Sexual violence as a literary device in A Song of Ice and Fire

As a follow up to my post last week on A Song of Ice and Fire and the issue of rape on television, it turns out that Tumblr user Tafkar did an analysis of all of the rape scenes in the books and the television show. Here’s the quick overview of what they found.

Rape acts in Game of Thrones the TV series (to date): 50
Rape victims in Game of Thrones (to date): 29

Rape acts in ASOIAF the book series (to date): 214
Rape victims in ASOIAF (to date): 117

The books contain over 4 times as much rape as the show (and probably even more; the method of analysis likely underestimates the rape in the books).

You can look in the link above for more detail, but be warned, they included somewhat graphic descriptions of some of the things they were discussing, so maybe cuddle a stuffed animal while you read it or just wait until you are in a strong place before going through the whole thing.

I had two thoughts when I was reading Tafkar’s analysis of the preponderance of rape in the books versus the series.

Thought #1: Wow! It’s not just HBO that has a rape problem, George RR Martin has a rape problem too!
Thought #2: I really didn’t remember half the rapes that happened in the books until this person reminded me…

I still stand by the idea that HBO has a rape problem that needs to be addressed. Titillating viewers with scenes of sexual violence or using said sexual violence to turn women into steel-hearted warriors is problematic in the extreme. But then I’ve said all that before.

My new problem now lies with the fact that I genuinely didn’t remember most of the scenes of rape that were mentioned in the books. I think there are two things happening there. The first thing is that GRRM’s prose is so ponderous and agonizing that I did, at times, skip whole pages of exposition in order to keep from falling asleep. So it is likely that I missed one or two rapes in the process. And the second thing that is happening there is that GRRM uses rape so frequently as a set dressing for other, “more important,” things that I became blind to it as a serious recurring theme.

In a way, this sort of mirrors everyday culture. Rape and the culture surrounding rape are so ubiquitous that most people reacting to it with anything more than a shrug seems a rarity nowadays (see shows like SVU for an example of how little fucks are given about sexual violence on television). Between reading stories of female comics who are regularly sexually harassed and even assaulted by their male colleagues while doing their jobs and hearing horror stories from women who have worked in the sex industry about the exploitation that arises in that kind of work. Shit, even just sitting around and talking with friends so often leads to stories about how regularly they are harassed or groped by men on the street, or how many of them have histories of having endured sexual violence. Being surrounded by it every day is a terrible reality of the lives of so many women that my heart sometimes can’t handle it and I just give up and watch a Disney movie.

With all of that, having rape be included in entertainment as some kind of “fun” or meaningful backdrop for male heroism is just a step too far. Anita Sarkeesian did an excellent analysis of this particular trope in video games (that you should totally watch when you have an hour if you haven’t already), but I think that you can apply what she is talking about in those videos to what we see going on in television and books all the time.

One of the biggest arguments that I get in defense of rape in GRRM’s work (either screen or text) are citing some kind of “historical accuracy.” To that I say this:

First of all, I must have missed the part of history that covered goddamn dragons and white walkers. Which, you know, somebody needs to fill me in on, because I am missing out.

Second of all, if you are defending rape used as a lazy writing trope in order to push men to do stuff or to harden women enough so that they can do stuff, you are barking up the wrong goddamn tree with me. The laziness of your favorite writer is not my problem.

Which brings me to my final point. I know rape has happened throughout history. I have a history degree. I know that rape still happens today. I would have to live in a hole to not know that. But here’s the thing: the writers of any given world get to make the rules for that world. They get to show you the things that are happening within it. They can use any manner of things in order to fan the flames of your loyalty with their characters. In other words, just because rape happened doesn’t mean they have to use it. Using rape is a choice. Using rape frequently and with seeming relish is also a choice. It is a choice writers like GRRM and the writers at HBO continue to make. And it is the wrong choice.

Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to think really hard about why they are working so intently on propping up and defending the use of sexual violence against the protests of so many.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s