So, it’s Sunday evening and I’m coming off a week of vacation. During this past week, my elder son introduced me to the Game of Thrones. Damn him.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great story with well developed characters and an intricate plot. The author of the books upon which the cable series is based used research on England’s War of the Roses as a foundation for his epic fantasy. Much of the series–and, I assume, the books–ring true with regard to the imposing power of the aristocracy and royalty and everyone else, the political intrigue and corruption, and the utter powerlessness of women.
Although true to historical fact, the common brutality toward women and the disregard toward their dreams and ambitions rankle. However, that’s a fact of life for chattel. Whether it’s Daenerys suffering beneath her psychotic brother’s abuse, Sansa’s manipulation at the hands of the queen and her repulsive son Joffrey, or even Queen Cercei who isn’t nearly as powerful as she pretends, women young and not-so-young, highborn and low, must resign themselves to being the pawns of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. Most of the women in this series are whores. They all trade upon sex to stay alive if only because they are not permitted to refuse the attentions of the men who rule them. Their value depends solely upon their pedigree, their physical beauty, and their childbearing capacity.
In other words, women in such societies are broodmares, unworthy of respect but for their husbands’ traits passed on to their sons. Not daughters. Sons. Any woman who defies the entrenched expectation of submission and obedience to her male guardians is labeled “whore.”
That particular reality comes home when, in the second season, Theon Greyjoy cadges a ride to his father’s castle. He immediately begins feeling up the young woman who kindly offered him a lift on her horse and orders her to his bed that night. In this world, no woman has the right to refuse a man’s attentions; or, rather, she can refuse and then be raped for her daring to deny him. Yara states that she endured his attentions to see what kind of man he was. He, like nearly every other man in this series, is a predator.
Later that day he discovers that woman is his sister. Their father, King Balon Greyjoy, has settled great responsibility upon her shoulders, responsibility she has proven worthy of bearing. However, Theon is appalled, not so much that he molested his sister, but more because her father does her the honor of treating her like an intelligent, capable individual.
Oh, the horrors!
The subtext is that Balon would not have relied upon his daughter–nor honored her with responsibility for his conquered kingdom–if he’d had a son who’d not been fostered with the enemy. On the other hand, spunky Arya deserves admiration for rebelling against the entrenched expectations that her own worth will be proven only by the sons she will bear. I find Daenerys the most sympathetic character thus far. Using a woman’s wiles–universally derided by men because they’re not “honorable”–she secures her husband’s affection, if not his respect. Her authority rests in Drogo’s ability to enforce her will and in the honor of those few men who pledge their fealty to her to abide by those vows.
That, of course, brings us to those derided tools used by women in an era where women have no rights or privileges beyond what their male guardians allow. Think of it this way: if you have neither the physical prowess to bear arms nor the legal authority to exert power, then how does one exert any control whatsoever? All that is left is underhanded means: poison, rumor, sex.
The correlation does men no favors, either. In this book, they’re all too often venal, corrupt, obstinate, and easily manipulated by their gonads. They have no self restraint and are ruled by their whims and appetites. They’re toddlers with sharp knives and heavy fists.
If you haven’t picked up on these terrible sub-themes of oppression and brutality, then you’re missing a huge part of the story. If you can’t see the lingering residue of such attitudes, then check out modern romances today that wallow in alpha males who treat women like toilet paper: use once and discard. The attitude of women as chattel, only valuable for procreation, powerless beyond her hero’s ability and willingness to enforce her authority, and definitely unworthy of dignity or respect is alive and well today in many countries… and in modern fiction.
I hope to refute that attitude in my books and I hope that readers will appreciate heroines who work with what they’ve got to preserve or achieve independence and/or respect as well as love.