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Question #62: Game of Thrones and Tits

Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark knows 17,309 ways to kick your ass but only needs one.

Dear Captain,

Though I do not consider myself a prude, I sometimes have to question the validity of how sensitive I become when exposed to certain materials, which is why I am writing you.

I have a wonderful partner who is sweet and kind and makes me feel all kinds of wonderful when we are together. He is also very smart and loves reading and history. He takes a particular interest in historical television shows like Deadwood, Rome and currently, Game of Thrones.

I love my partner very much and I make a strong attempt to like the things that he likes. But these shows really get to me sometimes. I know that in the past women have been regarded as property but watching these shows with all the prostitution and rape is so distracting I don’t even care about the story. I see chicks in the backgrounds of scenes with the exposed bodies and it’s just there as part of the set decoration.

I don’t THINK I’m a prude. I don’t mind sex or nudity, but this isn’t even sex. It just feels like someone is trying to make me feel shocked and/or to hate men. And it bothers me that my partner doesn’t get why I’m bothered by it. We had a small fight about it the other day after viewing the first episode of GoT and he started explaining how he “understood there were elements of sex” in there which REALLY made me mad because rape is not sex. And it feels like he is so desensitized that it does not faze him a bit to see such things.

Gloriana Regina: Queen Elizabeth

Promised to half of Europe, married none of them, ruled her own damn country. Are we post-sexist yet?

The style of these shows are not going to go away and he’s not going to stop watching them, or at least wanting to. He asked if I’d prefer he didn’t watch but I don’t like asking people I’m dating (or not dating) to stop doing things they enjoy. I really don’t mind nudity, I watch bad sexploitation films all the time. But those stories are silly and the characters consenting.

I’m sure that GoT is only going to get awesome (I enjoy fantasy stories) but I just can’t see past certain things anymore. Am I being too sensitive?

Signed,
Sick of Thrones

Dear Sick of Thrones,

I watch a lot of HBO dramas, and along with the amazing storytelling comes boobs. Lots of boobs, to the point that when we see some naked lady gyrating in the back of a scene my friends all roll our eyes and say “We’re on HBO, you guys!” and “Look, it’s HBO!” (you can’t hear the sarcasm, but trust me) to the point where I think that HBO must have someone on staff, say, a Vice President of Tits, who sits in on pitch and story development meetings figuring out how new shows will work tits in. Can any readers with inside knowledge confirm this story (and get me a directing job?)

While I’ve read the books, I haven’t watched a single second of Game of Thrones (yet), so I’m turning this one over to the great Commander Logic. But before I do, let me leave you with 1) It’s totally okay to just not watch things that you you don’t like 2) there’s a lot of shitty sexist media out there boy howdy and I can’t watch shows that start off with images of nameless dead, raped, and dismembered ladies and then watch detectives find out, in detail, how they got that way 3) your boyfriend isn’t watching those things AT you, and the more you disengage from it where he is concerned the happier you will probably be.

Here’s Commander Logic.

Dear Sick of Thrones, First, I’m sorry it has taken us so long to get back to you, and now Game of Thrones is almost over (curses!) so the fight over this particular show is going to be moot. However! This seems to be an ongoing issue for you, so hopefully I can provide some help anyway.

Now, we will get the problematic nature of boobs and sexism in a sec, but at its core you seem to have two things going on here:
1 – You want to know if it’s okay to not like things that your significant other likes.
2 – You want to know how to stop him from liking things that you don’t like.

In regard to #1, you don’t have to like things! You don’t even have to have a reason other than “not my thing.” My dear husband, er, Husband Logic, is into climbing rocks. I have tried climbing rocks. It is very much not my thing. He often goes camping in order to climb rocks. Also not my thing. Once or twice a year, I will go camping with him, set up a hammock, and read a massive book while he climbs rocks, but he goes camping/climbing at least eight or ten times a year without me.

Maggie Smith from Downton Abbey

Maggie Smith also knows many ways to kick your ass, and looks damn fine in a hat.

Which leads into #2: if he’s not hurting anyone or anything with what he likes, just let him do it. Does it hurt anyone for him to watch Game of Thrones? No. But you don’t want to watch it, so… don’t watch it. I greatly enjoy what Husband Logic and I refer to as “Big Hat Movies” by which we mean Austen flicks, historical non-battle-related dramas, the works of Merchant-Ivory, etc. If there’s a bonnet, hat, or Helena Bonham-Carter in it, chances are high that Husband Logic detests it, so I wait to watch them when he’s out of the house. Note that I do not STOP watching them, but also I do not make HL watch them. (DOWNTON ABBEY RULEZ!)

So, basically, if you are sensitive to X, don’t expose yourself to X, and that is OK. Because being in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to do everything together all the time. You are separate people with separate interests and needs, and that is a good thing. As long as you have some things that you agree together are great (for HL and I there are many other things, like Scrabble and cooking and sailing), then you’re fine.

The conversation with your boyfriend can go like this:
Him: But X is great! Why don’t you want to enjoy X with me?!?
You: You go enjoy X, but it really isn’t working for me. Later let’s do Y?
Him: BUT X IS GREAT!
You: I want you to go enjoy it. I’m going to go enjoy Z thing that you do not like doing, and then we’ll have a great conversation about what we did later.

Now, let’s get into the issue of sensitivity, Game of Thrones, and sexism. HERE BE SPOILERS.

We’ve established that you do not have to like Game of Thrones. You could not like it because of the killed animals. You could not like it because you think the portrayal of the Dothraki is offensive. You could not like it because you think the hairstyles are dumb. But your particular sensitivity is about the sexism, so that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

First: Background Boobs. I honestly don’t give a flip about boobs, wangs, butts, or other assorted nudity in the background. I don’t find nudity demeaning or exploitative, and if people are tuning into GoT solely for the boobies, then I can suggest many, MANY easier ways to see boobs. Like the bad exploitation films you mention above. Basically, if you’re only seeing boobs, you’re missing the good stuff.

