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10 September 2011 @ 03:50 am
womenlovefest day 1 2.0, meta, ASOIAF: three things Brienne of Tarth isn't,  
I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them.
Maggie's Farm, Bob Dylan*

*this song couldn't fit less with ASOIAF generally, but those lines keep on screaming Brienne to me for some reason and it felt like a proper opening.


Or: hi and welcome to day one of Brienne appreciation for womenlovefest. My first day ended up being some very wordy meta that was probably so wordy because I've been thinking Brienne meta for a month and never wrote it down. Actually it got too long so I'm splitting it in two parts.


In my for now mostly lurking time around ASOIAF, the most bashing I’ve seen about Brienne mostly consists in the following arguments (from what I’ve seen): a) she’s boring and her POVs drag (probably shouldn’t be considered strictly bashing, but if you wish a character dead because their POVs are dragging I’d say it is), b) she’s too naïve to survive in a place like Westeros (and therefore unrealistic), c) she’s there just to be Jaime’s moral compass and the rest of her story is a waste of space, d) she’s there to appeal to feminist readers only (and therefore she’s useless). I haven’t seen anything about her having to just stay home and marry, but I’m sure it has to be somewhere. Considering that I hadn’t thought any of that while reading the books in a row this summer, I was kind of baffled by most of these. So I figured I could start addressing these (except her POVs dragging because I’m planning to do meta on that specifically).

Spoilers up to AFFC (mostly for her backstory - though there are some pretty huge ones - and for someone she meets – for the rest, strictly facts-related spoilers are up to ASOS).

1. Just Jaime’s moral compass (so her role in the story is basically over after ASOS): sorry but no. Saying that her only purpose in the plot was showing Jaime he could be a better person means doing her the biggest disservice you could. It’s as ridiculous as saying that wait, her only point was to be with Catelyn so that she could free Jaime.

I’m not saying that she didn’t influence him in honor-related matters, but I wouldn’t even agree with the moral compass definition – I think that whatever is going on between her and Jaime is a mix of hard-earned respect and reciprocal influence, it’s not just her showing him that he can be a good person or a better person than what Kingslayer suggests. For one she doesn’t stop calling him Kingslayer until he tells her about how exactly that bit went, but nonetheless she had pulled him out of his post-hand-loss suicidal mood a lot earlier than that – but I highly doubt she was anywhere near thinking she could influence him. On his part, he had started respecting her skills with a sword even before he lost his hand, and when he saves her from the bear pit, he’s thinking about not knowing what the hell he’s doing half of the time; it’s not that easy to pinpoint what exactly goes on between them and if he comes to think of her as his moral compass it’s not until they’ve gone through so much crap together that they ended up knowing each other a lot better than they had ever thought.

Brienne’s story started before she met Jaime, and I’d say that her interaction with Catelyn is not less important than her interaction with him (or with Renly, considering he was the reason she met Catelyn and was introduced in the story at all). While her story in AFFC was the result of her interaction with Jaime and he’s an integral part of her story as much as she’s an integral part of his, the point is that while she showed him that honor is worth a dime and that he can keep a vow once in a while, at the same time he was the one person trusting her/her skills for real (unless you think he sent her off with his priceless sword just to make fun of her, and if you do then we disagree). I see it as an even thing where she gave him something and he gave her something else back – it wasn’t just her being his shining light in the dark. Saying that nothing of import happened to her after is also not something I’d agree with – her POVs in AFFC are the only ones where we actually get to see the effects of the war on the common people, and I wouldn’t say that it’s nothing. Through her eyes we get to see a lot of supposedly minor characters also for the first time (IE Sam’s father, the people on the Quiet Isle) which will probably turn out to be fairly important later. The way I see it, it’s the kind of understated storytelling that turns out to be major in later books while giving you full insight on the POV character; it doesn’t mean that she’s wandering aimlessly until she connects back to the main plot at the end.

2. So naïve that it becomes borderline stupid: the fact that Brienne thinks that in the songs ladies are always beautiful and it’s always summer and knighthood is the Best Thing Ever, and that she doesn’t know what sarcasm means, doesn’t mean that she’s stupid or that she needs a reality check. I’m very intrigued by how the theme is dealt with Brienne and with Sansa (who has the exact same problem – she needs to learn that songs aren’t real), but the way I see it, they’re coming from two completely different places. Sansa needs a reality check because she thinks that life works like a song, but she comes from a place where her life was a song. She’s a highborn lady, she’s beautiful, she was raised far from the main court so she can afford to have a romanticized view of court life, she’s about to be married to what is a handsome prince to her; she has no reason to think that songs aren’t real until her prince puts her father’s head in front of her. Brienne doesn’t need a reality check because she already had it. Her world isn’t a song, but she wants to be in one anyway.

