A song of changing genders a literary gender analysis of

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The primary analysis focuses on two of the main male characters of A Song of Ice and Fire, Eddard Stark and Jaime Lannister. Eddard Stark was chosen because he is the supreme main character of the first volume, A Game of Thrones, with the vast majority of chapters pertaining to him. Jaime Lannister was chosen because even at a glance he displays a deep level of complexity – and an aspect of postmodernity, which suggests that he is highly relevant for the problem formulation in this project. It is the aim of these two analyses to examine to what extent the characters portray facets of contemporary masculinity as it has been defined in the previous chapter, and to determine the level of complexity and development demonstrated by them. Are the main forces that drive these two men inspired by postmodern ideas?

Section 4.2 of the analysis examines the series from the perspective of my own conceived “Masculine Revisionism”, which is inspired by its feminine counterpart – however, the questions asked are based on the characteristics of contemporary masculinity defined earlier in this project rather than the societal conditions existing when Feminist Revisionism first appeared in the 1970s.



Andrew Kimbrell has argued that a conversion took place in people’s perspective of the ideal man when society transformed from a mainly agriculturally based form to an industrial one49. Traditional values like honor, honesty and duty were replaced by the need for success, self-interest, ambition and the pursuit of power. Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, is the very embodiment of the traditional values that were fundamentally male during the pre-Industrial Age; values that were praised as the ideal of masculinity. He is a firm believer of the strict class system of feudalism, believing that there are fundamental differences in people from different levels of the social hierarchy. Smallfolk and peasants of the realm do not have ideals of honor and duty imposed on them, their lot is simply to survive; these ideals are a burden limited to the nobility. Because of the culture in which Ned has been brought up, he has therefore imposed upon himself a strong social pressure to live up to the ideal that he feels is expected of him – that of a strong and honorable lord, a powerful, dutiful and self-assured man.

Ned believes above all in the value of honor. It is the epitome of the masculine ideal, his version of the hegemonic male, and therefore in Ned’s mind all the valuable characteristics of a man’s identity are connected to honor. Being honest, dutiful, just and a protector of the weak are all honorable traits, which means that honor lies at the very core of a man’s being. A man without honor is nothing. This is one of the very first things brought to our attention when we encounter Ned. After removing the head of a deserter he tells his son, Bran, that an oathbreaker is the most dangerous man imaginable, “The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is taken, so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how vile” (1-14). Losing one’s honor is near irreversible from Ned’s viewpoint and even the slightest contact with someone dishonorable will make him feel tainted, “Ned would have welcomed [the rain]. It might have made him feel a trifle less unclean” (1-344). He feels the utmost contempt for men like Jaime Lannister and Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish who have both acted in ways that fail to live up to Ned’s honor ideal. The taint of dishonor cannot be erased from a man’s being once it has taken root there. Any male characters that Ned encounters are instantly judged on whether they uphold his ideals of an honorable man or not. Those who fail to live up to his standards are free to be met with contempt and disgust. Therefore, Eddard Stark encourages the strict standards of hegemonic masculinity that are demanded by the society to which he belongs.

Honesty is another fundamental value of a man’s identity, according to Ned. An innocent white lie to spare his daughter Sansa’s feelings does not come easily to him and “the words were raw in his throat” (1-304). As Robert lies dying after being gutted by a wild boar, Ned has a chance to ease Robert’s mind and vow to protect his children – the children that are not Robert’s by blood – and even then he is incapable of saying anything untruthful, “The words twisted in Ned’s belly like a knife. For a moment, he was at a loss. He could not bring himself to lie” (1-489). The phrasing signifies that it is physically painful for Ned to tell a lie, no matter the situation.

His rigid belief in honesty does him no favors in King’s Landing. Court is a place of intrigue, manipulation and deceit, and Ned is like a fish out of water. As he thinks to himself at his first council meeting, “He had no patience with this game they played, this dueling with words” (1-186). The capitol symbolizes a society whose traditional customs of feudalism have gradually been replaced by an emerging capitalism. The old values of inheritance, chivalry and social hierarchy have no place here. This development has been supported by Andrew Kimbrell’s description of how society evolved during the Industrial Revolution50.

Ned Stark is unaware of this societal transition. He is careless with his information, letting people near and far learn of his troubles with Robert and other members of the king’s council. He does not realize that in this environment, information is power. And power in King’s Landing can be dangerous in the wrong hands. To Ned, power is not something an honorable man will pursue for his own sake but only to further the wellbeing of others, especially his own family. When Robert Baratheon bestows on him the honor of becoming Hand of the King, the second-most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms, it is the last thing Ned wants, because it necessitates him to leave his home behind to journey south, splitting his family in half in the process. The reason he decides to accept Robert’s appointment is entirely honorable – the power from being Hand of the King enables him to investigate the murder of his mentor, Jon Arryn, and to protect his family and life-long friend, Robert. His reasoning is based entirely on honorable ideals: protecting the weak, finding truth and bringing dishonorable men to justice.

