Feminism

Cersei Lannister, rape culture, and a lot of me flipping the bird in general

[content note for sexual violence]

I’ve read G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire up through Feast of Crows, and I’m currently reading Dance of Dragons, albeit slowly. The books are a struggle for me to read, as an abuse and rape survivor. I do enjoy them, although I caution people to engage with Martin’s world critically. He’s been hailed by a lot of people as a “feminist” writer, but I am extremely hesitant to think of him in those terms (read Sady Doyle’s piece there– it’s both hysterically funny and insightful).

Since the beginning, I have appreciated both Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister as characters. Cersei, up until Storm of Swords, was a relatable character for me– she was forced into a difficult position by the expectations of her father, of her culture, and of her husband, but she did what she could to find happiness in the midst of an abusive marriage and constant rape. There isn’t a lot about her that I would describe as noble, but she felt realistic to me, and I found myself grudgingly admiring her.

And then Storm of Swords happened, and Martin makes it blatantly obvious that we’re all supposed to hate her now because she’s ridiculously incompetent. She’s completely robbed of all sense because, well, the only explanation he offers for this drastic departure is lady-hormones. I don’t follow Game of Thrones as a show, but I’m a part of online nerd/geek communities, so I have a passing familiarity with what the show is like.

Last year, everything in that part of my internet circles exploded because of the rape scene, which a lot of people insisted diverges from the books. I find that accusation amusing because Robb Stark doesn’t even marry the same woman in the show, but this scene seems to matter to people. I wouldn’t be bothered by the scene diverging from the book, as television it is a completely different medium, and the artists — the writers, the directors, the actors, the editors– are already telling an entirely different story than the one Martin originally penned. In many ways I think the direction they’ve taken is intriguing.

However, in this one scene they stayed true to the book.

Jaime does, in fact, rape Cersei in the sept next to Joffrey’s dead body.

She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.”

There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue.

“No,”

she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”

“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath.

She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods.

He never heard her.

He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.

That is rape. There is no other word for this scene. Jaime raped Cersei, full stop.

And, honestly, by this point in the books a rape scene would cause me to think yawn, well of course a woman got raped it’s Martin writing this for heaven’s sake what did I think would happen? There are various things to be said about how often people are raped in Martin’s fantasy world, but I’m not really here to critique the existence of rape in his books. It’s what he does with it, and this scene in particular, that deeply, deeply troubles me, because of what happens next:

“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.”

This, I have a problem with– because this is a rape myth. It actually gets a fucking number on the Women Against Violence’s list of “Rape Myths”– it’s #17: “When a woman says no, she really means maybe or yes.” It’s the idea that women secretly all want it, they just have to be persuadedHorrifically, “with my dick” can finish that sentence without the person immediately retching at the utterly revolting idea just expressed.

In Martin’s world, hysterical shrew-bitch women like Cersei Lannister do not get to have their “no” listened to (and we get to say “no” for whatever the HELL reason we want), and strong, handsome, virile, maiden-of-Tarth-defending men like Jaime get to fuck them anyway because actually, she really does want it and I just know because . . . well, no reason– and look, see, she’s getting off on my awesome manly ravishing of her!

But, horrifyingly, this isn’t a rape scene to a disturbing number of people. Chris Ostendorf described it as “complicated consensual sex.” To a lot of people, that she’s saying no to the circumstances somehow makes it not real rape. She would have had sex with him, if it wasn’t for his hand, or where they were, or the septons, or their father somehow finding out, etc.

I have a gigantic, rage-inducing problem with this for the simple reason that when I told my rapist “no,” this is exactly what I sounded like. I couldn’t physically stop someone almost twice my weight, and so I did everything within my power to persuade him to stop. I told him it hurt– he did not stop. I told him “no,” he did not stop. I told him “please, not now,” he did not stop. I said “what if your parents come home?” but he did not stop. I told him I didn’t think it was right (ie, “wrath of the gods,”) and he did not stop.

Finally, I gave up and tried not to let him see me cry because I knew he would hurt me even more if he did. When he assaulted me again, and again, and again, and again, and Again, and AGAIN, I learned that it would all just be over if he got what he wanted. He would leave me alone and go and play Halo if I just played along, no matter how much he hurt me, no matter how often I vomited after because what he made me do to him disgusted me.

So, for all of you people who are arguing that Jaime didn’t rape Cersei:

FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU TO FUCKING HELL.

To George R. R. Martin, the twisted fuck who wrote this scene and is perpetuating the exact rape myth that has caused me unending agony: fuck you. To Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays Jaime), who thinks because “it wasn’t just [rape]” it’s somehow justifiable: fuck you. To Sonia Saraiya who thinks there’s “wiggle room” in whether or not we think Cersei “enthusiastically consented”: fuck you. To Chris Ostendorf, who given the chance would describe my rape as “complicated consensual sex”– fuck you, too. Fuck you all.

