owlmoose: (westeros - stark)
KJ ([personal profile] owlmoose) wrote2011-08-30 08:10 pm

Feminist Responses to ASoIaF

So I've been meaning to write my own big long post on this topic, but I'm holding off until I finish the first season of the HBO series (which, if my current schedule holds, should happen a week from today). Meanwhile, though, I've been busy mulling over Sady Doyle's recent takedown of the series in Tiger Beatdown. It's been frustrating to me, because I'm hard put to actually argue with much that she says there (except for some factual errors regarding who is claiming to be king of what), and yet the whole thing doesn't sit right with me, for reasons that I was unable to fully explain.

Fortunately, Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress does a really excellent job of explaining them for me. I don't agree totally with everything in the Think Progress critique, but there is a lot in here that helped me see why I found the Tiger Beatdown piece reductionist and disappointing. Definitely recommended.

As for my own thoughts... I'll come back with them next week. I hope.
sarasa_cat: (Default)

[personal profile] sarasa_cat 2011-08-31 08:48 am (UTC)(link)
(Disclaimer: I've only seen the HBO series. Even though I own the books I haven't had a chance to read them yet, although my partner has.)

I just read both of those links. The (reductionist and disappointing) Tiger Beatdown review struck me personally because of my own preference to write about characters' strategies for coping/dealing/acting/finding-power when stuck in highly unequal (uncomfortably unequal) non-modern situations. I myself have received the occasional comment in which readers expresses creepy-uncomfortable disapproval and then suggests how I might rewrite the female character in question to "make them stronger."

I thought Sady Doyle's piece was a bit unfair because most of the characters in ASoIaF-- both male and female -- seem pretty screwed by their circumstances. Their world is not a nice place. Furthermore, in real life no person is perfect, people make mistakes, people are shortsighted, and many people can be downright petty. A Song of Ice & Fire (as much as I've seen) absolutely revels in these facts. Couple that with their vastly premodern culture/sensibilities and ... it's sort of like Sady Doyle is having a little bit of an ethnocentric mismatch???? I know women from developing countries who have done cultural appropriate things that would surely have made Sady Doyle flip out if their stories were directly transported into ASoIaF as new characters.

As someone in the peace corps once said to me: when women don't have access to running water, are mostly or entirely illiterate, and have no means for accessing the world outside their rural community, many of the feminist issues that a middle class westerner finds important just do not make sense in their world and represent the wrong place to start making a difference in their lives.

Anyhow, while I'm a champion for women's rights (equality, equity, self-determination), I become really really nervous when reviewers start measuring fictional characters' actions with a Big Feminist(tm) Yard Stick.

(I also hate it when I think of reviewers like these while writing fiction and then become totally self-conscious and feel compelled to write endless paragraphs that directly telegraph: this world is so premodern. This world is so full of suck. This world is full of every darn "-ism" you can imagine. This is a crapsack, not a cul-de-sac, world.)

All that said, because I only saw the mini-series, I didn't realize until now that Daenerys is 13. Whoa. I'm now very curious to read her motivations, thoughts, and actions in the books because the mini-series sort of aged her up in a way that worked for me on screen but now leaves me feeling a bit 0_o because I now disbelieve some of HBOmini-series!Daenerys' actions and emotional responses if she was indeed 13. Hm.
lowkey: (Default)

[personal profile] lowkey 2011-08-31 08:26 pm (UTC)(link)
(I've only seen the HBO series, too, but I think I read that the series up-aged some of the younger characters, and Martin was fine with that, because in hindsight he realized he'd made some characters a little too young?)
sarasa_cat: (Default)

[personal profile] sarasa_cat 2011-08-31 09:21 pm (UTC)(link)
A quick google search turn up this review: Game of Thrones: Sexual Politics. Daenerys was aged up to 16 for the mini-series. Interesting fact from the review is how the mini-series amped up the sex but banished the rape, leaving the violence mostly as a series of many beheadings.

That explains why, by the 6th episode, I started wondering when we'd get a scene that featured a character getting beheaded WHILE having sex. =D

Started reading the first book today at lunch.
sarasa_cat: (Default)

[personal profile] sarasa_cat 2011-09-01 10:26 pm (UTC)(link)
At lunch today I got just at the start of the wedding chapter although reading it will have to wait until tonight or tomorrow.

