The Vagenda

Game of Thrones: So, it’s OK to skin a woman alive, as long as you don’t rape her?

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Ah Game of Thrones: what a show. It’s a pretty grim mashup of rape, incest, murder, betrayal, double dealing and just about anything else unspeakably awful that you can imagine could take place on a television screen. Every episode unleashes a fresh wave of vileness upon us, but how we love it! It’s as though we’re asking, nay, begging, ‘How low into the depths of depravity can people go?’ and Game of Thrones answers by saying ‘Here! Let me show you!’

One character who really is revolting is the stomach-churningly disturbing Ramsay Bolton. Think of the most awful, horrific, disgusting and evil person you can and you’ve just about conjured this nightmare of a human being. The character’s played absolutely brilliantly by Iwan Rheon. It is a genius performance because I retch every time I think about him. Seriously, I nearly threw up for a second there.

Now, I realise I’m a couple of weeks late for the outrage of this particular storyline but please bear with me and be aware of the spoilers if you’re not quite caught up with this season. Sansa Stark, a young, innocent and quietly brave character was raped in the show a couple of weeks ago. By her new husband (Ramsay, bleurgh). On her wedding night. While Theon, sorry, Reek *shudders* was forced to watch. It was an awful thing to see on screen and, as a result, the response was heated. Vanity Fair found it unnecessary, American Senator Claire McCaskill declared on twitter that she was ‘done’ with the show and book fans were horrified at the deviation from the original storyline.

Last week, I watched the following episode and (again spoilers ahead…) it got even worse for Sansa as Ramsay ramped up the revolting yet again by skinning alive an older woman who cared for her and who could have provided her a means of escape. He then gloatingly shows Sansa the grisly remains of her ally, ladling on a nice helping of psychological abuse along with the sexual. Honestly, after everything this young woman’s been through it’s a wonder she’s not rocking in a corner somewhere in her own piss, completely unhinged (maybe that’s next season?)

Out of curiosity, I checked to see what the response to this episode had been and I found…well, I found nothing really. And it made me wonder: why is it that everyone gets so upset over sexual violence towards women on television but not really that bothered about the non sexual physical violence? Surely, flaying a woman should be just as horrific to us as raping a woman? How is it that we are so desensitised to physical violence yet so disgusted by sexual violence? Shouldn’t we be as equally appalled by both?

In comparison, thinking about non-sexual physical violence in contrast to sexual violence in the real world also got my noodle ticking. After a rake through the Violence Against Women and Girls Report 2013-2014, I found that of the 87,071 domestic violence prosecutions of that year, 58,276 (74.6%) resulted in a conviction.  Of the 3,891 rape prosecutions, 2,348 (60.3%) resulted in a conviction. So it’s really obvious that it’s easier to win a conviction in a case of physical violence as opposed to sexual violence. What’s also really obvious is that a woman who has suffered an act of physical violence is more likely to go to the police than if she’s been raped.

Through a friend, I met woman who was a victim of sexual violence and who had chosen not to report it. I know of some more, as I’m sure some of you do too. After a woman has been raped, we may imagine her going straight to the police in a panic or going home and having an emotional breakdown while scrubbing her skin in the shower until there’s practically nothing left (all informed by popular and visual culture, naturally). This woman told me that while she was being attacked she didn’t fight or try to run or make a sound. She also knew her attacker, in fact she’d been dating him and up until the point where he started to assault her she had thought about having sex with him. She stayed very still and after it was over, she stood up and went home. When she got home she made herself a cup of tea and sat and thought about what to do next. She thought about what she’d been wearing, how much she’d drank and how sexually active she was. She didn’t know how it could be proven that she hadn’t consented, she felt it would simply be a case of his word against hers and was terrified that she would be labelled as a woman who lied and ‘cried rape’ (kudos to the media for this one by the way. Thanks to them donating more column inches to this than necessary, we have a distorted perception of the amount of woman found guilty of false accusations of rape. Think it’s in the hundreds? Try 35 convictions from 2011 to 2012). So, for these reasons and many others she decided not to contact the police. How many other women are there like her? I wish there was a way to find out how many woman haven’t reported a sexual attack, I bet we’d be absolutely floored.

So, back to Game of Thrones. I want to know why so many people are so outraged by rape when we watch it on the telly (You know, when it’s being acted. When it’s fictional). Meanwhile, over in the real world society really doesn’t seem that bothered. If we were as bothered about it as we should be surely the statistics I talked about earlier would be healthier and more rape victims would be confident enough in the criminal justice system to report the crime. It’s also interesting to me that we got so upset about the rape scene and not so bothered about the brutal murder of a sweet old lady yet in the real world it’s almost as though the opposite is true.

With Dame Elish Angiolini basically telling the Metropolitan Police to get its shit together in her recent report and a rape victim recently receiving £20,000 compensation over the way Hampshire Police handled her case (I personally think they fucked it up beyond all recognition around about the time they threatened to arrest her for lying), things are looking like they might be ever so slowly heading in the right direction. Obviously the goal is for no human being to ever be harmed in any way ever again, but unfortunately that’s never going to happen. The goal should be that no matter who the victim or what the crime, they should have the faith and the confidence that they and their report will be taken as seriously by us as Sansa Stark’s rape was.


12 thoughts on “Game of Thrones: So, it’s OK to skin a woman alive, as long as you don’t rape her?

  1. I would assume it’s because we have a culture that excuses rape, thus a heightened distaste for it being presented in media so easily. No one would say “boys will be boys” if someone got flayed.

