Rape In Fiction (Or: “Oh, Game of Thrones, Really?”)

(No super-spoilers, but this will talk in vague terms about the latest Game of Thrones episode.)

(You are warned.)

(No, really.)

(WARNING.)

(*flails*)

(THE BRIDGE IS OUT)

(FACEBEES)

(AAAAAAH)

Okay.

The latest Game of Thrones episode has a rather, erm, pivotal rape scene in it. Without getting too specific, a normally very powerful woman is very clearly raped during a moment of weakness. And it’s super-gross, in part because the sex in the books is — reportedly, as I have not read them — consensual. In part also because one of these characters has been undergoing some changes as of late and we have come to like this character quite a bit — and this character is also the rapist.

The super-grossness also extends to the commentary after the fact, which frequently flings past whether rape is appropriate in fiction and storytelling and settles on whether the scene was even rape — or, it discusses the granularity of consent, which is fine for legal battles but a little squicky in talking about what happens on-screen with a major pop culture property. The fact that the ensuing discussion was whether or not the victim’s pleas and no’s were loud enough, frequent enough, convincing enough. (Spoiler warning: they were.) Did she kiss back? Was she secretly giving into it? On a book page, this might actually be something you could get across, as we have access to internal dialogue. On-screen, we are left purely to text, only to visual, and what we’re left with is a character who says “no” up until the end, who struggles (albeit weakly), and whose rapist basically says “I don’t care.”

That’s rape. Despite what anyone will tell you, it’s rape. It’s the rape of a powerful (and somewhat unlikable) woman by a less-powerful (and more likable) dude.

It’s rape on-screen. It’s rape off-screen.

The granularity of “no” does not exist. Game of Thrones may be a world of many grays, but a “no” that never turns to “yes” before the sex begins isn’t beholden to any spectrum.

That part is black and white.

The discussion then must be: well, why is this a problem? Rape exists in fiction. And it has to be allowed to exist in fiction. It’s a rough, tough, terrible topic, but to ignore it is all the more sickening — to sweep it under the rug and not shine a line in that dark space is basically to deny it in reality, as well. One of fiction’s chiefmost strengths is that it allows us to bring up these things  and make us feel something about them — it’s addressing them, making us deal with it, and it’s being real about it.

That said, as storytellers, it’s vital to think about what we’re putting out there. There exists a mode of thought that says authors have zero social responsibility, and I’d argue that’s technically true in the same way that nobody anywhere has any social responsibility to anyone. We’re all basically just animals in a zoo, but what makes us human is thinking about the ramifications of our actions. And what makes us smart storytellers and capable authors is thinking about the ramifications of our stories. That doesn’t necessarily mean not putting scary stuff on the page (or on the screen). It just means being mindful of consequence.

And one of those consequences is that some of your audience will have been the victims of rape. This is the case because instances of rape and sexual assault against women in particular are very, very high. It leaves living victims. Victims who have to deal with the trauma off-screen. Putting it on the page or screen means forcing them to revisit that act. That’s not to say that, again, rape is verboten. But it does mean you should very seriously look at how you handle the topic. Are you handling it with maturity? With care? Is there a point other than the gratuitousness of it all? Are you using it as a cheap-and-easy plot point, or as a meaningful moment? Is it a lazy trope, or a crucial moment?

The problem, as I see it, with the rape scene in GoT, is many-fold.

First, it’s done in a world where rape is basically as common as horses. It’s referenced damn near every episode. Women are victims. Men are rapists. It’s practically becoming a thesis of the world. The worst thing done to women is rape. Rape, rape, rape. The show is getting rapey as shit. (More notable perhaps because the books aren’t quite so?) At this point, that’s drifting toward fetishistic and gratuitous — in part because it seems to revel in its statement.

Second, it’s more a trope than it is an actual thing. It’s lazy, cheap, short-shrifted. It’s code meant to again invoke that grayness of the characters — “Oh, look, even the most powerful can be laid low, and even those characters you like are basically pieces of shit.” The rapist-and-victim message, again. Really, we can’t do any better?

Third, it feels out of character and is a change from the book — a change that makes these characters worse and weaker than they have demonstrated in the past (at least, I’d argue).

Fourth, the rape was soft, weak, almost as ineluctable as gravity — the strong woman just sort of gives into it (and here you’ll want to discuss the was she really raped? question again but once more please be aware of the persistent lack of consent given) and makes rape look less like a violent act and more like a fact-of-life. (And it really is a fact-of-life in the GoT world, which is troubling in how it reinforces that “women = victims, men = rapists” vibe.)

