I’ve been mulling this over in my mind for a long time. This has always been my opinion, but after the events of the two latest Game of Thrones episodes, I feel so violated and offended by a show I used to really enjoy, that I’ve decided to share my thoughts. I’m afraid of backlash, but I’m going to be brave because I think its important to talk about this. If you read (and comprehend) the entire thing and still disagree with me, I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts.
There are some ‘interesting’ arguments from men on the subject of Jaime raping Cersei in the second to last episode of Game of Thrones. Mainly revolving around the idea that ‘rape happens, its horrible but art should reflect what happens in life’. First of all, in what universe is that a defence for Game of Thrones, a fantasy series? Whilst I think George RR Martin doesn’t carry much blame for that part of the episode, I do find it jarring that he constantly uses the word ‘rape’ in his scene setting. It’s an obnoxious symptom of male privilege, which belies a lack of understanding of the power the word carries. If you can’t imagine the feeling, if you’ve never had a man force you to do something because you’re a woman, and never have any reason to suppose you ever will, then the word doesn’t carry any weight. However, if you do, the word feels like a smack in the face.
I am well aware that men can be victims of rape too, but what people who make that argument don’t understand is that our patriarchal rape culture does not victimise and oppress men. Society might have downright terrible systems in place for coping with male rape, but that’s because society sees it as a women’s problem, and a man having a woman’s problem is apparently justification for mockery and even more abuse. It is misogyny, not misandry (which doesn’t actual exist, by the way) that makes life hard for male rape victims. Women don’t force themselves on men in everyday situations where the expected response is to go along with what the woman wants. The biggest threat to men is still heart disease, not women, or other men. Oh, and of course, the entertainment industry doesn’t get their rocks off on sexual violence against men.
The oppression of women through the years boils down to one thing – men are stronger, they can hurt you, they can fuck you. Everything else, all the other disgusting, finely ingrained sexist behaviours, they all stem from that one brute fact that has been used against us for thousands of years. So why do men get to write and direct depictions of that most intimately terrifying aspect of female oppression? Why do they get to have any involvement at all? It’s sickening that a he is the overarching voice of authority in that situation. What the fuck does he know about walking home with his keys in his fist? What does he know about being sexually harassed by someone he thought was his friend? What does he know about the fear of unwanted pregnancy, the pain of abortion, the violation, the vulnerability?
I wrote my BA dissertation on the ethical implications of enjoying depictions of evil in fiction. I investigated it from two sides – the moral responsibility of the author, and the reader. I wanted to know whether or not there was a way of working out if it was morally ok to read something horrible but eagerly turn the page, drinking up every word with relish. I actually avoided talking about rape scenes because I thought it was too heavy for a Philosophy dissertation.
My conclusion wasn’t simple by any means, but by and large, I decided that if a fiction creator justifies the evil they depict with a strong story, a powerful message and quality writing, then its inclusion, and the enjoyment, is warranted. There’s a reason behind the evil in the story, and its been done carefully, and skilfully, with full understanding of the implications. If a writer of a trashy romance novel suddenly decided to pop in a disgusting account of child abuse to affect the reader, then that writer has behaved unethically. But a sensitive, informed and skilled writer who’s novel is an emotional journey through a horrible youth? Write-on.
Hopefully its clear what I’m getting at here – the rape scene, and indeed every depiction of sexualised violence in Game of Thrones is callous, gratuitous, lazy and lacks emotional sensitivity to a staggering degree. If you gave control to someone who actually understands the implications of rape, well, that scene just wouldn’t be there. And rightly so. We live in a rape culture – where women are the victims and men are the victimisers. Is there a situation where its appropriate for a man to make entertainment out of it? Can you think of one? Like everything else, its not totally black and white. I’m sure there’s a man out there who’s experiences, understanding and emotional intelligence would allow him to write a perfectly justifiable rape scene. But you probably aren’t him, especially if this is making you angry or contemptuous.
In conclusion: rape and violence have been part of women’s lives for a long, long time. Someone who doesn’t belong to that gender doesn’t get to decide when and where to make entertainment about it, or when and where it’s appropriate to make light of it. Bad, trivial depictions of traumatic events are damaging – primarily to victims but also to those who will end up misjudging the significance of those events in the real world. To overcome rape culture, it is necessary to understand the differences in the lived experiences of men and women. It is necessary to respect that your understanding of an experience is not absolute. And it is imperative that you listen to people when they have more experience in a certain area than you do.