As you may have noticed, there’s been a post going around the ASoIaF/GoT fandom asserting that those fans who have taken it upon themselves to call out problematic statements they see in the tags are running a dictatorship of sorts, in which there are definitive rules about which characters you’re allowed to like and dislike. In particular, the comments appended to the post as it circulates seem to be directed at stans of Cersei, Catelyn, and Sansa, who are characterized as over-zealous, ready to categorize any dislike of their favorites as sexism.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging that yes, discussion has gotten heated on both sides, even to the point of some uncalled-for mudslinging. And yes, unprovoked or misplaced meanness is hurtful and unproductive. But what is worrying to me is that these comments seem to be identifying the entire mode of discussion as in the wrong—the calling out of isms is characterized as oppressive, fun-killing, and (this is the one that really gets me) unnecessary.
In fact, one of the most-reblogged comments states that the group of people actually making problematic statements is “probably only a few people large anyway.”
I don’t know how much people reblogging this post have interacted with portions of the fandom outside of tumblr, but there is a damn good reason the tumblr climate is the way that it is.
(trigger warning: discussions of sexism, violence against women, rape, domestic violence, and general grossness)
ALSO SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS
This is the fandom where new actresses are constantly scrutinized on the basis of their appearances (the w-i-c comments on Michelle Fairley’s casting are, on a balance, horrid) with the justification of “book purity,” while the men in the cast are praised even if they completely contravene the original descriptions (Tyrion and Jorah being the two most egregious examples).
This is the fandom where criticism of Cersei is almost exclusively couched in gendered terms like “cunt,” “whore,” “slut,” and “bitch,” rather than substantive commentary on her villainy. Where her husband’s domestic abuse and marital rape is often celebrated because it’s “what she deserves.” Moreover, she receives this intense hatred where Jaime, who is textually the same person (one person in two bodies, if I were a woman I’d be Cersei, reflections in a mirror, it’s stated in the text over and over and over again) is almost universally adored.
This is the fandom where towerofthehand.com did a poll (a poll! way more than one or two people!) of most hated characters and Catelyn Stark placed above Ramsay Bolton (yes, this was before ADwD, but let us not forget that he had already forced Lady Hornwood into a marriage, locked her in a tower, and starved her until she ate her own fingers in desperation). Some fun excerpts from that essay (emphasis mine):
bad mother … whining … in front of her brother Edmure’s men, she reproaches him for having some fun with the ladies and later chastises him for hoping the woman he’s going to spend the rest of his life with doesn’t look like a weasel … she witnesses the assassination of (as far as she knows) her last surviving son, goes mad, and is finally put out of her misery—and ours … there are no happy endings, so she is brought back to us, worse than ever, as Lady Stoneheart. We haven’t seen much of her since her resurrection, but just knowing that we’re not completely rid of her rankles us … we thank the gods every day that she hasn’t returned for further emoting as a POV character, and can also take some solace in the fact that Ser Raymund did a reasonably good job on her vocal chords
This is the fandom where I, when expressing love for Catelyn among a group of my rl friends, was shouted down, told she is endlessly annoying and for that crime didn’t suffer enough.
This is the fandom where Sansa, one of the sweetest, most morally good characters in the books, consistently receives some of the most vitriolic hate I’ve seen in any fandom. A sampling (all from different people, ftr):
YOU LITTLE WHINY BITCH. That little whore has no substance. … [in response to a gif of her being beaten and stripped in front of the court] I hate her though, so it’s fine. … vapid, needy, helpless … a total bitch sometimes (because of her ignorance mostly)
The hate for Sansa is so palpable that Sophie Turner actually commented on it at a panel, saying (again, emphasis mine):
A lot of people do dislike Sansa, and they dislike her from the books so I guess I’m doing my job, hopefully well? But sometimes the dislike goes a bit too far and people say horrible things about Sansa that they want to happen to her. Sometimes it goes too far, and it upsets me because then I kind of feel like, “Am I making her too annoying?” Like, people want to kill her? Really? So, um, it hurts.
An isolated group of a few people? No. THIS IS SO WIDE-SPREAD THAT A CHILD ACTOR NOT ONLY FOUND OUT ABOUT IT, BUT WAS HURT BY IT.
And there, ladies and gents, is the point. Baseless, gendered, and yes, sexist hatred is a widespread and ongoing problem in this fandom, and it hurts. It hurts the actresses, who work hard to portray complex, multi-layered women only to see them reduced to “sluts” in the general discourse. It hurts the fandom, who absorb and then perpetuate conceptions of femininity that have no room for ambition (bitchy), sexual freedom (whorish), anger (even more bitchy), traditionally “girlish” characteristics (shallow), idealism (stupid), or a whole host of other traits that, when taken in total, comprise basically all available options. It especially hurts those who have suffered similar insults for the crime of being a woman, and who see in these characters things they admire and/or relate to.
The ASoIaF fandom has a long and storied history of creating a toxic climate of sexism, often culminating in calls for gruesome violence against the female characters. I’m not sure why I even have to say it, but this is a problem. This is harmful. So the response to people calling you out on contributing to that climate really shouldn’t be “stop ruining our fun!” I don’t know about you, but my fun gets ruined when someone says an 11-year old girl deserves torture and humiliation as a punishment for her naivete.
Trying to guilt into silence those people who have fought long and hard against what I would argue is the dominant mode of discourse in this fandom is part of the problem. It’s a tactic used just as often by those who have made problematic statements as those who haven’t. Yes, some people have been mean. But other people have been deeply, horrifically problematic, and even more people have casually validated the language and tone of their arguments by adopting their words, indicating even vague agreement, or even just ignoring the issue and thus condoning their actions.
And that is something I’m just not willing to do.