Sansa Stark Is George R. R. Martin’s Best Argument For Feminism

One of the aspects of Game of Thrones that I find fascinating is that, while the women in it may dress in medieval garb, all of them seem to be exploring a modern take on gender roles. Rob Stark’s wife is a surgeon. Brianne is a knight. There are plenty of women on Game of Thrones who don’t seem to have been held back by the fact that they were born female.

If there is a glass ceiling in Westeros it seems one that can be ruptured by dragons.

The only character who may have a completely traditional (by our standards) concept of gender roles is Sansa Stark. She, like many, many girls, believes that if she is pretty and well behaved, a prince will ride up and marry her and she will live happily ever after.

And she is pretty. And she is well behaved. And a prince does come and take her away.

And wow, that does not work out. 

The prince turns out to be a sociopath. A really horrible person. And Sansa is in a position where she cannot do anything about her situation. Whenever Joffrey does something  terrible – forcing Sansa to look at her father’s severed head on a wall, beating her in front of the court – and someone asks her about it, she repeats as if by rote, “Joffrey is my one true love.” In a heartbreaking scene Margaery Tyrell invites her over for lemon cakes (lemon cakes are Sansa’s favorite) and asks Sansa to tell her the true nature of Joffrey’s character; at which point she weeps that he is a monster.

If seeing Sansa Stark’s condition doesn’t make women rethink their Disney notions of happiness then nothing will.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with accepting traditional roles. There’s nothing wrong with being pretty and well behaved. But, if nothing else, Sansa Stark is a reminder that it is important to have the freedom to walk away if the Prince who rides up turns out to be King Joffrey.

In a very fantastical show, Sansa may be the character who most grounds it in reality. She represents the ideas with which many of us grew up. And that’s terrific. Otherwise, Game of Thrones would just be a show about women with dragons and sexy, superhuman willpower (or, at least, pluck). And it’s her, certainly more than any of the other characters, that make me fully believe that, yes, George R.R. Martin is a feminist.

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    • Ruby

      I’ve been waiting so long for an article like this. Sansa’s one of the most realistic female characters in the books and TV show, I’ve got hope that she will become a major player.

    • Anna

      Joffery forces her to see her father’s head. Love the article and I have loved Sansa for the same reasons. She is a tragic leason in the reality of a woman’s life, Cersei too but later.

      • Anonachocolatemousse

        I was hoping that was a mistake, otherwise I would be upset by spoilers!

      • sabrina

        if you don’t want spoilers on last season don’t read stuff about it!

      • Anonachocolatemousse

        I’ve been watching since season 1 so not too concerned about that. Thought it was a reference to something that happened later. Thanks though!

    • Anonachocolatemousse

      Sansa is very naive about the world. But the last 2 episodes have sort of endeared her to me. She’s a scared little girl who has had her dreams dashed and has no sense of her family anymore.

    • Colleen

      Incidentally, the gratuitous lesbian action while Littlefinger discusses power is in the television series, not in the books. Also the relationship between Renly and Loras is played up more in the series than in the books.

      • Cee

        Thats pretty obvious. The show is going to have many tidbits the book didnt.

    • Cee

      Sansa breaks my heart. She is so broken and cannot hide it. It is why Joffrey abuses her. Mu favorite character this season is Margaery. She is kind but unlike Sansa she can smile on as Joffrey does bad things. Its her defense mechanism so he doesnt hurt her. Very bright at keeping herself alive.

    • JennyWren

      I think Sansa is one of the most interesting characters in the books (I am behind on the TV series, so cannot really comment on that…). It’s very, very easy to hate her because, as you said, she is selfish and petty and disloyal, and well, not very bright. But the books do an excellent job of demonstrating that she’s working within a very limiting society (all of the women who do try to break out of this have enormous problems- Arya, Cersei, Brienne, etc.) and Sansa has nowhere near their resources to draw upon. Essentially, she’s obliged to become a survivor in the very truest sense, someone who can’t afford loyalties or affection because she might lose them at any second. It’ll be fascinating to see what happens to her over the next book.

    • Lo

      Sansa was an idiot, but a young idiot, and she’s learning how to survive. All that grovelling goes against her Starkly upbringing, too, but she shelves her dignity and gets on with it. I’d like to see her in a position of authority further down the line.

      Slightly related: Olenna Tyrell. Look how awesome. I have some reservations about the way they’re writing this season, but I’ll mind a lot less if she gets scenes in every episode.

    • AmbienceChaser

      Sansa’s obsession with romantic stories always reminded me of a less spunky Anne of Green Gables. I could totally see her floating down a river pretending to be Lady Jonquil.

    • kj

      Hey! Some of us here happen to enjoy gratuitous lesbian sex scenes.

      I mean… what?!

    • gbur

      I’ve read all the books a few times, but a few years ago – I never remembered Rob Stark’s wife being a surgeon in them, in my memory she sort of just turned up and they didn’t really explore their relationship at all (not like the awesome romantic stuff that went on in the series). Can someone with a better memory enlighten me? Have to made his wife a way cooler character in the tv series or am I just forgetful?

      If they have then it would seem that GOT TV show is adding feminist plot lines – like how in LOTR all the cool female scenes in the movie (ie Arwen with Frodo on the horse and being chased by all the baddies) were actually just the screenplay and not present in the books.

      • gbur

        Have they**

      • Lo

        In the book, Robb married Jeyne Westerling, a lord’s daughter who fixed up his wounded arm (and shagged him) after he’d taken her castle. Talisa Maegyr has a bit of the medical stuff and nobility in common, but she’s largely made up by the show and ninety hundred zillion times more modern-morality. I suspect they changed the name because there’s another Jeyne in the plot.

    • Palms Smith

      I have watched every episode. Cannot recall but one “lesbian” sex scene. It was in a brothel and one was role playing as a male in a sort of “instructional” role. Maybe you just like lesbian sex scenes and imagine them everywhere?