Down With Love

The latest IGN review of Game of Thrones has got me feeling… mildly disgruntled. It’s just one sentence, but it’s a sentiment that I’ve seen repeated, in various forms, all over the web since The Lion and the Rose aired.

It’s worth noting too that the series has landed down firmly on the “Brienne secretly loves Jaime” side of the fence, which weakens her character if you ask me.

Repeat after me, folks: romantic plotlines don’t ruin female characters.

A female character isn’t weak because she has normal human emotions. She isn’t anti-feminist because she has vulnerabilities. There’s a difference between a female character existing entirely to be in love with the male character and a female character who happens to have a romantic subplot as part of her story.

It isn’t feminist to insist that female characters have to be “badass” unfeeling robots, detached from absolutely anything considered “feminine,” including, apparently, emotions. Sure, we don’t want female characters to be damsels in distress, but swinging in the other direction, to cardboard-cutout-badass-making-quips, isn’t much better. Good female characters appear human. And sorry, romance-haters, but love is a part of that.

Of course, I’m a little biased in this case, because I’m also in the “Brienne loves Jaime” camp (and in less of a neutral and more of an “omg otp!!” kind of way). But love is already a major part of Brienne’s character. She loved Renly. Her having soft and girly feelings isn’t exactly a new development. Brienne is a badass with a sword, and she eschews a lot of gender expectations, but her personality is far closer to Sansa’s than Arya’s. She’s quite naive, a romantic in the Arthurian sense of the word, captivated by stories of honor and often motivated by love. That’s what’s so great about her character! She shows that a female character doesn’t have to reject all softness or vulnerability or stereotypical feminine characteristics to be the warrior maiden type. In fact, these “feminine” attributes put her far closer to the traditional knightly ideal than anyone else.

Yet the show has made an effort to “toughen up” Brienne and make her more into the expected stereotypical badass, and these reviews buy into the idea that that is the way a good female character should be. She’s “not like other girls,” and anything that seems too girly only diminishes her.

And it’s nonsense. It’s sexist, offensive nonsense, paraded as some kind of powerful feminist statement. And it really needs to stop.

12 comments on “Down With Love

  • Lars Sjöström , Direct link to comment

    Love makes a lot of the characters in asoiaf make things that many times are very stupid. Sansa betraying her father, Arys Oakheart letting Arianne use him, and so on. I do not always like the plot development, but it makes the characters more human. Some are more able to resist love and temptation than others, like Jon Snow who stay loyal to the watch despite Ygritte and Ser Balon Swann who wan’t be seduced as “easily” as Ser Arys Oakheart(according to Areo Hotah). Brienne is certainly one of the least “love-resistant” characters, but she is intelligent, quick-thinking and determined.

    Arya might become more romantic when she gets older, she has after all not reached puberty yet. But according to the latest chapter GRRM has released, she have some insights in sexuality at the age of eleven or twelve.

  • Linda , Direct link to comment

    After all, strong male characters ALSO falls in love and are affected of this. So why mot strong female characters? It would be sad if a female character had to be either an emotionless robot, or someone whos whole existence circles around a man (or finding a man).

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Right! I’ve been trying to think of any time anyone has said “Jaime’s a great swordsman, but his love for Cersei just weakens him as a character,” or even “Why does Iron Man/Spiderman/Superman have to have a love interest? He’s a HERO, he should be too busy fighting to be concerned with love!” Unsurprisingly, nothing is coming to mind.

  • Lars Sjöström , Direct link to comment

    Speaking of Arthurian characters, there are at least four versions of Lancelot(A great knight who love and bed the queen). Brienne is a great knight in all but name, and feels unrequited love for king Renly(a king instead of a queen). Ser Loras is a great jouster and swordsman with bad judgement and King Renlys lover. Ser Jaime is a great knight and the queens lover. Ser Lancel want to be a great knight and the queens lover.

  • M.C , Direct link to comment

    This. All of this.

    I hate it when people say that Brienne is such a badass. Because she isn’t. She’s the complete opposite: a romantic at heart who acts out of love, compassion and kindness. She’s not a generic warrior woman, she’s a girly girl who believes in honesty and goodness. And when the world was cruel to her, it didn’t make her jaded and bitter, it only made her more determined to be honourable and kind and do the right thing. I mean, ffs she spends most of her time rescuing orphans like Sansa and Pod.

