Game of Thrones: when attachment parenting goes fantasy

Are any of you watching Game of Thrones? Have you seen the ‘extended breastfeeding’ scene in episode 5? (Not there yet, then look away, look away, this post is probably going to be full of SPOILERS from the first season). And if you have seen the scene, did you laugh?

Because isn’t the mother, Lysa Arryn lots of people’s bad idea of a quintessential attachment parenting type*? First of all, she’s quite mad, and I mean the full use of that word – unstable, angry and eccentric. Then you have the fact that her parenting style seems both permissive and suffocating; her breastfeeding son (is he aged 6 or 13, the Internet is uncertain?) is a spoilt brat with a serious streak of cruelty in him because she has such trouble denying him anything. (You know, I don’t think she’s ever cried him out). Also, she breastfeeds wantonly in public and as you can see from above, she does not cover herself while she does it. And finally, she has also lost her husband, so I think you can assume that her ‘attachment parenting’ may be precluding her from having a normal adult sex life, too.

Speaking of sex, can I quickly add something general here about the sex scenes in Game of Thrones? I don’t particularly like fantasy, it’s not my genre – so I’m there for the politics, the zombies, the shots of horses galloping across expansive scenery and the HBO sex. Several men who had already watched the first season promised me that this was honest to goodness HBO television and that I could be assured of lots of fun adult content, including sex and violence. And that’s true, it is ‘adult’, which I like, but the sex scenes, what a disappointment. This is a boy’s own porn adventure. So porny, so cliché. They forgot to mention that. And I may be feminist but I can roll with a bit of objectification of women in my TV viewing and yet this seems distractingly one-sided in its focus on hetero male fantasies to me. For example, the doe-eyed white innocent being not only raped by a ‘swarthy brute’ but also later going through a college lesbian stage with her handmaid in order to learn how to better please him? And then, the most gratuitous sex scene ever happens during a scene where a male character (Lord Littlefinger) essentially fills you in on his back-story by way of a monologue delivered to camera. This monologue is occasionally interrupted by him issuing orders to two women he is training for his brothel who are having sex together in the background (and sometimes foreground). There can be no mistaking the centring of the male gaze in this scene because not only is the man in the scene entirely in control of these women – he’s fully clothed while they’re naked, and he tells them exactly how he wants them to have sex and when to change positions – but then, when in all their excitement they invite him to join them (see, hot faux lesbians not real lesbians), he actually sharply dismisses them. What a rude prat, and yet choices are so limited that he is my favourite character; I always gun for the Machiavellian types in a political drama.

OK, I get it that these are feudal times and not feminist times, and that women were often little more than breeders and sex slaves in that era but all the same, the sex scenes and sexual relationships depicted in the show could be just a little more even-handed. I mean, I can do sex and unequal power no trouble, I love True Blood. But something has going wrong when you have a cast of handsome men, as in the case of Game of Thrones, and yet none of them are filmed in such a way as to make them appear all that hot for me as a female viewer.

Or is this just me?

Anyway, now go read some analysis of Game of Thrones by people who actually love fantasy; it’s much better. Racialicious on the sexism and racism in the show (“swarthy brute” etc), and then here is Overthinking It on the sexism and ‘the rape that was consent in the book’ scene, and lastly, here is AfterElton on the only male gay sex scene so far.

P.S*. Also, don’t you love this says-so-much-about-the-world comment from here? “That’s the entire point of the scene, you’re supposed to see that Lysa is utterly deranged and there’s no better way to do that than showing her breastfeeding an 6-7 year old.” People torturing other people to death in the show, and other people in incestuous relationships with their siblings and yet ‘extended breastfeeding’ is the sign of true derangement.

P.P.S. Game of Thrones as feminist propaganda? Try here.

(Cross-posted at blue milk).

Categories: arts & entertainment, fun & hobbies, gender & feminism, history, violence

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14 replies

  1. I’m so glad you wrote about this, because I was hopelessly hooked on the first few books, then the last couple’s nihilist brutality kinda got me dispirited, then waiting for the next one to arrive started to seem a rather futile exercise, although he’s finally written it now. I was most intrigued to see what they made of the saga in this adaptation, and I was particularly looking forward to Sean Bean (but as you say, they haven’t presented him for the female gaze at all – he doesn’t even look commandingly macho most of the time, which is a large part of the character’s raison d’etre – why make him look so entirely dowdy and charmless?).
    There’s no doubt about it, sexual ethics in the noble families of Westeros is fifty kinds of twisted mess, and the HBO adaptation makes it even more so. Yes, I did laugh at the extended breastfeeding scene, because it was so totally OTT (mind you, that’s fairly true to the novel IIRC) – so obviously meant, as that last quote of yours says, to indicate the depth of her derangement. Wev.

