Alyssa Rosenberg on ‘A Game of Thrones’ and that Sady Doyle piece

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Alyssa has the best response up yet to Sady Doyle’s critique of George R. R. Martin. I realize that we’ve done this to death over the past few days, but I do highly recommend you read Alyssa’s take, if only because it’s a good feminist critique of Sady’s position. A taste:

A world where women are perfectly safe, perfectly competent, and society is perfectly engineered to produce those conditions strikes me as one where we can’t tell any very interesting stories about women’s struggles and women’s liberation. If we tell ourselves stories in order to live, it doesn’t strike me that we do ourselves any favors as active feminists by leaching depictions of sexual violence, women making bad decisions, and institutionalized sexism from our fiction, or by dismissing entire swaths of consumers or modes of consuming fiction.

What I draw from this whole debate is this: if Martin hadn’t included rape or sexual violence or a sexist society, if he’d sanitized Westeros, if he’d written a world where sexual equality was the norm, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. I’m thrilled that a fantasy series can spark this much serious discussion about women’s rights. Fantasy doesn’t have much of a tradition of this, though certainly there are feminists reading and writing the genre.

Sure, Tolkien included one strong woman in The Lord of the Rings. Good for him, as a traditionalist Catholic writing in post-war England, to make Eowyn a strong, disobedient female hero warrior. But by and large, from Tolkien on up, we don’t grapple a lot with women as second-class-citizens that much in fantasy. So we should, whatever mixed feelings we may have about the violence in these stories, at least celebrate the fact that they’ve sparked conversation about these issues. And, as Alyssa notes, “if we want the nerdosphere to be a more progressive place, I think it’s important to mount critiques that will actually be effective, rather than ones that can make the critics feel self-righteous.”

Damn straight.

Read the whole thing.

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39 thoughts on “Alyssa Rosenberg on ‘A Game of Thrones’ and that Sady Doyle piece

  1. Alyssa’s post makes me squee.
    I do want to reiterate, for anyone reading, that it is perfectly okay for someone to not want to read about rape. Not All Books need to be written for everyone. If something makes you that upset/uncomfortable that you want to stop reading — do.

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  2. I knew Alyssa would come through.

    And completely agree with Kim – ASOIAF and similar fare are not for everyone, nor should they be. I’m pretty careful about who I recommend them to. But it’s nice to live in a world where both the strengths and weaknesses of this series are being seriously discussed by critics.

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  3. Total aside: I predict a 25% skew in normal traffic patterns due to Alyssa’s link.

    That’s a complete fishing guess. I’m curious how wrong I actually *am*.

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  4. Isn’t this the purpose of Sci Fi and Fantasy? To make us tackle issues that are just too… well ~hard~ to talk about in a traditional media?

    BSG created sympathetic suicide bombers and attacked the abortion debate.

    Star Trek gave us the first inter-racial kiss on network TV.

    Part of the genre isn’t it?

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  5. I have to ask: did anybody catch it about a year ago when Sady Doyle tore a strip off of Freddie for roughly the same offense? He wrote something in response to a post of hers that was as critical as Freddie ever is and the crowd went wild! It was definitely a typical internet dust up. In his case it really was a hate fest against him and his post. I remember being struck by the fact that many of the people there wrote like 13 year old valley girls with 50 cent academic words incongruously thrown in. Their anger was also disproportionate to what Freddie actually wrote and he kept trying to find some common ground with them too. I would have quit a lot earlier. Bullies are boring to me.

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  6. I saw this in Alyssa’s essay and went “WTF?”:

    Tywin Lannister forcing his son to have sex with his wife after she’s been gang-raped is as much an assault of Tyrion as it is of Tysha

    No it is fucking NOT. Tysha has been assaulted, physically, mentally and emotionally, in a way that Tyrion can maybe kind of sort of begin to comprehend. I’m sorry for the poor delicate flower, but what he’s experienced in no way whatsoever compares with what she’s been through.

    This is an amazingly stupid and offensive comment in otherwise great essay.

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    • Jeff – nonsense. His father forced him to have sex after forcing him to watch the girl he loved get gang raped. Forced sex is rape. I’m sure her experience was worse, but both were rape. Sady wants us to think that Tyrion participated. I’m sorry, but if you’re violently forced to participate in a rape, you’re also a victim.

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  7. (I just realized that you are the author of the quote. Sorry for failing to acknowledge that. I’m a knucklehead at times.)

