During the 1970s feminist movement, female literary scholars began to challenge certain gender stereotypes found in myths and fairytales. This practice came to be known as Feminist Revisionism, in which female authors rewrote and revised old stories and fairy tales freely until they no longer expressed principles based on a society dominated by men. They criticized familiar customs and literary conventions that were in various ways inadequate to fully portray or express the experiences of women. As Alicia Ostriker wrote in 1982, “[…] the language we speak and write has been an encoding of male privilege”44 and the dominance of men over women extended into the world of discourse and literature until it became a so-called “male hegemony over language”45. Breaking down these literary traditions revealed associated social tendencies and created the possibility of facilitating cultural and social change.
Literary conventions include, for example, oversimplification and the use of stereotypes that created two-dimensional and predictable female characters – in old myths and fairytales the female is very often either an innocent damsel in distress or a lethal temptress. Many male authors tended to write from a ‘male gaze’ perspective (known from feminist film studies), inadvertently making the female more passive than the male and objectified as a sexual being rather than an emotional one. And strong women in literature often became empowered only by absorbing characteristics that were seen as traditionally male, like a sense of ambition, the ability to think logically and emotional detachment. A female gender enlightened text in today’s society often involves women gaining confidence and strength by embracing their own sexuality and sense of feminine self, thereby not relying on or absorbing traits associated with masculinity.
Feminist Revisionism occurred as a response to the oppressed role of women in western society in the 1970s. In today’s society, feminism is still the focus of many productions of media, entertainment, political debates and literature. George R.R. Martin himself has commented,
“To me being a feminist is about treating men and women the same. I regard men and women as all human – yes there are differences, but many of those differences are created by the culture that we live in, whether it’s the medieval culture of Westeros, or 21st century western culture”46.
Although Martin is expressing views on gender equality, he calls it being a ‘feminist’, which automatically centers the discussion on the female gender and the feminine perspective. This example signifies how for George R.R. Martin human experience (which in the 1970s was criticized for encompassing all things male) may now increasingly come to encompass all things female instead and this practice is now visible in Martin’s very phrasing when he speaks. And though it has not been the focus of this project to examine this aspect, I suspect many others of expressing themselves with a similar phrasing – and being unaware of this development in their own language patterns. Anthony Synnott comments that “[masculinity] has been largely invisible in the social sciences until recently”47, referring to a lack of legislation and healthcare that is focused solely on men and the negative discrepancy against men in the many social issues mentioned earlier in this chapter. Women used to be the ones ignored in many aspects of life – now men are the ones to be inherently ignored.
When contemplating the possible bias against male characters in contemporary literature, I have conceived of certain criteria that help to identify the exact manner in which this bias may have manifested itself within the text. Pointing out possible bias in literature ultimately helps to reveal underlying social issues; revealing social issues is the first step toward facilitating social improvement. The following criteria are necessary for the analysis because the issues faced by men and women in real life are different. While a serious issue for women has been to be sexualized through the ‘male gaze’ (in fiction as well as reality), men are more likely to be victimized by violence and death in real life. Therefore, the literary analysis must reflect that fact:
Victimization: Considering the many aspects of social life in which men are the losers today, are the majority of victims of death, violence, alcoholism, depression, and general feelings of powerlessness (etc.) male or female in the series? If male, is it perceived as a natural part of life, an ingrained expectation in all the characters, that it simply should be the men who suffer most?
As described earlier in this chapter, men perform the vast majority of dangerous occupations, falling victim to wars and work accidents. This, combined with their lower life expectancy and higher suicide rates, signifies a considerable level of marginalization of men in contemporary society. This treatment as the disposable sex and the gospel of misandry among radical feminists has helped to create a very negative portrayal of men and masculinity throughout the last fifty years:
Negative Portrayals: Considering the level of marginalization and misandry that has occurred since the 1960s and 70s, are the majority of male characters in the series portrayed in mainly negative or positive terms? For example, do they exhibit any of the traits believed by misandrists to be an unavoidable part of a man’s nature (like aggression, emotional detachment and cruelty)?
In the past, women have been subject to a degrading level of simplification in literature to such an extent as to be reduced to a generalized set of stereotypes that became the acknowledged standard for female characters. To always be viewed from a sexual perspective has been a common factor for women in fiction; so has the level of passivity to which they have been ascribed. However, while women have been stereotyped as passive objects of a sexual gaze, so have men been stereotyped as active performers of this gazing. Generalization is therefore just as notable an issue for men, which calls for the last point of analysis:
Oversimplification: To what extent are the male characters in the series portrayed in stereotypical and oversimplified ways? For example regarding sexuality: are they mostly driven by their own sexuality, brought low because of it or corrupted by it?
George R.R. Martin has commented, “The pitfalls of lots of other fantasy texts is when writers stray into writing in stereotypes. Male or female, I believe in painting in shades of grey. All of the characters should be flawed; they all have good and bad, because that’s what I see. Yes, it’s fantasy, but the characters still need to be real”48. It remains to be seen if Martin succeeds in painting shades of grey in all aspects of his series. In the following analysis, I will therefore be examining whether Martin has aspects in his series that are in some way biased against the male characters, a bias that stems from a preconceived notion of how men and masculinity are defined.