The point I’m making is, if you’re going to deal with rape in your fiction, please give it weight and consequence. Do not let it drift toward being a lazy, cheap trope. Exercise every ounce of storytelling wisdom and skill and don’t just let it devolve into some half-ass plot point. It’s not a plot point in anybody’s lives. And last, remember that rape is real. It’s not the domain of fiction. It’s not granular, it’s not a spectrum, it’s not a shruggy hand-wavey sort of maybe-kinda-gee-I-dunno thing. Some of your audience will be victims of rape. Remember that, and think of them.

144 comments

  • Chuck, thank you so much for EVERYTHING you wrote in this post. It’s good to know there are men that think the way you do in this world, and I hope to god there are more out there. LOTS more. Because sometimes it doesn’t seem like it.

    I’ve heard there’s a lot of rape content in GoT, and that’s the reason I’ll probably never be able to watch it; I won’t go into details, but I’ve got reasons to not want to put myself through that, thanks very much. I hate this idea that it’s used as the golden ticket to shock ratings; anyone who’s ever been through it will tell you it’s NOT just something that’s horrible at the time but then in the next scene you’re totally over it forever and busy getting on with your life. I agree with what you say about treating the subject with the weight and sensitivity it deserves – but I’m afraid there’s resistance to that idea – and from surprising places…

    This subject is dealt with in my current w-i-p. I know this sounds nuts, but I honestly didn’t plan it that way; the combination of the character’s background and the domino effect of the plot meant it just went in the direction where it was inevitably going to happen. I was pretty mortified, because I knew writing it would probably mess with my head, so I discussed my dilemma with some writer friends.

    They all said I couldn’t just duck out of including it in the story; it had to be there and I had to make it clear that’s what it was. However, while most of them said similar things to you Chuck, one said something along the lines of ‘just so long as you don’t turn it into some poor little traumatized survivor thing, where we’re all supposed to agree that rape is horrible and the girl’s been through hell – I’m getting SO sick of hearing that.’

    Well, I don’t mind admitting that was a bit of a punch to the gut – particularly since it was said by a WOMAN. Is she right? Is it possible to go ‘too far the other way’ and be OVER-sympathetic to a character in such a situation? I don’t feel qualified to know, because I’m not speaking from an unbiased viewpoint, if you see what I mean.

  • I applaud you for bringing this issue to light. There does need to be some sort of consequence for their actions. I know that doesn’t always happen in life, but we need to encourage women that some of us do care and will help them.

  • Top notch post. I absolutely agree, a lot of grim issues, handled properly, are powerful in fiction, possibly even cathartic but if it gets close to a cheap kick… especially in a show which already has a reputation for being a shag fest. It makes us wonder if they just sat there in a script meeting thinking… hmm… how can we make the sex a bit more shocking? I know! A rape scene. And that is pretty vile.

    Cheers

    MTM

  • I was completely with you up until this:
    “makes rape look less like a violent act and more like a fact-of-life”

    I haven’t seen the episode, so I may be misunderstanding you, but in real life rape is frequently non-violent (as with intoxicated victims, victims who are too young to consent or with victims who believe it is safer not to offer violent resistance) and it is a fact of life for many, many women and quite a few men.

    • It’s absolutely a fact-of-life, though I’d counter to say I always consider it a violent act, regardless of how overt that violence is. A better way for me to have put it would be that it seems to normalize rape. — c.

  • Well, an actual penis removal, and a few beheadings have been very vividly enacted in real time recently, and none of those instances has inspired this much commentary.

    And how much would/could/should an author’s character inform his work? There’s a riff for ya’.

  • I want to like this post 50,000 times. THIS is why I, like no one else in the world apparently, can’t get into GoT. Here we have a fantasy world where we can make anything happen… and the choice is to create a world much like our own 200 years ago (or indeed right now in many countries), when women have no power and are forced into horrible situations just to survive. I’m sick of fiction, written or visual, that uses rape in the way you’ve described. It’s one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a woman, but too often I see it trivialized and used gratuitously.

    I say: ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT.

    M-kay?

    • April 24, 2014 at 6:58 PM // Reply

      YES, YES, and… YES. “Here we have a fantasy world where we can make anything happen” < — my issue entirely with the series – or at least the 1st book, since that is all I could get through.