***

My problem with this scene in the book (for this post, at least) isn’t that Martin has written yet another rape scene. It’s that what he’s written is a rape myth— a chauvinistic fantasy about male-centric sex that ignores or denies women the ability to consent. Cersei told Jaime no seven different ways, but then suddenly starts begging for it– literally. This is an extremely dominant myth about the difference between rape and consensual sex. In order for something to be considered “legitimate” rape, the victim has to fight tooth and nail until the bitter end. In order for it to be real rape, the victim could never– not once not ever— have consented to sex. If they consented to sex once, well, they’re only saying now for inconsequential reasons and they should just get over it, it’s not that bad.

Martin believes that this is not rape because of the rape myth he believes in– that our culture believes in. Cersei’s apparent enjoyment of her rape (and remember, this scene is written from the rapist’s point of view, not the victim’s, and most rapists think that their behavior is acceptable and normal) in the real world of modern America could be a survival mechanism for an abuse victim– and usually is. Sometimes victims freeze up. Sometimes they, like me, try to resist but then give up because it’s useless and we just want it to fucking end.

Martin does not think that Jaime raped Cersei here, because he believes that women can be manipulative whores who say no in order to be “hard to get,” but in reality really just need to be sexually assaulted into silence and then fucked into realizing what the rapist knew all along– that she actually wanted it.

This is one of the most grievous lies of rape culture– and the actors, the directors, and the writers all used it.

Keep that in mind as you enjoy the season premier tonight.

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  • Brett

    Martin’s fond of having characters seem pretty different in the eyes of other characters, so that may be* at work here – the scene is only from Jaime’s perspective. Cersei’s perspective puts light on a lot of things that weren’t as apparent before, particularly the fact that Robert would engage in marital rape whenever he felt like (something you don’t get from Ned Stark’s perspective).

    * Maybe.

    And then Storm of Swords happened, and Martin makes it blatantly obvious that we’re all supposed to hate her now because she’s ridiculously incompetent– completely robbed of sense because, well, lady-hormones.

    I always thought Cersei’s behavior made a lot of sense in A Feast for Crows. She’s always been suspicious, impatient, and prone to reflexive cruelty, and the craziness around her beloved son being killed in front of her, and then the person she suspects of being the murderer escaping after killing her father and leaving her alone to protect herself against the Tyrells and others pushed her into deeper paranoia and drinking to cope. But she does have a lot of reasons to be afraid – the Tyrells really did kill her son even if she doesn’t believe they were the ones who actually did it, and they really are trying to undermine her position. She’s got the right intuition but chooses poor tactics.

    Honestly, I think the fans tend to be way too harsh on Sansa, Cersei, and Catelyn, and far too lenient on favorites like Tyrion. Tyrion engages in some rather reprehensible behavior in the books, and his own personal flaws cause him a ton of damage, but he doesn’t get nearly as much crap over it as the above three characters do.

    He’s been hailed by a lot of people as a “feminist” writer, but I am extremely hesitant to think of him in those terms (read Sady Doyle’s piece there– it’s both hysterically funny and insightful).

    A lot of that response seems like a pretty shallow reading. Saying that Catelyn hated Jon, for example, is way off – she just couldn’t bring herself to love him, and I can’t blame her for it. He’s a constant reminder of her husband’s infidelity*, and she’s mostly just distant and cordial to him in Jon’s flashbacks. She gets angry at him and says something awful once, when she’s deeply messed up over Bran, and then later on whenever she thinks of Jon she has a mixture of anger and guilt.

    * It really would be strange for Ned to keep him there at Winterfell, when he could send him off to foster with one of his lords.

    • Personally, I felt that what happened in Storm of Swords and Feast of Crows with Cersei’s character seems like a massive divergence from what we’d seen previously. In the earlier books, Cersei is shrewd and sort of brilliant. She plays the political game supremely well, and I liked how clear-headed she was about her reality. She knew what she had at her disposal– her beauty, that she was desired by men– and she used those things to her advantage because she had no other form of power. I was uncomfortable with the “sex as a weapon” motif that is central to her character because it’s really nothing more than a stereotype, but I thought she was portrayed realistically.

      And then . . . all of that evaporates. All of her political savvy just flies out the window. She successfully manipulated an entire kingdom for a dozen years and then suddenly she’s incapable of making good decisions or recognizing AT ALL just how disastrous some of her decisions will be? And that it’s tied to the death of her son is also a problem for me. The whole “mother loses son and goes crazy” is such an overdone trope it’s exhausting to even try to analyze.