From AFFC:

I was not always wary. When I was a little girl I believed that all men were as noble as my father. Even the men who told her what a pretty girl she was, how tall and bright and clever, how graceful when she danced. It was her septa who had lifted the scales from her eyes. "You’ll find truth in your looking-glass, not on the tongues of men." It was a harsh lesson, one that left her weeping, but it had stood her in good stead.


Coming from personal experience: when you’re told something like this, you get enough of a reality check. Another thing that you get from reading her AFFC POVs: she wants so desperately to be a knight because swordfighting is the one thing that comes natural to her. She doesn’t feel out of place with a sword the way she feels out of place with a gown. She knows that her only chance to do something good in life is putting her skill to use and be a knight. She doesn’t have a chance of being the fair maiden in any of said songs, but she can be the knight, and that’s why she takes vows and oaths and knighthood so seriously. At least it means that if she dies she gets to live in those songs where everyone is beautiful and it’s always summer. Is it naïve? Surely. But I think she perfectly knows how the world works. It’s that she needs to think that somewhere it doesn’t work that way, and that makes her naïve, but it doesn’t make her any less smart.

Regarding that: she is. Brienne doesn’t have the Tyrion/Littlefinger/Tywin kind of smarts, but she knows what the hell she’s doing. She won Renly’s melee when there were a lot of skilled people fighting for him. In ASOS, Jaime was surprised at himself because he approved of her strategy. She never went into a fight just for the sake of proving that she’s awesome at using a sword. While most men she meets think she’s a joke, she’s more competent at what she does than all of them put together. Brienne isn’t wandering around Westeros because she thinks it’s a game. She wasn’t thinking it at the beginning and she isn’t thinking it now. If I know GRRM she’ll end up realizing that songs really suck tout-court without exceptions, and both me and her will cry bitter tears, but it doesn’t make her naivety a character fault. (In my head it’s kind of tragic, but that’s subjective.)

3. A feminist stereotype/a character put there to make feminists happy: I don’t see it. Is Brienne a strong woman? Surely. Does she compete with men on their field? Sure. Does she care about her gender? Yes, but she never makes it a question of men versus women. She never tries to pass for a man or to hide her gender. Brienne wants to be a knight regardless of her gender, but I can’t remember a moment in her POVs where she resented being a woman or where she put it in ‘shit if I only I was a man’ terms.

From AFFC.

He [my father] deserves a daughter who could sing to him and grace his hall and bear him grandsons. He deserves a son too, a strong and gallant son to bring honor to his name. But I’m the only child the gods saw him fit to keep, the freakish one, not fit to be a son or daughter.


With that she implies that she can’t be either but most of her problems come from the fact that she’s an ugly woman, not that she’s a woman tout-court. The problem is that she doesn’t fit – she never thinks I don’t fit because I’m a woman. She doesn’t try to behave like a man or to pretend to be anything that she isn’t. She’s a good knight and a bad lady, but not one who’s resentful for not being a man.

Out of anyone, I’d say that Cersei is one that has problems with being a woman and who has it figured out in her head and knows perfectly the way it goes. But Brienne is outside Cersei’s feminism – if a woman’s beauty is her only weapon then it doesn’t work because Brienne isn’t beautiful (and I think she’s the person who gets more rape threats in the entire lot from what I remember, or if she isn’t she’s up there – not really a case of using your beauty to get where you want). Would men accept her more willingly if she was a skilled fighter and a beauty at the same time? Worth pondering. I wouldn’t say for sure, but it’d have made her life easier even if to her it doesn’t really make a difference. It’s not a question of gender equality – she wants to be taken seriously for what she is. I don’t really think that she was made to fit a feminist stereotype. She’s there for her own story, which is also a pretty damn unique one; saying that she’s a stereotype is limited. And another disservice to her character. (If anything Asha should be more of a stereotype because she’s a lot more comfortable with herself than Brienne, but then again Ironborns are another entire thing and anyway I don't think that Asha is a stereotype.)

In the next meta episode tomorrow (er, later today for me): three things that, according to me, Brienne is and that are imo overlooked half of the time.
 
 
feeling: sleepysleepy
on rotation: maggie's farm - bob dylan
 
 
 
fauxkarenfauxkaren on September 10th, 2011 10:35 am (UTC)
Another thing that you get from reading her AFFC POVs: she wants so desperately to be a knight because swordfighting is the one thing that comes natural to her. She doesn’t feel out of place with a sword the way she feels out of place with a gown. She knows that her only chance to do something good in life is putting her skill to use and be a knight. She doesn’t have a chance of being the fair maiden in any of said songs, but she can be the knight, and that’s why she takes vows and oaths and knighthood so seriously. At least it means that if she dies she gets to live in those songs where everyone is beautiful and it’s always summer.
Beautifully stated. I think it is interesting to consider the way that Brienne idealizes knighthood in light of the fact that she sees herself as skilled in knightly pursuits so it could be attainable for her vs the fact that she will never be able to be like the pretty maids in the songs.

