A Song of and Fire is an epic fantasy comprised of five books, with seven ultimately planned for the complete series. The first volume, titled A Game of Thrones, is followed by A Clash of Kings. A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and a Dance with Dragons. The events of ASOIAF take place in a vast world spanning continents and islands each with its own mountains, rivers, and forests, and histories. The complexity of Planets (as fans like to refer to it) should not be understated.
Its cultures and societies are so realistic and diverse that the success of the series is unsurprising. Although other regions are acknowledged, most of the events in the series thus far have taken place in the continent of Westeros, with the first three volumes revolving entirely around conflicts in this region. With not only knights, lords, and kings but trade and discovery on a large scale, the world of ASoIaF most resembles that of the late medieval period of Europe and operates under a profoundly oppressive patriarchy.
As such, there exist a particular set of notions of masculinity that affect the inhabitants of Westeros in particular, Notions of hegemonic masculinity in Planetos, as in our world, arise from its social order, more specifically, they arose from its people‘s struggles for power. Furthermore, given the diversity of culture in Planets, exemplified by the contrast between the honorable Starks of the North and the ambitious Lannisters of the westerlands, these are seen to manifest differently between characters.
The hegemonic masculinity in Westeros is much the same as in western countries on Earth in terms of wealth and able-bodiedness. In a society resembling the late medieval period however, these attributes are difficult to acquire if one is not noble and must work in order to live rather than prepare for knighthood or future rule. As Connell (1995) argues, hegemony is established when there is correspondence between cultural ideal and institutional power.
Not only do the men of Westeros consistently prove to perceive women as objects to be used for pleasure or prestige, but the feudal nature of Westerosi society also induces an idealization of militarism through the constant struggle for power of the lords of the lands and those sworn to the. As such, it‘s unsurprising to see that knights, through their alleged embodiment of bravery, honor and, above all, skill in combat, are considered to be as close as one can be to idealized masculinity without being born into nobility. It is noteworthy that many times throughout the series, Martin illustrates the conflict between the supposed embodiment of masculine valor and honor by knights and their tendency towards greed and violence. As the old, bald, and bent of spine “widow of the waterfront“ says “knights defend the weak and protect the innocent, they say and I am the fairest maid in all Volantis [a great city across the “Narrow Sea” from Westeros”.
Paul Higate (2005) drew a significant relationship between militarism and masculinity, claiming that as ideologies of idealized masculinities are utilized to valorize men risking their lives for the sake of their rulers, “militarism feeds into ideologies of masculinity through the eroticization of stoicism, risk-taking, and even lethal violence [emphasis added]”. This contradiction between an ideal knight and a real one is a recurrent one in the series. As smallfolk perceive knights as ideally honorable and compassionate at the same time that they exhibit brutal behavior towards both women and men, hegemonic masculinity that is simultaneously characterized by both gentility and cruelty is brought into existence. This contradiction is seen in the action of powerful lords as well. In order to be respected as the head of their Houses, they must strive to be both powerful and honorable. However, as Martin makes a terrific point of illustrating throughout the series, oftentimes it is impossible to retain power while holding on to honor.
An additional point of interest is the state of war Westeros is in for the majority of the series. The noble class has abundant greed and lust for power. Therefore, when war arises, it can serve as an escape for the smallfolk. Janos Slynt, for instance, was a butcher’s son who exploited the Lannisters’ need for corrupt officials to become the commander of the city watch of “King’s Landing,” the capital of Westero. Although not necessarily equally distributed, war provides opportunities for social mobility that may not have been possible to smallfolk otherwise. In Class and Masculinities, David Morgan (2005) argues the following, “Recognizing the possibilities of social geographical mobility does open up the possibility for more complex masculinities and their relationship to class, Here we have the “failed masculinity of the downwardly mobile whose failure in class terms may be read as indications of a weakness of character, which might also be gendered.
Here we have the defensive and uneasy masculinity of the recent arrival into middle-class occupations, localities, or lifestyles” . If we may call knighthood and a commanding position “middle class” in the context of Westerosi feudal society, then we may consider Janos Slynt and his tendency to turn to violence when the legitimacy of his position is put into question as an example of the relationship between war, social mobility, and the idealization of masculinity in Westeros. However, the world that Martin has produced would not be as admirable if values and norms were constant across borders. As in our world, the elements of culture in Planets are dynamic. The people of the North for instance, who are largely sworn to and follow the teachings of House Stark, are depicted as just, honorable, and loyal. As Tyrion Lannister admits, “The Starks look for courage and loyalty and honor in the men they choose to serve them,”.
The Lannisters, on the other hand, are known for their arrogance, greed, and lust for power. Consider Dorne, the southernmost land of Westeros, this region operates on a particularly different set of laws and traditions. Here, a woman can even inherit the crown in fact, most of the women in the series with skill in combat come from Dorne (although a good portion of them are sisters and was borne into the most powerful family of Dorne). The variety of cultural and political norms brings about a consequence of particular interest Although every society in Planets, from the hunter-gatherer Free Folk of the forests beyond the Wall where even the Starks rarely venture to the people of Dorne, is a patriarchal one, it is never the same, and they differ from one to another. Ting-Toomey (1999) explains that masculinity and femininity are merely a reflection of how a larger culture has constructed these norms.
Thus, throughout the series, we see that although male characters all tend to strive for central idealized masculinity, they do so in different ways and to varying degrees depending on where they come from. For example, consider the dichotomy between the values of the Starks and the Northmen and those of the Lannisters. The head of these Houses, Eddard Stark and Tywin Lannister are both noble, powerful, wealthy, cunning, and skilled in combat. They both seek to preserve the legacy of their Houses, and hold the interests of their children and all future generations in mind when making decisions. In spite of this, their cultural values are directly at odds it is in large part the interests of House Lannister that led Eddard to his death. Tywin is uncompromising and believes that his past and his view of the future justify the decisions he makes, regardless of who may suffer Eddard, even to his death, was unwaveringly honor-bound and compassionate, believing that these values would ultimately be what preserved his House, Unlike most other lords, he neither had men hung nor kept a headsman instead, he believed that “if you would take a man‘s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes.”
This reflects Eddard’s belief that it was honor and justice that made man, not power. A similar examination could be held into the men across the Narrow Sea. The men of Qarth across the Narrow Sea for, enjoy colorful clothing and believe tears to be “the mark of a civilized man”, but nevertheless allow women little power. Hegemonic masculinity in Westeros reflect the militant nature of its rulers. Due to the ideal characteristics of knights, and the role of knights in times of war, Westerosi men and women associate skill in combat and militarism with masculinity. Additionally, given that masculinity also depends on one‘s social location, the opportunity that war provides for social mobility further conceptualizes violence as an ideal attribute of a man, Although this is clearly illustrated in the behavior of smallfolk and knights, lords must also subscribe to these ideals if they hope to hold on to power. However, as Tywin Lannister and Eddard Stark show us, this creates a struggle between being a powerful man and an honorable oner.