Should we care about Gender Prejudices in Game of Thrones?

Hello! This post is not by myself, Eleanor, but is actually a guest post. I think it’s really interesting to get different perspectives on these things as a feminist. Read’s Sam’s piece on what she thinks. Please follow Sam over here on Twitter to join the discussion. 

I tried not to let the opening episode of Game of Thrones get to me.

I tried to overlook the obvious portrayal of women as property and sexual symbols. Drawn in by the intriguing and complex plot lines, I kept hoping that the female characters would eventually redeem themselves as strong and independent women.

I do understand that the routine rape, violence and objectification of women in the first season can be dismissed as a reflection of the barbaric attitudes of the time period. After all, the male characters face their own share of brutality. The portrayal of medieval attitudes toward women does not necessarily translate into condoning these attitudes in the here and now.

However, it’s tiresome to keep dismissing the familiar plot device of male domination through the means of violence towards women. By now, it has become not only repetitive but also insulting when the media has done so little to develop stories that glorify minorities or strong female characters. While it’s true that a good story must sometimes portray violence or unfairness, I am suspicious of TV shows that seem rooted in excessive misogyny and violent attitudes towards women.

After all, Game of Thrones takes place in a fantasy world and is not bound by the dictates of history. The creators can create any rules they desire for that imaginary world. Why must those rules include excessive violence and sexualization of women?

Submission and Abuse

While men are portrayed in positions of power and in scenes of fighting and violence, female characters are depicted in scenes of excessive sex and nudity.

It seems impossible to get through one episode without at least one scene of a naked woman engaging in sexual activities. Most of the female characters exist solely for the pleasure of men as prostitutes. While on the surface such scenes seem harmless, they are so frequent in the media that femininity is routinely reduced to mere sexual submission.  Female characters in the Game of Thrones are often shown fulfilling the sexual fantasies of men, thereby reinforcing the cultural objectification of women as ornamental. Their function is simply to look pretty for the purpose of pleasing men.

Even the main characters reveal this quality of the objectified submission. One of the strongest female characters, Daenerys is a princess of the exiled house of Targaryen. She becomes her brother Viserys’ pawn in a ploy to gain revenge by reclaiming the throne from the remaining King.  As part of this elaborate strategy, Viserys forces his sister to marry the king, Khal Drogo. Completely under the control of her brother, Daenerys unwillingly weds the king and she is raped on her wedding night. Daenerys is portrayed as the property of these men, used by them to gain power and control, unable to exert her own will and valuable only as a sexual possession.

Witchcraft

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On the surface, it appears that the character Melisandre is much stronger than Daenerys.  With magical powers, she is able to control Stannis Baratheon in order to accomplish her own purposes. But despite these powers, Melisandre still has to resort to using her body as a source of power. It is through beauty and sexual manipulation that she is able to gain control. The fact that she has the ability to give birth to shadows seems to underline the fact that her femininity is inherently flawed. It appears that even the strongest female characters in Game of Thrones are confined to feminine stereotypes.

Femininity as an Obstacle

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The character of Arya Stark completely rejects any feminine role by means of gender-bending. She becomes skilled in swordsmanship and abandons the traditional path of marriage and childbirth. As she grows older, it becomes more difficult for her to stick with these ideals, and she discovers that disguising herself as a boy saves her from many life-threatening situations. Arya’s character shows that being a female is such an obstacle that it’s better to become a faceless man rather than cope with the terrible challenges embodied in a female identity. In this world, feminity is nothing but a weakness, except in cases where strength is directly related to sex.

Male Stereotypes

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Male characters in Game of Thrones are represented purely as physically violent creatures. Every episode finds them engaging in fights, regardless of their social class or location. The various plot lines repeatedly show men gaining power by challenging and killing other men (such as in Dothraki culture, for example). Masculinity is singularly portrayed as domineering and violent.

Barbarism

The Dothraki tribe is the most obvious example of the stereotype that men are barbaric.

They are primal and nomadic, lacking any capacity for deep thought or emotion. They believe in the custom of physical strength as a source of power and are unable to comprehend ideas that are abstract, such as that of sea travel. Sexual intimacy is reduced purely to rape, which they do from behind, in the animalistic fashion.  To rule the tribe, the only requirement is  strength; other abstract and moral qualities, such as honor or duty, are unnecessary. Possessions are acquired solely through brute strength, not through equitable distribution.