One thing that struck me is how much sexy naked boobilicious sexsexsex HBO has added to to the story. In retrospect, HBO's treatment created a very different tone to the story by finding every excuse possible to have a half naked person (usually female) walk past the camera.
zen_monk: (It's Mine MIne MIne!)

[personal profile] zen_monk 2011-09-01 04:13 am (UTC)(link)
I agree with you very much on your statement.

I was struck by how contradictory Sady Doyle's statements are and that her argument is based on how outraged she is at the explicit racism and sexism in A Song of Ice and Fire. A Dark Ages/Dark Fantasy series that is most likely set in a place analogous to Europe. I don't know what she's expecting, but judging from her article, it seems that she's outraged at how culturally homogenous the society is and bemoans on little diversity in thought and in population there are.

I thought that's what happened in the Dark Ages, and it's only in the last century that the world started addressing these problems and that different cultures started to establish significant communities in other countries.

I almost had a feeling that she expected the books to include everyone being educated in a university, and that university to be predominately women and with a vibrant Asian community. And to have a non-Caucasian ruler.

I take great issue on how emotional she is on the topic and doesn't provide coherent research and premises to back up her arguments. A lot of the things she ranted about, she pretty much answered to herself why shouldn't she shouldn't be.
zen_monk: (Default)

[personal profile] zen_monk 2011-09-01 07:45 am (UTC)(link)
Whoops. I didn't realize that I was making that judgment as well. I think what I was trying to go for was that I see it as a work of fiction that because it has these depictions of human suffering, the reader can look into it as both being able to see the mind processes of how these characters think in this world and understand it, and at the same time be able to step back and examine this world's culture and compare/contrast its values with modern ones and if it's analogous.

sarasa_cat: (Default)

[personal profile] sarasa_cat 2011-09-01 10:46 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, to tighten the thesis in my point from waaaay above, contemporary feminist analyses can always be applied to any work of fiction but, like any other method of critique, it is best applied in a manner that also examines both the context and the intent of the work and looks to uncover how the context + intent shape the work, and what messages (of power relations, etc.) the work conveys.

The review that we're questioning whomps on the books with a rather clumsy cudgel rather than a finely sharpened chisel.


All of that said, I've stood on both sides of the fence as both a Maker (initially a script writer for video games, but other kinds of technology Making now) and as an Academic Critical Theorist (some Marxist theory, much Feminist theory, volumes of Subaltern/Postcolonial theory). In retrospect when looking back at multiple projects, I've found that being a Maker and being a Theorist creates very difficult tensions when being both at the same time. I do not think these tensions are a bad thing, but they can indeed place narrowing forces on the act of Making. I acknowledge that these forces exist (and I suspect GRRM wasn't really thinking about them heavily based on what I've read in the first 80 pages of Game of Thrones), and I accept that there are times that Theory can and should guide Making, and times when it is better to put theory aside. Of course, that doesn't mean toss out theory or don't educate others who are engaged in Making but, instead, to respectfully acknowledge theoretical stances and then move forward, perhaps making time to critique one's work deeply for the deeper layers of message it embraces. It's very much about turning the Editor and Critter off while Making. There's always time for them later, during editing, revision, etc.

(I'd say more under a private post... but the above gives the main thrust of it all ^^)
Edited 2011-09-01 22:47 (UTC)
sarasa_cat: (Default)

the subaltern does not speak

[personal profile] sarasa_cat 2011-09-01 11:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, even though I'm not as knowledgeable about the series as you or anyone else who's read it all as it stands so far (hope the next book comes out quicker?!), that review in question felt far too selective and was rather disappointing because of that fact. (Although I'm just echoing points made above).

All that said, any time a Maker makes something, they've put out a cultural artifact for someone to critique. Obviously, people with different backgrounds and experiences can and will have very different buttons pushed or no buttons at all.

For me, as a woman, a minority (although now more of an barely-visible but not invisible minority since moving to NA Pac Coast given that many but not all people here bucket me into the "white folks...or white enough" category), and as a person with strong family ties to both the Ruling Colonizers and the Subaltern, I really do have to admit that the more energy I put into Making, the less and less I want to put energy into theory-based critique.