Second: Prostitution. Ditto, with caveats. Prostitution is not glamorous, and it is frequently dangerous and exploitative. I do have a problem with glamorizing prostitution, but I also have a problem with criminalizing it. Westeros seems a pretty sexually liberal place, so I’m not sure how demeaned or exploited the fictional prostitutes feel, but if they’re really bothering you in the show (was that Petyr in the brothel scene REALLY necessary?) I do understand, though they don’t bother me as much.

Third: The Sexism.

Medieval Painting of Philippe Auguste & Isabelle

Philippe Auguste and Isabelle - Don't be fooled by the obvious Photoshop, she's TEN YEARS OLD

I love, love, LOVE that you classified GoT first as a historicalish fiction and then a fantasy, because you’re absolutely correct: women in the past were considered property. But it’s bigger than that. In the not-so-distant past, people were considered property, men and women. Slavery, feudalism, serfdom, pre-union industrial worker are all ways to say “you are worth what you can produce and no more.” If you were a woman born in the Actual Europe 14th Century your life options were basically: peasant (farmer, maybe innkeeper or shopkeep if you were lucky), whore (then peasant if you lived), lady, nun. Your life options as a man weren’t much better. If you weren’t noble, weren’t a warrior, and had nothing, you were worthless to any passing dude with a sword, who might use you for target practice, because who cares?

A lot of medievalish fantasy glosses right over that, in favor of brave knights, lost princes(ses), warrior women, and chosen ones. What George R. R. Martin is doing in his series is taking those fantasy tropes, bringing them into a “real medieval” context, and showing how messed up they are. He’s holding the mirror up to the world we live in, but through the veil of “fantasy” we can tell ourselves that it’s not really that way. Or we can look closer.

Daenerys – silver haired, violet-eyed, magical, lost princess, “chosen one” Daenerys – isn’t exposed to “some elements of sex” she is raped. You’re correct. In the book, Drogo waits for her consent, but it is STILL extremely rapey because of the inherent power imbalance between them. This is what a patriarchical society looks like. Daenerys’s worth is her birth and her womanness, she is sold, she is a commodity that has no voice in her sale. What happens to her in that first episode is horrific, and a viewer should find it appalling.

You know what else? It’s still happening today. In Afghanistan, Yemen, among others. It used to happen in Europe between noble families to seal alliances, and celebrated in great big ceremonies. No puberty? NO PROBLEM. It is manifestly Not Okay, and you were right to be unsettled by non-consensual sex in that first episode. Hell, non-consensual sex unsettles me too, and there’s a lot of it all throughout the series.

But it isn’t advocated. It isn’t condoned. It unsettles me because non-consensual sex is WRONG, but it is a thing in the world, and if the writers had opted to ignore it (“lalala there was a marriage, now they’re going into a room to… lalala! FADE TO BLACK”), I think they would be ignoring something fundamental to the experience of women.

Because that’s what I keep finding in this series: The experiences of women discovering and using power in a world that tells them they have no power.

These amazing, practical, strong women.

Catelyn, who grabs a knife blade with her bare hands, kidnaps a lord, advises her son’s army, and brokers deals.
Septa Mordane, who manages not to stab Sansa in the face when she’s being a twit, and faces down a cadre of sword-wielding guards.
Cersei, who outmaneuvers two Hands to protect her children, rules the kingdom (if badly) through her son, and basically gets away with murder.
Arya, who saves her wolf, learns to fence, catches every cat, and learns to provide for herself on the street.
Sansa, who… well, okay, she’s still immature. But that’s part of why I really like her story arc; she has room to learn and grow, and it was brave of her to speak up to Joffrey.
Ros, who assesses her options at Winterfell and is like “Hell, if I’m gonna be a whore, I’m going to go whoring where I’ll see the world and it’s warm!”

And Daenerys. Her journey is so amazing, I truly consider her the hero of the whole series. She becomes a master at examining the situation she is in and capitalizing the bejesus out of it. She’s not there yet, but the strength that her position as Khaleesi gives her is vital. She doesn’t have role models of women leaders, so she has to learn how to be a leader without relying on men or men’s power. She has to wield power on her own, so she learns to do that through using Drogo’s power by proxy.

Anyway, enough spoilers. All of these women are functioning within a sexist society. You and me? We are, too.

Betty Draper, Joan Holloway, Peggy Olson of Mad Men

Women can vote, have jobs, and keep their own money. What do they want NOW? GEEZ!

It’s so easy to look at this series, or Rome, or Mad Men and congratulate ourselves on putting all that badness behind us (“And didn’t those people have STYLE, though?” Er, yeah, sexism isn’t stylish or romantic to me). But we haven’t put it ALL behind us. People are still close minded to new ideas, people still go to war, people still hate other people for ridiculous reasons, people still have prejudices about other people, people WANT things – power, money, love, honor – with a deep and painful desire. Game of Thrones shows all of that, all of which is relevant to us NOW, and a lot of people don’t want that much realism in their fantasy, thankyouverymuch. What I think it ISN’T doing is romanticizing the medieval period. Not one iota. I don’t want to live in Westeros. If you do, what the seven hells is wrong with you?

Sexism and misogyny are real. They are with us still. And if you’re uncomfortable seeing sexism and the commodification of women played out to its logical extreme on your tv screen, GOOD. Because if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not paying attention.

And if you’re too uncomfortable to watch, that’s okay. We’ve got enough sexism and misogyny to deal with on a daily basis, sometimes you don’t want it mixed up in your fun times.

Let’s go watch something with Big Hats.

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60 comments
  1. Jennifer said:

    The way this poster feels about GoT is the way I feel about Mad Men. I literally shudder every time someone brings that show up. (I don’t plan on watching GoT either.) I’m happy not to watch it, especially since I’m single and nobody’s making me do it.

    It always is an awkward thing when you don’t like what your SO loves, though. Hopefully the poster’s boyfriend can be cool with not forcing her to like it and letting her not pretend to be a fan.

    • Jennifer said:

      Oh, I forgot to mention that I suspect it’s far more personal for women to watch stuff like this than it is for men, and that’s why they may not be as bothered by it. I look at shows like that and think, “I’d be raped and stoned to death or something for not being an ideal woman,” a guy can watch it and not think that.