  2. Oh no!! I am so disappointed with your thoughts about attachment parenting! I had to read it a few times to check you weren’t just stirring the pot! I must admit I am not at all interested in the TV show you are discussing – I haven’t even heard of it let alone watched it – but such a slur on attachment parenting? Really?
    Permissive parenting is not attachment parenting. Here is a recent blog which discusses this point much better than I could
    ‘You know, I don’t think she’s ever cried him out’. Are you suggesting she should? It reads as if you think all children should be left to cry it out? How would that make him a nicer person? Or her a better mother? Do you really think children not being left alone to CIO makes them a ‘spoilt brat’? If that’s not what you meant, it is certainly how it reads to me – reinforcing the mainstream view that attachment parenting is some kooky sort of parenting style that creates fucked up children. Sadly, you couldn’t be further from the truth, but your spruiking makes it even harder than it needs to be for those who are parenting with presence.

    • @Disappointed, my comment too, for those who don’t already know of my awareness of and total support for bluemilk’s commitment to extended breastfeeding and attachment parenting, probably read as some sort of slur on attachment parenting, which it’s not meant to be at all. I’m laughing at the skewed representation of extended breastfeeding in the novel/TV-series, because I know that the reality is not deranged in any way, it’s society’s deep discomfort with parenting models outside a narrow range of conformist styles that is deranged.

  3. Disappointed – I should remember when I post here rather than on my personal blog, blue milk, that readers don’t always have my backstory. I am an attachment parenting-type and I am breastfeeding my two year old so I think I count as an extended breastfeeding type, too.
    I was laughing at the ways in which the depiction of Lyssa would be ringing alarm bells for those in the audience who are anti-attachment parenting, rather than laughing at attachment parents, themselves. This is why I opened the paragraph by saying that this was lots of people’s “bad idea of a quintessential attachment parenting type” – as in a bad idea, not a good idea of what APs are.. also why I was amused by the comment I found elsewhere on the Internet that I’ve highlighted in the P.S. to this post.
    Aaanyway, I’m obviously somewhat obtuse, nobody gets my jokes etc etc. Hope I’ve cleared this up for you.

  4. There is some great analysis of this mother character in GOT over on the thread at my site which I am cutting and pasting here for your interest (possible SPOILER alert)…

    Brigid Keely: Lyssa is a problematic character, and a lot of GRRM’s male gaze/privileged male view is plastered all over her. BUT. There are reasons leading to her behavior, and it’s not just anti-breast feeding screed.
    Her father forced her to abort a wanted baby when she was younger, because the father was of the wrong social class. Perhaps because of that, perhaps because of other meddling (being poisoned to prevent conception/successful pregnancy), perhaps because of just bad luck, she went on to have a string of miscarriages and still births with her (much older, not physically demonstrative) husband (which was an arranged marriage, after a failed attempt at One True Love with another dude). Her family of birth (parents, siblings) don’t seem overly fond of her, her husband wasn’t overly fond of her (not abuse or anything, just… distant and dedicated to his work) and her babies (which she wanted, and which were her JOB to produce) kept dying. Except one. And that one is weak and often ill and has seizures and may not live to adult hood.
    So she clings to her little dude, and it’s NOT healthy, and it harms both of them… and while there are a LOT of shitty fathers in the books none of them are as obviously shitty as she is, because they don’t breast feed and infantalize their kids (two separate issues). She sticks out more as a shitty harmful mother because OMG! A woman! Who isn’t a perfect mother! And don’t you know breasts are only for sex???!!? Which is more a product of our society than GRRM. I mean, seriously. There are some AWFUL fathers and father figures in the books. Most of the husbands are just appallingly bad (Robert Baratheon, you drunk wife-abuser, I am looking sternly at you).