      • We’ll have to disagree, then. I think it’s plausible that the triple whammy I mentioned above could exacerbate her already-existing tendencies towards suspicion and paranoia, plus the sense that it’s finally “her time” after spending years under someone else’s power (Robert, Tyrion, Tywin). Neither are conducive to good decision-making in power, and it doesn’t help that Cersei seems to have taken some of the wrong lessons about power from even before then from watching her father at work.

  • What’s interesting is that George R.R. Martin himself was interviewed about the differences between the book version of that scene and the version the TV show did; and what he said was, essentially, that in his own mind at least he did not write a rape scene, but the TV show blatantly made it one. Note: I am NOT defending him. I hate that scene, book or TV or whatever. I have a hard time sticking with Martin’s books because of the way his female cahracters are continuously assaulted and lessened whenever they get even a modicum of power/sense.

    But I found the interview sort of… interesting, I gues,s because Martin’s response to being asked about the show was to say that he didn’t really like how they changed it; and the point that we are reading from Jaime’s point of view is kind of important to it, because we’re NOT in Cersei’s head. But how the scene is written, Jaime has only JUST returned at that point in the story, and she thought he was dead, and her son IS dead, and everything is all twisted inside of her mind. To the author, that scene is consensual, but Cersei is grieving and half-mad from that grief and then happy to see her lover/brother returned and ALIVE and she DOES want closeness but grief makes her hesitate, it’s a mix of grief and guilt at the idea of taking happiness in this horrible moment. Which is a very human feeling.

    What martin wrote is a rape scene. But reading him describe -what he was thinking when he wrote it- convinced me that Martin simply cannot mentally see it that way. He’s too entrenched in “it’s not rape if she wants it in the end” to see the forest for the trees.

    • What martin wrote is a rape scene. But reading him describe -what he was thinking when he wrote it- convinced me that Martin simply cannot mentally see it that way. He’s too entrenched in “it’s not rape if she wants it in the end” to see the forest for the trees.

      This is exactly why I’m so furious, horrified, and frightened.

      • this. this. this.

        thank you for saying it. i read the books, i even liked pieces of them. but i had to gloss over many many things in order to read it.

        and one was the amount of assault billed as consent.

        if you cannot say yes without repercussions, then it’s not consent.

  • I don’t know much about Game of Thrones having never read a book or seen the show, but even I was hearing about the rape scene being different because no rape happened in the books and… yes. I really like how you painted out for us that yes, this was a rape. I really appreciate you doing this for us and making it blatantly clear. I hope this is enlightening to someone, somewhere. I just tweeted this blog post of yours out with that hope.

  • Let that bird fly.

  • Wow, thank you for the warning. I’ve been meaning to watch Game of Thrones for a while, and now I know not to.

    • Of course, that’s completely your decision. 🙂

      I just want to be clear that I’m not advocating for a boycott of some kind. As a feminist, it is almost impossible to find any sort of entertainment that isn’t riddled with problems like this. I will still read the books, but I will read them with my eyes open and I will talk about what I notice with other people, and I think that’s important.

      As for the show, I actually really appreciated that they made this scene completely unambivalent, unlike Martin. When people watch that scene, they see rape. There’s none of the “mixed signals” crap that’s happening in the book.

      • That’s a good point, too. In the book, you can read that scene without really thinking about it (to my shame, I did just that). But in the TV show, at least they made it very obvious what was happening. I don’t like their justifications of it afterwards, though–like how the actors just shrugged their shoulders flippantly about the whole thing. I think that probably shows that the TV writers weren’t really trying to make a point about rape, they were just adding a little more flair so that it would be controversial and boost ratings, etc. That is what gets me about the TV series. They add more flair to the sexual stuff–not really to get people to really think through things, but because it sells their TV show.

      • As a fan of the show, I completely agree. There was no spinning the idea (on the show, anyway; I haven’t read the books) — it’s very clear that it’s a rape scene, and it’s very disturbing. There’s a lot of reprehensible, dark stuff depicted on the show. I don’t like the show because of those things; rather, I like them in spite of them. The world Martin depicts is ugly, but it’s compelling nonetheless. The Wire and The Sopranos were also incredibly dark and violent, but I also liked them in spite of the ugliness. Liking those shows doesn’t at all mean I agree with the actions or would condone them in any way. And yes, this week’s episode is another example of that.

        I’ve heard of a number of people who supposedly swore off the show because of the ending scene. Personally, I don’t get that. Yes, it was also very disturbing. But there have already been so many extremely awful events on the show, depicted very graphically. Yet this is the one that finally put them over the edge? I don’t get it.

        And just in case it wasn’t completely clear, I completely agree with your post. It’s an awful thing. By any chance, have you made Martin aware of your post or asked him to explain why he would include this scene?

