Cersei Lannister, Rape Culture, and a Lot of Me Flipping the Bird in General

Cersei Lannister, Rape Culture, and a Lot of Me Flipping the Bird in General May 3, 2014

by Samantha Field cross posted from her blog Defeating The Dragons

Trigger Warning: Sexual violence

I’ve read G. R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire up through Feast of Crows, and I’m currently reading Dance of Dragons, albeit slowly. The books are a struggle for me to read, as an abuse and rape survivor. I do enjoy them, although I caution people to engage with Martin’s world critically. He’s been hailed by a lot of people as a “feminist” writer, but I am extremely hesitant to think of him in those terms (read Sady Doyle’s piece there– it’s both hysterically funny and insightful).

Since the beginning, I have appreciated both Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister as characters. Cersei, up until Storm of Swords, was an extremely relatable character for me– she was forced into a difficult position by the expectations of her father, of her culture, and of her husband, but she did what she could to find happiness in the midst of an abusive marriage and constant rape. There isn’t a lot about her that I would describe as noble, but she felt realistic to me, and I found myself grudgingly admiring her.

And then Storm of Swords happened, and Martin makes it blatantly obvious that we’re all supposed to hate her now because she’s ridiculously incompetent– completely robbed of sense because, well, lady-hormones. I don’t really follow Game of Thrones as a show, but I’m a part of online nerd/geek communities, so I have a passing familiarity with what the show is like.

Last week, everything in that part of my internet circles exploded because of the rape scene, which a lot of people are insisting diverges from the books. I find that accusation a little amusing because Robb Stark doesn’t even marry the same woman in the show, but this scene seems to matter to people a little bit more for inexplicable reasons. I wouldn’t be bothered by the scene diverging from the book– it is a completely different medium, and the artists — the writers, the directors, the actors, the editors– are already telling an entirely different story than the one Martin originally penned, and in a lot of ways I think the direction they’ve taken is intriguing (from what I can tell).

However, in this one scene they stayed true to the book.

Jaime does, in fact, rape Cersei in the sept next to Joffrey’s dead body.

She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.”

There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue.

“No,”

she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”

“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath.

She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods.

He never heard her.

He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.

That is rape. There is no other word for this scene. Jaime raped Cersei, full stop.

And, honestly, by this point in the books a rape scene would cause yawn, well of course a woman got raped it’s Martin writing this for heaven’s sake what did you think would happen? There are various things to be said about how often people are raped in Martin’s fantasy world, but I’m not really here to critique the existence of rape in his books. It’s what he does with it, and this scene in particular, that deeply, deeply troubles me, because of what happens next:

“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.”

This, I have a problem with– because this is a rape myth. It actually gets a freaking number on the Women Against Violence’s list of “Rape Myths”– it’s #17: “When a woman says no, she really means maybe or yes.” It’s the idea that women secretly all want it, they just have to be persuadedHorrifically, “with my dick” can finish that sentence without the person immediately retching at the utterly revolting idea just expressed.

In Martin’s world, hysterical shrew-bitch women like Cersei Lannister do not get to have their “no” listened to (and we get to say “no” for whatever the HELL reason we want), and strong, handsome, virile, maiden-defending men like Jaime get to fuck them anyway because actually, she really does want it and I just know because . . . well, no reason– and look, see, she’s getting off on my awesome manly ravishing of her! Wow, bitches by cray, amiright? Let your little freak flag fly, Cersei!

But, horrifyingly, this isn’t a rape scene to a disturbing number of people. Chris Ostendorf described it as “complicated consensual sex.” To a lot of people, that she’s saying no to the circumstances somehow makes it not real rape. She would have had sex with him, if it wasn’t for his hand, or where they were, or the septons, or their father somehow finding out, etc.

I have a gigantic, rage-inducing problem with this for the simple reason that when I told my rapist “no,” that is exactly what I sounded like. I couldn’t physically stop someone almost twice my weight, and so I did everything within my power to persuade him to stop. I told him it hurt– he did not stop. I told him “no,” he did not stop. I told him “please, not now,” he did not stop. I said “what if your parents come home?” but he did not stop. I told him I didn’t think it was right (“wrath of the gods,”) and he did not stop.

Finally, I gave up and tried not to let him see me cry because I knew he would hurt me even more if he did. When he assaulted me again, and again, and again, and again, and Again, and AGAIN, I learned that it would all just be over if he got what he wanted. He would leave me alone and go and play Halo if I just played along, no matter how much he hurt me, no matter how often I vomited after because what he made me do to him disgusted me.

