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[SPOILERS Ahead for Season Six of Game of Thrones]
I never thought for a moment that the fantasy genre was not for me. Here were queens and warrior women and witches. Here were rogues and subversives and knights. Here was everyone I could be. The maneuvering of the various political factions in fantasy novels and films sparked my interest in history, and in particular the role of women in this history. How many people do you know who have cosplayed Queen Elizabeth I at conventions? Now you know one. A poncy vampire in stilts once misidentified me as Mary, Queen of Scots. Once.
What might surprise you is that I haven't read A Song of Ice and Fire, the source material for Game of Thrones. It's next on my list after I finish the Discworld series. These things take time, and we've all got stuff to do. What's important is that Game of Thrones is one of my favorite shows on TV, and it rips me up when people dismiss it as misogynistic.
It is a given that I would be on board with Game of Thrones from the beginning. HBO said "epic fantasy series" and of course I was there. What has kept me coming back for six seasons is the population of fascinating characters, most of whom are women. The men should spend some time learning how not to die on this show. They should ask the ladies.
This week, Margaery Tyrell (one of the most cunning characters on the show) convinced the High Sparrow and her husband the King that she, too, was a religious nutjob, foiling Oleanna and Cersei's plan to end the conflict with bloodshed. It's a risky move, but Cersei (she who makes the wrong decision always) created this problem when she snuggled up with the Faith in the first place.
Arya Stark threw off the tutelage of another man this week. Jaqen H'ghar was yet another delightful fellow who tried to enslave her, but he directed her to murder a woman she respected, and she refused to be a party to the petty jealousies of theater. She saw in the caricature of her family's story the purpose for which she originally dedicated herself. She now prepares to fight the waif, a mysterious acolyte of the Faceless God, for the final time.
Brienne of Tarth is a paladin on a quest for honor. No one can best her in combat. Arya Stark is a renegade apprentice assassin. No one can best her in getting away from a terrible situation on her own determination. Melisandre is a powerful and ancient mage, whose talents now include necromancy. Missandei, born into slavery, speaks nineteen languages and talked her way into a sweet gig as trusted adviser to a queen. All of these women are tropes, but they are subversions and twists on the standard formula.
Let's talk about a "princess" character for a moment. Sansa Stark has survived the machinations of men who would buy and sell her to further their own political power. She is now poised to take her home back from the psychopathic mustache-twirler (without a mustache) who stole it. Sansa has grown from one of my least to my most favorite characters because she learned from every experience, and while she made mistakes, she still persevered.
Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen literally burned down the patriarchy. How glorious was the image of the Unburnt, the Mother of Fucking Dragons, born once again through the flames to emerge as the Khaleesi we've all been rooting for? How silly would it have been if she stepped from the conflagration still wearing that sack the Dosh Khaleen put on her? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I doubt the Dothraki have mastered the art of flame-retardant clothing at this point in their history. Maybe the Great Khaleesi will introduce this technology to her many people after she conquers all of Westeros. Then, and only then, will Emilia Clarke be able to get her rack out without people screaming about it, because now she has chosen to wear substandard fabric just to put a wrench in your gears.
These are the stories of women navigating a sexist society in the best ways they know how. It is not misogynistic to tell these stories. George R.R. Martin used the War of the Roses as inspiration for his series. The show has used this fascinating moment in history, as well as the histories of Rome and the United States, to tell a tale. The history of our world is a history of patriarchy, and there is nothing wrong or misogynistic inherent in using our world to model another world for fiction. It's what writers do.
Now, you go ahead and propose a fantasy world free of sexism, and I'm there, because it's fantasy and I want to see what you can do with it. Posit that there is a distinctive imbalance between female bits and male bits in TV today and you will hear no disagreement from me. More cocks, please. Spartacus did it, and so can the rest of television. Even cocks with warts. I'm not picky.
Please stop calling the stories of interesting women misogynistic. Game of Thrones isn't perfect, but it's doing a great job of telling women's stories. We can aspire to Brienne's dedication to honor, and those of us who are not used to being sexualized can think it really weird when some man eats their lunch sexily at us. We can empathize with Cersei's penchant for making the wrong choice at the wrong time. We can cheer with Arya as she becomes what she wants to be, rather than what others expect her to be. We can mourn when Osha makes the wrong calculation about the man she is forced to appeal to.
Women clamor for interesting female characters, but when they are presented to us, we criticize them for not being feminist enough. We reduce them to princesses and whores. We condemn them for showing their bodies. We dismiss them for doing what they have to do to survive, as we ourselves have done. We tear each other apart for the benefit of the patriarchy. They love it when we get our claws out about this. Now we're fighting with each other over a silly TV show and we're not using our majority to tear their system down.
Game of Thrones is as misogynistic as you are. I am too. We have this weird history to go by, and it's difficult to work against it. What stands out in the world of Game of Thrones is that any of us can fight against this ridiculous nonsense. We know now that it is stupid, but we still have to endure the same bullshit that Arya and Brienne have to deal with. We're getting better but we're still in bed with Saudi Arabia, where the ruling men won't let women drive, or be seen in public without an immediate male relative. We're still trying to establish ourselves as gamers. We're still punching the balls of boys who touch us at the convention. Or reporting them to no effect.
My point is, we have a long way to go, but Game of Thrones is not the problem. There is a lot going on with the women of the show, and what they go through is inspirational and tragic, delightful and heartbreaking. It may be combative to ask this, but if George Martin was Georgia Martin, would we even be having this discussion? Would her show be as popular as it is? I think the answer to both questions is, "No," and that answer brings up new conversations.
We can appreciate good characters, no matter where they come from. It's time we stop denouncing good characters because they live in a sexist world like we do. Is it feminist? Who the hell gives a shit? Thinkpieces show up every day about what is "feminist" and what is not, to the point that the word has lost all of its meaning. Game of Thrones has fascinating female characters, and this is what we're looking for. It's not misogynistic, and it's tiresome hearing the same old arguments that it is. Examine your own prejudices and use this singular moment in time to dismantle the house that keeps us captive. And stop judging women, fictional and real, who survive in a clusterfuck of a world.