A feminist stereotype/a character put there to make feminists happy
Major eyerolling at this criticism of Brienne. If a person really thinks that they have to lack reading comprehension as well as an understanding of feminism and female representation in media.
the female ghost of tom joad: asoiaf >> brienne 1.0janie_tangerine on September 10th, 2011 11:08 am (UTC)
I'm pretty fascinated with the fact that she takes knighthood/vows/oaths/etc. so seriously because it's what she's good at (at least for me). She has skills ans she knows it, and she's not cut for everything else that is expected of her, so why shouldn't she go for something she can have at least? I don't get why some people put it as if it means that she doesn't know how the world works.

And ugh, the 'she's there because she's made to appeal to feminists' argument makes me want to smash mirrors. Following it, 90% of the characters in there should have been made to appeal to someone instead of being there because they actually have a story. (And as if feminists only like women with a sword that do something man-like - wtf? That makes me baffled as much as people being fixated on Brienne being there to be the resident Westeros feminist.)
bold_seer: tv: thrones + catelyn (winter is coming)bold_seer on September 11th, 2011 09:26 am (UTC)
She’s a highborn lady, she’s beautiful, she was raised far from the main court so she can afford to have a romanticized view of court life, she’s about to be married to what is a handsome prince to her; she has no reason to think that songs aren’t real until her prince puts her father’s head in front of her. Brienne doesn’t need a reality check because she already had it. Her world isn’t a song, but she wants to be in one anyway.

Well said; it's such a great parallel that you are making between Sansa and Brienne. Some people seem to think Sansa and Brienne are too innocent, that is, naïve - and hence stupid - but that's not really what they're about, IMO. (Can I also throw in Ned Stark isn't naïve and/or stupid, either, even though this discussion is about the women?)

Both are, perhaps, wishing life could be a song, but I don't see how that's such a bad thing. They are or become very aware of the realities of their situations. And in this world they're striving to be good and to fulfil their duties, which for Brienne is loyal service as a knight. That is, in Brienne's mind, the best she can become as a person. If you, general reader, who exist outside the text and can judge the characters' behaviour and the consequences of it much easier than the characters in the story can, see no value in Brienne and her loyalty and her struggle, then wow, that's some cynicism.
the female ghost of tom joad: asoif >> davosjanie_tangerine on September 11th, 2011 09:47 am (UTC)
I don't like that naïve apparently = stupid. And lol Ned most definitely WASN'T naïve. Or stupid. (If I said he was then I should say that his eldest son was too since they were cut of exactly the same cloth, and the day I say Robb Stark was anywhere near stupid is the day I don't answer to my name anymore. Okay, back to the topic.) Or that innocent = naïve = stupid. Or that there's just one kind of innocent anyway - Brienne definitely isn't the kind of innocent who is like that because they don't know how the world works, and Sansa went past that by now.

I don't see why wishing life could be a song is a bad thing either. The difference for me is that for Brienne it never was and for Sansa it was for a time, but at the same time saying that Brienne is hopeless because she wants to be a good knight when it's the one thing she can do well is.. yeah, way too cynical? Saying there's no value in that (or that it's too boring and please give them back Littlefinger!) is ridiculous. :/
(Deleted comment)
the female ghost of tom joad: asoiaf >> brienne 1.0janie_tangerine on September 12th, 2011 09:25 am (UTC)
I'LL TAKE IT WITH JOY. ;)
brijeana: TV - Game of Thrones - Briennebrijeana on September 13th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
Just Jaime’s moral compass

This opinion really bothers me because it's only seeing her character as she relates to and effects Jaime. I realize that's a huge plot development but it makes me angry because I love her for who she is in her own right, not for what she does/illuminates for Jaime. GRR!

whatever is going on between her and Jaime is a mix of hard-earned respect and reciprocal influence

Yes, yes, yes! The relationship goes both ways. They are both learning and growing because of the relationship. I think Brienne empowers Jaime to draw on his OWN strength and start to decide moral boundaries for HIMSELF. I love the moment with the white book because Jaime is realizing that he can create new possibilities for himself.

he was the one person trusting her/her skills for real

OMG yes! Renly, Cat and then Jaime all treated her as a true knight. Renly trusted her with his life, Cat with her daughters, Jaime with his honor. HUGE.

Brienne doesn’t need a reality check because she already had it. Her world isn’t a song, but she wants to be in one anyway.

This is one of my very favorite things about Brienne. Other characters have hopes and dreams and romanticized fantasies, then when confronted with harsh, very harsh reality, they give up. Tyrion and Jaime come to mind. I think they really gave up on whatever dreams they had about love and knighthood because of the horror of reality. But Brienne doesn't. She keeps on believing in the ideal, not necessarily because she thinks it's real, but because she thinks it should be. Not only does she hope to be in a song one day, but she lives her life according to her ideals so stubbornly. Even though she's surrounded by acclaimed knight who do not. I love this about her.