So, for all of you people who are arguing that Jaime didn’t rape Cersei:

FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU TO FUCKING HELL.

To George R. R. Martin, the twisted fuck who wrote this scene and is perpetuating the exact rape myth that has caused me unending agony: fuck you. To Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays Jaime), who thinks because “it wasn’t just [rape]” it’s somehow justifiable: fuck you. To Sonia Saraiya who thinks there’s “wiggle room” in whether or not we think Cersei “enthusiastically consented”: fuck you. To Chris Ostendorf, who given the chance would describe my rape as “complicated consensual sex”– fuck you, too. Fuck you all.

*edit: in speaking with a friend about this post, I realized I need to make something clearer. My problem with this scene in the book (for this post, at least) isn’t that Martin has written yet another rape scene. It’s that what he’s written is a rape myth– a chauvinistic fantasy about male-centric sex that ignores or denies women the ability to consent. Cersei told Jaime no seven different ways, but then suddenly starts begging for it– literally. This is an extremely dominant myth about the difference between rape and consensual sex, and it is a lived experience for many women and men.

When I discovered that “playing along” with my rapist’s assaults and rapes meant that I would experience much less pain and suffering and the event would be over much faster, I began acting out his pornographic fantasies about sex in order to appease him. There was nothing I could do to stop him from assaulting me or raping me– not my words, not physical resistance, and I was trapped in an abusive relationship. Playing along was how I survived.

Martin believes that this is not rape because of the rape myth he believes in– that our culture believes in. Cersei’s apparent enjoyment of her rape (and remember, this scene is written from the rapist’s point of view, not the victim’s, and most rapists think that their behavior is acceptable and normal) in the real world of modern America could be a survival mechanism for an abuse victim– and usually is. Martin does not think that Jaime raped Cersei here, because he believes that women can be manipulative whores who say no in order to be “hard to get,” but in reality really just need to be sexually assaulted into silence and then fucked into realizing what the rapist knew all along– that she actually wanted it.

This is one of the most grievous lies of rape culture.

Read everything by Samantha!

Samantha grew up in the homeschool, patriarchy, quiverfull, and fundamentalist movements, and experienced first-hand the terror and manipulation of spiritual abuse. She is now married to an amazing, gentle man who doesn’t really get what happened to her but loves her anyway. With him by her side and the strength of God’s promises, she is slowly healing.

Samantha blogs at Defeating The Dragons and is a member of The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

Comments open below

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Astrin Ymris

    I have to admit, I didn’t catch this in the book. Probably because I skimmed over a lot of the explicit sex scenes, but still.

    However, I think Sady Doyle’s critique of George R.R. Martin is unfair in that he doesn’t claim to be writing about role models in an imagined enlightened world. He’s writing about characters who are all flawed– some hugely so– and who are a product of their own cultures, with their thinking blinkered by the memes they grew up with.

    Our thinking on sexual consent has evolved hugely since I was a child. In fact, if the scene in question had aired thirty years ago, it’s probably passed without question outside of women’s studies departments. Let’s not photoshop our own history, because that keeps us from seeing the huge progress we’ve made.

    I also want to point out that since Tyrion was 1) a child at the time, and 2) coerced by his father, he can’t be held to be a rapist for participating in Tywin Lannister’s sick idea of paternal instruction.

    I’m slowly working my way through ‘A Dance of Dragons’, too.

  • Saraquill

    I appreciate your discussing the scene of the book and heartfelt commentary of it.

  • Saraquill

    The thought of their lips returning to the skin of the victims makes my skin crawl. Would you object if I replaced feet with broken glass or barbed wire?

  • Saraquill

    I tried to read the Sady Doyle thing linked above, but I couldn’t get in very far. She doesn’t use hyperbole or exclamation points very well. In fact, in the first few paragraphs, she emphasized so many words, that I was losing the meaning beneath the tone. do you know what it was she was trying to say?

  • Astrin Ymris

    Basically, Sady Doyle sarcastically totaled up the number of times female characters were 1) a victim of sexual assault, 2) threatened with sexual assault, and 3) made a stupid and/or immoral choice over the course of the books.

    Like I said, I don’t think George R.R. Martin is pretending that any of his characters are perfect, nor that any of the cultures he writes about are meant to be models of just societies. His focus is on showing how his characters think and feel as they try to navigate through a violent, sexist, classist, ableist society in a time of ecological and social upheaval, using the tools at their disposal. Those “tools” include the ideological framework they exist in, and the limitations that puts on their thinking.

