With series four of Game of Thrones around the corner, A Song of Ice and Fire has naturally been the subject of many a discussion of late, especially online. Mostly, the discussions are very good, but there is always someone whining about something they don’t like. Or out and out declarations of things that are wronger than a wrong thing.
Of course, some people don’t look at the bigger picture – that unlike an author, who is generally free to indulge his or her whims, TV execs have to appeal to the audience, or there is little to no profit to be made, and the casting has to reflect that audience. Even so, while they may try to appeal to the demographic, TV companies don’t actually primarily make programmes for we, the audience, they make shows to make money.
Common complaints seem to be;
- There are not enough black people in the series (read the books, understand the ethnicities of the peoples… there are not that many black characters in the books)
- Why Xaro Xhoan Daxos was played by black actor, Nonso Anozie, when in the book, his character was white (there’s really no pleasing some people. I’ve seen no complaints that his come-uppance was vastly different in the TV series than the book. Nor have people pointed out what a sterling job Nonso Anozie did.)
- We don’t like the new Daario Naharis – he doesn’t look like the character in the book (nor did Ed Skrein but at least Michiel Huisman can actually act, and is much better-looking, IMNSHO)
- There aren’t enough strong female characters (c’mon, that’s just plain stupid)
- We don’t like Sansa (seriously, read the books – she rocks, and she is actually one of the strongest female characters)
But the biggest one, that people seem to come back to time, and time again, is that…
Drogo raped Dany
Actually, no he didn’t. Not at all. Granted, the TV episode implied that he did (I have no idea why they made that decision – it seems stupid to me) but in the book, Drogo very definitely did not rape Daenerys. In fact, quite the opposite, Daenerys explicitly gives her consent. (It’s interesting that the complainers seem to conveniently overlook the whole Targaryen ancient-Egyptian thing of sibling marriage.)
I’ll get back to GoT in a minute but before I do, the most vocal complaints that I’ve come across seem to come from folk who are unable – or unwilling – to understand that different cultures have different mindsets, as do different periods in history. Unless a piece of fiction is written with the express intent of inciting current mindsets to be outraged by views and opinions which conflict with their own (take for instance, the Daily Fail and the rest of the British gutter press), I don’t think it’s at all fair to not at least try to see things from other points of view. It doesn’t mean we have to condone them, it merely means we are mature enough to understand that those cultural differences exist. That people don’t, and haven’t, always behaved in the same way that we do. And actually, ‘we’ haven’t always behaved so admirably.
It’s absolutely not unreasonable that when writing a fictional story which takes place many centuries ago, a writer would not apply a modern mindset to the story. Of course we rail against rape (as, I believe, we should) but the fact remains that not every culture is the same as ours.
To quote Ser Jorah:
There is no privacy in a Khalasar, and they do not understand sin or shame as we do.
Which is a key point in this argument. The Dothraki have a completely different lifestyle to the people of the Free Cities, and are as culturally different as say, The Huns and 5th century Romans. And in part, they have an ethos which is not so very different to the historical mindset in England until a relatively short time ago. For example, I remember when in Britain, there was no such thing as marital rape.
Sir Matthew Hale, in his 1736 legal treatise Historia Placitorum Coronæ wrote that spousal rape could not be recognised. To wit;
But the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.
Since marriage conferred conjugal ‘rights’ upon a spouse, and only the law (i.e. a private Act of Parliament), or her death – I kid you not – could dissolve that marriage, it follows then, that a wife could not legally revoke consent to sex; ergo, there is no such thing as rape within marriage. At least, that is how it stood in the eyes of the law. Morally, most of us (I hope) find this an abhorrent notion.
Recognition and criminalisation of marital rape
In December 1993, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Marital rape is now classed as a human rights violation. Unfortunately, far from every nation in the world adheres to this – including some UN member states – as the image below illustrates.
In 2006, the UN Secretary-General’s study of all forms of violence against women, states on page 113 that:
Marital rape may be prosecuted in at least 104 States. Of these, 32 have made marital rape a specific criminal offence, while the remaining 74 do not exempt marital rape from general rape provisions. Marital rape is not a prosecutable offence in at least 53 States. Four States criminalize marital rape only when the spouses are judicially separated. Four States are considering legislation that would allow marital rape to be prosecuted.