    • Wow! Not one but TWO people who raise the exact issue I did when I got…ah…100 pages through the first book before tossing it. NEATO, thanks guys I feel a million times less in the minority now, cause lord knows two other people who think the same way appears to be pretty good odds.

      Seriously, can I bitch-slap the next dodo who explains that “man, GoT is set in the MIDDLE AGES, lighten up, this is HOW IT WAS BACK THEN”? Oh, the irrefutable logic of idiots. I mean, sure, dragons played a vital role back in the Middle Ages, too, and, like, shapeshifters and shit. And we all know that people who write about dragons are required to exactly emulate gender structures of the Middle Ages, yurp. Cause that’s when dragons existed–back in the rapey Middle Ages. Lo-gic! (Just to note, the Middle Ages were nowhere near as rapey as GoT. I imagine there were fewer penis-choppings, too. And…ah….fewer dragons.)

      It’s like when people use being ‘victim’ to their biological urges as an excuse for being unfaithful. I mean, if you obey your biological fetters so strictly, what the f*** are you doing driving a car? Can’t slice it both ways, my friend. Either you are a beast, who does not understand why they do the things they do, or your are a person, who has the ability to make conscious decisions. CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE. But you can’t have both the choice and the lack of responsibility for it.

      Overuse of gratuitous anything in a narrative renders it less powerful. It’s like horror films that rely too heavily on loud noises. BOOM CRASH YIKES! Cheap, cheap, cheap.

      I have to say that I got into the show, even if I couldn’t get into the books (maybe this says something about the ease of paper versus tv narrative consumption?) but I’m really fed up with the hyper-graphic, hyper-awful, hyper-inventive, and hyper-pervasive violence against women in the show. It makes my hands feel numb. On a lesser level, continuing to watch GoT feels like continuing to buy sweatshop stuff when I know full well where that shit comes from. Laziness on my part, and consumerism at its worst (I can ignore a product’s taint, so long as it’s shiny enough) (ah, sorry about the taint-usage, but it’s the best word for the job. I in no way mean to denigrate a man’s nice bits.)

      Thanks for the reminder to get off my ass and think about what I consume, Chuck (and Sami and Janet). Sometimes it’s easier when you’re not the only one in the room who’s pissed off.

  • Theon Grayjoy (sp?) gets tortured, has his penis cut off and is psychologically destroyed, and this elicited nary a peep from anyone, far as I recall. And I know (cos he said so) that Chuck’s feeling is this happens rarely in the real world, therefore the two disparate responses—to that event and to the rape—merits no analysis. But I would beg very strongly to differ …

    • It’s more that what happens to him isn’t a trope. It isn’t a lazy crutch used by a lot of stories to compel a thesis. If what happened on this most recent episode of GoT was a singular event — I might still disagree with the characterization, but it would at least not be contributing to a larger, cheaper pattern.

      • I think it’s actually two separate issues we’re (not) talking about here, so I’ll go with yours:

        “The point I’m making is, if you’re going to deal with rape in your fiction, please give it weight and consequence. Do not let it drift toward being a lazy, cheap trope.”

        As I recall, the scene ended and we saw no more of the two participants, therefore the “weight and consequence” of the act are wholly unknown, currently, at least with respect to the television version of the story. It may prove to have been lazy and cheap, or it may not.

        My issue is this: every single other act of savagery presented on Game of Thrones thus far has been accepted as normal entertainment, at least by all of those who are happy viewing acts of savagery as part of their entertainment (and I note the number of commenters here who are singularly not happy with that). My question is why—why?—should this particular act be different in any way? Why should the representation of this act and only this act be expected to come freighted with some moral instruction?

        Seriously, in the previous episode a young woman is hunted, shot by an arrow and then torn apart by dogs and no-one gives a flying fuck. It literally makes no sense to me.

        • “Some of your audience will be victims of rape. Remember that, and think of them.” … And a much, much smaller portion of the audience will have been ravaged by dogs, or shot at, and most likely are not members of a group that needs to fear and consider the chances that will happen.

          • April 24, 2014 at 3:16 AM //

            And a much, much smaller portion of the audience will have been ravaged by dogs, or shot at, and most likely are not members of a group that needs to fear and consider the chances that will happen.

            So you’re saying that the violence we include in our fiction needs to be quantified in relation to the number of people who may have experienced that form of violence in real life?

            I am genuinely not trying to be obtuse—I simply cannot understand this line of reasoning, sorry.

