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Patriarchy Brain in A Song of Ice and Fire

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Julia and Kylie finally take a break from adaptation shaming to gush about A Song of Ice and Fire, this time with the help of their guest Gretchen! What is it that makes George R.R. Martin’s close-PoV structure so compelling? To them, it’s the way that the he is able to utilize the toxically patriarchal setting to explore character biases for incredibly feminist take-aways.

Listen below, subscribe/listen on iTunes (the newest episode is updated in the app, even if not on the site yet), subscribe to our RSS feed, search for “Unabashed Book Snobbery” in any podcast app, or download an MP3 of this episode here.

This episode’s saltarello performance is by Jessica Comeau.

Episode Breakdown:

  • 0:00 – Intro & explanation of “patriarchy brain”
  • 17:03 – Cat
  • 30:40 – Arys
  • 39:30 – Vic/Aeron & Barry
  • 50:47 – Cersei
  • 1:03:00 – Tyrion, Sam, & Ned
  • 1:19:49 – Brienne & Arya
  • 1:30:00 – Sansa
  • 1:41:40 – Asha & Arianne

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Bi, she/her. Gretchen is a Managing Editor for the Fandomentals. An unabashed nerdy fangirl and aspiring sci/fi and fantasy author, she has opinions about things like media, representation, and ethics in storytelling.

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frogcrunch
Guest
frogcrunch

Great podcast! “Older women who suffered under patriarchy want to inflict the same thing on younger women” is such a powerful thing. In Cersei’s case she’s very aware of the extent to which she was hurt and treated unfairly, and while she processes it all wrong (“this wouldn’t happen if I were a man like Jaime, but also fuck all other women”), I think it’s maybe the foremost attribute that makes her so interesting. A lot of women whom I see in everyday life are extremely invested in upholding the patriarchy as they experienced it, and there is no malice… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

What you said about it being too painful to acknowledge the truth rings true of my experience. I’ve seen so many older women fail to acknowledge how troubling the patriarchy is and how it has hurt them because being honest about it scares them. Enforcing it on other women allows them to not face the possibility that they could have had a better or different life, and thus live with regrets. I’m not even certain it’s a conscious choice sometimes, because even that level of awareness is frightening. “This is just how things are” covers up a lot of that.

Jana
Member

Oh, god. That’s my grandmother, insisting that we’d all be lucky to have as great a husband as hers was. You know, while he spent his evenings at the pub rather than interact with her or his children, and any and all bad news had to be kept secret from him or he’d drink himself into a stupor so he’d be unable to go to work the next day, endangering the livelihood of the family.

But apparently, only my mother remembers that part for some reason.

Elsa
Guest
Elsa

I agree but unfotunately it’s not just older women who behave this way. I know many younger women who think that we don’t live in a patriachal society anymore, thus we don’t need feminism anymore. If you alert them to forms of secisim in our society they say that this sort of behaviour is just normal, because this is just how men behave. We women should just accept it, it’s not that bad, etc. On International Women’s Day the place where I intern had many events about feminism and women’s treatment in society. Some other female interns outright mocked this… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

Sadly, you’re absolutely right. And that’s patriarchy brain in action in our own world. It affects all of us in the system to one degree or another.

Maria
Guest
Maria

Great podcast! While I think we’ll need more POVs from Mel in order to discuss this completely, I think she is definitely worth discussing, in that her past very possibly included sexual slavery of some kind. To me, there’s something sad/unsettling about the detached way she thinks of her her body as something to be ”used”. There’s also her difficult-to-place relationship with/influence on Stannis. Like, she’s got multiple ”roles” in his life (including an intimate, even consort-like aspect) that sort of blend into each other and make the relationship very ”blurry”, if that makes any sense. No, I’m not writing… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

I would LOVE to read that essay, if you feel like sharing. Mel is such an oblique character for precisely the reasons you iterate; she thinks of herself more in terms of roles than anything else, and they’re roles not shaped by Westeros, so they’re not as clearly defined. She perceives herself as an instrument of R’hllor (hence her body being ‘used’), and that doesn’t lend itself to the same kind of psychology as the other characters. Her personal agency and self-perception are tied to the deity, a deity that, like her, is opaque to the audience in a lot… Read more »

Maria
Guest
Maria

I’d love to share, if I’m happy with it! I mean, it’s part of an essay I’m doing for uni (about epistemic injustice* and how it affects her relation with Davos, in particular). I think that’s very true about her viewing herself as an instrument. What I think fandom tends to ignore (or not notice) is the question of how much her past has shaped her into viewing herself that way. There’s a reason why r’hllorism is the religion of the slaves in Essos, after all. In Mel’s case, I think it can be argued that her perception of being… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

That’s an excellent point about how she views her instrumentality as both empowering and as a coping mechanism. Because it does give her power in a very messed up system (slavery) while also dehumanizing her at some level. It both humanizes and dehumanizes her, and we can’t quite tease these two things apart. It’s not so much patriarchy brain as a mindset created by slavery and her trauma, as you say. The insight that her victimization has led her to be able to foresee danger to herself is spot on. It’s a mystical/magical way of describing hyperawareness. I hadn’t seen… Read more »

Maria
Guest
Maria

Yes, exactly! And that’s basically why I think fandom doesn’t really ”get” her. Her contradictions are the whole point I think, including her subconscious rejection of another AAR candidate; she *needs* it to be Stannis because he’s the type of person she wants it to be, I think (a telling moment is the Freudian slip where she thinks of him as ”her” champion, and not R’hllor’s, after wondering whether Bloodraven and Bran are the champions of the Great Other). Her determination to be detached from her own emotions just might lead to disaster. I think that’s totally correct about the… Read more »

