I’m one of those people who checks every couple weeks to see if George R.R. Martin has finished the fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin is widely hailed as one of the best authors writing in fantasy today, and has a large following. I also occasionally browse the fan forums at Westeros.org. I’m not a huge forum poster. I mostly lurk to see if other people’s theories agree with mine. And I love the fact that there’s a space in which people are having detailed dialogue about the books.
However. Forum posters there have this annoying– and disturbing– habit of referring to women using the language from the books. (eg: “The wench needs a good ride.”) It’s fairly ludicrous to have a bunch of fans using that sort of language on the boards without a sense of irony. Who uses the word “wench” in 2007? This language is all over the books, but that doesn’t make it appropriate. I think it’s obvious from the way Martin writes his female characters that the language he uses in the book derives from the fact that he’s writing about a violent war from a pseudo-historical perspective, and has a particular interest in debunking the chivalry myth. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t go around in real life thinking that way about women. Since each chapter is told from a different POV, it’s also clear that not everyone in Westeros feels that way either. With many dark characters, you have about a 50/50 or more chance that the chapter you’re reading is narrated by someone who’s a huge jerk. Therefore it blows my mind to see outdated misogynistic language tossed around casually on the boards by fanboy-types. I have noticed a few female (or intelligent, logical male) posters admonishing others for this type of crap, but far too often the community appears to let it slide.
In my latest trip to the Westeros boards, I noticed a disturbing trend. Everyone has POVs they like and dislike. But what’s with the overwhelming hate for Brienne? The character Brienne is a female knight. Oh sure, you think, one of those. But wait. Because it’s Martin, this isn’t going to be one of those cute girl-with-a-sword stories. Brienne is described as a muscular, homely woman, larger than most men. She’d have to be to handle a sword, realistically, and it’s refreshing to see an author pick up on that for once. She is doggedly devoted to chivalry in a world going to hell all around her. She’s naive, true, but the character’s purpose seems to be to serve as a spot of light in the increasingly bloody series. She’s also there to be a foil to Jaime Lannister, the bad boy character who insults her constantly yet feels a strange connection to her. And Brienne stubbornly insists on being seen as a knight despite the fact that everyone thinks she’s a joke. I really enjoy the character.
But there’s a surprisingly vicious amount of Brienne hate out there. And it seems like a lot of it is based simply upon the fact that Brienne is ugly. Some fans would like to see Jaime get over his superficiality and end up with Brienne, for instance, but if someone posts something to this effect, the fanboys will often freak out. There is a disconnect between the way male characters described by Martin as ugly (and there are lots) are regarded by fans, and how Brienne is regarded. To illustrate how ridiculous the bias is, consider the example of the POV character Tyrion.
Tyrion is a vastly popular character. He is also a dwarf, with a giant mass of scar tissue where his nose used to be. In a recent book, he was placed in an arranged marriage to a 13-year-old girl who wouldn’t consummate the marriage because she was terrified of how ugly he was. I have actually seen many posters say, “OMG I hate Sansa! What a ___. How could she do that to Tyrion he’s all kinds of awesome, I hope she gets raped by a ____.” And then they’ll be like, “I think Martin should hook Tyrion up with (insert beautiful female character) or (insert beautiful female character).” Yet if someone mentions Brienne hooking up with someone, anyone, there’s an outcry of fan eeeeew that derails entire threads.
Yeah. Because every beautiful woman wants to have sex with a noseless dwarf just because it’s your favorite character. But an unattractive woman doesn’t deserve love. It’s that old double standard again, and it’s getting tired.