Like most people in America, my roommates and I are on the Game of Thrones binge, desperately rewatching every episode in preparation for the season premiere. I’ve watched it all and I know exactly what happens but that doesn’t stop me from feeling all the emotions I felt the first time around. Unfortunately, this also means having to deal with other people’s feelings and opinions, especially about a universally hated character, Sansa Stark.
Can I just say that it annoys me to no end that people hate a naive teenage girly-girl almost as much as they hate the genuine psychopath who beats her?!
When I first read the source material for Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, I didn’t know about the intense fan following around the franchise. I went in with a clean slate and immediately identified with Sansa. I know that’s a controversial stance but it really shouldn’t be! Sansa Stark was a 13-year-old girl, raised in the relative safety of Winterfell, raised to believe in princes and knights and songs and chivalry. She has an intense rivalry with her sister, Arya (who doesn’t fight with their sister?!) and when she takes the side of Prince Joffrey who is essentially her crush over her sister in an altercation, she is immediately crucified by the fandom. When I read the passage in the books, I was annoyed but it hardly called for the amount of hate that she received. In the subsequent books (and seasons of the show), her naïveté is punished tenfold, making for one of the most interesting character arcs of the story.
It aggravates me that Sansa is not given the same amount of respect and love given to other female characters in that world. Arya and Brienne, specifically, are applauded for their strength, as they should be. But if we only value women who break the patriarchal mold, we limit the kinds of women we relate to on screen and dismiss the women who have developed their character and proven their strength in different ways.
Sansa has definitely made mistakes; but that extends to every character is that universe. The only difference is that she made mistakes while acting within the societal norms approved for members of her gender. As the seasons progressed, she’s grown stronger within her femininity. She learns how to manipulate men to get what she wants, learns how to strategically maneuver difficult allies into the same position. Make no mistake, Jon Snow may be King in the North, but he only got there because of the decisions that Sansa made. And she made them all cloaked in the protection her femininity offers.
So let’s do away with the belief that the strong women are the ones who reject the system and live outside it. Because that means we value traditionally feminine traits like kindness and affection less than we value inherently masculine traits like fighting prowess and strength. And that’s the opposite of the lesson we should really be learning from this story.