Enthusiastic Consent is Coming! (Spoilers)
This week’s episode of ‘Game Of Thrones’ brought with it, as has quickly become the norm, a maelstrom of thoughts, feelings, revelations, memes and more feelings. But; through all the emotions about the characters facing down the Night King and his army of the dead, the speculation about who would make it through next week’s episode (which will feature the longest battle scene in history), and the resentment towards those snotty little white kids that ran away from Missandei when all did was say hello, there has been one scene that stood out to me, not because of its significance to the plot or the characters, but because of the reaction that it garnered.
Photo: Courtesy of HBO
The scene, featured Arya and Gendry on the eve of battle with Arya deciding that, if she was to die the next day, then she should at least, greet death having gotten some (and on any other day, I would have several bones to pick with nerd culture’s obsession with “not dying a virgin”). Given the explicit nature of the show, you would think that a sex scene wouldn’t be that big of a deal, especially when so much of the push back to the (frankly inescapable) gratuity of the show has always been met with, “this isn’t your parents’ fantasy epic, it draws from the brutal medieval history of Europe, that’s just how it was back then”. But what so many people just can’t seem to get over with this particular sex scene was the fact that it featured Arya Stark. A lot of the pushback can be summarised as “I still see her as a little girl”. But Arya stopped being a girl the day she saw her father lose his head. And that was far from the only form of violence that Arya has witnessed, suffered or been party to - she did cook the Frey sons into a pie and feed them to their father before killing him. So, after all we have seen this character go through, why are some people so uncomfortable with her deciding to have sex with Gendry? The answer can be found through interrogating the way in which audiences, and by extension society, have been taught to view and respond to female sexuality. Historically, feminine sexual agency has either been disregarded or demonised. Culturally, we have been taught to fear and hate women that express their sexuality and their agency freely and without reference to men. It has been the founding of the definitive she-demon in mythology, Lilith (who was banished from the Paradise because she would not be subservient to Adam). This was the reason behind the Church overseeing the torture and murder of women under the guise of fear of witches. This is why (in countries like the US and the UK) rape was considered, not as a form of sexual violence against another person, but as an act of vandalism against a man until the 20th century. It is the foundation of the Madonna/Whore dichotomy and why we, as a society, still hold the concept of virginity over women and girls’ heads. And it is why, talk of enthusiastic consent is often met with complaints that “stopping to check in with your partner before initiating a new phase of sex is inconvenient and will ruin the mood”.
Knowing all of this, let us, briefly, visit female sexuality as it has been presented in the show: it is an afterthought. Women and girls in the world of Westeros are rarely afforded any form of truly free sexual expression. ‘Game Of Thrones’ has never shied away from depicting all manners of sex, but the show has very heavily leaned in to its depictions of sexual violence. Throughout the show’s run, we have witnessed many coercive, violent and non consensual forms of sex. Many of the female main characters are themselves survivors of rape or attempted rape. Even the female characters in the show that have not been sexually violated, have had to contend with politically strategic marriages in which their sexual agency never even entered the equation. And the majority of women who willingly lean in to and take charge of their sexuality, both as a means to manipulate, and as a means expressing genuine affection have all wound up dead or punished in some other way. It is true that George R. R. Martin based ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ on medieval European history. But in transposing the history of Europe, he also (whether inadvertently or not) brought with it, the deeply ingrained patriarchal fear and hatred of female sexual expression. And it is that fear and hatred that is informing the reaction to Arya’s sex scene. We return to unpack that phrase of concern, “I still see her as a little girl”. But she is not a little girl anymore. Both Arya (18) and her actress, Maisie Williams (22), have not been little girls for quite some time now. But audiences still feel the need to infantilise them regarding this one act. It’s interesting that there were no calls to preserve Arya’s youthful girlhood when she ruthlessly murdered her enemies, but now, an act of open consensual sexual expression is giving fans pause in their enjoyment of the show. It is also doubly interesting when contrasted with public thirst for Daenerys (16 now 24) and her actress, Emilia Clarke (21 now 32), during season one. The reaction to both of these actresses and who we allow to be sexual is uncomfortably revelatory. In trying to deny Arya’s sexuality, we are admitting that we never really let go of the fear and hatred of feminine sexual expression that taught us to view open sexuality as detrimental to women’s value.
The simple fact of the matter is; that Arya never being violated, not being strategically married off and choosing her own sexual partner and the time of her own sexual awakening should be celebrated when considering ‘Game Of Thrones’’ history with its female characters and society’s treatment of female sexuality. To be uncomfortable with Arya’s sex scene is to be uncomfortable with free and unfettered female sexual expression. And if that makes you uncomfortable, you need to re-evaluate how you’re having sex.
You may also like...
The latest episodes of ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ have a lot to teach us about the ways in which we relate to love, family, friends and even organised religion through our gender. But perhaps the most poignant lesson that the second part of the show’s first season can offer us comes in the form of several cautionary tales about dealing with a patriarchal power structure when you are not an intended beneficiary of patriarchy