Game of Thrones Finally Gives the Narrative Back to its Female Characters

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Photo credit: Helen Sloan for HBO

Editor’s note: Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones!

Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are no strangers to controversy — especially when it comes to the popular show’s female characters.

Back in season 4, they faced backlash when Jaime Lannister rapes his sister and lover Cersai right next to their dead son, Joffrey. Despite Cersai’s vocal resistance to Jaime’s advances, he forces himself on top of her and has sex with her. Audiences were upset with the depiction, especially since the scene was clearly consensual in the books. To many viewers, it felt gratuitous, unnecessary, and inconsistent with the redemptive story arc of Jaime’s character. However, according to the episode’s director, Alex Graves, while the scene was meant to disturb, it was not meant to depict rape. Because the season was already wrapped and edited by the time the controversy emerged, there was no acknowledgment in the story from either character that the rape had taken place. It was as though it never even happened.

In season 5, the showrunners faced further backlash when Sansa Stark is brutally raped by her cruel and sadistic husband, Ramsay Bolton. While the rape did not happen on-camera, the audience experiences it through the eyes, and tears, of Theon Greyjoy, who was essentially raised as Sansa’s brother. Viewers were upset that the rape felt unnecessary, and that Theon’s pain was front and center, rather than Sansa’s.

More generally, the show has received plenty of criticism for its abundance of female nudity and lack of male nudity. The female nudity is received by many viewers as gratuitous; obviously meant to cater to the male gaze. Titillation geared towards female viewers has been much harder to come by. The one time the series showed a male member, it was flaccid and wart-covered — not to mention, it was part of a comedic scene. One of the show’s female stars, Emilia Clarke (who plays Daenerys Targaryen, also known as “Dany”), has even called for nudity equality between female and male stars on the show.

All of these controversies, taken together, suggest that the showrunners — both of which are men — have probably not thought very seriously about a woman’s point of view. They have also often scoffed at criticisms aimed towards them. Upset female viewers are generally urged to acknowledge that these scenes depict reality, which has often been a brutal and unrelenting place for women. As if we aren’t already aware of that. Continue reading

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A woman’s place is in the White House.

 

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New addition to my home office. Looking forward to the reminder every day.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with two parents who told me I could be anything I wanted to be; even the president of the United States.

As a little girl, I asked my mother why, if women can do anything men can do, has there never been a woman president?

“There will be one day,” she told me firmly. “By the time you’re my age, there will be. Maybe it will even be Hillary Clinton.”

I couldn’t help but notice a wistful look in my mother’s eyes whenever she talked about Hillary Clinton. It was clear she had the utmost respect for the woman, both as a person, and a politician. I remember how, when Hillary would speak, my mother would nudge me and say, “that’s Hillary Clinton. She’s one of the smartest people in the world.”

Perhaps, my mother’s admiration for Clinton came from spending the majority of her own working life in industries that were boys’ clubs. In college, she’d been a math major. One professor accused her of cheating because she got an ‘A’ on a difficult exam, and because she was female, he didn’t believe that was possible. As a twenty-something, she was an insurance executive, back when few women were climbing the corporate ladder. She rose quickly through the ranks, but was constantly underestimated in her abilities and assumed to be the secretary as she sat in on important meetings. Later on, she became a high school athletic director; one of the few women in Connecticut holding such a position.

My mother felt the limitations of the glass ceiling intimately in her own work life. She felt the pressure to be perfect; to be better than the men but for only half the credit. She felt the pain of being treated with disdain, and of having to routinely work with people who hated her just for being an outspoken and driven woman. She was called terrible things behind her back — shrewd, bitch, tyrant, insufferable, fat cow. And those were only the words people said to or around me, her young, impressionable daughter. So I can only imagine what they were saying out of my earshot. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton and the trap of acceptable female behavior

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“She’s as power hungry as they come. She thinks she’s entitled to the presidency and doesn’t care what she has to do to get it.”

“She’s just not likable or charismatic. She doesn’t seem real to me.”

“She’s secretive, cold and calculating. She flip-flops constantly. She’s just plain dishonest and can’t be trusted.”