          • Some not too well considered edits as I was writing my post unhelpfully mashed two points together.

            1) The lack of outrage at the scene with the dog you described likely comes from there being far far fewer people who are liable to intimately relate to the scene.

            2) The “remember your audience and think of them” notion should apply to all scenes. Including ones where a strongly impacted group is fewer and farther between. And should be couched in the level and nature of the impact on those who it could hurt.

          • To take the rape out of this just for a moment, look at the levels of violence presented in Hannibal versus those presented in the Walking Dead. To date I haven’t seen a preponderance of articles saying Hannibal goes too far, but there have been a greater number of people complaining characters on the Walking Dead who should know better keep making terrible choices, for no better purpose than to be a catalyst for a zombie attack.

            The problem people are having with the rape scene is, as several others and including Chuck have pointed out, it didn’t have to be a rape. There were ample ways dialogue could have been added to make the scene clearly consensual and it still would have been a disturbing scene. But this seems to follow a larger, disturbing trend of the show to casually default to rape as a means to shock, without making a more considered decision whether it’s essential or just expedient.

            If a regular feature of the show was someone getting hunted down and ripped apart by dogs every couple of episodes, it would be pointed out as lazy. This is an extension of that, made worse by the lazy crutch they’re relying on to shock audiences being rape.

  • April 23, 2014 at 11:36 PM // Reply

    (My question is why—why?—should this particular act be different in any way? Why should the representation of this act and only this act be expected to come freighted with some moral instruction?

    Seriously, in the previous episode a young woman is hunted, shot by an arrow and then torn apart by dogs and no-one gives a flying fuck. It literally makes no sense to me.)

    I see this argument a lot when someone brings up rape in fiction, and simply put, it comes down to it being a violation of the love-act, while being torn apart my dogs isn’t. Unrelated to that argument, I agree, it IS so normalized that it shows up in films and television shows that children might even go to, because people don’t even see it anymore – at least the threat of it. I recall taking my young nephew to see Spider Man when it first came out, and having to answer his questions as to why MaryJane was being cornered by those men in an alley before being ‘saved’ by Spider man.

  • Bravo, bravo, bravo. I stopped reading the books in large part because of this exact issue – the sexual violence had become all the things you describe here. It got both disturbing and boring. It’s really pathetic that the tv version has doubled down on that trend.

  • What worries me is that, from my perspective of a non-watcher, it seems the show’s writers read the scene in the book and decided that rape was more acceptable than incest. That non-consensual sex is morally better than consensual sex between siblings.

    Yeah. :/

  • Thanks for this post. It’s nice to see someone who sees the issue in a similar light. I don’t think avoiding writing about it is the answer. Acknowledging its many forms – regardless of gender – is important and so is discussing what happens to someone afterwards. Often people don’t understand what the victims feel and what changes in them just to get from day to day. I think there’s value in exploring what happens to a character who goes through this. Even more, it isn’t always just them affected but others connected to them.

    As an author, I’m an advocate of going to those difficult places. But none of this gratuitous, titillating, glorified, “sexifying” stuff. Let’s keep it real, understand and treat it with respect. It breaks people, destroys lives and can spiral out to affect others. And yes, some people will be bothered because they’ve been there. Though I think it does them a greater disservice to glorify it than not bother to try and understand at all. For some, if the situation is treated with compassion and empathy rather than the goal of titillation, they might find it helpful if the character feels what they felt and fights like they’ve fought. There’s something to be said about being able to relate to a character – or rather, having a character (and author) that understands them. It has its pros and cons for certain.

  • I watched 2-3 episodes of GoT. I quit for this reason. I haven’t read the books. What I see on screen is a world where only women are victims. I don’t buy it’s the reality of this kind of world, time and place. They got a bunch of MALE monks or something living on a huge wall separate from the world but no sex or rape there, discrete or sensationalized. I’m told this remains consistent. As Chuck said, men are rapist and women are victims. We live in a society that has been trying for decades to change that mind set-I guess we are failing. I used to be a hospital advocate and counselor for victims of sexual assault abuse.That people are still arguing whether rape is rape is one reason people like me have job security.
    (well also if government and society thought such counseling and advocacy was t0o important to cut funding.)

    • I’m not a fan of the books or the series, but it’s not factually correct to say that men are NEVER the victims in GoT or ASOIAF. Quite often they are. It’s more that almost universally the women are, while the same is not true of the male characters.