      • Kimsie said:

        Undoubtedly. But… i think guys are more sensitive to vulnerabilities of their own, not less. Else why the gay hate? It’s the role reversal that troubles…

        • JenniferP said:

          I didn’t let your other comment through, it seemed to be saying “Eh, it was all really rapey back then, what can you do?” Can you expand/explain?

          • Kimsie said:

            umm… sorry? i forgot that thread.
            Will you watch films, if you know that actors within them have been unwillingly bought and sold?
            Because, it’s not just in Yemen, or Afghanistan.
            If you’re rich enough, you can make offers that people can’t afford to turn down “even in America.”

            …and people wonder why I won’t watch Harry Potter. pity the ginger.

  2. Victoria von Syrus said:

    I think Game of Thrones is way more complex than just ‘it’s sexist’. Part of GRRM’s brilliance is being able to write about a sexist society but also come up with a host of interesting, complex and compelling female characters. I mean, what is Sansa except everything her mother, father and septa told her to be – and look how well it’s equipped her to deal with obstacles and challenges. Not to say that Sansa isn’t a good or sympathetic character – she totally is. But she’s a symbol of what women are like when they internalize all the sexism that they’ve been taught from infancy onward. Even the minor characters – Mirri Maz Duur is only onscreen for a few scenes, but you still feel bad for her and understand completely why she did what she did.

    In direct counterpoint to Sansa is Daenerys, who was never brought up to be anything except her brother’s chew toy and punching bag – but she also internalized the message that Westeros was hers, especially after her brother died. And she manages to do some truly amazing things and is probably the only leader or pretender to the throne who actually has her shit together – because she realizes her own power and strength. And unlike Cersei, who bemoans the fact that she is treated differently for being a woman while seducing men to do what she wants, Daenerys expects to be respected because she is a Targaryen who just happens to be a woman.

    Oh, and Brienne. Just wait till the Maid of Tarth shows up. And Ygritte.

    I totally agree that you don’t have to watch something you don’t like, and that the brutal and overly sexed TV shows that HBO loves so much certainly aren’t for everyone. But GoT isn’t glorifying sexism or the objectification of women – it’s an object lesson in why it’s wrong and how useless it is to begin with (because women are going to be awesome anyway). Rape occurred frighteningly often in the Middle Ages (I read a paper somewhere that posited that something like 95-100% of medieval women were raped at some point in their lives), and fantasy literature is informed more by medieval European culture than anything else. GRRM is sanding away the varnish, and displaying the ugliness that lies behind all the Tolkien-esque, glittery faerie tropes (even to the point of writing about the Eyrie, a castle built on a mountaintop which is damned inconvenient to get to, even more inconvenient to supply, and has to be abandoned in winter, anyway). It would be disingenuous for him to write a story like that *without* rape being a subtext (and, in all fairness, there are really no “on-screen” rapes that occur in the book, other than Dany’s rape-y wedding night – but it’s still a threat to the female characters, which I actually really appreciate. I like the threat of peril, but an actual rape scene would probably be too much for me to read, much less watch).

    And you can also catch a thread of ‘patriarchy hurts men, too’ in the books and series. Tyrion is maybe the best example, a man afflicted with dwarfism, who’s usually the smartest guy in the room and yet consistently ignored because of his disablement. Sam Tarly is another good example, so is Varys. And even Jaime after Stuff That Happens Later.

    • CommanderLogic said:

      You and I are super on the same page here. There’s a TON more going on other than sexism, and part of it is because GRRM wrote human beings instead of caricatures.

      I’ve found I’m the carrier of an unpopular opinion, in that I honestly LIKE Sansa. She’s one of the vanishingly few characters in fantasy lit who acts exactly like the age and the person she is brought up to be. She IS sheltered. She bought the fantasy that everyone was telling her was truth. Once the shit hits the fan… now what?

      Brienne! I can’t WAIT to see who they cast. And she had better be ugly. I swear, if they just give her a scar or something and say she’s a wildebeest, I will be writing a VERY STERN LETTER.

      • Kimsie said:

        everytime I hear that someone likes Sansa, I want to give them a hug. Seriously, the whole first book, at least, seems to be the author trying to get us to hate Sansa. Go you, for breaking what the author wanted! (it takes a far better reader than I to do that…)

        • Victoria von Syrus said:

          I never found it in me to hate Sansa because she was never trying to hurt anyone. Cersei, Joffrey and other characters were just outright cruel in the book. Sansa made mistakes, too, some pretty big ones but she never intended for anyone to get hurt.

          It might also be a factor that my sister and I had a dynamic growing up where one of us was a tomboy/rebel and the other one was quiet and well-behaved, so I really identified with the Sansa/Arya dynamic.

          • Kimsie said:

            humph. as an only child, i would never have caught that. great insight!

    • Surprise said:

      “But GoT isn’t glorifying sexism or the objectification of women.” I disagree. TV shows, like human beings, can be motivated by more than one thing. GoT depicts strong, complex female characters who rise above their expected roles of virgin, whore, wife, mother to wield real power in the world. These charaters appeal to women in general and feminists in particular. However, GoT (or should I say HBO?) also depicts many images of naked female breasts, bums, and female full frontal nudity. The ratio of female to male nudity is revealing (!): not a lot of naked men. These images appeal to a certain demographic of male heterosexual viewers.

      The female nudity is often gratuitous, and not even lifted from the original source material. Prominent male characters, while delivering exposition, are often depicted having sex with prostitutes or sex slaves. Usually, the male character is clothed, while his female companion is naked. The images are of soft porn.

      GoT is feminist in its depiction of complex powerful female characters AND sexist in its sexual objectification of young women. It’s not either/or. It’s both.

      • commanderlogic said:

        Yes! It is both! In this thread we are all agreeing that the show has objectification and sexism going on, AND HOW. But what Victoria and I are saying is that the objectification and sexism are not “glorified.” Would you say that Mad Men glorifies sexism in the 60s? Or is it showing it like it was and critiquing? At least for me, GoT is NOT a “hooray for misogyny and prostitution!” show/book, it’s a “god damn LOOK at this bullshit! Can you even believe it?” show/book.

