stop using your relentless woman-logic on my man-fun-time things!

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  87. Violet wrote:

    This is EXACTLY the essay I was attempting to compose angrily in my head at one-thirty this morning when I made the mistake of reading a fair bit of book 4 before trying to sleep.

    Only much better than I could have done it.

    Midway through book 2 I had already come to the conclusion that there was no one in these books save Jon and Arya that I was at all interested in whether they’d Come Out All Right, and that the Others could claim all of Westeros for all I cared. And yet I kept going.

    Then Arya was the only character I cared about anymore, and yet I kept going.

    Now, stopping dead last night just after Asha’s blinding (POSSIBLY WELCOME SPOILER: It’s temporary), I may yet still keep going.

    I’m coming to believe that GRRM’s actual talent as a writer is to induce masochism in his readers.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  88. Sady wrote:

    NOTE TO TROLLS: We can see your IP addresses, y’all! If you leave multiple comments under different names, it doesn’t matter how many times you do it, or how creative your aliases are, or even what you’re saying; you still get banned for Classic Trollin’. I understand that you feel you could not possibly make yourself heard without pretending that you have 12 very good friends that just so happen to feel exactly the same way you do. But try, please.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink
  89. harlemjd wrote:

    Agreed with everything, and I admire your restraint in leaving out Lyssa for the most part, who is a whole nother lesson in GRRM has some serious issues with women.

    I actually do find Tyrion a sympathetic character (have not read 5 yet). What I find gross is that the author clearly believes that my sympathy for him would be greater than my sympathy for Tysha, or my curiosity about Shae (who never gets her own POV).

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Permalink
  90. JC wrote:

    Thank you! My 90 year old grandma loves these books and is always trying to get me to read them (she’s a big SFF fan). I tried but got halfway through book 1 and gave up for all the reasons you outlined.

    Also, I’m a medieval historian and I call bullshit on the whole “but it’s accurately medieval” thing.

    Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  91. Brett wrote:

    “And then you can note that, in the most recent book, she’s subjected to the longest, most graphically described and dwelled-upon sexual assault of any character, as punishment for her sins. ”

    No, she’s subjected to that experience because her uncle and her other enemies are trying to humiliate and crush her politically. However, we get to see how unpleasant the experience is, and it helps to make us more sympathetic to Cersei even in spite of some of her worst acts in AFFC.

    It’s like how Theon is brutalized in “A Dance with Dragons”. People both wanted to see Theon and Cersei punished for what they did, but what happens to them is ugly – and suddenly that desire for punishment starts to taste sour in your mouth. Nobody deserves what both were put through.

    “Once the “stuck-up,” “stupid,” “shallow,” or “girly” female character is PUNISHED, THEN she can be redeemed and we can like her. But we’re clearly not meant to like her before the sexual-assault-as-redemptive-punishment takes place. And we don’t. ”

    No, we like her because of how she attempts to deal with a dangerous, difficult situation. She does about as well as she possibly can, and it’s character growth on her part.

    And yes, Sansa was a spoiled and sheltered brat before reality showed up in the form of Ned’s death. It’s not her fault (she’s 13 in the books), but the fault of her parents, who didn’t bother to teach her anything but all the frivolities that “proper” ladies were supposed to engage in.

    Side-note, but there’s a parallel with Cersei there. Cersei had the same experience – she was never taught to rule. She had to learn the hard way.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink
  92. Bex wrote:

    You know, I do think that the overall message of the series is anti-patriarchy and actually has a lot of interesting things to say in that vein. I also think that these things mainly get said through the MALE characters, because Martin is creepy as hell and a) enjoys writing the torture porn way too much to be consistent about this message when there are women to be raped, and b) has some fucked up ideas about What Women Are Like, which pop up and ruin too many of the things he tries to do with his female characters.

    At least I never thought Cersei had any redeeming characteristics whatsoever, so unlike some of my friends, I didn’t feel completely betrayed by what kind of ruler she turned out to be. Cersei is for me like Betty Draper (too unpleasant even to pity properly no matter how I might want to), but with the author’s own unconscious prejudices making the whole thing completely gross instead of thoughtful and painful.

    Although I do think that Sansa and Catelyn are object lessons in how being privileged can make you an ass more than anything gender-related — much like Ned and Robert.

    Oh, and racism. So much racism. So that’s fun, too.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 3:07 am | Permalink
  93. Sady wrote:

    @Brett: In which the guy responds to the “rape is used as a redemptive punishment” comment with a comment about how, once these women have been assaulted, we just LIKE them more, because they have been REDEEMED BY THEIR PUNISHMENT, and we can feel SORRY for them.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:02 am | Permalink
  94. kiturak wrote:

    A variant of the “thruth about European Medieval societies” argument that’s been used here (and that regularly shows up once you mention dragons and fireballs in response to the standard version), is stating the fantasy world is staying “true to the emotional reality” of people in These Times, or, as John D calls it, “human nature”. That’s just as illogical, unprovable and unfounded as the standard version, but can be put up as an easy defense against basically everything.
    Apart from, in John D’s case, smuggling in the notion that sexism is inherent to human nature.

    If you want to write a satire about power and corruption, there are multitudes of non-sexist/racist ways to do it.
    Especially if you want me to read your work as a critique of power and corruption along gender or racial lines (and being a white guy doesn’t really give you the best starting conditions), you maybe shouldn’t write it in a painfully obvious sexist/racist way – stereotyping, invisiblizing etc.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:27 am | Permalink
  95. kiturak wrote:

    And,

    I don’t think we can separate the aggressive sexism of much of the fan community from the aggressive sexism within the narrative, and within the characters.

    I agree so much. How can this shit be a critique of sexism if all it creates are hordes of female-characters-hating/pitying Tyrion-fanboys?

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  96. szopen wrote:

    Prison for a rape? Western medieval wimps. In medieval Poland rape was punished by death[1]. Actually, it was more safe to kill woman’s father (you just have to pay compensation) than to rape his daughter.

    [1] Ok, actually only in some territories and in some regulations. The statutes by king Casimir the Great contain a phrase that if someone raped a woman, then his life would be at mercy f the girl and her family, that is, they could kill that rapist or demand any compensation they deemed appropriate.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink
  97. scrumby wrote:

    Thank you, Sady, for pointing out the god damn anyone-can-die constant plot twist nature of the books. I enjoyed that as much as anyone else but GRRM’s level of character death has become conformation a of standard for men’s fiction that has never fucking existed before. A while back I was rec-ing Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (the Napolionic wars with aerial corps made of dragons) and the response I got from my guy friends (largely history buffs) was “it’s good but no one really dies so -chick novel.” Name another series that has massive character death that isn’t Song of Ice and Fire? Not in JRR. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Terry Goodkind, Harry Turtledove, Raymond E.Feist, Robert Jorden, or any of the damn Dragonlance books. Those are the top male fantasy authors and none of them are as violent as the darker paranormal romance stuff like Jacqueline Carry or Anne Bishop.

    And as a side note, if you haven’t already done so I recommend you go pick up Sherwood Smith’s Inda for intrigues, battles, civilization collapsing, but no rape.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink
  98. alula_auburn wrote:

    LOL, ASOIAF really brings out the greatest hits of annoying defenses! I, for one, do not require graphic, porn-y descriptions of rape (or torture) in order to realize that “no one deserves that,” as if that’s some awesome and profound insight people (should) need to be guided to. It’s a lot like Joss Whedon trying to argue “we are all implicit” in episode 6 of Dollhouse–um, no, I have really no conflicted feelings on whether brainwashing and human trafficking are wrong, Joss. Putting Eliza Dushku in a series of goofy costumes in pursuit of a REALLY OBVIOUS QUESTION does not “art” make. Nor do gag-worthy–I mean, “unpleasant”–descriptions of rape make me think, “gosh, she didn’t deserve THAT!” because, um, WTF? This is why ASOIAF fanboys creep me out.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink
  99. Clare12 wrote:

    Sady, I love you. This is an amazing post. I’m going to send it to some friends, but I’m sure they will just say I don’t “appreciate” Martin because I’m too “sensitive” ie I don’t find gratuitous rape to be entertaining.

    You are amazing- thanks again.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  100. Peter Lewerin wrote:

    Incisive and funny.

    As for historical accuracy, there is at least one tale from the actual Dark Ages, The Saga of Hervor, that has a female *hero*. The Saga isn’t exactly a feminist narrative, but Hervor is at least portrayed as resolute, cunning, and fearless, a leader of men (and quite at home with the girly stuff as well, at other times). She never gets raped; considering the episode where she slays a man for touching her sword, I’d think most men would think twice before trying to touch her body.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if modern fantasy could have female characters at least as empowered as characters that were created over a thousand years ago?

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink
  101. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    I had used Kathleen as a handle here before, but there’s a different one above now — anyway.

    I so held on, in re: GRRM. A little rape! A little creepy pedophilia (EVERY CHAPTER ON DAENARYS MUST MENTION HER BOOOOOBIES)! A little ridiculous torture and misery!(Theon eating a live rat with half his teeth knocked out… HA HA HAH AH AH HAHAHAH HA seriously. Has anyone ever *felt* a rat? Their fur and skin would not yield to even a fairly healthy set of human choppers without help). A little dumbass racism! (the black characters! Their nicknames are BLACK SOMEBODY! Also, you cannot mention them without mentioning they are DUSKY and EBONY and SOFORTH. Like the boobies of D, this is their character development)

    but I HELD ON. Cause I like fantasy fiction. I kept going. I read and read.

    And then I got to the extended wankety wank WANK fantasy where Cerseit, the hot girl who thinks she’s all that gets brought LOW. And you know what? she’s like, not even that hot. Her boobies are saggy and stuff! Her belly is poochy!

    and then I thought, yeah, that’s one too many tired-ass cliches for me. and I packed it in.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  102. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    also, Sady? “Gayng-Raype” is sheer genius.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  103. AnonAnonAnon wrote:

    I keep rewriting this to try and make it sound less clumsy.

    I loved the series when I first read it, and recced it (sans TW, which I didn’t know of at the time) extensively.

    My reasons were a bit weird, though, I suspect: I needed the books. They actually -helped- me heal and deal with what happened to me. I had never begun to cope with my rapes, in part because these books were the first experience I ever had in fantasy of seeing rapey shit portrayed as Genuine Bad and not sekritly romanticals, or a joke, or something you let happen to you so of course you secretly liked it.
    The women and girls always seemed to cope as best they could in a world direly hostile to women. Rape happened, regardless of precaution, and it wasn’t their fault, but the men who were raping, and the society that constantly enabled and excused and encouraged them. It my first glimpse of comprehension at the whole sick and expansive way that patriarchy worked, before I had that word, or any of the useful terms and lenses I do now.

    But! All of these points you make, they are dead on.
    And I never interacted much with other fans, as reading was a really private thing for me.
    And I never had a clue how creepy the author was – his blog was boring, but I guess the brief time I bothered with it, it I was lucky to only be subjected to a whole bunch of football rambles.
    And basically, all these things add up to a great deal of cringing.
    (Also, all that racism? It’s nauseating that my then ~colourblind~ self didn’t even -notice-. Cuz, y’know, noticing woulda been racist.)

    After all of this, I’ve come to heavily suspect I gave it too much credit. I didn’t read it at the time to be such a -celebration- of rape culture, and based on this piece (and really, all of the incredibly incisive bits that been done on this since the HBO debut) I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to reread these books, if only to better understand how I ever got that positive impression. Deeply dreading doing it, though.

    And again! That smack of betrayal when an author once adored suddenly comes to light as a fail-bloated toolkit. This is the third in as many months for me. I really need to discover some less disappointing toys.
    (Sady, a massive sf/f rec post of nonfail would be awesome someday! Just sayin’.)

    Basically, thank you for tackling these.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  104. sxxk1ttn wrote:

    The chucklefucks haven’t come out en masse like this is a long time!

    I’m reading the books currently, I have watched the entire first series. I didn’t want to; I had seen the first HBO episode and it seemed like it was just squicky and gratuitous with the same old high fantasy tropes as written by white dudes that can be found anywhere only with less dragons and sentient animal types. However, I’m enjoying the flow of the stories, I’m enjoying the mythos of this universe (even though it really needs to be explored instead of just hinted at), I’m enjoying the moral and ethical ambiguity presented in all the characters which is a nice change of pace. And I’m enjoying all that in a way that is completely separate from (and amazingly enough does not require) the sexism, racism/othering, pedohilia/molestation/sexual assault (all of which is directed at only female characters curiously enough), and all the other problematic issues that you’ve brought up.

    I really wanted to like the Dany subarc, but couldn’t put my finger on why I wasn’t loving all the dragon master stuff, but you pointing out the racism and othering that is going on with her end is probably the culprit- I wasn’t picking up on that since it’s so normalized in so much science fiction.

