Granted, the production is gorgeous. You can always see money on the screen, and this thing looks the exact opposite of cheap. The writing is tight, the acting is solid, the story is complex. It feels epic, it is epic. But, and I means this with all seriousness, what’s in it for the ladies?
I’ve read a lot this past week about the gender politics of this much-hyped show. It’s for boys. It’s pandering to girls. It’s feminist. It’s misogynistic. It’s oddly fixated on doggy-style sex. (That last one isn’t a question, just a fact.)
New York Times reviewer Ginia Bellafante called it “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” She also strongly implies that women don’t read fantasy fiction. So, let’s get this out of the way right away. That’s just some crazypants nonsense right there. One, of course women read fantasy novels and to suggest otherwise signifies a profound arrogance about an entire gender. And two, her argument that the sex is thrown into the story to appease women viewers makes me think she actually didn’t watch the premiere. Because the “sex” she spoke of was (SPOILER ALERT) incest, rape and paid servicing from prostitutes. You know, just like “Sex and the City.”
So, clearly the argument that “Game of Thrones” is fantasy therefore women won’t like it and therefore it’s pandering to women and therefore it’s bad is not the argument I’m making here.
But I was disturbed by what I saw happening with the women in the premiere. (MORE MAJOR SPOILERS) We see a wife to a powerful lord, who seems loyal but has little power. We see the queen to a king, who appears to be evil and power hungry and – oh yeah – is totally fucking her twin brother. We see two daughters of the lord, who are made to go to crocheting class while the boys learn archery – one is kind of boy crazy and one is a tomboy. And we see the sister to a power-hungry brother who sells her off to the head of a warrior tribe who then consummates their relationship against her will. Fun times for the lady folk, let me tell you.
Still just because these are dark times for women, does not mean better days aren’t ahead. What I understand from reading about this series is that us feminist fans will need to be patient. This is clearly not a woman’s world – right now they are largely just for pawns or playthings for men. But the question is will the series allow them to overcome their relegated positions in this society? Will we see independence, influence, intellect? I really hope so.
To me feminist stories do not require that all the women are portrayed in a positive light or necessarily even treated well. But it does require that female characters are allowed to be complex and layered and ultimately in control of their own destinies. Are women integral to the story outside of their relationships to men? Do they wield any power? Do they show strength and smarts and other abilities and not just sex appeal? Do they get to be human, just like the men? That is what makes a story feminist. That is what makes a story worth investing in for me.
If “Games of Thrones” starts to make its ladies more than just pieces in powerful men’s games, then I’m in. If it doesn’t, well, then game over.
EDIT: Just wanted to add that I thought it was very interesting and more than a little troubling that, as one of you commented, Dany gave her consent in the book, but not the show. That means the entire foundation of their future relationship in the series will be different from the original book. Like I said, troubling.