  • I tried reading the first book in the series, and couldn’t really get through it. The level of violence was too much, particularly the violence against women. I haven’t read any since, or watched the television show. I know they bumped up some of the characters’ ages for the show, but that makes the books more disturbing, given some of the events that occur. I can never keep the characters’ names straight, but that girl who’s married off to that much older man near the beginning of the first book–how is that NOT problematic for people?

  • I’m not a fan of Cersei and I haven’t read the books after Game of Thrones, but that scene is a rape scene. I’m not going to read the books further, although I may still watch the TV show (I rent it on disks in the post).

    It reminded me about a book I really used to like: Dragonquest by Anne McCaffery. I only realised years and years later what I thought was a romantic relationship started out with a rape. It really messed me up with regards to consent.

    • At least F’lar as McCaffery wrote him had the good sense to realize what had happened and try to make amends. She actually used a similar scenario in Skies of Pern when the son F’lesson falls for a green rider and realizes what she’s gone through before “did you never choose, Tai?”

      I read Game of Thrones. Started the second realized that one) I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters and two) the stack of books I did want to read wasn’t getting any smaller. So, there they sit.

      • Yes F’lar was regretful. I should have been more specific. I was talking about his brother F’nor and how he was with Brekke. I used to love that pairing to pieces (“oh but she doesn’t want to just sleep with anyone!”). But their first time? She was not willing.

  • Thanks for writing this. I have been wrestling with the blatant violence/sexism towards women in Game of Thrones ever since I started reading them. There are some really intriguing things about Game of Thrones, and I think I will read until book five. But I don’t think I’m going to watch the series anymore, and I’m not going to encourage people to watch/read them.

    Interestingly enough, G.R.R. Martin has been called the J.R.R. Tolkien of America (think it’s a coincidence he used his initials like that??). I get that J.R.R. Tolkien has some flaws in his books (women are hardly there at all and are highly romanticized, and all the bad guys are orcs/etc so it’s totally okay to kill them without wrestling with the concept of war)–however, the stories themselves have beautiful themes about courage, love, sacrifice, loyalty, endurance in the midst of evil. They shaped my worldview in positive ways as I read and read them growing up, and I still think back to the lessons learned through these books.

    But G.R.R. Martin’s world basically says: Do whatever you want, because life sucks, and bad guys win, and good guys die, and morals don’t really matter (I mean, they KIND of do, but really at the end of the day they don’t). Don’t dream about a “romanticized” life, baby, because songs and stories and knights are all FALSE. No one gives a shit, really. There are literally NO positive relationships in the entire series. NO positive families (except the Starks, I guess–but they got destroyed, so…). And violence/sexism towards women is quite okay and a normal thing, because men are basically sex-crazed bastards, but the things they do are justified because they have hearts, too, (Tyrion and Jaime are prime examples). So sympathize with the men, okay????

    But honestly, G.R.R. Martin IS a reflection of America. Of course he’s the J.R.R. Tolkien of America. His world reflects the true problems in America in really deep ways. The violence, sexism, moral ambiguity (justifying horrible things towards others because it gets you ahead), messed up/abusive/manipulative families, the White Savior Mentality (I’m never thought about that until I read the article you linked to about Daenerys, but it’s kind of true), political corruption and deceit. And honestly, it makes me really sad that so many people are reading/watching the series and not really thinking about the implications of the themes of this series. Stories shape hearts. Media and entertainment meld the way people think and act and relate to one another. And I’m just…worried, is all.

    I’m going to turn this into a blog post, I think…

    • But G.R.R. Martin’s world basically says: Do whatever you want, because life sucks, and bad guys win, and good guys die, and morals don’t really matter (I mean, they KIND of do, but really at the end of the day they don’t). Don’t dream about a “romanticized” life, baby, because songs and stories and knights are all FALSE. No one gives a shit, really. There are literally NO positive relationships in the entire series. NO positive families (except the Starks, I guess–but they got destroyed, so…). And violence/sexism towards women is quite okay and a normal thing, because men are basically sex-crazed bastards, but the things they do are justified because they have hearts, too, (Tyrion and Jaime are prime examples). So sympathize with the men, okay????

      There’s Sam and Jon, Sam and Gilly, Bran and the Reed Children, Bran and Hodor, Arya and Gendry, and so forth. I think there’s quite a few characters who are decent people and good friends.

      I actually think people are too easy on Tyrion. He shares Cersei’s and Jaime’s short temper and impulsive willingness to lash out when angry, although since he can’t kill people like pre-hand-loss Jaime Tyrion does it with nasty insults and words. The whole relationship with Shae in the books is an example of Tyrion’s poor choices, since he hires her explicitly to be a fantasy girlfriend and then falls in love with her anyways because he’s so desperate for it. And there’s some really ugly stuff he does and says that comes back to haunt him, particularly in terms of Cersei and Joffrey (like his threats to Cersei in Book 2).