    Another interesting thing I noticed after reading these comments then reading some more of #3 is that we are immersed in the rich and complex mental lives of men who have undergone physical trauma- Every Bran chapter includes at least one reference to how broken he is and what a struggle it is for him to accept and deal with it, same with Tyrion, and now Jaime, yet none of the women thusfar who has been assaulted or has a history as rape victim is given a POV, or in the case of Dany/Sansa glosses over it/seems to jerk herself back to thinking of the positives of the dynamic- so it sort of suggests that the author doesn’t think that kind of trauma is something worth thinking about or that requires time to process, mourn and cope, or he thinks women can’t/shouldn’t/don’t deserve to indulge in painful, complex, nuanced and negative cognitions because of their ladybrain or something.

    in other words, the men folks are given carte blanche to abloobloobloo over their loss of bodily integrity- and thus overt power- from accident/injury/congenital disabilty, but all the women who are being abused, assaulted, diminished, bought and sold, be it in a noble marriage or as prostitutes, are not given any voice about how this loss of bodily integrity affects them beyond the moment it happens if at all?

    sounds like some mansplainin to me.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  105. Caitiecat wrote:

    For those looking for a comeback to the suggestion that GRRM is attempting some sort of criticism of rape culture here, in some extended twelve-dimensional-chess version of “criticism through glorification and reveling”, I recommend (for some value of “recommend”) the shared-universe “Wild Cards” series, a Heroes-like series of books about a virus which gives people superpowers. Martin’s own contributions tend to be just as squickily child-porny/rapey as the nauseating Song of Rape and Rapists.

    And yet, somehow, the other contributors manage to make their gritty-grimdark-superheroes get along without being rapey and child-porney.

    Funny. It’s almost as if those elements are, as Sady says, integral to the author’s enjoyment, and to his supposition of his audience’s enjoyment.

    He’s only marginally less skeezy than Piers “NAMBLA LIFETIME EMERITUS” Anthony, and Terry “I never met a rapist I didn’t respect and admire” Goodkind.

    There’s way better fantasy out there, doing way better jobs of critiquing racism and sexism, without simultaneously glorying in them.

    Brava, Sady, for facing the slings and arrows of outraged nerddom, and awash in a sea of foaming trolls, taking arms, and by opposing ending them.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  106. I don’t doubt that Alex is right in thinking Martin intends to use Daenerys to show that all the rape that has been going on is wrong. I just think this doesn’t make anything better.
    He’s been playing with almost all existing rape tropes for 5 books. He’s shown rape as shorthand for “something terrible” any time he needs something to happen to a female character, he did “it’s not rape if you enjoy it”, “it’s not rape if you’re a prostitute”, “it’s not rape if you’re married to the rapist”, “it’s not rape, it’s rough sex”, and so on.
    Ending the series with “but rape was bad all along!”, after using rape to draw readers looking for either “grim” or “erotic” scenes for a bazillion pages, would be what Melissa McEwan calls Deathbed Confession Cinema. (http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2011/07/film-corner_13.html)
    It’s wanting to have the cake and eat it too. “Hey, I already said rape is wrong, what else do you want? Now give me my cookie! Damn, feminists are never satisfied.”
    About the readers who say there’s not that much sexual violence in the series, I think at least some of them, even if they say they think rape is wrong and believe it when they say it, don’t see it in the books because they only count instances like the noblewoman who was gangraped in the mob when Myrcella was leaving to Dorne, or the women that Ramsay Bolton tortures. Prostitute? Not rape, just business. Daenerys? Not rape, as she was married and Drogo was gentle, and they fell in luuuurv. Cersei? Not rape, cos she was married to Robert, plus even if it were rape she deserved it and the beatings for being a slutty bitch.
    I don’t know if Martin thinks this way too, and so really believes he’s writing a great work of criticism, or if he’s hypocritically playing to his readers. Either way I’m not giving him any cookies.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  107. jmr31 wrote:

    I recently read all of the Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire books, and I have to say, this post sounds like it’s about a different series altogether. Far from being sexist, SOIAF is a feminist work in an overwhelmingly non-feminist (or even anti-feminist) fantasy genre.

    The main theme of SOIAF is that medieval codes of honor, chivalry, etc, weren’t noble and beautiful, as they’re presented in most fantasy books. Instead, they were brutal and dehumanizing and awful, mainly for women but for men as well. So yes, SOIAF has a lot of female characters who get raped. Tons of them! But that’s because George R.R. Martin is writing (and writing disapprovingly) about a disgusting and horrible rape culture. And yes, there are characters like Sansa Stark, who follow the patriarchal script laid out for them by Westerosi tradition but still get treated like shit constantly. But that’s because Martin is writing (and again, writing disapprovingly) about a culture where women aren’t allowed to live for themselves, and end up internalizing a bunch of bullshit about how inferior they are.

    It’s tragic, and it’s meant to be tragic. We shouldn’t need a footnote explaining that “I, George R.R. Martin, think this is all just terrible, and women everywhere are entitled to equal legal and political status along with fulfilling career choices” to get the point that Westeros is a brutal and cruel and not-at-all-desirable world to live in.

    Also: no strong female characters? Bullshit! Sady’s original post depicted Catelyn Stark as some kind of dutiful wifey, but she’s actually pretty smart and engaged in the political storylines throughout SOIAF. For example, she tells her husband not to serve as Hand of the King, and she arranges a marriage for her son with the Frey family to solidify southern support for his kingship. Both men ignore her wishes and die as a result, but that doesn’t erase the fact that Catelyn is a sharp political advisor and diplomat for both of them. It just proves that the male characters stupidly ignore her counsel — and get their fucking heads chopped off for it!

    I could go on, but: give the books a try if you haven’t read them. If all you’ve really heard about SOIAF is this post/thread, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  108. Josh S. wrote:

    Wow at the pitch of some of the commenter anger here, particularly reports on the deleted trolls.

    I hope we’re the silent majority, but I’m both a George R. R. Martin fan and a Tiger Beatdown fan, and I’m glad that you, Sady, decided to write about Song of Ice and Fire, because the article points out some interesting, important things in an entertaining way.

    I obviously don’t agree with everything concluded about the series/author, or else I probably wouldn’t be a fan (though of course I am a fan of plenty of media I also find problematic, and I certainly don’t think ASoIaF is problem-free), but yeah, that’s okay. The post was clearly thoughtful and valuable, even if it’s all about not liking my toys.

    Sure, there’s a part of me that’s sad that some people who were going to try the books themselves aren’t going to do so after reading the post, but it’s a small part, and everyone’s obviously entitled to not read things they don’t want to read for any reason at all–this post lays out more reasons than most. Lord knows there are enough other awesome books out there to last a few dozen lifetimes.

    @sxxk1ttn: Really great point in your last two paragraphs. I mean, I have theories in my head about why these characters think and act the way they do–theories other than that GRRM doesn’t really care about or even vaguely understand women’s subjective experiences–but the uniformity of the gender divide in the trauma-handling is something to chew on.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink
  109. Rob wrote:

    I guess the question I have is how you settle on the designation of sympathetic and un-sympathetic characters. Robert, for instance, struck me as unsympathetic largely because he abuses Cersei (the ruling badly is excusable as a wrong-guy-for-the-job thing, so it’s the abuse that tips him over into “bad person”).

    I agree with you on the overuse and the creepiness of, say, Daenerys’ response to Drogo. They aren’t great books, even though the storytelling is decent (you didn’t mention my personal pet objection, which is how smoothly he glosses over the massacres/starvation that are presumably decimating the entire non-noble population of the continent, but that’s a conversation for another time).

    That said, whether it’s authorial intent or not, there is something to be said for reading the books as an example of how utterly horrible a feudal/patriarchal system is for almost everyone living in it.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  110. Emily WK wrote:

    Is there anyone here versed in Middle Ages law? Because now two people have mentioned that rape was taken seriously Back In The Day and I feel pretty confident that “rape” in Middle Ages terms meant “defiling a virgin who was still owned by her father” and not, you know, forcing someone into a sexual act against their will. Just a thought.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  111. I read about a quarter of the first book and just couldn’t go any further. Every villain freebases kittens, when they aren’t raping people, and the “sympathetic” characters aren’t. Just… Ugh. Spot on analysis, Sady.

    To the people who talk about his willingness to kill characters being a good thing: only if you actually CARE if the characters live or die.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  112. FashionablyEvil wrote:

    Robert, for instance, struck me as unsympathetic largely because he abuses Cersei

    While he’s alive he’s a pretty sympathetic character. It’s really only after he’s dead and we hear more about the marriage from Cersei’s perspective. (I think mostly in books 3 and 4). Even then, it’s hard to feel too bad for Cersei since she’s off engineering a new version of Savonarola and plotting the death of her 16 year old daughter in law.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  113. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    just to circle back to the racism (not that we are done with the sexism!), the other thing that killed the series off for me was Tyrion’s musings about slavery: ultimately, slaves choose it (they could commit suicide, after all), and *most* masters treat slaves well b/c they are valuable property.

    Where had I come across this before? (smacks forehead) that’s right: Confederacy apologias.

    Why was it even *necessary* for the series hero to have these musings? why do the extra helpings of sexist and racist hatery have to be ladled on? cause it’s grrm’s platform and that’s how he likes it.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink
  114. Glittertrash wrote:

    When I read people making the “but he’s showing all that rape so that we know how BAD it is! Bad! Rape is bad! It’s bad and dirty and we need to be shown over and over and over and over again how very bad and dirty and evil it is because otherwise how would we ever know that rape is bad? Here just to make sure let me depict it again: BAD SEE?” argument, I am picturing people in a creepier and more repressive era passing around booklets about the evils of self-abuse (illustrated) and nodding fervently along with one another as to how important it is to really understand just how bad, and evil, and dirty all this filth is (and to study up on it for full comprehension, of course).

    It’s such a glaring fail of an argument. On what planet has a quick ‘and that is bad! Don’t do that!’ disclaimer at the end ever convinced anyone that the preceding porn was not designed to titillate? Like here is a picture of sexy nubile tied-up lady in torn clothes! Kidnapping is bad! To remind you how bad kidnapping is, watch the sexy tied-up lady writhe a bit more! Remember, kids, don’t kidnap people!

    That such a thin veil of feigned opposition (“Surprise! Rape is bad!”) allows GRRM to get away with packing quite so much raping into quite so many pages while allowing his fans to justify it as being totally-not-rape-tittilation is… well, not surprising, but not great.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink
  115. Sady wrote:

    @DifferentKathleen: RIGHT???? I thought I could not be more done with Tyrion, after he threatened to rape his seven-year-old nephew in order to win a fight with his sister (or after he said that his greatest dream in life was to, uh, rape the sister). But then we got to the point where Tyrion was possessed by Pat Buchanan, and gets all, “sure, slaves were treated like dogs. But a lot of people are really NICE to their dogs! Ultimately, lots of slaves LOVE their masters, because slavery is a CHOICE!” Um, I am pretty sure that it is not, and that is the entire point of the word being “slavery” and not “super-consensual unpaid labor fun times?” But never mind.

    The choice to put that “slavery is really okay” thought into the mind of a (white) character who is CURRENTLY A SLAVE, because it can’t be fucked-up and racist if the slave is thinking it… I can’t even comprehend the level of ignorance required to make that possible. I cannot.

    Also, the word “dusky.” Continually. In regard to hypersexualized, exotic women of color. “Dusky,” “dusky,” “dusky.” SO GROSS.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink
  116. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    Sady — thanks for getting here before the GRRM fans were all like “but TYRION was a SLAVE and he was WHITE so it makes his thoughts magically immune to racism and history”

    yep. just makes it worse.

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
  117. Samildanach wrote:

    Your assessment of medieval Europe is amusingly wide of the mark. A tangential point, I know, but still…

    Monday, August 29, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink
  118. Tim Lieder wrote:

    Rape was seen as a property crime. There were different laws for rape and seduction based on Biblical precepts. You were stealing the virginity (and therefore the bridal price) from a woman and her father when you raped her.

    However, most of the rape in the Middle Ages was wartime rape in which one invading horde would attack another horde, rape the women and basically create a social order in which several of the children were sons of the invaders (Vikings were particularly enthusiastic). Like today, it was a crime about power and not sexuality but instead of the power of one individual over the other, it was the power of one social order over the other (and the Romans raped the men as well so it was even more like that).

    The tension is best depicted in the favorite Bible story (and subject of artwork) of the time in the Book of Judith (canonized by the Catholics but not the Jews or the protestants) which is a cleaned up version of the story of Yael and Sisera in the book of Judges.