    • Non-sequitur, LK. How did you go from ‘our culture excuses rape’ to ‘therefore we are react with distaste towards media portrayals of rape’? People are not easily offended by culturally excused/accepted practices; to the contrary, if a practice is culturally accepted or excused, it logically follows that its depiction in the media would not elicit a response of distaste to its portrayal, because a response of distaste is a sign of disapproval and not acceptance as would be the case if rape were accepted or excused.

  2. A large part of me is pretty convinced that the outrage towards the rape scene on GoT is more a case of us collectively clutching our pearls than it is a feminist outcry. Violence on the show? Gross, but let’s keep watching. Sex on the show? Lowbrow and shocking, but let’s hit that next episode. Put them together simultaneously? Now a line has been crossed. Obviously in real life we can’t be tossed, but we can get mad at HBO. I think it’s more a “how dare you show me this” offendedness, and not the human rights type.

  3. I haven’t actually seen the show, (although I have read the books) so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the difference is that rape is inherently gendered, whereas being skinned alive isn’t? Ramsey seems pretty happy to skin anything within grabbing distance, regardless of gender.

  4. I would have to agree that whilst rape is gendered being skinned alive is not. Although gruesome and disgusting Ramsay Bolton treats both men and women equally in this manner.

    On top of that could the out cry over rape rather than excessive violence be to do with the issue of sexual violence – where sexual assault and rape are to some extent normalised by a patriarchal culture and so it is disturbing to see this attitude reflected in popular media, we are very far from having a mass of under reported skinning incidents (partly perhaps because, as already established, this can effect both men and women). So whilst sexual violence trivialises a culturally under reported issue for amusement at the expensive of mostly, if no exclusively, women, excessive non-sexual violence provides entertainment at the expense of everyones discomfort.

  5. NCI- the impressive thing about GoT is actually how similarly the sexes are treated- in unspeakably horrible ways. The ‘Reek’ that she mentioned actually has his penis cut off by Ramsey. He was sexually tortured. A lot.

    So… although in general rape in TV is upsetting, it was certainly not outside of a normal episode for this show. It was not a special, in poor taste attack for woman. The only time I found a scene like that shocking was when it was with Cersei and her brother or with Dany and her new husband- ONLY because in the books, those are not written as rapes. No one was upset about those? I was very surprised everyone was so upset, especially because it was VERY in-character for this to occur. The foreshadowing was not even subtle…

    I don’t really understand the outrage personally.

  6. I sooo wanted to write something on this! I was very surprised at the backlash this scene got. Really? It’s series 5 of a BRUTALLY violent show! And why did no one complain when Theon was sexually mutilated?? Plus some people seemed to think it was gratuitous of the creators to show it as it doesn’t happen in the book: it does!! Just to a different character. It was an awful, awful scene and I would never ever want to trivialise it but it was no worse than the bit where Ramsay let his dogs kill a woman, or the flayed woman or Theon’s continual torture or Robert’s illegitimate children being slaughtered.

  7. I think it’s because rape in this situation was gendered. It’s not just sexual torture, but socially sanctioned marital rape, which would not happen to men on the patriarchal world that GRRM has created (and to his credit, he creates far more discourse and criticism in his books than what gets presented in the show e.g queenmaker, asha greyjoy.)

    What REALLY stung for me is the narrative inconsistency of it. Sansa is a high born lady. She believes herself to be the last stark, and knows how valuable and tactical marriage is. It makes NO sense for her to obey Littlefingers plan once he has left. It does not empower her. As a narrative choice, they have actually chosen to continue to disempower a character that by all rights should be slowly learning how to be more powerful herself, as shown in the last season. It’s like being reminded of your place in a patriarchal world with no counter-message of hope present (il unlike in the books).

    Skinning a servant who betrayed you? That’s just feudalism and tyranny. Not misogyny or patriarchy. We all understand that as different violence.

  8. I would suggest we get more upset about rape than skinning a person because rape and sexual assault is much closer to home and more likely to be a lived experience. I can’t deal with it because of my past experiences. But then I can’t speak for others.

  9. There is no shortage of sexual violence on the show. Does anyone recall Ramsay severing Theon’s penis? Or Joffrey killing the whores sent to pleasure him? Or Sir Jamie raping Cersei beside the corpse of their incestuous offspring? What about Renly being imprisoned and, presumably, tortured, for homosexuality?

    The point is not that the show glamorizes violence against women; it casts an uncomfortable light on the horrible crimes humans have always perpetrated on one another. As is often the case with fantasy and science fiction, Game of Thrones (and its original book series) is as much about the world today as the remote fictional world it portrays.

  10. I agree that the reaction was bit odd and possibly extreme. I understand the criticism, though — the show handles rape poorly, and while I understand that they want to show that it’s a regular, horrible part of everyday life, I think that kind of idea needs to be handled with a care and nuance they don’t seem to be capable of. In the books, the chapter’s describing Ramsay’s marriage are told from Theon’s perspective, and the woman married isn’t a main character — this is a plot which serves to further Theon’s storyline, not hers, and both she and Theon are abused in these chapters. Replacing Jeyne Poole with Sansa leads to different expectations, and removing Theon’s abuse from this season’s story confuses things further. This change serves Theon’s character far more than Sansa’s — it drives him towards something resembling heroism, and while the actual act wasn’t outrageous in the context of the story, I can see how this decision could seem outrageous from a storytelling perspective.

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