Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why Game of Thrones Appeals to Women

When reading Game of Thrones, one might initially think that with all the swords, blood, and sex that it’s a fantasy series for men. Some have even described it as being a “male trashy romance novel”.

Why is it then, that more than half of George R.R. Martin’s fans are women?

This Telegraph just published an article discussing the phenomenon after interviewing the author himself. Martin admits he’s a feminist, believing that both men and women should be treated equally, and in his stories he does treat them equally as complex and 3 dimensional human beings.

Maergery Tyrell
How is Martin able to delve into the mind of a youthful girl?

Martin: “Yes, you're right I've never been an eight year old girl, but I've also never been an exiled princess, or a dwarf or bastard. What I have been is human. I just write human characters.'”

Why do women love Martin’s characters?

Martin: “Some women hate the female characters. But importantly they hate them as people, because of things that they've done, not because the character is underdeveloped. Male or female, I believe in painting in shades of grey. All of the characters should be flawed; they should all have good and bad, because that's what I see. Yes, it’s fantasy, but the characters still need to be real.”

Asha/Yara Greyjoy
That being said, what does it mean? Emily Nussbaum from the New Yorker wrote that the books are “insight into what it means to be excluded from power: to be a woman, or a bastard, or a ‘half man” With those words, I think she nailed the heart of the matter on the head.

Launching off from Nussbaum, I believe people should not be so quick to critique the novel from an exclusively feminist perspective. Instead, they should recognize all the characters excluded from power and how they struggle to gain it. The modern reader can identify with the characters because they are so real, and almost everyone can find a character they personally identify with in one form or another. We are all struggling to gain power on some level, whether it is in our careers, family lives, love lives, or even with ourselves. 

Food for Thought Regarding Some of the Women in GOT

Daenerys Targaryen 

Daenerys Targaryen and Drogon
She starts as one of the weakest characters and grows to become one of the most powerful.
o   In the beginning, she’s sexually and verbally abused by her brother, Viserys, who essentially sells her to the Dothrakis for an army. Whereas any other novel might treat her like a damsel in distress; GOT shows Dany assimilate into the Dothraki society, fall in love with her husband, grow favor amongst the people, and assert her influence and beliefs to get what she wants. She is nurturing and kind though rules with a firm hand and isn’t afraid of bloodshed
o   Most fiction novels depict characters as very 1 dimensional. They will show women as nurturing and kind never wanting to indulge in bloodshed and appear weak because of it. In GOT, even though Dany would prefer diplomacy and nurturing over violence, she knows that has has to get her hands dirty to gain the power necessary to rule justly. She appeals to the audience because her genuine kindness doesn’t compromise her fortitude.

o   She knows that her family has a rich history of both honor and madness. She fears the madness, yet doesn’t let the infamy hold her back.
o   Usually when a woman is depicted as sexually active with multiple partners, they are immediately written off as evil or a whorish. However, Daenerys is not villainized by her sexual desires. This is partially accomplished by showing her faithfulness. Although she desires and indulges in sexual pleasures with her servants while single, she’s faithful to her husband Khal Drogo and even her lover Daario Naharis. She also doesn’t use her sexuality to lead people on. Though Jorah Mormont loves her, she never leads him on nor uses her body intentionally to get himto do her bidding. This character aspect appeals to the modern women who wishes to indulge in sexual pleasures while not being perceived as “whorish”. 

Cersei Lannister
Cersei Lannister
o   Like Dany, she is sexually active, but what makes her seem whorish is that she doesn’t remain faithful to those she loves, and that she uses her body to influence people. It doesn’t help that she cheated on her loveless husband for her brother. Even so, I could get past the infidelity and the incest disgust if she remained faithful to Jaime. But she doesn’t. She does a lot of other people to gain their favor and learn secrets while her brother Jaime remains completely faithful to her. The difference lies in loyalty and faith. The books and show constantly point out that her only good point is her love for her children
o   Although I don’t think her love for her children is her only good point, it is one to be noted. To be honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say. She does whatever necessary to give her children the greatest possible future. Whatever necessary.

o   To many fans, her greatest redeeming quality is that she feels left out of this world. She feels she’s fit to be King or ruler, but her womanhood prevents her to gain any real power. She even admits that she should have been born a man. Instead, she does what she can from the sidelines to grant her children success and keep her Queenhood. She constantly mentions how she was more suited to be a man wielding a sword than a woman.

o   Readers hate her for her cruelty, but sympathize her, because she wants power and sexual freedom, but feels trapped by her position as woman and queen to do so. However, readers know there are a slew of other female characters in the story able to achieve everything Cersei wants without being a total bitch. Characters like Dany, Arya, Asha, and Brienne. Cersei just doesn’t know how to do it right! Perhaps what makes Cersei so vulnerable is the fact that she loves her children-- same as Catelyn.

Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark
o   Just like Cersei, perhaps what makes her so vulnerable is the fact that she loves her children. In a way it blinds her from any other ambition. Many fans dislike her because she tries to influence Robb’s decisions and repeatedly makes “poor” decisions based upon her desire to keep all her children safe. 

Sansa Stark
Sansa Stark
o   Another character who many readers despise. She constantly makes poor decisions based upon her childish illusions that men and knights treat everyone with honor and dignity. Although it’s frustrating to read, it’s understandable considering her age and beliefs. A small group of fans like Sansa because she learns and grows more wise throughout her peril, though at a slower rate than other characters. She learns to influence Joffery with little things by playing off his ego and joy of the suffering of others. She also learns the power of home and family. I have a feeling she’ll surprise us in the upcoming books. 

Arya Stark
Arya Stark
o   Fans love her because despite her youth, she has a strong sense of self right from the get go. She knows she’s uninterested in being a “lady” and would rather play with swords and learn to fight than sew and sing songs. Her family enables her to develop these skills despite societal rules. When her father died and she had to go into hiding to avoid being caught and used as a pawn, she gains the freedom to learn traditionally “boyish” skills and put them into practice. She develops into a full-fledged killer.

o   She also has a strong sense of home and love for her family right from the get go as well. Whereas Sansa often shrugged this off, Arya always had it. After she went into hiding, she constantly struggles between forgetting her past to move forward, and hold on to her “Starkhood”. She never is really able to let it go regardless of her efforts.

Brienne of Tarth
Brienne of Tarth
o   She's just like Arya in that she isn't particularly pretty and prefers swordplay, Brienne is tall and ugly-- but a great swordswoman. Perhaps her ugliness turned her away from normal feminine activities because she knew that she could never be great at being a womanly woman.         

o   It’s ironic how Brienne is the perfect knight though most don’t realize or appreciate it due to her womanhood. She shows true focus and loyalty to those she is in employ to like Renly, Catelyn, and Jaime. She loves Renly in the way that the old chivalry dictates a knight love his queen. She is as good at swordplay as the Kingslayer himself, and it must have taken a lot to get to that point.

Here's a nifty article about a writer who compares the way people treat Brienne in the novels to how people treat ugliness and beauty in modern society.