    In Yael, the enemy general Sisera comes to her tent and she offers him shelter. She puts him to bed after serving him milk (many see an implied seduction) and then she goes out and grabs a tent stake and nails it through his head (I named my last anthology She Nailed a Stake Through His Head because I like this story). Like the character in Kill Bill, she penetrates him instead of him penetrating her. And if the point of the story isn’t abundantly clear by now, there’s a happy little song about how she killed him and won’t his mother be worried about him with her handmaids saying that he’s probably just dividing up the Israelite women (only they don’t say women – the Hebrew word is actually better translated as “Gashes” which pretty much guarantees that you won’t get an accurate translation in Sunday School).

    The Book of Judith is a cleaned up version. Instead of inviting the enemy into her tent, she goes into his tent after making a big speech about how she’s a virtuous woman who is only going to avenge her dead husband. And instead of her putting him to bed and killing him at his most vulnerable she kills him right away.

    Basically, the fact that The Book of Judith was one of the most popular texts throughout the middle ages and one of the most enduring subjects for painters (Caravaggio was particularly horrifying) attests to the fact that rape was widespread and cultural and there was a need among the peoples of the middle ages to tell themselves a story about rape being reversed and the men being placed in a position of vulnerability.

    Of course, I’m talking about early and middle middle ages when there were still barbarian hordes. Once they all got baptized they pushed everyone into the Crusades and happily banded together to kill Jews, Turks and Orthodox Christians (more or less in that order and they kind of felt bad about the last one but it’s not like they could tell the difference).

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 12:10 am | Permalink
  119. Tim Lieder wrote:

    BTW, I think I love the Song of Ice & Fire for the reasons that you hate it, because it is set in a fantasy version of the Middle Ages but it’s more like the real Middle Ages than most of the fantasy series that I grew up with (and refuse to read today) which seem to be set in a Renaissance Festival where everything is clean and no one dies of infection.

    Of course, this boils down to the argument concerning whether Depiction = Endorsement. Sometimes it does (usually in the works of Heinlein when he’s at his most preachy) but sometimes it is just serving the story (and a character speaking of the uses of slavery is not off-base – and slavery was not always as vile as the American version. There were many slavery conventions – usually among Arabs – in which a slave may start out as a slave but could end up becoming a major player in that society. The Cairo Ganiza (a storehouse for the documents of the Jewish community of Cairo from the 8th to 12th century approximately) has many documents of slaves purchasing their freedom and going on to becoming the major merchants of the community. And in Jewish law, a freed slave is a fully converted Jew with all the responsibilities and privileges that entails (and all the anti-Semitism as well but such is life)

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 12:17 am | Permalink
  120. MonkeyShines wrote:

    Tim, you forgot to mention that they cut all the slaves junk off. How are you ignoring that?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 2:47 am | Permalink
  121. MJ wrote:

    How can a discussion of racism in SoIaF leave out the Summer Islanders? Am I the only one who remembers the exotic, sexually liberated black people who show up to uptight white people how to embrace their sexuality and crash parties in costumes made of feathers?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 3:36 am | Permalink
  122. Sady wrote:

    @MJ; Right. And the occasional Hulk Speak that accompanies them. “Xho knows where this ship is. Xho will take you to ship. You owe Xho new feather cloak. Xho is troubled by connotations of syntax of Xho.” Plus, the Summer Islander ladies are all hypersexual and super cool with being hookers, because It’s Their Way. It gets really, really gross.

    @Tim: Thanks for the tidbits, but let’s resist the urge to compare different forms of slavery to see which one was “better.” It’s fairly trivializing. Anyway, as it seems that Tyrion’s brand of slavery is (surprise!) made up by Martin, and primarily fits our American idea of slavery, with a few “exotic” (castration) and “Roman” (gladiatorial fights) elements as window dressing, it’s fairly pointless. People seem to believe that because Martin says he’s drawing from medieval sources — and I’d be surprised if all the people who bought or repeated this line were themselves medieval scholars — we can treat these works as somehow historical documents. They’re not. They’re the products of 20th and 21st century American culture, designed to be read by 20th and 21st century readers, imagined specifically by a straight, white American man in the late 20th and early 21st century. That’s the context in which to read them. And when we have an enslaved character “seeing” that slaves were sometimes treated WELL by their masters, and were very LOYAL to their masters, and did not WANT to leave slavery, because “there was no slave who did not choose to be a slave,” we don’t have to look very far back for the historical sources of that attitude. We can find that attitude, in almost those exact words, within contemporary justifications and apologias for American slavery, from “Gone With the Wind” to Pat Buchanan op-eds. To my mind, it’s foolish and dangerous to ignore those clear antecedents for these kinds of sentiments and statements.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 4:16 am | Permalink
  123. Douglas wrote:

    @Sady: not sure on your rules about possibly beating a dead-horse…. but here goes.

    First, let me honest, I couldn’t make it past A Clash of Kings. Not for the many valid reasons given here, but rather just because Martin’s writing is so terribly boring, with characters that don’t react to the world he has created. They simply are flat, unchanging personifications of some particular political or social idea he wants to comment upon. Character development it seems is defined by the characters moving in space or time, never actually adapting to the reality they are in. (Arya and Sansa are the most obvious representations of this…) But, this isn’t a literay critique of Matin’s work here (not in a mechanical sense at least).

    Still, I do have to take exception with one point that you have made in your response regarding Tyrion (who I concede is too well loved by the fans….). You wrote, “If we were really meant to be distanced by his misogyny… (We wouldn’t) hear about his participation in the gang-rape of his first wife, as a reason to feel sorry for him (while Tysha herself — like 99% of the disposable and/or nameless rape victims in this story — disappears, never to be seen or heard from again). Fans are livid that I don’t feel sorry for Tyrion for raping his wife.” I can’t help but in this case point out that Tyrion is, in his own words, made to have sex with Tysha by his father. He is FORCED to have sex (a fair definition for rape, unless I’ve missed something). In this particular case, you are blaming a victim for being victimized. The person in power in that scene is not Tyrion, it is Tywin. People waiting for book 5 to find an instance of male sexual abuse need to go back to book 1… This doesn’t excuse Tyrion’s misogny, it makes it all the more (and I hessitate to use this word) pitiable.

    Now, as to the later events regarding Tyrion (slavey, etc) I must excuse myself from the conversation, and plead ignorance.

    My question to you, do you feel that I’ve grossly misrepresented Tyrion as a sexual victim to his father’s depraved treatment of him?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 6:02 am | Permalink
  124. Maia wrote:

    -He conquered Westeros, saving them from Aerys
    -He loved Lyanna and she died
    -He got stuck marrying Cersei
    -He ended up a cuckold
    -He was a good warrior, but not really a good king
    -He seemed to know what the right thing to do was (hence making Ned his Hand), but was more interested in tourneys, hunting, and sleeping with prostitutes

    Basically, he’s the guy who was the life of the party, but didn’t know when to stop drinking and go home.

    Oh, and he’s fat. Which makes a dude into a sympathetic/tragic-comic character.

    Fat people were supposed to be sympathetic – no one told me (or GRRM who has issues about many things and fat is definitely one).

    Both his role in winning the war, and whether that was a good thing, and his relationship with Lyanna are problematised throughout the books – I don’t think you’re supposed to take either his or Ned’s view at face value. But I think in general you are assuming the thing you are setting out to prove. You are assuming a sexist worldview – and then saying within that worldview Robert is sympathetic (which is true – if you believe that what you list are sympathetic characteristics – then obviously he is sympathetic). Robert is exactly the sort of person who gets a lot of leeway in a sexist society and who in our world you can imagine his friends downplaying his abuse because he’s such a great guy.

    I find him deeply unsympathetic. I have recently been playing “cast game of thrones among people we know” with my friends (this is to be recommended – particularly if you know a lot of people you don’t like very much). We cast someone we knew as Robert – and it wasn’t a compliment.

    Maggie:

    That came totally out of left field for me – I actually thought she was one of the most sympathetic characters starting from the second book. I didn’t think anything that happened to her was meant to be any sort of punishment – in fact, I don’t think this is the sort of book that HANDS OUT punishments – what happens to characters has absolutely no relation to their moral value.

    I just want to quote this, as I think it’s a really important point, both in relation to fiction and the world. I do not think that there is a force.

    As someone who believes that we do not live in a just and equitable universe – I think any fiction which posits pain and suffering as a punishment for wrong-doing is deeply problematic. As I rewatched X-Files a few years back I was so creeped out about the fact that there appeared to be a moral force on that show handing out deaths. Now I didn’t agree with the decisions that that moral force was making – but I think the ideas is just as bad when. In Dollhouse, all but two of the people who knowingly have sex with actives end up dead or hospitalised, often in ways that are pretty direct cause and effect relationships. On one level that was awesome to watch – but more fundamentally it was creepy and sent a really fucked up message.

    I think a universe where people people get what they deserve is fundamentally reactionary, even if I agree with the judgements about who deserves what.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 7:51 am | Permalink
  125. Medievalist wrote:

    @Emily WK (comment #110): The situation you describe is more typical of the early medieval law codes with their system of fines and focus on quantifiable damages. During the high and late Middle Ages, the focus shifted a bit towards rape as a damage to the individual woman’s integrity and honour and was actually punishable by death according to some codes of law. Of course, some assumptions and opinions about rape back then seem horrible to us today (for example, no recognition of such a thing as marital rape, the idea that pregnancy could not be a result of rape etc.), but the claim that rape was only perceived as a damage of property and nothing more has less to do with the actual Middle Ages than with their image as an especially dark and terrible time. It is also untrue that there was an idea that only virgins could be raped; one famous trial by combat in 14th-century France happened because a married noblewoman was raped.

    I certainly do not mean to refute that the Middle Ages were misogynistic (they obviously were), but the claim that George R.R. Martin’s novels are particularly realistic in their depiction of this aspect of the time period that inspired him is iffy at best. His world owes more to the “Dark Middle Ages” stereotype than to the historical time period itself, and this stereotype is every bit as faulty and one-sided as the idealized idea of a bright and gallant “Age of Chivalry”.

    Therefore, one has to ask oneself why Martin overemphasizes the negative aspects of the time, especially as he is not all that busy critiquing them, but using them as tools to get a visceral reaction out of his readers. While I agree that merely depicting something does not equal endorsing it, the depiction as such does not count as denouncing or critiquing certain practices, either.

    For that reason, “realism” or “but there might be a critique lurking underneath somewhere” do not seem like viable arguments against Sady’s exposing the problematic aspects of the books.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  126. Robin McIver wrote:

    What fascinates me is that in a genre where anything is possible, most authors create worlds where the roles of male and female are either the same as this world, or even more exacerbated. There are a few exceptions such as the Hunger Games, Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente and to some extent the Magicians series by Lev Grossman.

    Even Harry Potter (which I enjoyed) was frustrating in its gender role division. It is by in large driven by Men being wise and heroic and women being driven by love and children.

    This is the trope that I find most frustrating. Women are rarely depicted as being motivated by honor. It’s as if that concept is the sole provenance of men. Authors seem unable to conceive of women as driven by an ideal or idea, their motivations are usually of the heart which often comes of as boring (to me) and weak.

    I continue to wonder why, in a genre where you can imagine anything, authors continue to be so very unimaginative when it comes to sex and gender.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  127. Monica wrote:

    I agree. Martin’s series is a little ridiculous from time to time. For example, when the one woman is allowed to be raped by 50 random men in the streets before she’s found. I read that and I was like, “really?” Assuming that she was gone an hour and a half which was what the book seemed to imply, thinking it would take each man less than 2 minutes to rape her is just hilarious. Not even sad. It’s just error in judgment and timing. He’s playing to the blood and gore audience.

    And incest is so common in his books, you’d think it’s just standard in that fantasy world. Yet in the same breath, he mentions it’s taboo. Really? Pick one or the other; because when something’s taboo in a society it’s not done. The Nazis in Germany didn’t rape most of the women in concentration camps. They were so firmly indoctrinated with the fact that it was taboo, so it just didn’t happen. Other atrocities happened, but not that.

    I quit reading after book 2, not because I was so much outraged, but because I was tired of the books. They’re not worth the time investment. At one point I just looked up and thought ‘this is as good for my brain as watching reality television.’ A good writer has some sort of direction and I just wasn’t identifying with any of the characters nor the world he’d created.

    I’ve noticed the series HBO picks up (True Blood, Game of Thrones) are selected not so much for literary talent but for bloodiness and sensationalism.

    In addition to which: the majority of the characters in Martin’s novels are low born, and the rape rate for them seems to be even higher than it is for the high born- maybe 95 or 99%.

