Queen Cersei's post from Rethinking II:
Now there is also a general stereotype about people who read fantasy books: namely that they are male, probably have difficulties dating women and invariably have a shit time at high school. While this is a ridiculously over the top assumption, there do seem to be a number of posters who equate Sansa to that mean girl that went to school with, or that girl at high school who would never date them etc.
Yet is this attitude something that arises through the prejudice and personal experiences of readers alone? Or is it an attitude that is clearly present in GRRM’s presentation of Sansa in the text itself? After a careful rereading of Sansa’s character arc in AGOT through AFFC, I am going to have to say the latter. And here’s the thing—Sansa is not portrayed negatively so much because of her femininity, but because of her pride in herself, her birth, and feelings of entitlement towards what she wants (all qualities that go in numerous positively portrayed male characters unquestioned.)
A few quotes to illustrate what I’m talking about:
Arya says, “Sometimes it’s just fun to ride along with the wagons and talk to people.”
Sansa knew all about the sorts of people Arya liked to talk to: squires and grooms and serving girls, old men and naked children, rough spoken freeriders of certain birth. Mycah was the worst; a butcher’s boy, thirteen and wild, he slept in the meat wagon and smelled of the slaughtering black. Just the sight of him was enough to make Sansa feel sick, but Ayra seemed to prefer his company to hers.”
Sansa on Arya: “Her long horsey face got the stubborn look that meant she was going to do something willful.”
“Sansa could never understand how two sisters, born only two years apart, could be so different. It would have been easier if Arya had been a bastard, like their half brother Jon. She even looked like Jon, with the long face and brown hair of the starks, and nothing of their lady mother in her face or her coloring. And Jon’s mother had been common, or so people whispered.
"What did Gregor do ?" Arya asked.
"He burned down a holdfast and murdered a lot of people, women and children too."
Arya screwed up her face in a scowl. "Jaime Lannister murdered Jory and Heward, and Wyl, and the Hound murdered Mycah. Somebody should have beheaded them."
"It's not the same," Sansa said. "The Hound is Joffrey's sworn shield. Your butcher's boy attacked the prince."
Once Sansa had feared that Snarks and Grupkins had stolen her sister away, and Arya was only a replacement. But when she’d asked her lady mother if she was sure that Arya was really hers and not a bastard, she had laughed and said she was sure.”
“Why couldn’t Arya be sweet and delicate and kind, like princess Myrcella? She would have liked a sister like that.”
This are only some of the countless quotes in AGOT featuring these two, where the Arya/ Sansa dynamic is portrayed in the following fashion—Sansa as the rather snobbish, elitist, bratty girly girl, Arya as the unfairly persecuted, kind, down to earth tomboy with a heart of gold.
On Winteriscoming.net, someone wrote: “Arya is amazing and bucks the Westerosi female role, but that doesn’t mean Sansa sucks for wanting to wear dresses and get married. The habitual pitting of two females against each other is an annoying bit of sexism.” And yet, it judging from quotes like the ones above, it seems that “this annoying bit of sexism” of comparing Sansa unfavorably to Arya comes directly from the author himself.
Numerous people have confessed to either find this harmless or unintentional; GRRM merely mildly taking on some of the prejudices of his time. But honestly, due to the stringency and repetition of this theme (Sansa is a pretty girl who knows she’s a pretty girl, wants a handsome mate, and is proud of herself and willing to disobey her father to get what she wants—and therefore is bad, bad, BAD!) I simply cannot see it as accidental on the author’s part.
What really seems an issue here, rather than GRRM simply trying to characterize a teenage girl and failing to do so, is that Sansa—like Cersei and a few others—is being punished for her pride. Specifically, her female pride. Not the same sort of “acceptable” pride of women like Brienne, Arya, and Asha, that entails confidence in oneself and one’s ass kicking abilities, but that nevertheless leaves the individual in question without airs, accessible, and accepting.This, in stark contrast to the “proud” but friendly, accessible, girl/ woman of the people attitudes of females like Arya, Asha, Brienne, et. Al., is a sort of pride where the female in question holds herself in high regard due to her beauty, high birth, and accomplishments. She knows what she wants and what she deserves; and this may lead her to looking down upon men GRRM relates to
or rejecting men due to their physical appearance, social class, or what have you.
(I should say people in general, and yet, when this tendency is shown with both Sansa and Cersei, it is always men who they are rejecting, and being demonized for it.)
With Cersei, strangely, it seems she is very much characterized as “that bitch who wouldn’t talk to me in high school”. It seems that fans are (at least initially) encouraged to dislike her for her cold demeanor and her looking down on Tyrion (as he himself does with ugly females, but whatever) as for her evil deeds.
“His sister peered up at him with the same expression of faint distaste she had worn since the day she was born.”
t seems as though GRRM considers her placing herself above Tyrion and feeling a distaste for his looks, acting snobbishly towards him, as indications of wicked, bitchy nature.
