Sometimes I wonder if, when we pit female characters against each other in an imaginary fandom deathmatch, we’re really not doing ourselves any favors in a feminist sense.
But then I also wonder, do writers actually set this rivalry up? In some cases I think they do.
Meta-criticism aside, I like Sansa. I do not like Daenerys. Arya is a neutral value. And here’s why.
First of all, I don’t appreciate George R. R. Martin’s setup of, nor the fandom’s contribution to, treating the sibling rivalry of a couple of preteen girls like – and I’m quoting a random Internet person here, probably from TWoP – it is fucking Highlander and there can only be one. Nor do I care for the setup of Arya as cool girl, because she does boy things, and Sansa as uncool girl, because she likes girl things. I don’t think we womenfolk should have to arm ourselves with the trappings and symbols of manhood to earn some legitimacy, whether in this world or a fictional universe.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool when a woman does arm herself that way, again, whether in this world or in a fictional universe – whether it’s Joan of Arc or Eowyn. Good on them, and right on. But should that be the only way? No, I don’t think so. And I don’t think I, or any other real person, or any fictional character, is less cool because they like pink, or sewing, or sparkles, or chick lit for that matter, which of course is a problematic term all on its own.
(I happen to be a fan of the genre I refer to as “vagina fiction,” which is like the more bourgeois version of chick lit, but that’s a topic for another post.)
Secondly, onto Daenerys. I get all kinds of irritated reading a character that the male author clearly has a crush on, like a Mary Sue from the male gaze. Yeah, I don’t care if she has dragons – yet another trapping of masculinity, right? And while “Mother of Dragons” is a cool idea and all, the presentation of this character I find to be an epic fail. She reads like she is viewing herself from the outside, a very much male gaze outside, like she is more attracted to herself than she is to the men and women she sleeps with. FFS. The line that struck me on my initial reading of A Game of Thrones was this one:
“Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest…”
Now, my first problem with this is, if I was bouncing around on horseback all day, you’d bet your ass I’d secure the girls for the trip. That’s what female gaze looks like. And, furthermore, the line would go more like this:
“Her small breasts itched like crazy beneath a painted Dothraki vest.”
“Her small breasts sweated profusely beneath a painted Dothraki vest.”
Yeah, that line was not one of Martin’s finest. Again, reading Daenerys’ chapters annoys the hell out of me, and not just because things move so slow south of Westeros. Reading a female character viewed so clearly through the lens of the male gaze, when she is meant to be more-or-less self-narrating, throws me out of the narrative every single time.
Onto Sansa. Yeah, I like her. I like that she doesn’t have swords or dragons but keeps herself safe anyway. I like that she uses her wits rather than her fists. I like her admittedly slow but tragic character arc and the crumbling of her value system, and look forward to seeing what she rebuilds in its place. Her presentation is far more sophisticated than Arya’s, and still more than that of the insipid Daenerys.
Keep on keepin’ on, Sansa. You’re my imaginary homegirl, and I’ve got your imaginary back.