Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Why Cersei’s Slut Shaming Had To Happen

Why Game Of Thrones' Slut-Shaming Of Cersei Had To Happen

The Debrief: As well as building Cersei back up to have her revenge, we could do with learning how slut-shaming is a spectrum and no part of it is harmless...

Game of Thrones thrives off of bloodlust, boobs and good old… Debate. Let it be known that Cersei Lannister’s punishment for her sins - being shorn, stripped and forced to walk among the virtuous and the great unwashed as they pelt her with insults and eggs and tomatoes and spit and shit and a nun rings a bell and yells ‘SHAME’ at her – was meant to get us talking.

‘It’s going to be a controversial scene when it comes out,’ said George RR Martin, author of the novels the TV show is based on, adding that observers will wonder: ‘Is it misogynistic or feminist?’

Hatred’s in the eye of the beholder; and as so much of this scene is shown from the viewpoint of Cersei’s teary eyes as she endures step after step of torment, it’s easy to imagine viewers now having her back. ‘What we hope is, by the last shot, is you’re almost rooting for her, in a way,’ said David Benioff, producer of the show ‘And [you] hope she gets her revenge on those who have mistreated her.’

Maybe, though, in the same way some nasty sorts fell for the concept of Sansa Stark being repeatedly raped and beaten by Ramsay Bolton, someone somewhere is cranking one out to Cersei’s misery. Perhaps the misogyny lies in objectification. But while knuckle-draggers tweeted stuff like ‘And cersei has a sexy mom bod #LAWD’ and ‘So it's just me turned on by Cersei's walk of shame? Oh alrihht’, there are two things working to soften these boners for humiliation. Firstly, they could see their equivalent fates in the treatment of those blokes flashing Cersei, who were notably bludgeoned in the face by the strangely merciful Sparrow guards (part of us thought they’d leave her to be attacked by the mob). Secondly, the CGI affixing Lena Headey’s face to her body double was so shoddy that anyone getting hard over it is definitely the sort to prefer cyborgs or collages of women to actual women and therefore not worth paying much attention to, in the first place.

The slut-shaming has moved Cersei to the beginning of a new storyline where there is revenge to be served. And that’s great, because if she was a wonderful baddy, she’s going to be a superlative guilt-free goody – potentially alongside Margaery and Loras Tyrell (putting aside their history, they have a common enemy in the High Sparrow now, and Cersei might have some empathy for those she used to judge). Just like Arya and Brienne, Cersei can be that kickass woman who ruins the people who hurt her and those around her.

In a wider context, the slut-shaming has a historical precedent, being based on the real life penance walk forced upon Jane Shore, 15th Century King Edward IV’s mistress, and it gets closer than that. Lena Headey, who plays Cersei, has pointed out: ‘They still do it now. They take women out and stone them to death.’

If we’re to learn anything from the cavalcade of insults and objects lobbed at Cersei, it’s that slut-shaming thrives to this day, and while its punishment is meted out in different ways, it comes from the same mindset. Be it a Zimbabwean Miss World winner decrowned after nude photos of her surfaced on WhatsApp, a pregnant Indian gang-rape victim who will get ostracised if she cannot guess - with a 10kg weight balanced on her head - whether an elder’s got an even or odd number of seeds grasped in his hands, or even, yes, people still nicknaming Rita Ora ‘Rita Whora’ just because it rhymes and they believe Rob Kardashian’s frantic claims she slept around; it’s all grown from the same petty double standards. As one Ariana Grande put it in a recent Twitter post (referencing second wave feminist Gloria Steinem): ‘If a woman has a lot of sex (or any sex for that matter), she's a “slut.” If a man has sex, he's a STUD, a BOSSSSSS, a KING.’

Comparing a pop star’s tweet and a rape victim’s ‘purification’ might seem tasteless, but what’s not comparable about women being punished for not only their potential sexual agency but their outward desirability? The spectrum of slut-shaming draws wide, fucking up the lives of women all over the world. Seemingly harmless insults like calling a woman a ‘whore’, making assumptions because of her miniskirt, or thinking her body can only be sexy when someone else says so, aren’t less harmful than violent slut-shaming, they’re not weaker versions of it, because they all contribute to firming up the sadly-held belief that women must hold themselves to higher standards than men. Over 530 years on from Jane Shore’s penance march, far from Zimbabwe or India, we’re living in supposedly enlightened times and places. But what hope is there when we still punish people for their sexual freedoms?

Those judging might as well be in that mob. And do you really want anything in common with that unruly mob – some just as guilty as her - screaming abuse at a woman who has already suffered?

Cersei is not innocent of all crimes – she had her husband killed, imprisoned Sansa Stark and used what power she could to punish Margaery and Loras Tyrell. But if the average viewer of Game of Thrones - or perhaps a viewer who saw no problem in her being raped without any repercussions for her attacker, brother Jaime - can align with her after everything she’s done, then surely their attitude to slut-shaming could flip?

The producers of Game of Thrones have come under much criticism for the treatment of women, especially in series 5. But now, as they all go back to writing, they have the opportunity to create some more tantalising feminine revenge, the sort of airpunching righting of wrongs that had us watching the series in the first place. Plus, they can do it with sympathy behind Cersei. May all hell break loose.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Ok So The Sexual Violence In Game Of Thrones Has Gone Too Far

Game Of Thrones Star: 'David Cameron's Not Brave Enough To Be A Lannister'

That Game Of Thrones Scene Turned Some People On. Really

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Tags: Game Of Thrones, Slut shaming