I find it incredible that by 2006, over a quarter of the UN member states still did not consider spousal rape as a criminal – and therefore, prosecutable – offence. As of 2011, still only 52 states had explicitly outlawed it.
Marital rape was declared a criminal offence in England and Wales in 1991
In 1988, a case was brought to court (Regina v Kowalski), in which the defendant could only be convicted of indecent assault (he had forced his wife at knifepoint to perform fellatio upon him before raping her); the fact that he had actually raped her was neither here nor there in the eyes of the law because by virtue of being married to him, the wife had implied consent to vaginal intercourse. Oral sex was not covered by the rape law, therefore it was the only offence he could be successfully prosecuted – and convicted – for. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment, but at the court of appeal, this was subsequently reduced to two years.
Just prior to the bill becoming law, in Regina v Sharples (1990), despite having a Family Protection Order in force against her husband, he was nevertheless exempt from prosecution for raping her because of the her ‘implied consent’, due to still being legally married to him. In referring to the protection order, the judge is on record as saying;
It cannot be inferred that by obtaining the order in these terms the wife had withdrawn her consent to sexual intercourse.
I find it incomprehensible that in late 20th century England, anyone could argue that a woman who has a legal order against a violent man, would still be expected – in the eyes of the law – to allow him to take sex from her as and when he saw fit to do so, and that he would be exempt from punishment. There is some very interesting reading here.
Thailand, where I currently live, did not outlaw marital rape until 2007. In India (where I lived last year) there is still no such thing as marital rape… unless the wife is under 15 years old; if she is under 12, he can be imprisoned for up to two years, and fined.
Returning to A Game of Thrones, George RR Martin goes to great lengths to make us understand the cultural differences between Daenerys and the Dothraki. For example;
As the hours passed, the terror grew in Dany, until it was all she could do not to scream. She was afraid of the Dothraki, whose ways seemed alien and monstrous, as if they were beasts in human skins, and not true men at all.
This is very important; by this point (later in the wedding celebrations, after there have been many killings and much fornication), as far as Dany is concerned, these people’s behaviour is more akin to wild animals than human beings. Let’s not forget that for the greater part of her life, she has led a reasonably genteel and sheltered life, albeit in exile, in Pentos. And it should also be remembered that she’s still only 13; while not a child by the standards of the world of Ice and Fire, she is nevertheless a very young woman. This is also an important point;
He lifted her up as easily as if she were a child.
… which implies that she very much was not considered to be a child. If you look at real European medieval history (a subject I have studied in-depth for over 30 years, using a lot of primary and secondary sources), you will discover that this attitude is not uncommon. For the most part, once a girl had reached puberty, she was considered to be a woman. Something else that Martin writes about with another young woman sold into marriage, Sansa. Although of course, she doesn’t actually end up marrying the terrible teen.
Spousal rape across the world
Today, other cultures can (and do) have different attitudes toward what a man may or may not do with his wife. The legal age of consent (not the marriageable age, which is sometimes lower than the age of sexual consent) in some nations is as low as 12, as in Angola. In Burkina Faso, Comoros, Niger, Japan, Spain, and Argentina, it’s 13. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s 14 for girls but 18 for males – a big difference at that age. Apart from Spain, none of these countries recognise marital rape.
Sudan, Malawi, and Tanzania
In Sudan, the legal age of sexual consent is 18, and sex outside marriage is illegal; however, the legal age for marriage is just 10 years old, which effectively means that a husband may have sex with his 10 year old wife, and be exempt from prosecution because in Sudanese law, spousal rape is not recognised. Similarly, in Malawi, the age of consent is 16 but girls may marry at 15; however, men can, and are, prosecuted for rape within marriage if the wife is not yet 16. In Tanzania, the age of consent (not the legal marriageable age) is 18… but this law is not actually enforced.