This continues, when Cersei’s aloofness, air of superiority, and tendency to pay little attention to “good” men the author relates to is highlighted, and contrasted with Myrcella’s naturally sweet, accepting nature:
“Will Bran get better, uncle?” little Myrcella asked. She had all of her mother’s beauty, but none of her pride.”
Consider the way the attitudes of the two women are contrasted as they enter the Winterfell feast in the beginning:
“(Mryrcella) …was a wisp of a girl, not quite eight, her hair a cascade of golden curls under a jeweled net. Jon noticed the shy looks she gave Robb as they passed between the tables and the timid way she smiled at him
…Robb… was grinning like a fool.
“His lord father came first, escorting the queen. She was as beautiful as men said….His father helped her up the steps to the dais and lead her to her seat, but the queen never so much as looked at him.
Cersei’s lack of interest in men like Ned and Tyrion is subtly portrayed as evidence of snobbery and specifically feminine pride on her part. And is portrayed far less favorably than the modesty and friendliness of a “good” girl like Myrcella.
And to an extent, a similar style of characterization is taken with Sansa. Rather overtly in the first book; and far more subtly in books two and three. For instance, Sansa's thoughts on social class in AGOT:
Here Sansa places herself above some common born boy. (The more accepting Arya is portrayed as morally correct here.)
Arya says, “Sometimes it’s fun to ride in the back, so you get to talk to all different sorts of people.”
Sansa knew all about the sorts of people Arya liked to talk to: squires and grooms and serving girls, old men and naked children, rough spoke freeriders of certain birth. Mycah was the worst; a butcher’s boy, thirteen and wild, he slept in the meat wagon and smelled of the slaughtering black. Just the sight of him was enough to make Sansa feel sick, but Ayra seemed to prefer his company to hers.”
I see very little effort being made to understand or sympathize with Sansa’s feelings here, or placing her attitude in context. And, once again, it is worth noting that Sansa is being castigated for her specifically female pride; for placing herself above this boy due to her high birth and social background.
I think this IS a gender issue, too, since I’ve noted males like Jaime, Tyrion, and even Ned Stark doing the same thing (operating with a great awareness of their social situation and place in the Westeros hierarchy, and looking down upon others due to this issue) with no caricature or criticism whatsoever on the part of the author. Hell, Shae and Tyrion's entire relationship is built around this issue, but that is held against him quite infrequently.
At other points, Sansa demonstrates awareness that her legitimate birth places her above the illegitimate Jon; this attitude is portrayed in the following manner:
“Sansa could never understand how two sisters, born only two years apart, could be so different. It would have been easier if Arya had been a bastard, like their half brother Jon. … And Jon’s mother had been common, or so people whispered.”
“Sansa sighed as she stitched. “Poor Jon she said. He’ get’s jealous because he’s a bastard.”
“He’s our brother,” Arya said, much too loudly. Her voice cut through the afternoon quiet of the tower room. Septa Mordane raised her eyes…
“Our half brother,” Sansa corrected, soft and precise.
“He missed the girls too, even Sansa, who never called him anything but “my half brother” since she was old enough to understand what “bastard” meant.”
Once again, Arya is portrayed as the moral, correct sister; Sansa as the foolish, snobbish one. And once again, Sansa taking some pride in her social station and using it to place herself above others—only in the context of her own thoughts, in an utterly harmless manner—is portrayed as bitchy, wrong, unforgivable; something that she needs to be taught a lesson about. And yet, numerous male characters carry these same views, and are not caricatured for them at all. (Also interesting is that once again, Sansa is seeing herself as socially superior to a male the author relates to. Coincidence? Intentional? You be the judge.)
Ultimately Sansa, in AGOT and to an extent later novels, is portrayed as “good” but also with a good deal of subtle devices to portray her as wrong, incorrect, and needing to be “taught a lesson” about countless matters. (Which is perhaps why numerous people have creepily referred to everything that has happened to her since her father’s downfall as (and I quote) “Sansa reaping what she has sewn.”
It is this
Sansa being portrayed as good but (in many respects) intentionally annoying to the reader, and needing to be “taught a lesson”)that makes me so uncomfortable with Sanas’s character arc throughout the first four books. Because try as I might, I cannot get over the idea that Sansa, in ACOK-AFFC, is being punished for something.
Oh, not overtly, and the treatment of Joffrey and others is portrayed as “wrong.” Yet I couldn’t help but notice that in a sense, like Estella from great expectations, it seemed the author was at times using a sociopathic, evil male to “give Sansa what she needed”—i.e., break her noxious pride and beat her into shape. So while Sansa’s physical abuse and trials are portrayed as clearly wrong and she is never portrayed without sympathy, there’s also a weird feel to them, as though GRRM is somehow endeavoring to “break” Sansa of her feminine pride and other undesirable qualities that she shows overtly in AGOT, more subtly in ACOK and ASOS.
Edited by brashcandy, 07 June 2012 - 05:53 PM.