I spend a fair amount of time reading about and engaging in politics online, and I see these refrains repeated about Hillary Clinton over and over again, ad nauseum. Discouragingly, they’re often perpetuated by fellow liberals whom I like and respect. These are gendered and shadowy claims that speak to our country’s collective discomfort with the idea of a woman in the highest office of the United States. Yet, trying to expose their inherent sexism is dizzying. One of the reasons sexism can be difficult to call out is because it’s so often insidious and coded. Further, no one will ever admit to it.

When I suggest that the aforementioned statements hint at a subtle sexism towards Clinton, and ask for demonstrable facts to back them up, I’m met with rebuke: “I’m not sexist! I support and respect Elizabeth Warren. I totally would have voted for her if she ran!” This reasoning is essentially the “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” of misogynist liberal politics. It’s maddening trying to engage, but it feels even worse to let it slide by. Continue reading

My foolproof method of shutting down men who tell me to smile

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Photo Credit: Flickr user dotbenjamin

As a woman, I am told to smile a lot by men. When I was a mid-twenty-something living in New York City, I was probably told to smile 3-5 times a week. Now that I am the big 3-0, and living in a much smaller town in New Jersey, it’s less of an issue. But I’d still say it happens to me about once a month or so. For most of my life, I would respond to these requests by simply ignoring them, or offering a rueful grimace in return that screamed, “ISN’T THIS WHAT YOU WANTED?!”

I distinctly remember one instance, back in 2013, a few weeks after my mother died. I was walking through the city rocking my TBF (thinking bitch face) with my headphones on, working through some things in my mind; namely, how the hell am I going to get through this?!

“Smile, sweetheart!” A man standing on the corner barked at me, loud enough to hear through my over-ear headphones. I was incensed. How dare he tell me to smile when I was feeling such pain? Who did he think he was? I’m a human being, not a doll! I thought. Frustrated, I ignored him. But his words burned me for blocks. Why hadn’t I said something? Why was I letting him ruin my walk, which was already pretty dang sad in the first place? It was that night that I had a stroke of genius and decided to make a change. I would no longer ignore men telling me to smile, and I would certainly no longer fake it so they’d leave me alone. No, from now on they were going to feel the full force of my reality, whether they liked it or not.

Continue reading

I too am done with being likable

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Photo credit: Flickr user JDHancock

When I was a little girl, I took my cues from the closest person to me — my mother. She was unapologetically large, both in personality and size. She made no qualms about getting what she wanted, whether it was a perfect medium-rare steak (she’d send back a steak as many times as it took to get it right), or a goal she was trying to accomplish. Nobody got in her way. She was fierce, loud, strong-willed and she didn’t take no for an answer. Good luck to anyone who tried to bully her.

She raised me to stick up for myself in the same way. I made myself heard. Loudly. I was a no-holds-barred know-it-all who dominated at sports, read three grades above my age and felt absolutely no qualms about leading in groups. I was bossy. I was precocious. I was strong. I was curious. I was convinced I could do anything: sing, dance, invent, act, practice law, write novels, create art. I wanted to master it all.

Alone in my basement, I created science experiments, breaking into my brother’s big kid chemistry set to pilfer supplies. I checked out books at the library about building tree forts as well as sewing and baking. I aced Tech Ed in school and beat the boys at gym. I was our school band’s second chair flutist and chosen to read my essay at elementary school graduation.

In middle school, the bullying started.  And so, too, did my self-awareness. I began to notice how many people looked at my mother with contempt. I observed their posture, and the looks on their faces when they spoke to her. They hated her. Even when she was being nice (which she mostly was), she seemed to rub people the wrong way. Especially men. It always seemed to me that most men couldn’t stand my mother. After all, she had a triple whammy of “unlikable” traits: she was fat, outspoken and female.

The woman who was once my hero, the woman who I once painstakingly modeled myself after started to seem a lot less aspirational. I didn’t want to be hated. I wanted to be liked — desperately so.

My mother would tell me to ignore the bullies; “They’re just jealous!” she would say, “you can’t hold yourself back to appease others!” But I was hearing a different, much stronger message: I was annoying. I was a show off. I was too much. I needed to tone myself down.