The rest of the world
In Burma, China, Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Montenegro, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, and most of South America, the legal age of consent is 14. In Jordan, a female can legally consent to sex when she is 18, or 15 if she is married to the person with whom she is going to have sex. In Lebanon it’s the same. In the Philippines, although the age of consent is 18, men cannot be prosecuted for rape unless the victim is under 12 years old. In Bolivia, the age of consent is puberty, and in Mexico, the age of consent is between puberty and 14, depending on which state one is in. The USA ranges between 12 and 18.
In Saudi Arabia, there is no lower limit on marriageable age, and therefore the age of sexual consent – because sex outside marriage is illegal. In 2008, a Saudi court refused to annul the marriage between a 58 year old man and his eight year old wife. According to Ahmad Al-Mu’bi, a Saudi cleric, the appropriate minimum age for sex…
varies according to environment and traditions
In Yemen, as with many Muslim countries, sex outside marriage is illegal. The age of consent used to be 15 (this was abolished in 1999); however, tribal law supersedes state law, so that girls may marry – or be forced into marriage – at any age. Technically, Yemeni law forbids sex until the time the girl is ‘suitable for sexual intercourse’, which of course, is open to interpretation and the whims of the girl’s husband. In 1999, a requirement was instituted for the wife to have reached puberty before consummation, and the age for puberty was set at nine years old. In 2009, a law was passed, decreeing that the minimum age for marriage was 18. This law was abolished the next day. Last September, an eight year old girl died from internal injuries arising as a result of sexual intercourse with her 40 year old husband.
Not every nation views things the way the West does
This is just to illustrate that while our culture (and by ‘our’, I’m assuming that most of my readers are from Europe and the US) may view people under the age of 16 as children, and recognise that within marriage there absolutely is such a thing as rape, the fact is that not every nation sees things the same way that we do. We can say it’s wrong until we are blue in the face but what we actually mean is that by our own standards and moral compass, we believe it to be wrong. By that same token, we are often looked upon as inherently immoral because we wear revealing clothing, have sexual equality, and have no problem with sex outside marriage. Some of us don’t even bother to get married before setting up a home and having a family!
Incidentally, Israel seems to have one of the best attitudes regarding the age of consent, and has done so since 1977: the age of consent is 16 for any type of penetrative sex; however, if a person aged 14 or 15 has sex with an older partner, providing there is not more than three years’ difference in age, that the younger partner is fully consenting, that there is already a relationship (e.g. if they are already courting), and that there has been no ‘abuse of power’, then it’s not deemed to be a criminal offence.
Back to Game of Thrones – Did Khal Drogo rape Daenerys Targaryen?
Aside from any of that, the fact remains that Khal Drogo did not rape Daenerys. More than that, he understood how scared she was, and made sure that she was ready to consummate their marriage:
Khal Drogo stared at her tears, his face strangely empty of expression.
“No,” he said.
Suggesting that perhaps he didn’t understand why she was scared, and that he didn’t want her to be upset. That she had nothing to fear from him.
He lifted his hand and rubbed away the tears roughly with a callused thumb.
“You speak the Common Tongue,” Dany said in wonder.
“No,” he said again.
Perhaps he had only that word, she thought, but it was one word more than she had known he had, and somehow it made her feel a little better.
She’s beginning to see him as a man, instead of an animal.
Drogo touched her hair lightly, sliding the silver-blond strands between his fingers and murmuring softly in Dothraki. Dany did not understand the words, yet there was warmth in the tone, a tenderness she had never expected from this man.
He put his finger under her chin and lifted her head, so she was looking up into his eyes. Drogo towered over her as he towered over everyone. Taking her lightly under the arms, he lifted her and seated her on a rounded rock beside the stream. Then he sat on the ground facing her, legs crossed beneath him, their faces finally at a height.
“No,” he said.
“Is that the only word you know?” she asked him.
Drogo did not reply. His long heavy braid was coiled in the dirt beside him. He pulled it over his right shoulder, and began to remove the bells from his hair, one by one. After a moment, Dany leaned forward to help. When they were done, Drogo gestured. She understood. Slowly, carefully, she began to undo his braid.