        As I said in the original post, if someone is tuning in just for boobs, there’s easier, cheaper ways to find boobs. Also, there’s (surprisingly!) less nudity in the show than in the source material, it’s just that a) boobs on the page are less obvious than boobs in your actual face b) censoring protocols are much harsher on male nudity because of systemic sexism, not (just) because HBO are jerks and have a VP of Needs More Boobs But Peen Is Gross.

  3. Pidgey said:

    I think another issue of GoT is that the nudity alternates between “This is really rapey and should make you feel uncomfortable” and “This is HBO and our largest market is men, so here are some FANSERVICE BOOBS to turn you on!!” I find the message “Rape really sucks! But we’ll still use sexy imagery to help sell our show containing rape” sort of squicky. It maybe makes it seem that the rape scenes are also just included to excite the menz? I worry that a lot of guys are watching Game of Thrones who never realize that rape isn’t just a part of Westeros, but a very REAL and BIG problem in the world today.

    I am not sure what to say about the partner not immediately recognizing the difference between depictions of rape and depictions of sex. That’s got to be discomforting hearing that. Though the red flags are lowered significantly if he earnestly listened to your concerns as opposed to getting extremely defensive. A lot of guys just haven’t been challenged on the messed up sexist notions that are common in our society. If partner shows a willingness to listen, discuss, and change whatever troublesome views he holds then it is a good sign.

    Perhaps you would enjoy reading Feministe’s Dating While Feminist or Jaclyn Friedman’s F***ing While Feminist if comments from present or future partners continue to discomfort you.

    • Copcher said:

      I haven’t seen or read GoT, so I can’t comment on that, but I strongly agree with Pidgey’s second paragraph. Liking a show that shows the realities of sexism or rape isn’t a bad thing (but definitely not for everyone, and it’s also totally fine to not like it), but I would be more concerned about your partner having a cavalier reaction to it, or calling sexual violence sex. I also agree that it’s less of a problem if he listens and understands your concerns, but if he keeps calling rape “elements of sex” or something similar, I think that’s what you have to worry about.

      • karinacinerina said:

        I had a massive fight with an ex-boyfriend who surprised me 5 years into our sexless relationship by not seeing the difference between rape and sex, how rape isn’t just “sex we didn’t want.” Oh my god I could have strangled him, I never felt so betrayed that someone I trusted as a human being (and put up with years of impotence from, let’s just include that here because DAMN, FOOL) was so clueless as to how rape is “violence” not “sex.”
        UGH My heart rate just went up 20 beats thinking about it.
        I will never ever ever ever see The Accused and I generally avoid movies with rape in them – the imagery/sounds stick with me for years and give me stomach aches. I have been able to stomach the first Game of Thrones novel but it sounds like I need to steer clear of the series. Just as well.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the links, I also recommend Shakesville’s After The Red Pill.

      I absolutely think that media, images, movies, etc. affect us – emotionally and culturally – and you’re not being “too sensitive” if you pick up on that. I’m a film teacher, and I tear my hair out every semester over short scripts full of rape, murder, and general objectification of women and I work very hard to make my students aware of and responsible for what they create. I have my own weird balance and I make compromises about it all the time, like, no serial killers except I think Silence of the Lambs is a perfect movie (because it humanizes the victims and gives at least one of them a chance to get out and has such an amazing female lead character) and I’ve been addicted to The Killing on AMC because, Jesus, Mitch and Linden and Terry and Gwen are such flawed, smart, amazing, real characters and they found a way to make Rosie real and to make her death something important that happened in a community, like, WE LOST SOMEONE AND IT IS RIPPING US ALL APART. I love the shit out of Deadwood and The Wire and will probably feel the same way about GOT – risky storytelling, beautiful writing, honest looks at the ugliness of the world, women with strength and agency despite shitty situations, so I laugh when I see the “Station Identification Boobs” and ignore it – but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to make my same bargain with it.

      I have a giant post about this in me somewhere, like how it makes me almost cry for joy when I see a fellow fat person on a TV show and he/she is treated like…just a person…not shown to be obsessed with eating, not ridiculed, allowed to have desires and dreams, what it means to me to see someone like myself on the screen, or how shows that have, like, more than one Person of Color or disabled people who are not completely defined by their disability. I mean, skinny cisgendered able-bodied skeletal bobbleheaded white women with blinding teeth and perfect long locks of TV-hair are human beings too, but they are not the ONLY human beings and they are not the ONLY carriers of our dreams. Story is real and important and it affects us, and it makes me cry to think of how marginalized people make feasts out of the scraps that mainstream culture gives us.

      • Kimsie said:

        whoopi’s famous line (re startrek)
        “mama, mama! there’s a black woman on tv, and she ain’t no maid!”

        • denelian said:

          that’s honestly one of [if not THE] my favorite “inspirational stories”.
          i remember after the 84 election [where a woman was the VP nominee!] i was just CRUSHED that a woman couldn’t be VP. then…
          the next year, Wilma Mankiller became Chief – and i was exuberant! i said to my mom “Ok, so i can’t become Chief [my branch of the family never registered] but i can be President! if Wilma can do it, i can do it!”

          it’s IMPORTANT to see women doing these things. i never wanted to be an actress, but i totally GOT what Whoopie was saying – because i’d gone through the same sort of thing.

          er… sorry. very off topic; i’ll shut up now.

      • Emily said:

        “I work very hard to make my students aware of and responsible for what they create.”

        I wish more film teachers were like you. I was once in a class where a guy said his main character “deserved to be raped” and our tutor didn’t even question it.

  4. Jason said:

    Couple of thoughts on this:
    1) As established, you don’t have to like things you don’t like. It’s ok. I happen to love Game of Thrones- I love fantasy/medieval stories, but they’re often way too Disneyfied. We all know that life was brutish and short, and not good for anyone, particularly women or the poor, but most stories are of knights, etc. Martin has done a brilliant job of making these stories more realistic, I think. (Never having been a peasant, I can’t speak from experience, however.)