I eagerly sought friendship and approval. After getting straight A’s my entire life, I realized in high school that getting straight A’s doesn’t make you prom queen. It makes you a threat. It makes you full of yourself. It makes you stand out in all the wrong ways. To be a woman who makes herself large, I learned, was a grave mistake.

I didn’t want to be alone at the top of the class. I wanted to make myself easy to digest. And so began my long descent into mediocrity.

I morphed myself into whoever was around. I used to be very bad at playing these roles, which at first made me even more annoying than my overachiever self. But I got much better as I went along.

In high school, I was a basketball playing hip-hop head, who’d fervently trash any other girl to look cool around her guy friends.

In college, I became a rugby playing, toga-wearing, beer funneling, “easy going” party girl.

In my young twenties, I shaped myself into the quintessential cool girl, complete with Jennifer Lawrence-like schtick: “who me?! I just happen to be hot, funny, whip-smart AND self-deprecating enough that I present no threat.” I spent an ungodly amount of energy being approachable and pretending not to care about things.

In law school, I decided to be the comic relief slacker, despite receiving a scholarship for having one of the highest LSAT scores in my year. I skipped class, went out drinking, and blatantly and boldly told my professors I didn’t do the reading when called upon.

People liked me. Of course they liked me. I was giving them exactly what they wanted: a diluted version of myself. I did everything a woman should do to be liked: I apologized profusely for taking up space and trimmed myself back until I was a shell of a human being — an easy pill to swallow.

Since my mother’s death, I’ve become more “myself” than I’ve been in decades. I no longer work so hard to keep up a facade. My priorities have shifted seismically. These days, it feels foolish to waste my energy molding myself to please people who couldn’t care less about me in the long run. I now try to focus on the people who matter; who like me both in spite of and because of my flaws. I know my bold personality is not for everyone. I know I can be polarizing. I always have been, despite bending myself to the point of exhaustion to be liked. About half of the people I grew up with still hate my guts to this day. I’m learning to be ok with that.

Yet as much progress as I make, resisting the pull of being liked is still a struggle. Social media isn’t exactly a bastion of authenticity. We all want those “likes”; that validation that we matter. Even in my writing, I find myself pulling back from certain topics and thinking more about my audience than what I’d really like to write. I am constantly vacillating between making my voice heard and diminishing myself to convenience others.

But I am sick of playing by the rules. I am sick of worrying about what people will think, or say behind my back. I am sick of holding back my opinions and refraining from going after what I want. I am sick of making myself small.

Nobody likes a know-it-all. I know, because my mother was one. Sure, she could be frustratingly obstinate, and she definitely needed to learn to apologize and admit when she was wrong. Yet despite her flaws, I can’t help but admire that she never dumbed herself down or shrunk herself for anyone. Their opinions be damned.

I think my mother had it right. I, too, am done with being likable.

Writing while female: the very real threat of online harassment and how it’s held me back

Author’s Note: This essay was originally published on Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, a site run by Professor Marci Hamilton and Professor Leslie Griffin, which is dedicated to the healthy separation of church and state and the rights of women and children (specifically surrounding childhood sexual abuse). I encourage you to check out the site and the amazing work these women are doing. It is currently the only legal blog that has the majority of content authored by women, and you can find my writing there on the last Tuesday of each month. This post has been republished with permission. 

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Last week, one of my blog entries, “How I’m Learning to Break My Silence and Fight Racism” was picked up to be republished by Thought Catalog. I was thrilled for the exposure and hoped that it would potentially lead to new blog followers. But truthfully, I was also apprehensive — the potential for a hostile comments section terrified me. This would be my first time diving into the world of anonymous commenters. Up until this point, I’ve held a strict publishing policy: I only allow my work on websites where the comments sections have full names attached to each commenter, such as those powered through Facebook.

Why do I have this policy, which holds me back from fully pursuing my writing? Fear. Fear of online harassment. Fear of being ripped to shreds and denigrated. Fear of doxxing, stalking and threats. Fear of being treated like I’ve seen so many of my fellow female writers treated.