    Even if some of them question the justice of the social rules they live under, pragmatics demand that they take them into account. After all, the people around them believe in them, and use these rules as political weapons whenever it advances their interests. Trying to engage in consciousness-raising during a time of civil war, while under threat of multiple foreign invasions isn’t a viable strategy. And on top of everything else, winter is coming…

    ;-D

  • Saraquill

    No need to apologize, your heart was in the right place.

  • JeanPing

    I thought it was hysterical. And now I don’t need to read the books!

    Thanks for your comments, Samantha. I haven’t seen the show, and I think I’m glad.

  • Mirella222

    Yes. All of this. Also, what gets me is: why do fantasy writers make their world patriarchal ~98% of the time? I mean, seriously, couldn’t the society be egalitarian? Just because the setting is based on Medieval Europe in terms of technology and style does not mean that the exact same type of society needs to be put into these books….I mean, dragons are believable, but a world where rape is treated as an actual crime and women are seen as people is too far fetched?

  • mayarend

    I haven’t read it all, I’ll read it all later, but yes, when I read all the critique about it being different from the book I thought, well, MAYBE my memory is being the usual thing and forgetting that it was consensual. But I remembered the scene as a rape so it was kind of hard for me to understand what I’d forgotten about the fact that she didn’t want it… Thank you for reminding me I’m not nuts.

  • tulips

    I think the books are interesting and morally/ethically complex. There’s no question for me that GRRM falls on the wrong side of rape culture specifically with the Cersei/Jaime sex but also frequently just in general. What interests me about his writing is how often he gets the dynamics right even when the ethics are wrong. People who do the right thing in his stories frequently regret it for the rest of their short lives. Tyrion has contributed to his situation in part by being accustomed to not being taken seriously. It ~is~ an ablest society and he has lived…with privilege…as the crippled son of a powerful family who can say whatever he wants whenever he wants up to and including making what most would consider credible threats. I like how the story is depicting multiple variables of that experience as the reader simultaneously sympathizes with his feelings of loneliness, resentment, and rejection…and then feels frustration at his lack of discretion.

    ETA: Had no idea this posted until now compliments of my toddler. It’s an unfinished thought I’m not even completely sure I can tie up the strings on but baby boy doesn’t seem over concerned with serving me up half cooked. jkmmmjjjuuuuuuuuuuuuuukimkkkkkkkuuuubbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbnimmibm

  • Astrin Ymris

    Technically, rape IS treated as a crime in some cases. Rapists are sent to the Wall, remember. Though GRRM does make a point of claiming that the only identified rapist in Jon Snow’s group is actually the victim of a false claim of rape. 😛

    Tanya Huff’s ‘Quarter’ series describes a non-sexist fantasy universe. So does Patricia McKillip’s work for the most part.

  • Mirella222

    ** sorry, I wasn’t trying to say that rape isn’t a crime in Westeros! What I am saying is that in the real world, rape is often not treated as an actual crime because it’s not considered a legitimate rape (because she wore a short skirt, or was drunk, or didn’t resist “enough”, etc). And this translates into our fiction as well – Cercei was raped in this scene, but plenty of people say it wasn’t really rape, as the Samantha wrote about in the post. What I am saying is, why doesn’t anyone write a fantasy world where the culture is a consent based culture instead of a rape culture? Why don’t we have fantasy worlds where women are regarded as actually equal to men and deserving of respect? Some of them come close, but most books still rely on women being strong by either a) using tricks and manipulation to get things done behind the scenes, or b) dressing as a boy in order to be able to fight. Why can’t there be a world where women and men are on equal footing? I hope this makes more sense….

  • Astrin Ymris

    Ah. Sorry, I misunderstood what you meant.

    There ARE a few fantasy worlds like that in books, but they usually aren’t picked up to become big-budget movies or television series.

    But even in books… we use fantasy to deal with the things that trouble us in reality, so as long as Rape Culture is a thing, then we’re going to create fantasy worlds in which it occurs.

    Mind you, there’s no reason why we couldn’t write these fantasy worlds so as to have representatives from enlightened cultures calling rape what it is! ;-D

  • Mirella222

    I think the thing is, many people cannot IMAGINE a world where rape isn’t a thing….they way we talk about it, we treat it as a force of nature. We talk about how the victim should be been more prepared, we talk about someone “being raped”….but we don’t talk about how men shouldn’t rape, we hardly ever say “X raped Y”, thereby making it something somebody does. A lot of the time, it is written about as if it were an accident. I’ve seen analogies were being raped it compared to being hit by a car….and no one seems to notice that the driver was not trying to hit you, but the rape was an attack. I think it’s important to write worlds where rape is not a thing, where respect for women is just so integral that their participation in society is unquestioned, just to put the idea out there that rape is not analogous to an accident or a force of nature.