    Yes, Tyrion was assaulted. He’s been violated. I think the problem comes in “as much”. Stealing a loaf of bread is “as much” a crime as stealing someone’s life savings, but who would put it that way. The acts are similar in kind, but hardly in magnitude.

    If you had said something like “Tyrion was assaulted by the forced sex”, I would agree with you. Making the trauma suffered by the two seem equal spoiled your point.

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      • Okay I’m not sure now if Jeff is referring to my original post on the matter, or Alyssa’s post where she links to my original post on the matter, but I don’t think either of us was saying anything about it being equally awful, just that each person – Tyrion and Tysha – was assaulted.

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        • I’ve mostly been avoiding the GoT threads, because I don’t know the material, and I try not to sound too ignorant. So I saw the comment on Alyssa’s essay and only after the fact did I link “Erik Kain” and “E.D. Kain.” D’oh.

          I think now that we’re quibbling around the edges — I get what you were trying to say, and I think you’ll agree with Alyssa that your point might not have stated clearly.

          Does that sound right to you?

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  8. Does she think the series (and the whole genre, for that matter) is classist, too?

    Rich lords = Awesome heroes like the Starks
    Poor people = Barbarian idiots, whores, etc.

    That’s a ridiculous reading of Martin, and one could argue the opposite is true, too, i.e. that Martin is showing us the true Norris of a classist-feudal world.

    Really, the valid critique is not that Martin is sexist or classist, or that he’s morally high-handed in the opposite direction. Rather, it’s not clear that Martin has anything to say at all about race, class, etc. He depicts an interesting world with political intrigue, some psychological insight, some gritty realism. But what is he trying to say? I don’t want a simple Aesop-style moral of the story. But I want these books to be about something(s) or express some novel insight as great sci-fi and fantasy often does.

    Indeed, is A Song of Ice and Fire about something? Or is it just a very cool, dragon-infused soap opera, set in war times?

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    • It seems to me to be a meditation on the cost of war. In that sense, it might be called a soap opera, but I’d distinguish the two. A soap opera presents emotional drama for its own sake; Martin is presenting emotional drama for the sake of illustrating why war is indeed as awful as it is. Any work about the awfulness of war is, to some extent, a plea for peace; this also seems to be to be a plea for understanding and sympathy and healing for those who pay these awful prices. The multiple points of view, from combatants on different sides of the conflict, underlines to me that everyone — rich and poor, enemy and ally, on the battle front or on the home front — must pay their share of the price.

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      • That’s interesting, and maybe right. Certainly his use of perspective to move our sympathies is well done and insightful. And I haven’t read all the books, so what do I Norris, anyway?

        I don’t agree that the primary message is about the horrors of war though. (though war is depicted as horrible, obviously) There seems to be more about politics and feuds than out an out war and it’s aftermath on people (it’s mostly ordinary folks who suffer in war, and these books are mostly about nobles, no? I get the sense that you could cut some of the actual war and still have a pretty similar set of books in theme and character.

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    • ASOIAF is a full meditation on power, what it takes to rule, and, most importantly, how a good ruler isn’t necessarily a good man.

      The first book deconstructs “divine right” and “honor as ideology”
      The next few deconstruct “Nietzchean selfishness”
      The most recent book deconstructs “trying to do good for the small folk”

      … can you deconstruct all ideologies and come out ahead? I think so — it’s a very scientific/empirical viewpoint — and I think, at the end of the day, that’s what Martin is trying to get us to see. And more importantly THINK about our actions and their consequences [not that he’s a strict utilitarian, at ALL, but he seems to argue most heavily against Kantian ideals.]

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      • One big reason why I love ASOIAF, despite its flaws, is that I see it as pretty much the only epic fantasy that is resolutely anti-war. At least that I’ve read.

        Martin takes the prototypical fantasy antagonist – evil supernatural force rising in the [geographical region] – and transforms it into a MacGuffin for telling the real story, of a tragic, brutally destructive war instigated by politicians with limited foresight. His skill at creating flawed yet interesting & sympathetic characters, and his willingness to kill them on occasion, are really important ingredients for telling a story like this in a compelling way.

        While I have little doubt that the “fantasy war” aspect of the story will move to the forefront before the end, Martin’s clear focus on the human war and its costs is exactly what makes the series so moving. As he keeps saying, the human heart at conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about.

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