    • >I watched 2-3 episodes of GoT. I quit for this reason. I haven’t read the books. What I see on screen is a world where only women are victims.

      Ned gets beheaded.
      Theon is tortured, flayed, and neutered.
      Tyrion is bullied and hated by his father and sister.
      Bran is pushed out a window.
      Jaime gets behanded.
      Viserys recieved a crown of gold.
      The list goes on… and on… and on…

      Get your head out of you ass, stupid.

  • I don’t think it’s all that helpful to compare a rape scene to a guy having his penis cut off. It’s not about “which is worse.” Or “which is more commonplace.” Or whatever.

    Rape is a particular type of crime that, outside of prison, is directed almost exclusively against women, because they are women. It is often life-changing. And it is far from rare. There are countless books, organizations, support groups, self-defense classes and products, laws, court cases, etc., devoted to classifying, identifying, educating about, avoiding, dealing with, prosecuting, surviving, or otherwise involving, rape. As such, it occupies our social consciousness in a unique way — in fact, I would say no other crime even comes close.

    That said, I don’t get why this rape scene has caused such a stir. This isn’t the first rape on the show — Kaleesi was sold to, and raped by, her arranged-marriage husband numerous times until she “gave in” and decided to be a wiling participant. That old guy in the woods systematically raped his daughters and grandaughters, before he was killed by mutinous members of the King’s Watch. Brianna — I think that’s her name — the tall woman who brought Jamie back to King’s Landing — was threatened with rape. (There are probably more, but it’s early and I wasn’t expecting to muse about “Game of Thrones rape scenes” over my morning coffee.) I don’t recall hearing any blistering commentary about any of those scenes.

    Anyway. I dont think this rape scene was gratuitous, certainly no more than the others I mentioned. Rape is an act of violence and power. Jamie went from a position of privilege and power, and the best swordsman in the realm, to being a hostage, then a prisoner, his hand was cut off, he was abused, ridiculed, threatened with execution many times, and when he was finally returned to his home (by a woman), he was rejected by his lover and mate, and scorned by both his father and his own son. The rape scene is Jamie’s attempt to regain that feeling of power. It isn’t depicted as titillating or jolly — unlike most scenes in GoT that involve sex, the characters remain fully clothed. So, why all the outrage?

    • As it’s been said before, I think what is bothering people the most about this is after the episode aired, the director said that it WASN’T a rape scene. If you’re going to have a rape scene in fiction, call it what it is, rape. Don’t muddy the waters. That’s what pisses me off (and I’m sure what pisses off many others) about this whole thing.

  • I believe the dissatisfaction with this latest GoT episode speaks to what’s displeasing about so much of television and movies today. As Chuck and lots of others here already pointed out, violence as a device doesn’t sit well, and though we accept (and on some level, enjoy) far more violence in our fiction than we would tolerate in real life, we all still recognize when it’s there simply to incense. Real life has real drama, poignant moments, fears and joys and we are shaped by them, and to expect us to buy into the use of violence as a inflammatory tool to supposedly ‘mold a character,’ is quite frankly, insulting to the whole of the viewing public.

  • I completely agree that if used in fiction, rape should have significant meaning to the plot and bear a heavy weight.

    However I am also a big fan of Game of Thrones and when I watched that scene, though I did find it disturbing, I didn’t think it was that gratuitous. It portrays a man who we know to be cruel and inhumane (he pushed a child off a tower in the first episode?) take advantage of a woman at her most vulnerable, and gives us an insight into a relationship that before we didn’t really know anything about. I’m sure the scene was supposed to be shocking, as it needs to be in a series with so many twists and dramatic events, but that isn’t to say that it bore no meaning. We won’t see their characters again until next episode, which may reveal the consequences of that act in their relationship.

    I also think that commenting on the likability of the characters is irrelevant; people are an amalgamation of light and dark, and just because Jaime had displayed ‘better’ qualities previously, doesn’t mean that this evil was utterly out of character.

    Obviously rape is a highly sensitive subject, especially when victims are faced with it a media setting, but I don’t think this means that writers should shy away from it, as long as it is of importance to the story that they are telling. Regardless of Game of Thrones, telling a story means having a voice, and these things DO need to be talked about, because people are suffering from them every single day.

  • Thanks for writing about this!

    We really need more men like you to unambiguously refer to these incidents in real life as well as in the media as rape and rape for rape’s sake.