What Ned does not realize is that his notion of power is outdated – capitalism has entered the capitol and the people of King’s Landing are ruled by a modern form of Machiavellian power, one driven by self-interest and ambition. Due to his own standards of honor and honesty Ned is naturally trusting of the people around him, but as he comes to realize too late his views are outdated and result in his downfall. As Anthony Synnott has argued, trust in other people has come to mean naivety and gullibility51. While the grasping form of power for power’s sake is the life’s blood for a man like Littlefinger, it is incomprehensible to Ned who feels nothing but contempt for these modern values. He regards them as the lowest form of dishonor, since they fall short of his traditional masculine ideal and he refuses to make use of them.

Ned’s views on honor and power are not the only ideals of his that are outdated. Ned is a product of his upbringing and even though he does not mean to, he is quite gender biased. In his world, men are courageous warriors living up to the chivalric ideal of romance and women are courteous and gentle ladies who live to support their fathers and husbands. Women are the frailer sex to be cherished, while men must sacrifice their own health for the sake of their protection. In practice, this ideal manifests itself as dominance and oppression over the females in Ned’s life. Early in the first novel it is clear that Ned holds his children to different standards based on their gender: “Ned frowned. “He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming” (1-21). He is speaking of his youngest son, Rickon, who is just three years old and whom Ned is already expecting to start acting bravely, like the man he must grow into. In contrast, at the mention of Sansa marrying Prince Joffrey Ned is appalled at the idea, “Gods, Catelyn, Sansa is only eleven” (1-56). Ned expects his boys to grow into men sooner rather than later, while his girls are welcome to stay young and innocent for much longer.

Ned valorizes the hegemonic, masculine ideal of strong, capable warrior-types – skilled in battle, yet honorable above all. During a controversy between him and Robert in a council meeting, Ned reminds Robert of the words he uttered years ago when he pardoned Ser Barristan Selmy, “I will not kill a man for loyalty, nor for fighting well” (1-341). Not only is he saying that a loyal man is an honorable one, but also that an enemy with fighting skill can be trustworthy and worth pardoning. It was the raw, physical strength of his combat that saved Ser Barristan’s life, which shows the value that men like Ned and Robert lend to a man’s strength and battle prowess. The same valorization of strength is witnessed in the many instances, where Ned does not wish to appear weak in front of his men and especially the Lannisters.

When Catelyn Stark decides to seize Tyrion Lannister for his supposed crimes against her son, drama ensues. Jaime Lannister’s honor and pride are slighted when his brother is captured and he seeks out Ned for revenge. Ned acts as the honorable man and places the blame on his own shoulders, telling Jaime that “[your] brother has been taken at my command, to answer for his crimes” (1-370), when in fact he had no idea what Catelyn did until after the fact. But in order to protect the weaker female, Ned removes her completely from the equation and acts as if her decision was really his command all along. His action is at once both protective and undermining as he hides her influence from the decisions made. While the ‘protection’ of women in postmodern society may have come to mean oppression of men, as Anthony Synnott suggests when writing about the role of men’s self-sacrifice today, that is clearly not the case with Ned. Ned is the embodiment of tradition and as such his actions towards women really are oppressive as well as protective.

The relationship between Ned and his wife, Catelyn, is patriarchal in nature. Lord Eddard is the logical and practical man who soothes his wife’s womanly fears. After Catelyn has journeyed to King’s Landing to warn Ned of their son Bran’s attempted murder, Ned authoritatively gives her commands on how to act upon her return to Winterfell,

When the door had closed behind him, Ned turned back to his wife. “Once you are home, send word to Helman Tallhart and Galbart Glover under my seal. They are to raise a hundred bowmen each and fortify Moat Cailin […] And from this day on, I want a careful watch kept over Theon Greyjoy. If there is war, we shall have sore need of his father’s fleet.”

“War?” The fear was plain on Catelyn’s face.

It will not come to that,” Ned promised her, praying it was true […] He felt Catelyn tremble in his arms. Her scarred hands clung to him” (1-195/6).