    Brienne may look like a badass warrior woman, but in her heart she’s a Disney Princess like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUGnu0gXtn4

  • ravenya003 , Direct link to comment

    TBH, I think that nine out of ten people who say “being a love interest weakens a female character!” are disgruntled shippers. I’ve seen it so many times before: Uhura from the Star Trek reboot and Guinevere from “Merlin” to name but two – they were considered “badass” up until the moment they become love interests to attractive male characters, after which they’re called “weak” and “just a love interest” (requiring the viewer to ignore everything they do OUTSIDE the role of a girlfriend).

    I call it “faux-feminism handwringing”, in which a commentator PRETENDS to be ultra-concerned about the integrity of a female character, when in actuality they’re just trying to sound less petty than if they displayed full-on Die For Our Ship.

    It may not be the case here, but if the writer of the above quote was a Jamie/Cersei shipper – well, let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised.

  • Maddy , Direct link to comment

    I’m a massive Jaime-Brienne shipper, but in my opinion it was a bit too early for them to be throwing out the ‘Brienne is in love with Jaime’ thing. I definitely think it’s pretty clear in AFFC that both Jaime and Brienne have strong feelings for each other when they think about each other (even if they don’t want to or can’t recognise it as ‘love’). I’m not sure Cersei would have been that obvious about her feelings for Jaime either (not saying Cersei is always super subtle, but she is definitely very concerned with her reputation because she knows that all her power will be gone if the truth about her childrens paternity is suspected). I wish that they had played it as Cersei being jealous of Brienne because of her status as a warrior rather than this awkward love triangle.

    I do love how Gwendoline Christie played it as absolute shock because that had never occurred to her (unless I’m reading it wrong) and in general how she looks so vulnerable and out of place in KL. I don’t necessarily mind that Jaime and Brienne are back in KL earlier than in the books, but it does do a disservice to Brienne’s character that she doesn’t even try and approach Sansa at all.

    I know GRRM wrote this episode so maybe I shouldn’t complain, and I do tend to overthink these kind of scenes that are written specifically for the tv show.

  • Ellesar , Direct link to comment

    Although the quote does not necessarily condemn romance for ‘strong women’, and I do not know GOT so I cannot contextualise it I take your point. These ‘badass’ strong women can just be annoying (Keira Knightly in the later POTC films for eg), and they are not necessarily feminist.

    I know a woman reknowned for her physical aggression, and feminist is the LAST thing she is – when a man said that she was a lesbian she punched him.

    Being a physically strong or exceptionally brave woman does not make her a feminist, or even necessarily a good ‘role model’.

    • Blue , Direct link to comment

      “Being a physically strong or exceptionally brave woman does not make her a feminist, or even necessarily a good ‘role model’.”

      Right. What makes Brienne a good role model is that she is a woman who stands by her principles, does what she believes to be right, and is not afraid of breaking the mold. She’s brave enough to enter an occupation believed to be exclusively for men. She can fight as hard as any man, but she is kind to people (especially other women).

      She swore herself to Cat, because she trusted and believed in her. She is looking for Arya and Sansa, because she believes it is the right thing to do. She has protected other women from rape and violence while on her travels. And she’s done all this while being ridiculous at every turn.

      It’s Brienne’s inner strength that makes her truly strong, and a truly wonderful role model.

      • Blue , Direct link to comment

        I meant “being ridiculed at every turn”.

        Brienne faces so much mockery for being different, but she never lets that stop her.

  • Justine , Direct link to comment

    Since when does ‘female badass’ mean ‘female who acts like a traditional male’? Why does female badassery have to look + sound like the traditional male model of it — which not only rejects the feminine but actively devalues it (Arya’s remark that “most girls are stupid”)? If patriarchy has taken the concept of femininity and trivialized it, how is it feminist to buy into that definition instead of exploding and reclaiming it?

    The term ‘badass feminine’ should *not* be perceived as an oxymoron.

    There is power in honest vulnerability and strength in the ability to connect ( + the two are related — we connect through being vulnerable + exposing our inner selves). Maybe as a culture we don’t quite know what ‘female badass’ really looks like yet, but I’m betting it’s a lot more complex and nuanced and integrated — and original — than some one-note warrior woman stereotype. Pre-patriarchy, the goddess of war was *also* the goddess of love + fertility. A lover *and* a fighter: now that is badass.

What do you think?

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