Figured I may as well title the post with the incendiary quote it’s about.
So, as is obvious by now, I’m a big ol’ Game of Thrones fan, and particularly a fan of some of its female characters. One of my favorites is young Arya Stark, a feisty little tomboy who’s been through hell, and has channeled her rage into learning how to become a stone-cold killer. She’s a damaged soul in many ways, but she also has an incredible amount of internal strength, and a belief in her own value that’s breathtaking and heartening.
This belief is especially refreshing to see from a modern perspective, when so many girls Arya’s age are at or even beyond the point of learning how to hate themselves. And that’s probably why her line here is so interesting–and, perhaps also, why it’s been so controversial.
The full text of the conversation:
Tywin: Aren’t most girls interested in the pretty maidens from the songs? Jonquil, flowers in her hair?
Arya: Most girls are idiots.
In context with Arya’s story and the culture in which she exists, she’s pretty much dead on. It is, of course, true that many girls who behave this way do so because that’s how their culture trained them, and because there are serious penalties for behaving otherwise. Succumbing to the pressure to be dependent, self-effacing and submissive is the path of least resistance in their culture (and, to a different, if not lesser, extent in our own modern one as well.) Only girls who, like Arya, are exceptionally strong and self-sufficient will have the courage to buck those conventions and choose their own path.
Generally speaking, it’s probably most constructive to merely pity the girls who have chosen not to fight the pressure. Not everyone is suited for the kinds of struggles that follow being a rebel, and even if making such a choice is, ultimately, more damaging in the long term than the battle wounds of an earlier fight. Likewise, such a fight is much easier if you have at least a few people around you who support your cause. Arya’s father, for instance, came to realize that his daughter was not a delicate flower like her sister, and gave her the support for working with her strengths.
So, no, it’s not the ones who know the choice sucks and are just trying to survive who this kind of statement is aimed at–and I think Arya, young as she is, is aware of that.
Rather, her comment is aimed at and inspired by the ones who sincerely believe the choices they’re making are the best ones, and who seem hell-bent on demanding that every other girl and woman make the same choices. It’s easy to feel sorry for people who make mistakes when they don’t know any better or have no choice. Not so much when people insist that the mistake they’re making is not only laudable, but should be mandatory for everyone else.
Arya’s primary frame of reference for her statement is her sister, and her sister’s friends. The choices they make to ignore common sense and the development of self-sufficiency in favor of being demure and blindly romantic are ones that not only cause them to come to great harm, but have serious repercussions for others around them. Arya, in other words, has seen the end result of a girl being an “idiot” like this, and it’s hurt her deeply. It’s no surprise that she’s not exactly happy about the idea of girls making similar choices.
Simply put, Arya’s statement is about the dangers of believing that fairy tales will come true, and that every girl will someday be a pampered princess taken care of by her handsome prince. In both her world and ours, such a belief, especially when substituted for any preparation for self-sufficiency, is basically shooting oneself in the foot, and the only ones who’d do so are those too clueless or stubborn to see the real dangers they face. Or, as Arya put it, idiots.
Arya is a clever little thing who knows exactly how brutal and nasty her world is, especially for girls and women. She’s made a point of preparing herself to take on those challenges, and is determined that she will survive. It’s unsurprising she’d have little respect for girls who apparently aren’t. Her statement, therefore, is hardly sexist. On the contrary: she believes that every girl has enough strength and wisdom to know better than to choose to ignore the real world in front of her face in favor of living in a pretty song.