In Defense of Sansa
Full disclosure: I have not read A Song of Fire and Ice. I know, I know, I should. And I will at some point. Maybe after the show has ended. But this post is to address an article by a woman who has clearly not read the books either, so we’re on equal ground. Also, don’t spoil anything for me in the comments, kay?
What article am I talking about? Ann Marie Rasmussen of the Huffington Post penned an article criticizing the women in the HBO series Game of Thrones as being little more than tired sexist archetypes. Go ahead and give it a read. She does raise a few interesting points about how women are portrayed in both literature and Hollywood. However, when it comes to the women of GoT, she misses the point by a mile. Spoilers for both seasons of GoT ahead!!
Game of Thrones has been criticized for being sexist thanks to women within the world being depicted as baby makers, whores, political pawns, and generally treated like shit. But that is the point. Westeros is a screwed up sexist world, and the men in power are products of that society, using women as if they were things. The difference is that these smart, fully developed women are also products of this violent, sexist, patriarchal society, and they are finding ways to survive and sometimes thrive in a man’s world. In depicting a violent and sexist patriarchy, George R. R. Martin isn’t saying it’s awesome. He’s showing us, through his female characters, exactly how fucked up it is.
Now, onto the archetypes, specifically Arya and Sansa. Here’s what Ms. Rasmussen had to say about the Stark sisters:
The Tomboy. Arya Stark, the little daughter with a boy’s haircut, learns to wield a sword and become an assassin. She is clearly metamorphosing into another favorite recent archetype, the Woman Warrior (think Guenevere in King Arthur, Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy or Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games).
The Princess. Sansa Stark, sister to the Tomboy, is not too bright and is often punished for her vapid and romantic delusions. In case you had any doubt which, the Tomboy or the Princess, is more appealing to contemporary audiences, compare what happens to poor Sansa to her clear-minded, independent sister.
The Stark sisters exist to show us two wildly different ways young women deal with the cards they have been dealt. Arya survives by embracing the masculine, and Sansa survives by embracing the feminine. Neither is wrong. Arya rebels against the sexist society, while Sansa attempts to use it to her advantage.
Sansa is incredibly clever. Her romantic notions were killed along with her pet dire wolf. Now, a girl who is not bright would have taken that moment (or any number of other horrible events Joffrey inflicted on her) to say, “You’re an asshole, I am not marrying you!” Instead, Sansa is very aware that the only way she’ll have an ounce of power, the only way she can possibly survive is to stick close to Joffrey for as long as she can. She attempted once to kill Joffrey, but failed, and continued to try to manipulate the system in her favor. Sansa is an incredibly strong and clever young woman, and I’m very interested to see what happens to her next season now that her small amount of power and insurance has evaporated. (DON’T TELL ME, DAMMIT!)
Arya, meanwhile, isn’t quite as trapped as Sansa, both literally and figuratively. She has more freedom to rebel and take on the role of a boy.
The Stark girls offer two ways of dealing with the same problem that all young women face within Westros, a place where their options are severely limited. One remains and gives the appearance of submissive conformity while working the system as it is, while the other flees the oppressive society to find her own path, but is always under the threat of being pulled back in.
The article goes on to poorly define Cersi as a Seductress and Catelyn Stark as the Good Wife, but we’ll have to save those smackdowns for another post.