Catelyn responds with the classically female, emotional and impractical wish to see her daughters before leaving and Ned must deny her that wish due to the danger that only he sees the full extent of. Throughout the exchange Catelyn expresses the unfounded hopes of a woman, Ned the cool and practical authority of a man. Surprisingly, Catelyn only acts with such ‘feminine’ passivity when she and Ned are together. When on her own she shows true agency and authority. As she sails south to King’s Landing to meet Ned, the crafty Captain Moreo tries to trick gold out of her but she handles him with cunning and perceptiveness – and yet as soon as she arrives: “[she] cried out when she saw him, ran to him, and embraced him fiercely […] “I feared you’d never come, my lord,” she whispered against his chest” (1-191). In an abrupt shift, Catelyn acts as a weak and frightened woman who yearns to be protected and Ned takes over her cunning and her perceptiveness in the following dialogue with Littlefinger. Ned is usually lacking at any skill of manipulation or intrigue, being very open and careless with his information; but during this dialogue it is Catelyn who makes an error in judgment by trusting Littlefinger, while Ned is portrayed in a much more wary and cautious light,

“’I told Petyr our suspicions about Jon Arryn’s death,” Catelyn said. “He has promised to help you find the truth.” That was not news that Eddard Stark welcomed…” (1-194).

Ned acts with supreme authority when he is with Catelyn and her passive and submissive behavior only enhances the effect; she is equally as traditional in her gender ideals as he is, feeding his oppression of her just as much as he does. While the ingrained aspect of tradition in both Catelyn and Ned is clearly a deliberate design by George R.R. Martin, the same deliberation is less clear in regards to Catelyn’s changing behavior. Her sudden shifts in conduct and attitude seem less thought out on Martin’s part.

Ned’s traditional view on gender is especially clear whenever he interacts with his daughter, Arya Stark. From an early age she objects to the traditional gender ideal of a romantic lady, preferring to play with swords rather than needles. She would rather be a knight than a lady, a fact that is completely incomprehensible to Ned,

Arya cocked her head to one side. “Can I be a king’s councilor and build castles and become a High Septon?”

You,” Ned said, kissing her lightly on the brow, “will marry a king and rule his castle, and your sons will be knights and princes and lords and, yes, perhaps even a High Septon.”

Arya screwed up her face. “No,” she said, “that’s Sansa” (1-248).

She objects to his old-fashioned views and for some time Ned plays along with what he considers childish play. He hires a Braavosi master of swords to teach her how to fight, but never expects her to become skilled at it, “Surely she would grow tired of this soon” (1-308). He greatly underestimates the power of her conviction that gender roles can be transformed. Tradition is so ingrained in his character that change of any sort in the world he knows is beyond his understanding.

Ned is so rigid in his belief system that he is completely inflexible and unforgiving. He is immovable as stone in his opinions and worldviews and once his mind is made up, it is near impossible to change. The stony certainty that Ned places in his honor, which enables him to set clear boundaries between right and wrong – that same certainty is found in the Stark crypts that “continued on into darkness ahead of them, but beyond this point the tombs were empty and unsealed; black holes waiting for their dead, waiting for him and his children” (1-39). He knows exactly where he will end in death and he exhibits that certainty in every aspect of his living existence. The phrasing in many of Ned’s chapters supports this image of him as stone, as immovable. Robert calls him a “frozen-faced fool” (1-341), Ned gives Littlefinger “a stony stare” (1-494) and his “voice was ice” (1-495) after Littlefinger insults him with his less-than-honorable proposals. In the unlikely event that Ned does waver in his resolve, he does not let anyone know of the fact but keeps his doubts to himself. This is supported by Anthony Synnott and Andrew Kimbrell’s shared assessment that hegemonic men are unwilling to show weakness of any kind. Doubting oneself smacks of a lack of self-confidence, which is out of the question for a dominant and autonomous man like Ned.

Ned believes so strongly in honor that he will always act in its interest so long as it is only his life that is at risk; he is willing to give his life in order to uphold the ideal of honor. The only time he feels conflicted is when it is not his own life, but that of his family, that is at risk. After being betrayed by Littlefinger, Ned lingers in a dungeon cell and tells Varys that he will not recognize Joffrey as the rightful king, because his “word would be as hollow as an empty suit of armor. My life is not so precious to me as that”. Varys counters, “And your daughter’s life, my lord? How precious is that?” (1-613). Two usually harmonious values like honor and family are suddenly at conflict with one another, forcing him to choose between them. As much as he loathes dishonorable men, naturally he does not want anyone to think of him that way, so his inner struggles are connected to his pride as well.

He is the dominant and powerful focal point of his world in the North and rules his keep with autonomous control. As such, Ned is unwilling to show any form of weakness – especially to his enemies. In the North his authority is unrivaled and he sits firmly and comfortably in the role as Warden of the North and ruler of his household. However, this all changes when he journeys south to become Hand of the King. At the first council meeting, he “[strides] into the council chambers, bone-tired and dressed in borrowed clothing” (1-185). Here in King’s Landing it is clear from the start that Ned is out of his element. He strides with his usual authority, but he is at a disadvantage compared to the other council members. Later the weakening of his physical condition after Jaime Lannister’s vengeful attack is an additional symbol of the gradual decline of his authority,

Every eye in the hall was fixed on him, waiting. Slowly, Ned struggled to his feet, pushing himself up from the throne with the strength of his arms, his shattered leg screaming inside its cast. He did his best to ignore the pain; it was no moment to let them see his weakness” (1-453).

