After last Sunday’s episode, I’m sure some of us are wishing that we didn’t watch Game of Thrones. There’s nothing quite like having your heart ripped out by your favorite television show, is there? It turns out that women love the cleverness and brutality of GoT, complete with all of its heart-ripping, throat-slitting goodness, just as much as men. Whoever could have imagined that dudeliness was a prerequisite for viewing? Oh right, dudes.
As a cosplaying, con-going, comic-reading, tabletop-gaming academic with a passion for science fiction and (sometimes) fantasy, I’m pretty used to having my fandoms dismissed by guys who think I’m only capable of talking about Disney princesses and makeup. When Thrillist posted an article about why women supposedly hate GoT, I rolled my eyes and kept moving. I know, I’m not supposed to worry my pretty head about dragons and swords because those are for boys! But when I read this article on Wired, I smiled to myself a little. There’s nothing we academics like more than good, hard data.
The Wired article cites Nielsen data revealing that women account for 42%, or about 2 million, of GoT‘s 4.8 million viewers. Furthermore, women have about 50% of the online conversations about GoT, at least as of a few weeks ago. Given the trauma of the Red Wedding, that number may have increased. The article goes on to note that women account for 51% of the online conversations about Mad Men, which the Thrillist article considers to be a “girly” show, even though I’d argue that both shows paint equally bleak depictions of patriarchal control power struggles. It’s not all martinis and cute clothes. Usually it’s despair, desperation, martinis, and cute clothes.
[SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3 FROM HERE ON] So yes, lots and lots of women like Game of Thrones. Some of us, like myself, still feel a little uncomfortable with it. That’s a good thing. We aren’t supposed to be comfortable with this man’s world of violence and misogyny. Unlike Mad Men, which many have taken as some sort of utopian Days of Yore, Westeros is depicted as being a pretty miserable place to live, especially for women. The show has received no small amount of criticism for its frequent and unnecessary depictions of female nudity, as well as gratuitous violence. In particular, there has been a shocking amount of violence against women. In one of the very first episodes, one of the heroines (a teenaged bride sold to a warlord) is raped by her husband. The scene is more nuanced in the books, but we don’t get that information in the show. Prostitutes are tortured and murdered, and last week we were treated to a gruesome display of gore involving the death of Talisa and her unborn child, who was brutally stabbed to death in her stomach. This is patriarchy in action, and while many viewers no doubt get off on the virulent misogyny of GoT, those of us with higher-level thinking skills can see it for what it is. The payoff, of course, is that we get to see amazing feminist characters like Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, and Brienne of Tarth do amazing feminist things.
Some women like GoT because it’s simply a good show. Others like myself appreciate it not only because we appreciate good storytelling, but because we appreciate the nuances of gender relations within the story and the world in which it takes place. In a series that is arguably focused more heavily on women than men, it can’t be said that this fandom belongs to men alone. Not only are women watching this so-called man’s show, we take part in it. We love it, we analyze it, and we critique it. We make fan art, write fan fiction, cosplay, and go to conventions covered in dragon eggs. And to the dismay of sexists like those at Thrillist, we make it a feminist issue, because the politics of both the show and the books require that we do so.