      It’s a flaw in the books – we don’t see Tyrion that much from other people’s perspectives aside from Sansa, who is too young and too unaware to really understand what’s going on.

      The violence, sexism, moral ambiguity (justifying horrible things towards others because it gets you ahead), messed up/abusive/manipulative families, the White Savior Mentality (I’m never thought about that until I read the article you linked to about Daenerys, but it’s kind of true), political corruption and deceit.

      The “white savior” thing does come back to haunt her, since she decides she can’t leave her “children” behind and tries to rule in Mereen as queen. Not that we should think of Daenerys as a good character anyways, since her ultimate goal is to kill her way back to the Iron Throne with an army and dragons.

  • Melissa

    Brava! The most disturbing part of this whole thing is how literally NO ONE seems to know what rape is, even my most left-leaning, liberal friends (who all posted about how it was so different in the book). I know rape culture is pervasive but every now and then something makes it especially clear to me and I feel like we’ve come nowhere since the actual medieval period.

    Incidentally, people also seem to have been upset that they think the show version somehow derailed Jaime’s “redemptive” arc. I’m glad both book and show make Jaime a somewhat multidimensional character, but come on. He started off by trying to murder a child, and he never shows any regret for that, even if he’s sometimes nice to some people some of the time.

  • Gillian

    Thanks for calling this out; we definitely need more voices like yours. I watch the show but I’ve only read the first book, so I had no idea that this scene was coming. I’m glad that at least I’d heard about it before I watched the episode, so I was as prepared as I could have been. I find a lot of the show compelling despite all of the problematic stuff (though, to be honest, I’m probably only still watching because of Sansa at this point), but it frustrates me when people tout Martin as this great feminist. I’d like to believe that he has good intentions, but he misses the mark more often than not. I had a similar reaction during the first season, when I saw a lot of people saying that the Dany/ Drogo wedding night scene was consensual in the book. Even though in the book she does technically say yes, I still think that when you’re talking about a 13 year old girl who has literally no options for escape and a grown man, it’s rape. And I have a really hard time, as well, with the argument that Dany is a great example of an empowered female character, because I can’t get past the fact that her story begins with her falling in love with her rapist.

  • Hare Krishna fuck, I HATE “no means try harder.” And this plotline is all too common in porn and erotica. Just give the magical penis enough time to work, and she’ll be wanting it. FUCK THIS WITH A POINTY STICK.

  • “I have a gigantic, rage-inducing problem with this for the simple reason that when I told my rapist “no,” that is exactly what I sounded like.”

    Thank you for these words and the words that follow. We who think with the pointy head don’t get it when we watch scenes like you describe. We think that if a woman really didn’t want to have sex she could prevent it. The description of your experience took me from fantasy book/show to reality. Thank you!

    Thank you for helping me to hear and see the outrage. My daughter let’s it fly when she is outraged over similar issues. I still struggle with that rage, and want to say stupid things like, “you need to calm down,” or the best one, “you shouldn’t use language like that.” I’m getting better at resisting those urges because of you and Sarah, Rachel, Osheta and others who so articulately and thoughtfully express yourselves on these issues. I hear your voice and your passion. Continue to help me understand.

  • Patrick Prescott

    I think of the scene in Gone With The Wind, where Scarlet is drinking downstairs and Rhett tells he he’s not keeping her out tonight and carries her up the stairs to swelling music. Then in the morning Scarlet’s singing obviously happy. Same myth told the old fashioned way.

    • Melody

      Yes, exactly! It’s a pretty creepy scene and he’s drunk and violent.

  • I’ve been, previous to this episode, saying to others that Jaime was my favorite character. Now I feel like an asshole.

    George Martin is a tough nut to crack…he is capable of writing 3-dimensional female characters. I love that quote he has where he “always considered women to be people” and then writes some rape apologist stuff.

    This whole scene was a disaster, the conception, the execution, and the implications. It’s cast a shadow over my favorite show and I’m pissed.

    • Jaime was my favorite of those two books right up until that scene– so don’t beat yourself up too much about it. 🙂

    • Stephanie Gertsch

      He “has always considered women to be people.”

      Was that up for debate? Actually, never mind. It usually is. Still gauche of JRRM to want a cookie for the supreme effort of acknowledging humanity in people not him.

  • Sam, I’d love to hear your opinion on my favorite fantasy book, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Protagonist is a strong female, and the book appears to be refreshingly free of sexual coercion and horrible female stereotypes. Give me a holler if you decide to pick it up.

    • I read a lot of McKinley books in college and enjoyed them at the time. Might be worth going back and reading some again and finding some new ones.