    In reality, the Catholic Church in the middle ages prevented a lot of this. As did the protection of their lords. Even when wars were waged, it wasn’t an all out rape, pillage, and slaughter of every man, woman and child. Historical accounts disagree with Martin’s “reality,” and his decision that rape is somewhat more prevalent in his world is just laughable, since he copied our world but just increased the rate of violence to where it’s not even sustainable. Those waging war weren’t intent on killing and raping everyone they came into contact with. They wanted to subjugate and take control of them so they’d produce crops and add to their wealth. You don’t do that by killing the majority of those you find and then raping all their women.

    Additionally, the death rate in Game of Thrones is hilarious. In that it’s not sustainable. Peasants were not densely spread. You can’t slaughter half a million in a tiny area and continue to have a functioning society.

    Another thing in the books: male rape is almost never mentioned. So we’re to assume that the countryside was ripe with these immensely horny pillagers who’d rape everyone they came into contact with providing they were female only? Heh. Yeah. If there’s female rape, there’s male rape. I suspect male rape just makes Martin feel a little squeamish.

    I suppose all that could be forgiven if Martin had written a series which had a lot of heart and soul. But it doesn’t. It’s shallow and sensationalistic.

    However, I will add that there are moments in the books of great writing- unfortunately though, these are few and far between. I kept slogging through books 1 and 2 to encounter these characters. But the novels are too damn long. He needs a better editor, perhaps.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink
  128. John D wrote:

    @Dillene, @Szopen, @Medievalist — I just want to clarify that rape is in fact illegal in the series. It’s a crime that many people are arrested for and sent to the series’ equivalent of exile. The threats of rape and actual rape in the series occur almost entirely in four contexts: (1) Warzones (and one case of a mob getting out of control, a similar breakdown of civil order), (2) Arranged marriages, (3) Prisoners, (4) Extremely powerful people taking advantage of their positions. I believe all four situations by nature lend themselves to rape, YMMV.

    @DifferentKathleen — I read Tyrion’s conclusion about slavery as him coming to a disturbing Ayn Rand, “people get what they choose/deserve” mentality that will lead him down a dark path. @Maia’s point emphasizes how the events of the series have shown that people certainly do not get what they choose or deserve, and for Tyrion to come to this conclusion that contradicts so much of the series I think is significant. If in the final books of the series Tyrion goes back to being awesome smart hero and savior of the world, I will admit you are right on this. But I don’t think he’s headed there.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  129. Sady wrote:

    @Douglas: I think it’s blurry whether force or coercion was used when Tywin “made” Tyrion rape Tysha. Like, after hearing about that scene at least once per novel, usually several times per novel, I’m STILL unclear whether it was “he made me” as in “I will kill you if you do not do this thing” or “he made me” as in “hey, come over here and do this thing.” But I wouldn’t accept that line of reasoning if we were talking about a female character, so I don’t want to be unfair.

    I think it’s important that Tyrion doesn’t refer to it as a “rape” until he learns that Tysha was not a hooker. Before that, the men just “had” her — with this being another of George R.R. Martin’s gang-rape scenes where a woman is gang-raped by an unrealistic amount of guys and doesn’t die of her internal injuries — and he felt really sad about it, but joined in. It was framed as something he just had to do, to punish her for not loving him, just like the murder of Shae. I mean… are we meant to believe that 100 guys raped this woman, and threw coins at her, and she never once said anything along the lines of, “I am not actually a sex worker, you all” or “this is rape?” The scene only makes logical sense if she didn’t speak or protest in any way. Which makes no logical sense at all. But it doesn’t matter, because she’s a George R. R. Martin Gang Rape Victim, which means she has no agency and will soon wind up in the fridge.)

    If we accept that Tyrion was also assaulted within that scene, and that he was not just punishing a sex worker/disposable person for not “actually” loving him — which wouldn’t be out of character for him, remember — then I question George R. R. Martin’s choice to give us a sympathetic male participant in a gang rape, who is also somehow the greater victim in that gang rape, while the actual woman getting gang-raped is fridged. That seems like a very manipulative choice, much like the one we were discussing above — the choice to put slavery apologias into the mind of a character (Tyrion, yet again) who is currently enslaved, so that we the reader are manipulated into excusing them.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  130. alula_auburn wrote:

    His world owes more to the “Dark Middle Ages” stereotype than to the historical time period itself, and this stereotype is every bit as faulty and one-sided as the idealized idea of a bright and gallant “Age of Chivalry”.

    Thank you for this, although I’m sure that as a “medievalist” some man will come to gently explain to you why you are Wrong about the Middle Ages, and why their own understanding, which is uninformed enough to find GRRM’s “grimness” so amazingly innovative, is clearly superior.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  131. the rejectionist wrote:

    Aw, man, I was so excited to hold the record for “Most People Upset About a Book Post,” but today that record has been DESTROYED. (Not coincidentally, all of the points in this post also apply to TGWTDT.)

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  132. Havoc wrote:

    And at the end of the day, here is what the people in the “fandom” are going to take away: You don’t like my toys? I hate you!

    You know, I know you’ve had bad experiences with fandom. We’ve all been there! But please try not to tar an entire fandom with the same brush. Hey, guess what? I’m in fandom, and I critique problematic source material. I have friends who do it. I have people who aren’t my friends who do that too. Because fans? Not a monolith.

    Yeah, there are plenty of jerks who get off on harassing anyone who dares to criticize their sacred text. But there are also plenty who don’t do that.

    (P.S. I am not currently, nor have I ever been in George R.R. Martin fandom.)

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  133. shinobi42 wrote:

    Robin, that is true of most of the MALE authors. That is why I pretty much exclusively read fantasy by female authors. Ursula LeGuine, Anne McCaffery, Mercedes Lackey, Anne Bishop all explore gender concepts in their books. (These are just the people i can think of off the top of my head.) Though sometimes they do this by leaving the gender dynamic the way it is and challenging it, other times they create worlds where there is no such thing as gender.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  134. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    The Rejectionist — I want to interject here with the definitive distinction that as bad as the GRRM series is, TGWTDT is way, way, worse. TGWTDT anoints readers as social justice crusaders for wanking to torture porn. The GRRM series is just straight-up wankery. I feel *enraged* by defenses of the shining values of TGWTDT, whereas defenses of the shining values of the GRRM series just make me feel snarfy — but not in any way stabbed in the back.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  135. FashionablyEvil wrote:

    Robert is exactly the sort of person who gets a lot of leeway in a sexist society and who in our world you can imagine his friends downplaying his abuse because he’s such a great guy.

    Yes, that’s the point I was making. Obviously on a feminist blog readers are much more likely to interrogate the sexist framing, but most readers won’t (and hence will see Robert as sympathetic).

    On the fat point–he’s the bumbling, harmless fat guy. Therefore he can do no wrong. A pretty common trope in American culture (especially on TV).

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  136. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE this.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  137. As a nerd, I must correct you! Tysha certainly was a hooker. That of course does not make the fridging any better. I also have always thought that she died at the end of the gang raping.

    It would have been better if Martin had a more feminist imagination, but he doesn’t, so you end up with the sort of creepy underresearched rape here.

    *I also don’t think people could survive being flayed as much as they do here.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink
  138. Douglas wrote:

    Thanks for the response, especially to, what is ultimately, a minor point in your overall critique. Even more importantly, thanks for an interesting read and a different perspective on a genre I love. Any agreement or disagreement on interpretations of the subject matter is far less important than getting an inside view of how and WHY someone feels about it. So, thank you for your time.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Permalink
  139. Sady wrote:

    @s.r. westwood: SPOILER, in an incredible plot twist, it turns out that she was a non-prostitute ALL ALONG.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  140. Kate wrote:

    THANK YOU! I laughed so hard reading this, despite the fact i am a huge GRRM fan. So even though you hate my toys, i still think you’re amazing :)

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink
  141. Viv wrote:

    I enjoyed your summary because many of your points are right on. As a woman, the first several chapters were very disturbing to me; the lack of a strong female character and the violence against women made me nearly put the books down.

    I’m glad I didn’t, and I’ll explain why, but first, on Tyrion’s story:

    When Tyrion married Tysha, he was 13 years old. He believed she was a prostitute who never loved him because his father, the authority figure over him, and his brother Jaime, whom he trusted, told him so. And so his father tells Tyrion to watch while she she has sex with all the soldiers for money, and then demands Tyrion rape her as well, and give her a gold coin because Lannisters are considered to be worth more than soldiers.

    I used the words “has sex” because although of course it is rape, at that point Tyrion believes the girl is a prostitute who has no problem with having sex with all the soldiers for money, as each one is paying her. He doesn’t realize that she is just as much a victim as he is, at this point.

    If a girl is coerced into doing something sexually by an authority figure in control of her, that’s rape. The young women in this story, who are 13, 14, etc., are considered by the society in which they live to be “of age” at this time, but we obviously agree that is not okay today (I feel that Martin is making that point, actually, to show us how barbaric that kind of thinking was.)

    I’m sure you agree that when a 13 year old child is coerced into sex by an authority figure, it doesn’t matter whether the child is a boy or girl–it’s rape either way. So I feel that we should give the same respect to Tyrion and accept that he is also a victim here.

    Now, why I kept reading: many of the women in the series show strength, resourcefulness and really grow as characters, especially Danaerys. I disagree, also, that she has to release the slaves because she is a white woman and they are not, and therefore she knows better. Dani was made a slave herself, and sold, and that’s why she empathizes with them. She doesn’t feel superior to them. Dani has actually learned much from listening and respecting other cultures and races, something her brother did not do (which is why she is a survivor and he is not) and she is “the blood of the dragon,” not her brother. She is a complex character trying to do the right thing in a world that George R. R. Martin has deliberately made the opposite of good vs evil. In that world, pragmatists and strategists live while the naive and trusting die.

    And this is where I talk about that world of the series, because it is really significant to note that, while a fantasy world, it is modeled on Europe during the War of the Roses and the families fighting for the throne at the time. The patriarchal society, arranged marriages, plotting and treason exist because the historical background upon which the fictional work is based included all those elements and they are necessary for the factions to make sense. So arguing that Martin could have had the women in charge, etc., doesn’t work in that setting. Yet he still has women play pivotal roles, and in the other countries in the book there are strong women.

    The women of the wildlings are not mentioned, I notice, nor is Asha Greyjoy, all strong women who control their own destinies.

    I disagree that Cersei is punished for her sexuality, also. Everyone suffers in this book, and I don’t see a lot of moral posturing here that indicates Martin himself has a problem with sexually assertive women–he makes that point through Cersei, who tries to use her sister-in-law’s sexuality to punish her, and instead ends up a victim of her own machinations. Cersei is undone because she does not think far enough ahead strategically; this is a weakness that the character has always had through the entire series of books. She solves immediate problems while creating long-range ones because she does not see the big picture. Cersei’s pattern has always been to manipulate Jaime, who loves her, into solving those problems she creates, but he stops going along with her when he realizes she has been using him all along.

    Tyrion does well because, as in chess, he sees the whole board and thinks several moves ahead. He learned, very young, the most important lesson of survival: naivete and innocence lead to suffering in this harsh world.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  142. Sady wrote:

    @Viv: Thanks for being so polite! Honestly, about the wildlings: I think Ygritte’s agency was pretty undermined by her whole, “I’ll seriously fuck anyone who abducts me, because abduction is sexy, and why would I not want to automatically consent to anyone who abducts me” thing, which is another of Martin’s instances of normalizing/eroticizing rape because It’s Their Way. Asha I think was similarly undermined, in two very serious ways.

    (A) In her first scene, Asha sexually assaults someone. Specifically, her brother. No, seriously. Read it. It’s there. She pretends to be someone else and gives him a partial hand job, knowing that he would not actually have sex with her if he knew who she was. This is just particularly weird, since it’s presented to us if hot-but-sleazy, and we learn that Asha is Theon’s sister at the same time that Theon does. So, it’s hard to miss, but yes: Asha Greyjoy has sexual contact with someone by means of deceit, while consciously knowing that this person would not give consent to sex with her if he knew the situation. That’s sexual assault. As with most sexual assaults, she does it for power, not for sex, which doesn’t make it better. Asha committing sexual assault is (I think) a first for any female character in Martin’s books, but it lines up with the grim equation we see in Martin’s strong female characters generally, which is that to be a Strong Female Character is to be “like a man.” Which is sexism by virtue of devaluing femininity, as devaluing femininity is a key part of devaluing women themselves.

