Hegemonic models of masculinity that are based upon violence, domination, and invulnerability are recognised by scholars as damaging for the individuals who enact them as well as the societies in which they are situated. In both the ‘real’ world and the cultural texts that reflect and shape it, this narrow definition of masculinity is variously negotiated, reinforced, and/or critiqued. Challenges to normative masculinity have often been found within literary representations, which engage with this model in critical ways. Fantasy fiction has seldom featured in these analyses, despite the genre’s ongoing engagement with masculine characters, themes, and images. The genre’s long history of subversive content and ability to (re)imagine the world without the constraints of realism also suggest its capacity to expand conceptions of masculinity. Using a theoretical framework based primarily on Judith Butler’s work on gender performativity and Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, I argue that in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (1996—) and its television adaptation Game of Thrones (2011—) fantasy genre conventions are used to represent patriarchal power structures as destructive for anyone who reproduces them. Illegal and excessive forms of violence, such as torture and rape, are critiqued through exactly the same textual devices as legal and legitimate sovereign violence. In their place, alternative masculine practices, enacted by female or disabled bodies, are valorised through fantasy conventions that reveal all gender performances as imitations that are open to failure, parody, and subversion.
Tania Evans is completing a PhD in SLLL. Her work has been published in the journals Masculinities, Aeternum and Gothic Studies. This presentation is her exit seminar.