George RR Martin claims, “I’m a feminist at heart,” but I don’t believe him.
Neither do his many angered fans. They dealt with Joffrey forcing one whore to murder another. They weathered the Red Wedding and a pregnant woman being stabbed in the belly. They continued watching, despite Jaime’s last-character-arc-negating rape of Cersei. And now Sansa has been pointlessly raped by the pointlessly sadistic Bastard of Bolton, and many of the feminist fans are done. Just done. They can’t let themselves tacitly condone the sexism any longer, and have sworn off future episodes.
What’s that? None of that happens in the book, and GRRM doesn’t have complete creative control over the show? And he actually griped about (but didn’t exactly apologized for)* some of its deviations from his work? Alright, that’s a fair point. The show has actually turned out to be more sexist than the books by a long shot, despite the initial promise that it might tone that crap down.
So let’s focus on the outrages GRRM himself has actually penned. How about the raping stocks in Harrenhal, or Arya being pointlessly threatened with rape in the same location? Or Brienne’s inability to save herself, relying ultimately on one-handed Jaime to rescue her from a mere bear? Or the fact that the ruination of the Starks is almost entirely Catelyn’s fault?
And Cersei…hmm, I don’t believe that’s happened in the show yet. Well, at the end of book five, that was a complete break of character, and it wasn’t at all like the actual Middle Ages either. It wasn’t even consistent with GRRM’s own work, considering what happened to poor Lollys just for existing at the wrong moment in the wrong company.
I do think GRRM means well. I do think that he WANTS to be a feminist, that he believes the feminists are right (as, generally, they are). He’s a smart guy, he wants to be in on that. He has created a number of memorable female characters, and writes frequently from their point of view.
And he seems sympathetic to their plight, as women.
But while inclusion is great, it’s only the first step in creating true diversity in your work. Step two is giving your minority characters some agency, and GRRM’s ladies rarely have much of that. Instead, they’re all plight. Forever beset upon by the men and other women in their lives.
That doesn’t sound quite feminist to me. It doesn’t even sound “realistic”. We’re not all damsels 24-7. And really, we’re talking novels, worlds and people created by a truly omnipotent god. Why couldn’t Brienne just jab the bear’s eye-socket and stab into its brain with her wooden sword?
And then climb on its mangy back, climb out of the pit, and plant a kiss on Jaime Lannister?
Now that would have been feminist.
* * *
*first comment on GRRM’s blog post “Author, Author!”