    2) In your letter, there is a touch of “I don’t like it, and he shouldn’t either”. I freely admit I may be reading into your letter, but that’s all I have to go on. Just as you don’t have to like what you don’t like, he is free to like whatever he likes. I have a deep and abiding love for the movie Fletch. I can’t necessarily justify it, nor do I want to.

    3) Where do I interview to be the Vice President of Tits?

    • JenniferP said:

      On HBO, tits are just station identification.

      But damn, they tell ambitious amazing beautiful stories.

      • Jason said:

        HBO, AMC, and Showtime are the only places where serious episodic stories are being told. I have loved the GOT books since I started the first one, and I always said that they were unfilmable. Hell- Martin used to be a script writer, and got frustrated with the limitations, and set out to write an unfilmable story. I have never been so happy as to be wrong about something.

        • Kimsie said:

          If you want good episodic shows, WATCH SOME ANIME. Honestly, they’ve been churning out fantastic stuff for YEARS. Cowboy Bebop, Scrapped Princess, Last Exile, Escaflowne

          • Jason said:

            I hear you, and I’m not saying no out of hand, but I do prefer to watch actors, as opposed to drawings.

          • Kimsie said:

            I prefer to watch stories, myself. ;-) Anime is a different medium, and with different strengths
            (special effects are much cheaper/easier, also many different locations). Can definitely see
            wanting to watch real people, as they have a much wider range of facial emotions.

      • Jason said:

        “The B stands for ‘boobs’.”

  5. robiewankenobie said:

    i’m wondering if you are concerned that your significant other might start thinking these things are okay? because my feeling is that if he’s treating you well, that’s the real test of how he feels about women. i like the script that Captain suggested in that it subtly points to what you are uncomfortable with, without being accusing.

    • k said:

      Yeah, I think this, plus Jennifer’s point about women viewers being more likely to identify with female characters who are being raped / put on display as objects / etc. is kind of what LW is talking about as far as it being uncomfortable for her that her bf likes these shows.

      Personally, I can sympathize a bit – my boyfriend loves Lars van Trier’s films, and I think van Trier really gets off on putting beautiful women through horrible bullshit in his movies. BF uses a similar argument to Commander Logic, saying that van Trier only depicts the ways society treats women, etc. Well, it doesn’t work for me in that specific case. I just get a bad vibe from this one director’s work*, and I don’t feel the need to put myself through it for the sake of Art. My boyfriend and I are huge cinema lovers, and there’s plenty of cool stuff we can see together besides Melancholia, so hey.

      However, it can be kind of tough not to take these types of differences of opinion to heart when they intersect with societal issues like sexuality and privilege. When LW’s partner doesn’t see the exploitation of female bodies, or “sexification” of rape that she is seeing, I can see how it would bug her. Especially when he seems to be having trouble distinguishing between prudishness and objection to rape scenes.

      I think LW is going to have to find a way to deal with the fact he won’t necessarily be as aware of sexism or rape culture as she is. That doesn’t make him automatically a bad person – you’re totally right that the way he treats her and other women in real life is the test of whether or not he’s an OK guy. And in the end, it’s not like this couple is required to have the same taste in TV shows.

      * How vindicated did I feel when dude got banned from Cannes for making terrible Nazi jokes!? SUPERVINDICATED

      • CommanderLogic said:

        OH MAN, LARS VON TRIER.

        The only movie of his that I was able to finish was Breaking the Waves and it was still awful and painful and I felt bad. People tell me that Dogville has a great, retribution-type ending. I don’t care. I refuse to continue watching people torture that woman to get to it.

        I also want to state for the record that “It’s only a depiction, not an endorsement” is a pretty thin argument when what’s depicted is offensive, and though I used it here in defense of Game of Thrones, everyone is free to slash that argument open and see what’s underneath for them. I make no bones about the fact that everyone’s level of squick tolerance, and personal squicks are different. Me, I’m with the Captain about the constant deluge of murdered, raped, mutilated women on CSI, Law&Order, and their ilk. I can’t watch them anymore.

        • piny said:

          It doesn’t have a great retribution ending, because only Lars von Trier thinks that it’s great to brutalize Nicole Kidman for two straight hours as long as she gets to explode everyone up for twenty minutes at the end. I don’t care about both parts.

          Also, what is with nobody having any expression at all? Has he finally found his muse in la Dunst?

          You know what really drives me nuts about the refrigerator-lady genre? It’s not when someone takes violence or brutality as a theme. Done well, that can be absolutely fascinating. It’s when a male director so clearly takes these things as his themes because he wants to seem dark or edgy. That’s what I hate. Look at me, I’m so brave, writing screenplays about female characters who get treated really really badly in elaborate and pointless ways! Look at the risks I’m taking, alienating some women if not their boyfriends! This has never been done before!

          It’s offensive on an artistic level, because it’s been done to death, but it’s also offensive on a feminist level, because it’s been done to death. There’s nothing courageous or creative about doing the accepted thing. It’s like the boob thing: ooooh, lookit us, we’re showing nude breasts! We’re not like those milquetoasts on CBS, selling out to The Man and forcing you to look at Patricia Heaton with her shirt on. We’re artists.

      • JenniferP said:

        I fucking hate Lars Von Trier and his unwatchable bullshit movies. He is totally self-parody at this point. Oh god, I watched Antichrist at Cinema Slapdown and it was so completely pretentious. Great cinematography does not a great film make, sadly.

        I’m really tired of the idea that women are unfathomable creatures who must “suffer” for humanity’s sins.

        Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy the parody Danish Tourism ads a lot.

        • Kimsie said:

          this threatens to send me off on a tear about the little mermaid. noting this because I find it hilarious.

  6. geekgirl99 said:

    I would love to hear Commander Logic’s thoughts on the sketchy portrayal of the Dothraki. The argument that George RR is consciously playing with the sexism inherent in his fantasy/medieval society does make a lot of sense to me; but I am not sure the same is true for the racism?

    • JenniferP said:

      Not having watched it, is it as bad as Tolkein and his “Southrons”?

      • geekgirl99 said:

        Well, to be honest, I have not watched GoT yet, but I am avidly consuming everything I can find about the sexism, racism, etc. in the show in order to try and make up my mind about whether to put it on my to-watch list. I am cautious, so I am trying to figure out what my bargain is before I watch it. So Sick of Thrones question is perfect and one I am so happy someone asked! And I have been reading a lot about the sketchy savage-Dothraki portrayals.

