Ever since Game of Thrones began its critically acclaimed run on HBO five years ago, the violent treatment of women (sexual or otherwise) on the series has raised eyebrows, leading to countless think pieces, comments section discussions and even boycotts by media outlets. This was never more true than when one of the show's main characters, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), suffered through a wedding-night rape by her sadistic husband, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon).
The instantaneous result? All the proverbial Seven Hells broke loose on the Internet, leading to a flurry of constructive and destructive criticism from a wide variety of outlets. The number of articles that appeared on the web in the wake of the airing of the controversial "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" episode has reached such a high level of media frenzy that it's led to some thoughtful essays on the subject of Rape Culture and the Male Gaze -- some good, some bad.
But what does the man who wrote the saga A Song of Ice and Fire (from which the fantasy series is adapted) have to say about the depiction of violence perpetrated against women in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros? In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, author George R.R. Martin laid out his point of view:
"The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women. One of the charges against Joan of Arc that got her burned at the stake was that she wore men's clothing—that was not a small thing. There were, of course, some strong and competent women. It still doesn't change the nature of the society. And if you look at the books, my heroes and viewpoint characters are all misfits. They're outliers. They don't fit the roles society has for them. They're 'cripples, bastards, and broken things'—a dwarf, a fat guy who can't fight, a bastard, and women who don't fit comfortably into the roles society has for them (though there are also those who do—like Sansa and Catelyn).
"Now there are people who will say to that, 'Well, he's not writing history, he's writing fantasy—he put in dragons, he should have made an egalitarian society.' Just because you put in dragons doesn't mean you can put in anything you want. If pigs could fly, then that's your book. But that doesn't mean you also want people walking on their hands instead of their feet. If you're going to do [a fantasy element], it's best to only do one of them, or a few. I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the 'Disneyland Middle Ages'—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn't want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned."
Martin then went on to talk about how millions of women readers love the books (and I am one of them), and that each and everyone of them has a female character they love (mine happens to be Sansa). He also makes the point that 21st-century America still isn't an egalitarian society, before diving head-first into the touchy topic of sexual violence:
"And then there's the whole issue of sexual violence, which I've been criticized for as well. I'm writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you're going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don't portray [sexual violence], then there's something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It's not a strong testament to the human race, but I don't think we should pretend it doesn't exist.
"I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book."
Do you guys agree with George R.R. Martin's reasons for why his books (and the show) depict such a high level of (mainly) sexual violence against women?