I’ve been trying to write a post about how ridiculous I think it is that George R. R. Martin, of A Song of Ice and Fire fame (or, for television people, A Game of Thrones fame) is being reviled as a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad sexist based solely on his books, but honestly, the arguments presented to show that he’s sexist are so muddled I can’t even with this.
Basically, my counter argument is three-part:
1) Character motivation is not author motivation. (For a non-fantasy example, I don’t think Bret Easton Ellis, to harken back to my most recent read, is actually an insane neocon serial killer because he wrote about one in the first-person convincingly.) People behaving sexistly in Ice and Fire does not mean Martin thinks it is The Way Women Should Be Treated. Plus, it’s entirely consistent with the social setup of the world, which is frequently shown as Unfair to Ladies.
2) People are bemoaning the amount of rape in the books, which I can understand – rape is not fun to read about, and there’s a whole lotta rapin’ goin’ on in Westros. However, in a society that treats women as property – and treats intercourse, forced or consensual, with a woman as “claiming” that property, as many patriarchal societies did and still do – it’s not that surprising to see it as a recurrent theme. Plus, you ever heard of war rape? Martin didn’t throw that in for shits and giggles, it’s a real thing that – get this – still fucking happens. And please don’t say “well, he could have just left that out!” because honestly, it shows a lot about the society. How an entire gender is treated is a MAJOR factor that shapes personalities, both in real life and in well-written fiction, and the enormity of turning a blind eye to rape says a lot about the culture the books are set in. But – and I will reiterate this point – character motivation is not author motivation. The fact that the constructed society is sexist does not mean the author is.
3) Women have flaws. Women in books who have flaws are not examples of sexism.* Women who have some good points but are not perfect are not examples of author sexism. Women who are terrible, evil people who on occasion bitch about the obvious patriarchal society do not have their evilness negated by the rightness of those comments, nor are those comments supposed to be evil because the character you’re supposed to hate says them.** (Martin’s pretty explicitly stated that he tries to have a mix of good and bad actions and thoughts in all the major characters.) Please let that one go, because at this point it sounds like all these people want is Female Characters who are Good and Male Characters who are Evil, with no deviation from the expected behaviors allowed. In other words, flat, one dimensional, and boring characters.
Bottom line? I don’t see a compelling argument that Martin is sexist based on the book content. I mean, he could still be a raging sexist, I just don’t think it’s provable through Ice and Fire content alone. Yes, he’s writing about a world that’s not a nice place for women, but to be honest it doesn’t seem like too nice of a place for men, either.
I would, however, be really interested in a critique of how Martin handles the societies not based on Western medieval culture – while I think he tries mightily to avoid stereotyping or having the whities show the “savages” the One True Way, I think he’s failing miserably at it and there is some hardcore Othering going on. No pun intended.
(Also, the potential sexism of the author bothers people, but not the pervasive and, in most cases, extreme violence? A man had his junk flayed off in the last book. Please. If you’re complaining about content, there’s far more urk-worthy material in there. This isn’t really an anti-sexism argument, more of an observation about how we, in general, treat sex and interactions between the sexes as A Big Deal, but violence? Just this thing that happens. Totally cool.)
*It’s interesting to me how many people chalk up “loving her children” as one of Catelyn’s unbelievable, super-sexist flaws. I mean, yes, she does some stupid shit as a result, but I can totally see, say, my dad doing that as well. What’s she supposed to do, stand by and watch all her kids get systematically murdered? Yeah, stupid woman stereotype, trying to save the life of someone in her family. It’s not like any man in the series *cough* Ned *cough* ever did anything stupid because of the children.
**It’s interesting that everyone who has this opinion only mentions Cersei’s complaints about not being a dude and therefore being powerless, but Catelyn thinks a lot about how limited her actions are based on her gender, and Arya and Brienne don’t have the full thought but act under the “fuck the patriarchy” principle all the time. Arianne Martell, Dany Targaryen, Meera Reed… I could name more. I think it’s just selective memory, since these women are supposed to be sympathetic or awesome, and Cersei is really a witch-queen. Also, they seem to not notice that Cersei’s complaints pretty much center around her not having power, not around the fact that women have no power. She’s pretty mocking of women in general as “weak,” which isn’t exactly striking a blow for women everywhere.