      • Kimsie said:

        NO. Tolkein’s and Lewis’ construction of the OTHER leaves them without any redeeming value.

        The Dothraki have a rich, and varied culture. And their own brand of honor. They’re loosely based
        off the Huns (or the Kyrgizstani). It values things done under the open sky — they are not a people prone to much artifice.

        I can contrast this with what the (white) Hill Tribes are depicted as, which is no more than brutish savages.

        The Dothraki are fully realized, unique culture.

    • Kimsie said:

      Oh, he plays with the racism all right — but you need perspective that the show doesn’t give in the first ten minutes. There are many people defined as barbarians, not just the Dothraki.
      He definitively explodes the Noble Savage trope, and doesn’t entirely replace it with Noble Race Warrior, or Stupid Savage trope.
      But, if you watch the first episode, you see “little white woman” being “forcibly bred by big black hunk.” And I’d really like to cuss Martin out about that — because I don’t think he THOUGHT of how uncomfortable that would make people.
      OTOH, in the book, it’s far more obvious that Dany Lacks Agency, not that Drogo is raping her. In truth, the person who has raped Dany is her brother (not literally, but through a near total erosion of agency). Drogo could not have been nicer to Dany — this is not a 13 year old who feels like she can say yes OR no. abused by her brother, she has learned how to bend.

    • CommanderLogic said:

      Sure.

      I’ll start with a great big generalization: My Culture is Good and Enlightened. Your Culture is Bad and Barbaric.

      In the first episode of the series, “My Culture” is only Westerosi. When we see the Dothraki for the first time, we are seeing them at their most Othered, through Dany’s eyes. Drogo says nothing, there’s weird music, there’s a BAR FIGHT, everyone is half naked, everyone is fucking, and everyone has darker skin. And what was up with the dude who gave them snakes as a wedding present? Seriously? Everything about that marriage and that wedding is playing on the worst stereotypes, and if you stop watching there, I completely understand. That shit is offensive.

      But if you choose to continue, the Dothraki come into more focus as a people. They have a culture that works for them, it is no more barbaric than Westeros, and in some ways is more enlightened. They have different values, but not worse values. They prefer freedom to cities. They prefer battle to farming. They follow leaders of strength instead of lineage. They value horses as the source of everything: food, clothing, transport, alcoholic fermented mare’s milk, and more! It’s not clear from the tv show, but in the book, they incorporate the people they conquer into their horde, first as slaves but eventually as full Dothraki, so there’s a full range from pale and blonde (Qartheen) to jet black (Summer Islanders). If they are based off the Mongolian hordes, then I fail to see how that’s a slight on either people. The Mongols were militarily supreme for a few hundred years, and the Westerosi are pissing themselves imagining the Dothraki crossing the sea. You could also say they were based on Vikings, but with horses instead of boats. Or the Picts (which I think the show designers were going for with the blue body paint).

      I also think it’s a mistake to judge the Dothraki by Earth/Western/Judeo-Christian mores, like sex is shameful, nudity is sinful, sin even exists, etc.

      It’s just so easy to codify the Dothraki that way. To judge them as Dany does at first, or to consign them to Noble Savage status. I fully anticipate that many watchers/readers do/did just that. Viserys certainly does. He’s the one who calls them barbarians. He’s the one who refuses to be part of them, accept their ways, or obey their customs. To them, Viserys was the barbarian. HE wore cloth when leather would make him more comfortable. HE won’t eat horse, which is sacred. HE drew a sword in the holy city.

      My Culture, Your Culture.

      • Jason said:

        Well said. I think what is a touch lost in the TV, vs the book, is Martin’s subtle handling of the reaction/integration of Dany into the Dothraki- at first, she’s all “savage weirdos”, and then they become her people. She is able to integrate with them, and make them her own.

        • Victoria von Syrus said:

          FWIW, there’s a great scene in the book where Daenerys has a suit of rich Dothraki clothes made for Viserys. She knows he’s being mocked by the rest of the khalasar, and she wants people to respect him, since she also knows that the only respect he’s even afforded comes from being brother to the khaleesi. And so she thinks if he wears Dothraki clothes (like she’s been doing), they’ll accept him more. But then Viserys sneers at her when she gives them to him, denigrating her and her gift and her adopted people.

          The problem with the TV show is that it doesn’t really lend itself well to the subtle character development that GRRM is so good at. The Hill Tribes are depicted as much more like the ancient Celts, with their own culture and rivalries. And it’s the Hill Tribes (and maybe Bronn) who accept Tyrion as he is, once he’s proven himself in their eyes (a standard they would have demanded of anyone). The true barbarian is his father, who’ll never forgive Tyrion for being born a dwarf.

      • geekgirl99 said:

        Hm, interesting. I’m glad to hear that George RR at least seems to have thought about dealing with the whole “savage dark people” trope. The creator’s intention means a lot to me in these instances. On the other hand, I’m a little less enthusiastic about the fact that you have to wait for the enlightenment; when creators decide to play with sexism, racism, etc. but make you wait a long time before they explode the stereotypes, I am not always so down with that, even when I do trust that their intentions are in the right place. E.g. I love Whedon and I tried with Dollhouse, truly, but could not stomach it. It strikes me as a form of privilege when creators set up a stereotyped situation and take their own sweet time about busting up the stereotypes.

        • Kimsie said:

          it just doesn’t happen in the first episode. Martin plays a trick on the reader, by putting you in Dany’s head. She’s a scared, abused little girl, thrown into a new situation. of course everything seems terrifying. They somewhat replicate that in the show.

          THAT said, the trope of “Big Muscled Black Guy (or colored guy — Momoa’s not at all African, he’s Pacific Islander) rapes Tiny Innocent White Girl” plays out to its fullest the first episode.

          Nothing in martin’s book is what it seems at first. But he does start people off with “what we’d expect” — in a lot of ways. EVIL, JET BLACK villains (Kill the dog moment, check), WHITE heroes (trope wise). And then you get a different perspective.