Given the huge significance of the Dothraki braid, the above says to me that far from Drogo’s intention being rape, he wanted to show Daenerys that he could be tender as well as a mighty warrior. At that time, he had no desire to be a fighter, a king, or anything other than her husband, and the unbraiding of his hair is symbolic of this.
I also see this as a way of helping her to relax, to calm her nervousness.
It took a long time. All the while he sat there silently, watching her. When she was done, he shook his head, and his hair spread out behind him like a river of darkness, oiled and gleaming. She had never seen hair so long, so black, so thick.
Then it was his turn. He began to undress her.
His fingers were deft and strangely tender. He removed her silks one by one, carefully, while Dany sat unmoving, silent, looking at his eyes. When he bared her small breasts, she could not help herself. She averted her eyes and covered herself with her hands.
Of course she feels shy, vulnerable, and apprehensive – embarrassed even; not least because she grew up expecting to marry her brother (who I’m sure would not have been so gentle), and yet here she is, with this barbarian horse-lord, of whom she has heard tales of naught but savagery.
“No,” Drogo said. He pulled her hands away from her breasts, gently but firmly, then lifted her face again to make her look at him.
“No,” he repeated.
“No,” she echoed back at him.
Daenerys is not telling Drogo that she does not want to consummate their marriage; she is in fact, giving him permission to go ahead… in the only word of the common tongue that he seems to understand. He is saying that there is no need to cover herself, and she is agreeing with him. There is a bond of trust being built at this point, despite her still being scared.
We should also remember that this fear is less about what is going to happen between her and her husband but more about how her brother will react if he thinks that Drogo is in any way displeased. It matters not whether Drogo would in actual fact, make it known to Viserys, it is enough that Dany’s brother at this point in the story, still has that hold over her – that ‘waking the dragon’ is more terrifying than consummating her marriage.
He stood her up then and pulled her close to remove the last of her silks. The night air was chilly on her bare skin. She shivered, and gooseflesh covered her arms and legs. She was afraid of what would come next, but for a while nothing happened. Khal Drogo sat with his legs crossed, looking at her, drinking in her body with his eyes.
I’m willing to bet that most women, who go to their marriage bed a virgin, have some degree of apprehension at the very least. Especially if it’s an arranged marriage, where the couple in question have had no time to get to know each other, let alone fall in love, or even in lust.
After a while he began to touch her. Lightly at first, then harder. She could sense the fierce strength in his hands, but he never hurt her. He held her hand in his own and brushed her fingers, one by one. He ran a hand gently down her leg. He stroked her face, tracing the curve of her ears, running a finger gently around her mouth. He put both hands in her hair and combed it with his fingers. He turned her around, massaged her shoulders, slid a knuckle down the path of her spine.
Is this not the act of man who understands his wife’s nervousness, and wants to do what he can to help her relax and enjoy herself? So that they can both enjoy each other? This to me, does not suggest the behaviour of a man intent on rape.
It seemed as if hours passed before his hands finally went to her breasts.
Does this not imply that Daenerys yearned for him to touch her in a more intimate fashion?
He stroked the soft skin underneath until it tingled. He circled her nipples with his thumbs, pinched them between thumb and forefinger, then began to pull at her, very lightly at first, then more insistently, until her nipples stiffened and began to ache.
Drogo is clearly not in any hurry, and he certainly is not going to just ‘take’ Daenerys. There is no suggestion of this at all.
He stopped then, and drew her down onto his lap. Dany was flushed and breathless, her heart fluttering in her chest. He cupped her face in his huge hands and looked into her eyes.
Dany is ‘flushed and breathless’ – she is sexually aroused, and she wants her husband.
“No?” he said, and she knew it was a question.
He’s giving her the opportunity to say no, and mean no. He’s essentially telling her that this is her choice. She is now the one in control of the situation.
She took his hand and moved it down to the wetness between her thighs.
“Yes,” she whispered as she put his finger inside her.
Khal Drogo did not rape Daenerys Targaryen.
(Images from Wikimedia Commons and Pinterest)