    (B) We are led to believe that Asha enjoys being raped herself. This is another twisty, M. Night Shyamalan move on Martin’s part. We’re shown Asha rejecting a man’s advances forcefully. Then we see her with the same man; he pulls a knife on her, rips her clothes off while she protests, and penetrates her. At which point, she has an orgasm. Later, it’s hinted (but not stated outright) that this was consensual roleplay, because he’s her boyfriend. But nothing in the text leads us to the “consensual” verdict until the forced-sex-with-orgasm scene is over. This is another troubling theme for Martin. Ygritte saying that it’s sexy for men to kidnap women, so she would “consent” to any of them; Dany reflecting that the reason Daario is sexy is that he would “kiss her hard” and “not stop if she protested” and/or falling in love with Drogo; Asha getting off with the guy who pulls a knife on her and literally doesn’t stop when she says “no.” Actual women do have rape fantasies, of course, but it’s disturbing that in a novel with this much rape, there’s such a strong implication that women actually enjoy rape when some men do it.

    Otherwise, I get that you feel for these characters as if they’re people — that’s what fiction does — but I feel that you may be talking too much about them as if they ARE people, instead of taking the lens that these are women, created by a man, for specific narrative purposes. Often, when we say “why” a character does something, we give the character’s stated reasons for it: “Dany ‘frees’ the slaves because she has empathy for them.” Yes. Sure. That is the justification given in the text. But what we are saying, from another angle, is “George R. R. Martin chose to create a white character who overthrows civilizations of color and cures their barbarism, which is a popular racist narrative that has created X, Y, and Z consequences, and he has chosen to tell us that this is a ‘compassionate’ thing to do.” Dany’s overthrowing the whole Eastern continent isn’t that much different from the justifications George W. Bush gave for his wars and invasions in our “the East”: “We have to overthrow their governments to Save Them and Bring Democracy and Teach Them A Better Way because their practices are Barbaric.” But we all know that wasn’t a benevolent action, one would assume, and that in practice this “benevolent” crusade to save the cultural Other only created and reinforced more racism against that Other. Do you see what I’m saying?

    Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  143. Mike wrote:

    @Sady, I came here from the popular response article, and initially found your post as off-putting as that writer had. I think it was hard for me to get past the tone and focus on the points you were making.

    But I eventually worked through the comments, and I’m glad I did. Your points in comment 143 are fascinating, and I’m glad I read them!

    (Really, there were quite a few interesting points raised in the comments, including the ones about race. Thanks!)

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  144. Maia wrote:

    Yes, that’s the point I was making. Obviously on a feminist blog readers are much more likely to interrogate the sexist framing, but most readers won’t (and hence will see Robert as sympathetic).

    Right – and I think there is an important distinction ot be made between ‘many of hte audience will find this character sympathetic’ and ‘this character is narratively sympathtic’ or ‘the author intends for this character to be sympathetic.’

    People looking at a work through a sexist framing will make sexist judgements of the characters. That doesn’t make them sympathetic in any absolute way, or say anything about the text, or authorial intent.

    Sady made an argument about sympathetic rapists and wife-beaters – and included Robert, Victarian, Khal Drogo, as well as the dothraki, night’s watch, the Ironmen en masse. I just don’t see any textual evidence for any of those being sympathetic (Drogo I would see as being viewed more positively in the text – but not at all sympathetically).

    I think I want different things from Sady from media in general – I think sympathetic rapists can be a really important feminist message – this point also applies to rapists. But I’m not going to argue that over some books I’ve only read once and am not particularly invested in my reading of.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 3:23 am | Permalink
  145. Danila wrote:

    COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ADWD

    I feel like this post was written just for little ol’ me (ain’t I speshul). I agree with every single word in this post. I am a huge fan of ASOIAF, but there have always been all of these “little” things tugging at me, bothering me. I keep having to make the decision to “set that aside” and “ignore this” and “skim that”. I’ve mostly enjoyed the books privately as I do most things and not been part of any groups. After this latest book I tried to go to fan forums and discuss these things (e.g. the misogyny and meanness of Tyrion, who used to be my favorite character), but it was like I was speaking in tongues. I either got over-the-top irrational anger or repeated mischaracterizations of my points.

    Because no, people, Victarion is not an “awesome badass” just cuz he burned a bunch of young girls to death. No, I didn’t think it was funny or clever how he did it. No, I don’t really understand why so many people want him to “win” or why they implicitly call for him to rape Dany (ahem “take her as a salt wife”) but they still don’t think that is sexist. No, I don’t consider the Wildlings to be sexually liberated because “if the girls didn’t want to be kidnapped and raped they would have fought harder”. That’s choice like the “choice” of slavery Tyrion so helpfully explains for everyone.

    I think perhaps the hardest thing for me to do which you do SO BRILLIANTLY is lay out how so many of these patterns are really old and we’ve seen it all before. GRRM is not doing anything new. I also frequently see accusations that people are trying to read GRRM’s mind and we can’t REALLY know what he’s trying to say in the very simple prose of ASOIAF. I am constantly accused of attempting to read GRRM’s mind simply by pointing out sympathetic versus unsympathetic depictions and how they reflect the authorial voice. Take as an example Lollys, the noblewoman who is raped by “50″ men and then goes through pregnancy a disgrace. I think GRRM plays her character as an object of disgust and everyone in the books is disgusted with her, including faves like Tyrion. “She’s gross and so what happened to her is kind of whatever although of course it’s BAD but she is ugly and stupid but of course it was BAD everyone knows THAT” – this is how it comes across to me. She’s just a bad example but not a person. I don’t find GRRM subtle at all.

    I just don’t see ASOIAF as being on the side of the powerless or the oppressed.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink
  146. kiturak wrote:

    @Maia:

    I think sympathetic rapists can be a really important feminist message

    True, they would be, but apparently the feminist message isn’t what happens here. What happens is that people go away with the impression those people who maybe rape a bit from time to time are actually nice people. The “niceness” of them isn’t effectively subverted.

    About the bit on authorial intent vs. sexist reception: True, but also, I’d say, isn’t the case here. GRRM punishes/rewards characters through his narrative, and that is what shows in the fan reaction.

    BTW, the couple of (white) guys I showed this to, GRRM fans, laughed their asses off. So, no, it’s entirely possible to be a white guy fan of GRRM and reading this without running around all over the internet crying SADY DOYLE IS MEEEEEAN to all the FAAAAANDOOMS!

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 5:52 am | Permalink
  147. Grace wrote:

    Thank you for such a witty and incisive post Sady. I haven’t read the books, but I’ve seen seven episodes of the tv series, and seems like, sadly, they’re full of the same sexism/racism/general rapeyness.

    The surprising thing is, it is possible to depict rape and institutionalised misogyny in a way that is not, itself, sexist or misogynist. Even in fantasy! One example that springs to mind is Kate Forsythe’s Witches of Eileanan series. I think it’s a useful comparison to Game of Thrones (I’m just gonna compare it to the tv series here, since I haven’t read the books), and shows why GoT is a big fail on this front. Eileanan is nowhere near as violent as GoT (it’s more in the ‘escapist’ line of fantasy than the ‘rapey political intrigue’ line) but it certainly does depict violence, including war and violence against women. But the depiction is qualitatively different.

    In the first book of Witches, the main character is raped and tortured. Here’s the difference:

    1) She is developed as a character before this happens to her. She isn’t just someone who passes in and out of the narrative to get raped, as many characters in GoT seem to.

    2) The rape and torture are shown entirely from her perspective. We get her thoughts and reactions, not those of the rapist. So it doesn’t function as torture porn because we identify with the pain of the victim, instead of the ‘enjoyment’ of the perpetrator.

    3) She has an emotional reaction to her rape, and needs time to recover (and because this is not GoT, and the world is one where women can wield power and also because Kate Forsyth seems to actually like her female characters, she gets to do this). The rape/torture certainly changes her; it’s a watershed moment in her life. She is both literally and figuratively scarred by it. It takes basically the whole six books for her to fully recover from the experience. And yet:

    4) Except for the rape itself and the aftermath, she is never depicted as a victim. She has agency. She does stuff that is totally unconnected to rape or being a rape victim. She learns things. She kicks ass (with magic). She goes off into the mountains and connects with the Earth Goddess and generally discovers herself in a very 90s feminist way. She (gasp!) holds power and wields it effectively. She is not defined by the rape and neither is her narrative.

    As a victim of sexual violence myself, I really loved this narrative. I thought this character’s reaction to her rape was authentic, particularly the time it took her to recover and the sexual healing she had to go through (wow, I’m making this series sound so WOMYN POWER!!, but it really isn’t). It was one of the most authentic treatments of rape in fantasy that I’ve read. It certainly felt way more authentic to me than Daenerys being sold to some dude, raped by him repeatedly, then getting a servant girl to ‘teach her to pleasure him’, falling in love WITH HER RAPIST, then getting pregnant, and all of this somehow enabling her to stand up for herself & be the GREAT BLONDE HOPE. (And all over the course of three episodes!)

    I also can’t help comparing Game of Thrones to Mad Men, which does the whole thing way better. In Mad Men, the characters are stuck in a world of institutionalised sexism too. There is misogyny and rape culture and all of it. And yet the show is not sexist, it manages to both depict and critique patriarchal structures successfully, while also being awesome fun to watch.

    So yeah, GoT, you might be entertaining, but seriously, lift your game.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink
  148. Roger wrote:

    A brilliant piece of invective.

    But I still really do think GRRM is a liberal at heart who started out seriously trying to subvert the tropes of sub-Tolkeinesque fantasy from within only to find that this is vastly easier to to say than do.

    IMO the rapes and torture and incest and paedophile creepiness is not necessarily there because George gets off on them – but rather he seems to seriously believe that more conventional fantasy writers are wrongly hiding all these grim realities of pseudo-medieval life.

    But now this material has acquired a vile rampant life of its own and the new book takes it to whole new levels of creepiness because George feels that he somehow needs to top previous volumes with ever grosser and creepier scenes of child molestation.

    Execrably written as it is the new book’s Daenerys chapters do answer your racism charges quite effectively – like the neocons in the Middle East Dany comes marching in to liberate the slaves but finds that nation-building is not something to be completed in a few months so you can move on to other things but a veritable morass which will corrupt and destroy you.

    The interesting question is whether these chapters would have been written this way at all if Iraq and Afghanistan hadn’t impinged themselves on his consciousness?

    On internal evidence I suspect they would – one of the tropes he is trying to subvert is the one that after you’ve slain the Dark Lord and come into your kingdom the story can safely end happily ever after – whereas history generally tells us the exact opposite.

    But in the end he is just a genre writer who is making his fiction bear an intellectual weight that fantasy fiction simply cannot bear – and that this is the case is shown all too clearly by the problems he has completing it all – 11 years for what is structurally one volume is not natural or normal in this market.

    But because the genre convention is ‘I’ve started so I will finish’ (and there are probably contracts that bind him to this) he can’t as he so clearly wishes to just give it all up as a failed experiment – he must soldier on however much he now hates the monster he has created (the last two volumes get lovingly described as bitches – riff on that – and bastards in the afterwords).

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  149. Mike wrote:

    I’m not really comfortable with the assumption made here that most people are sympathetic to Robert and think Victarian is a badass.

    Among my friends who’ve read the book (men and women) no one thinks either of those characters is even remotely sympathetic. (Granted, it takes a while to see Robert for what he really was.) Reading forums etc., I’ve never really encountered anyone who thought otherwise.

    I’m not saying that my own experience must be the absolute norm, but don’t think you can safely assume the opposite is in any way a majority opinion.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink
  150. Alexa wrote:

    This was an interesting read Sady, and the comments that have sprung from the initial post are (if you don’t mind me saying) even more fascinating. Feminist and Fantasy fan that I am I had no problems reading these books, and am looking forward to reading the next ones. I see your points, and I can’t really refute them in the ways others have tried to, as they’re your interpretation of the texts. Mine are obviously different, but I can sum up what I like about the series so far:

    - Ironically, the brutal nature of the world Martin has created; I’ve been reading Fantasy for far longer than is probably healthy and I hate the “tra la la, pretty elves, no one has sex and no one ever gets raped or beaten up. Maybe turned into Orcs occasionally but we won’t talk about that in detail and instead will regale you with the beauty of this forest…” blah! Martin’s world is vicious and it’s a welcome change (oddly) from the standard fantasy fair.

    - The characters; they all came across (to me) as complex and in some ways contradictory people, which is really hard to express in a novel. I find it interesting seeing their development as they all go through various experiences, and again that is something that is missing from a number of Fantasy books (mainly older releases admittedly).

    - And yes, of course, the direwolves. I want one, and this is the closest I’ll get.

    Someone said it above and I’ll repeat it here; I don’t think depiction equals endorsement. Martin likely has the same gendered blindness a lot of male writers have about rape, in that they don’t see whats so bad about putting it into their story (or they think it’s so bad it just has to go in for shock value). This is just my opinion and experience, and may not be true for all male writers of course. Stephen Donaldson also seemed to suffer from it for a while, though it didn’t stop me from enjoying the Thomas Covenant series, despite HUGE moral implications in the story arc re: rape and redemption.

