GAME OF THRONES, RAPE, AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS
I’m THIS CLOSE to giving up on Frones completely because of its plot-point, titilation rape scenes (and I haven’t even got to all of that scene in the latest series). In the linked piece below, Sarah Ditum on the newstatesman talks rape, gender disparity, and misogyny. If I’m honest, I think that she’s watched some of the rape scenes closer than I have for there is only so much I can bear. She points out, for example, that in that rape scene with Sansa (which I gather lasts for most of the episode), a lot of the focus is on Theon’s reaction, because the programme makers believe that a man’s reaction to rape is more important than a woman’s brutal experience of it.
The rape scene that closed out this week’s episode of Game of Thrones is probably only the third worst act of sexual violence against a major female character we’ve seen in the series. The wave of revulsion it’s kicked off is at least in part because Game of Thrones has now unambiguously become the kind of show for which it’s necessary to maintain a critical ranking of acts of sexual violence against major female characters. But it’s not as though we weren’t warned – and by “we”, I mean viewers like me who’ve fastidiously hoarded the benefit of the doubt while the programme recklessly mixed grisly violations with the tits-out titillation that is the USP of cable television.[…] But the programme makers had the choice of whether to make us watch or not, and they put us right there in the room, camera focused lasciviously on her suffering face. Even worse though is that they put Sansa’s stepbrother Theon in the room as a witness, and made his anguish at watching her rape the closing note of the programme. Apparently violence against a woman counts for more if it distresses a man.
And this is where I’m at with my concerns about violence against women and girls on television. I wrote here, ages ago, about what I consider responsible and irresponsible depictions of rape on television. Love/ Hate got it sort of right; True Detective got it very, very wrong. But Game of Thrones is in a league of its very own. Not only does it, as Ditum argues, ask the viewer to suspend a lot of disbelief when “decent” characters rape, suggesting that it’s shoe-horned in for other reasons (titillation), but it’s reached the stage where it’s now possible or even likely that there will be a rape or other act of sexual violence in every episode. It’s that common. (I wonder if anyone has ever done the math. Perhaps one in four women will be raped in her lifetime in Game of Thrones like they are in, you know, real life.) And, further, we seem to be asked to wade past the perfectly toned and no doubt titillating bodies of the victims in such scenes (scenes which are often positioned alongside other scenes in which other perfectly toned and titilating bodies are enjoying themselves) to see the brutality of the act. You’ll forgive me for questioning how many viewers do the wading. That’s not just irresponsible television; it’s misogynistic and dangerous.
I believe that television, as one of the most common forms of communication, still, has a responsibility to depict violence against women realistically, sensitively, and, yes, responsibly. Television can still do a great deal to raise awareness of, and tackle, social issues, even (or particularly) in fictional form. But Game of Thrones, with its collection of nubile young women, and constant nudity, does none of that.
And in case you think I’m just a feminist killjoy (I am, by the way, but not just) sounding off, I’ve often spoken to others about my concerns about Game of Thrones. In general, my conversations seem to go two ways.
First, I’m told that that is very much how women were treated in medieval times and that such plots bring authenticity to the story. That point does seem inarguable until you suggest that you’re not sure that medieval times featured dragons, white walkers or wights, to name but a few of its fantasy elements. It’s rather harder to believe, then, that Game of Thrones is a sophisticated historical and sociological analysis that centres violence against women in its critique (particularly when the women are, as I said, all beautiful and invariably naked at the time).
Second, I’m told that I should get over it because “rape is everywhere”. It’s these second conversations that leave me aghast. When I have asked why that is apparently acceptable, that rape on television (and everywhere else) is so ubiquitous, I am often met with shoulder-shrugs and claims that it was all ever thus. That position achieves two goals in my mind. First, it privileges the male gaze above women’s rejection of violence on television and it silences their concerns about the depiction of their gender. Second, it perpetuates a culture where not only is rape common, but it is also now unremarkable and not particularly worrisome.
That, reader, is rape culture. And Game of Thrones is right there in the middle of it.