    Furthermore, you were spot on when you called this particular rape scene a “trope”, rather than a “thing”.

    Beyond pure laziness, I would like to also posit that it is the crowning moment of tone deafness this show has often shown by its inability to identify and cultivate what hooked people on the show in the first place. GoT the show seems frankly, overwhelmed by the source material. Time and again, they’ve wasted precious air-time on the boobs and gore among brand new characters in the name of what? Some myopic attempt at fanservice?

  • April 24, 2014 at 3:50 PM // Reply

    I won’t retread it whether the scene reads as rape in the novels. To me it didn’t, it read as Cersi being afraid of their father finding out and Jaime increasingly being past caring. I got the feeling that if they’d been somewhere more acceptable it wouldn’t have been an issue. (but that would have made for a BORING scene) It is readable either way.

    What does disturb me about this take it that it kills dead the character turn that is so important for Jaime in this next phase of the story. In the books, after returning to King’s Landing he’s increasingly growing a spine and wanting to define himself as a hero. Now that arc is going to fall flat.

    For Cersi, it’s right around this scene that we start to see more things from her point of view as well. It didn’t make me like her any more than before, but she got *interesting*. Similarly in a number of ways it sprung from this scene, the post Joffery version of team evil undergoing their own falling apart. I’m not sure what this means for the treatment of her character, but the departure doesn’t seem to serve anything if it was intentional.

    If it was an accident to portray this scene, which in my mind is less about rape or even sex than it is about how grief breaks you, as they did. If so they botched a major character point, from a storytelling perspective this is almost worse. Nothing is verboten in story, but it has to work for the narrative.

  • Good post, Chuck. I think the rape scene might have been in the book to give people a chance to experience rape from the rapist’s POV. Just a thought. We all have darkness in us.
    I read the book at least 5 years ago, didn’t think it was all that wonderful, gave it away, and then saw GoT on tv, and went out and bought the book again. New. :p (To see wth was the merit of it.) So much for the power of advertising. But I’ve yet to reread it.

    Tom Clancy wrote a book years ago that was very thick, and imo, very good. It told about arab terrorists stealing a plane and flying it into the White House. I thought to myself at the time that no one should put ideas like that into peoples’ heads. If he hadn’t written that book, would 911 have happened? Who knows? Probably, but it may have taken them longer to think of it. Not as easy as having it handed to them.

    So I think writers do have responsibility in what they write. There’s stories I wouldn’t tell, because I don’t want to fuel some nutbar into doing something awful.

    If a rape occurs because some idiot read or watched GoT, is that a good thing? How would any author feel?
    I guess the most common reaction would be, “Well if I don’t write it someone else will.” Or “There is no provable link between what I wrote and what that person did.” Or “I’m not responsible for other peoples’ actions.”
    Btw, I’ve stopped watching GoT. Found the violence too much. If I want brutality, I can always watch the News.
    So you’re right on, about thinking very carefully about rape scenes, or any other thing we write.

  • I liked what Laura W. said above about GRRM’s intent in his books about rape being a consequence of war. I also liked her point about Jaime:

    “He’s just lost what makes him a warrior: his right hand. It’s a symbolic castration. Rape is about power,
    and the rape is an attempt by him to reassert his power and dominance as a male, and assert power
    in a relationship where he is normally the victim and Cersei the abuser.”

    This really does get at the heart of the incident. Cersei always seems to have been the leader in their antics in the past, and that continues when Jaime returns home and she denies him herself when they first meet because she’s angry with him. Someone else in another comment on a different site pointed out that she really truly wanted to BE Jaime. I think that’s true as well.

    It’s sad that the GoT writer’s and GRRM himself all have stated that Cersei “changed her mind” or “gave in and consented” because that’s not at all what I read in the book or saw on the TV. I clearly saw a woman who did NOT want to have sex – not at that time, not at that place, not with that person — and who then submitted. Does that mean she was compliant with what the GoT writers called “rough sex?” NO. She did not want to have sex, but submits because of the circumstances – she doesn’t want to be caught; it’s unseemly; it’s wrong with her dead son right there; whatever! But she stopped fighting and went along with the act – that’s the issue. Because she complied, people are saying that it wasn’t rape – it was “rape-y” or “rough sex” or whatever, but bottom-line, it was rape.

