I recently watched an interesting conversation unfold over Facebook about this article by Noah Filipiak, entitled “If You Are Watching Game of Thrones, You Are Watching Porn.” I’m not interested here in defending the merits of Game of Thrones. Other writers have critiqued the show (I like Samantha Field’s critique which can be found here), and I’m not here to say it is above criticism. I don’t think it’s particularly progressive or feminist, and it bothers the shit out of me when people praise George R.R. Martin as a feminist hero, but that is a discussion for another day.
What I would like to do here, is respond to Noah Filipiak’s article, because it reveals unhealthy assumptions many Christians make about sexuality and consent.
The biggest assumption Filipiak makes here has roots in both modern purity culture, and more ancient Christian ideas about women and sexuality. The assumption is that having sex, or being in any way sexual inherently makes people (especially women) worth less.
I’ve discussed this assumption in my research on Christian dating guides. The book (written by a grown man, for teenagers and preteens) Dateable provides a particularly disturbing example. Take this quote:
If you dress like a piece of meat, you’re gonna get thrown on the BBQ…You can’t look that sexy and then tell us to be on our best behavior. (p. 115)
The disturbing idea here is that women and girls, by the way they dress, can “objectify themselves,” and are then responsible when grown men and boys treat them with violence.
This seems to be the same assumption Filipiak is working with in his critique of Game of Thrones. He quotes an interview with Emilia Clarke (who plays Daenerys Targaryen in the show), in which she states that she no longer wishes to do topless scenes on the show.
Filipiak calls her a hypocrite. Ignoring Clarke’s acting skills, and people’s fascination with her interesting character (the woman rides DRAGONS for the gods’ sake), he states that Clarke is only popular because she chose at one point to show her breasts on the show. Now she is worth less, according to purity culture thinking. She has “objectified” herself, and no longer is allowed to set boundaries for her body without being called a hypocrite.
Filipiak takes away Clarke’s agency over her own body, and refuses to hold accountable the men who make objectifying comments about Clarke and her character. For Filipiak, the problem is not that these men are violent, creepy predators. The problem is is the fact that Clarke showed her breasts.
Never mind that violent men will make disturbing and objectifying comments about all actresses, young or old, regardless of how they dress on camera. In fact, regardless of their careers, women face similar comments everywhere. From female clergy wearing robes to porn stars wearing nothing, there are men who will try to treat our bodies as objects.
Blaming a woman–ANY woman–and imposing meaning onto her body without her consent in order to suggest that “She is asking for it” is a foundational aspect of rape culture.
Yet, Filipiak does exactly this to Emilia Clarke, while claiming that he stands for human dignity.
Filipiak strips Clarke entirely of her right to consent or deny consent, claiming that just by appearing on screen she is joining herself with other men in a sexual bond:
One such comment in the Emilia Clarke article said, “We don’t watch you for your acting, love.” This is what’s really happening when these Hollywood actresses think they are being artistic on-screen with their bodies.
What they are really doing is creating a sexual bond with millions of men . . . so we shouldn’t be surprised by such responses.
He calls Clarke a hypocrite for later deciding that she no longer wishes to appear topless on screen, channeling language that many rape survivors are familiar with.
Rapists–and those who defend them–call women hypocrites when women try to withdraw formerly given consent. Filipiak may not be a violent man, but his article legitimizes language that violent men use to gaslight victims into silence and shame.
Filipiak accuses Clarke of wanting “the best of both worlds” when it comes to sex. And yet, “the best of both worlds” is exactly what women deserve and are entitled to.
Women absolutely deserve to be allowed to express their sexually in a way that makes them feel comfortable.
They absolutely deserve to be allowed to withdraw consent at any time and have that decision respected.
They absolutely do not deserve to be treated with any less respect for their decisions.
Men like Filipiak disturb me, because they claim to be champions of “human dignity” while denying women fundamental aspects of human dignity: the right to have a say in how others treat and view our bodies.
Until Christians can let go of assumptions that deny women this dignity, conversations about sex and media will end up being unproductive at best, and supportive of rape culture at worst.