    Ultimately I can’t disagree that the Game of Thrones story is sexist and racist – but I felt it fitted with the sexist and racist world Martin created in the books. I never felt he was endorsing it or saying this is the way to be, but I can see how others might get that impression or at the least be uncomfortable with the sheer amount of it. Personally I have far more issue with the Twilight series; it does have a message or two blaring from giant trumpets everytime you read a page, and none of them are healthy or good. Especially for its target market…

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  151. jcs wrote:

    Thank you for this! It was great, and it’s true. GRRM is a creepy, racist pervert. It is known.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  152. Sid wrote:

    Grace: (comment 146) I understand if you have those misgivings if you only saw the TV version of GoT. Even us in the fandom complained about that particular adaptation. In the book Danys wedding night is told from her perspective and the sex consentual. Her next chapter (also told from her perspective) we learn how the following months Drogo rapes her every night (he has sex with her, whether she wants to or not). Then she decides to take charge and teach Drogo how to have consentual sex instead. Yep, still kinda icky. But character growth and coping with a shit situation. Anyway, enter Stockholm Syndrome. After this, she sets out on a similar journey as you described. She gets power and wield it.(and GRRM lets her) She gets to be badass with dragons and shit. No, I understand if you will not read the books, but I think you are missing out.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  153. Tim Brannan wrote:

    Thank you for doing this!

    I have been curious about these books for a while but there was always this grumbling in the background and now I know what it is all about.

    I don’t need to read things like this. EVEN IF your point of view is skewed that is still way too much for me.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  154. I don’t know if this would be off-topic, but this discussion made me think that there might be a comparison of Dany’s slavery plotline (saving the brown people from themselves even though they keep begging her to allow them to be slaves again) with Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods.
    In the book, Ephebe’s slaves work for a number of years and then join society as free men. When the Omnians invade polytheist Ephebe and depose the (democratically elected) Tyrant (to institute a monotheist theocracy), the slaves are the main force overthrowing the invaders, because they’re outraged that the omnians abolished slavery and deprived them of the possibility of having slaves of their own once they’re free. Before the invasion, the Tyrant tells the Omnian authority that Omnians don’t have a word for slave because fish don’t have a word for water.
    I don’t think there was any racial implication in Small Gods. I think the commentary would be more in terms of definitions of freedom and something about Schadenfreude being part of human nature, but
    I’m not really sure how to interpretate Pratchett’s text. Because 1) I really like him, so I’m inclined to give the benefit of the doubt; 2) his books are basically to be read tongue in cheek by default; and 3) I really hated other parts of Small Gods so I don’t know if *this part* was tongue in cheek too. (I especially hated that the whole book had absolutely no female characters, and yet he managed to include a joke about women raped in warzones.)

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  155. Vicki wrote:

    Holy OMG I LOVE THIS SADY LADY, Batman!

    I just got sucked into the OP and then this entire thread (from the recent post re: Mansplaining) and I’ve lost an entire morning that I should have been working to devouring the comments. Wow.

    I’d read the first four books years ago, and since the HBO series have been re-reading in preparation for my first read of Book Five, and yes, I enjoyed them, but OMG. Nuance! Cultural commentary! Thoughtful exploration of opposing viewpoints! Can I please find the folks in this comment thread who live near me so I can read and enjoy and ANALYZE in such an awesome manner IRL? (Online boards, I know I know, but all others I’ve found except this thread are fairly unpleasant places for a lot of the reasons mentioned above. This thread is great but, no wine. There should always be wine.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is this: anybody on this thread that lives in Houston should totally come to my house and drink wine and talk ASOIAF. Because all y’all ROCK.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  156. gunga din wrote:

    HAHA!! I was a little inebriated when I first read this and it seemed like a misreading of the text.

    So I gave it a couple days, now I see what you did there. Nice polemic. Sometimes a shitstorm is the best way to separate the wheat (people interested in taking on a nuanced, honest debate about text), from the chaff (up in arms fankids looking to rampage anyone who dares take issue with, literally, anything that contradicts their notion of what is right, fair, and compelling.) You certainly gave me reason to think more distinctly and critically about the text.

    Bravo!

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  157. jmr31 wrote:

    I’m kind of surprised that no one is challenging the Daenerys-as-colonialist-white-savior argument from the original post. Yes, she takes over foreign societies and tries to rewire them to suit her idea of justice, but it doesn’t work (spoiler alert, I guess). her subjects rebel and it eventually turns into a full-blown insurgency.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  158. DC wrote:

    @Medievalist

    I agree that Martin’s depiction of a “Middle Ages” culture errs, sometimes pretty strongly, on the side of Dark. I think there are two major reasons for this, which also tie into the realism claims.

    First, I’ve seen numerous references from him about where he drew inspiration from history, and I think a lot of what happens is that he finds something particularly interesting in history (and a lot of those, though not all, are pretty brutal events). Unfortunately, he’s drawing inspiration from events that span several hundred years and placing them in a story that, if you include the immediate history of the books, covers less than a decade start to finish. The net result is that while a lot of things can be claimed to be inspired by actual history, they are condensed to a frequency that is very often grossly unrealistic.

    Second, a majority of fantasy over the last few decades as skewed dramatically towards chivalric romanticism in how the societies are portrayed, so that nothing too nasty tends to happen to the main or even side characters. Deaths of anyone who is important as a relatable character tend to be heroic or conscious sacrifices, and there is usually a pretty sharp delineation of good and evil, to the point that a major subversion of this was the introduction of characters whose race was evil but were themselves good, still with minimal or even laughable shades of gray involved in anything.

    Martin goes a overboard in the other direction, but because he does deal with things that are whitewashed completely out of the fantasy that many people are used to reading, it’s lauded as realistic. To the extent that completely ignoring the existence of ignoble and senseless deaths, extreme moral ambiguity and horrific brutality in a society that, by virtue of technological and social development, is necessarily dominated by people willing to commit or threaten violence in a fairly oppressive social order, his novels do introduce aspects of realism that are missing from those stories that ape Tolkien’s style without really understanding why he wrote LotR the way that he did.

    Martin’s work also started to appear right toward the beginning of (and came to even more widespread prominence right in the middle of) a period when taking stories that were fairly stylized and comparatively light and morally straightforward and breaking them down to introduce darker tones has become very popular. I’ll be interested in seeing whether fiction winds up swinging back towards a more realistic middle ground as the dark-toned stories begin to saturate the market as much as the old lighter stories have, or whether we’ll find a new way to dramatically sensationalize things.

    @Alexa

    I started the Thomas Covenant books, but I stopped right about the point of the rape. I wasn’t hugely enamored with the writing to begin with and had more difficulty relating to the main characer than I usually do even with characters that are very unlike me (I’m not really sure why this was, honestly, but once the main character went and raped a girl who had been helping him, I lost all desire to continue with the series. It’s one of the very few books I’ve put down in the middle of reading and never picked back up.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  159. DifferentKathleen wrote:

    @JCS — “It is known.”

    hahaha ha hahaha ah ha

    brilliant.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  160. Firewing wrote:

    I agree that GRRM’s books and universe are very misogynistic, graphic, disturbing, and over-the-top. I agree that a lot of the rape and child molestation and torture scenes could be cut or downplayed and still have the same emotional effect.
    And thank you for pointing out what bugs me most about Daenerys’ storyline in books 2, 3, and 4. GRRM could’ve done a much better job showing her privilege and racism and culturism — if he wasn’t a wealthy white male IRL. : [

    But what draws me into the books and keeps me interested is seeing how these characters, absolutely none of whom are free of reprehensible acts, justify these horrible things to themselves, and deal with this horrible culture they’re a part of. So they’re still my toys, but I’m glad you showed me the rot inside, because differing opinions and interpretations make this world every bit as interesting as Westeros.

    P.S. Love the blog! The way you articulate feminist views and issues gives me hope that I might be able to bring my boyfriend around to our side someday by quoting you. ^_^

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink
  161. Seamus1602 wrote:

    Sady – I will lead off by saying this:
    I’m male and a fan of ASOIAF.
    I found your post to be quite funny, despite disagreeing with what I see as some very selective summaries.
    You are absolutely a better judge of sexist text than I am. I am not as immediately aware, but I do try.
    I think rape is the worst possible crime to commit. Worse than murder. So I may fall prey to an author cheaply using rape to ‘characterize’ EVIL characters. I generally go straight to rapists=EVIL.

    Now, my response to some of your points:

    I didn’t like Sansa in GoT not because she’s girly, but because she ‘loves’ Joffrey, who sucks. I like her after Ned’s death b/c she no longer ‘loves’ Joffrey, not due to her being punished.

    Arya is awesome. Am I sexist for loving that a 9 year old girl can kick some ass? This is an actual question, not a smart-alec rhetorical one. Making a 9 year old girl non-sexual and awesome is sexist?

    I have no defense for the depiction of Cersei. She’s the EVILEST EVER and she is more sexually active. Bad correlation. Plus, her storyline devolves in AFFC into some seriously stereotypical BS. Pretty much agree with your Cersei analysis, though I think she does do actual EVIL deeds. In short, I don’t think she’s EVIL b/c she has more sex, but I do find it sexist that the EVILEST also is the most independent and sexually active woman character.

    I take some exception to your take on Dany. Her arranged marriage/rape sl with Drogo are disturbing, but, by the end of GOT, it all just makes me think that Dany’s a really strong person, if not the strongest we’ve met in the books. The depiction of the Dothraki does tend toward the racist (though it seems that even the Westeros societies condone/encourage rape almost as much).

    Catelyn does go kinda crazy over HER CHILDREN, which is sexist. But her failures in terms of using or exercising power are universal for all characters, regardless of gender. Is it sexist for Catelyn to fail when every man is also failing, and often failing worse?

    I don’t ever remember the Hound trying to rape Sansa. I may be wrong. I do remember a scene in which Sansa ‘remembers’ the Hound kissing her, which did not, in fact, happen. At the risk of being flamed, the Hound is one of my favorite characters b/c he seems so EVIL but has underlying good qualities. BTW, I deserve the flame if he did have an attempted rape.

    Then there’s your final thoughts on Tyrion:
    And then, we have Tyrion Lannister. Hero Tyrion Lannister. Fan favorite Tyrion Lannister. Author favorite Tyrion Lannister. Who has, to date, participated in the gang-rape of his first wife, gotten boners for his 13-year-old second wife, and strangled his favorite prostitute for bad behavior.
    Oy. This is where I wanted to take your advice and scream, DONT MESS WITH MY TOYS. But, I took a deep breath and decided to respond rationally.
    You state that he “participated in the gang-rape of his first wife.” He was 13 and in love. His powerful father then gave his new wife to his father’s guards to gang-rape, then forces Tyrion to join in. By any definition, Tyrion was raped in this sequence, not the rapist. How is this any different than a powerful father ordering/selling his daughter into an arranged marriage? You hate that, but Tyrion is the rapist when the same happens to him? I do not agree.
    You state that Tyrion “[gets] boners for his 13-year-old second wife.” I cannot disagree that he does. But he does feel ashamed by it, and, more importantly, NEVER acts on it. Is he worse for getting the boner or better for never taking advantage of his 13 year old unwilling wife?
    Finally, you state he “strangled his favorite prostitute for bad behavior.” Bad behavior? What, I ask, is her ‘bad behavior’? Would that be when she was a key witness in the murder and treason case against him? When she lied? Lying, in such a case, is no different from attempted murder, and I can’t fault him for seeking revenge on her. May not make him a saint, but summarizing Shae’s actions as ‘bad behavior’ is deliberately disingenuous.

    In conclusion, I liked your review. You made some very good points that I cannot refute. However, you also did not impart a true depiction of the story in its entirety, which is where I took issue. There are definitely parts of ASOIAF that are sexist and racist. To call attention to those is a good thing. But there are some very good storylines, strong characters (male and female), and thematic developments that you ignore because they do not support your conclusions. That only serves to weaken your critique.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink
  162. M wrote:

    I just want to say I’ve never read anything by George R.R. Martin — and as off-putting as your assessment is, I hope one day to read him, if only to be familiar with his work. I think what your post reminds me of, in a very visceral, heartfelt way — is that I desire to read about characters, both men and women, who are as unorthodox and authentic as the people I know in life. And most of them have been abused, as horrifically as characters you’ve pointed out in GRRM’s work, yet, they are not defined by these abuses, or their gender.

    For what it’s worth, I am given to wonder if GRRM’s work isn’t a criticism of any particular “system,” as some of the other commentors believe; It is far, far too like the world we live in now in how it treats women — and it expects men to treat other women — for it to be mistaken for some far-off middle age.

