Sexual Violence in Epic Fantasy Follow-up & Linkspam: Sansa Stark

My reaction to the Game of Thrones episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” is very personal and very meta. And I didn’t even watch it because similar problems rendered me unable to watch that show long ago, but witnessed my Twitter feed explode on the night that the episode aired and read the devastating news:

Ramsey Snow brutally raped Sansa Stark… while the camera focused on Theon Greyjoy’s manpain about it.

I wrote a post a while back about a few of the terrible ways that epic fantasy, this one in particular, portrays violence against women, and how rape is used as a narrative device within to punish female characters for having too much agency. And with no character is this misogynistic tendency so prevalent as it is with Sansa Stark, who spends the narrative in constant sexual peril, but who nobody rapes until she has established a modicum of agency. And as I wrote in my original post, that makes no sense; Sansa spends nearly the entire narrative under the control of violent men, including Petyr and Tyrion, two men that have murdered their own lovers.

I wonder how many men out there really understand the message that such writing sends to the real life women watching or reading it? Watch out. Don’t get too powerful or loud or even see your own existence as inherently relevant, as opposed to orienting itself around our needs. This is what will happen to you.


  • It is interesting, is it not, that the narrative refused to focus on either the victim of assault, nor the rapist, but an outsider dude and his feels about it? It’s almost like we can’t acknowledge that women are human, nor that a sadly staggeringly high percentage of men are rapists (about 4-5% in the real world; probably more in Game of Thrones), so depend on a third person (male! of course!) point-of-view for rape to even be real.
  • Sansa is one of my very few self-insert characters in this show/these books. (Catelyn is another.) The brutal rape of her, in departure from the books, is a visceral and extremely unsettling reminder of what many men in this genre think about women.
  • Especially given that the rape scene served no possible narrative purpose except for shock and titillation. As Suzanne Samin writes in XO Jane, “I would posit that watching Sansa and Ramsay get married (especially after that creepy bath with Myranda) is enough drama to communicate how completely shit out of luck Sansa is….. We didn’t need to see their wedding night, because, well, we could probably imagine it. We knew there was no way Ramsay—who hunts people for fun—was going to be the type for rose petals and Barry White.”
  • Men chattering extremely loudly about this, writing thinkpieces, and talking to and signal boosting other dudes chattering extremely loudly about this: I’m not sure why you’re incapable of seeing your behavior as a stunning life imitating art scenario? You know how part of the abyss of WRONG in this rape scene was focusing on some dude’s manpain about it? Striking resemblance to the way you’re centering yourself right now in fandom conversation, dudes. Not all of you are adding more noise than signal, but many of you are.
  • I’m not going to link to other women’s personal reactions because I feel like I would need consent for that, but (unsurprisingly!) the articles written by women on this are much more substantive and (also unsurprisingly) getting less attention than nerdbro thinkpieces. A few that I find very revelatory, in addition to the Vanity Fair and Mary Sue articles:

“Sansa Stark (and All the Women of GoT) Deserve Better” by Miranda of Bibliodaze. “Game of Thrones has taken sexual violence and hatred towards women to a fetish level.”

Game of Thrones Doesn’t Care About Female Fans” by L.E.H. Light of Black Nerd Problems. “I’m mad that my friends have screamed to the rafters that they are done with this, and the show that they arrange their Sunday evenings around has once again told them that their voices don’t matter as much as the white male gaze they are feeding.”

“One Girl’s Rape for One Man’s Story” by Wendy of The Rainbow Hub. “Their stories can be set aside entirely in favor of raping them, and seeing their tears matter less than seeing those of the man to whom their stories are being sacrificed.”

“The Historical Accuracy Fallacy” by K. Tempest Bradford. “Acknowledging this means that we have to stop responding to ‘There’s a lot of unnecessary rape in these books’ with ‘That’s the way it was’ and instead with ‘The author chose to include all that rape.'” (Further thoughts on what Bradford writes about: While I don’t think Grace of Kings handles gender perfectly, I wish all men who write or aspire to write in this genre would read it for how it destabilizes toxic masculinity and the male gaze — because the male gaze can exist without violence against women, but can gendered violence exist without the male gaze? And then follow up with Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, which includes violence against women in a way that is women-centered and actually realistic — when violence happens, it is significant, but the characters spend much more time dealing with bullshit sexism than with gendered violence. All women face gendered violence at least once in their lives; all women face bullshit sexism at least once a day. The “history” of nerdbro fantasy in which one token woman bridles against patriarchy but all women are in constant sexual peril never existed.)

“Game of Thrones — Run Boy Run” by Hollywoodgrrl. This fanvid predates the new terrible rape scene in Game of Thrones but is so worth watching; it has the following description: “The story so far as seen through the eyes of the women living in Westeros and Essos.”

“Fantasizing Consent” by Sarah Mesle at the L.A. Review of Books. “This episode of Game of Thrones does to viewers what the world so often does to women: it mistakes presence for consent.”

“Rape in ASOIAF versus Game of Thrones: A Statistical Analysis” by Tafkar. Counts the occurrences of rape in the show in the books. It’s a lot.

“A Song of Ice and Fire Has a Rape Problem” by Tafkar. “Daenerys, who fell in love with her rapist, is a hero. Maz Duur, who avenged herself on her rapists, is a villain.”

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1 Response to Sexual Violence in Epic Fantasy Follow-up & Linkspam: Sansa Stark

  1. Pingback: Weekend Links: May 23, 2015 | SF Bluestocking

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