Stereotypes Portrayed through Animal Companionship

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Yes, agreed, it was a woman in Game of Thrones who had dragons as pets. But another obvious example reveals itself in the House Stark and their direwolves. In this house, only the gender-bending Sansa was female, every other member of the house was male. You will notice that a similar rule applies to the symbolic animals of other houses, such as the House Grandison, the House Lannister and, and the House Reyne.

Dogs have historically been portrayed as “man’s best friend.” Even the American Presidents often had dogs as their pets. Our mythology traditionally couples strong male characters with strong animals like dogs, wolves, or lions.

Interestingly, in reality, females are more likely than males to own a pet. But in the fantasy world of Game of Thrones, prejudice and stereotypes are given free rein.

The Rules

The Game of Thrones represents an imaginary world, and its creators make the rules which govern this elaborate fantasy story. According to these rules, most females are prostitutes and most men are killers. In this world, women exist as possessions, with no power to control their own destiny. They are completely at the mercy of the violent and calculating politics of the dominant male characters. The only manner in which women can exert any power is through sex and submission, and other qualities which leave her dependent on her relationship to men. These relationships are portrayed in such a way that men have a dominant position even over the strongest female characters.

In this imaginary, fantasy world, it seems like we could have imagined something better.

Author bio:

Samantha Wilson – a feminist, writer and traveler. Her life goals are strongly connected with her writing passion. You may also follow her on Twitter. She likes meeting new people.

5 comments so far.
  • firstly, i don’t watch game of thrones so please take my comment with a pinch of salt! i did see the first episode but i understand it’s actually based on a series of books, so although the tv series has chosen to show certain characters and storylines more than others, it’s really taking a basis from somewhere else already surely? i can only imagine the portrayal of women is similar in the original version.

    it is a fantasy world but set in a time period where men ARE seen as powerful, brutal beings and women are deemed as much less. i initially made a presumption that women shouldn’t still, in this day, be portrayed like this but having spoken to people who work in theatre and history (men and women), it’s hugely apparent that the vibe wouldn’t be the same if they essentially lied and twisted character identities.

    i’ve also seen a lot of posts and comments about the roles of powerful women in GoT being hugely positive portrayals, but i can’t comment on whether this is true personally! thought-provoking post, thanks for writing (and including as a guest post!)

    leanne x

    • Hi Leanne,
      Thanks for your comment! I do appreciate your feedback.
      You’re absolutely right. The TV series were created on the basis of the book, so yes – they did have no choice portraying the characters as they were described in the book.
      However, it seems to me that they have even reinforced gender peculiarities throughout the series. But maybe it just seems only to me.
      Cheers,
      Sam

  • Courtney

    I’ve only read the first book and I immediately picked up on the negative attitudes towards women in it. Women seem to be either mothers or whores with little in between. It’s pretty disheartening to read a book with so much sexism in it, even if the story it’s telling is interesting. I didn’t really think about the sexism in Game of Thrones affecting the men until you pointed it out and now I can definitely see it and how it hinders the story. While Dany seems to have loved Drogo, it would be nice if he could have been a more versatile character rather than just a strong man who had never been beaten.

    – Courtney
    courtneylthings.blogspot.com

    • Eleanor

      I couldn’t stand the Dany/Khal Drogo relationship and how it’s become so romanticised these days. He was awful! e x

  • I think Game Of Thrones is actually quite an interesting show when it comes to female characters. While I think a lot of the smaller female characters are reduced to stereotypes and sex objects I have to say that I think GoT depicts a lot of strong women. Cersei for example is as fierce as any man and cunning and clever, and I love how they’ve introduced characters like Margaery’s grandmother as well- Olenna is as strong as they come despite being older in age, she definitely seems to be pulling all of the puppet strings of her house if you ask me. I think Sansa is another extremely interesting character when you’re looking at how women are portrayed. She started off as one of the most stereotypically girly girl characters that there were and now she’s developed immensely and to me she’s being portrayed as stronger and stronger in every episode. Maybe it’s just me wanting to see the best of female portrayals, but I definitely think that GoT is one show that tries to show both genders as strong, independent and powerful, albeit perhaps in different ways.

    http://www.thesundaymode.com

ABOUT

I’m Eleanor, a UK Manchester based Lifestyle & Beauty Blogger. I write about beauty products, feminism, mental health and my adventures in the big city of MCR.

Contact: hello@elleanorwears.com

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