That said, do I want to critique GRRM's books from a feminist and (especially) subaltern point of view? Hell yes. :D

But... do I want to get dragged into endless arguments about my own story ideas making someone or some culture or some cultural element "look bad"? Sadly, there's far too much of a double edged sword forged out of community's expectation, hopes, dreams, desires for power that swing to cut down the Makers who they thought to be One of Their Own but dare to present a view that they perceive as less flattering. I find myself carefully balancing the pain out such that we have successful!Subaltern balancing fuckup!Subaltern so no one can point a finger at me or disinvite me from family holiday (unless, of course, they grind their axe in a lopsided review like the one that started this thread). But then I grumble at myself. I feel manipulated by a double standard. Meanwhile, who's making the blockbuster SF/F movies and novels? (I'm looking at you James Cameron, and also HBO+GRRM) And what are some of the highly problematic tropes they are selling? And selling So So $o $o So very, very well all around the world.

It's no wonder that I am still writing 2500-8000 story words per month but not posting a single one of them. -__-

zen_monk: (It's Mine MIne MIne!)

[personal profile] zen_monk 2011-09-01 06:53 am (UTC)(link)
Note: Have only superficial knowledge of A Song of Ice and Fire. Didn't read or watch the series, so I'll just about the both sides' arguments.

I've read both links, and both have reminded me very much on how pertinent both articles are in what I'm trying to do with my life. I'll try to the best of my ability what kind of argument I'm going to make of this, so bear with me.

I am very much convinced that Sady Doyle's argument is fallacious on many grounds. She misapplies the value and belief system of the book series to be analogous to Western modern-day value and belief systems, and she seems to conclude that the author puts in racism and sexism because he likes to put them in and because he is the author, his narrative voice must mean that he supports racist views and wants young girls sexualized at pubescence. By extension, she believes that fans of the series must therefore support these vicious values. It feels like she was reviewing a YA novel series rather than a mature body of work that is supposed to be appreciated by readers who have mature minds and have an established belief system. Rather than believing it to be a body of work that is developed within the confines of a specific genre, she claims it to be an "an airbrushed, dragon-infested Medieval Europe [that] strikes me as fundamentally conservative."

What is supposed to be a non-airbrushed Medieval/Dark Ages Europe? A place where everyone is literate and that there are universities whose student population is predominately women and has a thriving Asian community? That everyone is a basic understanding of other cultures' religions and belief system and are told to tolerate them? Also, for someone who is supposed to be morally outraged at the treatment of the female characters, she bashes them indiscriminately over their foibles and characterization. She neither supports the "Action Girls" because she saw them as unbelievable to the setting of the novels nor is she being understanding of the ones who aren't because they are conforming to violent, male-dominated society. She dislikes how homogenous the cultures are as well as being ethnocentric and therefore racist, but she cannot believe that a fictional Caucasian society would outlaw slavery and tack it on as whitewashing despite already proving that that society already sucks because they subjugate girls.

Also, what I believe is that the way she writes her argument, which is full of hyperboles and exaggerations, hides the fact that she doesn't think critically on her argument. If she wants to prove her claim that GRRM is a creep and that everyone else should believe that as well as thinking he's a closet pedophile, she should make a better case without having every other line proclaiming how racist this character is and how sexist and demeaning that one is. She neither focuses on the world to provide context on her reasoning and instead we are led to believe that this is a sordid world force-fed to us to believe that it's natural simply because it is based on our moral code.

Rosenberg's beautifully counters Doyle's argument in a well-crafted and logical article which, while specifically addressing the Doyle's claims and premises, is written to point out that Doyle's line of thinking is not unique only to her and that it can applicable to the broader subject what readers expect out of their genre fiction. Whether it is the notion that because it is fiction, the world can therefore be crafted to be more idealized and utopian, or the perception that the subject the author is writing about is therefore what the author supports because it's not like there's some modern-day moral guardian to protest the grisly realities of the SOIAF world.

And that's my rambling, hopefully coherent two cents of the day.