    • Gillian

      McKinley is my favorite too, and I think her books have just gotten better over time! I especially love Spindle’s End, because the plot turns on a female friendship. I’ve often used her as an example of a fantasy writer who centers female characters in much less problematic ways than Martin. It bothers me when people laud Martin’s “feminism” precisely because there are so many fantasy books written by women that get ignored.

  • sivandra

    I appreciate your post deeply. I feel ashamed that I wasn’t able to pinpoint WHY the scene in the book was so repugnant to me, and I feel ashamed that I felt the scene in the show was ‘worse’. For what it is worth, however, there are consequences. Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is over from that point in the book. It is quite clear that it basically destroys their relationship. Nothing is ever the same again. That at least, I support as realistic.

    I do think that people tend to excuse the faults of characters like Jaime and Tyrion while vilifying a woman like Cersei for essentially the same moral failings. But I’m not sure that’s the author’s fault. I’m not sure he has written it so that we just can’t help our sexist responses. I think he’s written the characters with fundamental realism, and then we bring our cultural biases to the table. In medieval times, young girls were often married off to older men. Many would not even have any idea of the concept of consent, and their blundering and well meaning husbands did not either. For a girl to end loving her ‘rapist’ in this case, is not a lie from the pit of hell. Human relationships are complex. Such things can happen and have. Jaime has participated in horrible abuse toward his younger brother Tyrion. Yet he loves Tyrion, and Tyrion loves him. Human relationships are complex.

    I am more bothered by the fact that George RR. Martin did not himself see the scene in the Sept as a rape than I am by the fact he described it as he did. I am deeply disturbed that we, as women, can be fed a lie so many times (you really do want it even if you THINK you don’t) that we may actually think it is the case. I do not think it is completely unrealistic that a woman might say no, because she is filled with conflicting emotions, but still PHYSICALLY ‘enjoy’ the experience for a host of complicated reasons both biological and psychological. I DO think that it is completely unrealistic that she would not afterward, hate her rapist and hate herself for giving in, even hate herself for enjoying it.

    I hated Cersei from the beginning, HATED her. I was unable to see her as anything but the classic bitch. I don’t know if that’s the author’s fault or mine. But over time in spite of myself I began to empathize. I disagree with the idea that her actions after Geoffrey’s death are out of character. Maybe I just relate too much. But the truth is, just because women tend to be portrayed too much as emotionally driven, does not mean there are no women who are emotionally driven. I happen to be. It does not make me a bad or somehow less valid person. The world needs analytical thinkers, rational and objective. The world also needs passionate, fiercely emotional people. I have come to realize more and more throughout the series that while I WISH I was like Daenarys, I am in fact very much like Cersei. Put me in her shoes and I could see myself making her choices. I also relate to being a manipulative person who seems to have everything under control, but when something truly horrific happens you kind of snap and become impulsive and rash and more violent. THAT happens to men in roles of rulership all over history, actually. Power like that, and the fear that comes with it, often brings out the worst.

    I don’t see that the writer presents women in a certain biased light. He gets a few things wrong because he’s a man, perhaps, and trying to relate to a sex to which he does not belong. When I write men, I probably fall prey to that in reverse. However I think he does an excellent job, overall, of portraying human beings as human beings–complex and extremely different from one another in a thousand ways, yet driven by the same basic human needs. There are women who fight, and women who love, and women who are shre
    wd and calculating and women who are foolish and women who are emotionally driven. There are men who want power, men who want justice, and men who desperately want to be loved and valued. There are stupid men and brutal men and compassionate men, and none of them are that simple.

    My greatest issue with the series is that they seem devoid of hope and do seem to present life in a way that says that fundamentally whether or not you behave in a morally upright way does not matter, we all get screwed in the end, and the people who try hardest to do right get screwed the worst and the soonest so it’s pointless, not his portrayal of human relationships as broken and complex and really screwed up.

    This post is way too long. And THAT is why I read George.

  • Aibird

    What you wrote here is one of the major reasons why I can’t stomach George R. R. Martin. I don’t care if he’s the best fantasy writer in the universe and farts out fully dimensional characters on a daily basis. That scene is rape, and it’s horrifying that he can’t see it for what it is. Though every time I bring up how awful this is, people tell me to shut up. That rape happens and I should get used to it.

    As a survivor, that infuriates me. No, it’s not okay that rape happens. I should not get used to it. And I will forever examine works critically, especially those with rape scenes.

    So thanks for expressing exactly what I found wrong with that scene in particular.

    • Aibird

      As an added aside, the amount of rape I found in the books is why I just can’t read the series anymore. It’s just… so depressing and triggering that I’d rather go read something that doesn’t contain rape scenes.

