Is It Historically Accurate Sexism or Are You Just a Dick?

by thethreepennyguignol

So! The Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, is out in a few weeks’ time, and much of the conversation around it has centered on the topic of sexism. Game of Thrones and its famous misogyny and repugnant levels of sexism snootily hand-waved away by idiots as “historically accurate” have left a lot of people feeling wary of this prequel.

Luckily, of course, George RR Martin, writer of the series and the books the GOT universe is based on, has offered some assurance – “I don’t think Westeros is particularly more anti-woman or more misogynistic than real life and what we call history.” Which made me, as a person with a history degree (who knows what we call history) and an all-round insufferable bitch, sit up and take notice. Because I’ve been hearing this “Game of Thrones (and, by extension, many series drawing influence from history in one way or another) is just depicting the reality of what women went through at that time” for the best part of a decade by now (and it’s fair to point out here that the showrunner and some of the actors in House of the Dragon have outright said the show will do more to address issues of sexism in the show, but until it comes out, we’ll have to wait and see).

To be quite honest, I think it’s not much more than an excuse to depict violence against women – and especially sexualized violence against women – outside of the context of the rest of our history, essentially cherry-picking what could feasibly be a category in PornHub and reducing women’s lives down to that.

So I want to put together this handy questionnaire for people who might wish to avoid such a terrible fate as they put together their new historical or fantasy project. Without further ado, let us try to answer the question “Is It Historically Accurate Sexism, Or Are You Just a Dick?”.

  1. Is this series based in real-life history?

If the answer to this is “no” – if the answer to this is “it’s influenced by some aspects of real-life history, but there are dragons and White Walkers and completely invented characters with no basis in real life” – then the answer is “you’re a dick”. Well, actually, I think the answer is “if the series is in itself not as historically accurate as reasonably possible, why did you decide certain aspects of the sexism of the era were worth preserving in such detail?”, but, you know, same difference.

2. Does the series present women in a historically-realistic way?

This kind of representation comes in a few flavours – firstly, I think the most important thing is depicting women in the range of roles, duties, relationships, and lives they have actually held during history. Yes, a lot of this will be influenced by sexism in the society around them as a whole, but women have always lived lives outside merely the limits placed on them. Women’s oppression is part of our history, in an irrevocable way, but it’s also not the entirety of our history. Women have consistently pushed against the boundaries placed on them – even breaking them – and to depict our oppression without depicting our lives outside of that is to fall firmly into the category of Dick.

Additionally, there’s the physical representation of women to consider here too; are they being presented in a way that’s clearly influenced by modern beauty standards? Do they have shaved legs and plucked eyebrows and landing strips so we can enjoy their naked bodies as much as possible during their sexual assaults, sexual humiliation, and rape? Are they adhering to what we know about beauty standards at the time, or are they served up as fodder for the modern male gaze? If so: I rule Dick.

3. Does the series explore the impact of sexism on men, too?

If you really want to delve into what sexism has meant to society, you can’t ignore half of it in the process. How do the gender roles in this story affect men, too? If it’s important enough for you to dedicate a decent amount of time trying to capture women’s historical oppression, then showing the other side of the story is vital.

If sexual assault is something you’re exploring as an aspect of women’s lives, are you showing it – and the aftermath – happening to men, too? How do men both suffer and benefit under this system? What does that look like for them? How do expectations of masculinity impact their lives? If you’re only focusing on the way this system harms women, you’re not exploring historically-accurate sexism, you’re thoroughly enjoying jerking it to women’s pain you’re missing out on the opportunity to explore this fascinating and nuanced topic in more detail. And also are a dick.

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(header image via TVMaze)