Speaking of Women's Rights: Game of Thrones and Sexual Violence

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Game of Thrones and Sexual Violence

By Brittany Carpenter 

As you may have heard, the hit HBO show Game of Thrones has caused a huge stir this past week. In the latest episode, a major character was raped on her wedding night by a character whose reputation on the program has already been well established as sadistic and villainous.

Fans reacted to this scene in various ways. To fans of the book series Game of Thrones, this scene marks the third (!) time the writers of the TV adaptation have included a rape scene where one didn’t exist for the particular character in the novels.

Additionally, many men and women have been speaking out about how the scene triggered an extremely negative and unsettling reaction for them, declaring its inclusion unnecessary and over the line of acceptable content for television.

However, there has been another contingent of the show’s audience saying to those who were upset by the scene: “What’s the big deal? Game of Thrones includes a lot of unsettling content!”

Throughout the existence of the show, characters have been tortured, violently murdered and even castrated. Children have been burned to death. An incestuous relationship between a brother and sister is an integral part of one of the major storylines. Most people would agree that those are actions are, indeed, unsettling and disturbing.

So…what’s the big deal? Why is portraying rape any different?

While those other acts of violence do still persist worldwide, sexual violence is alarmingly prevalent in our society with not enough being done to prevent it, or even acknowledge its effects on victims.This scene, not unlike the other two previously enacted on the show, depicts the violent action as a catalyst for a change in plot, but hardly (if ever) deals with the mental and emotional repercussions for the victim. While other violent acts, such as castration, are absolutely disturbing, the fact of the matter is that they simply do not happen as often or are debated as publicly as is sexual violence.

As a woman, and as someone who has known victims of sexual violence, the image of rape as portrayed and treated in news stories, in politics, and in entertainment, is jarring.

Take, for example, Emma Sulkowicz, the student who was sexually attacked at Columbia University. She carried around her mattress in protest of the school administration’s lack of response and action to her complaint for the remainder of her education. Several days ago, Sulkowicz graduated from Columbia, opting to carry her mattress across the stage despite protests from university officials. In response, the President of the university refused to shake her hand. By refusing to shake Sulkowicz’s hand, the President chose not to acknowledge her attack, including any emotional and physical repercussions that resulted from it.  

It is painfully apparent, based on this and many other instances in both fiction and reality, that people are either not aware or worse, choose not to acknowledge the frequency and effects of sexual violence in our society. As a result, when these scenes do stir conversation, people are surprised at the amount of negative backlash.

It is disappointing to see so many people not understand why rape is such a sensitive topic. However, I remain hopeful that the more the issue of sexual violence is portrayed to the masses, the more it will further the conversation about its frequency and effect on victims. Without that essential feedback, how can the minds of politicians and scriptwriters ever change?

Brittany Carpenter works in marketing by day and studies for her MBA by night. In her spare time (is there any?) she likes to travel to watch her favorite football team, sample the amazing beer of the Pacific NW, and catch up on her favorite TV shows.

Image via HBO