  • I agree with you about Martin perpetuating a rape myth with that scene in the book. He disturbed people for “the wrong reasons”.

    However, your assertion that Martin is portraying Cersei’s character as incompetent because she is a woman is beyond absurd. I honestly don’t know how people can continue to make this claim. Are we reading the same books? I mean, Martin appears to have made his female characters quite strong and competent compared to their male counterparts, even Cersei demonstrates this tendency of Martin’s (remember when she called Robert out. “I should wear the armor, you the gown.” He slaps her. “I’ll wear this as a badge of honor,” she says. Badass and brilliant. Or when she tells Ned she was trained to kill her enemies. Badass and brilliant). There is Ygritte who saves Jon Snow’s life on a number of occasions and is certainly the dominant one in that relationship; Melisandre is the most powerful religious figure in the books and manages to control her man quite well; the Sand Snakes–who would want to fuck with those badass women?–are an important part of Doran’s plan; Asha Greyjoy is the most badass character in the Iron Islands, maybe all of the North, and is much smarter than either her brother or her father; Meera Reed is the glue that holds Bran, Hodor,and his brother together on their quest, and she has the brass to back it up too; what about Brienne of Tarth? Yeah, she is only the most honorable and courageous person in all of Westeros, a true paragon of knightly behavior. Hell, even the old, two-handed Jaime respected and feared her; Dany is a dragon. Enough said.

  • Thank you for this post. This rape myth frustrates me so much. The message that girls should play hard to get is so pervasive, and the idea that this is the ‘game’ lovers should play just perpetuates the myth. Girls are taught that guys should chase them and that they should play hard to get or else they’re sluts. Just think of all the teen magazines with their advice for young girls. Our culture has set up this terrible scenario as somehow “ideal” and no one can win from it. Sadly, I expect most viewers won’t think critically about the rape scenes they’re seeing in GoT and won’t see anything wrong with it (for the record, I’ve read the series a while ago but am not following the TV version). No means NO, not “try harder.”

  • Talle

    I agree with everything — the only addendum I can put forth is that if I understand correctly, Martin started out (in the mid-90s) writing the series as a deconstruction and takedown of somewhat harmful trends in the overall fantasy fiction genre (of the mid-90s) to over-romanticize certain types of stock characters and systems of government that ought to have been seen as terrible and oppressive. I firmly believe (going by things he has said as well as other books he has written) that he is not and never has been writing a heroic fantasy series at all — I believe he is writing a pre-apocalyptic dystopia, one that will indeed end in a sort of Ragnarokian overall destruction, and possibly a rebirth of the world into something better, if we’re lucky.

    Unfortunately this is not an argument that can be put forth with any authority until the series in its entirety is finished, and that endeavour seems to be taking up more than half my life now. (Not to mention the fiction trends he was messing with have been replaced.)

    (I never liked Jaime. He throws children out of windows.)

  • I’m short on time and can’t read every single comment to see if this has been addressed, so I’m sorry if it’s already been covered.

    I wonder if those calling this ‘complicated consensual sex’ or whatever see it as “well, women can change their minds and say ‘no’ during sex so why can’t they change their minds and say ‘yes?” That seems like a reasonable question, in theory, but it seems a little bit like saying “well, it’s not really robbery if you threaten someone with a gun and they give their wallet to you.”

    Also, Samantha, you’ll just have to trust us when we (those who have read farther along) say that it may seem like Cersei is falling apart and getting a major comeuppance, but it’s not quite that final. Trying not to be a spoiler or something…

    Finally, Ken Follett wrote a rape scene into Pillars of the Earth that made me wonder a little bit. At least that one was very black-and-white except for the following point: he had the woman’s body respond/get turned on even while she was doing her best to get away and otherwise prevent it. I didn’t see anything on the Rape Myth list about that one – is that even possible? That’s as close as Follett gets to rape apologia IMHO since he makes the consequences pretty clear for the rapist later in the book.

    • Yes, it is possible for men and women to become aroused and even orgasm during rape. Physical simulation is physical stimulation.

    • Also, I suppose it is technically possible for a woman to say no and then legitimately change her mind– but anyone who refuses to listen to a someone who says no and pushes past that is a rapist, man or woman.

      Early in my physical relationship with my now-husband, he wanted to move past what we were doing, and I was hesitant and said “I’m not comfortable with that yet.” He said “ok” and smiled at me, and kept doing what we had been doing. A little while later, I decided that yes, I wanted that, and made it very clear that I was ready.

      That’s what it SHOULD look like. He has never, ever pushed past any time I’ve said no and has waited for me to be ready.

      Jaime IGNORED Cersei saying no. That makes him a rapist.

