I’m not one to stomach scenes with a lot of violence in a visual medium. And so, when I watched Danaerys Targaryan eat a horse’s heart with Khal Drogo and their many other Dothraki counterparts watching on, I wanted to barf. It didn’t help that I was eating a particularly ingenious combination of cottage cheese and salsa.
Nope. Never going near that dish again.
It doesn’t worry me that the Game of Thrones is a narrative peppered with violence, rape or gore. In a storyline that is grounded in some historical events there is a need for authenticity. In a story line that looks at the Middle Ages where women were treated in a certain manner, war was but common, the use of violence, rape and gore is a part of the narrative. Where swordfights and unthinking stabbing was the order of the day, where brothels and violence against women occurred very frequently, it is but natural to portray them all, if you want to stay authentic to portraying a storyline deriving from a given ethos.
What troubles me is the politics of this portrayal, in importing the narrative from the book to a visual medium. And that, for me, is encapsulated in a single question: Why objectify the female body, and tastefully censor the male body?
There is plenty of show of skin where women go: the female body has been objectified time and again, while the most nudity that the male body is subjected to, is a naked back up to the torso. There is an overt portrayal of women in frontal nudity. From manicured bodies that stand as props, to sex scenes completely pivoting around the woman’s body, there is no holding back on the frontal nudity at all. The result, as it appears, is bordering on soft porn.
Why is there a double standard?
It is irksome that the female body is given precedence in the portrayal of a storyline that actually takes the patriarchy on with strong female characters. On the one hand, you have a range of women who stand for their intellect, integrity, leadership values – the likes of Arya Stark, Cat Tully, Danaerys Targaryan, Brienne of Tarth and Margery Tyrell to name a few. On the other hand, you have naked bodies standing as props – which is perhaps an authentic portrayal of the brothels and what not, but why is there an overt reliance on frontal nudity?
It makes it hard to reconcile the blatantly unthinking objectification with the strength of character that the women depict. The undercurrent where Game of Thrones condemns men for misusing women while holding positions of power is lost, as the objectification of women in the portrayal is really just that: misusing women.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kirthi Jayakumar is a lawyer, writer, artist and activist. She founded and runs The Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative built on values of storytelling.