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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.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/546938.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 30th, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC)
Sady Doyle has a thoughtful response!

I've actually read two of the books now, and I enjoy them a lot. I can definitely see any number of things that someone might have an issue with, from a feminist perspective. But most of those criticisms strike me as poor and knee-jerk. (The women make mistakes, really? So all the men are error-free at all times?) This one has all the signs of criticism for the sake of performance rather than real thoughtfulness, and it's funny that she's so eager to tweet about what she perceives as Rosenberg's "strategy" to attack something high-profile to get attention, since that's a technique she seems pretty familiar with.
Aug. 30th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
You know, i saw that tweet, and thought it was in response to something else entirely (because she went on to tweet about the second article several more times). But this makes much more sense. And, sadly, causes my respect points to drop just a little bit more.

I do think there is a reasonable feminist critique to be made of these books (which I love regardless). I'm just not convinced that this is it.
Aug. 31st, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm sure there is. And I am convinced that this is not it. :)

Whatever else, GRRM has a huge set of characters and many of them are female, and they are diverse. When I get worked up about how poor Hollywood is at making movies about women, I am thinking about the still ubiquitous films with ten male characters and one female, whose purpose is to tell the lead male how awesome he is at the right moment. So much of our media landscape still has so far to go with regards to having interesting, abundant female characters. GRRM can have scenes that bother me, and I'm sure one could have issues with overall structural aspects, but the mere fact that he created a cast with Catelyn, Dany, Arya, Sansa, Asha, Brienne, Melisandre and Meera (and probably others I'm forgetting) is actually way, way over the bar of a lot of entertainment. I mean, it shouldn't be, but it is.
Aug. 31st, 2011 01:48 am (UTC)
Whatever else, GRRM has a huge set of characters and many of them are female, and they are diverse

Yes, definitely this. Maybe it's sad that we have to count this as progress, but we do. And I would much rather have a large cast of flawed female characters -- characters I can love and hate and admire and be meh on -- than only one, no matter how awesome that one might be.

The more I think about that tweet, the more it bothers me, largely because of the imputation of a dishonest motive. Oh no, it's not at *all* possible that Rosenberg has a different take on the story than you do, and feels she has some valid criticisms of your post. No, it must be about stirring up trouble and trolling for hits. Troubling.
Aug. 31st, 2011 11:30 pm (UTC)
More asking for trouble from her tweets: "And I'm sorry if I'm nasty. But the need to attack other feminists, who are already being trolled, in the name of defending" - you mean exactly like you're doing right now, but which Alyssa didn't really do at all? She said she thought you were wrong, you were an asshole. These are the differences.

"As I said: After trying to reach that audience and getting tantrums because I criticized them, I'm not trying to persuade." Well, that's just charming.

I haven't read or seen ASoIaF, so this whole thing is very removed from the actual content they're talking about, which I like to think gives me nice, fresh eyes. And my eyes say that Doyle's critique, uh, wasn't very critical.
Sep. 1st, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
Just a couple of days ago, John Scalzi posited a taxonomy of criticism; it was about a different debate, but I thought about Doyle's post while I was reading it. I would say that it falls pretty cleanly into the "polemic" category, and these tweets, especially the last one you mention, seem to confirm it. And there's room for polemics in the world, but you shouldn't really try to pretend that it's anything else.
Sep. 1st, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC)
You're right there's a place for polemics, but in this case, imo, it was pretty sloppy. Some amount of exaggeration is fine, but Rosenberg's article makes it sound like there was some selective omission going on and I'm less okay with that. Now that I think about it, I really only go to Tiger Beatdown when I want to read more polemical critiques.
Sep. 1st, 2011 10:24 pm (UTC)
Polemic does seem to be Doyle's default style. Sometimes she owns it better than others.