Littlefinger says it clearly, “Here in the south, they say you are all made of ice, and melt when you ride below the Neck” (1-186). Ned’s authority and male dominance are characteristics that help him identify himself as a man – their decline once he travels south signifies the decline of his very masculinity, culminating in his execution when he proclaims himself a traitor, deliberately tarnishing his personal image and relinquishing his male pride in the name of protecting his family. To his surroundings it would seem that he discards all honor by declaring that Joffrey, a cruel bastard born of incest between the queen and her brother, is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. This lie would be the final step to losing what shred of masculinity he has left. Paradoxically, however, his action is in truth the highest form of self-sacrifice as he knowingly sullies his own legacy with the brand of a traitor in order to protect the lives of his children. Thus he manages to act with the utmost degree of honor until the very last.

Ned is haunted by his past guilts. During Robert’s Rebellion he was forced to kill three legendary knights, who had sworn to protect the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen. These knights of old were Ned’s ideal incarnate. They were his heroes, their names legendary and celebrated across the Seven Kingdoms, and slaying them because they lived by the same honor code that he did has haunted him in nightmares and dark nostalgic flashbacks ever since. The faces of those he has slain “burned clear, even now” while the faces of his friends who rode by his side are merely “grey wraiths” (1-409) in his memory; this signifies that his guilt has taken precedence in his mind over the good that he wrought during that war. He dreams,

And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.

No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends” (1-410).

Ned’s dream has a prophetic light to it, as if he is really saying that this is the end of chivalry, the end of honor, of masculinity and the world as he knows it. When Varys comes to see him in the dungeons after being betrayed, he comments that he has known very few truly honorable men in his life, “When I see what honesty and honor have won you, I understand why” (1-611). Ned is of a dying breed. It is clear that he is one of the few honorable men left in King’s Landing (and as it turns out, the rest of George R.R. Martin’s world) and his honor is no longer empowering, it is crippling. As Littlefinger points out, “You wear your honor like a suit of armor, Stark. You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move” (1-496).

In Ned’s traditional world, titles are earned when a man acts honorably and valiantly to such an extent that it exceeds his current social status. When the council plans to grant a title of lordship to anyone who murders Daenerys Targaryen, “Ned was disgusted. “So now we grant titles to assassins.” Littlefinger shrugged. “Titles are cheap. The Faceless Men are expensive” (1-347). Littlefinger’s approach to the situation is practical. It speaks of an emerging capitalism that celebrates practicality and economy. It is more goal-oriented where the end justifies the means, to the utter disgust of honorable Ned Stark. He cannot accept that titles would be used as political pawns (the fact that women have been used as such through arranged marriage for centuries does not cross his mind, signifying how biased his upbringing has made him towards women). George R.R. Martin has incorporated into the very phrasing that the old world of titles and honors is diminishing. As Ned wakes up injured in the street after Jaime Lannister’s attack, it says “When he opened his eyes again, Lord Eddard Stark was alone with his dead” (1-372). The use of Ned’s title tied to the vulnerability of his position seems to emphasize that titles have no influence any longer. Feudalism and chivalry are dead and Ned, who is the embodiment of these ideals, struggles to exist within this new reality.

As we come to find, Ned has an outdated view of the world. He believes that honesty, honor, justice and duty are still the ideals worshipped by the realm’s nobility. But as he gradually realizes, those old ideals have died out in the south and been replaced by new ideals like ambition, personal success, gaining and retaining power, and being clever enough to trick and manipulate your enemies. His realization of the change that has happened in the society surrounding the royal court symbolizes the change that has taken place in the real world, described by Andrew Kimbrell in The Masculine Mystique, as we moved through the Industrial Age to a postmodern society52.

In the end, Ned’s downfall is brought to pass because of his inability to conform to the new societal ideals. While he is busy archaically worrying about other warriors and their armies, he completely ignores the level of deception and manipulation that is going on in the capitol. Following the death of the king, he brings Robert’s will and testament to the throne room as leverage and proof of his own authority and right to the throne; seconds later Cersei rips the will into pieces, saying “Is this meant to be your shield, my lord? A piece of paper?” (1-509). She shows clearly that contracts only have power if people lend power to them; otherwise they are simply worthless pieces of paper. Ned, with all his vows and words of honor and his honesty and sense of justice, is at a loss as she rips apart his honor as easily as she does paper. Ned’s tragic development within the story symbolizes the end of the traditional values from a pre-Industrial Age in an emerging postmodern society driven by profit and personal success.

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