    Regardless of whether you like or liked Jaime as a character, he had committed bad acts in the past and he committed one with his sister in the Sept. GRRM wrote the scene from his point of view. All of the characters in the books and the movie are intended to be grey – there is no black and white in Westeros. I think the scene has generated the exact reaction that GRRM intended – the scene was always intended to be controversial, regardless of whether it was because of the incest or the sexual act itself, and that worked well, as evidenced by the massive discussions occur across the internet.

  • I’d say that your complaint about how rape is a trope and ridiculously common in the GoT world is spot on.
    But this does the opposite of what you’re upset about. Rather than rape being a piece of the background, it took center stage. Two characters we have known for a long time were involved. If anything, this scene seems to me to be the point at which the show accepted rape as a real, serious thing that can happen to the women in the show.

  • This is why, when talking about fiction, when people tell me “nono, it’s not rape, it’s all consensual” I DO NOT BELIEVE THEM. I’ve fallen for it more than once. I worry about certain fiction being triggering to me as a rape survivor, I ask for the opinion of people who actually watch/read the potentially triggering fiction in question and they assure me that no, it’s all good, no rape triggers present. So I happily go forth and am pretty much inevitably presented with a character saying, screaming, mumbling, whispering, shouting and/or clearly projecting “no” before the totes consensual supes-erotic Male Gaze Supreme “sex scene” commences.

    There are no quotes sarcastic enough to convey my disgust.

    It kind of baffles me how something as fundamentally simple as consent is apparently so confusing and vague and anguish-inducing to so many people. It is not complicated. Yes, the social issues surrounding the term are way fucking complicated, no doubt, but the concept itself simply isn’t.

    As for me, I’ve changed tactics. I no longer ask “does this piece of fiction feature rape?” to get the answer I need. I ask “is there sex in this piece of fiction, and if there is, does one of the characters not really want it and express that sentiment?” It’s the exact same fucking question, but the answers to the one that avoids the dreaded r-word are a LOT more honest. LOLSOB and so forth.

    As to this show, this episode, I can’t comment. I can’t watch it, for obvious reasons. I prefer fiction that won’t leave me daisy-chaining panic attacks.

  • I think the really big difference between the books and the show is that, in the books, the rape matters. I mean, there’s a lot of talk about rape, but the scenes that are actually described to us are very important in terms of character and plot development AND the raping is always done by specifically bad and rapy people. So it’s not “all men are rapists”, but more of a “some men are rapists and because our society sucks, they all get to roam free, huzzah!”.

  • Hi Chuck:

    I’ve shared this post on The Pixel Project’s Facebook page (we’re an anti-Violence Against Women nonprofit) and it’s gone on a mini-viral rampage with other anti-Violence Against Women charities and nonprofits sharing it to spark discussion:

    https://www.facebook.com/ThePixelProject/posts/10152377618649267

    Over 8000 people have seen the post now and conversations are starting all over the place. Thought you might have been wondering where a spike on page views may have come from.

    And THANK YOU for writing so eloquently what so many people (including survivors of rape) feel.

        • I think it’s great. One thing I learned early on as a writer is that we never know what bit of writing will grab the brass ring and get the most attention. I once sat down and wrote a quick letter to the editor of my local newspaper, he liked it enough to publish it as a guest column, another editor say it there, gave me ten bucks for reprint rights, and then it took off. I’ve made several thousand dollars off the letter to the editor, all for a piece I wrote in twenty minutes, and never expected to make a dime from.

          I think it goes to show that everything we write may be of importance, and we just never know.

  • I had a long response that I typed up to make to this post, and realized I just can’t do it. The short of it is this – I’m a guy, and I’ve been raped. I had sex forced upon me by a woman that I absolutely did not consent to. The aftermath of it wrecked me for a long time. My account of it lead to me being teased and made fun of and told that men can’t be raped. So I buried it, repressed it, and moved on. It wasn’t until I started to respond her that I’ve even thought about it in years…and I realized somewhere around my fifth single-spaced page that no one here probably wanted to read about it. The only reason I wrote it anyway was to justify my thoughts on the GoT world and the use of rape in that scene, and now, I realize I don’t really care to justify them.

    That said, I don’t think rape should be taboo to write about. I think that rape is and always will be a power play, and that the scene in the show was most definitely about power, its loss, and an attempt by an egoistic, self-absorbed character to regain some portion of the power he no longer felt. It is not meant to be justified, and I think it pretty fucking well skewers the idea that a person who is charismatic and trying to do other good things can’t also do monstrously selfish things. It skewers everyone who has forgiven Jamie for all his other sins, no matter how well he has managed to justify them and convince the readers and viewers that he’s really not a bad guy.