Brienne isn’t wandering around Westeros because she thinks it’s a game. She wasn’t thinking it at the beginning and she isn’t thinking it now.

It took me a bit to realize the reality of the task Jaime set for her. To cross that war torn world in search of Sansa? That was a suicide mission. Seriously. She does it anyway because she's brave and true. Not because she's stupid. I hate that people value Littlefinger and Varys above Ned and Brienne. Yes the puppet masters are clever. I enjoy both types of characters but... what the puppet masters do is arguably evil and cowardly. Just as frankness and honor in the face of impossible odds is brave and heroic not simply naive or "stupid".

A feminist stereotype/a character put there to make feminists happy
And there were women like that! GRRM didn't just make this up! They weren't celebrated. They were considered freaks and burned as witches. It's amazing to me that people say this nowadays when brave women enlist in the military and give their lives to defend their countries all the time. I love that even in GRRM's world, Brienne is not the first warrior woman and she won't be the last.

It’s not a question of gender equality – she wants to be taken seriously for what she is.

Yes! This is what GRRM has done so skillfully with Brienne. I never feel that she's trying to be a man, or trying to prove a point. She's just trying to be herself in a world with no place for her.

I so enjoyed your thoughts!!!
the female ghost of tom joad: asoiaf >> brienne 1.0janie_tangerine on September 14th, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)
Ugh I know. And I say it as a die hard Jaime/Brienne person, but saying that she's there just to serve his story just won't fly. :/ It's not as if she wasn't there before stumbling into him. And I loved her before she and Jaime ended up in the same scene. But clearly no one says that he was there just in order to make Brienne more flexible about judging people based on their reputation, so why should she be there just to show him that he's not as bad as he thinks? Meh.

I think Brienne empowers Jaime to draw on his OWN strength and start to decide moral boundaries for HIMSELF.

THIS SO MUCH. Just, YES, THIS. I like their relationship because it's not one sided and it's totally out of their control meaning that they started disliking each other and ended up liking each other without even realizing how exactly it happened - why does it have to be just her being his moral compass? It makes it a lot easier than it really is in truth.

I love that Jaime trusted her with his honor. And I love that she perfectly understands how huge it is and how she's so determined not to botch it. Though I think that Renly and Cat are pretty much there in terms of importance for her.

I so love how stubborn she is about wanting to be in a song too. I can't really see it as stupid or naive or not realistic - SOMEONE has to think that the world has a chance not to suck. And I love that it's -her- thinking that, when she'd have all reasons to think it's not. You're so spot-on that a lot of people in there just gave up when realizing how shitty life was, but I'll always love her for not being a quitter in that sense. ♥

Subscribing what you said forever about her going on the suicidal mission to find Sansa because she's brave and not because she's supposedly stupid. People need to get that you can be smart even if you're not a cunning mastermind. Not everyone can be Littlefinger, and to be honest I can only take so much scheming/cunning cleverly before wishing that someone was just, like, straight. (Which is why I always liked Jaime even before he lost his hand - he was a jerk but at least he was an honest jerk.) I'll rather have Brienne and Ned or Robb all over, even if they don't deliver on the oh so clever mastermind side.

So much that. Also I don't get the argument that if you're a feminist you should like a woman with a sword or whatever it is that implies. :////

Thanks so much! :DDD and I totally agree with yours. ;) ;)

Edited at 2011-09-14 01:44 am (UTC)
kem_viva: Mary Crawleykem_viva on September 14th, 2011 01:29 am (UTC)
Totally agree with everything you say here!

I hate that Brienne is just "Jaime's moral compass" to some people. If that logic worked then the same thing could be said for plenty of characters in the series. I find Brienne's development just as interesting as Jaime's tbh, but because Jaime is more "entertaining'' he gets more fans.

Completely agree about Cersei as well.



the female ghost of tom joad: asoiaf >> brienne 1.0janie_tangerine on September 14th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
What irks me about the Jaime thing is that the way I see it, it goes both ways, but people only single out her role in his character development. And yeah following that line of reasoning then Sandor is there just to serve Sansa or Arya's story, but I have never heard -that- anywhere. Also I find Brienne's development as interesting as Jaime's too, but I guess that Jaime is more evident also because he starts as highly unlikable while Brienne stays a good person throughout so it's a more subtle thing. But I love it also because it's subtle. (And because I liked Jaime from the beginning so I was happy with the development, but it didn't change my general feelings on him.)

Cersei is so the one character I'd single out, while discussing feminism in Westeros. Idk why so many people are convinced that it's just Brienne's thing when imo for Brienne it really isn't about that kind of issue.

Edited at 2011-09-14 02:01 am (UTC)