1. Feminism on the Iron Islands

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    Game of Thrones is a fairly masculine show and features loads of misogyny, but lots of women still love it. What gives??!!!

    There's a lot I'd like to say about this, but today I want to discuss what 'Game of Thrones' means to a general misconception about female audiences - that women are only really attracted to shows, books, movies and games with female leads or a female focus. Think 'Juno'. Think 'Sex and the City'.

    The root of this notion is the idea that female audiences are generally anemic regarding gender portrayals - only relating to either egalitarian portraits of men and women, or requiring hordes of 'strong female characters' that will stomp around and create massive social reform before the story has concluded. This idea is often latched in a flimsy way to incorrect ideas about feminism, suggesting that there is something empowered about only connecting to femme fatales or plucky, independent heroines.

    Of the many mistaken ideas about female audiences, I find this the most offensive. In a roundabout way, it suggests, frankly, that women readers, viewers and gamers are very very stupid, expecting to be pandered to at all times and have a highly particular (and often pulpy) notion of femininity celebrated to connect with the work. The women that I know don't expect female characters in their media as much as they expect good characters. Characters with ambitions, flaws, passions and doubts. Three-dimensional characters that reflect the world around them - and should therefore include women.

    Naturally there are pieces of media that will not depict very many women, simply by way of the story they are telling. I almost never hear women annoyed with this. What is annoying, and what happens too often, is stories containing lots of women in different positions in society, none of which have anything of consequence to say or do. This isn't just shitty - it's also downright unrealistic. Of course period films (and modern ones) will have some of the women in highly disadvantaged roles. Do the disadvantaged have nothing to say or do? Are characters in positions of power inherently more deserving of attention, screen-time or characterization? I'm reminded of the excellent comments of (director) Steve McQueen regarding race representation and film-making. There should be more black actors in movies about New York City, not as some kind of cinematic affirmative action, but because a New York with a tiny minority of black people is absurd.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with archetypal 'strong female characters', and even pulpy ones. But the cultural confusion regarding why women might like Game of Thrones - despite its serious gender inequities - is highly related to the shitty-ass Frank Miller girl-power stripper-with-a-shotgun heroines that aren't getting any less tired, or any more 'empowering'. I really believe that.

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