Lately, as I find my voice and my writing takes flight, the question of dealing with online harassment seems to be more of a “when,” rather than an “if.” It appears that a woman can only rise so far before she is at risk. From my observations, just about every female writer I follow on Twitter deals with online harassment or abuse in one form or another. Some are subject to truly disgusting and terrifying behavior. Lindy West, who often writes on feminism, was featured on This American Life to share her story of an online harasser who created a Twitter account posing as her deceased father, just to hurt her. He later apologized (the first time West had ever received an apology from a “troll”), but the experience was still distressing. Ragen Chastain, a size-acceptance blogger who writesDances with Fat recently shared a particularly harrowing account of her online harassers creating hate websites devoted to her demise, trying to sabotage her sponsorships and speaking engagements, and even going so far as to stalk her and her family in-person at an Ironman event she was competing in. Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic who foundedFeminist Frequency, became the target of an online harassment campaign over her video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” which examines gender tropes in video games. The harassment has been so disruptive to Sarkeesian that she has had to vacate her home, and even cancel a speaking engagement amidst the threat of a mass shooting.

And it’s not just female writers that dare to write about controversial topics like feminism, body acceptance or racism who are targeted. Mia Matsumiya, a professional violinist, has amassed more than 1,000 lewd and inappropriate messages online, which she’s sharing on Instagram to fight back. Chicago sports anchor Julie Dicaro has spoken out about being harassed and threatened with rape simply for sharing her professional opinions while female. Just look at the Twitter replies of any famous or even noteworthy female and you’ll see a litany of disgusting, graphic and insulting comments. By my observations, social media is a verifiable minefield for women to navigate, no matter what kind of work they do or opinions they share.

So it was with great apprehension that I allowed Thought Catalog to publish my piece. The essay had gotten mostly good feedback from the WordPress community, and my own Facebook friends, but I had no idea what to expect when it came to the anonymous commenting world of Disqus. What awaited me did not disappoint. My piece garnered 45 comments, most of which were racist, some of which were misogynist, and pretty much all of which were downright bizarre. Upon reading them, I felt my heart quicken and a lump rise in my throat, especially as I saw a few commenters using my full name. Thankfully there were no threats or outward insults, yet my impulse was to immediately regret my decision to go against my no-anonymous commenters policy.

After giving myself a few moments to calm down, I was able to talk some sense into myself. I realized that if I allow my voice to be silenced, then I am letting potential harassers win before they’ve even struck. By creating policies around what they might do, I’m giving these pathetic people more power than they deserve. I’m holding myself back both personally and professionally and letting fear be my guide, rather than what feels right to me. Besides, even if I can protect myself from nasty comments sections on my articles, there’s really no stopping anyone from harassing me elsewhere on the internet, so my policy is actually moot. If the only shield I have is my silence, then it’s not one I’m willing to bare any longer. I will not acquiesce that women should be seen and not heard.

I took a few deep breaths, closed the tab on my browser, and vowed to myself to stop obsessing over the words of others. More importantly, I vowed not to let hate win — not today, not tomorrow, not ever again.

Emily Yoffe: Stop Victim-Blaming. It’s feeding into Rape Culture, and yet you’re still doing it.

Emily Yoffe, more widely known as Slate’s Dear Prudence, published a piece today that is shaking my foundation. It’s called “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” and I promise you, it’s just as infuriatingly misogynistic and victim-blamey as you can possibly imagine.

Yoffe argues that “misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.”

So, here I am again. Shaking, terrified, angry. Doubting myself. Questioning whether all of that momentum, support, and strength I felt after coming out publicly in March as a survivor was authentic.

Think about that: I had to “come out” as a survivor. Doesn’t that strike you as just the oddest thing?

I had to “come out” to every guy I dated and to every close friend I’ve made over the last 10 years (lest I be inauthentic). I had to fret over how I would say it, when I would say it, and how I would play it. How would I answer the questions and deflect the sorrowful eyes? And how would I restore things to normal after? All of this fell on me.

Plus the long nights. The nightmares I can only stave off with a THC-induced haze. The never quite feeling safe.

