When critiquing popular works from a social justice perspective, I sometimes find myself confronted with the Equal Opportunity Argument. It is written “Equal Opportunity Argument” but pronounced “Well the MENZ have bad stuff happen to them too!”
This comes up especially often when I bring up the treatment of female characters in George R R Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series. I will admit to my experience with the franchise being limited to the first season of the Game of Thrones TV show. Everything else I know about the books is from people constantly referencing them and from trusted reviews. My psychic powers tell me that someone is going to invalidate me and will ask me to read the books. My answer is “No.” Why? Let me share with you one of my new favourite figures of speech I’ve learned from the internet “I’m not going to eat a shit sandwich when I can already smell its stink from far.” Something like that.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on with this.
Firstly, I’m not suggesting that equal opportunity cannot happen. What I am saying is that it is too often used to disguise the same old discriminatory tropes we should have abandoned long ago. Equal opportunity is only true when the reasons are the same for both the privilege and marginalised groups.
“Bad things happen to the MENZ too!!!” Sure it does, but the reasons are different.
1) Responsibility of action. In ASOFAI, the male characters have bad things happen to them because they put themselves in those situations in the first place. They scheme and asshole their way to where they are and the bad thing which happens is simply a karmic twist in the tale. They had a choice and they choose to do evil. What happened to them is entirely their fault. (Exception to this rule: Ned Stark. See below.) Whereas the female characters are in their predicament not because of their own doing, but because they were forced into it by others. Power is key here.
2) Purpose. Male characters are punished because of their immoral deeds (although I hear Jaime Lannister gets some sort of redemption. Ugh.) The only male character I know who is punished for being good is Ned Stark. The entire reason why the plot twist at the end of Game of Thrones worked was because, for a long while, he projected as someone who clings onto his morals in a world of treachery. You thought he was going to be THE HERO but then he ended up with a bad case of Head-On-A-Spike. Make no misake, however, for he was still A hero. He did a lot of cool stuff while he was alive and his death was that of a matyr.
Shame we can’t say that about the women. The bad stuff which happened to them served as victimisation. Once again, sympathy is elicited from us via witnessing horrible acts inflicted upon fragile women. “Hold on,” you may say, “what about Arya and Cercei? Arya had adventures and Cercei eventually got the power she so wanted!” My maybe answer to you is “That’s my third point.”
3) Tropey tropes are tropey. Arya is doing fine, that much is true. However, Arya has the dubious honour of being “One of the Boys.” She hates frilly girly femme-y stuff and likes pointed sticks! Her rejection of all things feminine buys her freedom from bad stuff, because feminine things are to be despised and she has none of it! Hoorah!
As for Cercei? She has always wanted to have all of the power and when she finally has it? Turns out she’s just a hysterical queen. One would think someone who has schemed their way to the highest echelon of society would have the intelligence to run things reasonably well. No use hiding under the equal opportunity bush, Trope, we can still see you.
So no, I don’t buy that ASOFAI is equal opportunistic when it contains the very same gendered tropes so prevalent in, well, everywhere.