Patriarchal Ideas in Modern Culture: Game of Thrones and Sexual Consent

Patriarchal Ideas in Modern Culture: Game of Thrones and Sexual Consent April 26, 2014
This might have been Dany’s wedding night but there’s still no much in the way of sexual consent going on.

by Suzanne Titkemeyer

How can we expect the ideas of sexual consent by women to be understood by people such as Chris Jeub when patriarchal fundamentalist ideas of rape and purity culture have been adopted by many way, way outside of the patriarchal world. Not only adopted but embraced, promoted, explained away.

This week there has been quite a discussion going on in the blogsphere on the idea of sexual consent because of last Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones” and the reaction of the writer and director over the outcry over the sexual encounter shown between two of the main characters.

If you’ve not seen “Game of Thrones” here’s the short explanation. It’s a series of books written by George R. R. Martin that have been adapted into a television show for HBO. It takes place in a made up Medieval world and is about various members of seven different kingdoms fighting for the right to be king of all the kingdoms. The show is graphic, bloody and interesting. Many of the storylines were lifted straight out of ancient British royal history.

It’s not for the faint of heart to begin with. Real history is frequently messy and violent. This show reflects that.

This week Queen Cersei and her twin brother Jaime Lannister were shown having sex near the body of their slain son, Kin Joffrey. They’ve been having a sexual relationship for many years according to the backstory in the book. It wasn’t pretty or fun sex, in fact, it looked like rape to most viewers with Cersei pleading no, no, no to her brother’s advances.

There is a lot of rape going on in the GoT world, along with prostitution and incest and other frowned up sexual practices, but many of us were outraged because this scene was completely out of character for the two participants and those connected with the show shrugged off so many people calling this rape. They acted like sexual consent wasn’t actually a thing.

Cersei & Jaime

Here’s some of what is being said:

Salon – Game of Thrones glamorizes rape: That was not consent and rape is not an narrative device

In last night’s episode, Cersei was raped by her brother and lover Jaime, next to the corpse of their son Joffrey. Jaime was enraged because Cersei had asked him to kill Tyrion Lannister, their brother, whom she blames for the murder of Joffrey. There was no ambiguity to the scene. Cersei repeatedly said no. She said, “Stop.” She said, “Not here.” She said, “This is not right.” She resisted Jaime’s efforts, to no avail. The scene was unequivocally a rape scene and it was not merely shocking. It was thoroughly senseless. The episode’s director, Alex Graves, said, of the scene, “Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” He goes on to add, “That’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done.”

Think Progress – What That Game of Thrones Scene Says About Rape Culture

When asked directly whether it’s rape, Coster-Waldau responded, “Yes, and no. There are moments where she gives in, and moments where she pushes him away. But it’s not pretty.” The director, Alex Graves, has expressed a similar perspective. “Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle,” Graves told Alan Sepinwall in a recent interview.

Although Game of Thrones fans recoiled at the scene between Jaime and Cersei, it’s unfortunately not hard to see the attitudes that could have contributed to creating it. We’re raised in a society that doesn’t teach people they can withdraw their consent at any moment, doesn’t emphasize that sexual partners need to be seeking explicit consent every step of the way, and doesn’t draw hard lines in the sand when it comes to what’s considered assault. We frequently tell sexual assault survivors that what they experienced didn’t really “count” as rape.

If Graves and Coster-Waldau were attempting to portray something that viewers would perceive as consensual, they obviously didn’t succeed. And the fact that there’s such a gulf between those apparent intentions and the scene’s reception speaks to some fundamental truths about our society’s failure to clarify what constitutes a consensual sexual relationship in the first place. These two men certainly aren’t alone in their assumptions that sexual assault can have blurred lines, that something violent and invasive can become a “turn-on,” that two people who have a previous sexual history aren’t likely to have a purely nonconsensual experience. Those are incredibly common rape myths, and they’re pervasive in influencing our attitudes about sexual assault.

View for yourself and tell me this isn’t rape.

If even people not involved with patriarchy can claim that rape is not rape, then what chance do we have to educate others about purity culture, rape culture and sexual consent? What is the best way to wake up the world to the truth of sexual consent?

Comments open below

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce

13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession by M Dolon Hickmon

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  • Astrin Ymris

    I’m still feeling bad, but I do feel I should state that in the books, Drogo got Daenerys’s fairly-enthusiastic consent on her wedding night.

    What does it say about the showrunners that they felt the need to add rapey elements to sex scenes which were consensual in the books?

  • persephone

    I pointed out on another site that relenting does not equal consent.

    In the book Cersei says no because she’s afraid they’ll be discovered. In the book, Jaime had just returned, instead of having been back for weeks, and found Cersei mourning in the chapel. They’re both overwhelmed by seeing each other again. The only reluctance in the books is the fear someone could hear them or see them. It was not rape in the books.

    I’ve been getting progressively more annoyed with the excessive amount of nudity, sex scenes and brutality in the show. Yes, the story is brutal in places, but I feel like the show runners have taken advantage of being on HBO to choose to dwell on it, as opposed to using it as a contrast. Also, they’ve often weakened the women’s characters, something that commonly happens in screen adaptations. So Game of Thrones has been dropped from my DVR.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I got that photo of Daenery off a Christian site that stated why a Good Christian ™ should never watch GoT.