The terror of being in a cabin alone in the woods, where there is nothing but darkness; the lifetime of fear that comes in the aftermath of having my autonomy metaphorically spat on. Or rather lied upon.

The clinking of my deadbolt, just this one time, when I decide I’ve heard a few too many noises in my building. Even while knowing there is a doorman downstairs, and that my lock has never failed me. Nor would anyone try to break in.

Flashbacks, depression, medical complications, triggers, residual sensitivities.

A decade of healthy dating and sexuality stolen from me.

Speaking of “stolen”: my medical records. Gone from the hospital, leaving me vulnerable to identity theft, not to mention without legal recourse.

And having to defend myself and my honor to people, nay WOMEN, like Emily Yoffe, Poppy Harlow, the nurse who checked me into the rape unit at the hospital, and countless internet commenters who just don’t seem to get it.

I live with all of this. Every day. This is my reality. Long after I publish my swan song and draw my line in the sand, I will still suffer. We all do. Do not let our image-crafting, or our public strength fool you. We survivors still live with the memories, the insecurities, and the burdens. And we feel them keenly.

I drank the night I was raped. I drank a lot. Probably more than I should have. And if you must know, I regret it. I spent years beating myself up and blaming myself. I thought, if I had just stayed where it was safe, or not flirted, or said no to those shots, or tried to scratch his fucking eyes out at the first sign of fear, maybe…

Maybe what? It wouldn’t have happened. I would have been safe. I could have avoided being a victim — and less victims, isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that what Yoffe is telling us she wants?

If only I had been more responsible, there would be one less assault. One less rape kit. One less story to make Emily Yoffe tsk-tsk.

But then I remember that HE raped me. That HE didn’t take “no” for an answer. HE took steps to cover up what he did — by dumping my unconscious body in the bathtub and turning the water on and then feigning “black out” in the morning.

And I also must remind myself that none of these facts are of consequence, because no matter how stupid, irresponsible, or DRUNK I was at 18, I didn’t deserve to be raped, or violated in any way. I didn’t ask for it, and I sure as hell didn’t earn it.

I said “no.” Is there anything else?

To be afraid in our own world, is that not its own form of victimization? To be told we must conduct ourselves in “pure” ways — to never dress sexy, or have more than two drinks, or hang out with certain kinds of people, or walk on certain streets at night, or “lead men on” or twerk in nude undergarments is to be told that we are not full humans, with full autonomy.

We are second-class citizens, relegated to the safe places and the safe activities. Our movements and behaviors are policed so we can avoid riling up the sexual desires of men. And yet the fact remains that none of this victim-blaming, slut-shaming or purity-pushing changes anything or makes us safer — women were raped long before they showed up in droves to frat houses in mini-skirts.

If anything, we are less safe, because men are getting the idea that drunk women are up for grabs — that we’re asking for it, or at the very least, should shoulder the burden of preventing it. Our faculties are decidedly dull, and therefore the lines of consent are blurred.

“If I had a son,” Yoffe writes, “I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.”

Here’s a thought: You COULD teach your boy how to read in between those so-called blurred lines by implementing what I call the “contract rule”: if she’s too inebriated to legally sign a contract, she’s too inebriated to meaningfully consent. I’m going to go so far as to say that not taking advantage of drunk women is a super easy way to not be accused of rape.

Perhaps it is time, instead, to teach our boys and girls about meaningful consent and the respect of others.

We can kid ourselves into thinking that pervasive drinking culture, unruly/slutty women, or frat parties are the problem. Or we can confront the real issues: RAPE. Entitlement. Control. Violence.

First and foremost, let’s teach our boys to stop raping.

Let us not shelter our daughters. They deserve to drink and dance and wear whatever outfits they deem fit and make their mistakes, too. This problem will not be solved by hiding our girls, silencing the “bellyaching” of feminists, or less drinking. Instead, let’s continue to educate all of our children on meaningful consent, and work towards clearing up all of these really-not-so-blurred lines, so we can effectively eliminate the rampant rape culture that pervades our college campuses.

Now THAT’S something I think we can all drink to.