          It’s not so much that Martin takes his sweet time about giving you “what the Dothraki are like” — he doesn’t. The show, however, to a certain extent skimps on “this is what the culture is about”… they try to work it in by showing, and not telling. Which is the show’s right. [things like bandaging Dany's hands, and her legs being sore from a full day's riding of horses.]

        • CommanderLogic said:

          You don’t have to wait long – there’s only 10 episodes in the series – and I don’t know that he could have avoided Noble Savaging them without the initial Othering perspective. GRRM’s preferred introduction style seems to be “This is how this character is a monster. Now I will show how they are human and your monster assessment was all wrong.” But as I repeat throughout, your level of tolerance is your business and you don’t owe it to anyone to subject yourself to media that exceeds that level, at ANY TIME.

          Oh man, I tried with Dollhouse, too. And for a while, I was with it. Yeah! People are not commodities! But to prove that we are making people commodities. Hot people! Hot ladies! Hot dudes! Who have sex with their clients which is really obviously non-con and- ERROR. SYSTEM FAILURE.

  7. Tinpantithesis said:

    Like the letter-writer, I sometimes feel like I’m being oversensitive to Problematic Shit In Entertainment. (I am known among my friends as “That was a good [whatever]; I had several issues with it!”)

    I feel like the letter-writer was saying both “is it okay if I don’t like this” and “how can I make my partner be more understanding of the reasons I’m not into this shit?” And saying “but GoT has all these awesome female characters and this is historically serious” is legit, but to me, it doesn’t get to the core of the question, when her partner is saying “well, yeah, there’s sex in GoT” but doesn’t get why the writer is like “um, no, that was rape.”

    I may be coming at this from a weird angle, but I think at the heart of this is “my partner enjoys shit I find gratuitously problematic; is there anything I can do?”

    It is absolutely NOT anyone’s job to explain to their partner “hey, this is why this is squicky and problematic and you should feel bad for watching it.” I think the writer just wants to know that her partner is taking this stuff into account when making media consumption choices. It’s the “once you know the rules, you can break them” thing, almost — if you acknowledge that something is problematic, don’t force people who aren’t into it not to consume it, and still want to consume said media? Do it. But I think you first need to have an awareness of the reasons something is fucked up, and then an examination of whether the fucked-upness is intrinsic — this is a show about prostitution in the old west — or gratuitous, i.e. HEY LOOK BOOBS.

    So here’s the thing. Living with me has meant that my dude roommate has been made … More Aware, shall we say, of issues of sexism in media. I’ve done this by watching some of the same shit as him and then offering a critical perspective (“it was good and all, but did they HAVE to spoiler spoiler spoiler X-Men First Class?”) If you’re really uncomfortable with something, you shouldn’t watch it. I think there’s enough meta out there in the wilds of the Internets that you can be like “hey, I was reading this thing about last week’s Borgias and how it was full of gratuitous problematic shit! Did you notice that?” If you make it clear that you choose media with an eye toward acknowledging that problematic shit is squicky, but not always gratuitous, I think it can be easier to show your reasoning.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is really well-said. I’m seeing in several/many of the comments there that I did not quite pick up on the relationship dynamics/implications and went more for the media criticism aspect.

      Since I brought up Bridesmaids in another post today – I really liked the movie – but felt horrible at the very end when you see the fat people having sex except it’s all about eating sandwiches. It didn’t completely wreck my enjoyment of the movie, but it was like, REALLY, WE HAD TO GO THERE, REALLY? And I’d expect friends/lovers to get why it was offensive and not try to (wo)mansplain* me out of being offended.

      *Lots of people can be entitled assholes who explain shit that people already know. I’m guilty of a fair amount of Jensplaining myself.

      • Tinpantithesis said:

        No, right, exactly! A thing can be really well-done and enjoyable, but I can still come out of it like “really? REALLY, you had to go there?” It’s an extension of Moff’s Law, maybe (criticizing something doesn’t mean you didn’t like it).

        (Star Trek reboot, why didn’t you let more female officers wear pants? Drive Angry, why didn’t you let that one woman have any lines? Avatar, WHY EVERYTHING FOREVER?)

        • JenniferP said:

          Ha, there are A LOT of problems with Drive Angry. Nicholas Cage’s hair is calling all the shots with that one.

          Also, yes, I’ve purposely put Drive Angry into my eyes and so have you. Why did we do that? Why?

          • Tinpantithesis said:

            As a Silly Late-Night Movie Where Nic Cage Shoots Things And There Are Explosions, Drive Angry was completely satisfactory. So I won’t knock, like, the scene where he does the sex with a lady while smoking and shooting people while The Chick … gets her toenails painted. Because it’s sexist, but it’s diagetically sexist. For me, anyway.

            The bit at the end, when they’re like WOMAN WHY DID YOU NOT CARE FOR THIS CHILD OR SHOOT PEOPLE; IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE A WOMAN was, for me, gratuitous bullshit. But then, I do pub trivia, and the audio category this week was Nic Cage Freaking Out In Various Movies. So I may be biased.

  8. Kimsie said:

    I think part of the problem is that BF is saying “I like the stories.”

    … and I’m going to bring up a different thing. Because I like talking!
    Would it be worse, or better, if someone was watching purely for purient interests?
    A guy watching actors rape others? Because it was hot?
    How about someone watching an animal eat a human being alive, “because it was hot”?

    I think an element of enjoying the “story” implies some amount of consent, condoning what’s going on.
    Whereas people can a lot easier say “I’d never do this. I watch it, because I’d never do it.”

    • btothes said:

      Hm. I wonder if we have to look at television today a bit like old school Playboy and Esquire — lots of boobies, but a whole lot of good content. It is quite possible BF is “just reads its for the articles.”

      As a liberated, feminist girl, I adore “Californication.” It think it is a retelling of Day of the Locust, with all the wit. Does it need the boobies and sex for the story? Yup. Does it need all of them? I think not. I don’t watch television to learn David Duchovny’s taste it breasts.