Gretchen Ellis
Guest

Yes! She’s a character of great contradiction. That one POV chapter was both illuminating and frustrating in that regard. We got to see more of her head, but what we see is frustratingly incomplete and complicated. It’s much to much to explicate in a single POV chapter. Your insights about PTSD have got me thinking of her in a new, richer way, thank you! She’s on the run from so much: her emotions, her past, her memories, her dreams, her self really. She’s faced so much suffering in her life, no wonder she’s cultivated such a strong veneer of detachment.… Read more »

Maria
Guest
Maria

Yes! Basically, Mel simply can’t be separated from her past (any more than any other character tbh), but her past and her experiences are a surprisingly rare feature in meta concerning her beliefs etc. It’s probably why GRRM wrote that little scene in the show where she mentions being a slave to Gendry. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if GoT simply would have left it out, but because Martin wrote that bit they added a couple of lines about hunger in s4 (of course, they seem to have forgotten that her ”real” appearance would probably include scarring or… Read more »

Elsa
Guest
Elsa

Wonderful podcast. Could you maybe publish the full patriachy brain list as well? I would be interested in seeing were some other characters are ranked. You guys also made want to see more of Selwyn Tarth 🙂 and you made me even more excited for my upcoming re-read. I agree with the part were you said that it was a failure by D&D to have Arya and Brienne meet each other without thinking about how this would affect them. There are so many threads along the lines “which characters you want to meet?” and people actually spend some time discussing… Read more »

Hyrkoon
Guest
Hyrkoon

Interesting perception about the North in particular. To be honest, I’d always viewed the lack of a real northern retinue in AGOT as kind of… early installment weirdness/shoddy worldbuilding. It’s fair enough to say that Winterfell doesn’t have a courtly culture of Highgarden, but there are definitely ambitious northerners. Maege Mormont wanted to match her granddaughter with Robb, as Rickard Karstark wanted to match Robb and Alys – why wasn’t Alys made a lady-in-waiting to Sansa during her childhood, or Granddaughter Mormont to Arya, or Jonelle Cerwyn to Catelyn? And especially since Sansa was going to be, you know, the… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

This podcast and Radio Westeros’ Catelyn podcast complement each other very well. Cat doesn’t just go from Zero to Revenge Zombie. Rather she’s slowly pushed toward becoming Lady Stoneheart. She had thrown herself into being a wife and mother, the greatest honours her society can bestow upon a woman and over the course of three books she loses it all, despite going to increasingly extreme measure to keep it. I would argue that the real moment she transformed into Stoneheart wasn’t when Beric resurrected her, but when she slashed Jinglebell’s throat after watching Robb, her last (as far as she… Read more »

Ivana
Member
Ivana

A minor correction: the Red Wedding happened at (or rather near) the end of season 3, not in season 4. One thing you didn’t mention is that Catelyn states “A woman can rule as wisely as a man”. (It’s when Blackfish mentions Lysa wanting to remain regent for her son on her own instead of remarrying. Blackfish answers Cat’s retort with “The right woman can, but Lysa is not you” – inplying they both know Cat is capable and could rule, but he is warning her that Lysa is not. Catelyn may not have an ambition or even think about… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

Agreed wholeheartedly. The ‘patriarchy brain’ view of Catelyn glosses over the fact that she is also the closest thing Westeros has (as far as we know) to an ardent and outspoken feminist. Women like the Mormonts, Brienne and Asha may themselves rebel against patriarchal roles for themselves, but they don’t necessarily stand up for women in general or consider themselves representative of their gender (that’s not meant as a slight against them, just an observation of their attitudes; in Brienne’s case, it’s the result of severe low self-esteem rather than a feeling of ‘better than other girls’). Cat, on the… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

All very true, and I would also note that Arya (unlike her “not like other girls” show counterpart) is quite like Cat is her support for other female characters. She may choose to flaunt Westerosi gender roles, but she doesn’t look down on women who are more conventionally feminine and actually seems to admire them. Arya takes after her mother far more than many fans realize.

Mytly
Member
Mytly

Oh, definitely. I find it baffling when people claim that Cat and Sansa are alike – when the two have pretty much nothing in common beyond being conventionally feminine – while at the same time overlooking the many similarities between Cat and Arya, in terms of both personality and relationships with other women.

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[…] freedom and dictates their lives. Patriarchy brain, as discussed on the Unabashed Book Snobbery podcast in great detail, is when people living in such a society internalize those limitations in one way or […]

blacken
Member
blacken

That was a great listen! I know you said the patriarchy brain list was really quickly made up, but I was curious about your placement of Aeron and Victarion. For me they are right at the top of the list, more so than Cat. It might just be because of the violence of their particular views but Victarion beat his wife to death because Euron had ‘soiled his property’ by raping her. I feel like there’s a strong view with them that women are chattel whereas at least Catelyn recognises women as human beings. Similarly with Arys, you totally nailed… Read more »

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Listen below, subscribe/listen on iTunes (the newest episode is updated in the app, even if not on the site yet), subscribe to our RSS feed, search for “Unabashed Book Snobbery” in any podcast app, or download an MP3 of this episode here (go to ‘show all’).

This episode’s saltarello is by Aquila Altera, available for purchase on Amazon.

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