Selective omission, yes; in particular, a focus on sexual assault as a measure of how the text treats women to the exclusion of many other factors, and glossing over when men suffer similar treatment (I can think of two major male characters with sexual assault in their backstories, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were more that I just can't remember off the top of my head).
Sep. 1st, 2011 07:48 pm (UTC)
That taxonomy of criticism was a good read (although I am a gigantic sucker for lines like "pulling a bug out of my ass and showing it to you"). Polemic indeed. And *that's* the exact type of criticism that I often wish to ignore when I'm a maker (my random ramblings over on DW). I really needed to read John Scalzi's taxonomy. I feel better now. ^^

My academic training has always always always held up the Exegesis with added Instruction as the "correct" model; consumer reporting will give a middle-passing grade to 1st year undergraduates; polemic is (usually) bad. That said, pure emotional polemic drives a good chunk of the undergraduate critiques I've read (and graded). Yet I can point to more than a few polemics that are Very Important feminist pieces ... polemics tend to make me, personally, want to leave the room. And, I often did, walking out of women's studies seminars and crossing the hall to cultural studies seminars. But this is only an anecdote, a single sample point, and in absolutely no way something I wish to call a trend. Oh, I've read a few hell raising polemics from cultural studies too. Damn... seems like all those polemics had 1970-1980 publication dates. Was polemic more in style then? Methinks I too young to truly get the sort of anger people needed to let loose in the 1970s and 1980s. ... Although I truly get the sort of anger people are letting loose now. Ugh. Personally relativism. And thus, Q.E.D.
Sep. 2nd, 2011 10:19 am (UTC)
This is an awesome link, thank you!
Aug. 30th, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC)
Both very interesting pieces, & combined something to mull on. Thank you for sharing them.
Aug. 31st, 2011 01:50 am (UTC)
You're welcome! Glad you found them thought-provoking. If you ever have more reactions, I'd be happy to hear them.
Aug. 31st, 2011 11:07 am (UTC)
My first response to the original article was "She thinks that GRRM portrays women badly? Did she even READ the parts about the men?"

My second thought was to wonder what, exactly, would be good enough.
Sep. 1st, 2011 02:02 am (UTC)
I do think it's fair to say that, in some cases, the women's bad behavior is gendered in ways that the men's isn't. But not across the board, and certainly not as starkly as she suggests.
Sep. 1st, 2011 08:33 am (UTC)
I'm kind of rambling here with some half-formed thoughts. I don't know. I think that the men's bad behavior and the consequential trouble are gendered just as much, but we're not taught to see the ways that "maleness" is portrayed in simple actions, because maleness is the unmarked norm.

Yes, the women follow some pretty standard tropes, but so do the men.
Theon disobeys his orders and tries to take Winterfell, seizing a grand opportunity to prove himself as A Man, and is rewarded with his fate in the most recent book.
Jaime is all bravado and haughty "I'm a god incarnate, look at the size of my penis, er, sword!", until he gets his hand chopped off.
Eddard tries to be the Right Honorable Man Serving His Kingdom, thinking that his idea of honor is above all others, and gets his head cut off.
Robert goes boar hunting, for pete's sake, thinking he's invincible, and gets killed. (Okay, that was poison, but the boar really did get him.)
Quentyn goes on a fantasy faerie tale mission across the sea to get the girl and capture the dragon, and gets toasted.
Jon Snow tries to take over, and be the Amazing Young Leader Man Who Fulfills His Potential And Rises Above His Troubled Childhood, and run things his way whether people like it or not, and gets "killed".

Some of these sound like pretty familiar masculinity tropes to me (especially Quentyn), but they aren't so problematized as the tropes for women. Of course, there are reasons for this - women's history in books/film of being relegated to the supporting character in one of a few archetypes. I think that, especially with characters like Quentyn and Theon, GRRM is flouting some of the tropes of masculinity too, even if they're not as visible as those of the women.
Sep. 1st, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
I think that the men's bad behavior and the consequential trouble are gendered just as much, but we're not taught to see the ways that "maleness" is portrayed in simple actions, because maleness is the unmarked norm.

This is a really, really good point, and one that's easy to forget. Thanks for the reminder, and the examples. I may refer back to this when I do my own write-up later, if that's okay.
Sep. 2nd, 2011 10:16 am (UTC)
That would be great. It's one of the fundamental lessons I teach in my Language and Gender class -- and, inevitably, one of the hardest for the students to grasp.

I can't wait to read your write-up on this.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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