    Another Blue: Book Lysa breastfeeds a younger child (somewhere between 4 and 6), in the presence of her sister in her bedchamber. In the HBO version of events all the kids (theoretically) have been aged forward a bit – 7 year old Bran is 10 in the show, 15 year old Robb is 18 or so, etc. So the age of little Robin there is theoretically older than his book incarnation, but it’s hard to tell how old that particular boy is supposed to be (or maybe I’m just a wretched judge of age, totally possible). And of course she’s nursing on the throne, which actually seems a little empowering and cool, but I think it’s meant to show that nobody in her court will stand up to her ladying up the joint.

  5. From Overthinking It:

    hath made of himself a Humbert Humbert in his heart.

    OK, that’s the first time I’ve ever typed LOL, I feel kind of embarrassed.

  6. ok, yep I see that now. I have been loving your blogs for a while (both tigtog and blue milk) and that’s why i was disappointed. Now I can see how I misread your tone. I’m glad I asked for clarification rather than holding a grudge.

  7. I’m glad I asked for clarification rather than holding a grudge.

    I’m very glad you did as well!
    A belated welcome out of lurkerdom, BTW.

  8. Goddamit HBO. I still haven’t seen any of AGoT but do love the books (with all their massive problems, like most fandoms).
    But what gets me is that “you’re supposed to see she’s utterly deranged” line – and BOOK SPOILER ALERT AHEAD
    … because Lysa’s madness/whatever we label it is made bloody clear enough by her erraticness, her various obsessions with Robert, her dead husband, Littlefinger, oh, and there’s the tiny matter of trying to throw her niece out a window out of jealousy over Littlefinger.
    But hey, why give her actual character depth when “breastfeeds a non-infant child” stands as perfectly good shorthand.

    • @QoT – exactly. That Lysa has a dysfunctional relationship with just about everybody in her life is the problem (and the backstory to why she’s so borked only bolsters this). It was lazy plotmaking by GRRM in the first place, it was exceptionally lazy film-making by HBO to make the breastfeeding=superindulgence equation regarding her relationship with her son the standard bearer for all her other problems.

  9. Yeah, my reaction was pretty much the same as tigtog’s. I think the annoying thing, though, is that it seems to me that there’s kind of a build-up to the reveal of dysfunction in the cases of men: Littlefinger, for example, has a presence prior to becoming revealed to be a traitor, and even Robert gets the chance to be kind of robust and fun.. and of course, it works for those characters, because it helps us to see why there are people still loyal to them. But Cersei is *introduced* as kind of arrogant, demanding and annoying (even though it turns out later that her marriage is so unpleasant and violent that it’s unsurprising), and Lysa as ‘deranged’ (despite the backstory above). I don’t know how far to push this line of argument, but it does strike me that many of the women get less sympathetic introductions than the men. Tywin (skinning a dead animal) is one of the only ones I can think of who gets a similar intro.
    And don’t get me started on the Dany and Drogo rewriting. In the book, the sex scene with Drogo is the first acknowledgement of her capacity to self-determine, which she then goes on to develop in her relationship with him and as the Khaleesi. In the tv show, the rape becomes yet another site of her objectification and commodification, and Drogo then gets reduced to the brown man sexually dominated by the white woman (sex being her sole site of power) as a means to her development of a radically individualist form of power. It makes her learning about sexual pleasure from her maid being actually about learning how to manipulate, rather than choosing simple enjoyment of her sexuality (the book). It makes her rescuing other women from rape, and her suggestion that the horse lords take these woman to wife, seem kind of, well, awful: implying marriage is enough to save one from rape, which she knows (in the tv show) isn’t true. And it sullies her grief over Drogo’s death, making it at least partly about the loss of her protector/the guarantor of her status (that is, with what he gives her, rather than the sincere bereavement we get in the book). But I think that the reason I dislike all of this is because it feels like an effort to make Dany the self-made (white) hero, whose resources all come from within, rather than in relation with others. And of course Drogo remains the barbarian, a status carefully earned through the rape of the white woman. Bleargh. Sigh. See, I said not to get me started! 😉

  10. Disappointed, am glad you took the time to clarify too. Thanks for reading us.

  11. >>Drogo then gets reduced to the brown man sexually dominated by the white woman.
    Yes, and the rest of the time he is uncivilised brutish brown man who is violent and a rapist.

    • Don’t get me started on the super-simplifying of the Drogo/Danerys relationship, which I thought was actually one of the better-written ones by GRRM – it may have started looking very stereotyped, but then they both found things to admire and learn from each other, and their strengths grew together. Nothing of that is coming across in the HBO adaptation, nothing at all.

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