Feminism Friday: Telly and gender

Recently, I watched the first couple of episodes of a rather epic television series called Game of Thrones. Yes, I know, I’m quite slow to pick up on this one as it debuted in the US this time last year, but do bear with me on this. I watched the first episode and, until the final scenes, the thing that was most memorable to me was the godawful gender stereotyping.

OK, so it’s sort of set in the past but, If you’re creating a fantasy world, you don’t actually have to conform to the rules that medieval British society followed. So why were the girls learning embroidery and the boys brushing up on their fighting skills? Why were the women all doormats or prostitutes? I assume from the love that has been lavished on this adaptation by many people that things will improve, so I shall give it a few more episodes before I decide, but it did make me think about why I love some of the other shows that are on my watch list.

Two of my absolute favourites are Fringe and Castle and, coincidentally, both have pretty amazing female leads. In Fringe, Anna Torv plays FBI Agent Olivia Dunham and, in Castle, Stana Katic plays NYPD Detective Kate Beckett. Both women are strong, intelligent and outstandingly good at what they do, but they’re never presented as anything other than human beings with all the flaws that even brilliant people have. Both shows even have interesting older female characters too – Fringe has the enigmatic Nina and Castle has the wise yet whimsical Martha – thus highlighting the distinct lack of decent parts for women over 50 elsewhere.

There are so many amazing roles for female actors these days that it really shows when writers haven’t really bothered. Still, there are far more decent parts for women in television than there are in movies. I wonder how many years it’ll be before that situation improves?

UPDATE: I’ve watched the first series of Game of Thrones now and can totally see why people love it so much. There are so many strong female characters in it! If you haven’t watched it yet, you shuld definitely check it out.

5 thoughts on “Feminism Friday: Telly and gender

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  1. Don't let the first episode fool you, almost all of the kingdoms are ruled behind the scenes by women.

    Ned Stark's daughter Arya is an example of a young lady who doesn't want to fit the mold, she wants to learn sword fighting, so she gets a small sword made for her and when the time comes runs away to save her life and begins life as a young man.

    Or Daenerys who begins the game of thrones as a pawn in her brothers game for an army only to become the leader in her own right and to wage a war of her own.

    There are many stereotypes in Game of Thrones, but there are also tons of strong fierce women in this show as well.

  2. I don't think that the best way to create feminist scifi/fantasy is necessarily to create a world free from the sexism. If that were true, The Handmaid's Tale could not be considered feminist!

    I love Battlestar Galactica, for example, for creating a universe where women and men are so often on a level playing field. But I love Game of Thrones for the realistic depictions of recognisable gender roles (i.e. the shitty, second-class nature of women in a (sort-of) Mediaeval society) and yet creating strong, women who manage to work with the power that they've been given and who manage to be major players on the political scene.

    I don't know Castle or Fringe well, but a lot of television shows with strong female characters suffer from a bit of a Shakespeare problem – i.e. they have a Lady Macbeth, but nothing else, and the cast is still 70%+ male (and hence fails the Bechdel test). In Game of Thrones, not only are there great strong female characters who are real players in the story, but there are LOADS of them. Compare that to another big fantasy epic, Lord of the Rings, and the difference is striking!

  3. My problem with the gender roles in the first episode of Game of Thrones was that there seemed to be no reason for them to be there (unlike in a story such as The Handmaid's Tale). However, I've watched a few more episodes and the doormats are now fighting back, so I can now see why it was set up that way. Many thanks to the people who told me to stick with it!

    FYI, Fringe passes the Bechdel test easily (see http://www.badreputation.org.uk/2010/10/21/bechdel-meets-the-fbi/), as does Castle. Beckett talks to the female medical examiner about work, Castle's mother talks to her grand-daughter about applying to university and internships, and the Captain of NYPD Homicide is now a woman who only ever talks to Beckett about her cases.

  4. Awesome – I love it when things pass. It's a pretty low standard, of course, but it's surprising how much doesn't meet the grade. Have been meaning to watch more Castle, so you've convinced me to make that soon!

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