  • I have been a fan of the books since Martin first published. I read them pragmatically, from the point of view of the world he wrote, the social structure he defined. It isn’t one any of us would understand or choose, it is one rich in detail though. The women are all to often weakened by character flaws that would not necessarily undermine a male in the same circumstance.

    Martin wrote a Rape scene, he wrote it from the male POV, he did this because it frankly is the only POV he has. In his mind, because of the previous relationship and despite his understanding of ‘partner rape’, this wasn’t rape in the world he created and between these characters. His flaw with this scene and others, he didn’t take the time to get into the head of the female character, or perhaps it is he didn’t take the time to show his readers what was in the head of his female characters. Had he done so either he would have changed the scene or we would not have the reaction most of have had.

    I happen to agree with you on the ‘fuck you’. For any and all of us who are rape survivors this perpetuates the myth. We don’t need it.

  • Elmo

    I think you may be interested in this. I’d hesitate to call Joanne my friend but I did have occasion to speak to her a few years ago when she was seeking elected office and came to respect her very much.
    http://civilrightsadvocacy.net/2014/04/30/seeking-justice-for-cherise/

  • thank you for writing this. Definitely makes me revisit the books in a new light. I’d definitely call that scene rape too.

  • Sam

    Thank you so freaking much for this post!!!
    Seriously, I thought I was going crazy! Because everybody was saying the tv show TURNED a consensual sex scene into rape… but I read the damn scene as rape in the book too!

    And, just to say, I got kinda disappointed with Lena Headey’s comments on the scene (although I don’t watch the show and probably never will, I admire her work)… apparently she didn’t consider it was rape either or was too concerned in backing up the show producers or because she didn’t want to be “twat” about it =|

    http://www.themarysue.com/lena-headey-controversial-game-of-thrones-scene/

  • Sarah A

    Just came here to say how much I agree with your take on the scene! You’re absolutely right and more people should be calling Martin on it. His books don’t just depict rape, they fetishize it. I gave up on them and refuse to watch the shows.

    • Rebekah Jones

      That is exactly why I stopped after the first book. I really wanted to like them…..but it just seemed like every other chapter had what amounted to rape porn in it. I’ve struggled for a while trying to voice this discomfort since I feel people say that I’m just too prudish and that rape happens in real life, so it should be depicted in books/tv. Fetish is the word I’ve been looking for to describe how Martin seems to be writing all of his sex scenes, consensual or otherwise. Rape is not sexy.

  • karenh1234567890

    Thank you for this post. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to read Martin or watch the show. Now I know I don’t. I don’t like to read or watch people being nasty to each other for entertainment. It seems to me that there is a lot of that in his stories.

  • I have never read the books nor have I watched the series. I have, though, played with some flash-based dollmakers based off the series, for whatever that’s worth. The conversation, though, around this is definitely raising questions in my mind that I find that I want to address, in some way, because I don’t ever want one of my heroic characters to fall into the trap where I realize that they’re something I didn’t want them to be.

    We need this conversation. We need to point out that anything less than full willingness without negative consequences on either side is coercion and coercion is rape.

  • Fantastic blog you have written on the topic. I stand behind you 100%.
    I have never been faced with the same turmoil that you have faced, yet when I first read the GOT series, I constantly felt the the women were demoralized and brutalized unnecessarily. From Daenerys.’ wedding night, to when Sansa was saved by the hound, to Brienne of Tarth (saved by Jamie), to Cersei- I felt that all of these women showed strength after and sometimes during the brutalization. And even recently, they changed the story line of Bran and his companions to almost meet Jon Snow and there was a moment where Meera was nearly raped. Its a scary thought, and even more so how many people think it is acceptable.

  • Alexander Jeans

    After reading this all I can say is: FUCK YEAH! I agree with everything you said Samantha. I’m glad I came across this post as I often feel I’m the only one who doesn’t laud GOT to the skies. In addition to being a rape scene, Jaime’s character development in that scene is a total 180°. Think about it; before having his hand cut off Jaime was the one who STOPPED Brienne from getting raped, and yet now he feels its okay to rape someone (his sister no less. Yuck). I just can’t see how this complete change of character can be justified from a literary standpoint (including characterisation). Previous to losing his hand, Jaime is pretty much a smug prince who thinks he’s untouchable. He learns this isn’t so the hard way from Vargo (it was Vargo who cut his hand right?). After this, at least in the show, it’s quite evident that he feels disillusioned by his sense of false security. Having lost that, is it reasonable to believe he should turn into a rapist: NO! Besides, what kind of guy except Superman could rape a woman with only one hand? Ok, Chuck Norris also.
    Sorry Martin, but you lost me on that one.

    • Stephanie Gertsch

      Note: A rapist doesn’t need to use physical force at all. It all depends on context and fear. 😛