    Rereading the books I am reminded that after the first week or so the story of Dany and Drogo was a love story. A different type of love story but love never the less. Dismayed that they portrayed it as lesser than that.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Sometimes GoT feels like The Wire to me. Excessive naughtiness just because it’s HBO and can happen. Doesn’t actually make the show any better, sometimes it detracts from the story.

  • Rebecca Horne

    Seriously…She gave in, therefore, it’s only partially rape? I’d comment on that, but I’m having trouble thinking of any non-swear words right now.

  • Saraquill

    What surprises me is that there’s talk about rape in the show NOW, and not nearly as much of a fuss when it happened (and happened, and happened) in the first season.

  • persephone

    I’m burned out on the over-sensationalization of a lot of TV and movies. I’ve dropped so many shows because of it.

  • persephone

    You didn’t read the post?

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I now only watch the occasional L&O rerun, some GoT and Sex Sent Me To The ER.

  • Jewel

    I agree. In fact, in the book, I don’t recall that sodomy was involved at all. At least, it was not specifically stated. The photo is very triggering, and it is deplorable that they show decided to make the main characters’ love stories involve rape when there was none in the books (not that there was no rape, but not between the couples who are actually in love with each other).

  • Jewel

    I agree. I loved the first book (the only one I’ve read) but can’t stand the HBO series. It is totally different (for the worse) in my opinion.

  • texcee

    I have to take a bit of issue here. “Game of Thrones” has nothing to do with Evangelical Patriarchy. GoT depicts a barbaric, brutal and murderous fantasy world. The scene between Jaime and Cersei was graphic evidence of that — two bad people doing something bad. Let’s not forget that they are brother and sister, fraternal twins, who have a long sexual relationship. Joffrey was the product of their incestuous relationship. Cersei is completely ruthless and will stop at nothing to be the power behind the throne. Jaime’s role is becoming more ambiguous, but he’s still one of the bad guys in the story. Did he rape his sister? In the book, the scene is consensual. There are entire blogs that do nothing but discuss this. I don’t think trying to shoehorn GoT into a fringe Christian movement is really applicable, anymore than the preacher who accused Captain Kirk of beastiality in the last Star Trek movie because the two girls he was in bed with had tails.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    The point I was trying to make wasn’t so much about GoT as it was to the attitudes of the director to the fans disliking that one episode of sexual violence. He doesn’t believe it’s rape, just consensual sex. Sure doesn’t look that way, but instead of saying, ‘Yeah, Jaime raped his sister.’ he is saying “The episode’s director, Alex Graves, said, of the scene, “Well,
    it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately
    results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” He goes on to add,
    “That’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done.””

    It’s the attitude of those TPTB have an attitude that rape between people involved in a consensual sexual relationship doesn’t exist. If that’s not a patriarchal idea in modern culture what is?

  • Lucreza Borgia

    In the books, Dany was crying because her ass was sore from riding a horse for days on end, not because she was being raped.

  • Saraquill

    I’m aware that the image is a reference to a thing that happened early in season one.

    To clarify, as season one, and then two and three came out and became a huge thing, I heard nary a peep about any particular non-con scene. After a couple of seasons, I heard about those scenes in aggregate, but the displeasure violence, random naked ladies and skin colors was much more vocal.

  • persephone

    My Sunday HBO viewing is now Silicon Valley. I’m also watching the new show, Turn, about the spy network set up during the Revolutionary War on Sundays.

  • texcee

    Suzanne, I DO agree with you here, but the point I was trying to make was that it’s not entirely valid to compare fiction with reality. The depiction of rape and — let’s face it — murder, cannibalism, child sacrifice, incest, debauchery, betrayal, etc., etc., etc. in “Game of Thrones” is there to illustrate how bad the bad guys are. I don’t think it’s to condone any of this in Real Life. I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy fiction for the past 35 years and, when you create a world in which to place your characters, sometimes it’s necessary for things to get ugly. One of the first rules in fiction writing is “Show, don’t tell”. That’s how I view what’s shown on GoT. They are showing us how awful conditions in Westeros are.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I actually have no problem with all of that. I write fiction too and when you create your own world it’s all your rules and they don’t have to be right or just or have any moral construction.

    Samantha wrote a piece explaining my disgust and others outrage while explaining it better than I ever could –

  • Ferlonda

    Just because Drogo mounted Daenerys’ from behind doesn’t mean it was sodomy. That position is the preferred one by the Horse Lords probably in imitation of their horses. And yes, in the books their wedding night is actually quite lovely. Nothing like the rape scene in the series. I was really disappointed by that. It made Drogo into a monster which he was not at all.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I know, I loved the Drogo/Dany pairing in the book. Not at all what I expected. He loved her and she came to love him. I think I liked the Dothrakis much better than the folks of Westeros. The Dothraki are at least honest and have a strange integrity in all they do.

  • Ferlonda

    I loved their relationship! It was one of the most healthy and honest in all the GoT’s books. I was really sorry when Drogo died. Also, yes, the Dothraki are far more trustworthy than the folks of Westeros! *shudder* I have to be careful how much of the books I read or how much of the show I watch because it can make me sick. Great stories but *shudder* sometimes I just have to take a break and recover.