    However, I have not read the books, and can’t claim authority on the matter. But I enjoyed your post and your style of scathing, intelligent evaluation, and hope and pray I am never on the receiving end of it.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  163. Svelt Gastropod wrote:

    Besides the racism and sexism and pedophilia, I’m surprised no one has mentioned another way GRRM is creepy: food. The endless descriptions of food. In every scene we have to know exactly what everyone was eating. Capons are right up there with nipples as far as I’m concerned.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Permalink
  164. Lg1 wrote:

    In terms of having awful things happen to women, Martin is strictly bush-league compared to some. Try R. Scott Bakker. Or rather, no. Don’t. Believe me, if Martin bothered you, you won’t like Bakker. I could argue that all of this is deliberate and for a purpose (which I believe) but I think based on the post that it would not be believed. But thanks for making me chuckle. You make some excellent points.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink
  165. Maia wrote:

    Kiturak – That point wasn’t about GRRM in particular. It was that I’d spent a lot of time saying that Robert wasn’t sympathetic, without making it clear that I didn’t agree with the underlying premise that portraying sympathetic abusers is necessarily problematic. I think he could act as an effective undercut for some readers – as the more you learn about him the less awesome he is – but I think the character is pretty open to different readings (hence my objection that he’s supposed to be sympathetic). Although I do think the point of showing sympathetic abusers is not just about subverting their ‘niceness’ – there are heaps more complex and important messages that (I’m thinking Half Nelson as an example).

    “GRRM punishes/rewards characters through his narrative, and that is what shows in the fan reaction.”

    As I’ve said earlier – I don’t agree with that interpretation of the book. I don’t think the worldview of the book is that people get what they deserve. As I said fundamental to my worldview is to reject any idea that people get what they deserve – so if there’s an alternative way of reading media I will understand it that way. But in this case I think it’s hard to support textually. At the end of the 5th book the person who is doing best is Littlefinger. Characters who act in a moral way, and characters who act in an immoral way (whatever definition you use of those concepts) have had suffering and death rain down.

    Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  166. N wrote:

    Love, love, love your critical SNARK and your awesome insight in replying to comments! I’ve read all the books except the last, and I’ve always been too bothered by them overall to purchase them. And now I can do a better job of articulating why. :)

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink
  167. Just My 2 Cents :) wrote:

    I think what a few people are missing is that we LIVE in a world that is racist and sexist. We all like to think that we aren’t….

    I’m a woman myself **not that it should matter**, and I’m not a fan of rape, murder, and injustice. The most fantastical aspects of the books lie within the creatures and sorcery. As for sexism, well, it isn’t only the men that subdue women. Cersei tries to be powerful, but she destroys herself because she has such insecurity and paranoia. She is out of her element because it is “crazy” for a woman to have power. She ruins herself in her lust for power. Theon did the same thing to himself.
    Secondly, even in our society- there are women that look down-(and keep down)women that take on untraditional roles.
    Last, as far as gratuitous sex and violence… I think the books are waaaaaaay more realistic in they address how evil people and circumstances can be. Watch a few documentaries about Katrina or Iraq or better yet- read a history book about The Crusades.. you don’t see the petty looting or violent murders that DO occur during tumultuous times on Cable News or the Times. “Night” is the only book I have come across that touches on portraying the horrors of a concentration camp.

    What I find completely “realistic” is nobody (so far) has won a “golden ticket.” It has been up and down (in varying degrees) for every single character. Furthermore, (so far) I cannot name a truly “good-not-evil” person. Also, some characters I thought were complete jerkfaces- I have come to love like crazy (Jaime, Melisandre, Stannis) and the opposite is true. It seems to me to be a story about the “ice” and “fire”, the “opposites” that make up a human being.

    Anyways, while I don’t agree with some of the author’s and everyone’s comments- I think this is a great discussion, and I’m pleased to have read and examined every nuance of this series to the point where it makes me think about such important issues.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 4:57 am | Permalink
  168. Will Wildman wrote:

    When a friend convinced me to start reading ASoIaF, my first subsequent question to her was “George RR Martin: obsessed with sex, or obsessed with freaky sex?” This was early on, before the rape started getting piled on with a shovel.

    Despite that, I have read all the previous books, and am partway into ADWD. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to care what happens to most of the POV characters, and after reading this I think I’ve got a better understanding of why. Yay Sady!

    The plot twists and all stopped surprising me a long time ago, when I realised that GRRM was actually more formulaic than most of the fantasy I’ve read – to design his plot twists, he takes whatever people would expect to happen and then does the opposite. Every time. Kill the obvious protagonist, have the underdog get trapped, have the noble champion lose their trial by combat, et frakking cetera. All to distract from the rules he won’t break (the universe will bend over backwards to make sure Tyrion, Jon, and Dany survive). Part of me thinks he’s just piling on more rape in the hopes that it will still surprise readers.

    154: I don’t think there was any racial implication in Small Gods.

    I would tend to think not; weren’t the Omnians and the Ephebians close-ish neighbours essentially the same ‘race’?

    161: Besides the racism and sexism and pedophilia, I’m surprised no one has mentioned another way GRRM is creepy: food.

    Wait, really? ‘Not only does he integrate so much bigotry and abuse into his novels that it becomes incredibly difficult to believe he’s not totally in favour of some of it, but also he really likes food’? One of these things is not like the other.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink
  169. Picador wrote:

    Excellent criticism. There’s a very weak attempted rebuttal up over at ThinkProgress:

    http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2011/08/29/305723/feminist-media-criticism-george-r-r-martins-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-and-that-sady-doyle-piece/

    It is painful to read, but it had the side effect of pointing me here, so I’ll give it credit for that much.

    I am a dudely white dude who often finds himself whiningly defending male “privilege” (note the ocndescending scare quotes) on the Internet, all in the name of Feminism, of course. I am good at justifying adherence to sexist genre conventions for various reasons. I often get my panties in a twist (note the misogyny) over what I see as counterproductive or unfair feminist critique of pop culture. But in this case, I couldn’t agree with you more. Martin, and Tolkeinesque fantasy literature generally, are overdue for this kind of drubbing.

    One observation re: the critique of racism, which is actually what I found most disturbing about Martin’s work (I didn’t read the books, just saw the HBO show and read some horrifying interviews with the author). While Tolkein’s work was certainly racist and sexist, I think it’s inaccurate to locate the genesis of “fantasy” literature’s race and sex problems with him (viz.,”racism and sexism have been built into the genre ever since Tolkien”). Look back another 20 years in the genre at the pulps, and you’ll find racism and sexism of an entirely different calibre: savage African cannibals with bones through their noses and grateful half-naked sex-slaves were pretty much the bread and butter of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and the rest of their cohort.

    None of which is to say that I don’t enjoy reading pulp novels or even watching HBO’s trashy TV series. I just feel dirty while doing it.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  170. Heather Madrone wrote:

    I liked long involved books, but The Game of Thrones was one that I never got into. I found it boring and repulsive and decided I didn’t want to let my mind spend much time in that particular fantasy world.

    I have to take issue with the idea that “that’s just how things were for women in medieval times.”

    Funny, when I think of medieval times, particularly in England, I think of the great matriarchs who were the most dominant political players of the time. The first one who came to mind was Cecily Neville, the wife of Edward III and the mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

    Women and children had a protected place in the medieval world, particularly upper class women. Cecily Neville ran many defenses in her day, accompanied by her minor children and grandchildren. They were sometimes imprisoned, but never harmed, and always given safe passage elsewhere.

    Widows in the time had excellent inheritance rights, and with war being the major occupation of men, there were a lot of widows. Widows ran businesses, and were often the strategists behind war campaigns. A seasoned 70-year-old grandmother knew an awful lot more about war than the teenaged grandson who was the eldest male in the family.

    Who was Eleanor of Aquitaine? Who was Margaret of Anjou?

    Abbesses and mystics also could wield a lot of power in the Middle Ages. Hilda of Whidby, Hildegard of Bingen, Heloise d’Argenteuil, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, etc.

    There were quite a few reigning women: Isabella of Spain, Eleanor of Aquitaine (again), Joan of Navarre, Queen Matilda, Isabelle of Angouleme, Catherine of Valois, Melisende of Jerusalem, etc, etc.

    It doesn’t take a lot of looking to find these names, either. If you read any medieval history at all, you stumble over the names of powerful women, interesting women, women with ideas.

    Sure there was some forced marriage. There was rape. There was an awful lot of economic exploitation. But the lot of women was no more monochromatic then than it is now.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink
  171. Mike wrote:

    @Heather

    Well, I think usually the response is that SOIAF also contains many female characters in positions of power, though not so many POV characters. (I hope that Sansa and Arya’s stories will eventually lead both to being strong characters with significant influence on the turn of events. We’ll see!)

    But, there are issues there too. Sady pointed out how some of the strong female characters are strong by acting “like men”, which was interesting.

    It’s a little bothersome that two of the strongest female characters, Cersei and Melisandre, are mentally unstable and/or self-delusional. (Cersei both, Melisandre the latter.) But, there it is. You don’t really see a lot of them until after GoT, though.

    Overall reading the comments, it seems that the “this is realistic medievalness” defense just doesn’t hold up. Which means that ASOIAF should probably be read more as a kind of epic horror novel in a medievalesque setting. Which would make sense, since Martin wrote horror at one point.

    So, the realism defense is out. The depiction and frequency of rape then needs to be defended on literary/artistic merits, not because of faux-realism, I guess?

    @Picador, I dunno, I liked that response. It’s how I found my way here too. I think there are valid points raised. Not sure what’s painful about it, except that you don’t agree… Though I do think that it’s responding very much to the tone of the original post, esp. at the beginning, which seemed to be anti-nerd and anti-fantasy etc. (Regardless of whether the post was or wasn’t, that’s what was being responded too, in part.)

    Hmm. I wall of texted :( Hopefully I’m making sense, heh… just trying to engage with the discussion in order to understand it better!

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  172. Zed wrote:

    Thanks, Sady. I am a very big fan of the books, but you have at least convinced me that many of Martin’s depictions of female sexuality are probably misguided and “sexist.” I certainly suspect that some of Martin’s audience may be getting off on scenes where they shouldn’t…for example, the desire by many women and cultures to be forcibly seduced (the Ironborn (Asha), Dothraki, and the wildlings come to mind). There are probably a lot of people (especially adolescent boys and young men) in the geek fanbase who fantasize about having that type of sex, and the pervasiveness of it in Martin’s books possibly reinforces their appetites, and may even convince some less-enlightened readers that forcing a woman to have sex is ok if the woman eventually gives in and enjoys it.
    Nevertheless, I think it is a dangerous habit to begin labeling authors and other artists “creepy” because you think they have depicted something repulsive in too forgiving a light, or in a one-dimensional or ignorant manner. Artists often “miss the mark” on what they are attempting to do, and it is simply impossible to depict a harsh and complex world, as Martin has done here, without certain failures. On another level, it is simply not important what Martin himself thinks, as I believe that a work of art should be interpreted on an objective level, regardless of the author’s intentions. (If Shakespeare intended Hamlet to be a comedy, would that make it any less a masterpiece of tragedy?).
    Art has the potential to influence, especially when it is attempting to promote or address certain ideas. But often, art is just meant to entertain. I don’t think that Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is meant to be a thought-experiment on human nature, nor do I believe the author condones all of the actions that take place in his story. This is fiction, and you may find its portrayal of human nature unrealistic or disgusting…I can even understand why. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is work of fiction that is set in a fantastic world. Many people enjoy these books simply because they are fun to read. I know I do.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  173. Adoring Fan wrote:

    And to think I almost bought the box set! As always, hilarious writing Sady.

    Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink
  174. Sady wrote:

    SINCE THIS IS STILL GOING ON: Yes, your comment could get deleted. We’ve deleted what feels like about half the comments on this thread.

    Comments in support of this post have been deleted. For example, if you write that George R. R. Martin is probably a rapist, or if you write that he is so misogynist he is “practically Muslim,” we delete you for (a) accusing a stranger of a crime, or (b) blatant motherfucking bigotry.

    Disagreements have been published in the comment section. It’s true. The only way to miss this is to miss the entire conversation because you are in love with the sound of your own voice. We don’t love your voice as much as you do, so there’s no guarantee you’ll get published here.

    Comments that are irrelevant are deleted. Sorry. You show up to call names and rail at people, you’re out. Also, if you show up and write a comment that is basically, “I like this series of books,” with no engagement with the post or subsequent discussion, you get deleted. Comments wherein you complain about being deleted always get deleted. Nobody made you come over to this post, nobody made you comment on the post, and nobody told you that you were going to get your very important thoughts about how some stranger is a bitch/cunt/”rape-envying”/skank/Nazi/Communist/whatever published on some stranger’s blog in the first place, so your entitlement and subsequent irrelevant comments about your own comments are not something we have to spend time considering. This is not the All About You show. So calm the fuck down, and, if you don’t want to engage reasonably, leave. It’s a simple thing to do.

