Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence.
Contains Spoilers: Do not read unless you’ve watched S4E3 of Game of Thrones.
BY BRONWYN STANGE
Since Episode 3 Season 4 of Game of Thrones aired the Internet has exploded in response to Jaime Lannister’s rape of his sister Cersei Lannister. Articles have been written questioning the necessity of the scene and even whether the series will survive it. The scene was undoubtedly disturbing as, aside from the obvious element of incest, the rape occurred next to their son King Joffrey’s corpse. Nonetheless, the series has contained other graphic and confronting scenes depicting sexual violence, from King Joffrey’s murder of a prostitute by bow and arrow to Khal Drogo’s violation of Khaleesi. The response to Cersei’s rape vastly outweighed the latter and I believe this is partly because it challenges society’s basic assumptions about sexual violence. While some outrage was directed towards the altering of the book plot, in which the couple had consensual sex, and the use of rape as a plot device, I believe there may be more to the story.
What substantially differed here was that Jaime is the “wrong” type of man to commit sexual violence, leaving viewers incredibly uncomfortable and distressed. While Jaime Lannister is a character with questionable morals, who has committed a vast array of terrible acts, events in season 3 appeared to hint at his redeeming qualities. In particular his decision to turn back and save Brienne of Tarth from sexual and physical violence seemed to suggest that he was perhaps a “good guy” after all. When Joffrey commits sexual violence we are able to stomach it by positioning him as evil, deranged and sadomasochistic (of which he is all). Similarly, Khal Drogo was presented as a “savage” who perhaps “didn’t know better” and had not yet been enlightened by more “civilized men”. Conversely, Jamie’s violation of Cersei left viewers with the uncomfortable thought that a “good” man who saved a woman from sexual violence could go on to commit it himself. What this broadly touches on is something society still finds difficult to acknowledge; everyday, “normal” men commit rape.
The world of Game of Thrones, like our own, is undeniably male dominated and rape is not a crime committed by crazed individuals but is a patriarchal phenomena. In a social world where women are taught from a very young age that their bodies do not belong to them and men are taught that they are entitled to them, rape is an unsurprising occurrence. There is no defective trait that rapists possess and as tirelessly repeated statistics show, women are far more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know and/ or care about than a stranger . As much as I hate having to clarify this, this is very clearly not to say that all men could or do rape but that “normal”, everyday men, known to you and I, commit rape and violence. As a feminist it is incredibly frustrating having to over and over again qualify statements of this kind, as while we tiptoe over our words women and children are being harmed and violated.
Recently, the incredibly brave and inspiring Tom Meagher wrote that it is time to move past the “monster myth” and face the uncomfortable fact that rapists are everyday men. While this may leave us fearful, uncomfortable and overwhelmed, we cannot avoid harm by pretending it only exists in incredibly narrow circumstances. Furthermore, every single time we deny this we are silencing survivors of violence, making it even more difficult for them to heal. Until we acknowledge facts and shift our entire approach to understanding the patriarchal phenomena that is sexual violence, I fear very little progress will be made. Needing to combat deranged criminals versus reeducating an entire society to shift deeply imbedded patriarchal values are two very different projects. If we cannot yet even articulate and define the issues we are facing and how broadly they extend, we cannot even begin to envision change. Perhaps we can use these kinds of moments in television and pop culture to start.
Bronwyn Stange is a 22-year-old Melbourne University Law student who hopes to use her degree to smash the patriarchy, particularly in relation to sexual violence. She has completed her Bachelor of Arts majoring in Sociology & Anthropology, because of course Gender Studies wasn’t an option at the time, but managed to sneak in as much feminism as possible. She is a frequent ranter, passionate vegetarian and has a shameful obsession with reality TV. Watch out for more posts from Bronwyn as she takes on a regular authorship at feminaust.