      Since “Buffy,” television has become a wonderful, rich world of nuance and story. I never thought I would watch a comedy about a sympathetic serial killer, but “Dexter” is fascinating. I just like it better when they remember the underlying story and don’t get all “serial killer!” and “boobies”!

  9. CommanderLogic said:

    An addendum to the Letter Writer:

    Some of the comments have brought to my attention that it feels as though I glossed over your SO trivializing the rape scene, which as we discuss above is NOT OKAY. So I’d like to be extra clear that this is also a big part of your letter: that he likes something that trivializes women and their experience, he likes something that shows violence against women. You happen to be a woman, and it bugged you that he liked violence done against someone like you. And when you brought this to his attention, you had an argument.

    Those could be red flags (DANGER! HE DOES NOT VALUE WOMEN!), or they could be opportunities for growth. If he’s as good a guy as you say his other actions toward you imply, then proceed! An argument is where you start. A discussion is where you go to. But it’s hard to talk about things that make us look bad – privilege, prejudice, bias – and so easy to say “that’s just how it is, why are you so SENSITIVE?”

    You seem to have an okay thing with bad exploitation films because it seems like everyone is consenting to what’s going on. Maybe that’s where the conversation can start. “I like these because I like enthusiastic consent. When consent is lacking, like in that Daenerys scene (or whatever you’re talking about now), that really gets my hackles up and I stop enjoying what’s going on.” That’s not about him and his needs. That’s about you. If he tries to explain to you that it’s really consensual, or that it’s okay because it’s art, then you get the Commander Logic pass to explain right back. What freaks you out freaks you out, and if he won’t respect that, he’s not respecting you. But I have hope that he will get it, and he will grow with you. <3

    • JenniferP said:

      Very well-said, as usual.

      I just wanted to mention that I read that Mary of Austria link, and find it awesome that when she was in charge of arranging marriages for her pre-pubescent relatives, she got up to all kinds of hijinks to delay “consummation” until they were older.

      • denelian said:

        where is this link about Mary of Austria?!?! i’m a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge history geek, i must read!!! where where where?!?!? [if it's somewhere on this page, i'm going to cry, because i just re-read every comment and can't find it!]

      • denelian said:

        ok, yeah – it’s in the POST, not the comments.

        sigh. sorry about that. i should have looked there FIRST.

  10. Mike said:

    Just a quick note from a professional historian, and probably too late for anyone to notice. Much of what passes for general knowledge about the Middle Ages today is still trickled-down historiography from the 19th century, where Modernity, like a teen rebelling against his or her parents, felt they really had to badmouth the previous era in order to glorify their own. It’s not an uncommon dynamic, and Hollywood movies have very much enshrined this vision of the medieval period, where it too often seems there are only three live options: one can be Dirty, Ignorant, or Ride Around In Shiny Armor. I remember seeing Siskel and Ebert reviewing “Braveheart” and assuming, like many do, that Everything Had Been Thoroughly Researched, and one exclaiming to the other something like, “Wow, I didn’t know they were so dirty then!” Scots women, of course, could never have learned that their men looked more appealing without mud and peat all over their faces.

    The view that women were chattel is problematic when applied to the High Middle Ages. It had been the case under Roman law, but with the advent of the new medieval cultures, the status of women began to increase noticeably, parallel to the gradual disappearance of slavery. (Some texts would lump serfdom into slavery, but serfdom, where followed, also granted certain rights of social security which amount to a vast improvement over slavery.) Women in the High Middle Ages, if one reads, for example, 13th century tax records and not most modern textbooks, were found to be in such diverse professions as: schoolmistressess, doctors, apothecaries, hairdressers, salt merchants, millers, farmers, soldiers and Crusaders, plasterers, dyers, copyists, miniaturists, and binders; they opened businesses without being required to show a husband’s authorization, and they are seen to possess the power to vote in civic matters.

    So what happened? In short, the Renaissance and Modernity. It wasn’t just Greco-Roman art techniques that got resurrected during the Renaissance. The love of antiquity, and the holding up of the ancient world as a model for civilization also involved a great revival of Roman law. Re-casting law in Roman form wiped out the legal rights gained in the Middle Ages by women in a matter of a few generations, returning them to that more explicitly male-dependent status remembered today with such disdain, such as French law finally excluding women from state functions in 1593. But don’t kid yourselves: that was a modern development in the early modernity of the 16th century, not a medieval one. Any fantasist like GRRM who does serious research into the medieval period is going to find plenty of material for writing strong and diverse female characters.

    Why isn’t this stuff more widely known? I’m not sure. I suspect that there is still a major effect of that “trickle down” 18th and 19th century historiography that I mentioned earlier, which was probably more driven by that era’s Protestant elite poo-pooing anything (like the Middle Ages) that reeked of too much Catholicism for their tastes. It’s a little more baffling to me why this is less known today, but I suspect that contemporary feminism so profits from the narrative of their rescue of women from a benighted past that it might seem counter-intuitive to find that the status of women was better at certain points of the past, and that 20th century America was only equaling or restoring something that had existed in the 1300s in France. But any view of women’s history that ignores these facts in favor of the standard description given today is itself an assault on the lives of women long past. Anyway, perhaps a good place to start reading this sort of thing would be from French Academy honoree Regine Pernoud, one of the great medievalists of the 20th century. An English translation of her book “Women in the Days of the Cathedrals” is available used on Amazon for not too much.

    • I like all of this, though I don’t think it has anything to do with feminism.

      There’s a strong presumption that human history is a more or less linear movement from more primitive, barbaric society to more refined, civilized society. Lots of times in commentary on contemporary events you see someone say something to the effect of “This is the first time in HUMAN HISTORY that we’ll be taking a step backward yadda yadda” but of course human beings take backward steps – big ones – from time to time.

    • Karin said:

      Sorry – it dealt with the pilot, but is still an interesting read IMO

  11. Neo, Im so glad to hear that someone else has had the same reaction to The Tudors as I had. If I want porn, soft or hard, I will look for it. If I want to hear about the sexual peccadillos of historic figures, I will read about them. I, however, dont find this stuff to be compelling video, nor historic, and I returned the discs to my local library as soon as I could afford the gas!

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