Friday, March 7, 2014

Feminism Friday: Lets Talk About Sansa Stark

For anyone who doesn't know what Feminism Fridays are please read my introduction post that can be found here!

Having grown up largely on American popular culture, I am no stranger to weak female characters.

According to television my greatest aspiration in life should be to find a man and get married; I will of course be hopelessly confused after achieving this because according to all the movies that is the end of my story.

According to basically everything my purpose in life as a woman is and always shall be to further the character development and plot of the white male protagonist who I'm probably desperately in love with. This makes me particularly nervous because this character is also on the top of the "Most Likely to Die" list.

No, my friends. I am no stranger to 2 dimensional female characters who are basically nothing more than plot devices in the male protagonist's story. And as someone who is all too familiar with this pattern I must ask

Why do people spend so much time hating on Sansa Stark?

I have been noticing for awhile that people seem to be misunderstanding the concept of a "strong female character," and while I think the term is partially to blame for this, I think false feminist ideologies have also played a role. Many people seem to be under the impression that writing a strong female character means giving the girl a gun and calling it good. It means she does not have a romantic relationship with a man in the story. It means she is physically strong and does not need anyone's help to do anything.

Not only is this not the definition of a strong female character, a character with all of those traits is just as likely to be 2 dimensional as a character who gets married and becomes a dutiful housewife.

The definition of a strong female character is not- or at least should not- be so basic as whether or not they protect themselves physically. The definition of a strong female character is a fully developed character with a life and story of her own; a character that does not exist merely for the purpose of furthering the male protagonist's story. They can be a housewife with 8 kids, a kickass warrior, or anything in between.

We don't need a world full of Wonder Womans, though don't get me wrong I would love to see more women like her too! What we need is a world full of all types of fully constructed relateable female characters. The female population of the world is amazingly diverse, believe it or not, and we need a world of fictional female characters that reflects that. That means a world full of women like Mulan and Wonder Woman, but also a world full of women like Sansa Stark.

Sansa has been called a stupid and annoying character. She has been accused of being just another weak and useless female character, a pawn in the Game of Thrones. She is attacked for being so desperate to marry Joffrey and become queen, for being so stereotypically feminine, especially in comparison to her much more obviously "feminist forward" younger sister, Arya. All of these attacks, I would argue, are entirely unwarranted.

***Spoilers Ahead: if you have not read through book/ watched through season 3 of the series, I suggest you turn back now!***

In response to the attacks on her being "too feminine," I have to ask how anyone in the eyes of feminism could ever be "too feminine." You are literally attacking her for the same reasons men have oppressed women for centuries. The whole point of feminism is to say "women can be housewives, but they do not have to be; women can be warriors, but they do not have to be." We cannot start telling our girls they cannot want to be a princess; we just need to start telling them they don't have to want to be a princess. Women like Sansa exist in the world and they deserve to have well-written characters to relate to as much as anyone else.

In response to the accusations of her being annoying: Yes, she is sometimes. Haven't you ever heard of a character flaw? I would also argue that she becomes considerably less annoying the further into the series you go, which I believe would be referred to in the real world as growing up.

Moving on. Yes, Sansa started out exceptionally naive and hopelessly determined to marry her beloved Prince Joffrey. She was also 11 years old when the series started (slightly older in the television series; 13 I believe). She was raised as a Lady of Winterfell and was taught from a young age that one day she would be married to a nobleman of another house; this is what she wanted, what she had dreamed of since she was a little girl. Is it really any wonder that she would be so anxious and desperate to please Joffrey considering how she was raised? This is not the marking of a 2 dimensional plot device of a character; this is a character whose backstory clearly explains why she is the way she is.

Even more importantly, Sansa has undergone drastic character development since her introduction. She is no longer the naive little girl who blindly does as she is told. She has become an insanely intelligent young woman who has so far succeeded in keeping herself alive, which is more than much of her family can say. As
Cercei said:

Sansa is playing the game as best she can, and she is doing quite well. More than once we have seen her intelligence, especially when dealing with King Joffrey. My personal favorite was this little gem:
"Of course you'll be in the vanguard. They say my brother Robb always goes where the fighting is thickest, and he is only a pretender"
She knows Joffrey cannot fight. She knows he has no intention of leading his men. This is a deliberate insult that Joffrey must ignore because acknowledging it would mean acknowledging that he is less of a king that Robb. Even better, she is trying to manipulate him, to convince him to join the vanguard to prove himself a proper king in hopes that he will get himself killed. This is not the line of a weak plot device. This is the line of a brilliant character.

In short, we have seen Sansa go from this:

to Joffrey telling her: "After I raise my armies and kill your traitor brother, I'll give you his head as well."
and her responding:

At one point Tyrion even offers to try to get her out of her engagement to Joffrey and she refuses, insisting she is "loyal to [her] beloved Joffrey." She watched her father be beheaded for disloyalty to the crown and she has no intention of following him. I think Tyrion sums in up when he says

Sansa is an amazing, intelligent, well written female character. She wears long dresses and is an excellent embroiderer. She does not wield a sword, but she has a sharp wit that has been successful in keeping her alive. She shows us that it is possible to be both exceptionally feminine and exceptionally strong, that we do not have to choose one or the other because they are not mutually exclusive. I want more characters like Sansa Stark.

There are real important battles to be fought in the realm of female representation in fiction. Sansa Stark is simply not one of them.

What do you think about Sansa? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I turned away because I don't want anything spoiled for me. That said, I completely agree, especially the part about false ideas of feminism. People think it means not getting married, aborting all the babies and burning bras. Dear lord! How about it just means you can be whoever you are and should be respected as the complex human being you are. This goes for fictional characters as well. Game of Thrones is a show I plan to watch as as soon as I read the books. I imagine that becoming queen holds some kind of power for this character. If she were a man, obsessed with marriage in order to become king, that would be normal. The flip should be normal too.

    1. It is definitely a problem. Hopefully I do my part to help educate on what feminism actually is!

      Sansa isn't so much desperate to marry him to become queen, (although there is a character like that too and she is FABULOUS! ohgosh I love her) she really is just naively desperately in love with him at the beginning (or at least she is convinced she is). She grows into herself so so much though and has been through so much and she just really does not get enough credit. I don't want to say too much, but I really think you'll love this series!