Originally published at Machete Face.
Benevolent Sexist (BS) Husband is a huge Game of Thrones fan. His wife is Spicy White, which is to say she is a fair-skinned Latina trying her very best to act and speak “white.” BS Husband gently (and publicly) corrects his wife when she mispronounces things or switches tenses. He smiles broadly whenever she admits to a piece of knowledge or process eluding her: math, computers, game consoles, finance. “It’s alright,” he says. “I love you anyway.”
Benevolent or ambivalent sexism reinforces and celebrates traditional gender roles. Men are tough and rational; women are sensitive and nurturing. Aside from rewarding women who “know their place,” BS beliefs also provide ample punishment for women who are seen as “bad.” The women who transgress heteronormative roles, according to BS, deserve what’s coming to them.
For an example of BS thinking in GoT, consider this: when Jamie Lannister clearly RAPES his sister Cersei at their son’s funeral, although cringeworthy, many were quick to reconcile the violent act with evil Cersei’s actions and intentions. Her own depravity made her punishment possible, indeed perhaps necessary, from a storytelling standpoint. Admittedly at first, I was one of these people.
And while most of Game of Thrones is a waiting game to see what other punishment will Cersei receive for her outlandishness, a major recurring theme is, paradoxically, the possible redemption of Jamie. The couple died in each other’s arms in a twisted romantic end to what was probably the only marriage-like relationship that survived until the last season of the series—which perhaps is meant to say Cersei wasn’t really violated, if we are to follow the BS line of reasoning, since conjugal rape isn’t really a “thing.” Ah, those BSers do love their incest porn. And if it’s forced? Even better. At least I know for a fact BS Husband does.
BS Husband once raped his wife while she was unconscious. She was drunk, flirting wildly at a party and passed out once they got home (she told me in confidence with an air that made me think she thought she deserved it). Of course she didn’t actually use the word rape. I believe the euphemism in this case was “took advantage of me.” Mind you, BS Husband holds a ministerial position in his Church and often uses terms such as “man-hating” and “feminist bullshit” to describe me and my views. And won’t you believe it, BS Husband was the one that got me into GoT in the first place: a huge high fantasy buff, he had read the books and assured me I’d like the show because of “so many” strong, female characters.
A quick search of Game of Thrones and Sexism yields some articles flat out denying the notion. Most of the searched content centers on the last season and the supposedly strong, white female characters we as women should be, have to be, must be… proud of. Well, let’s examine that a bit more closely.
These stalwarts of modern femininity are (arranged according to power-hungriness): Daenerys, Sansa and Arya. All white. All privileged. Two were raped and one was mutilated enough to make her into a seasoned warrior by the age of, well, who knows. Incidentally, I find it disconcerting that a girl who essentially grew up in our living rooms must now show her sexuality at an uncertain age in the storyline, and it just so happens to be one of the most searched for scenes online.
If BS thinking punishes women for acting outside of their gendered roles, then all three women received their due, amply. Their crime? Well, ambition, for one. Arya wanted to be a fighter, Sansa wanted a crown, Daenerys (heaven forbid), wanted the throne.
Massacre at King’s Landing aside, Daenerys was destined to die in this show’s morality. She wanted to disrupt the social order by killing evil men, as Tyrion so succinctly words it. I’d add to her list of transgressions a fact which is so obvious yet so underappreciated: she was liberating way too many brown people for comfort.
The happiest ending, some say, went to Arya. She is the explorer of the New World, on her way to impose her belief system on unknown civilizations. If this isn’t the perfect image of white colonialism, then what is? And it happens to be a woman, a white woman at the helm. Those of you who are more academically inclined writers, please do with that image what you will, especially under our current political climate.
Where are all the brown people? I kept asking myself throughout the series. As time went on they showed up, sporadically. They are the mercenaries. The workhorses. (Thank you, Dothraki!) The sex workers. The slaves. The prisoners. Lots and lots of dead people and castrated men: non-threatening. The happiest brown people are in Dorne. You know, in the desert with the snakes.
And then there are people who have the gall to say this show isn’t racist or sexist. People that see Sansa as strong and fulfilled instead of angered and dysfunctional. That fail to see Daenerys’ arc as a dual reference to white supremacy and the danger of women in power positions. To these people I say, please watch the show again and treat yourself to my new favorite drinking game. Take a shot every time the word rape is mentioned, enacted or referenced. The first five seasons will definitely be a blur.
But Benevolent Sexism insists this show is great for everybody. BS Husband says I have anger issues and can never enjoy anything if I am to be nitpicking at things that are set in a distant past. Except it isn’t really the past. It’s a fantasy world. One we chose to watch. A world we have communally escaped to, glorified and will now miss profoundly. It is yet another strain in the current that has led us to six dead children (that we know of!) detained at the border, the decline in reproductive rights, and *please insert your favorite “women and immigrants are fucked once again” issue here.*
BS Husband wants to take his family to his Spicy Wife’s country of origin. Perhaps they’ll buy some land, and why not? I hear business is booming in the historically ransacked island of Puerto Rico. Arya is, he admits half-ashamed, his favorite character after all.
Machete Face is a feminist blog for and about Puerto Ricans.