  • You want to read ElfQuest, then. One *brief* mention in the Original Quest about “he should take her and to the human’s cook fires with what she wants” but it’s quickly ignored and how that particular situation is resolved is HIGHLY respectful of her right to consent under ANY circumstances.

    Not to mention the fact that the whole series is extremely egalitarian in nature, particularly in regards to females fighting *as females* and males being able to embrace their more gentle qualities. I will readily admit that the series is responsible for bringing the concept of egalitarianism into my awareness in the first place.

  • Mirella222

    Thanks for the rec! I will definitely check it out 🙂

  • Guest

    I can understand her anger, but I don’t think she needs to take it out on everyone. It is a violent TV show, and if it’s a trigger for her, it should be avoided. I know that sounds harsh and unkind but it’s really not. I know her wound is still open and this show probably made it a lot worse. She gets to vent, but getting angry at the other fans and angry at the actor who played Jaime is going a little overboard.

  • Guest

    Yeah, I refrained from posting about this, because I was one of the people defending Jaime, and honestly, I didn’t see what happened as rape in the books. I didn’t see the show yet. I haven’t seen the last season of it. I read the blog post and saw how she kept saying “fuck you fuck you” and my saying this might make someone angry but I said this in my comment below, that I thought that her anger, though well justified, was going a little overboard with saying fuck you to everyone

  • LOL I was just about to mention Elfquest too! *waves to fellow fangirl*

  • Astrin Ymris

    Re: “…I think the thing is, many people cannot IMAGINE a world where rape isn’t a thing…”

    True! We absorbed the precepts of Rape Culture before we even knew what rape was. 🙁

  • Astrin Ymris

    Elfquest was after my time, but now you’ve got me interested in looking it up. 🙂

  • tulips

    Definitely agree. Another example of times when I catch myself with the prescribed response that would actually horrify me in real life and does bother me when I break it down is when Tyrion (an adult man and one of my favs) ~slaps~ Joffrey (a young teen at this point) in the face…hard… for making a snotty remark. Universal positive viewer response to this action as far as I can tell but actually completely inappropriate and abusive. I recalled the public slap in the face when Joffrey bullied his uncle at the wedding. Joffrey is a MONSTER… and… Joffrey has good reason to dislike Tyrion.

  • tulips

    I kind of want to say “fuck you” to everyone/the general social rhetoric on several issues most especially the victim blaming/silencing/shaming that played such a big role in my own experiences with abuse/neglect/authoritarian parenting. It’s an understandable and imo correct response. GRRM is wrong in this one, he just is and it’s inexcusable. He should have his feet held to the fire over such claims as “complicated consensual sex”. I won’t accept that sort of belittling about my own abuse, I won’t allow people or society in general to call it a “complicated” relationship no matter how much they really ~really~ want to. My point about the story is that the whole thing is ethically murky with lots of moving parts. We have the heroes nailing people to posts and listening to their screams of agony with a peaceful and contented expression fit to make Caligula proud. And the people on the posts were monsters who did it to children. Varys has the man who mutilated him locked in a box. I think the problem is that rape does exist in the general common experience and those other atrocities generally don’t…so the dialogue and the rhetoric surrounding it…do matter. Having the scene in the book or movie didn’t bother me, having it explained away as “complicated consensual” did.

  • Elfquest is a graphic novel series that started in the late 1970s and is still having new material come out. It was at the time practically the only “comic book” series written and drawn by a woman, and a huge departure from the common superhero genre. It was progressive for its time in the 1970s, and has always pushed the envelope in whatever decade the new material came out. The entire series is available for online viewing: http://www.elfquest.com/gallery/OnlineComics3.html

  • Astrin Ymris

    In the late seventies? Then it wasn’t “after my time”– just not available in my rural small town at a time when I would have loved it. 🙁

  • Astrin Ymris

    Robert later told Ned that he’d never loved his kids by Cersei. We’re supposed to attribute that to Robert sensing that they weren’t really “his”… but it’s also revealed later that Joffrey was desperate for his “father’s” approval…

    Of course, this doesn’t explain Joffrey’s being a sadistic sociopath who’s unable to project the logical consequences of his actions past their immediate impact, but it DOES make you wonder if Joffrey might have been less awful with a different upbringing.