    Friday, September 2, 2011 at 12:48 am | Permalink
  175. other fantasy books wrote:

    Whilst we’re on the topic, can I point that Martin is also one of those neo-liberal capo bastards that insists on writing massive door-stoppers that just suck the money of consumers’ pockets??

    In others words, completely lacks the sort “Aristotelian” economy that true might be argued ought to have.

    There ARE alternatives however.

    Eg. Jack Vance, Andre Norton and Ursula LeGuin were all capable of economy, in both the material and artistic senses of the word.

    Friday, September 2, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink
  176. other fantasy books wrote:

    correction to above:

    2nd sentence should have read:

    “In others words, completely lacks the sort “Aristotelian” economy that true ART might be argued ought to have.”

    Friday, September 2, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink
  177. Abbey wrote:

    Every time someone writes a really intelligent critique of BLATANT, EROTICIZED MISOGYNY in a book/show/movie, somebody always has to pipe up with “Well, how do you know the author didn’t intend his WORK OF ART to be a critique of aforementioned misogyny? Just because the ‘critique’ is so subtle as to be imperceptible. you think it doesn’t exist!”

    THAT’S BECAUSE THE AUTHOR IS BLATANTLY EROTICIZING MISOGYNY, NOW STFU FOREVER.

    Friday, September 2, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  178. Raja wrote:

    Honestly, I appreciated ASOFI for being different and portraying a world that was quite different than what you expect from your average fantasy setting. Don’t get me wrong, I like those too but I thought it was cool of Martin to break the mold and actually try to make something that in some way resembled real life while adding fictional elements to it that gave its own flavor. I don’t think its nesscarily bad when scfi/fantasy authors puts elements of the real world into a fictional setting, on the contrary I find that it can make it more relatable than your tolkienesk fantasy world. As for the descriptions of rape I don’t actually remember there being too much of them; a lot of sex yes but for instance the 100 men raping that one woman that someone brought up earlier I do not remember. Maybe thats because I find George Martin’s world kinda of tame compared to some of the other dark fantasies out there (I am reading Beserk, Japan’s longest adult manga series out there which is loosely based off Medivial Europe and it pretty much puts Martin’s world to shame)Futhermore, I like how Martin gives his characters nuances, very few of them are actually “evil” rather he goes out his way to show they are flawed human beings like most of us are who are entrusted with positions of power/or have no power and how this effects who they are. If people don’t like the series for the reasons listed above than I respect that despite the fact I disagree with some of the interpretations listed here. For those of you who do like Martin’s series has anyone read Malazan Book of the Fallen? It’s along similiar lines but in some cases is very different and i think is ultimately more complex than Martin’s world and possibly more diverse as it takes place over a number of contienents. anyways ive said my peace.

    Friday, September 2, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  179. Synonymous wrote:

    Somebody had to say it. Thank you for doing so.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 12:14 am | Permalink
  180. Grace wrote:

    DEAR GOD I can’t believe I read all those comments….

    …but actually I am quite glad I did. I read 2.5 books of the series six years ago and enjoyed them. I found most of the female characters to be strong within a misogynistic world. But that was six years ago, and somehow, I don’t think I would be able to handle it now. I particularly liked what you said in #68, Sady, about the total lack of non-rape-filled storylines for women. That definitely qualifies as Not Okay.

    In a stunning display of the “Fuck it, I like it” rule, I generally enjoyed the HBO series, despite the excruciatingly terrible constant sex scenes, the transformation of one of the book’s few consensual sex scenes into a rape scene, and the extravagant racism. Which, I had hoped since the Dothraki all, like, died horribly or abandoned the Really Blonde White Chick or whatever, maybe there would be less racism later because there were just no people of color to be barbaric and simplistic and terribly written? Or maybe Dany would be a saviory-ass white person and lead the Dothraki to a glorious victory over Westeros or something. But apparently it all actually gets WORSE? I do not trust GRRM to write about colonialism!

    Also thank you, Sady, for leveling criticism without going, “Ah, you NERDS and your awful NERD SHIT!” like that terrible NY Times review of Game of Thrones a few months back. Incidentally, if anyone is interested in some great nerdy stuff that is cool and smart and fun and not totally objectionable from a feminist perspective, that is why we have people like Tamora Pierce, Nnedi Okorafor, Lauren Beukes, Octavia Butler, and Kristin Cashore!

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 1:31 am | Permalink
  181. Doppel wrote:

    So: I must ask: Is it in any way shape or form okay to show violence/sexual violence towards women? I mean in George’s work men do not fare better than the women. Granted they have a place of power but that does not help them they suffer as much as the women. The world he depicts is very cruel to everyone. But let that not distract from the Question: When is it okay to show sexual violence towards women? Because it seems it is not at all okay to do so at least thats what I gathered from your post. And I find that line of thinking ludicrous. I think you are trying to cloud your distaste into an ideological veil and try to present us with the following: sexual violence is a grave offense and depicting it is anti-feminism because it is bad. And I find that line of thinking to be lacking any real explanation.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  182. Sady wrote:

    @Doppel: That’s ridiculous. “Mad Men” has shown sexual violence against women, and has (with one notable exception, which I had problems with) not eroticized or glamorized it. “Room,” by Emma Donoghue, is largely about a woman who is kidnapped and raped. It’s a good book, which I just read. “Battlestar Galactica,” another TV show, shows that sexual violence can be used as a form of torture and warfare, and does this in a way that puts a lot of focus on the agency and psychological process of the people who are raped. Just because I have problems with Martin’s cartoonish, gratuitous use of the event does not mean that the event cannot be used in fiction. All I require is that the female characters aren’t fridged, that it’s not sensationalized, that it places a significant amount of emphasis on the women and their psychological processes, and that they’re shown dealing with it in a realistic manner. Just because I think these books are bad art, and have bad politics, does not mean that your strawman arguments can be used to dismiss that.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  183. Alyssane wrote:

    I thought your argument was valid and well made. I absolutely adore ASoIaF, but the lack of strong female characters is something a struggled with for a while. Over time, however, I grew to see the strong female supporting characters that Martin sneaks in. If you care to look there are many competent and strong females in a variety of places: the Mormont women of Bear Island, the Queen of Thorns, the Sand Snakes, the Spear Wives, Melisandre, the Dosh Kahleen, and Chataya.
    All of these women are very strong. They may be the exceptions to the rule, but they have found places for themselves in a man’s world and earned respect because of it. They are not main characters because Martin thrives on creating misery for his main characters. For female character, rape and assault is a part of that misery. You may notice that no PoV character remains unscathed. They all must lose what they love most to progress.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  184. Fellow Traveller wrote:

    Alright, I dig your criticisms. However, I really would like some stuff dealt with here if you are at all willing because stuff is preventing me from smoothly digesting this content.

    About me:
    - I have never read a GRRM book because they sound lethally boring

    Here’s the problem. “Creepy” is the problem. See, I don’t know what that word means.

    I mean, I know that the term “creepy” literally means “that which makes me uncomfortable and induce revulsion”, but I don’t understand what that /means/.

    Child abuse and rape and misogyny all make me uncomfortable. You know what’s another thing that creeps me the fuck out? Gays.

    That’s a lie. Gays don’t creep me out, but here’s the thing: when you use “creepy” as a synonym for “bad”, you’re committing a logical fallacy.

    That fallacy is “wisdom of repugnance”, and using it against things that are LEGITIMATELY BAD clouds the issue. You’re obscuring the ethical dimension in favor of the aesthetic and making an issue of ETHICS into an issue of FASHION. Rape and child abuse and domestic abuse are NOT “creepy”. The word for what they are is EVIL.

    Full disclosure: as an ultrafag (also a turbonerd) I am engaged in a great deal of shit that Decent, Morally Upright, Cool people would and do describe as fucking /creepy as shit/.

    They’re right. It’s creepy! I can’t argue with that! That’s because my arguing with that would be an attempt to tell them how they should feel, and that shit is always going to be doomed to failure, ethical dimension aside, whether it’s telling me that boning another dude is gross, or telling a GRRM fan that they should read other books because that shit is gross, or telling you that it ISN’T gross.

    I mean, sure, you can try to effect social change using Wisdom Of Repugnance and Appeal To Ridicule and all that good stuff but I have to wonder if that doesn’t sort of neglect their role in /keeping things as bad as they are/.

    When I read people describing legit bad shit as “creepy” it’s like little knives going into my guts and it makes me want to turn off the internet and play video games until I don’t feel like that.

    I dunno. If I’m somehow full of shit, please tell me how.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  185. Fellow Traveller wrote:

    This comment should have been part of the above, sorry:

    When I read people saying shit is “creepy”, I reflexively abandon ship because if they think in those terms, there’s NO WAY I could possibly do anything to make them not hate ME. That might be bullshit thinking, but it’s got a lot of personal history behind it.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink
  186. Newonetotheclass wrote:

    OK, so first I wrote this masssssive essay and totally wimped out. My basic point was: if this series (which I have not read, but could not stand the HBO series beyond episode 3), is so gritty and errbody is a rapist, where are the male rapes?

    So far out of well over a hundred comments talking about rape against WOMEN and GIRLS I have only encountered TWO incidents of sexual assault where the victims were male (Tyrion, where there is also a female victim who gets additionally gang-raped; the unwanted handjob). I think it is significant that these were also heteronormative in nature. There is the ye olde Homo Test used to induce the prejudiced squick of CisHeteroMan – to me, otherwise, it lacks the same hit. I believe women can and do sexually assault men (if I ever hear another old-lady-proud-of-deflowering-young-boy story espoused as some kind of feminist sexual agency bullshit I will hurl forever) but that it can, and is seen, as somehow Not As Bad, or viewed in a Hey! I Wouldn’t Mind I Love Vagina! way – the ~safety~ of heteronormativeness removed creates a totally different response, in my experience.
    So, instead of having women instigating rape as some kind of critique of ~~man-hating feminism~~, what if all the rape scenes were replaced with male rapists and male victims (gay or otherwise)? Surely all these evil horny dudes who clearly have no boundries, would not have a problem with this? Except, somehow, I feel the author might; it reminds me of how Stieg Larsson’s avatar Blomqkvist is TOTALLY STRAIGHT, GUYS and how he manages to avoid sexual assault by a man, where his female characters do not – as if such a thing would violate them and their super straight manliness (not that doing so to their female readers seems to bother them much). I daresay the cishet!male reader response to constant, erotically detailed description of men being anally/orally raped by other men to no furtherance of the plot and often at the expense of a sideshow slew of male characters rapidly fridge’d and given no context for reflection or inner life would be drastically different.

    And this was the shortened version.

    PS – Anybody, recs for SF/fantasy/crime thriller novels? I am sick of this shit. Just finished the Larsson books and Jo Nesbo’s “The Snowman” (hailed as the next Larsson – oh masochism – and which I would LOVE to see TB rip to shreds) – his solo main female character (POTENTIAL SPOILERS) is ~strong~ because she, like, tells this creepy police guy to shove it, but isn’t given a history beyond tragedy and save for a husband who never appears, is male-gaze’d at every turn, is the only to cry at a murder scene because its her “period”, is obligatorily attracted to the House M.D-type “lovable addict gruff”, is revealed to be mentally ill whereupon she disappears for most of the book, but when she is mentioned and talk to, the narrative suddenly and mysteriously is devoid of sexualising her every move (nobody fancies a crazy woman!).

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink
  187. Newonetotheclass wrote:

    Ps – My(potentially) overuse of parentheses is clearly just a way of showing you HOW THE REAL WORLD IS MAN. It’s like a giant metaphor for REALITY ((((((Ultimate Devil’s Advocate Troll?))))

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Permalink
  188. Fellow Traveller wrote:

    too many replies theatre presents a Fellow Traveller production: Whining About Shit That Does Not Matter Except To Me

    I think that George R. R. Martin is evil. He is evil because he writes racist shit. He is evil because he writes sexist shit. He is evil, primarily, because of his TWENTY THOUSAND MILLION GRATUITOUS RAPE AND/OR MOLESTATION AND/OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SCENES. would be way more truthful, direct, etc.

    Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink
  189. Sir Oliver Martext wrote:

    This interview with Martin creeped me the fuck out: http://shelf-life.ew.com/2011/07/12/george-martin-talks-a-dance-with-dragons/

    Especially the part where he describes the lengths he went in adapting the series just to make sure Dany would get raped.

    Sunday, September 4, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink