Friday, 9 March 2012

A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin

I could have called this; Does George R.R. Martin have a problem with women?
I've just finished reading the first two books in the above series, the basis for the TV series A Game of Thrones, which is also the title of the first book. I haven't seen the show, but if it's as rape-filled as the book then I don't know if I want to.
Now I'm not an idiot and I know from history that one of the nastier side effects of war and conquest is rape. Men don't just steal everything worth taking and burn the place down, they have to take out their rage or whatever on the women. I've never really understood why. Rape is not about sex, it is about power and control. But in the first book, it is rife. And so unnecessary, mention it if you must, but is it really so vital to the plot that it needs to be taking place on every other page? I really don't think so.
By the second book, A Clash of Kings, the female characters are faring a little better, there's still a lot of sex, and quite a few rape scenes, which are treated incredibly casually, but the women who have been given names and a role in the complex plot are getting by.
I was talking to The Boy about this concern of mine, and he said he had read somewhere that Martin couldn't write women and suggested that maybe that's why they're so poorly served. Personally I think he just has a real issue with them/us.
I remember writing an essay on whether 'Hamlet' was a misogynist or Shakespeare was. I think I concluded that while the play mistreated it's few female characters badly, it was partly a product of it's time and also not the best evidence as to the writer's own feelings as there were only two women in the play.
Martin can't really use that as an excuse, the first book was published in 1996, not the 16th Century and there are quite a few women roaming his pages. Yes some of them are pretty vile, like Queen Cersei, but others are more sympathetic, Lady Catelyn, her daughters Sansa and Arya for example, but the sheer volume of violence done to women is just unnecessary.
I read a lot of fantasy fiction, and am aware that for a long time it was pretty much a boy's own club, women writers have had to fight to get a foot in the fantasy door, but this kind of misogyny is completely out of place nowadays. Writers with these sorts of views seem to have largely died out, and there are enough feisty heroines around to make it a place for female readers too.
I also know that Martin's setting, another world during a period much like our own feudal one, means that some things that seem anathema to us now, the marrying off of young girls in order to form alliances, the forced marriage of women left widowed and in possession of large amounts of land and wealth, the keeping of whores and brothels by wealthy men, are not something perhaps to be too angry with, as it's set in a time where women are chattels and their only uses are as wives and mothers to heirs or else prostitutes and servants if they are not nobility.
However, I do hope that Martin's later books in the series (which I have yet to read) lessen the systematic violence inflicted upon the women in his world, or he risks alienating female readers (and viewers of the TV adaptation) from all his books.

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