Game of Thrones? Is it feminist? Is it not feminist? It has to be one or the other, because like there can only be one winner in the Game of Thrones, there can only be one kind of how-feminist that Game of Thrones is.
Some people think the TV show (and the books that Game of Thrones is based on, George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series) are not feminist on account of the fact they are full of women getting raped, getting raped and murdered, or getting married at 13 to horrible men who then rape them, or rape and murder them. (In the TV show they’ve made the characters a bit older.)
Other people say The Song of Ice and Fire books are feminist because they have women characters – a whole bunch, with quite a lot of variety – and they get to have active, important storylines and ambitions in their own right. And even though there are a far fewer female than male characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, it is an improvement on great swathes of fantasy fiction – one of Martin’s biggest influences is Tolkien who’s world is a near lady-free paradise and perfect for anyone who dislikes women, thinking about women or reading about women. ( A surprisingly large market.)
Gender flipping obvious sexist things and finding something radical on the flip side that confirms the reactionary tedium of the original can be pretty enlightening. I did it here for Love Actually and it is totally a thing now. (Guardian comment piece = totally a thing.) But gender flipping something like Game of Thrones is a bit of a mystery. Because, as we don’t know if it is feminist or not feminist, we can’t predict what will happen? Will it be more reactionary or less. Oooooh intrigue. If this was clickbait I should have made the title into some kind of hook around this.
Eg You won’t believe what happened when I gender flipped Game of Thrones.
But I want to think of this as an opticians visit. I’m going to hold Game of Thrones up to your eye and ask if it’s better or worse as a flip it around.
Lights down – let’s go.
A gender flipped version of Game of Thrones would contains the following awesome things, that would make me extremely full of delight.
First there’s a whole bunch of lady kings. (Queens? Ultra queens?) YES. The lady kings would be fighting each other for who got to be the boss of everything with the advice of a bunch of female advisors and lady lords and all these ladies would constantly get married to younger men to get daughters for the succession to their lady-lording thing, while scattering bastard children everywhere from various trysts. And no one would think they were bad, irresponsible or suggest they try not to do this, they would just be doing what ladies do.
A lady lord would bring home a daughter from an affair and make her husband raise the baby (and when that husband was pissed off about this the fans would all say he was a dick and boo him, because it wasn’t the babies fault, was it?). Eventually that daughter would grow up to join a band of super badass celibate ladies who had vowed never to have sex because boys are ick. These ladies would fight ice zombies (who were also, all ladies).
This whole thing would feature an awful lot of sword fighting ladies, doing honourable or angry things due to their wrenching, understandable ambition. They would also visit brothels full of male prostitutes all the time (most of them owned by a super wily lady who’s secretly in charge of everything) and, my GOD, would they have a lot of sex with the men in the brothels. Sometimes with three or four men at once, because war is hard work and they’ve earned it.
Hanging out in these brothels would be a lady who was less good a sword fighting because she was a dwarf. People would be a bit mean to her sometimes, but she would actually be the cleverest person ever and have a hot boyfriend who was once a prostitute but had since fallen for her. Boyfriend would now be jealous (God, don’t men get JEALOUS) because this dwarf lady had been forced to marry a much younger and quite traumatised man who she wasn’t having sex with (yet) because he didn’t want to – which makes her an incredible person, rather than just not a total dick. She would also have a cool lady bodyguard who says cunt all the time even though she’s on telly – because she is really that cool.
Lady-Tyrion would also be everyone’s favourite character. This disabled, super smart, bookish, multi-prostitute shagging woman. Everyone would agree she was the best and never mention the fact she talked exactly like Victor Meldrew.
Lady-Tryion = awesome, but there are some amazing female characters in non-gender-flipped Game of Thrones. If you flip the stories of Daenerys you do get a virginal blond guy who gets married to a terrifying lady horse lord, but eventually falls for her and then she dies. But the later part of the story, where he’s freeing slaves and demanding his dragons and kingdom, that’s nothing special. The original is better. (Note, the racism in Dany’s story: fully intact in both versions.)
And Arya’s would also be a story we’d heard a hundred times if she was a male character, wandering in the wilderness, fighting baddies and out for revengance. Mind you, people often talk of Brienne as a grown up version of Arya and one of Martin’s most interesting female characters – but gender flipped Brienne would actually be a pretty cool story of a male knight who was trying to prove himself in a world where only ladies got to sword fight. But original-flavour Brienne already functions as a gender flip within the story and she’s all the more interesting for it.
Game of Thrones does a reasonable job in putting female characters front and centre, sometimes showing the ways women have to find different routes to power (like Sansa and Margaery) but you have to admit a gender flipped version would be also good and in many ways better (Lady Tyrion, brothels full of men.)
But there is one place that a gender flipped Game of Thrones would be – without question- the greatest, sexiest, most radical TV show ever.
The sexy bits.
Because it’s during the ill-thought out, gender polarised sexy bits that any idea of Game of Thrones being feminist fall over and cry in a the fetal position on the floor. Probably with tits showing.
But a gender flipped Game of Thrones would contain a scene where a fully clothed woman has sex with a naked man on a table that is also a map, a scene where a fully clothed woman looks at a naked man in a cave while he tries to persuade her to sex him and a scene where a male prostitute emerges cock first from behind a beaded curtain. (What? He’s a contortionist. That’s what happened back then in this version of the past I’ve made up.)
In the first episode of season 4, we would have seen a bisexual woman choosing male prostitutes by pulling off all their clothes and rejecting them or shooing them onto a couch to writhe around with her boyfriend, until she finally thinks, hmm, though, maybe some lady action too because all the naked people here are men, and asks the brothel running lady to join in. Sure, says brothel running lady, I’ll take my clothes off too… just as soon as this scene ends.
The way only women are used to decorate the show that wants to present women as equally ambitious, cruel and clever as men, undermines their intent. You might have the Mother of Dragons in your show, but she’d be pretty depressed if she was watching it and wanted to be considered a viewer as important as any man.
You can still rule with the body of a weak and feeble woman, but don’t forget that body is for looking at in the way that men’s bodies aren’t. And all the plucky little Arya stuff seems like a cynical gimmick here, because you can’t really care about women as people if your sexposition sop – where naked people help viewers through long plotty bits – is only aimed at the male viewers. What about women who get bored during plot monologues? Where’s our distractifying flesh? No help for me while family trees are outlined in punishing detail.
If I had a naked man for every time there was a naked woman onscreen in Game of Thrones, I’d have a lot more naked men than they do – because we saw a couple of vulvas in the last episode, but the last time a penis featured onscreen someone was eating it.