Game of Thrones’ Sansa shows that “femininity” doesn’t mean “anti-feminist” in the lastest season. After last season’s fire about her rape, the show is making a comeback with her story and expanding more on the feminist qualities of her narrative
Warning! Spoilers for Seasons 1-6!
Season five’s rape scene with Sansa Stark, Ramsay Bolton, and Theon Greyjoy is a difficult scene to watch. Between the sound of Sansa’s screams and Theon’s stricken face, and the horror of our imaginations, it was hard to imagine what must have been happening. Maybe the visceral reality of the scene is what made so many audience viewers outraged at the show’s treatment of Sansa.
Which I find a bit confusing, in all honesty.
I find Sansa’s character development to be quite impressive. Despite being lamb-like and shallow in the first season, she undergoes a long series of traumatic events and does not break. From the first season, and now to the sixth, after everything House Stark has gone through, Sansa is indomitable. There is no type of abuse Sansa cannot overcome. Game of Thrones has yet to break the least favorite family member of the Starks.
I think something that happens to female characters when they’ve been hurt in some way is being to act more brazenly and spunky; Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth are all good examples of that. They exhibit a physical toughness that helps them cope with their pasts.
Well, Sansa doesn’t do that at all.
She uses her femininity to her advantage, and uses her “little dove” act as a way of making herself look weak and unassuming, all while plotting on her own. She’s channeling the same strength that Arya and Daenerys have, just in a different way; if she can’t overpower her enemies, she will bide her time until she has enough leverage to defeat them. The world is not kind to women, and as Brienne once said to Catelyn, Sansa has cultivated the “woman’s courage” to survive. It’s that kind of courage that all strong, female Westerosi characters in Game of Thrones develop in order to live, thrive, and undermine the inherent patriarchy of their society.
Her rape is both a huge step for her as a character, and also in terms of plot. It also says a lot about the entire phenomena of rape that isn’t always obvious. In terms of plot, the scene fits. Rape is completely in line with Ramsay’s character, and no one is safe in Game of Thrones. At the same time, Sansa is plotting her escape in her mind. As a part of her character development, Sansa being raped is as important as all the other moments which have defined her story; it’s a life-altering event. From here on out, the way she takes action will also be influenced by her past. It wouldn’t be right to cut out such an important moment just because it is unpleasant to watch.
Another thing that gets overlooked is Theon’s role in the scene. Audience members were also angry with his role in the moment, and interpreted this as the thing that triggers Theon into helping Sansa escape from Winterfell, as though the showrunners made the rape of woman about a man. In the books, Theon is actually ordered by Ramsay to help him sexually assault the fake Arya (who is really Jeyne Poole); his presence there is true to the book canon. Also, I think his being there shows that victims of rape are not the only people effected by rape; Theon is a character who knows Sansa, very personally. They grew up together as siblings, and when someone have such a personal relationship with another person, knowing they have been raped does have an effect on a person. Often, we think about the victims of rape and their trauma, but we don’t always think about their loved ones, who are forced to watch the victims suffer, and the effects it has on them. Rape doesn’t just effect a single person, it effects an entire network of people profoundly, and it’s important to acknowledge the ripple effect it can have.
Sansa Stark is feminist in a way that modern feminism is teaching young girls to despise: she embraces her femininity, and uses her strengths to her advantages. It’s completely fine to be naturally more masculine in your behaviors, but to be feminine means that you are no different from the women who took years of mistreatment from the patriarchy. But you don’t have to reject your femininity, to be a feminist. Sansa’s rape wasn’t a message from the producers, to promote violence against women, it was about how no matter what life throws at her way, no matter how horrible it is to her and the people around her, Sansa ins’t letting her trauma define her as a victim or change her as a person. With one character, Game of Thrones is showing that feminism is more than just undermining what the patriarchy says what a female must be. It’s about respecting and using your strengths, where they are traditionally feminine or masculine.