    Because we, as readers, want to believe in redemption. We want to believe that the arrogant, cocky, handsome but devilish “prince” really is a good down deep, because we envy him. And when we get slapped in the face by him being who he has always been, someone more concerned with himself than anyone else, we get offended by it. Again, people are more upset about this “change” in Jamie then by what was done to Cersai. Why? Because Cersai is a monster in their eyes, and they can justify what happened to her better than they can justify this change in Jamie. But in real life, redemption isn’t always that simple. If it exists at all. And where GRRM excels is in deconstructing the fantasy genre and making it more like real life, and showing just how awful that kind of world would be. Is it fun escapist reading? Hell no. If that’s what someone is looking for, then they definitely shouldn’t read ASOIAF.

    But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be explored.

  • I am not sure where to start, nor am I as eloquent as some of the commenters, but here goes. I see your point CW, and respect it as your opinion, then gave a big ‘so what’ shrug. It’s fiction, it’s a TV show and some eps/scenes will be good, some will be bad. ALL are to get a reaction from the audience and keep them coming back.

    Frankly, I found that scene irrelevent to anything that’s been happening and was left wondering it if was supposed to illicit ‘insta-Jamie-hate’. It was so irrelevant to me that I had almost forgotten about it until I saw all the posts of outrage.

    With all the murder–casual and otherwise, on this show, why is it that this single rape was the one that got such visible reaction around the interwebs? I felt worse for all the murdered children on the road to Mereen, for the prostitutes that had the bad luck to be gifted to Geoffrey, for Casterly’s daughters–hell, I feel worse for Theon, he got a body part cut off.

    • Jesslyn, I’d say it’s because of your reaction, which is too often what people do when faced with this kind of rape, or even with violent rape. They shrug it off, say, well, it happens, and so what. It isn’t taken seriously, and this is why it doesn’t stop. People feel worse for everyone, and rape, the most common and demeaning and enslaving crime of all, continues.

  • Re: “The worst thing done to women is rape.”

    Some more of the worst things done to women were done by Joffrey to Ros (trussed up and killed by multiple crossbow bolts, after previously making her brutally beat Daisy) and by whomever even more brutally killed Robb’s pregnant wife Talisa at the Red Wedding, and for that matter the complete destruction of Catelyn, vis the destruction of her family prior to finally brutally killing her son and daughter-in-law in front of her before cutting her throat. (Ros’ death like this isn’t in the books, either, and Talisa is of course not Robb’s wife in the books, either.) Other really, really bad things happen, from torture-murder of children, burning people alive, flaying, etc.

    My thoughts in watching the reactions to the scene at hand here in this post is that: it seems that more people were upset by far about Jaime’s “character” (the “aw man, we were starting to like him, this sucks!”) than, you know, about Cersei.

  • I’ve read the books and watch the show. Cersei gets hers later, I think worse than rape (in trauma and scale). and I think the rape will make her comeuppance a bit less poignant, and it adds darkness to an already gray character. his nickname is “Oathbreaker.” we’re supposed to be seeing him make choices for himself for the first time in his life. this choice, I agree, was uncharacteristic.

  • Never interested myself in these because, frankly, they struck me as the usual “soap opera with knives” that is doorstopper fantasy of the grimdark flavor. The male commenters going on about “oh such & such item of torture-as-entertainment is MUCH WORSE than rape” can aptly be filed under “it’s only serious if it happens to Important People (men)”.

    And once you’ve swept up real-life blood and broken glass, this sort of thing does not entertain. It’s disaster written by people who expect to be live out their lives spectating from the skybox.

    • We’ll just have to disagree on these aspects. It really sounds like you haven’t read the books at all, or watched the movies. I don’t think they represent only men as Important People in any way. I don’t know how you could get more important than some of the women in the books. I sure do not in any way, shape, or form think the male commentators going on about an item of torturer as entertainment is worse than rape. Not even close.

      I’d also bet I’ve cleaned up more blood than most, and been responsible for too much of it, and I still find such things highly entertaining, if done well. I also don’t think you know who has or hasn’t been out of the “skybox”, or how they feel. Some of the best writers of this type of fiction have been in real battle, and so have a huge number of readers and viewers. You can speak for yourself, but you’re as wrong as it’s possible to get about the rest of us.

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